Die Jakkalsgat

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Is the UK in need of Security Sector Reform?

The UK media circus is on Tony’s back again, this time over his apparent interference with the Army Board’s restructuring plan ‘Future Infantry Structure’. A big question mark now hangs over the UK's civil-military relationship.

In an advanced liberal democracy, it is any government’s inherent responsibility and right to define the broad policy guidelines from which the military themselves define the ‘best’ way forward. If Tony Blair wishes to make it policy that all six Scottish line infantry regiments must remain as is, then so be it. If he feels it is easier to order a rethink from the Army chiefs rather than deal with the mutterings of his own back-benchers, who are we to criticise?

However, this needs to be put into its proper context.

‘Future Infantry Structure’ only exists because of government policy. Government policy determines where, when, and at what scale the Army deploys. The old structure simply cannot keep up with all these ‘new’ demands. Secondly, the cut-back in total manpower, and the disbandment of 4 infantry battalions, is directly connected with the desire to save money. Who determines the military budget? The government! Remember, if ‘Future Infantry Structure’ had nothing to do with money, the Army Board would make the structural changes AND keep the personnel levels up. Not so?

Nevertheless, for the past 6-12 months, the Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has been spinning the line that this is purely an Army decision: they (the Army) want the changes, they suggest the disbandments and so on. The government doesn’t like to be criticised that it is cutting back the military to save money, at the very time when British troops are being killed in Iraq. Could ‘Buff’ Hoon pass the buck any more clearly?

So what’s the problem with civil-military relations? Tony Blair and his cronies seem to think that they have the right to meddle and interfere at any point in the process WITHOUT accepting any responsibility for the actions. Is that right?


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