The government’s defence review, seeking to make big savings in the defence budget, will cut the number of full time soldiers by 20,000. To partly make up for this, the number of reservists will double to 30,000.
The Telegraph today speculates about whether the territorial units can make up for the loss of full time soldiers.
For an interesting perspective on this, we have to go to … Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. An economics book might be an unexpected place to find discussion on the way armed forces are organised – especially an economics book first published in 1776.
But in fact he has a whole chapter in which he discusses what he calls “militias” (reservists) versus “standing armies” (full time soldiers).
He notes that in primitive societies, most people are farmers, and they are also soldiers. As the society becomes more advanced, manufacturing takes over as the main employer of people. But he points out that making a living by manufacturing requires working all year round, whereas a primitive farmer can take the field for battle for months at a time without destroying the crops or livestock that are his livelihood.
Therefore, he postulates that as societies advance, they replace their militias with standing armies, whose salaries are paid by the State. If they do not, their militias become less and less effective, as they concentrate less and less upon training to be a soldier.
He also notes that as the art of warfare becomes more complex, there is ever more a need for soldiers to be full time, in order to become well-practised at it.
He therefore notes that while militias of civilised nations can easily be defeated by militias of barbarous ones, a standing army trumps a militia every time. He suggests that the defeats of the Greek republics, the Persian Empire and the Roman Empire were all caused by this phenomenon.
A militia, in whatever manner it may be either disciplined or exercised, must always be much inferior to a well disciplined and well exercised standing army.
The fall of the Greek republics, and of the Persian empire, was the effect of the irresistible superiority which a standing army has over every other sort of miliitia.
When a civilised nation depends for its defence upon a militia, it is at all times exposed to be conquered by any barbarous nation which happens to be in its neighbourhood. The frequest conquests of all the civilised countries in Asia by the tartars, sufficiently demonstrates the superiority which the militia of a barbarous has over that of a civilised nation. A well regulated standing army is superior to every militia. Such an army, as it can best be maintained by an opulent and civilised nation, so it can alone defend such a nation against the invasion of a poor and barbarous neighbour. It is only by means of a standing army, therefore, that the civilisation of any country can be perpetuated, or even preserved, for any considerable time.
But then I suppose we can no longer be thought of as an opulent nation, and our rulers are no longer much interested in preserving our civilisation.