How Blair is destroying our Forces
One reason British troops continue to be killed and injured in southern Iraq is that they are expected to patrol in lightly-armoured Land Rovers which give them no protection against roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades. Meanwhile, their American counterparts walk away unscathed, even when their RG31 armoured patrol vehicles are hit by the same explosives. Yet the Ministry of Defence has not equipped the British Army with the RG31, even though it is built by a British-owned company.
This is a small but chilling example of the shambles the MoD is making of Britain's defences, thanks not least to the way Tony Blair is trying to pursue two contradictory policies at the same time. This has not been properly appreciated because media coverage of defence has become so scrappy.
On one hand, as we saw yet again with his recent visit to Washington, Mr Blair tries to keep in with the Americans by committing thousands of hard-pressed and ill-equipped British troops to fighting the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush and Blair still like to talk of keeping alive the Joint Strike Fighter project, the last major example of Anglo-US collaboration on military hardware.
On the other, as we saw again with his subsequent visit to President Chirac, Mr Blair has stealthily agreed to Britain playing a key role in the planned European Rapid Reaction Force. For this, he and the MoD have been prepared to restructure the British Army, scrapping the old regiments, and to commit colossal sums to buying every kind of European equipment, including two giant aircraft carriers, which we are to build with the French.
The MoD's top priority is to meet the "Helsinki goals", agreed by EU leaders in 1999, on the creation of an integrated European defence force. The project is co-ordinated by the European Defence Agency in Brussels, led by a former senior MoD official, Nick Witney.
To this end the MoD has been prepared to spend billions on EU-made missiles, ships, trucks, artillery and armoured vehicles, not to mention a French-led project to build unmanned aircraft, which Blair discussed with Chirac earlier this month, following Britain's withdrawal from a similar joint project with the US.
This has left the British Army starved of proper resources for its current tasks and so overstretched that it must rely on thousands of territorial soldiers, with its morale sapped by the dangerous lack of proper equipment and by the MoD's insistence on enforcing the European Convention on Human Rights in situations to which it was never intended to apply.
The real problem is that all this has been so hidden away behind layers of stealth and deception that no one ever asks any longer that fundamental question: what are our Armed Forces for?
Behind the scenes, the driving force of national policy is to fit us to play our part in building up a European expeditionary force, capable of operating anywhere in the world. But no one can explain the purpose of such a force, for essentially it has only one: to promote the cause of European integration.
This leaves us, in an increasingly darkling world, with forces ill-designed to protect any national British interests. Indeed, so dependent are we now becoming on equipment bought from our EU partners, including our most basic guns and ammunition, that it will soon be inconceivable that we could operate without their consent.
Meanwhile, our armed services are being asked to perform dangerous tasks, knowing that they no longer have much practical support from a Government bent on exploiting them politically, for purposes they find it increasingly hard to under-stand.
When the final charge sheet is drawn up against the way Mr Blair governed this country, one of the most damning charges will be the way in which he destroyed its Armed Forces. Yet the remarkable thing will be how almost nobody at the time noticed it was happening.