IT is widely accepted that Britain's armed services are over-stretched. From fighting fires to fighting wars the military in recent years has never been so busy. Instead of thanking them for their loyal service the British government intends to disband many famous regiments and effectively make thousands of soldiers redundant. The Black Watch, which fought in the recent Iraq war, is just one of the regiments which could be abolished thanks to sweeping defence cuts. The government argues that the so-called peace dividend from Northern Ireland is allowing them to reduce the size of the military but of course there is the small question of Iraq, where Britain has 12'000 troops, roughly a quarter of the army. The sweeping defence cuts, which are going to be introduced basically to pay for the war, are going to be nicely camouflaged. There is a belief that the armed services should be more sophisticated through the purchase of smart weaponary. But the truth is simple; if the Ministry of Defence hasn't the budget to pay for existing conventional weapons it's not going to have the money to pay for far more sophisticated and costly weapons systems. In other words at a time when Britain's military is deployed across the world it is going to be cut back to the bone and vital equipment programmes cancelled. While most other European nations are spending more Britain will spend less. Effectively it is a kick in the teeth for the military who have been involved in five different conflicts since Blair came to power in 1997, including a major war. I agree that the health service and education should receive a lion's share of the budget. However, if Blair wants to cut back the military he must stop his sabre-rattling and acknowledge that the armed forces are just for the defence of the realm and not to be used in conflicts across the globe. The armed forces were poorly equipped to fight in Iraq and once the next defence cuts take place I doubt that Britain will be able to deploy a sizeable and effective force.