Sunday, 3 November 2013

Naval Policy - Projection Through a Base Strategy

With the rather shambolic retreat from Empire in the decades following the Second World War, little thought was given to a Weltanschauung of what Britain's remaining possessions and its military would look like. Too often the shots were called by the US as part of the Special Relationship.

The Special Relationship has stood the test of time but has done very little for Britain in the meantime, beyond entangling us in various ill-fated military adventures in the Middle East. The real test of matters was the Falklands War where the US effectively sat on its hands and made soothing lip movements, as the graduates of their School of the Americas ran their extermination machine within Argentina (in what was euphemistically known as the proceso de reorganisacion nacional) and went gallivanting into the Falklands. They were later to claim they had received mixed signals from the US on its attitude to an invasion.  

Ironically, Britain had provided military largesse to the US in the 1960s in the Indian Ocean bending over backwards to allow the US to have control of the island of Diego Garcia (in the British Indian Ocean Territory) even going so far as expelling all the inhabitants to Mauritius (the Chagossians) to clear the way for the US to import Filipinos en masse to work as gastarbeiters at the base it built there. 

In any case the US is now in steep decline. Its reputation is in tatters on numerous fronts, and its welcome is less than effusive in many places. The US stands on the cusp of its own "post-Suez moment". Been there done that.. Britain is fifty years ahead of you..  

Great Britain, on the other hand, still has a reach that stretches around the globe in colonies and territories that it still controls and where the local residents have little or no interest in being micro-sized independent nations. 

I had to laugh in the wake of the successful blocking of the Syrian bombing putsch by Obama when the UK supporters of the bombers claimed that its showed Britain's irrelevance and "lack of projection". These critics have scarcely been heard since, now that the rejection of the bombing motion has actually led to the dismantling of the entirety of the Syrian chemicals arms complex within the space of a mere two months, and without a single bomb being dropped. Funny that...

These belittlers of Britain fail to note that the nation has a much better reach (and reputation) around the world than the US does. However, as I noted in my recent musings on Naval policy, the UK has let its premier service be sidelined under the Special Relationship and subsumed into the Ministry of Defence and left at the mercies of the likes of Liam Fox (and friends)..thankfully now departed..

In that previous note I mentioned the concept of the Navy's projection and mentioned the possibility of building a Naval base at Port Stanley. One of the most remiss aspects of policy since the 1982 war has been the avoidance of development plans for the Islands for fear of creating offense. One is reminded of Basil Fawlty's admonition to his staff about the German guests to "not mention the war".  

Instead the islands have been developing under their own steam with the population growing, industries evolving and cruise ship visits taking off. Ironically, international cruise lines in the southern summer are using the place more than the Royal Navy is... 

With the retreat from Army presences on Continental Europe, and the many and various US adventures, the strategy for the Armed Forces is somewhat in disarray. The LibDems have a policy statement on defence that is a mere half-page pdf. When we challenged one of our MPs on this last week he was rather flustered to hear that policy was (literally) so thin. 

In recent days the public have been let in on the secret that the aircraft carrier program has suffered a massive blowout to over GBP 6bn due to overruns.. and moreover the carriers are still over six years away.  

The alternative to a carrier strategy (though ideally an adjunct) is a base strategy. The Royal Navy website has Portsmouth (a LibDem seat), Plymouth and Clydeside listed as the roster of bases. This is rather thin gruel indeed for one of the world's premier navies. It is even more damning when one takes into account that we have far flung territories that constitute a ready made set of potential base locations. With the Army in decline why should the Royal Navy not be in ascendancy capitalising upon the nation's traditional strengths and interests? 

A base at Port Stanley would peg out the South Atlantic as a sphere of influence and also provide a base at which our NATO allies could resupply. Moreover it would provide a major boost of hundreds, if not thousands, of new residents. 

Such a base would also make the Falklands more impervious to sabre-rattling from its neighbour to the West. If the Falklands had been a significant base in 1982, would the adventurous junta members ever have dared their attack?

Going beyond the Falklands we might signal here a further thought that a sale of Diego Garcia to the US for a suitably large amount of money might enable us to disengage from a nation that clandestinely used our territory for illegal renditions over the last decade. A British naval base could be built on one of the other islands.  

Alternatively they could depart and we retake control (reinstating the Chagossians) and make the Diego Garcia facility into a British naval base in the Indian Ocean.... then we shall see who lacks projection on the international stage..

We shall end with the thought that as a party of government, should we abdicate defence policy to the other partner when the best they can serve up is the likes of Liam Fox? He may be gone but the lack of direction carries on... Nature abhors a vacuum and there is no reason why the LibDems should be as compliant on defence (and foreign) policy as has been the case hitherto. 


  1. "the UK has let its premier service be sidelined under the Special Relationship and subsumed into the Ministry of Defence and left at the mercies of the likes of Liam Fox (and friends)..thankfully now departed"

    What do you think would have been the brighter alternative for the RN had someone other than Liam Fox been in charge?

    Given the enormous pressure on the defence budget around the Spending Review, and the subsequent reduction of the army to 80,000 at a time when the carrier(s) were given the green light, i find it hard to imagine a better global outcome for the senior service...

  2. Not exactly a brighter future without Fox.. lets just say tactfully "less conflicted"... it was never entirely clear as to which piper he was dancing to..

    there is money to be saved.... a good example is the British Army Base in Germany which currently injects 1.5 billion euros into the German economy... nice work if you can get it..

    why are they there? The Russian threat? to help out poor old Germany? If the British departed then focus might turn as to why the US are still so heavily implanted there. Not our problem, but a 1.5bn injection into the Germany economy is ludicrous.

    I would suggest bringing back the troops... basing them in areas that need an economic fillip (the NorthEast..for example..rather than piling more into Wiltshire) and shrinking troop numbers in absolute terms and boosting Navy numbers. Post-Empire (and post-USSR) the Army numbers are artificially kept high to suit what Washington wants... post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan there is no reason to maintain such high numbers (and neither of those adventures should have be entered into anyway)... our projection should be naval not boots on the ground... the rest of the NATO members can provide the boots on the ground... the UK has the comparative advantage in naval matters.. why not accentuate that.. ?

    as for the carriers, they are a subject for another posting that is brewing...

  3. did you miss the SDSR + follow on White Paper's?

    "The SDSR also included plans for half of UK Armed Forces (approximately 20,000 Service personnel) in Germany to return by 2015 and the remainder by 2020. In the SDSR, the Government stated "there is no longer any operational requirement for UK forces to be based there, and the current arrangements impose financial costs on the UK"

    "The Army is to be reduced by 23 Regular units since the Strategic Defence and Security Review as part of Army 2020. The changes are due to be implemented by 2015, with the overall mandate to reach the capacity of 82,000 for the Regular Army and 30,000 for the Reserves by 2018"

    This was decided on Fox's watch.

  4. I did know that.. the point here is that the withdrawal is 13 years too late.. the UK staying in Germany was 'cover" for the US staying in Germany. We had no earthly reason for staying there. The cost of doing so even from this point in time until withdrawal is numbered in the billions of euros. If its costing us 1.2bn euros per annum pumped into the German economy now, then over seven years, even with a declining balance, it will still be 3 billions injected from our economy into the German economy. A less worthy cause I find hard to imagine. Moreover the argument that we don't have enough homes for the returnees hence the staged withdrawal is totally bogus when one considers how many homes one could build with 3 billion euros.

    I am not into army policy, my interest is the Royal Navy but I do mind being told the "cupboard is bare" when so much is being pumped into the German economy for a total waste of time exercise. We should all mind 3 billion euros going west (or should I say East?).

    Placing some army units in the Falklands wouldn't be such a bad idea either. Certainly a better cause for subsidisation than the Rhineland.

  5. "Placing some army units in the Falklands wouldn't be such a bad idea either. Certainly a better cause for subsidisation than the Rhineland."

    Happy to agree, but surely if there is blame to be placed then we must look at Labour Defence Secretaries rather than Fox?

    For what its worth, I too am of a naval bent when it comes to where Britain should be going:

  6. Agree totally.... it goes all the way back to 1963...and so most defence ministers since then stand accused.. Fox deserves my special approbation because he has the distinct look of conflicted loyalties. Only within the twisted relationship (dare I use the word "needy") can one have ministers and prime ministers on the UK side pursuing policies that are antithetical to UK interests to curry favour in the Oval Office or the Pentagon. It wasn't only the Iraqis who have been submitted to "shock and awe" and succumbed.

    Much more attention should be paid to Atlantic Bridge and what its goal and "achievements" were.

    Enfeeblement most definitely does not suit the UK's long-term interests but it may suit the interest of others. The beginning of all this was the Washngton Naval Treaty of 1922.

  7. sure he had to resign, it was the only proper response to the scandal he involved himself in.

    however, at the end of the day he had to make the biggest call in defence policy since suez; where to focus british defence cash now that we were unable to pretend anymore that we could remain a broad-spectrum Great Power.

    he pushed hard for the maximum possible budget, and he focused the maximum possible proportion of this budget on naval power projection... at a time where we had 10,000 troops engaged in a decade long struggle somewhere dusty and irrelevant.

    land or sea? he didn't fluff it, and a generation of future Foriegn Ministers will thank him for it.

  8. In retrospect he comes over as so conflicted as to not even be in the running for the category of "good" Defence Minister... with one eye on what the US wanted and the occasional glance at Israel (bizarrely) with the other eye.. it is surprising he could keep his eyes on the road..

    We can still be a Great Power on the waves.. that is our comparative advantage.. that is also antithetical to US grand strategy...