Defence Chiefs Intervene in the Brexit Referendum
In a recent edition of Sea Breezes, I have welcomed the UK Government’s u-turn on some of the controversial decisions it made in the 2010 Security and Defence Review which had undermined the strength of the UK defence effort including our maritime security.
Since then, the UK’s future defence and security has again become the focus of much debate as the result of the impending referendum on whether it should remain part of the European Union.
It was interesting to note the intervention of a number of high profile retired Defence Chiefs in publishing an open letter in late February - arguing against a British exit (‘Brexit’) due to their belief that it could compromise co-operation with European allies and therefore increase future security and defence risks.
I wonder though if this issue is being overplayed? Surely the defence chiefs’ efforts would be better employed in advocating a joined up approach to future defence policy and sustained levels of funding and support to the armed forces from the UK Government? And the starting point of any discussion on future security must be the level of commitment and resources a nation such as the UK is willing to deploy, particularly in light of increased international terrorism threats and the growing ambitions of Russia and China.
On that note, Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull issued a very clear message on his country’s future defence policy in publishing his government’s white paper recently.It signalled a potential increase in annual defence spending from $32bn now to almost $59bn in 2026. Referring to terrorist risks and China’s recent actions in the South China Sea, Prime Minister Turnbull commited to investment in nine anti-submarine frigates, 12 off-shore patrol vessels and seven additional Poseidon surveillance aircraft.
So investment and commitment must surely be the key debate on the UK’s future approach to defence. International co-operation is, of course vital, but it seems to me that membership of NATO and the United Nations is just as important, if not more important to future defence and security policy than the status of the UK in the European Union.
The EU was of course initiated in the late 1950s as the European Economic Community with a focus on establishing a common market and customs union between neighbouring countries in Europe.
Although the EU’s sphere of influence has greatly extended since then, surely defence is not the key issue for voters in deciding whether to to back a ‘Brexit’ or not; and surely the ‘great and good’ represented by these former Defence Chiefs would be better employed focusing their ‘firepower‘ on holding the UK Government to account on its future commitment to the armed forces and providing the funding necessary to maintain security.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR