hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Thursday, 13 March 2014

"Time to Face Reality": The World's Rapidly Shifting Military Balance

Alphen, Netherlands. 13 March.  Four events this past month have highlighted the rapidly shifting balance of military power in the world.  Yesterday General Sir Peter Wall, Head of the British Army, warned that “moral disarmament” would be exploited by Britain’s enemies and that he could not rule out future “force-on-force” conflicts.  In fact, Britain is morally and actually disarming along with much of Europe.  According to US think-tank CSIS cuts to European defence budgets between 2001 and 2013 represented a per annum compound reduction of 1.8% per annum or about 20% over the period. 
Last month American Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced further cuts to the US armed forces.  Hagel said it was “time to face reality”, as he followed Britain in announcing a 15% reduction in the size of the US Army, as well as other cuts. 
Russia’s February 2014 invasion of Ukraine-Crimea should have reminded Europeans of the inextricable link between military power and political ambition, particularly for the non-democracies.  Indeed, what was thought unthinkable in Europe even a month ago is very clearly thinkable in the Kremlin.  
In the immediate aftermath of Russia’s bungled 2008 invasion of Georgia the Kremlin ordered a major review of the Russian Armed Forces. It was not a pretty picture.  On 31st December 2010 Moscow launched a massive military equipment programme for the ten year period 2011-2020 that was to cost some $775bn.  The investment envisioned annual average growth in the Russian economy of around 6.5%.  In the event Russia is likely to grow more modestly over the period at between 4-5% per annum.  Such growth will still result in some $700bn of military investments by 2020 or an increase in defence expenditure from the current $90.7bn per annum to around $122bn.
Affordability is a (not THE) key criteria for military expenditure.  Contrast the Russian figures with France.  In 2012 the CIA estimated the relative purchasing power of the Russian economy to be some $2.6tr whilst France was valued at $2.3tr.  If Moscow is right and the economy does indeed grow at 4-5% per annum up to 2020 the Russian economy would then be worth some $3.5tr.  Given the Eurozone crisis the best that can be hoped for France (and many European economies) is 1-2% growth per annum (if lucky). Even at 2% growth per annum the French economy will only be worth some $2.5bn by 2020. 
Last week Beijing announced that the 2014 Chinese defence budget will increase by 12.7% to $132bn per annum.  Beijing has been growing the defence budget by at least 11% per annum since 1989.  If China continues to grow the military by about 12% per annum, which is implied in the China’s 2013 Defence White Paper then by 2020 China will be spending $230bn on defence. 
Whilst such expenditure will not match the planned US c$560bn of expenditures in 2020 taken together the combined Chinese and Russian expenditures on their respective armed forces will total some $350bn.  Many of those forces will be modern.  And, whilst the Pentagon’s January 2012 “Defense Budget Priorities and Choices” paper points the way to a future US force that will be cutting edge most European armed forces will remain at best only partially modernised.  This will mean that each euro/pound spent will in effect generate far less capability than Europe’s American, Chinese and Russian counterparts.  Given that Britain and France represent some 50% of all European defence expenditure and much of the c200bn spent each year by Europeans on defence is wasted the Euro-strategic balance is shifting markedly and rapidly. 
The world strategic balance is also shifting.  Read between the lines of both Chinese and Russian military strategies and their aim is clear; to complicate America’s strategic calculation by forcing the US to stretch its armed forces the world over.  With most Europeans wilfully refusing to help resolve Washington’s deepening and acute strategic dilemma $560bn will by 2020 be worth far less dollar for dollar and Chinese and Russian investments worth more.
Sadly, autocratic regimes are being emboldened the world over by the West’s moral and actual disarmament in what is fast becoming a new Tepid War.  The signals being sent of US retrenchment and European disarmament have clearly encouraged Moscow, Beijing and others to up the military ante.  Only the most strategically-illiterate of political leaders could now discount the established link between military power and policy goals.  And yet in Europe illiteracy rules the day; hard power thinking offends the high priests of soft power.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine-Crimea and China’s serial hiking of defence spending really should mark the end of the fantasy that the ideal of a new liberal world order is shared by all.  It is power that is shaping the twenty-first century not values.  And, if values are to mean anything they must be backed by power.  
It is indeed time to face reality.
Julian Lindley-French

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