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ON THE ALERT

Defense Commission of the British Parliament: “The UK cannot afford to ignore these challenges and retreat to isolation”.

Several days ago the UK parliament published a report carried out by its Defense Commission. Its purpose is to define what kind of armed forces should UK have in 2020. What is extremely important is the assessment of the security situation in Europe on which it is based the report’s conclusions and recommendations. Under the idea of “Re-thinking defence to meet new threats” the report  is considering that the world is „more dangerous and unstable since the end of the Cold War”. Here is the report’s description of the world security landscape:

„For the first time in twenty years, an advanced military state has challenged the borders of European nations, and the security challenges in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia have increased dramatically in scale and complexity. Russia has annexed Crimea, and Russian-backed separatists have taken much of Eastern Ukraine. DAESH (or ISIL) have seized the second largest city in Iraq, and now control areas of a territory larger than the United Kingdom. The Libyan government has retreated to a ship off the coast. The President of Yemen has fled from his capital. Boko Haram controls swathes of Northern Nigeria. South Sudan—the newest country in the world—is in Civil War. Over 10,000 civilians were casualties in Afghanistan last year. Serious instability persists in Darfur, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and Pakistan. Three million people have been displaced and two hundred thousand killed in Syria. The UK cannot afford to ignore these challenges and retreat to isolation”

Consequently, the report  considers that the existing assumptions on which is based the present defense posture of UK is not anymore valid and thus should be changed. First an foremost it is affirmed that UK cannot afford to retreat in isolation and should play a constructive role in maintaining  and restoring security. Secondly, it is assessed that in actual international  circumstances, in comparison with the previous decisions- to prepare a force able to intervene alongside the allies in one outside hotspot  ( as Afghanistan )- “Now there is a requirement to support stability in a dozen different theatres simultaneously, and to engage with both unconventional and conventional threats.” But to do that is clearly beyond the resources of only one country, so UK should be able to be part of a broad coalition or alliance for confronting the new and multiple threats:
 
„In particular, the UK must build on its strong alliance with the United States, and ensure that European NATO allies are operating at maximum effectiveness. It must use its leadership position in NATO to ensure that NATO has the full spectrum of conventional forces, trained, exercised, and psychologically prepared to defend the European order against a conventional threat. The UK’s commitment to spend 2% of GDP on Defence, will be an important mark of seriousness to our US allies, and an important symbolic marker for other NATO countries.”
 
What is of paramount  for the deteriorating   security situation in Europe is that Russia , which has challenged the order in Europe by force ( annexation of Crimea ) , has military capability which clearly left NATO in disadvantage. For example, Russia can deploy 150 000 troops at 72 hours’ notice, which for NATO would take 6 months. Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), decided at Wales NATO Summit , to which UK will contribute a brigade -able to deploy 5,500 troops at 48 hours’ notice – will be ready only in 2016. Also, current military exercises undertaken by NATO to deter the Russian aggression are very small in comparison with the Russian exercises: if ‘Zapad’  -2013 Russian exercise involved 70 000 troops, UK suggests that will contribute to the next NATO exercise with 1 000 troops ( compare it with the deployment of about 60 000 troops in 1984 for a single NATO exercise, codenamed ‘Lionheart’. Beyond this disquieting discrepancy in military capabilities, there are factors which should be necessarily considered. Russia sees NATO as an adversary,  it acted against a neighbor and annexed part of its territory ( Crimea ) challenging  the European status quo , allotted 100 billions dollars for the defense in 2016, used ambiguous/hybrid type of warfare in Eastern Ukraine , in which manipulating segments of the population of the targeted state is very important as part of an information war, is upgrading its nuclear capability. It is clear that Russia could become an unpredictable opponent for NATO, for Europe:
 
„The current conventional wisdom is that a Russian attack on a Baltic State would be a low probability, high-impact event. But this is predicated on NATO’s willingness and ability to uphold its Article 5 commitments; and on the assumption that Russian actions would not be kept deliberately ‘below the threshold’ of Article 5. So far, at least, economic sanctions, and the collapse of the Russian economy, the oil price and the rouble does not appear to have weakened President Putin’s resolve or popularity (which currently still stands at almost 90%).29 Putin’s particular combination of nationalism, sense of grievance at the collapse of the Soviet Union, paranoia about NATO intentions, authoritarian power, political skills, and flexible opportunism makes him a dangerous and unpredictable opponent.
 
To answer to the Russian threat is not  the UK’s sole responsibility/ mission, said the report , but of NATO joint action. Even if the UK GDP is larger than of Russia this does not imply to respond single handedly.  In NATO , US have 70 per cent of its military capabilities , but Washington sees East Asia as its main responsibility  in the  future; on the other part, in Europe, the  European allies have neglected in the last two decades the investment in defense which, in addition with other factors,  is creating the picture in which it has not the capability to assume the lead of defending Europe . Consequently,
 
„One of the central tasks, therefore for the UK in responding to Russia–or indeed other threats—must be to ensure that it is able to sustain a close and constructive working relationship with coalition partners. And it must use this influence to ensure that NATO has the full spectrum of conventional forces, trained, exercised, and psychologically prepared to defend the European order against a threat such as that posed by Putin’s Russia.”
 
And   recommendations are closely connected with the strategic posture imposed by the new security environment in Europe ,building a strong alliance with US is considered as a cornerstone for an effective European response to Russia  :
 
„ In particular, the UK must build on its strong alliance with the United States, and ensure that European NATO allies are operating at maximum effectiveness. It must use its leadership position in NATO to ensure that NATO has the full spectrum of conventional forces, trained, exercised, and psychologically prepared to defend the European order against a conventional threat. The UK’s commitment to spend 2% of GDP on Defence, will be an important mark of seriousness to our US allies, and an important symbolic marker for other NATO countries.”
 
As for other recommendations  regarding the first steps to respond to Russia, here are , in more details, those submitted by the report:
 
„ Maritime surveillance remains a crucial gap in the capabilities of the Armed Forces with extremely serious implications for the protection of other/.../. Bridging this critical capability gap must be a very high priority for the next Strategic Defence and Security Review.
 /.../It makes little sense to maintain an additional aircraft carrier without aircraft to fly off it and the necessary aircraft, surface ships and submarines to protect it. In response to this Report, the Government should set out its assessment of the consequences of its decision to bring the second carrier into service for the other capabilities that will be required by the UK Armed Forces. /.../ These are only examples of the kinds of capability, which may be required to provide firmer conventional deterrent against an advanced military state such as Russia. But even this short list—maritime surveillance aircraft, CBRN capabilities, Ballistic Missile Defence, a comprehensive carrier strike capability, more Royal Navy vessels and Royal Air Force planes, and enhanced divisional manoeuvre and armoured capacity in the military and possible pre-positioning of troops in continental Europe, will require a significantly increased Defence budget./.../ We urge the MoD to re-establish a Defence Historical Analysis and Conflict Research Centre in order to address the lessons of recent conflicts and to investigate current trends in warfare. /.../The Government should tell us when it will finalise its doctrine and guidance on the use of cyber defence and warfare. /.../ We welcome the Armed Forces’ focus on keeping pace with the developments of the “information age” in gathering intelligence. The fast pace of change requires the Armed Forces to exploit all areas of expertise and we call on the MoD to examine opportunities for work in partnership with academics and the private sector. However, the gathering of intelligence represents only part of the picture. Combating asymmetric subversion and understanding ambiguous Russian tactics also requires a deep understanding of the country itself. Re-developing and maintaining the capacity for proper analysis and assessment of events in Russia and other areas where the UK Armed Forces may be engaged is as important as the gathering of intelligence itself. /.../”
(see the   report : House of Commons Defence Committee ,Re-thinking defence to meet new threats Tenth Report of Session 2014–15 , Published on 24 March 2015 by authority of the House of Commons London: The Stationery Office Limited
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmdfence/512/512.pdf )
 

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