Last September the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, stood up at the NATO Summit and urged the European members of the alliance to commit to spending 2% of GDP on defense. The USA, which currently spends 4.4%, strongly supported this position; it’s understandably annoying when so many alliance nations trim military spending to the bone and then go crawling to the Pentagon when they need heavy airlift, air-to-air refueling, specialist intelligence support or even a replen of munitions. So Britain demanded action, and everyone agreed.
Except it’s not going to happen.
None of the European NATO members have made any move to carry out their promises, still less to spend 20% of their budgets on equipment instead of salaries for top-heavy command structures. Worse, even the UK itself isn’t going to meet the target. We just scraped past last year, with a not-exactly-impressive 2.07% (and that was accompanied by a strong smell of cooking books). This year that’s probably going to fall to 1.8% and later this year there will be another defense review – Whitehall code for cuts. The only question is, what’s left to cut?
In 1945 the Royal Navy had ten times as many aircraft carriers as it now has destroyers. The Royal Air Force has eight operational fast jet squadrons, three of them equipped with aging Tornado bombers. The British Army no longer has a single armored brigade in its ORBAT – when I was posted to Germany in 1995 my division had three, and just six years earlier there were three British armored divisions in Germany alone. Regular troop numbers are at their lowest since the late 18th century and those who remain are increasingly demoralized. Insanely for an island nation, the entire maritime patrol aircraft fleet was scrapped in 2010. There is nothing left to cut, and in fact a serious increase in spending is needed to prevent the once proud and powerful British military machine from completely falling apart. But it’s not going to happen.
In September, the leaders of whatever party wins the May election will sit down and consign another 10% – or 15%, or 20% – of the force structure to the scrapyard and the unemployment lines. A catchy new soundbite will be made up to justify it, maybe on the theme of smaller but more agile. Network-enabled warfare and the digital battlefield will probably be mentioned a lot. Then the attack helicopter fleet will be scrapped, or the few remaining tanks, or the nuclear deterrent, or the Royal Marines.
And the politicians won’t care, because the UK’s part of an alliance and we can rely on US support. Except that’s not true. The USA needs to deal with its own national debt or, sometime in the next decade, there’s going to be a collapse that will make 2008 look like a bad hair day. The White House certainly can’t be expected to throw away even more money supporting allies too lazy to pay for their own defense. And anyway, even though there are no closer allies than the UK and USA, our interests don’t always line up. Between 1970 and 1990, we fought IRA terrorists, Iceland (sort of) and Argentina; none of those was the USA’s fight, and we had to handle them all by ourselves. Today we couldn’t, so what’s it going to be like when the defense budget is down to 1.5% of GDP, or 1.2%? When I first put on a uniform in 1988 it was 4.4% and we weren’t exactly over-funded then.
I’ve spent a lot of time working closely with the US military, and apart from their 18th Amendment attitude to washing the dust away with a couple of beers, they always treated me very well. Will future British soldiers be able to expect the same hospitality when a once-valued ally has become nothing more than a parasite, making a token contribution in exchange for US protection and support? I doubt it, and that’s a tragedy for the whole western world. Some Brits object to the USA telling us to spend more on the military, but I don’t. I just wish our politicians would listen.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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