Tories to cut military spending

There is no question that the economy of the United Kingdom is in trouble and that excessive government spending and debt have tipped the country in the direction of Greece and Spain. Last month, the International Monetary Fund lowered its 2011 growth forecast for Britain from 2.5 per cent to 2.1 per cent, putting it slightly lower then 2.3 per cent estimate of Her Majesty's Treasury.

The rejection of the Labour Party in May, when in garnered only 29 percent of the vote after ruling the country for 13 years, dumped the mess into the lap of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government led by the Tories. Yet, this coalition is divided not only between the partner parties but within the Conservatives along what might be called the old Neville Chamberlain-Winston Churchill line.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the budget crisis will prompt cuts in the UK military so deep that "that Britain will almost certainly depart the world stage as a major military power and become what military chiefs call a medium-scale player." In truth, cuts after the Cold War had already done that. Further cuts will make it virtually impossible for the UK to continue its role as the principle ally of the United States in sustained overseas operation in the Middle East or anywhere else.

According to the British news paper, proposed cuts include:

The Air Force will lose 7,000 airmen - almost one sixth of its total staff - and 295 aircraft. The cuts will leave the Force with fewer than 200 fighter planes for the first time since 1914. In addition, the Navy will lose two submarines, three amphibious ships and more than 100 senior officers, along with 2,000 sailors and marines.

The Army faces a 40 per cent cut to its fleet of 9,700 armoured vehicles and the loss of a 5,000-strong brigade of troops.

The Telegraph has also learnt that the "black hole" in MoD finances, caused by orders which have been made but cannot be paid for, is approaching £72  billion over the next decade - double the amount previously suggested.
Though the UK has been fighting alongside the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense spending has nothing to do with the budget crisis. Since 2004, the increase alone in annual departmental spending on education has been larger than the total defense budget and spending on the National Health Service has increased by almost as much. Defense spending makes up only about 12 percent of departmental and capital spending, and 6 percent of the total budget when social security and pensions are included. In real terms, defense spending was virtually stagnant during the last five years of Labour rule, while expenditures soared in other categories.

The Conservatives are afraid to tackle the real causes of Britain's financial problems. Like Chamberlain in the 1930s, it is the military budget that will be hit the hardest even though social spending is a much fatter target now than then. Chamberlain was a fiscal conservative whose efforts to please the bankers in The City left the country unprepared.

Chamberlain was, in the words of Kenneth W. Thompson, "the archetype of bourgeois conservatism....derived from a decaying liberalism under whose colors the businessman in the nineteenth century achieved his now precarious eminence." This kind of liberal conservatism "underestimated its country's global responsibilities while...overestimating its moral authority." In contrast, Churchill was a classical conservative, "enriched by an aristocratic tradition long acquainted with the brutal facts of power and the unending rivalries among nations."

Prime Minister David Cameron is not in the mold of Churchill nor is he the second coming of Margaret Thatcher. President Barack Obama may have sent back the bust of Churchill that had been in the White House, but it is Cameron who wants to stick it away in a closet.

There have been many sad chapters in the decline of the British Empire. And whether one wants to mark that decline from a century ago or from the end of World War II, there is a lesson for the United States. Success is not ordained. Great Powers can and do fail to maintain their position if they follow the wrong path. On point after point, America has been following the British example on the way down as the influence of liberalism has spread across the Atlantic.