X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Please note: Previously subscribers used a 'WebID' to log into the website. Your subscriber number is not the same as the WebID. Please ensure you use the subscriber number when you link your subscription.

Coffee House

An American context for UK defence cuts

4 August 2011

5:42 PM

4 August 2011

5:42 PM

Yesterday’s defence select committee report provoked stern critiques of the
government’s defence policy from Alex Massie and Matt Cavanagh. It is hard to dissent from Matt’s view
that Cameron, Fox and Osborne will be defined to some extent by how they handle the defence brief, which, as Alex points out, also proved to be Gordon Brown’s undoing. 

It is also clear, as both Matt and Alex say, that the SDSR suggests that Britain is entering a period of ‘strategic shrinkage’, in terms of the size of the defence establishment at any
rate. A political squall has erupted over this, but it’s worth pointing out that western countries are narrowing their military horizons. Liam Fox was in America yesterday meeting new US
defence secretary Leon Panetta, who is beginning to implement $350 billion of defence cuts over ten years. Admiral Mike Mullen has had to take to the airwaves to assure serving soldiers that their salaries and pensions would
be honoured. Experts agree that even the mighty US army must brutally cut its manpower at some stage. Panetta has conceded that the cuts will do “real damage” to America’s security and its reach overseas. The worst is yet to come, but the
US navy has apparently already cancelled an order of minesweepers, while the 13 new carrier groups that have been promised are surely ripe for the chopping block.

[Alt-Text]


The question is whether western ambitions can still be met with fewer people. There are reasons to believe that they might, albeit if plenty of chips fall into place. Britain’s campaign in
Libya is illustrative. First, the one-off mission is being paid for by the
Treasury
, rather than out of the MoD’s budget. Second, it is an indication that the strategic future may be one of co-operation and shared military capabilities. For example, the American
navy is doing the majority of the work in the Mediterranean, while the British navy has assumed responsibility for clearing mines and patrolling international shipping lanes in the Gulf. The
expertise of British minesweepers is such that the American navy intends to rely on them to cover its decommissioned vessels of that class. And, of course, Britain’s new aircraft carriers can
be used by American aircraft and vice-versa, which will allow NATO to maintain a fixed-wing presence anywhere in the world even if the replacement American carrier groups are cut. The Anglo-French
agreement is another example of this growing fashion for close co-operation.

The major weakness is the falling size of the regular army: cut to 84,00 by 2020, off-set by huge increases in the reserves. Substantial deployments will be more difficult to make in future, but what is the likelihood of our needing to do so? The
international political will for large interventions and troop surges has surely been exhausted in the deserts of Afghanistan. The Falkland Islands is a concern for Britain, but defence analysts
insist that the permanent combined forces in the area should defeat an Argentine landing: Argentina’s forces have apparently regressed after 10 years of economic turmoil.

Britain’s future strategy appears to rely on maintaining technical superiority to ensure constant tactical advantage. To that end, the MoD has obtained a funding settlement from the Treasury
post-2015, which is to be spent on equipment improvements and closing the black hole left by previous administrations, which apparently now exceeds £43 billion. This goal can only be realised
if the government shakes the ‘conspiracy of optimism’ from the procurement process, which it is yet to achieve. But, whatever happens, personnel numbers will be trimmed.
The renowned military historian John Keegan gave the Reith Lectures in 1998 and predicted that 21st Century armies would, in effect, come to resemble those of the late 18th. He may yet be
proved right.    

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close