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Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010

A diet for Britain's defense


One of the first acts of the British coalition government was the establishment of a National Security Council. Its primary task was to prepare a new strategic defense and security review. This was published on the day before the government announced its austerity program.

The threats to British security listed in the review are very different from those of the Cold War. The highest priority is given to tackling the threat from terrorism. This includes "reforming how we tackle radicalization." The government "will act resolutely" against both the threat from al-Qaida and its affiliates and the residual threat from terrorism linked to Northern Ireland.

To this end the government will continue to invest in a range of covert intelligence activities to "identify, investigate and disrupt terrorist activity." The U.K. border agency has an important role in stopping infiltration of our borders.

The review highlights the significant threat from cyber terrorism. The government will accordingly "develop a transformative program for cyber security," addressing threats from states, criminals and terrorists. Up to £650 million is to be invested over the next four years to "close the gap between the requirements of a modern digital economy and the rapidly growing risks associated with cyber space."

The threat to British lives and prosperity from natural disasters, including flooding and pandemics, is emphasized. The dangers arising from climate change remain significant and coordinated action is needed to reduce them. Britain is increasingly dependent on imports of oil and gas. Energy security requires low carbon policies as well as close engagement with energy producers.

Conventional threats remain and the government intends "to focus and integrate diplomatic, intelligence and other capabilities on preventing international military crises." The review notes "the low probability but very high impact risk of a large-scale military attack by another state" and declares that we "will maintain our ability to deter, including through the nuclear deterrent" and "strengthen mutual dependence with key allies and partners."

The government in this context has reaffirmed its intention to increase official development assistance to 0.7 percent of gross national income by 2013. The main object of ODA remains the economic development and welfare of countries in the developing world, but 30 percent of ODA will be devoted in the future to supporting "fragile and conflict-affected states."

In view of the manifold threats to Britain's security, the budget for British defense forces was only cut by some 7.5 percent, but the Ministry of Defense has also had to absorb the significant overspend on procurement from previous years. British armed forces in the future will "only be deployed overseas where key U.K. national interests are at stake — where we have a viable exit strategy; and where justifiable under international law." The coalition government will not act in the same way as former Prime Minister Tony Blair's government did in Iraq.

The British role in Afghanistan is to be maintained and the army will consequently only be reduced by some 7,500 men, but it will lose half of its tanks and a third of its heavy artillery. Its ability to fight a conventional war on land will be reduced in line with the government's assessment of the threat to British security. However, British special forces, whose role in Afghanistan is valued by the Americans, will be provided with better equipment.

The strengths of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy will be reduced by 5,000 people each. The RAF's fleet of Harrier jump-jets will be decommissioned and other aircraft orders cut back. The RAF's Tornado fleet has been reprieved because it is thought to be more suitable in support of ground forces in Afghanistan.

By 2020 the RAF will have only two types of fast jets, the Euro-fighter Typhoon and the Joint Strike Fighter.

The Royal Navy's destroyer and frigate fleet, which is already stretched, will be cut from 23 to 19 ships, but the navy will get seven new Astute-class submarines and the two 65,000 ton aircraft carriers ordered by the previous government, although the first carrier will only carry helicopters and will be placed in reserve or sold when the second carrier is completed. This second carrier will be fitted with a catapult enabling French and American aircraft to use its flight deck.

The decision on the two aircraft carriers lacks strategic sense, but the costs of breaking the contract signed by the previous Labour government with the contractor, BAe systems, were so great that the government decided to abide by its terms. The Labour government saw political advantage in the tight contract because it ensured continuing employment on the Clyde, a key area for the Labour Party in Scotland.

A decision on a replacement of Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent, consisting of four ballistic missile submarines, has been postponed until after the end of the present Parliament. This avoids a decision that might break the coalition. The conservatives are determined to preserve the deterrent while the Liberal Democrats want to dispense with it.

The cuts in defense expenditure have attracted some criticism from members of the Conservative Party and defense experts on the grounds that the strategic defense review was rushed and something of a fudge. The fear is that the cuts will mean that Britain can no longer meet all its defense responsibilities. But in view of the perceived need to make drastic cuts in government expenditure the defense services have not done too badly.

Can Japan learn from the British strategic defense review? Al-Qaida inspired terrorism is probably less of a threat to Japan, but the risks from cyber attack are just as great for Japan as for Britain. Japan too faces continuing risks from natural disasters and global warming, and needs energy security.

Increasing ODA to countries with unstable governments is in Japan's national interest. The roles and equipment of the Self-Defense Forces need to be reassessed in light of the possible threats to Japan, such as from North Korea. Japan also needs to review its intelligence apparatus and its ability to assess threats as well as the adequacy of existing countermeasures.

Hugh Cortazzi, a former British career diplomat, served as ambassador to Japan from 1980 to 1984.


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