What is the military for? Britain’s role in defence

Can Britain afford a cold war-era nuclear deterrent? New aircraft carriers? Typhoon fighter aircraft?

In the debate below and in the comment pages of the FT, some of the leading experts on the military put forward their views on Britain’s role in a world of constrained defence budgets. What do you think? Click the “comment” button to take part.

Unreliable friends weigh on the west in Afghanistan
Max Hastings
, a military historian and FT contributing editor, argues that the greatest problem facing the allies in Afghanistan is not military but civil: the absence of Afghan administrators to exploit tactical successes by bringing visible benefits to local communities.

Where Britain should cut to defend the realm
Charles Guthrie, a former chief of the defence staff, says if we do not make strategic plans, we may find ourselves not only unable to fulfil our current missions but also incapable of defending our interests 30 years from now.

Trident can live to deter another day
David Davis, Conservative MP,  argues that in this era of tight budgets it is evident that we should save the £20bn on an upgrade and make the Trident system last.

Britain must work with Europe on defence
Menzies Campbell, former Liberal Democrat leader, argues that the only way for Britain to maintain an expeditionary capability while also defending the country is to work with European nations, particularly France.

The defence industry is good for the country
Godden, head of the Society of British Aerospace Companies, argues that the UK benefits financially and through job creation from investment in defence, even as defence budgets have slipped relative to other public spending goals

Defence cuts reduce Britain’s value as an ally
Gary Schmitt, director of the Program on Advanced Strategic Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, argues that the tough choices facing the UK on defence spending mean that there will be a fundamental change in the “special relationship” . Ties between US and UK will remain, but will they be special?

Logic in Europe’s military could check spending
Tomas Valasek, defence director at the Centre for European Reform, argues that the financial problems facing the defence budget could be eased by a more sensible approach by EU nations to foreign missions and to big weapons systems

Look to Anglo-French co-operation for savings
Alexander Nicoll, editorial director at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, argues Britain should focus on what it needs for today’s wars, try to work with the French and maintain military research

Britain must work with Europeans on defence
Malcolm Rifkind, MP and formerly both defence and foreign secretary, argues that co-operation, and sharing the nuclear deterrent with France, is the best way to ensure the UK retains the ability to project force around the world

Britain needs to increase defence spending
James Blitz, the FT’s defence and diplomatic editor, argues that rather than cutting big programmes, voters need to accept the need to spend more to ensure troops are properly resourced.

What Britain must give up for the soldiers it needs
Max Hastings, a military historian and FT contributing editor, argues that the politicians and civil servants are dodging the hard decisions about military hardware. Trident nuclear missiles do not deter terrorists, sailors are ready to surrender F-35 jets to avoid cuts elsewhere and the Eurofighter jet is an expensive embarrassment. What really matters is boots on the ground, so the money should be going into the army.


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