Defence chiefs 'must quit' on cuts
Britain's defence chiefs should be prepared to resign en masse if the next government tries to impose any further cuts on the armed forces, a former head of the RAF has said.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon said the current service chiefs could face a "very, very difficult decision" if they are confronted with the prospect of further cutbacks after the general election in May.
Speaking at a meeting of the UK National Defence Association (UKNDA) campaign group, he warned that they could not carry on pretending they had the resources they needed.
Asked directly if they should tender their resignations if they were ordered to make further cuts, he said: "Ýes".
He went on: "We know that the chiefs have made their views known to the Defence Secretary. That is their preferred route," he said.
"But you cannot continue down this route and pretend you are capable of doing all the things the government asks you to do.
"It is at that stage, it would be my guess, that the chiefs would have to make a very, very difficult decision."
His comments were echoed by Tory MP Colonel Bob Stewart, a member of the Commons Defence Committee and a former British commander in Bosnia.
"If we really are in a parlous state, why are the chiefs of staff not tendering their joint resignation? They should actually put their responsibilities to the people who they command as their top priority rather than getting another star," he said.
Sir Michael said it was "disgraceful" that the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, had reportedly been barred by ministers from delivering a speech to the Chatham House foreign affairs think tank amid concerns he would embarrass the Government over defence spending.
The military historian Andrew Roberts said that the onus was on the defence chiefs to speak out.
"Had the Chief of the Defence Staff said 'Bugger you, I'm going to go and give my speech at Chatham House,' would he have been sacked? The answer is 'No,' certainly not before a general election," he said.
UKNDA is pressing all the political parties to commit to the Nato target of spending 2% of GDP on defence in the next parliament.
Mr Roberts said the prospect that it could drop below 2% would damage Britain's "special relationship" with the United States.
He said the decision of the Chief of Staff of the US Army, General Ray Odierno to speak out publicly about the continued ability of British forces to operate alongside the Americans showed the extend of the concern in Washington.
To seriously consider that we are going to drop below 2% is really going to damage the special relationship which is one of the founding concepts of British security.
"When Ray Ordierno goes out in public and says he is very concerned - these are things the Americans have privately been telling British defence chiefs and British defence ministers for a very long time," he said.
"Now they are actually taking the step of embarrassing the British government - something they do not want to do - by coming out and saying this publicly."
He said the scale of the cutbacks already imposed on the forces had left the country vulnerable in the face of a major emergency.
"If I were President (Cristina Fernandez de) Kirchner in Argentina, I'd re-invade the Falklands tomorrow because we couldn't do anything about it and it would remind the British people how absolutely horrific the cuts in the Royal Navy have been since the Falklands," he said.