Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Ukraine

The rapidly unfolding events in Crimea and the Ukraine have certainly given people lots to talk about, especially in the defence community. What's intriguing for me is how yet another government strategic review has essentially been proven redundant before the parliament that produced it has even finished.

You could argue this happened back in 2011 with Libya. Having removed aircraft carriers from the Royal Navy, it took just a few months for a situation to arise in which they would have been quite handy. And now we have the Ukraine, which casts a shadow over the governments decision to withdraw British forces from Germany and reduce the size of the armies armoured component.

Now am I suggesting that Britain should be gearing up to fight world war three on the North European plains? Erm, no. But what the incident in Ukraine has shown is that Russia is not afraid to exert its muscle when it comes to nations along its borders, or what it views effectively as former Russian territories. It's shown that the UK and NATO needs to maintain the ability to employ conventional deterrence just as much as a nuclear component. And I think it's shown that the British withdrawl from the continent, as if the UK has no interest in continental matters, is pre-mature.

What could Britain have done?

Well that's debateable. An invitation from the Ukrainian government could possibly have seen NATO forces, including British ones, arrive in the Ukraine to guarantee the sovereignty of that country against any further aggression, though not with any intention of trying to force their way into the Crimea and at the expense of greatly heightened tensions with Russia. 

The more prevelant question now is where does the UK go from here? The forward deployment of RAF and army units to Germany has in the past permitted the UK options with regards to rapid redeployment across the European continent. Those options are slowly fading away. And are the continued cutbacks to the military really as safe as we (or at least the government at any rate) previously believed?

Tank numbers are falling, the number of fast air squadrons are falling, and yet these are precisely the capabilities that have been at the core of the British presence in Germany. It has also caused food for thought regarding the arguments for "strategic mobility". Though I can't say I'm fully on board with them, it has raised questions about the capability of the UK to move troops and vehicles (such as wheeled personnel carriers) rapidly to hotspots, either through airlift or through their own motor power.

My great hope, though I grant you it's a very unlikely hope, is that this incident will shock both sides of the commons out of their "peace dividend" attitude. Maybe now the cost of replacing the nuclear deterrent will be removed from the MOD's budget and given its own little portion of spending aisde from other concerns. Maybe, just maybe, the politicians will realise what two decades of savage cuts have actually done to the UK's military capability.

Yeah I know. I doubt it as well.

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