London, March 25, 2015–I was watching a BBC debate last night between Simon Jenkins, columnist for The Guardian, and Admiral Alan West, a former British naval commander over cuts to the UK defense budget. It gets down to what might be called the Falklands Syndrome.
West, who commanded a ship sunk in the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina, said that if Argentina invaded today, the British would not be able to recover the islands. The country lacks any aircraft carriers and wont have new ones in operation until maybe 2017. Without them, West said, a flotilla for the Falklands would be a sitting duck.
Jenkins, who has produced a stream of columns calling for defense cuts said, that’s okay, the British shouldn’t be defending the Falklands anyway and there is no threat to British shores that requires more arms. He wasn’t impressed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a cause to spend on.
It sort of came as a surprise to me that Britain, whose empire and influence grew on the back of its navy, has long been in the process of shrinking its defense budget. With the UK’s lack of an aircraft carrier, France may now be Europe’s leading naval power. Paris recently dispatched its carrier Charles de Gaulle to the Persian Gulf to help bomb the Islamic State, gladdening the hearts of the Pentagon.
The story of British defense cuts is intertwined with its participation in two American-led wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, that have fed anti-militarist feelings. Both wars are considered ill managed and disastrous adventures that lasted way too long . Also, the Cameron government wants more cuts in government spending and among the subtractions is defense.
Oddly, Cameron hosted a NATO conference in Wales last year that committed members to “aim” to spend two per cent of GDP on defense. Now, Britain itself is unlikely to reach the objective any time soon, if ever. If it doesn’t, is it likely that wealthy but war averse Germany will (defense spending at 1.4 per cent of GDP), or financially struggling Italy (1.7 per cent of GDP)?
Which brings us to France. It spends a bit over two per cent of its gross domestic product on defense. Besides giving the Obama Administration a helping hand with ISIS, in 2013, it sent troops to quell an Islamic uprising in Mali. Is it time for neo-con Republicans and other France bashers to stop referencing the French as “cheese eating surrender monkeys” just because the country didn’t join in the Iraq War?
Anyway, think about Europe’s weakness the next time you wonder why Putin thinks he can march into Ukraine unhindered.
Parliamentary committee says Britain must spend more.
Sudden Pentagon praise for France.
List of military spending, country-by-country, as percentage of GDP.