Britain’s Naval Future by James Cable

By James Cable

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The continent was lost and with it substantial British forces. What is more, the diversion, before and during the war, of resources to these two unproductive tasks left too little to provide sufficient ships and aircraft of the right kind to ensure the defence of the British Isles and their seaborne communications. If Britain was neither invaded in 1940 nor starved in subsequent years, it was in spite of British strategy, not because of it. The Relevance of Sea-Power 39 It would be unconvincing to explore the hypothetical consequences of the adoption, in the early thirties, of a maritime strategy intended to ensure the defence of Britain, even to keep her in a state of peace, until such time as a change in the international situation offered a real prospect, which did not exist in 1939, of actually defeating Germany.

This scepticism, indeed cynicism, is not entirely unjustified, nor is it unprecedented. In the thirties, for instance, many of those anxious to resist Germany did not believe that the British government could be trusted to do it and many supporters of the government saw little need for resistance. Today, however, there is a possibly unique combination of widespread personal interest in priority for civil expenditure, of incredulity concerning the need for defence and of contempt for authority. In 1983 there must be added the peculiar paradox of a government ostensibly favourable to defence, yet hostile to those policies best calculated to sustain it: increased expenditure by the State and economic nationalism.

The true comparison is between the strength of the armed forces thus produced and those of the obvious enemy. This is a subject to be explored in later chapters. Here it will be sufficient to assert what few British politicians would deny: neither singly nor in combination with allies are the British armed forces adequate for war against the Soviet Union. If this is true and insofar as it is the result of political trends in Britain, what prospect is there of reversing these trends? Could the British electorate be persuaded to accord a higher priority to defence, thereby allowing politicians to divert resources from other purposes to the strengthening of the navy?

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