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Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have launched the joint international defence engagement strategy ahead of the Munich Security Conference.

They announced that the Britain is to be a ‘dynamic, agile, cutting-edge global power’.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said:

“Our increased ambition for Defence Engagement abroad demonstrates the UK’s global role.

Whether it’s by increasing our military expertise in the Middle East, training Nigerian forces in maritime security, or RAF Typhoons exercising over South Korea, Britain is committed to working internationally to protect our people and interests.”

Foreign Secretary Mr Johnson said:

“The International Defence Engagement Strategy ensures we get the best value from our brilliant and brave Armed Forces and world-class Diplomatic Service, enabling them to deliver security and prosperity for the British people.”

This year Britain is:

  • Leading NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), a Brigade size force ready to respond to any threat.
  • Leading NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) in Estonia, where 1000 British troops will deploy alongside other NATO Allies to deter threats.
  • Deploying a company size force to Poland, as part of the US’ EFP battle group.
  • Sending Typhoons to police NATO skies over Bulgaria and Romania.

Last year, researchers at European Geostrategy broke global powers down into four categories: Super Power, Global Power, Regional Power and Local Power.

The United States took the top slot as the world’s super power, while Britain took the only Global Power slot, bringing her in second behind America.

Regional powers include France, India and Germany, while local powers were those such as Italy, Brazil, and Turkey.

The organisation European Geostrategy rate the United Kingdom as a global power, they define this as:

“A country lacking the heft or comprehensive attributes of a superpower, but still with a wide international footprint and [military] means to reach most geopolitical theatres, particularly the Middle East, South-East Asia, East Asia, Africa and South America.”

ukgpThe British Armed Forces comprise the Royal Navy, a blue-water navy with a comprehensive and advanced fleet; the Royal Marines, a highly specialised amphibious light infantry force; the British Army, the UK’s principal land warfare force; and the Royal Air Force, with a diverse operational fleet consisting of modern fixed-wing and rotary aircraft.

The country is a major participant in NATO and other coalition operations and is also party to the Five Power Defence Arrangements. Recent operations have included Afghanistan and Iraq, peacekeeping operations in the Balkans and Cyprus, intervention in Libya and again operations over Iraq and Syria.

The UK still retains considerable economic, cultural, military, scientific and political influence internationally. It’s a recognised nuclear weapons state and its defence budget ranks fifth or sixth in the world. The country has been a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council since its inception.

Additionally, according to a study the year before, the UK is one of the worlds main soft powers.

Soft power is a concept developed by Joseph Nye of Harvard University to describe the ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce, use force or give money as a means of persuasion.

37 COMMENTS

  1. Don’t make me laugh!!!! A measly handful of 20yr old tanks, only 7 front line Typhoon sqdns and 19 overworked escorts that will soon be robbed of ASM missiles qualifies us to be a ‘dynamic and cutting edge global power’?? Seriously?? Are Fallon and Johnson this far disconnected from the reality of our hollowed out Armed a Forces?? No potential foe of any worth is afraid of us these days; Fallon and his crew need to call a spade a spade and stop deluding themselves!!

  2. The tories love to announce stuff….. all the while cutting budgets and availability.

    No SSNs currently at sea
    A handful of destroyers that don’t work in mild weather
    Fewer tanks than Switzerland
    The smallest army for two centuries
    Ships that won’t have the ability to destroy other ships….

    and so on….

    The trajectory of the UK armed forces is inexorably & near terminally downwards.

  3. Have I just woken up in a time warp?

    Fallon is in total denial! Wake up man and have a good look at what successive governments have done to our military.

  4. I think you guys are being unfair to the armed forces, the uk armed forces are still a very well trained force able to deploy personnel and equipment around the world, yes sometimes only small in numbers but we can do it.

    There are still many countries around the world that would like to have a military force like ours, should not be so pessimistic. It will take a while but there will be a mix of new equipment coming in..

    • Hi John. With respect, no comment I have posted or read is being unfair to the Armed Forces; they operate within the constrains of the budget made available by Whitehall. The pessimism you reference is laid squarely at the feet of HMG and the fact that they flatly refuse to adequately fund the Armed Forces to do the job that THEY commit us as a nation to. If HMG doesn’t want us to be a world player – that’s fine but don’t pretend to be something we are not because it fools no-one – especially potential foes. The new equipment you mention is hailed as a great revelation to much back-slapping and self-congratulations but in actual fact and in large part, only restores capabilities that were scrapped only a few short years prior. If this government was serious about being a real world player, we would see an actual and substantive increase in critical mass across all three services. Until that happens, you will continue to see much – and justified – pessimism!

    • Unless defence spending is increased to 5% of GDP for at least a decade, the UK armed forces will continue to decline. The situation is catastrophic and near the point of being irrecoverable.

  5. We all know the uk government military cut backs went too far, but i just think some of you guys on this website are too pessimistic. Britain still does it’s bit in the world ! and within NATO it’s one of the larger players in Europe.

  6. just to add to the above: 7000 elite Royal marines, plus two large multi-role carriers in the future. Possibly early next decade we will have 10 front – line fighter squadrons, new maritime patrol aircraft.. tanks to be upgraded extra protector drones. We have to be realistic about what this country can afford, there are a lot of other things that need extra money too ‘ NHS for example.’

    • “two large multi-role carriers”

      They’re not multi-role carriers: They can provide short-range close air support. The idiotic decision to build them as STOVL ships, rather than CATOBAR, has crippled them. They need to have the decks torn off and replaced with proper ones – cats, traps and all. In their currnet configuration they can’t operate a proper air group.

      “tanks to be upgraded”

      They can’t be upgraded. The gun is obsolescent and nobody makes ammunition for it any more; it can’t be replaced with a NATO-standard gun because the ammunition won’t fit in the racks, and this is NOT a simple problem to resolve.

      “Possibly early next decade we will have 10 front – line fighter squadrons”

      Which is pathetic. We used to have 15 squadrons of Phantoms – plus Harriers, Jaguars, Buccaneers and all the rest.

      “new maritime patrol aircraft”

      These should have been ordered 15 years ago.

      “We have to be realistic about what this country can afford”

      We can afford to spend 4% of GDP on defence. When I got my Army number in 1988 we were spending 5.9%.

  7. I take your point Steve; having served in the military I have experienced the decline and stretch on front line squadrons.

    It is depressing to see how numbers were radically reduced when they were needed, and the effect it has had on morale.

    Phillip Hammond did not understand the close military team ethos required on operations compared to civilian roles. This has been detrimental to the forces which could now comfortably fit within Wembley stadium. Numbers of full time professional troops cannot be replaced by reservists who do not have the time or commitment.

  8. I cannot agree with you joe ! what do you expect ? The uk cannot police the world in large numbers, the empire has long gone, if that is what you think would make us a big player.. So at least we do our bit with other nations around the world. I think one of the most important things for Uk is NATO and Europe.

    I do understand some of the points you make Paul, but again i would say we have to be realistic about what we can afford, i know having 80,000 trained army regulars and 26,000 trained army reservists currently is not like the 102,000 army reg’s we had a few years back, but at least fully mobilised in a crisis the Brit’s would do their part amongst the other NATO members in Europe. In a way im glad the UK will not be able to deploy a division sized force to far off lands for the foreseeable future, Britain has done it’s bit for many a year in so many different campaigns. I think it will be good if by 2025 the UK had the ability again to deploy a division size force if a crisis arose in Europe. I think that is the future plan for the army after having a look at the 2015 strategic defence review.

    • John, we DON’T have 26,000 reservists. Hammond’s bright idea was that all the Regulars who’d just been made redundant would join the Army Reserve instead. They didn’t; they said “Sod you” and walked away, and I don’t blame them. I left before the SDSR massacre and I’ve never felt any urge to join the AR; I did my bit. Just imagine how those who were sacked feel about it.

      I did 6 years TA before going Regular. When I joined the TA we had a Regular Army of 155,000 and a TA of 59,000. Somehow we managed to afford it. When I went Regular we still had 120,000 Regular troops and two fully operational divisions. My old division (1 (UK) Armd) is gone now, and the last of the Army’s offensive power went with it. The UK Armed Forces are a complete mess, and if they’re to be salvaged we have to start spending a LOT of money right away.

  9. Just to add to my comments: Yes i agree with you David the new equipment is going to just fill some of the capability gaps that were made, but at least that will be happening even that looked doubtful at one point..

  10. I think that post Brexit this is what my grandmother would have called ‘putting your best foot forwards’. Expect a lot more of this imperial tripe. Some substantive assets and manpower would be nice.

  11. ok guys.. so you want a lot more money spent on the military, so where will you take the money from to do this ? and how would you find the extra resources at the same time to help the NHS, prison service, schools and so on.. It’s easy to criticise all the time but i think if you were in a position of political power you would very quickly find it’s not so easy to do these things..

    With all of the comments i have made this evening i have just tried to be realistic about the current situation.. Quite a few members of my family have served in the military, so i want what’s best for our military too, but there is only a certain amount we can do as a country..

    • Scrap the foreign aid budget; then we can boost defence to 2.5% right away, given that the real figure is currently about 1.8%. The NHS can make efficiency savings – sack all the diversity managers (there are hundreds of them), close the homeopathic hospitals and have a massive cull of management. Comb government looking for savings. No more taxpayer funding to pressure groups – a MASSIVE amount is wasted this way. We can finance the Armed Forces properly, because we did it until not that long ago, but they are very close to the point of no return right now.

    • Hey John. I too have family members serving right now and we all on this forum want more investment in the Armed Forces. Where do we get the extra money? Try the 11Bn we WASTE every year on foreign aid for a start! Seriously – that is a lot of cash that in my opinion would be better off spent at home! I’m not saying all 11Bn would be spent on the Armed Forces but 4Bn or so extra every year would go a LONG way to help restore our military.

  12. not quite sure what you mean about imperial tripe post Brexit, lol.. I was against leaving the EU

    anyway, what ever..

  13. Where to find the money:

    Obvious one – Foreign Aid £12 Billion and rising = 1/3 of the Defence Budget – and a lot of it goes to countries that have their own weapon/space/military programs.

    We could suggest refitting HMS Ocean as a Hospital/Disaster Ship – she has the deck space, the communications capability, and as we have just seen the medical options. If we needed her in wartime we’d still have her.

    NHS – ring-fence the National Insurance to the NHS and increase it by 1% not exactly job done – but a huge step forward.

    Plan on a future RAF of 12 front-line squadrons Typhoon/F35B plus the two OCU “shadow” squadrons.

    Accept that Trident is going to slip (again) and order an eighth Astute for the interim. Order two new T45s with ABM capability from the start and then refit the other six over time. 8 x T26 and 8 x T31.

    Increase the Regular Army to 90,000:

    3rd Division (Armoured) – three Armoured Brigades plus supports dedicated solely to Central & Southern Europe (1 x T74 Heavy Armoured Regt, 2 x Armoured Infantry Battalions, 1 x Armoured Cavalry Regiment, 1 x SP Regt – 4 x 8 Tube Batteries)

    1st Division (Light) – Special Forces Group, 16th Air Assault, 3rd Commando and a new Light Armoured Brigade (7th?) – equipped to the same scale as and to be inter-operable with US Stryker Brigades.

    2nd Division (Infantry) to hold the 6 x Lighter Role Infantry Brigades for Home Defence and low intensity stabilisation missions.

  14. I think a lot of you are missing the other half of the equation. The UK’s diplomatic, cultural and commercial influences around the world are still significant, and this is probably what puts us nearly 10 points ahead of France for example.

    As for spending, I agree with all of you to a point. There are many bills that need to be paid, including fixing the ham-fisted cock-ups of the 2010 SDSR, but there’s also the NHS, Police, Schools etc etc etc.

    I think though, that HMG isn’t very smart about how it saves the money. A smarter way of doing things rather than getting rid of fixed wing aviation from the navy, or robbing the RAF of a maritime patrol aircraft for a decade erodes key skills that those forces need to constantly hone in order to stay competitive. Things that could/should be reduced in times of financial hardship are the jobs that are relatively quickly trained, such as a lot of enlisted positions, rather than Naval aviators or engineers and tradesmen. Far better to have every non-deployed gun battery minus a gun detachment, or non-deployed infantry platoon with two sections rather than three, than to have to re-raise battalions from scratch without that framework of expertise to build them around, buying and learning to operate P-8 Poseidons or trying to teach new pilots to land on carriers again if we find ourselves needing to project significant power around the globe.

  15. Politicians talking nonsense as usual, capabilities have been greatly diminished over the last 10 years because of spending cuts. Forces’ morale at rock bottom – enough rhetoric please, let’s see the money

  16. I certainly agree with the aim of the announcement that the UK should seek to be a dynamic global power. After all that is what we have been over the left 300 years or so and I see no reason why that should change. Leaving the EU gives us room to rediscover a more appropriate role for the UK through a foreign policy which is more beneficial for the long term prospects of both our country and the world. Our membership of the EU was always a bit odd and probably was the perfect example of where shared power equates to lost power. The UK was always more globalised than your typical European state. EU states tend to be more introverted with horizons limited to just European geopolitics. The UK was always an odd fit in such a relationship since the EU has always been a Franco-German project designed to fulfill Franco-German aims.
    Leaving the EU is a fantastic opportunity for the UK but it needs to think more ambitiously to fulfill its potential. This includes ensuring that the UK has sufficient military weight which it can deploy globally. Currently it doesn’t look like barely spending the 2% minimum on defence is enough to achieve that aim. For example having all 7 of your nuclear submarines in port would suggest you don’t have enough nuclear submarines. Or sending warships out to sea without anti-ship missiles would suggest that you’ve probably been over promoted for your role and have severe competency issues.
    I would helpfully suggest that if funding is a problem for UK defence then I would suggest it looks at finding clever ways for taking money from other bloated budgets such as foreign aid. How about a £1 billion pound annual stipend from the foreign aid budget to ensure that the Royal Navy can fulfill emergency aid operations. That funding could help maintain the carriers or the helicopter fleet whilst money from the defence budget which was previously set aside for those purposes could be redirected towards maintaining or expanding other defence capabilities? Seems like a good idea? Who’s going to complain? The Labour party? The Liberal Democrats? Pfffff….

  17. This 2% GDP reference point has become a comfort blanket, just like the minimum wage. It says nothing about the UK’s real needs or our unique status as a large island nation. Unlike mainland European we can’t feed, power or clothe ourselves without access to the seas. Germany can double it’s spend and it will be good for European land defence but little or none of that will be used to protect our vital sea lanes.

    It is my belief that we are actually now more vulnerable than at any time in our history and totally asleep at the wheel.

    Imports come in very few, much larger ships to fewer ports, volcanic ash shut down the skies, never mind an ongoing STA missile threat for commercial traffic and the chunnel could be closed from the other side at a moments notice.

    Time to remove the 2% comfort blanket and look at our real defence needs which I suspect are nearer to 3% ongoing plus significant catch up.

  18. Hi John….having just read though this lot I thought I would offer you some support as you seem to be the one making rational comments. Come on guys. Lets gets some things out of the way. We are not America, we are not going to take on the Chinese and Putin is not an idiot. That leaves the rest of the world where with an advanced navy almost starting from scratch after 30 years of being messed about; a commando force, I for one am proud of, and a Royal Air Force taking on more and more first class kit I would say we have a real role to play. Now add in an army and enlarged reserve being seriously upgrade and you tell me one other country in the world who would’t give their high teeth to have such men and women available.

  19. The PR machine is now playing the “Attack on our leadership, funding, planning are an attack on the brave men and women who serve.” A sure sign the decline will not be reversed.

    Brace for a forces with limited training ops, lowered standards to get the reduced numbers filled. Then an increase of SF numbers for PR taken from a smaller, poorer trained, lower morale pool.

    Not long until UK joint defence for streamlining back-end functions with an Australian man power solution of hiring ex US Mil to retire into roles we can’t recruit for or retain.

    We leave these shores relying on allied aircraft and “patrol” boats while we have to send survey ships to drag folks out of the water. That’s not throwing weight around that overstretch to hide the failing.

  20. Although I would also like to see a bigger UK defence budget, critics of the country’s defence tend to make some major errors.

    1) They do not understand nuclear strategy and ignore the nuclear deterrent. They think Britain’s nuclear deterrent exists to deter only nuclear attacks on the UK. This is not so. It exists to deter all existential-level attacks on the UK, whether nuclear, chemical, biological, or conventional (such as WW II style strategic bombing offensives or U-Boat-type submarine campaigns). While harassing attacks on the UK by bombers or against British shipping would be possible, full-scale offensives aimed at forcing the UK to its knees would risk nuclear retaliation. Would Britain actually go nuclear in such circumstances? No one can possibly know. But the risk would be just too great to take. That is why we no longer need a large fleet of convoy escorts, or a large number of interceptor fighters. But it is also why we need some of these capabilities, to guard against such harassing attacks, which could do limited but still painful and disrupting (but not disabling) damage. This is why Britain has never endorsed the idea of “no first use of nuclear weapons”. The nuclear deterrent is the absolute foundation of our national defence. (The British Army plays almost no strategic role in the defence of the UK itself, hence the failure of some Generals to understand the importance of the nuclear deterrent.)

    2) They focus on the decline in numbers of the UK forces while failing to note that most of the world’s armed forces — and not just in Europe — have declined even more. In terms of OPERATIONAL and OCEAN-going warships, the RN remains one of the biggest surface fleets in the world. The evidence suggests that, for example, the Russian Navy has fewer operational ocean-going warships (carriers/cruisers/destroyers/frigates) than the RN does, and the Russian ships are scattered across four widely-spread fleets. Only when you add in coastal forces (including corvettes) do Russian numbers exceed British ones.

    3) Quality, in terms of maintenance and support. Numbers of equipment held and numbers of operational equipment are, in many countries, very different things. All the British Armed Forces maintain very high levels of operational readiness. This does not rule out temporary glitches, but they are indeed temporary. Most other countries do not. The RN readiness level is generally in the range of 60% to 70% (as is the USN’s); the Brazilian Navy has traditionally tried to maintain 50% (although it may very well be lower at the moment, due to the national economic crisis there); the South African Navy seems currently to maintain 25%.

    4) Power projection capability. Many countries have excellent armies and short-range navies and air forces. Israel is an outstanding example. But when it comes to long-range power projection, Israel can deploy only a few hundred elite forces, mostly special forces, or carry out a brief campaign of long-range air strikes, or deploy a small naval task unit for a limited time. On the other hand, China has huge armed forces but, again, very limited power projection capability. Britain could probably deploy ground forces to Malaysia faster than China could. It is not just transport capability but the key fact that the UK armed forces are organised, structured and trained for expeditionary operations. We have the mobile HQs, the mobile logistics systems, the mobile C4ISTAR systems as well as the mobile combat forces. Very, very, few armed forces in the world are structured, organised and trained for expeditionary operations on the scale the UK is (and probably only the US can do more). Of course, we could not fight the Chinese on the Chinese mainland (or the Asian mainland) without a powerful local ally. But neither could the US — or Russia, for that matter.

    Conclusion: we have problems. We have always had problems. More money for defence would be nice. Critics must continue to pressure the government. But the pessimists are too pessimistic. And, moreover, in most of the world outside the UK, things, defence-wise, are much worse!

  21. Some great comments here and it is good to see such passionate debate.
    I agree with all that has been said about successive defence cuts the lack of adequate expenditure on defence currently and the fact our government have presided over allowing a whittling away of critical mass and strength in our armed forces.
    How do we get out of this mess?
    Cut foreign aid budget by 50% now! Today!
    Raise income tax by 5p per pound and use this extra income evenly distributed 5 ways
    1. to defence raising gdp to defence expenditure to 3%.
    2. social care in England and Wales (not in Scotland where social care is already free courtesy of the rest of the UK taxpayers)
    3. NHS
    4. Public infrastructure fund so we build key infrastructure such as power stations
    5. Education
    we are still a wealthy country but simply allow the wealthiest in society to have the lowest tax burden in the developed world. Most normal people would not even really notice a 5p rise in income tax. An extra £100 a month is annoying but if there was going to be tangible changes i would happily pay the extra tax. Knowing that in 15-20 years time the UK might be a country that people are happier to live in.

  22. I started trying to learn about UK military capabilities about a year ago when I saw Chinese and Russian military parades and realised that I had no idea how we stacked up against the rest of the world. My preconceptions were mostly formed by tabloid headlines of the type: “RN/RAF/Army is a shambles”, “Crippling cuts”, etc etc. My journey of discovery was as follows…

    Initial thoughts – we have (or are planning) a far more capable military in terms of modern equipment than I thought. I had the impression from the tabloid doom and gloom that we had pitiful and declining numbers of really ageing equipment with no renewal plans.

    Next step – Although I had been impressed by the modern stuff here or planned (Typhoon, T45, Astute and F-35, QEC & T26 on the way not to mention good RFA stuff) I was disappointed to see how savage the cuts in numbers had been in the last few decades. Numbers aren’t quite pitiful yet but if we’re not careful that’s where we could end up (e.g. further T26 cuts as with the T45 build).

    Final step (currently) – I then looked at other countries and saw that they had often had similarly savage cuts and programs abandoned (e.g. French carriers & other cut backs in numbers so, although very concerned about cuts, I do think they need to be put in some global context. Yes, a superpower such as China is expanding rapidly but most countries aren’t.

    I do agree very strongly that the international aid budget should fund a substantial stipend to the armed forces each year to fund all the deployments they make for humanitarian aid to fund things such as a fair share of personel and other running costs for those deployments and also appropriate equipment contributions for helicopters and probably extra RFA vessels. Maybe fund extra new MARS SSS for instance which, if cleverly designed, would be an ideal humanitarian asset and useful in conflict situations and low intensity policing as well; a sort of next generation Bay Class where we could probably use as many as we could get (within reason).

    That’s my 2 cents worth.

  23. Julian.
    good balanced views. I like the idea of taking from foreign aid budget but adding that too military flexibility so we can deliver humanitarian aide. Like you i think most people appreciate the exotic and highly capable pieces of equipment the military have or are getting. We just need to plug a,few capability gaps such as replacement for HMS Ocean and fitting a new antiship missile to royal navy (with the retirement of harpoon)
    I think most people who have a passing interest in uk defence are simply worried about a lack of critical mass. Too few warships and submarines (although the ones we have are good quality) to few RAF squadrons with frontline fighters. Too few soldiers and heavy armour. I just hope if we need these items we can build them quickly. Or the old phrase that you fight wars with the weapons and people you have to hand. That is the general worry and concern i think.

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