Article Daily Telegraph
26 October 2017
The government would do well to remember the words of Nelson’s colleague Admiral, the Earl of St Vincent, who said of the Royal Marines: “If ever the hour of real danger should come to England, they will be found the country’s sheet anchor”. It comes to something when a senior US military figure, Lieutenant-General Jerry Harris, seems to understand better than our own Government why cutting the Royal Marines would be dangerous for our defence and that of the Western alliance.
This is the most perilous and unstable time I have known in my adult life. No-one can predict the future. We will need troops who can move fast, be flexible and adapt to any environment. The Royal Marines have done that for our country for more than 350 years, and still do it regularly, day in day out and to world class standards.
It is ironic indeed that this seems to be better understood abroad than it is at home. Senior US military figures have repeated unequivocally their message to the UK about cuts to the Royal Marines budget, describing them as dangerous.
The Ministry of Defence is considering a cut of 1,000 Royal Marines and the loss of two amphibious assault ships, which the American high command has warned would change the relationship between the UK Marine Corps and our Royal Marines.
If these reductions go ahead, they will undermine our position as a serious military force. Col Dan Sullivan, who works at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Virgina, says that a cut to the 6,640 strong Royal Marines would be a “real blow”. He makes the point that the Royal Marines are particularly vital because a major military power needs the capability to “project power ashore at some point.”
As Major-General Julian Thompson, himself an ex-Marine said, cuts will send a message to those who threaten us and our way of life, that the UK is just “not interested” any more.
As I have reminded the government before, the Royal Marines provide an essential pool of manpower from which our our Special Forces are drawn. Cut them and you will cut our Special Forces too. They have fought in more theatres and won more battles than any other British unit. To dismiss this legacy, and along with it a unique military capability, is to weaken our national defences and diminish our standing with our Allies.
We have a Twitter-happy president who might well turn out to be trigger-happy, too, and a prime minister all too keen to ally herself with him. We have a Foreign Secretary who remarked recently that a military option for relations with North Korea “must remain on the table”. This is hardly the time to diminish one of our most unique and defining military capabilities.
We all know why this is being done. The Royal Navy cannot find enough sailors to man its ships. Many believed that the decision to spend so much of our defence resources on two aircraft carriers we may never need in the future was one of the worst procurement decisions of our time. Now we have them, these ships of course must be manned. But to make the Royal Marines pay the price for this is to compound an error with a folly – a dangerous one at that, with the military strategists having to work out how they can possibly make the £20bn to £30bn cuts to the defence budgets over the next decade which the Chancellor is demanding.
Today we celebrate the 353rd birthday of Her Majesty’s Corps of Royal Marines. A week ago we commemorated the 212th anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar. Have we so forgotten our history that we now consider weakening the maritime capability that has kept this country safe – that has been its sheet anchor in stormy times? The good Admiral Earl St Vincent would be spinning in his grave.