BILL Ramsay’s contribution (Letters, Jan 29) on the unpalatable subject of conscription is well presented, but he has ignored the realities of where the world is at present.

Yes, since Korea we in the UK have invariably been involved in small-scale expeditionary and police actions. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union our defence forces have been structured more and more on that basis, on the naive assumption that peer-level conflicts with such as Russia will not happen. Clearly events of the last couple of years have exposed the reality of what we may easily be up against at relatively short notice.

Anyone who has been involved with our military in the last 20 or 30 years has been concerned and alarmed at the loss of our capability. Up to a point, Bill is correct in that the military-industrial complex thrives on conflict – sadly that has always been the case, and as long as megalomaniac dictators exist it will still be the industry of last resort.

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It should be well noted that while democracies are likely to embark on police actions, they rarely ever invoke major invasions. It is invariably political leaders who drive war, and almost never ordinary people who “merely” want to get on with their lives.

The first priority of any state is that of defence, being able to repel enemies who attack our way of life, and that means being adequately prepared for the likelihood. This raises the truism that to maintain peace it is necessary to prepare for war. That is the only way of minimising the likelihood of that happening, where competent, well-supplied, sufficient forces act as an effective deterrent. If we have no or minimal defence capability, we become a pushover.

To make matters worse, while countries like Russia retain vast quantities of old and out-of-date equipment as a contingency reserve, our political masters sell it all off, leaving us with capability gaps. The era of the peace dividend is well and truly over, and in fact has been for the last several years. We have a lot of expensive catching up to do and current, previous and indeed armchair generals are looking at what may well be happening some time in the not-too-distant future and urging us to be prepared for the worst.

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Their calls have nothing to do with Empire glories but are based on their expert assessment of what may be needed at short notice, taking into account the lead times and our relative unpreparedness. Nobody actually wants war, apart from the stupid and insulated, but we have to be able to face up to it and the consequences. We cannot even effectively defend our shores from unarmed migrants in rubber boats, despite vacuous political rhetoric.

Contrary to Bill’s assertion, none of this is based on past glories, which merely provide the basis for our quaint and tourist-friendly parades and other spectacles. Given the state of technology and reliance on electronics, Nato collectively cannot produce large quantities of weapons systems and resupply of ammunition at the rates demonstrated as needed in Ukraine, and that is just one country under attack.

Therefore, alarming as it may be, building up our armed forces does reduce the likelihood of conflict, and in a democracy even as flawed as ours we can generally be sure that the likelihood of us invading another country is minimal, unlike the aforesaid dictator-led states. We currently struggle to send even a small force to support a single country, let alone adequately defend our shores or face up to several simultaneous or wide fronts, as would be required if the existing localised conflicts get out of control.

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It may be that Russia would not be able to match Nato as a whole on the basis of population or economic power, but that doesn’t stop it from trying – or using, as it has threatened to, its nuclear options. Indeed another looming issue is that the most likely candidate for the new President of the USA has already expressed his admiration for Putin, and also questioned US support for Nato and Europe.

The world is changing, international relations are becoming polarised and fraught with danger, so now is not too early to make sure we have the man and woman power capacity to stand up for ourselves. If Russia were to regain the Baltic States, Finland, Norway and Sweden – which has been their stated intention – we would be back to where we were in 1940. And to end on another alarming note, we cannot sustain health services now, so think of the impact of any form of major war and the casualties that would produce!

Nick Cole
Meigle, Perthshire