Boris Johnson’s eagerly awaited new security strategy risks creating tensions with the UK’s closest allies if it expands its armed forces too far and neglects core defense tasks in pursuit of a ‘Great Britain’ agenda. Global Brittany, ”warned experts.
The integrated defense and foreign policy review – which has been repeatedly delayed as Downing Street battles to control the coronavirus pandemic – will be released next week as the Premier’s post-Brexit vision statement minister for the country.
But the document, beautifully titled “Global Britain in the Age of Competition”, risks sparking controversy with foreign defense partners. Basic defense capabilities will be withdrawn to pay for digital warfare technology, and the UK’s promised concentration on the Indo-Pacific risks undermining its responsibilities in the North Atlantic. It is also unclear how a post-Brexit UK will cooperate with EU countries on security matters.
“I am sure the journal will be a powerful essay on Britain’s role in the world,” said Lord Peter Ricketts, former UK national security adviser. But he added: “Are our ambitious plans really going to translate into anything sane?”
“ The number of soldiers still counts ”
The most contentious decision concerns the size of the military, which is expected to grow from a theoretical strength of around 82,000 to something closer to 72,000. Even though the Defense Ministry has secured an unexpected increase in spending Of £ 16.5 billion from the Treasury in the fall, the department is still looking for savings to reduce a £ 17 billion budget black hole and fund better cyber defenses and new military capabilities in space.
U.S. military officials say privately that while they appreciate British special forces and are in awe of Britain’s growing cyber expertise, the number of soldiers still counts. Washington has always relied on the UK to build a heavy division, which means an army of around 100,000 people. Michael Shurkin, a security expert at the Rand Corporation, insisted that the United States’ historic flaw in military cooperation with the British rests on recognition of its quality rather than the strength of its troops. “It’s not just that we expect Brits to show up when we call – we really want Brits to show up when we call, because they’re good,” he said.
However, he clarified that “it is becoming a real problem” if suddenly a trusted ally can no longer provide the number of troops he once could.
The challenge for ministers is how to present cuts to the military without raising the alarm at Washington and NATO headquarters. “How it goes with our allies depends a lot on our honesty in what we do,” said Jack Watling, land warfare specialist at the Royal United Services Institute think tank.
He argued that if the UK offers to provide attack helicopters, long-range precision rockets and reconnaissance troops to help other countries, it could help offset a reduction in overall personnel. “If we set a credible roadmap that recognizes that it will be difficult for the next decade, but by 2030 we will deliver something that is clearly defined, then the United States will likely respond positively,” Watling said.
Another potential flashpoint will be the review’s focus on the Indo-Pacific, as the UK maintains deeper defense ties with Asian allies such as Japan, India and the United Kingdom. South Korea in an effort to counter China’s growing military assertiveness. China now has the world’s largest navy and is perfecting its long-range ballistic missile capabilities. Beijing’s $ 12 billion increase in its 2020 defense budget ($ 193 billion) was greater than the combined increases in the defense budget in all other Asian states combined, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The Royal Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier will deploy later this spring on its maiden voyage to East Asia, and is scheduled to conduct joint exercises with Japan, among others. But some pundits have questioned whether the UK’s commitments are real or just symbolic – especially since Britain does not have enough of its own fighter jets to outfit the aircraft carrier and it counts. on the US Marine Corps to supply F-35B Lightning aircraft.
“For Australians, Blighty’s appearance in the Old Quarter is very easy to see through the prism of imperial nostalgia or post-Brexit pride,” said Euan Graham, an Asian defense expert at the ‘IISS, based in Singapore. “The British should be judged on the consistency of their presence, not on the single deployment of a group of carriers, that is not really of much use.”
Some analysts suggest that the United States – which is refocusing its own military efforts against China – may prefer Britain to strengthen its presence in the North Atlantic, Gulf and Mediterranean, allowing American forces to focus on themselves. same on the defense of the Pacific. “Perhaps strategically speaking, the best way to [counter Beijing]Shurkin suggested.
“ A tilt far from Europe ”
The UK’s European allies may also be wary of British ambitions in Asia. Ricketts – a former British ambassador to France – described Johnson’s enthusiasm for a return to the seas east of Suez as “a tilt away from Europe as much as a tilt towards the Indo-Pacific”. He said the French would very much like the integrated review to recognize the EU’s contribution to European security. But he noted: “I think they will be disappointed.”
One solution to the financial deficits of the Ministry of Defense would be to find savings through collaboration. Nicolas Baverez, a defense expert at the Paris-based Institut Montaigne, argued that Britain and France share a challenge in funding new hypersonic, robotic and space capabilities. “It will be very difficult for each of our countries alone to fund all of these areas of research,” he said. “The answer will be to make bets and choices, and maybe to cooperate, to pool some costs.”
However, the integrated review is more likely to seek alliances further. In a speech at the Munich security conference last month, Johnson boasted that by leaving the EU the UK had “restored sovereign control over vital foreign policy levers.” Johnson optimistically added that European leaders are increasingly looking to American allies “to rediscover that far-sighted leadership and the spirit of transatlantic adventure and unity that made our two continents a great force in the first place. “.
Lord David Richards, former chief of the defense staff, has suggested that Britain should not forget threats such as Russia in its own backyard.
“We could have a very useful role closer to home, which is logistically possible, militarily feasible, and we could have real influence within NATO,” he said. “But the risk is that we are wasting all of this going around the world and not getting any real strategic influence anywhere.”