Nick Harvey writes on yesterday’s Army re-structuring announcement

With Britain’s combat role in Afghanistan coming to an end, so ends the predictability of our Army’s main effort. Looking beyond 2014, we need to restructure our armed forces to face an increasingly uncertain world: ready to intervene to protect our national interest, with the agile and adaptable ability to project force and prevent conflict, as set out in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

So yesterday’s Army 2020 announcement was about restructuring the British Army for the future. Contrary to many claims, it is not about personnel cuts.

Of course, we cannot avoid the fact that the economic situation we inherited is part of this decision: Labour left us with a £38billion black hole in the defence budget, which they shamefully deny. They left behind an unsustainable and unaffordable defence programme, and we owe it to our servicemen and women to make sure we can provide them the equipment and support they need now and over the long term.

This unfortunately meant putting in place plans to reduce the regular Army from around 100,000 to 82,000 personnel, integrated with some 30,000 trained reserves. This is difficult, but this is necessary.

As announced yesterday, the number of regular Army units is being reduced and considering the understandable regional significance and attachment to many units, this is tough. Various units are being merged or withdrawn, including five battalions.

But I reiterate that this is completely separate from the redundancy process. An individual in a unit which is withdrawn or merged is no more or less likely than any other individual with similar skills and service record to be selected for redundancy. When units are withdrawn, their personnel are reassigned to other units, where possible within the same regiment.

This is the time to decide what kind of Army we want to see in the future once combat has ceased in Afghanistan, and a valuable opportunity to use Britain’s military resources in a better and smarter way. Should we expect (or wish) to carry on deploying expeditionary forces to high-intensity conflicts like Afghanistan over the years to come? Or should we focus our future Army on conflict prevention, capacity building and building stability overseas? These are questions we Liberal Democrats should be asking ourselves, especially between now and 2015.

* Nick Harvey is the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and Liberal Democrat MP for North Devon.

* Sir Nick Harvey was the Liberal Democrat MP for North Devon from 1992 until 2015 and Minister of State for the Armed Forces from 2010 to 2012

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15 Comments

  • jenny barnes 6th Jul '12 - 8:33am

    Didn’t we have a Strategic defense review a couple of years ago? Didn’t they consider questions like “deploying expeditionary forces to high-intensity conflicts Or should we focus on conflict prevention, capacity building and building stability overseas? ” Has something changed? Or did someone get confused about what “strategy” actually means?

  • …………………………………….Contrary to many claims, it is not about personnel cuts………………

    Rubbish!

  • Richard Dean 6th Jul '12 - 9:46am

    A personnel cut of 18,000 is not a personnel cut? Politicians never cease to amaze. Better than any hallucinogenic drug!

  • Monica Allen 6th Jul '12 - 9:59am

    Cutting the Army to 82,000 was announced last year. See Guardian article from last July: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/jul/18/liam-fox-army-cuts,

  • Geoffrey Payne 6th Jul '12 - 12:44pm

    I very much regret the job losses, many of those who are losing their jobs will find it hard to get work elsewhere. However I think this is in the national interest. We cannot afford to punch above our weight and we should focus public funds into those parts the the economy that are more important, for example the Green New Deal. In foreign policy we cannot afford to have a big stick anymore, but if we disapprove of a particular regime we should simply not sell it any weapons.

  • coldcomfort 6th Jul '12 - 4:11pm

    There is an easy way to deal with the £38bn blackhole in the defence budget and that is to make it clear that any replacement of Trident with ANY kind of submarine based nuclear weapon system is completely off the agenda. You don’t need to be a political genius to see that various contracts currently being let are part of the Conservative strategy to replace Trident ‘as updated’ when ,as they believe, they have an overall majority after 2015. When conceived in the 1950’s Tridents predecessor, Polaris, made good political & military sense. Trident now makes no sense on any argument whatsoever. In fact I can see no convincing political or military argument for retaining nuclear weapons at all – except for the employment they provide to highly specilised workers whose skills would be better employed on other tasks. Nuclear weapons will not deter rogue states or terrorists nor is retaliation much use when you are already dead & the land devastated. We are stuck with huge aircraft carriers that we don’t need either. In so far as one can peer into the future rank & file soldiers, sailors & airmen who are well equipped & looked after both in & after service and don’t get trench foot due to the use of cheap materials are what are most likely to be needed. And do we really need more senior officers with the word Admiral in their title than we have ships.

  • George Kendall 6th Jul '12 - 6:43pm

    Contrary to the impression being given in the media, our armed forces will still be among the most powerful in the world. These are significant cuts, but there will still be a very significant military capability.

  • coldcomfort 7th Jul '12 - 12:56pm

    Nice to see that only jedibeeftrix is entitled to an opinion. Spoken like a true democrat. I am also well aware that my ‘opinion’ is not that of the Government [or indeed the Labour Party for the preservation of whose vote the carriers were largely created]. I’m not sure the public has actually been canvassed on the matter but certainly the delusions of grandeur espoused by the right wing of the Tory party are not supportive of my view.

  • Patrick Smith 7th Jul '12 - 1:21pm

    The Britsh Forces were at a highest point of deployment on D Day 1944 at 3.5 million armed services personnel and all gallant to the last soldier but post WW2 has seen a cyclical reducing of our military to a present day 102,000.

    I share the view that to decrease the military numbers further, at this time, will be unwise and beneath a reserched critical mass for global deployment and is not what the commanders of British regiments are advocating government.

    There is, however,a need to take out some pruning shears, in terms of the over- weight numbers of brigadiers compared to deployable front-line challenger tanks butI share regret that the apparent departure of the highest female serving Army Officer has been necessary, as a gesture of defiance to `cuts’ : too much and too fast!

    At this time the Royal Nay has suffered the loss of The Ark Royal and the two QE Class aircraft carriers will not replace this momentous vessel for ten years.

    To imagine that the British Army can rely on 30,000 trained `reservists’ is placing an over-reliance on their capacity and caperbility to fill the breach and is folly, at a time of a any sudden potential threat from any `rogue’ global power or urgent peace-keeping mission undertaken with NATO overseas.

    Surely there is a need to rethink through the potential loss of key tradional Regiments like the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders and maintain British Army above the critical numbers of 100,000 in order to comply with all miliraty commitments known and unknown in the 21st Century?

  • While everyone is being asked to so more with less – it strikes me that we keep sending out members of our armed forces out onto impossible missions that have only a tenuous connection to the defence of this realm. If we are going to get involved with more short term conflicts like Libya and long term conflicts like Afghanistan and Iraq, we need to change what we spend our money on so less young men come home maimed or worse.

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