Tavish Scott: We need to reassess our military capabilities

PRINCE Harry is home from Afghanistan where he pilots Apache attack helicopters.

His return has generated a media frenzy, but coincides with the terrorist atrocity in Algeria and a reduction in the UK’s armed forces from 102,000 to 82,000 personnel by 2017. Cue fury with Labour saying the military cuts are too fast and too deep.

Meanwhile, the Nationalists persist with an extraordinary argument that Scotland doesn’t get its fair share of military spending. This is not an argument they use when discussing the fair share of UK debt or a fair share of the banking crisis.

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But what are our armed forces are for? The Argentinean president has been sabre-rattling over the Falklands. The islanders are holding a ballot in March on whether they wish to remain part of the UK. There seems little doubt that the overwhelming majority will reject Las Malvinas becoming part of Argentina.

No-one is seriously suggesting that we are about to witness armed conflict in the South Atlantic. But the UK’s military presence there is significant and costly. Fifteen-hundred troops, four RAF Typhoon jets and anti-aircraft batteries. These will have to be maintained.

But as troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan, military planners should be assessing what kind of military we need, where and why. Critics of the overall reductions in the army, navy and air force bemoan the inability of the UK to undertake unilateral action if that were needed.

Instead, Britain would have to reach international agreement with Europe, Nato and the UN and undertake military operations with allies. That sounds right. Such an approach could have put a brake on the disastrous intervention in Iraq. Then, international agreement was abandoned when Blair and Bush calculated that a UN Security Council resolution authorising military action was beyond them. History records an illegal war. Sadly, history also observes the colossal loss of Iraqi life.

So should not our international ambitions recognise the country we are today? Britain’s elite troops in specialist units are sought for advice, know-how and action across the globe.

The consequence of a decade of military intervention in Afghanistan and the use of unmanned drones in Pakistan has driven al-Qaeda to safer parts of the globe. That appears to explain why a BP energy facility was targeted in Algeria. Company staff were in an isolated desert location where in-situ security could not withstand the attack. The Algerian military intervened to free hostages, yet 48 staff of oil companies are confirmed dead.

Britain’s military has a professional reputation for excellence and could support, assist and train men and women across the globe.

Last year, the UK spent £62.7 billion on the military – the fourth highest across the globe. We are not the fourth biggest country or have the fourth largest economy. Time for realism among politicians and the Ministry 
of Defence.