No longer trimming the fat.. more hacking out vital organs

Well, the East of Suez debate is finally resolved.

And the waving of the arms and the gnashing of the teeth about Blair’s doctrine of military interventionism? That’s probably history too, and not quite in the way we’d all have imagined, and a lot quicker to boot.

Still, we have a commitment to the nuclear deterrent, which is certainly very important when all the institutional, equipment and personnel rungs required to provide a ladder of escalation have been consecutively snapped… oh, wait.. that can’t be right? But, regardless, we’re still at the top table. Hoorah! It’s a great day for Britain.

Several quick points:

We need a new strategic articulation. Be it within a new NSS or something equivalent. This needs to be clearer about exactly what are our priorities, and why. That should have been the starting point, not that backfill after the armed forces were dragged through the abattoir.  Those involved in the Public Administration Select Committee have continually revisited this point in the press since October 2010.

General Sir Peter Wall made is clear in his announcement this week that the UK was now only capable of doing things in coalitions. That’s worthy of a new strategic articulation on its own. It has been true since the mid-1980s and it is considerably more true now. But it sounds like bad news for those islands in the South Atlantic to me.

The cuts to the army mean we could only be involved in Afghanistan OR Iraq. That’s not mid-sized military power stuff. That’s a serious diminution of the ability to project power and influence in both absolute terms (kinetic) but in soft-power terms.. why would the US (aside from intelligence liaison) be interested in the British view?

The new plans seem to be premised on the idea that personnel being made redundant will want to stay on as active reservists. There is some compulsion to remain a reservist now, but the plan to rely very heavily on the TA (to the tune of well over 25,000 men) will require a long-term step change in culture. As John Gearson, Jack McDonald and I suggested in our review of the Defence Estates last year there are ways of doing this, including by engaging private industry in ways that allow for some ‘sharing’ and ‘fluidity’ between industry and armed forces: essentially by creating a new compact.  My concerns would be that the lead-in time for this size of reserve force are long (leaving the UK exposed) and that there is unlikely to be sufficient good will amongst those who are wielding their redundancy notices to do so. (What consideration given to the support services required to help people coming out of the military with late coming PTSD or who find redundancy as traumatic as those in civvy street do?)

I do have a bee in my bonnet about the deterrent. Not because I have any peacenik sympathies, but because my reading of strategic studies suggests that mutually assured destruction only works if there is a ladder of escalation or everyone is sat on hair-triggers. So, it must surely be a sensible time to properly debate the wisdom of the deterrent as our conventional forces are shrinking into irrelevance.

Nearly two years on from the publication of the NSS and SDSR (and to continual howls of protest ever since) it really might be the time to revisit the first, and then – logically – the SDSR itself.

The fight between the Tories and Labour over the LIBOR scandal was raging in Parliament yesterday, it can only be a matter of time before the two parties turn their attentions on whose fault this defence debacle is .. the 2015 election (if it goes full term) promises to be an angst ridden affair.




7 thoughts on “No longer trimming the fat.. more hacking out vital organs

  1. Best summary of the actual impact of the cuts (since mainstream media is full of the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth). Thanks for sharing it.

  2. davidbfpo says:


    I am not so sure you can state ‘Well, the East of Suez debate is finally resolved’.

    We are still in Afghanistan, even if combat operations end in 2014 as planned we appear to be assuming a residual role in support of the USA and the Kabul regime. Yes that might still be a light “footprint”, RAF, SOF and support elements.

    Secondly we maintain a Gurkha infantry battalion on loan in Brunei and a few more oddities. Some of which feature here: (Note first of three articles). This battalion contributed to the early part of the East Timor peacekeeping period, a company group as I recall.

    Third, we have the limited presence off Somalia, in the Gulf and Kenya. None of which appear likely to be ended.

    Finally for ‘special relationship’ reasons as the USA pivots to Asia the UK I expect will try to have a role, rather than a presence. the obvious method being exchanges with the US military, plus ANZUS, FPDA and elsewhere.

    Separate point. I think it was a mistake to retain the still large Gurkha contingent, the Lumley factor lives on! The IISS Military Balance puts them at 3,500, including three infantry battalions (inc. that in Brunei) and assorted units – including a number reinforcing under-strength units.

    Why are we disbanding British formations, including five infantry battalions? The Gurkhas now cost the same, the flip-side of the Lumley factor. Plus Nepal has again stated it wants recruitment to end.

    • Rob Dover says:

      The specifics are well made, and you’d be interested in Sir Humphrey’s comments and links below, which are also well made on this question. I’m not doubting the specifics, but the global role has gone in the way that was understood by those who had the East of Suez debate. We might be engaged in a few outposts, but if that’s at a cost of the European and home perspective, it’s thin gruel indeed.

  3. Pingback: A Sad Day for Britain and America « Commentary Magazine

  4. Interesting article – I disagree with the notion that we’re no longer able to do stuff except in coalition being news. Look back to SDSR, SDR and arguably before then. We’ve always been clear that the UK is in the business of primarily seeking coalition ops, except as a last resort. Arguably, we’ve been out of the business of national ops for a very, very long time. Outside of the Falklands, which is arguably a unique situation unlikely to ever be repeated, when was the last time the UK operated in isolation, without allied military support in order to fight a ‘heavy war’. Arguably we’d be looking back to the period before WW1.

    As for the idea that we can’t do Iraq and Afghan again – good! I’ve seen first hand the stretch this imposed on UK resources, and it pushed us to the limit to spin up HERRICK as TELIC was winding down. But, lets be honest, outside of the USA, who else can project power at a distance beyond their borders to the level that the UK can. Maybe France on a good day, but not on a regular basis.

    I run a small blogging website called ‘Pinstriped Line’ (and cross post onto think Defence ocassionally). I’ve got two relevant articles on this subject over at my site – – my take on the Army 2020 announcement. – the first part of my assessment on the UK and engagement in the Pacific.

    I’d welcome your thoughts on either article.

    • Rob Dover says:

      I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said really. Not in the text here, or on your two excellent posts which are well worth people taking the time to read.

      The only thing I disagreed with on your reactionary or revolutionary piece was the headline, and not the bulk of the analysis which is really strong. Whilst the shape and size of forces does inevitably lead to some obvious conclusions – in terms of what can be done – I think this does amount to seismic shift, although we might be dancing on the head of a pin about which form of wordings etc we prefer.

  5. sasdigger says:

    It is time for the heart of the English World to stand tall and declare the eradication of the military might of the nation to be an invitation to destruction from both external and internal forces.

    Peace can only be preserved through strength.

    Anything else must be recognized as a willful elitist dogma intent on weakening strength to control self-serving political power.

    If the “people” cannot defend themselves from external threats nor from domestic predators to ensure freedom then the only course must result in the tyranny of the minority.

    Is Great Britain inviting a Marxist sustainable intelligensia to dictate only the allowable to the applause of internal multiculturalists intent on the pursuit of nirvana at any cost?

    In the defenseless world of tomorrow oblivion from care, pain, and escape from reality will surely be laudable to the politicallly correct.

    Is there anyone left to stand alone as the stalwart in the UK against a collective mob intent on disastrously ill-conceived social experimentation that history has repeatedly rejected as nieve machinations of the deluded?

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