Recently, a former First Sea Lord – the senior officer in the Royal Navy – warned that Britain’s military capability is becoming “feeble.” That’s a harsh and alarming statement, and when it’s put into context it gets worse. There’s a lot of political squabbling now about whether or not the UK government will continue to meet NATO’s target of spending 2% of GDP on defense. It probably will this year, but beyond that it’s refusing to make any guarantees. That’s annoying, because just last year Prime Minister Cameron openly criticized other NATO nations for not hitting the target. The US government has made a rare intervention into British politics, appealing to Cameron to keep spending up – a risky strategy, because the British famously don’t like other countries telling them what to do. However, the fact they’re willing to take this risk shows how worried the White House is that Britain will let spending slip, and so they should be.
Of the 28 NATO members, only four have been hitting the 2% of GDP mark recently, and one of those – Greece – is a basket case; 2% of “not a lot” isn’t a lot. Estonia also hits the target, but again has a small GDP; so, the only two major NATO members who’re playing the game are the UK and the USA. Understandably, Washington doesn’t want to be the only one doing all the heavy lifting.
Obviously, politicians don’t like spending money on the military unless they see some secondary benefit, like jobs, so they try to get out of it any way they can. Recently, their favorite trick has been to concentrate on Special Forces, UAVs and other high-tech assets which, they justifiably claim, are vital for the counter-insurgency campaigns we’re focused on right now. Meanwhile, they’re trimming away heavy metal, conventional infantry and a lot of air assets. This is a classic case of a misplaced focus on the war – the one we’re fighting now – at the expense of a war. And the problem with a war is that, until not long before it starts, we won’t know who we’re going to be fighting and what they can bring to the party.
Being ready to fight a war means having the full range of capabilities, ready to go – high end and low end. Scaling down to COIN or light infantry work can be just as hard as scaling up to combined arms operations, so there have to be sufficient forces with the skills and equipment to handle any likely task. When the UK had to retake the Falkland Islands after the 1982 invasion, it turned out that a lot of the standard infantry equipment was great for a mechanized war in Western Europe, but not so good for a light infantry battle in the South Atlantic. There were even problems with the RAF’s heavy bombers; for 30 years they’d been practicing to take off from England and fly straight to targets in Eastern Europe and Russia to deliver a bucketful of sunshine, then suddenly they had to carry out long-range conventional raids from Ascension Island – a 7,000 mile round trip. The Vulcans had to be hastily refitted with refueling equipment that had been stripped out in the 1960s, and the racks for conventional bombs were literally salvaged from a scrap heap.
We all know what the war is – ISIS and the Taliban. But what will a war be? No idea. We can guess, of course; a Russian incursion into one of the Baltic States, perhaps, or Chinese aggression against Taiwan. But it could also come out of the blue. Ask anyone in the UK in 1980 what two countries we’d go to war with in the next ten years, and how many would have said Argentina and Iraq? It’s the same in the USA. The year Reagan was elected, who would have thought the US military would go into action in Grenada, Lebanon or Panama?
It’s impossible to predict what the next war will be, or what the enemy will be capable of. We could be facing anything from a ragtag tribal militia to a fully modernized Russian combined arms corps, and we need to retain – and where necessary rebuild – the ability to take on both, and everything in between. If we can handle a war then the war, when it comes, will be no problem.
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.