King and Armies: Debate! 1 November

‘Buzz Lightyear’ has commented on a post from last November. Alleluia! May debate continue:

Greetings Roger. Thank you for posting this item.

Hopefully my comments below might generate some discussion. You make lots of interesting points – too many to address in one reply. Indeed, it would be possible to write a book discussing in detail all of the items that you raised. However, playing devil’s advocate and in favour of the existence of our military I offer the following viewpoint.

It would be great if we lived in a world without war, terrorism, famine, natural disasters, etc. Sadly that isn’t the case. There is an argument for the existence of military power alone whilst hoping that it will never have to be used. After all, the use of military force is a last resort when the diplomatic process has failed and our politicians absolutely have to find a solution to a particular problem.

Let’s take the Falkland Islands for example. Since the war of 1982, the UK has military forces stationed on the islands for deterrence (to ensure that Argentina don’t try to invade again) and reassurance (of the Falkland Island locals and the UK population back home). If you asked a Falkland Islander if they thought that the military should be drawn down to the extent that it would affect the military presence on the islands, I think I know what they would say!

The British government has been forced to reduce our military levels substantially since the fall of the Berlin wall and reduction in justification for an enormous military. The current economic situation has accelerated this reduction and whilst cuts in military spending may not be in line with cuts to other areas of government spending, the effect has still been quite noticeable. As a maritime nation, Britain has always placed significant emphasis on military power. We no longer have an empire to defend and we are no longer considered the global policeman that we once might have been. However, our strategic influence has, to a certain extent, been as a result of our military capability. Britain holds a Permanent Seat on the UN Security Counsel and is seen as a leader when it comes to influence amongst other developed nations. Would our global influence remain the same if we were to downsize or completely remove our military?

Military capability also has utility in disaster response – earthquakes in Haiti, peace support operations in Africa. Would disparate aid organisations like the red cross or MSF be able to respond in a similar way to these disasters without military support?

The recent conflict in Libya is another interesting situation. Without military intervention there can be no doubt that there would have been many of the residents of Benghazi killed as a result of Gaddafi’s imminent intention to quash the rebellious uprising. No doubt much blood has been spilt in supporting the rebels but arguably Libya is in a much better place now than it would have been if it was subjected to a continuation of Gaddafi’s oppressive regime.

I could go on, but I won’t as I’ll be here all day! Interested in your thoughts.

Gee, I’m honored Buzz. Many thanks for taking the time to write. More seriously, yes indeed these are matters about which much has been written and much more could be written.

The old American idea, explained by Alastair Cooke, is that military action as a last resort does not happen with a standing army. The difficulty of calling up recruits means that it will always be a last resort. This was the Biblical system of the Book of Judges, superseded by the establishment of the monarchy with its standing army, against the clear, godly, advice of the prophet Samuel. With a standing army it is far too easy to use military action as a second or third option, rather than a last resort.

You refer to the Falklands conflict. At that time, I was studying at theological college. The father of one of my fellow students worked in the diplomatic service. My fellow student told me that the father and his colleagues were distraught that diplomatic attempts to reverse the occupation were not considered. The Argentinean army had gone in. We had to send our army in. End of argument. Now we have to keep our army there indefinitely at great cost.

It was the same withIraq and Afghanistan. A ‘military’ attack had been made on the symbols of American power withinAmerica. Military action, ‘war on terror,’ was rushed into without exploring proper legal action. How many options were tried before the bombs started falling on Kabul?

What non-military options were tried before NATO bombing in Libya? It may be that military power there achieved its result in a short time and with comparatively low loss of life, But what is the evidence to show that bombing was clearly ‘the last resort?’

Do we want our global standing and influence to depend on our military capability? ‘Listen to us or we send in the boys!’ This is indeed too close to our old imperial attitude. I would far rather people across the world respect and heed us for our experience, wisdom, and creativity, our sense of fair play and adherence to the rule of law. It is righteousness which exalts a nation, according to the Bible, not military power (Proverbs 14:34).

Disaster response would be better carried out by a dedicated UN organisation, properly funded and monitored, or by the Red Cross. A concerted international capability is better than separate, rival, national armies. Civil airlines could be used more. Chartering them when needed would be cheaper than maintaining military planes. An older member of the congregation at my church used to work for British Airways, or its predecessors, in less profit-motivated times. She has flown into disaster areas with relief, often, she says proudly, the first on the scene, ahead of the military.


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