Britain’s navy cannot reliably handle a medium-scale operation, let alone a major war, after decades of decline and neglect. The shocking report on the Royal Navy comes as a shock to the island nation, whose navy not only defended it for centuries but came to define the British. The current government, already embroiled in a data-loss scandal, may suffer the consequences:
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.
Labour forgot the first rule in politics, law, and marriage: never ask a question for which one is unprepared for the answer. Instead of silencing their critics, Labour now has to explain why they have allowed such neglect to occur to the crown jewel of the British military. Without an effective navy, an island nation has few options to protect its interests around the world.
Where could this have immediate implications? Argentina may decide to take another look at the Falkland Islands, for one. Margaret Thatcher went to war to keep the Argentinians from seizing the territory twenty-five years ago, but the issue remains unsettled. More strategically, Britain’s trade routes now must rely even more heavily on American protection than ever. Diplomatically, the weak state of Britain’s navy makes them less able to influence global events and again more reliant on the US as a partner.
That doesn’t let the US off the hook, though. For approximately the same period, the US has allowed our navy to shrink, a situation that only recently caused alarm in Washington with the apparent arms buildup of China. We have relied on two vast oceans to serve as our buffer against military attack, buttressed by an overwhelming surface and subsurface naval armada. We have begun to drift in the same direction as the UK, allowing our ability to project power and protect our trade routes dwindle slowly. We have not seen the same level of degradation that the British see in their naval power, but we’re on the same road.
With all of the controversies hitting Gordon Brown at the moment, the last thing his government needed was a self-created report proving that Labour had torpedoed the Royal Navy. During Blair’s term, the Conservatives couldn’t do anything right. So far since, they haven’t had to do anything right as long as Brown keeps doing everything wrong.