A guest post from AJ
US / NATO alliance
There is a policy shift on the horizon, and it is not necessarily a positive one for the UK, or indeed the rest of Europe. America is making noises about shifting its defence agenda away from NATO.
The US is underwhelmed by European investment in Defence, and is no longer prepared to prop up the defence capabilities of these countries. Indeed, the US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, abruptly said as much in his last major speech before retirement.
Headlines run by The BBC, Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Economist range from US Secretary of Defence ‘Blasts NATO’; ‘Warns of dim future’; or ‘Questions capabilities of the alliance’.
What he said was: “The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress — and in the American body politic writ large — to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defence,”
This thought has been in the background for a couple of years already, with the US complaining about the lack of European defence expenditure, but it has now been thrust into the public domain for all to see. While it can be taken with a slight pinch of salt – Gates is on the way out, and therefore can be a bit heavier with his comments – his speech must serve as a warning shot to Europe and The UK. Gates will not be alone in this assumption, and he most certainly would not have made those comments off the cuff – they would have been strategically planned.
While Governments across Europe, and the world, are having to make significant budget cuts to deal with large financial deficits, The US has taken the stance that Defence is a budget that will not be cut; one that is too important to disrupt. Europe has taken a different view.
A recent study commissioned by the European Parliament, ‘The Impact of the Financial Crisis on European Defence’, has concluded that Europe’s security ambitions are being severely hampered by the global economic crisis, with some countries set to lose the ability to shape defence policy altogether.
This, coupled with the changing rhetoric from the US, suggests a bleak future for Europe’s military capabilities, and suggests that the European defence industry could start heavily focusing on the emerging markets such as Brazil, India, and Saudi Arabia.
The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR)
All this has some potentially wide reaching ramifications, not least for The UK. The UK SDSR was conducted under the proviso that any future involvement in future conflicts would be largely supporting a US-led operation. However the change in rhetoric must serve as a strong warning that this may not be the case in the future. The Libya conflict is laying this to bear.
The MoD budget was always going to be the most difficult to manage and cut amongst the Government departments, with its £38 billion black hole, and complicated procurement systems. The SDSR set about identifying and managing the process of cuts and was undertaken with key themes ingrained into all decisions. One was that the UK should maintain a dynamic, streamlined and yet strong military capability. Another, as mentioned, was the assumption that where the UK trod militarily, the US would be leading the way financially and militarily.
Air Marshall Stuart Atha, Head of Joint Capability pointedly said recently that the US stance on Libya is proof that “the strategic calculus is changing”. Financially, Libya is not a primary MoD headache as the Treasury reserve fund is funding the offensive. However, from a capability point of view it points to a renewed questioning of the SDSR and the cuts being enforced.
In recent weeks, The First Sea Lord, the Head of the RAF, and the Head of the Army have questioned the UKs forward capabilities. These are not voices to be taken lightly. While the Prime Minister warned that they should do the fighting, while he does the talking, the defence industry should take note of this. If these voices get any louder, how long will it be before strategic decisions are re-evaluated?
The UK, along with France, is the major military power in Europe. Whilst this is not likely to change, the overall military and strategic power of Europe is waning, which is having a direct impact on NATO. One thing is certain.
Defence is fast becoming a headache for The Prime Minister. One that from an international relations view point is an important one and one that he cannot afford to dither on.