By Peter Latham
Modernity – at whichever point in the past – has an arrogance that it, and it alone, is special. It is this mindset which may be to blame for the denial present amongst large portions of the Remain camp. On reflection, it would be foolish to suggest a European modernity constructed in 44 years could so easily overthrow a British heritage coppiced over a millennium. The British are an island people, and it is this which has defined them – Europe is their neighbour, but Poseidon is their partner.
Yet, it’s often when the British forget this that they endanger themselves most. The Ten Year Rule, assuming no major war in the next ten years, continued to 1932 – a decade later, Europe had fallen. Again, John Nott judged in 1981 that there was little threat to the British territories in the South Atlantic; the withdrawal of the last British patrol in the region was announced. A year later, the Falklands had fallen.
Today, the situation is delicate again. Britain, many would say, is in need of friends. Yet friends are not, and never should be, the determiners of national sovereignty. It’s necessary that Britain must be able to defend its freedom – to defend its freedom alone. As many of the (younger) British public may have felt secure in their liberal European future, politicians worldwide have reaped the ‘rewards’ of the end of history through the peace dividend. If Ukraine did not wake them from their slumber, a volatile United States and a flexing China absolutely must.
An independent Trident system is the bedrock of this defence. The conventional forces of the Royal Navy must not, however, take second-place. 95 percent of our trade and 35 percent of our energy is dependent on the sea, as German seamen were once quick to recognise. Yet, although the RN remains one of the few navies to possess blue-water capabilities, it is frankly too small. Despite this, the RN has the ability to be arguably the second most capable navy worldwide. The benefits of a capable, well-funded navy are manifest; most prominent the ability to act independently and avoid defence dependence.
Diplomatically, British influence would be considerably increased, the RN asserting British interests in the key strategic regions of the twenty-first century, particularly East Asia. Such influence creates leverage – something the British government is realising can be very useful. The RN also contributes towards soft power; British military personnel conduct humanitarian and disaster relief operations, boosting the argument that a portion of the foreign aid budget should be diverted towards defence.
Economically, British shipyards provide a key industrial opportunity, particularly relevant if Britain is to lead the advocacy of free trade. British shipyards will only benefit from increased defence spending; increased order numbers equate to lower unemployment, economies of scale and increased potential for foreign export.
The Ministry of Defence, however, must make changes, including the formulation of a long-term schedule and costing for future naval procurement. To do otherwise, as is currently the case, results in severe problems: the loss of skills; the necessity of costly time-fillers; the aging of vessels; the overrun of costs and over-specialisation; the procurement of inappropriate vessels; the dependence upon allies to fill the gap; and the disappearance and unreliability of equipment.
Despite these problems, it seems to be the norm that articles demonstrating the failings of the MoD end with a conciliatory tone. It’s true that the Royal Navy remains one of the most advanced and capable navies in history. Yet, this conclusion must also be candid. The liberal West has experienced peace, and this has allowed your social advances. The equality of sexes, genders, the freedom to debate, to move and to vote without query, the democracy which allows the opposition to oppose these ideas has become the norm. Change, however, doesn’t change. It moves relentlessly: backwards, forwards, sideways. Defence provides an insurance – it provides a chance to retain our values. Not our individual values, but our national value of democratic and judicial self-determination as a United Kingdom, irrespective of outside pressures. Thus, together, it is necessary to support a stronger Royal Navy – for who are so free as the sons of the waves?
Featured image courtesy of Royal Navy