Britain’s policy of ‘liberal interventionism over the past decade has asked a lot of our Armed forces. One would expect that a government intent on using their Armed Forces, would also be one that appreciated the necessity of investment and considered governance.
This has not been the case however. Much needed increases in the defence budget – to compensate for the increases in military operations - have failed to appear, and governance of the existing defence budget by the MOD so lamentable that for many it seems as if defence spending has actually been cut. The situation is such that men like General Sir Richard Dannatt now air their concerns over low pay, poor accommodation and lack of general respect shown towards the armed forces - by both the public and government – openly, a new phenomenon.
But as a result airing these concerns, General Dannatt will it appears, be passed over for the job of Chief of the Defence Staff. The Sunday Times reported General Dannatt’s recent comments he made him powerful enemies in the Labour party.
And this is symptomatic of a wider problem at the Ministry of Defence, where the people who actually know about defence, those in the armed forces, are bound by politicians and civil servants. Problems arise when civil servants who have little experience of the defence environment, and with politicians who rarely stay long enough at the Ministry to Defence to understand the complex nature of defence, are asked to make decisions on major issues with long term strategic importance.
The nature of these long term decisions demands a greater role for the armed forces in the processes of the MOD. While the elected and democratically accountable Minster should set the strategic culture, much more should be left to those who have the knowledge and experience to that strategic view into reality. Moreover, allowing the armed forces a greater role in the ministry of defence’s administration would also allow more immediate and acceptable responses to situation’s such as poor housing and pay.
What is becoming clear is that the armed forces are uneasy about how they are being treated by politicians and civil servants. If the government is going to continue to want an effective armed force, they need to incorporate those who understand the needs and processes of the armed forces much more closely. Freezing out men such as General Dannatt because what they say is politically inconvenient will do nothing to convince people that the government is committed to those who literally lay down their lives in the pursuit of government policy.