A Guest post from Martin over at the Fantasy Fleets blog
Many of us have spent the last two years trying to get a handle on what position the UK can or should play in the world. This is far more than the government seems to have done since 1998 instead favoring muddling through moving from crisis to crisis while salami slicing budgets when the finances have dictated the need for cuts.
One thing we have lost in the post-cold war environment is the ability to look at grand strategy. Not simply assessing our security needs for the next 5 years but really looking at what the world will be like in 50 years and trying to steer our foreign and military policies to achieve our goals over that period.
I want to look into the future world post 2015 once we are out of Afghanistan and highlight the areas and allies we should look to cultivate to give us maximum affect in the future up to and beyond 2050.
While it is difficult to say what tomorrow will bring we can analyse economic and political trends over a longer period to get an idea of what we are likely to face. This type of analysis seems to be something that both the MOD and foreign office are now completely incapable of.
If we are going to continue spending £40 billion a year of tax payer’s money and hopefully more in future then we must demonstrate real clear value for this expenditure. Defence spending has the most illusive benefits of any government budget. If we were to cut it to zero tomorrow what would happen, who knows? If we cut the NHS budget to zero tomorrow then thousands of people would die. The British public do not necessarily consider things like the UK having the second biggest aerospace sector in the world largely based on R&D conducted by the military over the past 100 years.
Again and again we have come back to the debate on whether or not maintaining world power status (if we have it) is worthwhile. I come down on the side of yes we do have it. It is worth keeping and if we want to keep it we can.
In this series of 5 posts I will try to put forward my arguments for this and what foreign and military policy we will have to pursue over the next 50 years to maintain and possibly even enhance our present position.
Security and Defence Threats
As many of us have pointed out we have very little in the way of conventional threats that are likely to face the UK in the next 5-10 years. The threat of terrorism is relatively limited in its ability to impact our daily lives in the way that a Russian invasion would. We certainly cannot justify £40 billion a year to guard against this threat.
We can really only justify a substantial military budget on two grounds.
One, the ability to regenerate a substantial force should we need it in the future.
Two, the ability to defend and influence our allies and deter any potential enemies.
We can really only justify the second if we gain something from having those allies.
Since the end of the cold war we have increasingly used force to try and make the world a better place, whether bombing Serbia or invading Afghanistan. Some of these operations have met with great success while others have been failures. One thing we must realise is that we can no more bring democracy and capitalism to the world at the barrel of a gun than the soviets could bring communism.
Egypt and Tunisia have shown that if people want these things they will fight for them. We may need to help things along as we did in Libya but if it takes 100,000 plus troops on the ground for a decade or more then the juice is not worth the squeeze. No magnanimous international force appeared to take out Cromwell for us or bombed Edward the First as he invaded Scotland and butchered the people of Berwick. Today we are better for it. Our ancestors fought for democracy, nationalism and their freedom. They built enduring institutions and laws to safe guard these hard one freedoms. We should not look to intervene in other countries development other than with limited means.
We must also avoid getting involved in areas where we have little substantial interest or potential gains. It is okay to intervene in Eastern Europe as it’s on our boarders. We can suffer losses intervening in the Gulf, like it or not we need their oil. Can we really justify major expenses of blood and treasure in the mountains of Afghanistan or the cities of Zimbabwe? We must remove the woolly liberal ideals that have often steered our foreign policy over the past 20 years and get back to a little naked self-interest. We must also make sure we have the military capability to back it up.