Cabinet papers released by the National Archives under the 30 Year Rule reveal that the Callaghan Government was deeply concerned about deficiencies in Britain’s military capabilities - at a time when the Nation invested twice as much in Defence as it does now.
Commenting on the newly released papers, Commander John Muxworthy, Chief Executive of the UK National Defence Association (UKNDA), said:
“Little or nothing has changed over the last thirty years save that during this period the amount invested in Defence has been more than halved. Problems then facing our Armed Forces were due to the 'crazy decisions' on Defence spending taken a decade previously. Similarly today the £2billion 'black hole' in the Defence budget is the result of crazy funding decisions made by the present Government over the past decade.
“In ten years from now, unless there is a significant increase in the Defence budget, the situation facing our Armed Forces will be even worse than it is today. We will have fewer men, fewer ships and fewer aircraft. Three weeks ago the Government announced the very first cuts in public spending due to the current financial crisis – and the axe fell on the Defence budget first of all.
“Defence should be the Government's top priority – yet it is obviously the lowest. The ever downward spiral of funding for our Armed Forces, while their tasking, workload and overstretch increases year by year, must be reversed before there is some irredeemable disaster. Our Forces today are stretched to the limit and beyond, and are now utterly unable to respond quickly to the 'unexpected'.
“The one thing we can be sure of is that the next major threat, incident or disaster to affect this Country will have been 'unexpected'. Prime Minister Callaghan seems to have been well aware of this. He described the gaps in our Defence capability as a ‘scandal’.
“Unless Defence is raised urgently and very significantly in the Nation's list of priorities our Armed Forces may well be unable to respond effectively to the next 'unexpected' incident. We have nothing to spare - the cupboard is bare. Thirty years from now, what will our successors say of us?
“On the Cabinet papers released under the 30 Year Rule there is a handwritten note by Prime Minister Jim Callaghan: ‘Heaven help us if there is a war!’ What, if he is honest with himself, would our present Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, today scrawl on his briefing papers? ‘Heaven help us if there is [another] war!’ "