THE events in the Middle East show the cuts to the Royal Navy last year have left Britain unable to react quickly to global events, a former senior naval officer has warned.
Admiral Lord West said Britain’s slow response to evacuate thousands of Britons from Libya could have been averted if there were more ships in the fleet.
The former First Sea Lord said he was worried the country no longer has the power to deal with global events quickly.
He said: ‘Going back a few years ago, without anyone saying anything or anyone knowing, we would have gently moved small amphibious forces and a few ships there should anything happen and they were needed to help. We never do that any more because we do not have the ships there.
‘We’ve lost a lot of flexibility without a doubt and it is really worrying. I know we are cash-strapped but there are other ways this government could have addressed the problem.
‘Losing so much of the maritime force as we have means we have lost a lot of flexibility and it is a big cause for concern.’
The Strategic Defence and Security Review cut the surface fleet to just 19 ships and left the navy without HMS Ark Royal or jets to fly from aircraft carriers.
The government, in its National Security Strategy, predicted there would be no need for such a capability until the next decade.
But Lord West said: ‘All the events in the Middle East show we can not predict strategic shock. As a nation we rely on global stability. We have millions of citizens around the globe that need to be looked after. We rely on trade across the world and nearly all of the world’s shipping is from London.
‘Look at the ships we’ve lost. Largs Bay, a Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship that has paid off, could have gone there (Libya).
‘She could carry over 1,000 or 2,000 people out of there and she’s an RFA so she could have gone in there more easily. Flat-tops like Ark Royal would be in their element. Helicopters could have been sent in to difficult-to-reach places to get to people safely.’
As for the wave of political unrest sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, Lord West said: ‘We would like to hope it leads to more stability and democracy across the region but in my experience after 42 years in the navy, most of the time it does not happen.’
He added: ‘There seems to be more and more events happening around the world more frequently where we have to step up to get British nationals out. With the cuts we’ve made to the maritime force, it is deeply worrying that we are left reacting to things rather than already being there when they do happen.’