Sunday, 18 December 2011
When the Euro collapses will there be fighting?
This is the question which our military planners appear to be considering, if this article by the eminent and not usually over excitable Professor Michael Clarke, who is the director general of the Royal United Services Institute, is to be believed.
Here is his article:-
Britain's Armed Forces face a new enemy Cost-cutting and the euro crisis are real and present dangers for Britain's hard-pressed Armed Forces.
The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, was doing no more than stating Government policy this week when he said that the single biggest strategic risk facing the country today is economic rather than military. “No country can defend itself if bankrupt,” he said in his annual review of defence policy at the Royal United Services Institute.
Britain is still one of only three significant Nato members, out of 28, who spend 2 per cent of their GDP on defence. Nevertheless, the country is facing volatile times in austere circumstances. We need to think strategically, he maintained, and reform the Armed Forces even while they are extensively stretched. It’s a challenge akin to rebuilding the ship while still at sea.
To those who lament recent defence cuts as somehow lacking in strategy, the Government’s answer is therefore simple. Britain’s grand strategy – as immediate and overwhelming as anything in 1940 – is to maintain the country’s triple-A credit rating in the international markets. Without that, no credible defence strategy would be affordable.
As the country’s top military officer, Sir David is duty-bound to set out the Government’s grand strategic case in this way. But he also has to deal with the consequences of it. He has to speak military logic to the politicians, and political logic to the military. He does not interpret his role, and nor should he, as the champion of the military in a public battle with Downing Street for resources. Grandstanding against the Government is not his job, and certainly not Sir David’s style. But what he said was also the tip of a nasty iceberg that he and others can see drifting ever closer to the ship of state.
The tip of the iceberg, it has to be said, is not all bad. Britain remains a significant military player; the fourth largest military spender, behind the US, China and Japan, and ahead of France and Russia. If the first division of real military power only includes the United States, Britain stands in the top half of the second division that presently consists of Russia, China, France and India. And though Britain and France will drift towards the foot of that division over the coming decade, they will not be quickly relegated from it, if only because there is such a yawning gap to the third division below.
None the less, Sir David also knows that to stay in the game at all, military forces have to be credible and able to be used in different situations at short notice. Forces that look impressive on paper, or forces that take years to mobilise, are no use to Britain in the 21st century, and no one would bet on a period of idleness for the military in the near future.
So in the present climate, military chiefs have got to balance the risks of their trade in a different way. Last year’s defence review took 7.5 per cent out of the defence budget and committed the MoD to eliminating its famous “black hole” of unfunded future commitments that was, in reality, about £27 billion net. This summer, the Government put 0.4 per cent back into the defence budget as a whole to guarantee forward equipment programmes, but now the autumn statement extends existing defence cuts from 2015 out to 2017 and it would be foolish to rule out even further tightening before we get to 2017.
For Sir David, the new balance of risks is relatively clear. Britain aims to keep as many military capabilities as possible intact and “rebalanced” by 2020. By that time we plan to have a smaller Army of only 82,000, but a bigger, usable Reserve; a small force of new US jets to serve with the Eurofighter Typhoon; an effective strike aircraft carrier; refurbished nuclear forces; next generation electronic assets – the new battle winners – and a reformed MoD to manage it all.
But to get there, Sir David will have to save considerable amounts of money by holding some of his present force elements at lower readiness, relying on allies and partners to do other things, and accepting that in many areas a “good enough” level of technology will suffice, as long as the expertise of military personnel who operate it can be kept at its present high level.
Sir David’s problem is not so much balancing the risks in a military sense; all good commanders can do that. It’s the politico-military balances that are hardest to strike; when predictable casualties send politicians running for cover, or when changes in a battle plan send the media into gloomy prognoses of defeat. There is no pain-free use of the military instrument – even in Libya this year. Not all battles can be won, even in victorious campaigns. And some campaigns, where victory is simply impossible, may still be worth fighting.
What Sir David is saying about the rest of the planning iceberg is that British defence will get worse before it gets better, and that if the politicians want to keep reaching for the military lever, they will have to be braced for the political and human costs of doing so. Libya was a relatively easy military campaign, but it was still a politically close run thing once it became clear that the operation would last more than a fortnight.
More to the immediate point, he knows that the crisis in the euro area has become life or death to his chances of getting his defence forces to 2020, even in the sort of shape envisaged by the 2010 defence review. The Government’s reaction to domestic recession has been austerity in public spending, accompanied by growth strategies targeted on particular sectors. If the Government reacts in the same way to any new recession, defence would likely suffer further austerity and is very unlikely to be an area for targeted growth. All that was implicit in Sir David’s speech.
What he didn’t mention was that part of the iceberg that really worries the planners; perhaps for the good reason that it’s too early to press the panic button, or maybe for the bad reason that the prospects are just too awful to talk about in public. However the euro crisis plays out next year, we may see the return of real insecurity to the European continent itself.
The crisis has been technocratic so far; next year it will become political. If the euro is saved, it will be by a greater fiscal integration between the prosperous north European countries. If it is not, there will be chaos across southern Europe. Either way, we are witnessing a rapid and fundamental political shift from a continent that was long stabilised along an east/west axis, to one that will be defined by its north/south differences.
Some economic and political basket cases in the south will find themselves dealing with an acrimonious and introverted group of more prosperous northern countries trying to re-fashion some version of the grand integration project. Uncontrolled migration pressures will increase; organised crime will flourish on the imbalances between north and south, there will be less to prevent insecurity in the Balkans getting worse, or to prevent a Vladimir Putin under pressure from testing where Nato’s “red lines” really are. It will be a good year for populist parties everywhere who will freely allocate the blame for the chaos they see around them.
This is not the prelude to some cataclysmic European war. But it is probably the beginning of a new surge of human insecurity in and around the backyard we have come to see as nicely secure. And the United States is in no mood to bail the Europeans out of a mess they think we have made for ourselves. If insecurity returns to our continent over the next couple of years, Sir David will really have his work cut out finding the forces to deal with its effects, and 2020 will seem a long way away.
Professor Michael Clarke
Position: Director General
Michael Clarke is currently the Director of the Royal United Services Institute. Until July 2007 he was the Deputy Vice-Principal and Director of Research Development at King's College London, where he remains a Visiting Professor of Defence Studies. He was the founding Director of the International Policy Institute at King's College London from 2001-2005 and Head of the School of Social Science and Public Policy at KCL in 2004-05. He was, from 1990 to 2001, the founding Director of the Centre for Defence Studies at King's. He was appointed as Professor of Defence Studies in 1995.
He has been a Guest Fellow at The Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, and a Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. He has been senior Specialist Adviser to the House of Commons Defence Committee since 1997, having served previously with the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee 1995-7. In 2004 he was appointed the UK member of the United Nations Secretary General's Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters. In 2007 he was appointed as one of the Security Commissioners at the Institute for Public Policy Research. In 2009 he was appointed to the Prime Minister's National Security Forum in pursuit of the new National Security Strategy launched in 2008.