Gordon Brown, whilst in government as Chancellor and after as Prime Minister, was always acutely aware that his stock within the military was poor, due to his refusal to properly finance wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to which he and the New Labour Party had committed the armed forces disregarding the advice of Whitehall and military commanders. Direct contact with armed forces personnel and their dependents was by result very much confined to a few carefully arranged press photo only sessions
The Tory Party leadership are even more hawklike in their approach to military intervention. Indeed they fully supported the illegal actions of Blair and Bush in Iraq & Afghanistan and the neo-conservative ideaology of the Tories was brutally evident at the time they brought Libya to it’s knees and the subsequent aftermath that now ensues in that poor country. It is probable that Egypt will invade Libya before long preventing an expansion of Muslim fundamentalist activities, returning the country to some form of parliamentary control.
As before, nothing was learned from the debacle of Libya and piggy-backing on the “Arab Spring” it was the Tory’s intention to commit the military to bombing President Assad of Syria into submission then resignation. A blatant policy of regime change which had never been put to the country for approval. Public pressure forced the “House of Commons” to intervene and those that had learned from the past voted against the proposal thereby preventing the “Tory Hawks” from blundering into a situation from which there would be no withdrawal. The Tories viewed the defeat as a betrayal of the UK’s obligation to support the USA and blame was foisted on the “British Pinkos” in opposition.
Not to be denied ISIS was created by Saudi Arabia (supported by the USA) and proceeded to attack Syria from a safe base in the Sunni (anti-Assad) controlled area of Iraq. But finding the going tough against Syria ISIS soon turned on it’s hosts, the Sunni’s and being well armed, equipped and organised put them to the sword, declaring the entire area of Western Iraq to be a reconstituted “Caliphate “. The mad dog had turned on it’s masters.
This unforeseen and unwanted state of affairs further increased instability in the entire Middle East and it was decided by the USA, UK and their allies that ISIS would need to be destroyed. But successful completion of the mission would require up to 100,000 army boots on the ground for up to 5 years.
Iraqi armed forces, (primarily Shiite Muslim) were badly organised, poorly led and in insufficient numbers to contemplate taking on the task. Indeed ISIS heavily defeated Shiite forces North of Bahgdad at the time they staged the takeover of the Sunni area.
The US turned to Iran, (pro-Assad and predominately Shiite) and agreed an accomodation allowing Iran to provide training, leadership, arms, and non-regular military forces in sufficient numbers making up a force capable of defeating ISIS. This new force attacked ISIS, with mixed results, to the North of Baghdad late February 2015. The US, UK and a number of NATO countries are committed to a role providing air superiority in support of the newly formed Iran led Iraqi army.
An added complication is the aggressive expansion of ISIS in the North of Iraq. This placed them in confrontation with Iraqi Kurds, who proved to be well capable of dealing with the ISIS threat. At March 2015 the Kurds are making significant advances South.
It is likely ground taken by the Kurds will not be given up in any new Iraq formed after the conflict is over. This might not find favour with the Turks who fear a creation of a new State of Kurdistan to the South of Turkey since nearly 25% of Southern Turkey is occupied by Kurds.
Despite an undertaking by the Tory’s there would be no deployment of British forces, army teams have been deployed to Iraq providing weapons and tactics training and support, (short of military involvement). So more problems to resolve and with a fellow member of NATO!!
Saudi Arabia is becoming increasingly concerned at the way in which events are unravelling in Iraq. Fearful of a spread of Shiite Muslim rule in Iraq and the closer ties with a nuclear armed Iran that would bring. Kuwait, the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia would either develop their own nuclear deterrent or arrange a purchase of Missiles and technology from Pakistan or China. What a mess and the UK and USA are responsible.
It now appears the USA, UK and their allies are backing down from regime change in Syria requiring only that President Assad open a credible dialogue with those in opposition to his government. It is possible a form of federal state might evolve over time. But this is precisely what President Putin asked for before all the trouble started. Gung Ho Nato again!!
Further complicating matters President Putin took advantage of on-going events in the Middle East and carved up the Ukraine taking the Crimea back to Russian control, (which was always on the cards) creating instabilty in the Eastern (Russian speaking) part of the country. The origins of the conflict in Ukraine are complicated but informed sources are of the view that Russia has legitimate claims to the Crimea and the troubles in the Eastern part of the Ukraine may be self inflicted by right wing elements within the country.
No matter who is to blame President Putin’s conduct has changed the political climate in Europe. It might be he has no intention of absorbing the Baltic States but this is not assured. NATO is committed to their defence and it is crucial President Putin is not given the impression NATO will not honour such a commitment.
In consequence of events in the Ukraine NATO convened a summit meeting, held in Wales and issued a clear message to President Putin that NATO would not allow any infringement upon any NATO country. They also committed to the recurring allocation to defence of at least 2% of GDP. https://www.rusi.org/downloads/assets/201409_BP_Financial_Context_of_the_2015_SDSR.pdf
It is against this background of chaos and assurances that the Tory Party is implementing the findings of a defence review conducted after the Afghanistan withdrawal and BEFORE the troubles that surfaced in Syria, Iraq and the Ukraine. The new thinking, holding force at the time of the review is that the UK’s primary concern would be focused on the security of the homeland and that financial resources should be transferred away from heavy infantry defence, creating fast moving teams of up to 5000 multi purpose personnel, capable of rapid response, tackling any terror threats from ISIS and Al Qaeda.
Problems have since surfaced within NATO over the figure of 2% of GDP. The nature of expenditure that is to be counted in or out is not agreed and the UK is under pressure over the decision to include the cost of the Trident nuclear deterrent, (approximately 0.6% of GDP) within the return. The view held is that NATO operates under the umbrella of the US nuclear deterrent and the UK, having no need to retain a pseudo independent deterrent, within NATO should exclude such costs from financial allocations.
Another aspect of costing is the bloated MOD bureaucracy comprising over 500 colonels and 200 brigadiers and generals managing an army of 82,000. Adding personnel, admin, (each officer is allocated a staff car and driver) and service support to each of the officers takes up around 0.2% of GDP. In contrast the 500,000 strong US army has only 310 staff officers of comparable rank, the bulk of which are deployed with their soldiers in times of war.
Concerns emanating from the US are that subsequent to implementation of the defence review the UK will not be able to “deploy troops with accompanying fighter aircraft and naval vessels without relying on American forces” and this would be unacceptable. The Independent Trident 400 warhead nuclear deterrent is also considered to be of little consequence given that the US has placed it’s entire 20,000 nuclear warheads within the command structure of NATO. Finance saved by the UK by giving up Trident could be better used in the maintenance of conventional forces and weaponry.
NATO is committed to the mutual defence of member states in a new fast changing, very dangerous environment and 2% of GDP might not be sufficient to meet the many and varied military challenges it faces. A more realistic figure of 3% of GDP would not be misplaced. It is of great concern therefore to note that the Tory Party are committed to a further reduction in the armed forces allocating only 1.5% of GDP. The level of defence projected additional spending cuts thrusts the UK into a political maelstrom and the backlash from the US and other NATO countries will be unforgiving.
Rory Stewart, Tory Chairman of the Commons Select Defence Committee delivered, in the Defence debate, one the best speeches on defence heard in many a year, It is essential listening. It is only 10 minutes long commencing at 12:18 but provides an excellent analysis of the problems facing the UK at this time and in the future, it is available at: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/fe9e4868-f7e2-47d8-96c7-50b7f12399de
The Times publishes excellent articles supporting the foregoing ( am not a subscriber so only the headline part is available but this is sufficient to provide the gist of the full article content
January 24 2015: The British army is overhauling its top brass. About time. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/leaders/article4333132.ece
January 24 2015: Army chief to take axe to ‘bloated’ top brass. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/defence/article4333200.ece
January 24 2015: Lions led by pen-pushers, the state of the British Army today. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/defence/article4333169.ece
March 7 2015: Trust us — we’ve a safe pair of hands, says PM. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/politics/article4375405.ece
March 12 2015: Merkel snubs Putin’s military parade in protest over Ukraine. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/europe/article4379131.ece
March 18 2015: Don’t humiliate Putin, Obama told. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/europe/article4384822.ece
March 19 2015: Putin takes control of Georgia’s South Ossetia. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/europe/article4385966.ece
March 20 2015: Police and courts are at risk of cuts to pay for defence. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/business/budget2015/article4387548.ece
March 20 2015: MPs quiz Cameron over £170m arms export licences for Russia. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/defence/article4387976.ece
March 21 2015: Russia’s sanctions may fall as EU leaders fail to agree. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/europe/article4388401.ece