Friday, 1 March 2013

The British Ceremonial Army

As a direct consequence of the global financial downturn and its impact on British public finances, the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) was forced to reinvent itself. Please interpret “reinvention” largely as “downsizing.” It was inevitable. However, the gap between the political rhetoric underpinning the foundations of the new force and the actual shape this force is taking keeps widening.

The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) outlined the beginnings of the planned reinvention:

Royal Navy – reduction of about 5,000 personnel to about 30,000 by 2015.
Royal Air Force – reduction of about 5,000 personnel to about 33,000 by 2015.
British Army – reduction of about 7,000 personnel to about 95,000 by 2015.

By July 2012, the reinvention of the British Army has evolved into plans for a further reduction of regular troops from about 102,000 people to roughly 82,000 by 2020. Any of the top-ten American football stadiums can comfortably seat the British Army; that is its actual size. Please do not be surprised if in the next rounds of reinvention, the leaner and smarter force shrinks even further. Periodic announcements by MOD seem to be already adding substance to the claim: the reinvented British Army will be by 2020 a compact force indeed.

Along this downsizing path, we find the MOD headings outlining what the reinvented British Army is expected to achieve: “To succeed in Afghanistan,” “To continue to fulfill our standing commitments,” “To succeed in other operations we are required to undertake at home and overseas.” The maths simply do not add up. When jihadists keep finding new world corners where to set home and thrive, the Arab Spring is fast turning into a long and chilly Winter, China and Russia are fast strengthening their military muscles, the situation in Syria is deteriorating by the hour, nuclear Iran, etc.,  it is hard to imagine that the shrinking British Army can ‘succeed in any other operations they are required to undertake.’

Let’s not forget. To fill the gap, the British government is planning to double the size of the reserve force from about 15,000 to 30.000 people and to start using them in front-line duties along with Territorial Army personnel. The plan calls for a partnership with industry, so that reservists can stay away from their jobs with some ease while on deployment. Down this path, the meaning of being a reservist (called for duty only during times of crisis) and the meaning of being a member of the “territorial” forces goes out of the window. What is the meaning of maintaining a professional and dedicated military class then?

Add all these points up, the shrinking numbers, the diluted meanings, the unimpressive pay soldiers take home, and we finish with a formula not for a smarter force, but for a ceremonial army.

Official documents will not document a component of British state defense and security likely to play a greater role by 2020. This “private” component calls for a greater use of Private Military Companies (or Private Security Companies if you prefer the milder term) by the British enlarged and thriving private security and private military sectors. Which will be at the forefront of British defense and security by 2020, the ceremonial army or properly staffed PMCs and PSCs?

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