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Antony Antoniou – Reform UK Northampton North
Prospective Parliamentary Candidate
(PPC) 2024 General Election

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It’s time to bring back Conscription

A Heated Debate

A fiery debate has broken out in the UK over whether some form of national service should be reintroduced to address concerns over Britain’s declining military power. A new report has found that British armed forces now have 50,000 fewer personnel than France, raising alarms that the UK can no longer defend its interests on two fronts simultaneously.

In a YouTube discussion on the issue, strong arguments were made on both sides by prominent military figures. Supporters of national service pointed to its potential benefits for national unity, reducing youth problems, and filling recruitment gaps. Opponents argued it would be an expensive distraction that fails to address the core issues weakening UK defence capabilities in an age of new threats.

Diminishing Forces, Increasing Threats

The report making headlines was published by the renowned International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). It warned bluntly that British combat forces are now “very, very small” relative to the country’s global commitments and security challenges.

This follows a pattern of decline spanning decades. Despite warnings from now sidelined senior officers, successive UK governments have pressed ahead with force reductions while empowering civil servants to lead defence policymaking over uniformed commanders. As military historian Lieutenant General Jonathan Riley contends, the Ministry of Defence “has been disemboweled as a strategic military headquarters.”

The result, argue critics, are armed forces that look impressive on paper but lack the actual strength, readiness and advanced technologies to defend British interests against threats old and new – from open warfare to hybrid attacks. Ascendant rivals like China and Russia are already probing the UK’s weaknesses from cyberspace to the seas.

Could National Service Help?

Proponents argue some form of national service – be it military or civilian – could benefits society and defence in these times of transition.

The need is evident in a wave of nihilism, disillusionment and anti-patriotic sentiment amongst many British youths. By providing structure, skills and public service opportunities, national service could help recent graduates gain purpose and perspective before entering the workforce or academia.

Research shows that positive youth participation in community protection roles like firefighting promotes psychosocial wellbeing. National service graduates could directly boost the part-time volunteer forces that are increasingly critical to UK resilience while creating a population morepsychologically invested in national security.

These second-order benefits matter amidst recruitment and retention challenges facing Britain’s struggling armed forces. If creatively tailored, national service initiatives could steer graduates towards fillings gaps areas like cybersecurity. However, making regular service life more appealing remains paramount.

Misplaced Nostalgia?

Critics counter that calling for national service reflects misplaced nostalgia more than defence strategy. Conscription-based mass mobilisation belongs to the 20th century warfare, not the technology-centric conflicts unfolding today against threats like domestic extremism and hybrid disinformation.

Large-scale national service would require tremendous investment against questionable returns. Just look at Russia’s floundering conscript forces today, ossified by ageing Soviet-era weapons and tactics against Ukraine’s nationalist volunteer defenders equipped with NATO’s latest kit. Quality matters more than quantity in modern warfare.

Thus the focus should be on expanding and empowering Britain’s existing volunteer reserves and cadets to gain military experience without abandoning civilian careers or education. These part-time forces maintain closer community ties and often bring specialist skillsets complementing the overstretched regulars. Beefing these up would build resilience through wider societal participation.

Brexit & The Franco Challenge

However, political considerations inevitably shape this debate. Brexit has revived old rivalries as the UK reassesses its place in Europe and the world. Reports of French military advances have stoked nationalist concerns that “the French are laughing at us” across the Channel.

Yet while inter-service rivalry has long driven reform, overstating current Franco-British differences risks breeding complacency. In actuality, both nations field modern, competent forces within an intimate alliance. Meeting the challenge from Paris should focus less on score-counting than encouraging joint NATO leadership to address threats Brussels was unwilling to prioritize before Brexit – like maritime security against Russian expansionism in the High North.

Moving Beyond Wokery

Ultimately, getting Britain’s hard power back on track requires moving beyond partisan politics – and Twitter-amplified outrage narratives – to enact structural defence reforms. As General Riley stresses, steady underinvestment in frontline capabilities while squandering billions on botched procurement projects has left forces demoralized.

Both equipment and training budgets have suffered from the political drive to fund expanded welfare programmes since 2008. Effectiveness now depends on making service life financially and socially rewarding to attract committed talent. This includes championing veterans in public life to demonstrate the value of military service to society against corrosive ‘woke’ messaging denigrating UK history.

Conclusion

The national service debate reflects rising insecurity over Britain’s place in the world amidst perceived declining military power. While reintroducing national service could bring some societal benefits, it risks distraction from the hard choices needed to rebuild capable armed forces for the 21st century. The UK needs to invest more – and more wisely – in defence while celebrating its proud martial traditions to motivate the next generation. Brexit has granted freedom to rethink UK strategy; now the country must match rhetoric with the required resources and reforms.

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