The Courier & Advertiser (Perth and Perthshire Edition)
BritishArmy cuts are ‘one hell of a risk’, warns senior general
RESTRUCTURING THE British Army is “one hell of a risk” that will weaken the armed forces, according to one of Britain’s most senior generals.
General Sir Richard Shirreff said the “jury is out still” on plans to slash numbers in the regular army and substitute them with reservists, saying if the idea is going to work “the nation needs to get behind” it.
He said defence cuts “hollowed out” the armed forces, particularly the Royal Navy, which has been “cut to the bone” and left unable to take part in Nato maritime operations.
Russia’s takeover of Crimea meant it was imperative for the UK to protect its defence budget, he said, even if it meant other departments suffered.
The general, the army’s third most senior officer, stepped down from his post as Nato deputy supreme commander on Friday and will leave the army in August.
His warning, in an interview with the Sunday Times, comes days after MPs warned Prime Minister David Cameron against any further cuts to Britain’s armed forces in the wake of Russian’s annexation of Crimea.
The UK Government is cutting the regular army from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2020, while the newly-renamed Army Reserve — formerly the Territorial Army — is being expanded from 19,000 to 30,000.
General S h i r r e ff said those implementing the changes had “made a pretty good fist of a very difficult hand of cards”, but added: “I wouldn’t want to let anybody think that I think that army 2020 is good news, it’s not.
“The sort of defence cuts we have seen... have really hollowed out the British armed forces and I think that people need to sit up and recognise that.”
He said his biggest concern was the impact of cuts on the navy, which have left it without an operational aircraft carrier until 2020 and a fleet of just 19 frigates and destroyers.
The general said its ability to participate in Nato naval maritime operations has been compromised, affecting how people think about the UK.
He said: “A hollowed-out navy means you can’t project power. I’ve heard this said in the Ministry of Defence: The yardstick by which we measure ourselves is our ability to punch above our weight.
“You can’t do that now. By that yardstick, therefore, we’re failing.”
General Shirreff said the question of whether or not the army being more dependent on reserves would work was still unanswered, but he said it was “one hell of a risk”.
He said it would need a “complete shift in culture” and support from the wider public and employers if it is to succeed.
“The nation needs to get behind this,” he said. “It’s not just the armed forces — this is everybody’s business.”
The general, who has been coordinating Nato’s response to the crisis in Crimea and Ukraine, also warned of further aggression by Russian president Vladimir Putin.
After Russia’s “ar med illegal aggression”, the country has now become a “strategic adversary” of Nato, rather than a “strategic partner”, General Shirreff said.
He argued the UK and other European nations now need to protect their defence budgets to deter Russia, meaning cuts to other Whitehall departments.
He said: “We all support the efforts to get the deficit down but it is all about priorities.
“What really matters? Well, the first duty of government is to protect the nation. Defence is really, really important.”