The demand for an increase in the manpower and equipment of Western conventional forces in the European sector is now strong. Macnamara has been demanding that all nato countries should increase their conventional contribution in order to raise the nuclear threshold and provide the basis for a more flexible us policy. The same point comes through direct from the over-dependence of British troops on tactical nuclear weapons.
The significant feature of January’s conscription scare was that such arguments were strengthened from outside Europe. Britain has often used the argument that because of our need for troops in other areas of the ‘free world’ we should be allowed to provide fewer troops in Europe. In January the government proved unable to meet its nonEuropean needs. It was only by the most rapid jiggery-pokery and the jettisoning of a large part of its Cyprus policy that the situation could be saved at all. The Government even announced that they were prepared to withdraw troops from Germany if need be.
There is a need for an increase in the size of the army. The Government, despite all the mystique about a small highly trained mobile army, have been unable to meet their own manpower targets. The press in January added this up to conscription. This was certainly incorrect. The Government still had over 100,000 reservists they could have called up in any but a pre-election period. The army could probably be increased without conscription if enough money were spent.
To warrant such a politically explosive step as conscription the needs would have to be very considerable. Throughout the Berlin crisis, when the Americans’ demands for the conventional option were strongest, the Government did nothing. It is hard to see them taking action in Europe during the detente, and after the Big Lift and the
The sweet mystery in all his is Wilson. He and the Labour Party are committed to using the money they save from the independent deterrent (minus the upkeep of the V-Bombers for an indefinite period, and possibly minus the production cost of the tsr 2, and, according to Brown and Gordon-Walker, possibly minus the sales price of Polaris) to increase conventional forces and, presumably with what is left over, to improve the social services. According to the official Labour Party interpretation of the strategic situation, the conventional contribution to nato needs raising. There is clearly a pervasive ambiguity in all this. Presumably the positions are being fought out within the leadership. Certain key figures in the party are known to favour conscription. Wilson possibly has decided to be cautious on defence before the election. But why should nothing at all be said on Cyprus, nothing on East Africa, virtually nothing on Malaysia? And why should a motion be put down calling on he Government ‘to produce a white paper embodying proposals which will ensure that the armed forces are capable of fulfilling Great Britain’s legitimate military commitments’, followed by a speech denouncing the ‘so-called British so-called ind...’, outlining again what the Labour Party would do, succeeded by a proposal for talks with Home to discuss military questions ranging from the recruitment of Gurkhas to nato conventional strategy? There seems to be some very confused in-fighting going on—over what? Have three election gimmicks been strung together for want of something better to do? Whatever the answer, socialists should be acutely concerned over the evident disorientation of Labour Party policy.