THE UK'S STRATEGIC DEFENCE REVIEW: 'SUCCESS' OR 'FAILURE' ?
"In Britain, major reviews of security and defence strategy conform very loosely to two rules. The first rule is that strategic reviews usually fail. A failed strategic review is one which proves unable either to balance the demands of security and defence with the need to maintain a healthy economy, or to identify and anticipate evolving security and defence challenges.
Typically, a strategy review moves through four phases: the apparent failure of the prevailing strategic framework is followed by a period of policy inertia. A policy review and formulation process eventually begins but the findings are not fully implemented. So the review ends in failure and the process must begin again, but only when it becomes politically impossible to resist the demand to do so."
Paul Cornish, "Defence: Muddling Through," The World Today (November 2010), p. 6.
"The ultimate aim of any Government in the United Kingdom must always remain the security of these islands from foreign domination or attack, the prosperity of the British people and the protection of our individual freedom and liberty. The following paragraphs consider how best these aims may be safeguarded over the next 10 years, in light of the international situation depicted in Part I and the estimate of the United Kingdom's material resources in Part II....Whether we like it or not, our interests are inextricably linked with those of the whole free world. We cannot hope to preserve them by our own independent action, and we are much too important a part of the free world to be able to retreat into a passive role like Sweden or Switzerland. Our duties and responsibilities will be very different in the future from what they have been in the past, but they will be no less onerous and no less
demanding of our highest efforts....But despite the contraction of our former strength and resources the United Kingdom still has many of the responsibilities of a world Power; and our influence need not shrink in proportion to our material strength. Provided that we live up to our won highest standards, our resources will not lie in material strength alone. Our leadership of the Commonwealth, the progressive fulfilment of our Colonial responsibilities, our special relationship with the United States, our European associations, the legacy of our Imperial past, the maturity of our political experience outside Europe, our national quality of rising to an emergency and our reliability in the defence of freedom and justice: all of these can continue to justify for the United Kingdom a leading position among the Powers and a higher place in their counsels than our material assets would strictly warrant."
"'Future Policy Study, 1960-1970': Cabinet memorandum, report of the officials committee,"
24 February 1960 CAB[inet] 129 / 100, C(60) 35, Public Records Office, Kew.
"Next year we are to bring all the soldiers home
For lack of money, and it is all right.
Places they guarded, or kept orderly,
We want the money for ourselves at home
Instead of working. And this is all right.
It's hard to say who wanted it to happen,
But now it's been decided nobody minds.
The places are a long way off, not here,
Which is all right, and from what we hear
The soldiers there only made trouble happen.
Next year we shall be easier in our minds.
Next year we shall be living in a country
That brought its soldiers home for lack of money.
The statues will be standing in the same
Tree-muffled squares, and look nearly the same.
Our children will not know it's a different country.
All we can hope to leave them now is money".
Philip Larkin, "Homage to a Government," 1969.
While one may or may not characterize the United Kingdom's just completed,'Strategic Defence Review' (hereafter 'SDR'), as (to use Paul Cornish's useful terminology) 'successful' or unsuccessful', no one will gainsay that the SDR itself appears to have high strategic importance for the UK's future role as a world Power. Unless the stipulated cuts are reversed (and no SDR has been 'reversed' in this sense in the past sixty years), the United Kingdom's ability to project its power abroad effectively will be considerably hampered. As the commentator Clara O'Donnell explains:
"Britain will no longer be able to maintain a long-term operation of the size that is currently deployed in Afghanistan: while there are nearly 10,000 British troops in Afghanistan today, the maximum size of such operations in future will be around 6,500. The size of large-scale fighting operations will also be cut back – to around two-thirds of the forces that went into Iraq in 2003 [30,000 versus 45,000]. The government has also been forced to give up big items of military equipment. Britain will mothball or sell one of the two new aircraft carriers it has committed to build; the UK is also retiring its Harrier fleet of military jets early, leaving the other carrier without any British aircraft for several years".1
The upshot of the exercise as Dr. Andrew Dorman noted for Chatham House was that the SDR has resulted in a situation where each of the forces has prioritized its own particular
'mission' without any attempt at arriving at a logically coherent whole. With the army's role in Afghanistan for the next five years in particular being used as a pivot to exercise massive cuts in both the RAF and the Royal Navy. With the unintended end-result being that other than the current Afghanistan commitment:
"There is an acceptance that there must be significant levels of risks in some areas. The force posture is supposed to be geared towards supporting current operations in Afghanistan, with significant risk accepted in terms of the ability to project military power to other areas such as the Falklands. In the longer term, there is an acceptance of an order of magnitude reduction in Britain's ability to undertake strategic power projection." 2
Unless an economic miracle were to occur in the next five year, it would appear that the cuts which have been outlined, will no doubt take place. And once done is highly unlikely to be undone regardless of any other variable. The examples of the 'East of Suez' decision of 1968, immediately spring to mind as being a pertinent example of what we shall see in the next five years. And make no mistake about it: sans its power projection, sans it ability to act as the USA's (in the words of Bernhard von Bulow the Younger) 'splendid second', I for one see no alternative for the UK, but becoming merely a larger and poorer 'Sweden or Switzerland'. As many if not most of the 'soft-power', non-material variables outlined in the 1960 Cabinet paper quoted above, no longer command much in the way of respect these days. And as for the Clara O'Donnell's idea that the UK will in some fantastic fashion 'pool' its military resources in common with its European Union partners, this nostrum misses the point that five years or less hence, "stabilisation and conflict prevention efforts around the world", will no longer occupy the Official Mind in Whitehall to the extent that it does now. And if the United Kingdom really does get out of the Great Power business it will no doubt get out entirely. Not merely bit by bit. Sad but true I am afraid. But, as the late, great, Raymond Aron once noted, perhaps the key question of post-1945 British history is how British went from being 'Romans to Italians'3. This year's Strategic Defence Review is merely another example of that sad and unfortunate transformation.
1.) Clara Marina O'Donnell, "Britain's Defence Review: Good News for European Defence?"
28 October 2010, in www.cer.org.uk
2.) Andrew Dorman, "Evaluating the 2010 Strategic Review," Chatham House: reports and papers, October 2010, p. 7.
3.) Frank Prochaska, "A Humble One," The Times of London Literary Supplement (TLS), 6 August 2010, p.23.