Setting Priorities in the Age of Austerity: British, French, and German Experiences

Setting Priorities in the Age of Austerity: British, French, and German Experiences

Setting Priorities in the Age of Austerity: British, French, and German Experiences

Setting Priorities in the Age of Austerity: British, French, and German Experiences

Excerpt

This study examines how the British, French, and German armies are responding to significant budget cuts imposed on them by their governments. The purpose is to derive insight from the evolution of Europe’s most important armies’ capabilities and the thinking behind the compromises they are making as they set spending priorities according to their understanding of risk and the future role of their armies in military conflict. As looming budget cuts in the United States spur debate about spending priorities and future conflict, the U.S. military can benefit not just from tracking what its strongest allies can and cannot do but also by observing how they have projected future defense needs. The focus of this report is less on specific capabilities than on how these militaries are prioritizing between capabilities and readiness and how they are designing their reduced force structures to match what they assess to be their role in future conflicts. This assessment reflects their understanding of risk and national policy, as well as their conclusions regarding what capabilities they will need versus what capabilities they would like to have. Thus, this study sheds light on the capabilities of British, French, and German armies and provides insights regarding how the U.S. Army might reduce its force structure if required by budgetary limitations.

The armies of our most potent European allies have reached a point where they can no longer be everything they want to be. Like a tank designer’s need to choose among the infamous “iron triangle” of protection, firepower, and mobility—as no single platform can provide optimal levels of all three—the British, French, and German armies have found that they must compromise on some combination of capability, sustainability, and readiness. To minimize risk, they are basing these decisions as much as possible on their assessment of the requirements of future conflict.

This study began by attempting to answer two seemingly simple questions: Were the British, French, and German armies abandoning any capabilities? If so, how did they assess risk? Our research found that the three armies insist ostensibly on remaining capable of full spectrum operations (FSO), ranging from disaster relief to high-intensity combined arms maneuver warfare. Indeed, until very recently, they were attempting to maintain the status quo by squeezing what savings they could out of their operating expenses, primarily by reducing their numbers of uniformed and civilian personnel, closing many domestic and overseas facilities, and reorganizing.

However, close examination of British, French, and German plans indicates that they are redefining FSO to encompass a narrower range of capabilities while simultaneously compromising on sustainability and readiness. Britain is trimming its capabilities while—in the hope of holding on to as much as possible—compromising significantly on sustainability and embracing a tiered readiness system that presupposes the avoidance of having to engage in, let . . .

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