Nelson and Drake spin in their graves

December 3, 2007

Under the Labour government, the British Navy is shrinking to its smallest since the 16th century. According to a report leaked (I’m sure deliberately) from the Ministry of Defence, the Navy can no longer fight even a moderate-sized war:

The Royal Navy can no longer fight a major war because of years of under­funding and cutbacks, a leaked Whitehall report has revealed.

With an “under-resourced” fleet composed of “ageing and operationally defective ships”, the Navy would struggle even to repeat its role in the Iraq war and is now “far more vulnerable to unexpected shocks”, the top-level Ministry of Defence document says.

The report was ordered by Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, who had intended to use it to “counter criticism” on the state of the Navy in the media and from opposition parties.

But in a damning conclusion, the report states: “The current material state of the fleet is not good; the Royal Navy would be challenged to mount a medium-scale operation in accordance with current policy against a technologically capable adversary.” A medium-scale operation is similar to the naval involvement in the Iraq War.

The document adds that the Navy is too “thinly stretched”, its fighting capability is being “eroded” and the fleet’s ability to influence events at the strategic level is “under threat”.

The article goes on to give facts illustrative of the sorry state of the Royal Navy:

  • Since 1987, the fleet has shrunk from 136 ships to 75 today.
  • The average age of the RN destroyers and frigates has climbed to 17 years, while maintenance has been cut.
  • There are only 13 submarines left in the fleet, down two-thirds.
  • Personnel ranks have shrunk from 66,500 to 38,860.

The Telegraph goes on to give facts in defense of the government, such as newer vessels being more cost-effective (more punch for the pound….), new aircraft carriers coming online, and a new, modern fighter aircraft.

But that’s a bit of a blind. Aircraft carriers require frigates and destroyers to protect them from aerial and submarine attack. Submarines are important for interdicting enemy shipping and are vital to an island nation that wouldn’t like being blockaded in war. Ships of all sorts require support vessels to bring supplies, including fuel and ammunition. Yet the Labour government under Blair and his then-chancellor and now successor Brown have starved the military to pay for their ever-growing nanny-state. The shiny new ships and planes they brag about are like putting new chrome on the rusting hulk of a ’56 Chevy.

This kind of short-sighted policy has repercussions in international affairs. With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world did not slip into a monopolar state ruled by an overweening United States (regardless of the ravings of the Left and the fantasies of the Right), but instead reverted to a multi-polar world in which the US was by far preeminent, but which also included strong regional powers — many of which, as we’ve seen in Iran, are threats to world stability.

The European preference for “soft power” notwithstanding (and which itself was a reaction to Europe’s declining military strength), outside the small circle of well-behaved democratic nations, diplomacy is credible and effective only when backed by a believable threat of force. Britain under Labour has effectively renounced that threat, which means they will need more and more to either rely on the goodwill of states like Iran, or they will have to depend on us to protect their interests for them.

An old song contains these lyrics:

Rule Britannia!
Britannia rule the waves.

Not anymore, I fear.

(hat tip: Blue Crab Boulevard)

LINKS: More at Captain’s Quarters.