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Friday, 7 January, 2000, 11:33 GMT
Should we spend more on the army?

Ground action against Serbs in Kosovo could have ended in disaster for the British Army because of serious equipment failings, according to a report leaked to the BBC.

The report told of unreliable guns, faulty radios and a shortage of night vision equipment.

Is the UK Government putting lives at risk by not giving more money to the armed forces? Or do you think too much gets taken out of the tax payer's pocket for military spending already? Tell us what you think.

Your Reaction

One of the biggest problems I have with our society is that more and more of the decisions are made by bean counters. As long as Western Capitalism holds money to be the primary goal of society - an end, rather than a means - many sectors, whether military, health or social services will suffer. We should decide what we require of our armed forces; what we need them to be capable of doing on our behalves, and invest accordingly. [Ditto health, ditto transport, etc...]. If you have a handkerchief, and want to make yourself a coat, would you buy more material, or just make a smaller coat? To be fair, it will be difficult for any government to perform such a change in attitude as long as the majority of its people insist on voting for tax cuts every time there is an election.
Malk Williams, England

I forget who it was who said "if you want peace, prepare for war" and they were right. I read here people saying that there is too much spending on the military throughout the world, but until all countries make a commitment to reducing arms spending, then Britain must be equipped to protect itself and it's interests. Even if this country did further reduce spending on the military, how many corrupt nations do you think would follow suit? Iraq? Serbia? Russia? China? No.
Simon, England

In the Crimea, the Boer war, WW1, WW2, and all recent conflicts the British soldier has never been equipped for the tasks the nation demands of him.
Anthony, Germany
Shock, horror: poor Tommy Atkins is given inferior equipment. Hasn't this always been the way that "Great" Britain treats it's fighting men? In the Crimea, the Boer war, WW1, WW2, and all recent conflicts the British soldier has never been equipped for the tasks the nation demands of him. The fault lies with politicians and civil servants who treat the lives of British serviceman with contempt. The current policy, of course, is to sacrifice the lives of Ghurkas.
Anthony, Germany

Britain and other democratic European countries should simply focus on its territorial defence as well as supporting an European Rapid Reaction Force for localised peacekeeping missions. Let the US focus on the global issues like Ballistic Missile Defence, Iraq, North Korea and the Taiwan Straits. Only the US military has the power and technology to deal with these problems.
Mark, USA

It is interesting to compare the lack of military experience of the current cabinet with the willingness they have to use the armed forces. If the forces are to meet all their commitments as well as Kosovo, East Timor etc then they need the new carriers, destroyers, LPD, rifle, tornado upgrades etc now. Maybe the next round of cuts could happen to the paper-shufflers and not the front line troops...
Rob, NL (English)

Let the West putting more money on military and fighting against each other, while people at the Far East like us continue to enjoy the peaceful life.
Wong, Malaysia

I am sick of hearing that we should spend more money on the NHS and less on the military. This government spends more on social services than anything else. In my opinion the lives and safety of our brave young soldiers should take a priority status at least equal to that of the welfare of ordinary civilians. If our troops get shot in Kosovo because they have no adequate defence then it ultimately will cost the tax payer more to heal & support them/ bury them than it will to buy a new rifle and radio.
Former British soldier, UK

The SA80 is fine rifle for range use and in the English climate - but after a couple of weeks of living rough it does tend to fall apart. I think if someone managed to do an anonymous survey of what soldiers bought for themselves - the country would be surprised - look at footage from Kosovo.
Andy, UK

We should follow the path of an integrated Europe and share spending on an army with them.
Timothy Groves, UK

No, we should aim for less spending in this area. There are many more important priorities, such as the terrible state of the National Health Service and the plight of homeless and poor people. If Britain and the USA would cease interfering in other countries' disputes and stop selling weapons to dictators, then their would be less need for warfare in the first place.
Peter Benjamin, England

One of Murphy's traditional rules of combat states - "Remember: your weapon was made by the lowest bidder."
Andrew Fanner, UK
One of Murphy's traditional rules of combat states - "Remember: your weapon was made by the lowest bidder." That seems all too true for the British Army at present. The Treasury must be prepared to spend money on quality. That does not have to mean imports, it means using decent quality British equipment.
Andrew Fanner, UK

Why don't we simply start putting military training and equipment to commercial use for the country. The Military could start to compete for the provision of all manner of services in which they regularly train; anything from event security to large scale and complex construction/ demolition tasks could be performed by the armed services. This work would fund improvements in equipment, whilst the itself providing training. It's time to stop thinking of the military as such a drain on public funds, and look at the opportunities for less 'taxing' methods of sustaining our military.
Todd, UK

The British are quick to push the US into conflict because they know that they do not possess the military necessary to do the job themselves. If not for the US supplying various support and equipment; the British military would have had a very hard time defeating the Argentineans during the Falkland conflict. In the future if you cannot put up than shut up.
Mike, USA

Having recently returned from KOSOVO (Pristina) and seeing how the other nations are supporting by their countries with equipment and financial incentives, I totally agree that the British Army is becoming a poor relation in modern warfare. We are short of vehicles and resort to locally hiring vehicles. Basic stationery for offices takes up to eight weeks to arrive. Personnel deployed from Germany loose financial benefits being deployed on operational tours. The average bonus for being in KOSOVO is 4.50 per day.
Anonymous, United Kingdom

Yes, the military should be equipped with the very best, or they should not be used. This Government has cut the military budget, whilst at the same time spending thousands on propaganda telling us how good the EU is. History, something that New Labour wants to abolish, shows us that people who are forced, against their will into political empires only leads to conflict.
Ronald Banks, UK

It is a well-known fact that the British SA80 series rifles and machine guns are inadequate and should be replaced as soon as possible. It is not fancy jets or submarines that are needed, it is reliable small arms.
Ryan, South Africa

Defence spending is astronomical. This report is the army's way of demanding even more money to fund its killing machines, and at the same time the NHS crumbles away. Sickening.

It is the whole procurement process than needs a complete overhaul. Best trained, worst led, as always
Graeme, England
The real problem lies with either incompetent, or corrupt Civil Servants who are responsible for arms procurement. It is they who decide what the forces are getting, how much of it, when, and how much will be paid. It is the whole procurement process than needs a complete overhaul. Best trained, worst led, as always.
Graeme, England

There is no point sending troops to war without the necessities. It seems that cutting back on the military has been going on too long. Remember the fiasco at Arnhem during WWII, because of faulty radios. Thousands killed, because of lack of communication and thus link-up procedures. I vote for more money, better cold/hot weather gear and definitely more up to date hardware (of all denominations).
E. Sutherland-Rawlings, Belgium

I served for 28 years in the British Army including the Gulf War, where I, along with a small team, was responsible for providing a secure communications system. A few years ago there were quite large manpower cuts and the older more experienced soldiers were made redundant. The British Army and particularly the Technical Corps, including the Royal Corps of Signals now have severe manpower shortages as they are unable to retain skilled manpower because the civilian telecommunications industry pays better and has better career prospects.
Chris Fielding, England

Imagine finding an electrician had come to your house to rewire it, and had nothing but a screwdriver. Then when he had finished you paid him 1/4 of what he wanted.
Trevor Hunter, France

Britain has, for centuries, had the best-trained and most courageous soldiers and officers, but all too often has had poor leadership from the very top, especially in peace time. Currently the army is strategically over-stretched and over-committed for its size and it needs to be larger and better equipped. The British taxpayer will willingly come through if they see their tax dollars spent more efficiently in their protection.
John, California USA, British citizen

We cannot, on our own, expect to have the necessary resources to wage war against any significant military force
Lyn, UK
Our recent history, with the exception of the Falklands Conflict in 1982,would suggest that military and political allegiance with the US is the major reason for our success in recent conflicts. As a nation we cannot, on our own, expect to have the necessary resources to wage war against any significant military force. Whilst pro rata, we should ensure our forces are suitably equipped, any future conflicts will be won or lost depending on whether we have the political and subsequently the military support of other appropriately equipped nations. We should continue to resource our forces at current levels and seek to maintain the political and military allegiances that have served us well for the last 50 years. It is essential that the support received from the US is not jeopardised by a 'United Europe', and a fragmented NATO.
Lyn, UK

If we expect people to fight, and possibly die, for us, they have a right to expect the best of everything. Why the SA80 was ever selected is a mystery to me, as it is a complete pile of (very expensive) junk.
John Atkins, Singapore

While we all want world peace, that is a dream of the future. There is a need today for a well-armed army. Poland just before Germany attacked them was trying to rearm with a modern force. Too little, too late. Only Mussolini's air force was best prepared for war. Not the rest of his armed forces. Look what happened to these two countries. If you send your forces in harms way, make sure the weapons are reliable.
Russ Black, USA

We have some of the finest military personnel in the world serving in Britains Armed Forces. They do not choose their roles nor the conflicts to which they are sent. As long as politicians are prepared to have a military force which they can 'use' for their own political agenda then it is imperative that British troops are provided the most advanced and most reliable resources available. Anything else is nothing short of CRIMINAL negligence. "lest we forget....."
Jim Smith, The Netherlands

In response to R woodward's comment. These weapons have been known to be frail and unreliable since before Iraq. Troops KNOW that their LIVES depend on their personal weapons and the weapons of others, these troops know that more than most. I can 100% assure you, although I was not there, that these weapons were in the 'best possible' condition upon departure. But with the SA80 family, 'best possible' does not seem to last very long. The government needs to get people who understand the needs to start looking for a solution. As for Dave Gladding, 'Sick people get no choice' I would say this, Drinking, Driving, Drink driving, smoking, fighting, Surely most of these are 'by choice'.

One of the most worrying thing is that the people who have a political or philosphical oppostition to military intervention or spending (the oppostion not in itself a bad thing, or even something I disagree with) seem from this comments page to think that its all the fault of the infantry, and they should die as a result. Get a grip. If we're going to send soldiers in to war zones, surely any reasoning being would say they have a right to be effectively equipped, whether or not you think they should be there.
Martin, UK

Whilst this government encourages UK arms companies to export modern high-tech arms our own armed forces suffer from shortages
Malcolm McCandless, Scotland
Is it not ironic that whilst this government encourages UK arms companies to export modern high tech arms around the world that our own armed forces suffer from shortages and the use of inferior and failing equipment. Sounds like someone in Whitehall needs a rocket up their posterior. Mind what chances are it of it going off first time!
Malcolm McCandless, Scotland

Pik Hoved states earlier that the recent reports will be used to demand more and bigger guns and bombs. I don't believe this is what is being asked for. I have spent time in the RAF and what I recall is that we didn't care what the equipment was, it just had to be able to do the job asked of it. We have infantry rifles that fall appart, won't work if it is too hot or too cold and require specialist workshop maintenace. (Not always available on a battle front). We don't need more or bigger, we need relaible and maintained. Enough working equipment for personnel to carry out the assigned task and spares available when they are needed. Not much to ask really!!
Tony, UK

Why should more money solve these problems? The army always makes enourmous mistakes, but it's only during war that these come to light. It's got nothing to do with spending - in previous wars we have spent far more, and the mistakes have been far worse. Fighting wars is hard, and experience hard to come by - however rich you are. Just look at the Americans: biggest defence budget, couldn't punch their way out of a paper bag.
Gwilym Ellis, England, EU

Can you imagine how we would have felt if the Serbians (and of all troops, they would have had they known our deficiencies) had attacked and fifty UK soldiers had been killed??? Yes, awful and ashamed had these concerns come out......and YES let's not cut our noses off to spite our face. I am afraid with Serbia and their ilk, they would i) cut our noses off for us and ii) you have to put up or shut up.
Barry Hawkins, UK

If someone sells you military-grade, but non-working equipment you get your money back or demand a working replacement - you don't tax people more and then claim that you need it. With the nuclear arms race supposedly died/dying what happened to all the money that went on these hideously expensive weapons of mass destruction?
Paul Charters, England

Maybe it is not necessary... If Britain would stop following the US in intervening everywhere and anywhere in the world then they would have more money to spend on preparing for the day when a war is really called for...over a matter which concerns Britain. Continuously sticking your nose in foreign affairs costs a lot of money, even if it helps advertise weapons which are later sold (often to those same people we later have to fight against again!).
Vivien Cooksley, Cyprus-Austria

The UK is the best friend the United States has in Europe. She needs to be strong and well armed, that's why we sell her our most state of the art weapons, Cruise Missiles, Apache attack helicopters and the only country to be trained on the F-117 stealth fighter.
The UK is a great country and should be proud of her military forces. Equip them with the best weapons you can find. Do not listen to the other Europeans who would rather roll over than fight. It's not just the Europeans who need to spend more, Canada needs to raise its military spending as well. The good old days of the US saving the world from itself are running out, you need to be able to take care of your own business in the new century.
Larry T, USA

Under-manning is just as an acute a problem as under-equipping
Jeremy, UK
In times of peace, politicians always seek to reduce military spending to the minimum. This is desirable, but both the politicians and the electorate must be properly informed of the implications. You cannot "punch above your weight" at no cost. Misleading sound bytes on the state of readiness of the military may fool the domestic electorate but potential enemies require harder facts.
The military leadership also has a duty to emphasise the real position (even if this conflicts with personal promotion prospects) and, where necessary, should not hide behind Queen's Regulations to avoid publicising the facts.
Under-manning is just as an acute a problem as under-equipping. Neither the Government nor the military hierarchy will admit to the true extent that the Army exists only on paper rather than in reality. Under-equipping and under-supplying already over-stretched personnel only compounds the problem. The truth is that the current strategy relies on the assumption that there will be little opposition. Sadly, despite the professionalism and courage of those in the Services, the hard mathematics of smaller and cheaper armed forces means that the potential opposition becomes relatively bigger and more powerful. The "no opposition" assumption has not yet been severely tested - luckily.
Jeremy, UK

We are still in the "queuing for ammunition whilst the natives are attacking" mode. The auto rifle SA-80 is universally known to be junk, but never mind, perhaps we can just use the bayonet instead.
Vince Coughlan, Malaysia

I suppose you have to be a certain age to remember this, but there was a time when our forces in Germany had to borrow arms and ammunition to conduct an exercise, and oddly enough, that was the last time there was a Labour government. And even longer ago, the very first Labour "pacifist" government gutted the armed forces so badly that later on, when Hitler went into the Rhineland the RAF was reduced to flying biplanes, and the Navy had only First World War dreadnoughts, and as a result if took five years to rearm in order to oppose aggression.
Apparently very little changes. We should remember that it takes a lot longer to rearm the British forces than it takes a strongly armed foreign country to get itself a dictator.
Jon Livesey, USA

Yes the UK Government needs to spend more money on Defence if our troops are to be sent on operations all over the world. But the British must demand other nations commit more money for defence too. For example Britain contributed troops, a warship and transport aircraft to the East Timor operation - surely this area should be the responsibility of ASEAN nations, Australia and the lead sponger New Zealand!!
Mike Graham, New Zealand

A simple solution. Do away with the professional army and go back to National Service for all males as soon as they finish high school. This would result in more money for equipment because you would not pay these men much, there would be no housing costs for families and no pensions.
With an army of conscripts politicians would be less likely to get involved in affairs that were of no concern to them. After all professional soldiers are merely mercenaries in the service of their own country.
A.Brooks, USA

It is always wise to maintain an armed force for defence as world politics can change very quickly. However, the civilian sector may benefit from the attention of the expertise on offer in the military, especially in engineering and scientific fields. If the military were to participate more in civilian projects, it would certainly help justify extra spending.
Richard Powell, England

Yes your armed forces deserve the support. Too heavy a reliance on the US will get you burned. They are entering a period of isolationism. You can see the signs and listen to their politicians.
Collin, Canada

My feet were too small for the special issue cold weather boots so consequently I had to buy my own.
Jo Hook, England
As a member of the first IFOR troops to move into Bosnia and having seen the conditions some of the troops have to put up with I think that they are seriously under-funded. My feet were too small for the special issue cold weather boots so consequently I had to buy my own to which the army refunded me exactly half of the money it took to buy a very expensive boot.
I think our forces should have the best equipment money can buy - let's face it at the end of the day the sole principle of having an army is to defend its country. I am sure that if push came to shove and we had to actually defend our nation as we did in the Second World War the troops should be doing their job with the best equipment possible.
Jo Hook, England

If equipment fails, that's because it's badly made, not because it wasn't paid for. If lines of communication are confused, that's just bad organisation, nothing to do with money. Maybe the armed forces do indeed need more money, but, apart from the shortage of night vision goggles, shortage of money is not the impression I get from this report, rather just a lack of professionalism, which is far more worrying.
Graham Bell, Brazil (British)

Yes, spending on defence has fallen to such a degree that we are expecting our forces to do a first class job with second or even third class equipment.
Mark Ormston, Czech Republic

Surely the country can afford higher defence spending after this long period of economic expansion.
Edward Hill, UK
Governments have always tried to cut defence spending in times of diminished threats. However whilst there may be no single threat to this nation's interests as typified by the Warsaw Pact, the world is a more uncertain and unstable place.
The government has recognised that the armed forces no longer need to fight a ground war on the North European Plain, but need to be flexible in order to react to any crisis. However whilst the intellectual change has occurred, the funds to achieve this change have not been forthcoming. Instead the Peace Dividend has seen the Defence Budget reduced by 30%, and has left the armed forces without the means to achieve the changes they have been set.
That they are in a better condition than many of our European Allies should be viewed as a cause for concern for Nato rather than a source of pride for Britain. Both Labour and the Conservatives during the last administration have regarded the armed forces as a soft touch, and diverted resources towards social projects. Whilst these are important, surely the country can afford higher defence spending after this long period of economic expansion.
Edward Hill, UK

Spend the money properly, efficiently on a smaller force.
Dave Gladding, UK
No. Spend the money properly, efficiently on a smaller force. The NHS needs money and lives are being risked through shortage of funds - at least soldiers volunteer for their risks, while sick people get no choice.
Dave Gladding, UK

Defence expenditure should be commensurate with the tasks assigned to the Armed Forces. These tasks are determined by the Government. Having done so it is responsible for ensuring that an adequate amount of public funds is allocated. The real question, therefore, is what do we consider to be the role of the Armed Forces of the Crown? When we have a clear answer to this question, and it has been unclear since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, we will be able to settle the level of expenditure question.
Major (Retired) Chris Klein, UK

I'm afraid that the partial failure of our recent invasion of Southern Serbia will be used as an excuse to show that we need more and bigger guns and bombs. At the beginning of the campaign, Madelaine Albright said to US General Colin Powell, "What's the point of having the most powerful army on Earth if you don't use it?" Politicians are not to be trusted with excessive military might.
Pik Hoved, Denmark

Of course the forces need more funding. As a former soldier with eighteen years experience I am well aware of the shortcomings created by miserly civil servants who saw the collapse of the Warsaw Pact purely as a money saving exercise.
These are the same grey little men and women who don't give a jot about the fact that soldiers are putting their lives on the line, just as long as it doesn't involve them. They would be the first to scream for assistance and expect our forces to respond if they themselves were under threat.
Pete, Scotland

If I was over there being shot at, I would expect that my government would provide me with serviceable equipment.
Clint Yarwood, UK
If I was over there being shot at, I would expect that my government would provide me with serviceable equipment.
Clint Yarwood, UK

It depends what you want to do with the armed forces... does the UK want to be a world player militarily, capable of participating in arenas of conflict wherever they occur? Or does the UK want to have a smaller armed force, used principally for purposes of self-defence.
This is a real choice that the government needs to make. The level of resources made available to the armed forces can satisfy the latter, but not the former. If the funding is not available, the Government should not commit the armed forces to overseas activities.
James Maxwell, UK

Definitely, the British not only under-fund the armed forces and under-man them but they also equip the infantry with weapons which do not function in an adequate manner. The model we should follow in that regard is the US which gives its men the tools they need to do a job.
Nigel Humphreys, UK

No it shouldn't. What we have to realise is that most of these conflicts wouldn't have happened if the Europe and US hadn't sold them weapons or interfered in internal politics of the country in the first place. Throughout the World to much money is spent on arms already and this spending should be reduced, not increased. The only reason such spending is needed is becuase the British government HAS to stick its nose into situations that it should not be near.
Vishal Vashisht, UK

If our men and women are willing to risk their lives for the common good then money should never be in question.
Allan McColgan, England/Sweden

The British Army is a valuable force to help in peacekeeping longer an instrument of colonialism
Geoff Acres, Austria / UK
Yes, we should. The British Army is now a valuable force to help in peacekeeping and relief operations, and for occasional unfortunate requirements to help put down repression and injustice. It is no longer an instrument of colonialism, and since it's activities are generally beneficial, it must have the equipment and manpower required to do it's job to it's maximum ability and with minimal risk to it's members.
Geoff Acres, Austria, UK Citizen

It surprises me that the weapons taken were 'personal' weapons which are set up for the individual. If they didn't work when they arrived, does this mean they didn't work before they left? A failing within the regiment perhaps?
R. Woodward, UK

I would have thought it grossly unfair to expect people to risk their lives on our behalf with outdated equipment.
Martn Howard, UK

If the Army is short of money why doesn't it organise a few jumble sales, sponsored walks and TV appeals. After all, it's what our schools and hospitals seem to have to do to get enough funds to operate. If there is as much general agreement about the need to have armies and weapons as the politicians keep telling us there is, they should have no great difficulty - should they?
Andy Richards, United Kingdom

Of course we should spend more money equipping the armed forces. The US has invested billions in development of high tech weaponry, it is obviously our duty to help her recoup this investment and retain US prominence in industry. What else are allies for?
Tom, Australia

The armed forces MUST have state of the art reliable equipment. Who knows when we may need to defend our country rather than attack another, that is when reliability would really count.
Dave, UK

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See also:
04 Jan 00 |  UK
K-For commander rejects criticism
03 Jan 00 |  UK
Damning report into Kosovo campaign

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