SDSR 2015 – Great Britain’s Place in the World

Great Britain

Lets make no mistake, Great Britain is great, the clue is in the name after all.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is obviously uneducated, or French.

Great Britain

Without Great Britain the world would be a poorer place in every regard.

Lets just remind ourselves why…

We gave the world democracy, common law, the Bailey Bridge, tanks, gravity, the worlds most common second language, Led Zeppelin, fair play, queuing, the backhoe loader, metal bridges, modern economics, the industrial revolution and Hollywood villains.

The Beatles, Morris Dancing, penicillin, HP sauce, Top Gear, the World Wide Web (your welcome), One Direction, Carry On and Simon Cowell.

Tea drinking, chicken tikka masala, Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, battered Mars Bars, the BBC, the mini (car, roundabout and skirt), the Spice Girls, Darwin, football, Marmite, rugby, cricket, golf, tennis, ping pong, pubs, tea, sharp suits, Spitfires and the fact there are homosexuals, lesbians and transsexuals in the armed forces and no one gives two shits.

With our friends and allies stood against the Nazis, invented the railway, sarcasm, MRI scanners, the screw propellor and a proper breakfast, been on the right side of the Napoleonic, First, Second and Cold War and gave the world steam power, the Mexeflote, Wallace and Gromit, roast beef dinners, the Dyson, Doctor Who, television, telephones, text messaging, GMT, electric motors, lawn mowers, spotted dick, sewage systems, the thermos flask, the jet engine, carbon fibre, the flushing toilet and polyester (just for the RAF), pencils, radar and the Bank of France (ha ha ha).

The correct method of holding an umbrella


The fighter aircraft, battleship, aircraft carrier, stun grenades, drill that doesn’t look ridiculous, the Pub Landlord, proper salutes, the torpedo, sonar, underwater knife fighters, the armoured vehicle boiling vessel (for the tea), Paralympic Games, independent air forces (yep, sorry about that one), the equal sign and gin and tonic.

Did I mention, tea


And you know what, we don’t constantly go on about how exceptional we are.

I am not actually a fan of the term ‘place in the world’ but it does serve as a reasonable place to start a conversation about what we stand for and who we are.

The UK is one of the worlds largest economies, has world class research, science, engineering, culture, finance and technology industry’s. European Geostrategy even ranked the UK the worlds only global soft super-power, above the USA. We occupy one the UN’s few permanent security council seats and have a disproportionate influence on world governance and business, technology and security standards.

Our military has an incredible reputation and most nations know that whilst we may seem a little soft on the outside we are not to be messed with. Trident, a conventional military force with genuine global reach and a range of capabilities honed in numerous conflicts means that despite recent problems it would be a very brave nation that took us on directly.

The UK, therefore, has a deep well of hard and soft power from which to draw.

There is an ongoing obsession with putting nations into league tables and any casual online search will reveal a plethora of indices but the bottom line is very simple, the UK is one of the worlds leading nations by any measure you care to use.

Recent events have given our world image a battering, everything from Iraq and Afghanistan to the current economic issues have reduced our status. The gradual sublimation of sovereign power to the EU, the overweening nanny state, a gradual loss of freedom from intrusive laws and obsession with political correctness has also resulted in a sort of national loss of self esteem and inability to think strategically.

Just as Turkey is caught between the East and West, the modern UK can sometimes appear to be caught between the US and Europe, unable to commit fully to either.

We should have no illusions about our relationships with the USA, Germany or France and others. Although we are allies and firm friends should not expect anything but self interest from them, to think otherwise is delusional.

We should not describe ourselves as a bridge to anything or anyone, we are more than that and have the ability to act as an important nation in our own right at the heart of global affairs.

The world is changing at a rapid pace and if Great Britain wants to be safe, prosperous and influential our outlook must be outward looking, in all the forms that this might take. We might be an island nation but we are as interconnected as any, reliant on a complex web of relationships, alliances and connections. If the existing policy aspiration is to reject ‘strategic shrinkage’ there has to be a recognition that one of the many levers of strategic power is hard power delivered by the armed forces and intelligence services.

Soft power is no power unless it has some hard power standing behind it.

An over reliance of soft power and influence will result eventually, in someone calling your bluff, realising, as the previous post, that you are all fur coat and no knickers.

There is no doubt there have been some serious strategic missteps recently, interventions in Libya and Iraq have undoubtedly made things worse for the UK and people of those nations and whilst our 13 year presence in Afghanistan is now complete there seems to still be some confusion what it actually achieved with a wide perception of failure.

And yet the Balkans and Sierra Leone are equally and undoubtedly better for our interventions.

To have a strong defence a strong treasury is needed, that much should be obvious. So for all the fine talk of global aspirations, connectivity and strategic outlooks it is economics that defines how much of that you can have. Think Defence readers are self selecting, I am pretty sure there would not be many takers for a proposition that said lets cut defence spending but when it comes to setting public spending defence does not generally come out as a high priority and yet lets be honest, the MoD has a large budget.

I think the fundamental problem for UK defence is the difference between aspiration and budgetary reality leads to a fundamental inability to prioritise funding; all three services get roughly equal budgetary treatment and capabilities within the services likewise.

There is nothing wrong with this, it is driven by the desire to maintain balance across a broad spectrum.

The reality of defence inflation, increasing personnel and equipment/support costs combined with static or declining budgets means the rhetoric about being the best or world class cannot by any logical deduction hold true if the insistence on broad spectrum remains.

You can make arguments for individual capabilities being easily the best in the world but as we have so few of them, their qualitative advantage becomes less and less pivotal in any engagement.

The end result is the salami slicing that has characterised every single defence review since the end of WWII and we are approaching the point where maintaining the critical mass across the full spectrum is impossible.

The slices will be so thin as to be ineffective at reducing cost whilst the leftovers will have an increasingly low level of utility and value for money.

In other words, business as usual has to be on the negotiating table.

Make no mistake, Great Britain is and will be a great nation of global significance but unless there is an increase in defence spending or a re-appraisal of the role and composition of the armed forces in the UK’s strategic outlook, maintaining that significance will be that much more difficult.

If we think there is an increase in defence spending on the horizon I would simply counter with two men better than I.

US Army General Gordon Sullivan said;

Hope is not a method

Or put another way

wish in one hand and shit in the other, see which one fills up first


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