Letter from Germany
There’s a piece in the Telegraph today, lamenting the lack of strategic thinking in the UK (in the context of the Severn Barrage non-decision). In my main sphere of interest – the politics of energy – I can only really point to a handful of good, truly strategic UK actions taken by The Authorities:
- the meticulous and very extensive preparations made by the Thatcher regime, in opposition and then in government, for the Miners’ Strike 1984-5
- the building of the UK Interconnector (the gas pipeline to Belgium), a story I have recounted here before
- plus some rather arcane regulatory interventions to improve the workings of the gas and electricity markets that I won’t bore you with just now
Which leads me to the new National Security Strategy. Armchair strategists everywhere will have a field day with this earnest but ultimately unsatisfactory effort. I’d just make one immediate point. The threat to the UK of ‘Conventional War’ has been downgraded to a third-tier affair - which seems more-or-less correct just now - so we can be sure that (as soon as the ill-conceived Afghan adventure is concluded) there will be a lot less squaddies, sailors and airmen on the pay-roll.
That may be OK vis-à-vis a reduced threat of Conventional War: but just look how many of the identified higher-tier threats will end up with us wanting to call upon disciplined bodies of men in large numbers: an upsurge in terrorism, including N.Ireland; big natural disasters; foreign civil wars spilling over into the UK; WMD attacks on UK soil; and that’s before we get to the third-tier threats.
Sitting here in Germany, with Angela Merkel inveighing against the failure to assimilate large immigrant populations, and glancing across to the flames in France, it isn’t difficult to see a plethora of medium- to severe threats of all sorts.
When we’ve had a large-ish standing army, albeit founded mainly on the evaporating Russian threat, we’ve automatically had access to tens of thousands of men in disciplined formations, be they to rebuild flood-damaged bridges in Cumbria, man emergency fire-engines during strikes, put a 'ring of steel' around Heathrow – or mount an unexpected assault on the Argentinians halfway around the globe.
Downgrade the threat of Conventional War, for whatever sound analytic reasons, and you probably end up losing your ability to respond to others of the varied contingencies of life. Events, dear boy, events. They’re always with us.