n which case Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, is taking an enormous gamble when he claims that the 20 per cent reduction in the size of the standing Army will be made up for by a sizeable increase in the number of reservists to 30,000. Ever since the Coalition announced last summer that it was downsizing the Army from around 102,000 to 82,000 as part of its cuts to the MoD budget, senior officers have been struggling to find a way to maintain some semblance of its war-fighting capabilities while reducing this once proud institution to its smallest size since the Duke of Wellington took on Napoleon’s Grande Armée.It's interesting to see that the British Army is now smaller than it was after the disarmament program that followed the Great War and preceded World War II. There are obvious parallels to "the Geddes Axe" and the 10-Year Rule.
Their task has been made all the more difficult by the knowledge that the Government’s decision to shed 20,000 jobs was dictated entirely by budgetary requirements rather than any grand strategic vision for our Armed Forces. For the changes announced by Mr Hammond yesterday are simply designed to cut spending. As most officers know only too well, the demands made on the 100,000-plus Army during a decade of almost continuous combat operations have stretched its resources to breaking point.
Nor is there any reason to believe – despite the Army’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, due to be completed by the end of 2014 – that the next decade will not be as challenging.
"In the immediate aftermath of the First World War, Britain faced serious economic woes and heavy defence cuts were consequently imposed by the British Government in the early 1920s as part of a reduction in public expenditure known as the "Geddes Axe" after Sir Eric Geddes. The Government introduced the Ten-Year Rule, stating its belief that Britain would not be involved in another major war for 10-years, and was abandoned in 1932."
In the interwar period, the Regulars were reduced to 115,000, supported by a 150,000-strong reserve, the Territorial Army. That compares to today's planned British Army of 82,000 plus 30,000 reservists. It's interesting, is it not, to see how the force minimization tends to correspond to periods of economic weakness. The historical patterns are suggesting that large-scale war is on the horizon, the question is where and with whom?
However, it is the USA that matters most in this regard, and I don't think its forces have been cut quite as drastically yet. So, I suspect we'll need to see similar cuts in the USA, and more economic contraction, before this part of the pattern can be considered complete.