U.K. Defense Policy: Modern Forces for the Modern World

By O'Neill, Michael | Strategic Forum, January 1999 | Go to article overview

U.K. Defense Policy: Modern Forces for the Modern World


O'Neill, Michael, Strategic Forum


Conclusions

* The United Kingdom's recent Strategic Defence Review (SDR) builds on a process of military transformation underway since the end of the Cold War. In contrast to earlier reforms, the SDR is firmly rooted in foreign policy and a clear intellectual framework for assessing the future size and shape of U.K. armed forces.

* The United Kingdom is a major European state, with a fundamental interest in Europe's security, but with interests that are not confined to Europe. Elsewhere, U.K. interests are most likely to be affected by events in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean.

* An increasingly unstable international environment requires smaller but frequent military operations, often simultaneous and sometimes prolonged, including peace support and humanitarian operations which may be militarily very demanding.

* Future U.K. armed forces must be able to conduct either an operation similar in size and duration to the Gulf War, or two concurrent medium-scale operations.

* U.K. armed forces will be restructured and modernized to be more deployable, sustainable, mobile, and flexible, including:

* a properly manned, well-trained, and better equipped front line;

* greater emphasis on joint forces with enhanced capabilities;

* improved power projection, logistics, and other support.

* Army personnel levels will rise by 3,300, mainly in signals, engineer, and logistics areas, the Royal Navy will reduce by 1,400, and the Royal Air Force will remain unchanged.

* Savings made from support and procurement reforms and program reductions will fund substantial new investment and modernization.

Strategic Defence Review

The U.K. Government launched a Strategic Defence Review immediately after its election in May 1997. The parameters came from the Government's manifesto: strong defense, security based on NATO, and retention of Trident missile submarines combined with multinational arms control. The results appeared in July 1998 in a white paper, Strategic Defence Review: Modern Forces for the Modern World. Defence Secretary George Robertson called the review radical, "modernising and reshaping our armed forces to meet the needs of the 21st century, reflecting a changing world in which the confrontation of the Cold War has been replaced by a complex mixture of uncertainty and instability."

Since the end of the Cold War, like other Allies, the United Kingdom had progressively reduced defense spending and force levels. During 1990-98 the armed forces decreased from 315,000 to 210,000 personnel. Conventionally armed submarine numbers decreased from 28 to 12, destroyers and frigates from 48 to 35, infantry battalions from 55 to 40. Tank numbers had fallen by 45 percent, RAF aircraft numbers by 30 percent.

But there had been no comprehensive review of military roles and structures. Cuts were made roughly proportionately rather than by shifting resources strategically to reflect new requirements. The increasing frequency of extended overseas deployments, notably in the Balkans, revealed weaknesses in logistic support and an increasing over-stretching of military forces.

The SDR was the first fundamental re-appraisal of the U.K.'s post-Cold War defense posture. The starting point was a policy framework devised by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That was converted into eight Missions for the armed forces that were further developed into 28 Military Tasks. The forces, capabilities, equipment, and support needed were then assessed.

A further innovation was the open and inclusive process. Extensive consultation took place with parliament, the public, outside specialists, and defense personnel through open seminars led by Ministers. The MOD also received hundreds of written submissions, as well as advice from an expert panel, academics, industrialists, trade unionists, scientists, and others. …

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