Reported in the Telegraph, the Guardian, Sky News and the BBC early this morning was a series of statements from Liam Fox MP, shadow Secretary of Defence. Given that most commentators feel that a Conservative win at the next election is likely anything that Liam Fox says on the defence issues is always newsworthy.
In previous blog posts here and here I have looked behind some of the statements from Liam Fox and found the facts at odds with the rhetoric. The UK desperately needs an effective Secretary of State for Defence, one who can drive through effective reform and ensure that funding meets aspirations.
Liam Fox said it was no longer possible to expect a fifth of the Army to be permanently tied up in continental Europe when such huge demands were being placed on the military by tighter budgets and the war in Afghanistan but would be contingent on agreement from allies and suitable accommodation being available in the UK.
A phased drawdown from Germany has long been an objective of UK Defence Policy, recently Project Borona relocated the NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) headquarters and other units have also been relocated to the UK. 4 Mechanised Brigade have also relocated from Germany to the UK and they are part of 1 Armoured Division.
Medium to long term plans include some consolidation of estate in Germany.
There might be some economic benefit to the wider UK economy, the supporting businesses are reportedly generating several billion Euros for the German economy and all things being equal this should be for the UK economy.
Strictly speaking, Liam Fox is correct, there is no military need to maintain forces in Germany to meet the Red Army streaming through Poland and Germany but in 2009 there are many other practical military reasons to do so.
The large training facilities available to 1 Armoured Division are second only to BATUS in Canada. There is simply not the space in the UK for large scale armoured warfare training. These training areas would still be available for UK armoured forces if they were relocated to the UK but it would be a significant and expensive exercise to deploy to the training area, there is nothing like having massive training areas on your doorstep.
The Defence Estate in the UK is under considerable pressure anyway and the accommodation issue is a big one, where would these people go, how much would the move cost and what about all the accommodation in Germany?
As a counter argument, heavy armour is less likely to be used in the future and in a future defence review is likely to cut numbers. British Forces Germany need a lot of Liam Fox’s favourite people, MoD Civil Servants.
Being in Germany has absolutely no bearing on deployability whatsoever.
As usual, there are many arguments and counter arguments.
But for a marginal or non-existent military advantage Liam Fox would relocate UK Forces Germany to the UK, thus costing a fortune and depriving the UK of invaluable and easily accessible training areas.
Time is getting short for Liam Fox to start generating some credible defence policies instead of generating meaningless soundbites. I hope there is more to the Conservatives defence and security agenda that this.
I have added one or two extra items, taking a lift directly from the comments, thanks gents.