Browsing through a Folio Society edition of Kipling’s poems, I came across a stanza that lit up for me in the context of the current defence cuts we’re contemplating.  I Tweeted a couple of lines, but the Twitter format didn’t have room for the whole stanza:
Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
It seems that the Admirals, and Defence Secretary Liam Fox, are engaged in a desperate rearguard action to maintain the funding for the two proposed new aircraft carriers – the only great capital ships we expect to have.  Yet if they succeed, it seems we shall be able to afford neither the aircraft to fly from them, nor sufficient destroyers and frigates to provide the defence in depth, and the missile shield, without which no capital ship should venture into a war zone.
Liam Fox is doing a great job, but I fear that the economy will simply not support the sort of armed forces that most of us would like to see.
In future years as we listen to The Last Night of the Proms, and hum along to Rule Britannia, it will be with a bitter sense of loss for what we were, and what we might have been.  We think of Drake and his game of bowls on Plymouth Ho; of the English fire-ships striking terror amongst the ships of the Spanish Armada as they lay at anchor at Gravelines; Jervis’s victory at Cape St. Vincent; Nelson’s victory over Napoleon’s fleet at the Battle of the Nile; and the glory of Trafalgar.  But Britannia no longer “Rules the Waves”, and unable to defend ourselves it would be foolhardy to boast that Britons “Never Never Never Shall be Slaves”.
How did it come to this?  Yes, it was fundamental economic policy errors by politicians (Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton started the USA down the path to “Ninja Mortgages”), and by Central Bankers (Alan Greenspan, and the ECB, and the Bank of England fuelled the asset bubble with easy money).  Against these towering errors (and contrary to the commonly accepted media narrative), bankers played only a bit-part, and hedge funds very little part at all.
Underlying the monetary errors, however, is a secular change in attitudes and economic power in the world.  We in the West have taken prosperity for granted as we watched the decline of the Protestant Work Ethic, at the same time as the ascendancy of Asian entrepreneurialism has been developing in China, South East Asia and India.  My Jaguar may have been built in Coventry, but the company is owned by Tata in India.  This shift of economic power has fuelled the global imbalances that lead to China being the world’s greatest creditor nation and the USA the greatest debtor.
“Recessional” is an apt title, whether applied to the poem, to the state of our armed forces, or indeed to our economy.  There are hard times ahead.

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2 Responses to “Recessional”

  1. Ian says:

    Policy based on waving the flag at a pompous event – great idea. the empire is long gone and we’re now just a middle power – when we accept that and base our defense policy on that reality we’ll have a more realistic and more affordable policy…

    can’t see France mounting an invasion any time soon.

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