We must defend our own shores: Correlli Barnett


Another advocate of defensive defence? 

On 30th September, Correlli Barnett wrote a thought-provoking article, making the following points:

Defence Secretary Liam Fox believes that Britain must be able to ‘project power’ around the globe. But why on earth should ­Britain, an island nation of only 60 million people, ranking ­seventh in the world as an economy, and currently ­suffering a financial crisis, want to ‘project power’? 

  • China, the world’s leading exporter, doesn’t see the need to ‘project’ military and naval power beyond its own ­east-Asian region. Instead, it wisely concentrates on developing sources of food, raw materials and energy in Africa and elsewhere.
  • Much the same sense of ­strategic restraint applies to Japan, the world’s second-largest exporter. 
  • As for Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy and highly dependent on imports of energy and raw materials, did we see it supply 40,000 ­military personnel to join the invasion of Iraq in 2003? No, we did not. Are 10,000 German troops now deployed in Afghanistan? No. 

Do we see either Japan or Germany suffer in any way because they are not permanent members of the UN Security Council? 

­Britain has found that permanent membership entails more ­obligation than advantage. The truth is that since World War II, British foreign and defence policy has been driven by history, not by a sense of realism . . . 

So how should we frame a defence policy that fits the real circumstances of Britain today and in the coming decades? 

The answer is that we should start with the independence and safety of the UK.

That means a Royal Air Force capable of deterring or ­defeating any aerial threat. 

It means a Navy able to ­control the seas around the British Isles. 

And it means a combination of police and ­military forces (coupled with high-grade surveillance and signals intelligence) able to quell any internal terrorism or civil disorder. 

It should also mean building up stocks of food and fuel in order to avert the effects of any kind of blockade.

Barnett concludes, “it is clear that Western Europe should be the forward perimeter of our defence: one which we neglect at our peril. In 1940, we failed to commit land and air forces strong enough to defend that ­perimeter, with the result that Britain, isolated and under siege after the fall of France, only narrowly escaped invasion and national defeat.” 

Solution: a minimalist ­foreign and defence policy?  

Instead, we should concentrate solely on British interests in the narrow physical sense that our ancestors would have understood it — the protection of sources of energy and raw materials, locations of major investments and markets. 

My solution is simple: let us opt for a minimalist ­foreign and defence policy ­suitable for the fifth-ranking economic power — even if it means that our government ministers will no longer able be able go around the world posing as important international figures. 

Read the article here.

Correlli Barnett, historian and author, is a fellow of Churchill College. His books include the Pride and Fall sequence and three acclaimed works of military history. From 1977 to 1995 he was keeper of the Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge.


Like Dr Ian Davis, Nato Watch, most readers would not agree with Correlli Barnett’s conviction that the security of the UK requires the retention of a nuclear deterrent technically advanced enough to deter or punish any second-class state that possesses, or may acquire, nuclear weapons. 

Dr Davis would opt for a minimalist defence policy but a maximalist foreign policy, since he would strongly object to removing our humanitarian/democratic values from our diplomatic projection as Barnett suggests.


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