Debating Defence and Naval Policy (VIII)

David Perry: Canada was not alone in facing a naval decline, the Royal Navy was in far worse trouble according to a 14 January 2007 editorial in the New York Post by Arthur Herman, author of To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, that made the rounds in Canada on 5 February, a 400-year epoch of world history is about to draw to a close. If Britain's current Labour government has its way, Britain's Royal Navy will mothball at least 13, and perhaps as many as 19, of its remaining 44 ships, or nearly half its effective fleet.

“With one bureaucratic stroke, the Ministry of Defence will end a naval tradition reaching back to Sir Francis Drake - reducing the Royal Navy, which 40 years ago was still the second-largest fleet in the world, to the size of navies of countries like Indonesia and Turkey.”

“Because the Blair government's drastic plans include more than taking existing ships out of commission. The service's entire future as a blue-water navy (that is, a navy capable of operations outside Britain's own waters) may be forfeit. According to The Daily Telegraph, plans for two new fleet carriers of the kind vital for fighting today's War on Terror and projecting power overseas - and for which $6.9 billion had already been set aside - will also be scrapped. Two new destroyers, which were supposed to replace at least some of the retired ships, are also out of the picture.”

David Perry: The common denominator in the Canadian and British situations is money. In this, as seen several times before, when the demand for defence spending increases in one sector - in Iraq for the British and in Afghanistan for Canadians - the usual government solution is to "rob Peter to pay Paul". In both cases, it is the army that is demanding more money and because the respective navies are not currently actively engaged in international security operations, politically they seem to be the logical place to effect savings. The problem, as the lessons of history so often tell us, is that such short-term measures invariably have longer-term implications.