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Austerity Britain

You sometimes hear that the U.S. armed forces are “broken” and “overstretched” because of the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Overstretched, yes. Broken, no. Clearly we need to devote more resources toward enlarging our land forces, in particular, in order to cope with all the demands being placed on them. But the problem is even more acute among some of our allies–specifically, the United Kingdom, which has done more than any other nation to help us in Iraq and Afghanistan. (More than 12,000 British troops are deployed in those countries.)

For a brief on how bad things are getting on the other side of the Pond, see this Daily Telegraph article, which reports on a study released by the UK National Defense Association. The group’s chairman, Winston Churchill (grandson of the wartime prime
minister), “warned that the Forces were ‘in crisis’ with funding the lowest since the Thirties when ‘inadequate defence provision paved the way directly to world war.'”

No world war is looming today. But the funding, recruitment, and retention crisis faced by the British armed forces can hardly be exaggerated. As the Daily Telegraph accounts puts it:

There was a “huge mismatch” between what the “seriously under-resourced”Army was being asked to do and what it could do properly. In order to meet requirements the Army needed to expand by 10,000 troops.

The RAF was “so run down” in numbers and capability that it was unable to meet commitments “by a wide margin”. Apart from Eurofighter Typhoons it was fielding an ageing and expensive fleet. The RAF needed to increase number from 41,000 to 55,000 to “meet the growing known threats and the unpredictable” otherwise Britain would not retain air superiority on operations for the first time since the 1941 invasion of Crete.

On present trends the Navy’s once formidable Fleet will be “grievously weakened” heading towards half its current size by 2020 with no air cover for the next nine years after the withdrawal of the Sea Harrier.

With fewer warships there was insufficient training and as a result “standards are dropping.”

You would think that this neglect of the armed forces would present a prime issue for the Conservative opposition to bash the Labour government on. You would be wrong. David Cameron, the Tory leader, seems oblivious to the defense needs of his country. He is more worried about not making any funding commitments that might allow Labour to charge that he will need to raise taxes to pay for the extra spending. As the Telegraph article notes:

David Cameron’s position of refusing any spending commitments was “completely inappropriate” as inadequate defence funding put “everything else at risk.”

This isn’t just an issue of concern for Brits. It should be a real issue of concern for Americans, too. If the UK doesn’t have the resources to help us, then, Heaven help us, “unilateralism” may become a reality–not just a partisan slur.



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