There is no such thing as a racing certainty but – ironically, tragically and unconscionably – the closest you’d get in these troubled times is a continuation of the decline in the number of members of the armed forces.
There can be no doubt – and I am in absolutely no doubt – that the primary role of the state is to protect its citizens: their lives and their limbs, and their property. Everything that follows – healthcare, economic prosperity, education – is dependent on national and personal security.
So you would like to think, indeed you would expect, that the number of soldiers, sailors and airmen (and this argument extends to the police and the security services) reflects the current needs of the nation.
It goes without saying that there will be times that greater strength is required, and times when less is required. But it should also go without saying that you have some contingency, some slack in the system, that allows for a robust and rapid response to reasonably-perceived threats.
Threats such as terrorism.
So how have we come to the situation where successive recent administrations have presided over a steady decline in personnel numbers and there are reports that more is to come?
At the height of World War II there were 10,000 service personnel in per 100,000 UK citizens.
During Suez it was around 1,500.
During The Troubles and the Falklands 600.
Kosovo and Sierra Leone, 350.
Iraq and Afghanistan, 300.
Today… 220, the lowest ratio for a century.
Defence is not merely a numbers game; the War on Terror is not just about ‘boots on the ground’, it is also about deploying technology. But you can monitor as many social media sites as you like; without someone to act on the intelligence gathered you are impotent.
At times like this it should be a case of all hands on deck. There will be empire builders who, even in the face of the carnage, protect the interests of their own establishments, cliques and enclaves. But any politician or government worth voting for will tear down the walls, bang heads together and ensure any of those charged with looking after the rest of us are appropriately funded, resourced and staffed.
As an old soldier, as the UUP’s justice spokesman, as an ordinary citizen of Northern Ireland, as a human who shares the revulsion and horror of recent and past terror attacks, I understand the need for law and order, for adequate national defence, for security services that are up to the job of keeping us safe.
Our security and defence are being sub-contracted out to private firms – something I don’t have a problem with as long as these firms are robustly regulated. In fact I know many of those who serve within these companies, as CEOs, trainers, or operationally deployed are ex UK military and police. It is a skill set that must be utilised and not left redundant. But it should not replace or undermine our military and security capability or capacity but enhance it.
I abhor conflict. I long for peace. But while there are those who think otherwise you need to be ready for both.