Being a public-spirited sort your blogger chose, in the months leading up to the publishing of the SDSR, to take part in the public consultation process that preceded its public release. I have no idea now what I said but it no doubt involved a lot of wittering about sovereign and strategic power-projection, and how this aim was best achieved in the coming years of austerity by a greater emphasis on naval and expeditionary forces. The reply arrived last month.
What are the Armed Forces for, and how is the SDSR supposed to help them achieve this end?
When we look at the yawning disparity between budget and capability of the UK and US Armed Forces it is often easy to forget that the latter faces near identical pressures to the former, with only scale acting as a significant difference. The doctrine of the Blair years SDR98 was to act as a mini-US, with the intention of matching 15% of US commitment in order to earn Framework Nation Status with the command input that entails. Continuing with the goal of Framework Nation Status was an option for the 2010 SDSR, it would however have demanded a disproportionate share of UK defence spending in order to sustain long-endurance counter-insurgency wars.
This was not the direction chosen in October 2010, and similar constraints are forcing the US down this path too.
The telegraph made headlines this week with an article claiming that the Army would be facing a cut of up to 20,000 troops after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, leaving manpower cut to circa 80,000 in the period following 2015. This has come as a surprise to some quarters given the vagueness of the SDSR itself, not least because of the constant reference to the heavily quoted number of 94/95 thousand troops alongside repeated references to the ‘aspiration’ of the 2020 force structure. It should not have been a surprise.
Notwithstanding ambiguous quotes in the SDSR document there were plenty of caveats.
It should not be news to anyone that the Defence budget was a shattered ruin by the beginning of 2010, when the Gray report revealed an unfunded 10% budget deficit over the coming decade, in addition to Treasury insistence on Defence funding of the acquisition costs of the Trident replacement which represents a further 2.5% cut, and, a Treasury demand for a 7.5% reduction as part of the Defence contribution to balancing the country’s shattered public finances. And yet people are surprised at the huge number of capabilities and platforms that got axed at the SDSR……….
Why? Did we not all spend the preceding twelve months consuming a non-stop diet of horror stories?
France and Britain have concluded a set of new Defence agreements that will see the countries work more closely together, but what will be the result? The countries share a great number of complimentary & similar characteristics including GDP, Defence budgets, UNSC membership, nuclear deterrents, overseas dependencies & global foreign policy ambitions, but both have defined their ambitions though opposing reactions to the Suez crisis. In both instances to never find themselves marginalised in world affairs through opposition from the US, but on the one hand by by converging already complimentary ambitions, and on the other by creating a european framework through which independence of the US can be achieved.
What does this agreement tell us about how those ambitions have evolved since the Cold War?
Another roller-coaster week in Strategic Defence & Security Review, with a parade of headlines in the news, that if considered chronologically, draw an interesting picture of the evolution of ideas that is occurring at break-neck pace inside the offices of government.
And it all started with the following headline: “Navy to reduce to smallest size ever to save carriers”
Ignore the detail of the leaked letter from Fox to Cameron regarding the sorry state of the SDSR, the single most important conclusion to draw is that once again a British government is endangering the Armed Forces by creating a new strategic direction and then refusing to fund Defence at a level sufficient to drive the vision.
This is not helped by differences of opinion in how an “Adaptable” Armed Forces should be configured. Continue reading →
Early in this year the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre of the MOD produced a paper titled The Future Character of Conflict, an exploration of the threats Britain is likely to face in the next twenty years, in order to inform a future security and defence review. The document focuses on the changes in strategic priorities and capabilities of nations and non-state-actors, and how Britain might react to them. It is an extensive tract broken down into a series of disaggregated bullet points, so for the purpose of this post the most interesting themes have been collated for comment.
What follows is not an analysis of the of the text itself, rather a discussion of how those themes directly impact on the assumptions of the coming Defence review.
The biggest news item surrounding the Armed Forces this week is the shock announcement from the Chancellor that whereas the acquisition costs of the Trident replacement were previously expected to be funded directly from the Treasury, now the £20 billion cost should be absorbed by the £36 billion defence budget. At the same time speculation from the more stridently right-wing of Conservative support is reaching a fever-pitch over the possibility of a merger between the Tories and the Liberal end of the Lib-Dem’s.
Given William Hague’s recent foreign policy speech it would appear that he intends for Britain to keep a premier role in international affairs, we currently have around 35,000 members of the Armed Forces deployed, and it is unlikely given the above that requirement for this commitment will decrease dramatically. Of those 35,000 personnel from all three branches of the Armed Forces ten thousand are engaged in Afghanistan, and a further five thousand are garrisoned in British overseas territories, this leaves approximately 20,000 scattered over sixty plus countries on non-operational deployments such as Germany, as well as numerous training, goodwill and peacekeeping operations in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. The total size of the enlisted forces numbers not more than 175,000, and given that the Defence cuts of 15% are anticipated at a time when units costs are growing at 1.7%/annum RUSI have stated that we should expect personnel numbers to fall in the order or 30,000 after the coming Defence Review. Clearly, having 35,000 members of the Armed Forces on operations and deployed will be unsustainable.
Is it time to consider creating a peace-keeping Corps to work alongside a newly refocused war-fighting Force?