Previously I have held to the view that the Iraq war at the same time as Afghanistan has threatened to wreck the traditional British consensus on liberal intervention. I saw parliamentary control of war as being the best mechanism we have to ensure an active foreign policy in future, it represents the best opportunity we have to keep the public engaged in what Lindley-French describes as our missionary Foreign Policy. From the point of view of an effectively communicated geopolitics I was happy see the PM retain this power, but feared it would only be a faster route to Belgium.
However, Alistair Burt has given me pause to reconsider, and to refine my thoughts on Parliament’s role.
Hmmm, been a while and you have my apologies for that. Not that this is any great exposition of my grand skills as an oracle, sadly, it is just some post holiday news I feel you should read.
Good news. The UK is, as of this week, less likely to leave the EU than was the case last week. Whether you consider that to be a good thing or not is another matter, but it should at least be considered an unalloyed good that British diplomacy (and Swedish too presumably), worked effectively to head-off further EU encroachment into the sovereignty of the nation-state. As usual, openeurope has a handle on the problem.
Too quote from the paper:
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.
When discussing Britain’s Foreign Policy objectives, in particular the possibility of remaining an influential actor in the coming decades, it is common to attract derisive comments from people convinced of our approaching irrelevance. This is often accompanied with statements asserting the unstoppable rise of new powers in contrast to our own decline, and thus the necessity of banding together with our friends in europe in order that we may act as one puissant whole. Yes, as advanced economies our growth rate will be slower than the new rising titans, and yes the west is subject to demographic decline which will further erode our net ‘weight’, but is it really true that the middle of the century will herald an era where Britain cannot contemplate an assertive and independent Foreign Policy?
Are we limited to the twin choices of a federal europe or a harlot chasing others interests?
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.
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 through 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?
Article commissioned by Critical Reaction, a website on politics, culture and books.
“To understand why we have ended up with the SDSR we have, we need to see how these pressures came to be arranged just so. Doing so also explains why a fundamental strategic choice is necessary for Britain. We then to realistically see what the structural impacts of such a choice will be, and where this will leave Britain’s world role as a result. Britain’s armed forces will be transform over the course of the next five years, and that process will be governed by the SDSR, whether or not it has been the worthy exercise it could have been………………”
My thanks to the Critical Reaction team for the opportunity to write for their excellent site.
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