Key Decision Coming from UK and Other European Countries on Defense and National Security Policy

This week the Tory-LibDem UK coalition government publicized a Strategic Defense and Security Review. Also this week, Chancellor George Osborne publicized the UK budget cuts. These cuts will define the next decade of security priorities and the limits to Britain’s defense capabilities and role in the world.

Another key indicator is British commitments to international development which was to be protected from deep cuts or “ring fenced”. The other area to watch is funding for the BBC World Service which has been Britain’s only voice to the world for decades.  The decisions are profound and likely long-lasting.  We shall see.

The question remains whether other European governments will follow suit and make drastic cuts in their budgets in areas that impact their engagement with the outside world.

The Financial Time editorial “British Nukes vs. British Troops” (September 3, 2010) on which I commented earlier, made important points about the trade-off between military expenditures on sub-based nuclear weapons, troops on the ground, and air force capability.

Will these cuts make it impossible for Britain to project its power on the globe in times of crises? Furthermore, will all of Europe follow suit and similarly be unable to support peacemaking, peacekeeping, and conflict prevention?  Finally and most importantly, will the UK, and the rest of Europe, increase “preventive diplomacy” capabilities to compensate for cuts to defense expenditures? Don’t hold you breath!

In our opinion, the ability to deploy a conventional army takes priority over increased nuclear capabilities.  So far the new government has indicated that it will minimize the costs of its nuclear option without totally abandoning it.

This is the time for a better and closer assessment of the strategic risks and global conflict landscape that affect America and NATO. So far this does not seem to be taking place.  The economic crisis has provided an impetus towards reducing domestic and foreign military expenditures. The case can certainly be made to reduce expensive and outmoded systems designed for the Cold war.

We urgently need to think about how we can creatively integrate the joint defense capabilities and skills of the entire alliance to effectively address future challenges rather than mindless ad hoc spending cuts.  As I have noted, the alliance must operate on the theory of comparative advantage; some can provide well trained troops while others can provide transportation or intelligence.

If we can’t start truly helping each other via integrated planning and combined operations for conflict prevention then we may be unable to contain the furies of our age. In the end however, non-combat “preventive diplomacy” should act as a first responder before the military must act. This type of diplomacy should also be a joint effort. However, given the currency wars, trade disagreements, food famines, economic meltdowns, and a growing nationalism, will there be any momentum towards an integrated alliance to face existential global challenges?

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