FOR the second time in two years, strange as it may seem, we have witnessed a Tory attempt to douse intemperate sabre-rattling, on this occasion by the head of the British Army.

Last time it was over calls to set up a Nato no-fly zone over Ukraine. Probably based upon perceptions of air war gleaned from Top Gun movies and the Star Wars franchise, political panellists on Question Time seriously pondered the idea. Over multiple episodes we saw Tories play the role of the adult in the room, pointing out that the notion was nonsensical at best and courting Armageddon with a nuclear power at worst.

Only the Tories seemed to understand that a no-fly zone meant a shooting match, or to be more accurate a shooting-down match, with Russia.

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Earlier in the week we had the head of the army – passed over, according to some reports, for chief of the defence staff – loudly unsheathing his metaphorical 1912 pattern sabre, and waving it at the Russians.

Is true that his clarion call to prepare for World War Three will be music to the ears of sundry knights of the shires and probably Sir Keir too. However, his call to introduce national conscription will go down like a lead balloon and will not at all be seen as helpful in an election year. Hence the icy reception from Whitehall and Downing Street for his conscription proposals.

However, the electoral salience – or to be more accurate, the electoral toxicity – of a conscription debate in elections is only one side of the coin. The other side of the conscription debate is much more important in the longer-term strategic calculus of the UK.

Most would agree that almost all the UK’s military operations this century have been expeditionary. That is to say, interventions in distant places. Most would also agree that casualties in volunteer forces are much more palatable to publics. Not popular, to be sure, but more likely to be tolerated.

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If our soldiers were conscripted the public scrutiny of our wars would be much more intense, much more searching. Carefully curated public relations strategies would wither under the scrutiny, as happened in the USA Vietnam experience.

It was the concept of the draft that led to the strategic defeat of the USA in Vietnam. The world’s military hegemon simply does

not experience defeat at the operational level, as the literally countless deaths of the Vietnamese testify, though of course what denotes victory is an entirely separate matter.

To be clear, although the military industrial complex doesn’t want defeat, ideally it would rather have never-ending revenue streams generated by never-ending wars. Definitive victory is of secondary importance for the US political donor class. The lessons of the Vietnam war are hardwired into those who profit, and a draft, conscription, a reservist pool – call it what you will – is anathema for them for its primary military auxiliary force.

Even today, in the Gaza conflict we can even see the fragility of the conscription/reservist service model buckle under the pressure of an Israeli public who have for years been punted the hubristic delusion that a force of reservists can fight like fully trained volunteer professionals.

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General Sanders’s rallying call for his vision of a future shape of the army is, in my view, grounded in past glories than a cold assessment of realistic future capabilities. As we watch the world of warfare contort under the inexorable cultural pressures of social media, the reality for the future of Britain’s armed forces is obfuscated by British delusion.

Where our armed forces fight, when they fight and with whom fight will be decided furth of these shores. If you doubt me, go and read the stated published policies of the Foreign Office and the doctrinal statements emanating from Whitehall, or indeed sundry public utterances by some who should know better. General Sanders’s statements are yet more reasons why the deployment of any future Scottish defence forces should ultimately be decided by politicians accountable to the Scottish people. If more episodes of wars without conclusions are to be the fate of our servicemen and women, then let that be in the hands of those who vote in Scotland.

Bill Ramsay
via email