13 February 2024

Diversity and inclusion won’t fix an army unprepared for war


This week, a deeply uncomfortable truth has come to light, which many of us have known about for a while – that the Civil Service has become replete with senior mandarins intent on pushing fringe ideologies within their departments. 

The latest examples of this worrying trend are happening within our military. Thanks to recent reporting from The Daily Telegraph and whistleblowers from within the Ministry of Defence, we now know that several million pounds a year is being spent on senior ‘diversity and inclusion officers’ within all three branches of the Armed Forces, with an aim to have one of these officers for every 100 military personnel. 

Those of us who have served in the Armed Forces know that this is beyond lunacy – for two reasons.

The first is that the public couldn’t care less about the military’s diversity – at least when defined according to the absurd doctrines of critical race theory. In general, the public care rather more about the cost of living, food inflation, poor roads and insufficient housing than whether the British Army has enough diversity officers and is meeting its diversity, equity and inclusion quotas. 

But what makes these policies even more absurd is how unnecessary they are. The junior ranks of the British Army are made up from almost 20% non-white backgrounds, compared with 17% for the British population as a whole.

Speaking as a former infantry junior commander, and a currently serving reservist, I can confirm that the military is the best equaliser one can ever hope to find. You are placed within a system where physical and moral courage are placed above all other values. Regardless of background, the cream will rise to the top. Privileging gender and ethnicity above genuine merit would cause destruction in our ranks. 

The public, of course, completely get this. When it comes to the Armed Forces, what they really care about is whether military personnel are physically up to the job, and whether they have the resources to meet the demands placed upon by them by the government of the day, in their name. 

And it is here – not on diversity, equality and inclusion – that our military is really failing the test, despite repeated warnings from the Defence Select Committee, defence experts and retired senior officers. 

The most startling figure is that, in our ever-shrinking Army, around one third of the 75,000 soldiers are non-deployable. That means they’re permanently downgraded; undergoing rehabilitation, suffering from mental health issues, entering their final months of service when they cannot deploy.

The Army is also haemorrhaging talent. For every five new soldiers joining, eight are leaving. This is thanks partly to chronic mismanagement by recruiting firm Capita, and the lack of systems put in place to incentivise soldiers to extend their service. And it will get worse. The Government is still committed to reducing the size of the army to 73,000. To put that number into perspective, in 2012 the Army was 102,000 strong, and were fielding two brigades in Afghanistan, having fielded almost a division’s worth during the height of the war in Iraq a few years earlier.    

With the paltry number left including the thousands unable to deploy, the Army can no longer field a war-fighting armoured division to Europe – historically the cornerstone of British conventional deterrence. There are now serious concerns as to whether the Army could even sustain a solitary brigade in theatre these days, and I for one would welcome Labour’s ‘NATO test’ for all major defense projects to make sure they meet the obligations of the alliance, should they form a government this year. Because I know the findings would shock the British people – if not the civil servants running the department behind closed doors.

On diversity, equality and inclusion, the crackpot schemes being peddled by the Civil Service appear to be coming under scrutiny by both the Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, and Security Minister Tom Tugendhat, a former soldier. Indeed, both are reported to be furious with the most recent revelations. They are quite right, particularly at a time when we are bracing for further global turmoil as war continues to ravage Europe, the Middle East, and potential instability looms on both the Korean peninsula and in the South China Sea. 

The time has come to stop dithering around with defence. The millions of pounds each year that go to funding career-ladder diversity and inclusion policies need to be reappropriated to make our Armed Forces more lethal. That is, of course, the essence of what we do. In such fiscally restraining and geopolitically uncertain times as these, anything else is simply irrelevant. At best, these policies are largely pointless. At their worst, they are detrimental to our nation’s defences. 

Click here to subscribe to our daily briefing – the best pieces from CapX and across the web.

CapX depends on the generosity of its readers. If you value what we do, please consider making a donation.

Robert Clark is a senior Fellow at Civitas, and a Fellow at the Yorktown Institute, Washington DC. Prior to this he served in the British military for 16 years.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.