A brief news post to recommend the coverage given to the CDS’s Xmas speech by The Thin Pin Striped Line & UK Armed Forces Commentary defence blogs. The full text of the speech can be found on Thinkdefence here.
Some highlights follow.
In a dynamic world where the problems change successful political movements evolve, and even where the problems remain similar the conditions of the day often require new solutions. The defining problem for this current parliament is finding the quickest national exit to the global financial crisis, but this blog is about the future, and europe’s evolution beyond that crisis will be what comes to define the next.
1. What is our position on British sovereignty; is it necessary or are we better served by a european collective?
2. What is our position on the sovereignty of our neighbours; a choice they must have or secondary to British interests?
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?
Mr Clegg is a clever chap, and a pragmatic one too, so when it comes to value of our trade with europe I have no doubt he is well aware of the declining importance it plays, if only because Osborne and Alexander will have sat him down for a little chat. However, he is bang in the middle of a gruelling battle to transform his party into something fit to govern the UK, and that requires that he doesn’t yank too hard on the baby-reins. At some point before the next election he will have to instil a more pragmatic form of enthusiasm for the EU that is able to reflect critically on its flaws, not least the damage that the doctrine of ever-deeper-union has done to public acceptance of the wider project. The uncritical europhilia that has been our Lib-Dem diet to date stems largely from the fear that without the shoulders of europe to stand upon the UK’s future is dark for we need europe’s might to keep; the money flowing, the barbarians from the gate, and to temper our anglo-saxon tendencies. Perhaps he needs to show his party this:
In the space of just ten years the value of our trade with europe vis-a-vis the rest of the world has slipped dramatically, and it has done so because europe is now a low-growth zone.
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.
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?
Malcolm Chalmers is the author of the latest RUSI paper on Britain’s Future Defence Review, and his interest in this paper is to seek a balanced force against the tide of coming cuts. His concern would be to de-emphasise legacy skills whilst preserving a regenerative capability on the understanding that while they are not crucial now we live in an uncertain world, and as such we must insure against the unknown.
First and foremost it is recognised that we are overspent, over-tasked, likely to witness Defence budget reductions, and must therefore reduce the scale of our capabilities.
George Osborne has announced that Britain will emulate Canada in its actions to eradicate the budget deficit, and attempt to recreate the miracle of transforming a nine percent deficit into a surplus with three years. This will be achieved, according to Mr Osborne, by a “once in a generation” revolution in public services, instigated by the question; “what needs to be done by government and what we can afford to do”. Be in no doubt, if the Canadian experience is anything to go by, department budget cuts in the region of 20% will lead to nurses and teachers getting the sack in addition to the ‘faceless’ quangocrats that the public love to hate, but the result will be worth it.
At a time when Britain was facing a future trajectory that ends with a national debt of 400% of GDP with 27% of government spending to be dedicated to paying off debt-interest in the same period, we can only look at Canada’s example with admiration as they power out of the global financial crises with a GDP growth of 5.3%.
The 2010 United Kingdom general election debates consist of a series of three leaders’ debates conducted on live television between the leaders of the three main parties contesting the 2010 United Kingdom general election. The second debate was notionally on Foreign Policy and Defence though notably light on both given its nearly two hour slot.
So, what of significance was said, did it have any merit, and who came out ahead?