In what I will now call ‘We need to call out the Reserves for this?’ series of posts, I notice Mr Mark Francois, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence, has issued another Call-Out Order for the Reserves.
This time it’s a renewal order, under section 56(1B) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996, to extend authority to send Reservists to the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).
We are told that over 100 Reservists have been called out for Cyprus duty in the last 12 months, and that we are to do the same for the next 12 months, this order ending in December 2015.
I’m all in favour of Reservists serving with Regular forces, both on exercises and on operations. Many Reservists want to serve, have flexible jobs that enable them to take six months or so off from their day jobs, and many could do with the money. Many of them are also highly competent.
But although these call-outs will only involve volunteers who are ‘willing’ and ‘have the support of their employer’, it is still bizarre that we do not have the Regulars to meet this ongoing commitment. That is the serviceman’s job, it is why he (and she, of course) has made it his full-time job.
This is the thing about the Reserves 2020 plan. On the one hand it does something worthwhile: attempting to make the Reserves more ‘capable, usable, integrated and relevant’. Who could argue against this? But these are virtuous words that are deliberately hard to dispute. Who in their right minds (apart from Islamists and our own domestic Britain-haters; though one might question the soundness of their state of mind) would deliberately set out to lessen the capability of the Reserves?
On the other hand, the plan does something less worthwhile: actually making the Regulars less capable and usable. A reduction in the Army alone of 20,000 soldiers, comprising 20% of its existing strength is staggering when the figures are considered in any detail. The simple maths does not add up. We are recruiting approximately an extra 12,000 Reserves to replace the 20,000 lost Regulars. It doesn’t make sense.
It doesn’t make sense, that is, unless we see it for what it really is. Britain is skint and we simply cannot afford to maintain the force levels of former years. This is what the government had to come to terms with when it achieved office in 2010, and reducing the Regulars is one of the ways they are attempting to balance the books (though not doing a great job; Britain still managing an annual deficit of about £100 billion). They could prioritise spending differently, but they choose not to. That is where we are.
And so we will have to push on with trying to integrate the Reserves with the Regulars and using them a lot more than before. In one sense this is a good thing. The Reserves have a lot of capability. But in another sense it’s a bad thing: a recognition that Britain is on the wane. Sad that. But true. And it is still not clear we will be able to recruit the proposed numbers of Reserves.