Friday, September 08, 2017


"The British Army has been in a state of transition since SDSR 2010, on top of having to contend with continuing operations in Iraq (until 2011) and Afghanistan (until 2014) as well as pressure on the defence budget. This state of affairs does not seem to be ending anytime soon. This was confirmed with the publication of a new SDSR in late 2015, which announced more changes to the structure of the field army, including the formation of two new strike brigades. However, there has been little detail to accompany any of these announcements and it is vital for both UK defence policy and the British Army that the uncertainty surrounding the implementation and eventual impact of SDSR 2015 – the creation of the new formations, including questions about their place in doctrine; and their structure, role, equipment and logistics support requirements – be cleared up as soon as possible. A complicating factor to the army’s work is that ‘defence expenditure has fallen to an unacceptably low level in GDP percentage terms, bearing in mind that, until the mid-1990s, the UK never spent less than 3% of GDP on defence".
Peter Antill & Jeremy Smith, "The British Army in Transition". RUSI Journal. (June / July 2017), p. 56.
On global power rankings, the UK is somewhere between the second and sixth most powerful country in the world. For example, European Geostrategy’s “Audit of major powers” places the UK comfortably second in the world, the only “global power” apart from the US (France, China, and Russia are the next three, all with “regional power” status). (Those favouring a new post-Brexit partnership with Canada and Australia might note that the three of us together would have a power of around 70 per cent of the US’). We have the world’s third largest military budget, behind the US and China but comfortably ahead of Russia, France or India. In 2016 we were the fifth largest economy in the world, and set to overtake Germany (currently fourth) in the mid-2020s. Britain is not the US. Neither are we a serious challenger to the US. Dropping from being the world’s dominant power in the early twentieth century to being decisively not dominant has indeed involved some psychological adjustment. But there is a lot in between being No. 1 and being no-one. We do not “have to accept” that we are small and irrelevant and cannot have a global role. If we cannot have a global role, no-one other than the US can, and the US doesn’t want to do everything and the US isn’t always right. And Britain’s relative power isn’t going ever-downwards. In recent decades it has, if anything, gone up — particularly as Russia’s has declined.
Andrew Lilico, "The world needs Britain today more than ever". Reaction. 24 January 2017, in
There are many responses that one can offer up to the remarks of Mr. Lilico. The best one however is the Anthill & Smith article. As they make quite plain, British governments since the mid-1990's, if not earlier have been taking a hacksaw to the British defense budget. As was noted in the article, for the first time since perhaps the mid-19th century (if not earlier), Britain commenced spending less than three-percent of Gross Domestic Product on Defence. Now the figures are barely north of two-percent (and depending upon how you count it, even less than two-percent). The fact of the matter is that the once highly valued British Defense forces are not, 'fit for purpose', in the sense of fighting a war on any sustained and lengthly level. The army that did so badly in Iraq circa 2004-2006, is no more. It is in fact weaker in terms of equipment, force project capability and numbers. In short the fact is that Britain if it does not change and change greatly its defense expenditure it will soon little more than (in the prescient words of a Cabinet paper from 1958): "that of a European Power with a standing similar to that of the Netherlands or Sweden" 1. The end of Empire indeed.
1. Remarks found in 'conclusions' to "The Position of the UK in world affairs: a report by Officials". 9 June 1958, in The Conservative Government and the End of Empire: Series A. Volume I. Part I. Edited by William Roger Louis & Ronald Hyam. (2000), p. 43.


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