Friday, January 12, 2018

British military strategy will converge to Russia's

In The Times today Edward Lucas writes about the dire state of British defence spending ("We can’t afford to rule the waves any more").
"Britain faces a £20 billion budget gap between what we want and what we can pay for. Worse, we do not know what our armed forces are for.

For decades, we tried to match America across the military spectrum in quality, if not in quantity. Anything our ally wants to do we aim to help with, from special forces to nuclear weapons.

That approach may be good for morale in Downing Street, where politicians enjoy looking like a superpower or at least strutting in the shadow of one. But it does not lead to sensible decisions. Our armed forces are expected to do everything but increasingly fail to do it properly. ..."

" .. we have broadly two options. One is to stay global and retain the ability to fight expeditionary wars, albeit mostly alongside the Americans and against weaker, poorer countries. We will devote the Royal Navy to protecting the two new aircraft carriers. We may maintain our token deployment in Estonia (where our force lacks air defences, naval backup or logistical support). But we will no longer be able to fight land wars against Russia. If things go wrong, we will hope, along with the rest of Europe, that the Americans can deter a military attack or, failing that, that they turn up in time to prevent defeat. ..."

"The opposite choice is to shed our global ambitions and concentrate on properly defending ourselves and our allies from Russia. That will mean a smaller but more heavily equipped army, most likely based in Poland (otherwise our troops will arrive too late for any likely conflict). It requires scrapping our amphibious warfare capability, which cannot operate against an advanced threat like Russia. The Royal Marines will be repurposed and probably slimmed down. The navy’s main task will be dealing with Russian submarines, meaning that the aircraft carriers will be white elephants. They can be lent to the Americans (who will be grateful, and have the fleet to protect them). Or they can fill some glorified trade-promotion and disaster-relief role.

The east European allies will be thrilled. So will non-Nato Finland and Sweden. None of these countries relishes being dependent on France. None views with equanimity a Europe in which Germany might eventually become the military as well as the economic hegemon. Moreover, the Trump administration has cast a grave shadow over the Atlantic alliance, and the Americans yearn in private for us to do one job properly rather than lots of them badly. ...

"My preference is for the second option. The Continent is our neighbour whether we like it or not, so we had better be involved as much as possible. Defending our own shores (not least against Russia’s nosy, quiet, modern submarines) is the top priority. Better ties with European allies could help."
Lucas concludes that there is not a chance in hell that the British Government will take his advice.


The problem we face is that, as with medical care, outfitting a first-world high-tech military is getting exponentially more expensive. The British economy simply can't afford it.

Does it matter? Well yes. As the Americans demonstrated in the Gulf, a state-of-the-art military can obliterate any adversary with anything much less.

Those states with leading-edge high-tech militaries include the US, Russia, China and - at a pinch - the UK and France, (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council).


We are not the first state to be torn between the desire for a first-class military and the reality of a second-class economy.
"The Soviet Union was famously described as "Upper Volta with rockets", a catchphrase that was updated by the geographically precise to become "Burkina Faso with rockets". It was a powerfully succinct description. The United States was rich and space-age powerful; the Soviet Union was poor and space-age powerful."
The Russians may have invested in their military in recent years, but their GDP is still only about the size of California. How do the Russians deal with this problem? They use a lot of people in the ranks (we can't do that) .. and their doctrine says 'go nuclear' pretty early.

The Russians perceive themselves to be encircled. They have inimical states to their west (NATO) .. and (hush!) they have a populous and competent rising-superpower on their depopulated eastern frontier.

I'd be worried too.

We Brits don't apparently have proximate enemies of any real capability right now, so our middle-tech military serves for anti-terrorism and police actions. But let's get real. If ever a first-class power were to move against us, on the current doctrine we'd be toast.

The really smart move in the upcoming defence review would be to follow the Russians. Work up a rich portfolio of multi-role nuclear options: to be deployed early and deployed often.


A lifetime ago, when I was in the International Marxist Group, I asked a senior comrade whether we really did support CND (The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) at all those demos.

"Hell no," he replied, "When we take power, we'll need those nukes - it's the only way we'll ever stop the Americans!"

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