It was the military historian, Corelli Barnett who got me thinking about the role and nature of armies. In his 1974 Penguin, Britain and Her Army, A Military, Political and Social Survey he explained that Britain was often hopelessly unprepared when it found itself once again involved in a war situation.
The reason for this seeming lack of foresight and planning was that it had been so horrified by its experience of standing home based armies in the 17th century Civil War that its first move at the ending of a war was to disband the lot. I recall this little nugget of information in the context of the current debate, if debate it can be called, regarding the purchase of the Swedish Gripen fighter aircraft.
Two comments about this intended or actual purchase struck me as being especially interesting not least because both can be differently interpreted. ‘Deterrence is a part of military defence’ stated the one as proven fact and ‘we cannot take a chance by letting our guard down’ maintained the other. Has deterrence worked anywhere in the world in the past? Increased deterrent militarisation in Europe led directly to the outbreak of the First World War. Indeed no kind of supposed deterrent was likely to have persuaded any of the great aggressors, Alexander, Genghis Khan, Louis IV, Napoleon or Hitler to hold back.
A deterrent capability might, I suppose, work, when all countries in a given region are armed to the teeth and capable of destroying each other. Perhaps Israel today is in this situation. It is also possible that NATO and Russia (the USSR) have been long convinced that the one intends attacking the other, but have not done so because they would both have been obliterated.
But if both had been unarmed, neither could have attacked the other, which comes to the same thing. So has deterrence worked? Undoubtedly, Kennedy did convince Khrushchev to back off Cuba. But has Lesotho’s army deterred South Africa from attacking it or has it been merely a domestically destabilising element? Has the possession of a nuclear capability by the USA, Britain, Russia and China made the world a safer place? It is hard to believe because so much of the world today is a tragic, horrifying mess.
Deterrent forces have not saved Syria. It’s impossible to believe that the USA’s $100 billion armament sale to Saudi Arabia was ever intended to make the world a safer, more peaceful place. Within days of Trump’s visit it was again attacking the Yemen. Was the USA providing Saudi Arabia with massive armaments so that it
In the 1982 Falklands War, Britain did possess a military deterrent capability, including nuclear submarines, which should have convinced the Argentine leadership of the folly of attacking the Falkland’s Islands and South Georgia. It did nothing of the sort and the deterrent simply did not deter. It may be that this was an exceptional case but what do we now say about North Korea? Clearly America’s huge military deterrent power has not had the slightest effect on Kim on-Jung’s thinking. If the USA could obliterate North Korea, it seems that Kim in turn is dead set on obliterating the USA. With military deterrence having failed to deter, the USA is now totally dependent on China to solve the crisis by deterrent actions of a non-military nature.
But if this country needs to arm in order not to let its guard down, the same concern must surely be held in every other country in Southern Africa, in Africa and indeed the entire world. Military weaponry of any kind is designed and produced in order to kill. Can the opposite be true, that such weapons are produced in order not to kill? The implication, I believe, is that the mere possession of such weapons, which, by definition are, offensive, is itself palpably aggressive. The British were horrified by the inherent brutality towards the civilian population and the suffering caused it by both King Charles’s army and that of Oliver Cromwell.
The lesson was hardly learnt.Armies are only needed for war. When there is no war, quickly disarm them. The counter-argument that all countries in the world must arm in order to defend themselves against possible or even imaginary aggressors is now pulling the world towards catastrophe. This country, which could be giving the world a desperately needed alternative, has now opted to be sucked into the vortex from which there can be no possible escape.