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Our purpose is to encourage the knowledge and the debate of issues connected with art and military science. Selection of articles attempts to reflect different opinions. Beyond any ideological ascription. In order to impulse critical thought amongst our readers.

viernes, 2 de mayo de 2014

Los problemas presupuestarios afectan a la defensa británica.

Budgetary Constraints Could Derail Efforts to Realign Britain’s Defense Strategy.


As British troops withdraw from Afghanistan, the U.K. must make hard choices ahead of its forthcoming Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR), due for release in the months following the U.K.’s May 2015 general election. Yet efforts to realign Britain’s defense strategy as part of this process are likely to be constrained once again by financial considerations and the need to maintain continuity in certain areas. Overcoming these tensions will therefore require sound judgment in the coming months. Otherwise, Britain could be left with a strategically incoherent defense posture insufficient to meet the demands of the post-Afghanistan operating environment. 

The transfer of command of U.K. military operations in Afghanistan’s Helmand province earlier this month to the U.S.-led Regional Command Southwest marked the latest phase in Britain’s redeployment of combat forces from the country—a process due to be completed by the end of 2014. Speaking a few months ago at Camp Bastion, the U.K.’s principal military base in Helmand, British Prime Minister David Cameron insisted that the troopscould return home with their heads held high, in the knowledge that their mission was accomplished. 

Nevertheless, Britain’s contribution to the mission in Afghanistan, namely helping the Afghan government develop its ability to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for international terrorists, has been costly. Since the U.K. first deployed troops to the country in 2001, 448 British service personnel have lost their lives there. By the end of 2014, it is expected that Britain will have spent roughly $42 billion on the campaign. These heavy human and financial costs have fueled skepticism among the British public about the benefits of embarking upon future military campaigns and have left their elected officials reluctant to take on new defense commitments—as was made apparent in August 2013, when parliament voted against military intervention in Syria. 

Due to the high tempo of British military operations in Afghanistan, resourcing that campaign has also left Britain’s armed forces overstretched, resulting at times in a lack of operational readiness, and in some instances an inability to deploy to other regions when needed. The nature of the Afghanistan conflict, and the 2003-2009 Iraq campaign, has also required the U.K., like the United States, to replace its traditional approach to warfighting with a greater focus on counterinsurgency—utilizing small-unit military tactics centered on winning the support of the local population to deny insurgents their support base. As a result, considerable time and effort has been spent recalibrating Britain’s armed forces, in terms of both doctrine and training, toward conducting these types of operations—cultivating expertise that could prove less relevant within the post-Afghanistan operating environment.

As defense planners start work on the U.K.’s forthcoming SDSR, Britain must therefore consider how best to strategically realign its current defense posture so that it is well-positioned to take on future challenges. This will require making hard choices over the type of armed forces Britain will need going forward. If, as part of this process, strategists perceive that Britain is unlikely to engage anytime soon in military campaigns akin to those conducted in Helmand, then they could advocate a reorientation of the British military away from the counterinsurgency-centric posture of the past decade. A new strategic model is likely to be centered more on conventional deterrents and activity in areas such as defense diplomacy and upstream conflict prevention, which involve a lighter footprint in terms of their required manpower and overall cost to British taxpayers. 

However, the extent to which strategic vision will drive decision-making over the future size, composition and role of the U.K.’s armed forces will almost certainly be constrained by resource availability. Further defense cuts are expected to be part of the comprehensive spending review due to follow next year’s general election. The U.K.’s room for strategic maneuver could also be limited by the need for continuity in certain areas. After taking office in 2010, Britain’s current Conservative-led coalition government complementedcuts of around 8 percent of the defense budget at the time with a future vision for the U.K.’s armed forces—one that included reducing the size of the army from 102,000 to 82,000 personnel and enhancing the role of its reserve force. Commitment to delivering this plan can therefore be expected, as can the completion of existing big-ticket equipment programs, such as the costly F-35 fighter project.

How tensions between budgetary constraints and the priorities for force structure and capabilities are resolved will ultimately determine the degree to which Britain can undergo the much-needed overhaul of its defense strategy following its withdrawal from Afghanistan. Should the U.K. be left with a strategically incoherent force structure, whereby it enjoys “exquisite equipment, but insufficient resources to man that equipment or train on it”—a concern recently voiced by Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Sir Nick Houghton regarding the prospect of further manpower cuts within defense—then it could risk damaging its ability to continue playing a leading role as both a regional and global security actor. 

This could not only harm its reputation as a top partner nation within NATO, but might stoke negative perceptions about Britain’s ability to defend its overseas territories. At a time when the U.K.’s principal ally, the United States, is expecting European countries to increasingly look after security issues within their own backyard, and when an antagonistic Argentina continues to internationalize its dispute with Britain over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, failure to adequately balance strategic ambition with efficiency savings within defense could have far-reaching implications for the U.K. and its broader global interests. 

Matt Ince is an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

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