Defence Committee urges UK to look to its European allies for support, as the US loses patience with lack of investment
The Commons Defence Committee has today released a report into Britain’s defences, in response to a level of global instability not seen ‘since the end of the Cold War’. The report describes how in the first decade of the 21st century, Britain had tacitly assumed that threats from fragile states would occur infrequently enough that they could be dealt with one at a time. It was hard to foresee a situation where there would be so many simultaneous theatres of war.
The report finds that the UK has not done enough to prepare itself specifically for the threat from Putin’s Russia. Russia’s Defence Budget will be close to 100 billion dollars for 2016 and it has a commitment to ‘radically increase’ its defence spending, as well as the ability to mobilise over 150,000 troops at 72 hours notice. NATO, the report says, would need six months to mobilise that number.
On current trends, defence spending is set to drop below NATO’s target two per cent of GDP after 2015-16. The US Army’s chief of staff General Raymond Odierno used a statement earlier this month to express his concern about this:
“As we look to the threats around the world, we need to have multinational solutions. They are of concern to everyone, and we need everybody to help, assist and invest.”
The Defence Committee warns that falling spending is creating tensions in the UK’s alliance with the US, and that the US fear a ‘moral hazard’ where other countries are no longer investing because they rely on US support. The US currently contributes 70 per cent of NATO spending.
The report says that it is important for the UK to look to European partners too when handling conflicts in Europe, especially as the US is increasingly ‘asserting its responsibilities in Asia’, and finds that the strongest potential partner for the UK remains France.
The Committee also suggests that the UK look to France as an example of how to respond to situations outside Europe. It praises the French operation in Mali – ‘an impressive example of combining long-term country-knowledge and defence engagement with the rapid deployment of combat troops to defeat state collapse, and a terrorist-affiliate take-over’ – and suggests that the UK might take a similar approach in tackling militants such as Boko Haram.
The MoD noted that in 2015 the Franco-British Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) would begin the GRIFFIN series of exercises, including a military strategic table top exercise; an operational planning exercise; and an operational and tactical level live exercise scheduled for April. This final exercise is expected ‘to provide full verification of concept by demonstrating the ability to plan, command and conduct a CJEF operation’.
Meanwhile, the Committee urges the UK to rebuild its conventional capacities which have eroded since the Cold War:
“The requirements are many, including Maritime Surveillance, Nuclear, Biological, Chemical and Radiological warfare training, developing a Ballistic Missile Defence capability, an enhanced Navy and Air Force, a comprehensive carrier strike capability, and full manoeuvre warfare capacity.
“This will involve demonstrating a conventional and nuclear capacity and determination to deter any further threats to the European order.”
Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.