Alphen, Netherlands. 23 May. British Finance Minister George Osborne is Vladimir Putin’s most dangerous ally. This week it was announced that Osborne is seeking ever deeper cuts to the British Armed Forces, as I warned in my latest book Little Britain: Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power (www.amazon.co.uk). If the threat is carried out, and I have every reason to believe it will be, such egregious cuts to an already hollowed-out force will be the greatest act of strategic vandalism to Britain’s influence since the 1930s. It is a decision that not only Britain will come to regret but also the US and all of Britain’s NATO allies. As for the Special Relationship with the US – it is over. It is completely the wrong strategic message to send at completely the wrong time and demonstrates yet again the strategic illiteracy of both Cameron and Osborne. Russia’s President Putin must be laughing all the way to the Baltic States, or wherever it is next he is going to de-stabilise.
The sad story of the Cameron Government(s) and its stewardship of British national strategy, and Britain’s defences since 2010 has been one of dissembling, deceit and outright lies. In 2010 then Foreign Secretary William Hague said that there would be no strategic shrinkage under the Tories. Britain has been strategically-shrinking ever since. Pledge abandoned. Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010 was presented as the big financial hit Britain’s armed forces would have to take to right the economy. After 2015 the British defence budget, we were told, would see a real term 1% increase. Pledge abandoned. In September 2014 David Cameron badgered other NATO leaders for not committing to spending 2% GDP on defence. British defence spending is about to fall in the next year from 2.07% to 1.88% GDP and fall again thereafter. Pledge abandoned. Cameron promised that the current size of the Army would be maintained at an already small 82,500 as part of Future Force 2020. Active consideration is now being given to an Army of 60,000. Pledge about to be abandoned. Worse, Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin has been charged with the task of trying to make the defence budget APPEAR as though it meets the NATO 2% GDP guideline. Pledge about to be manipulated.
The strategic-illiteracy of both Cameron and Osborne was brought home to me in a 22 April mail I received from an official in the Office of the Conservative Party Chairman which frankly insulted my intelligence. The email boldly stated, “I can assure you that the Conservative Party is committed to supporting our Armed Forces and maintaining Britain’s position in the world”. Nonsense! The email then reminded me that, “…no country in the world can invest in, maintain and support their Armed Forces while having a broken economy…” Yes, but Britain resides on this planet not on Mars, is meant to be a leading power, and bad people are doing bad things.
The missive then went on to offer a rosy future. The “…Government plans to spend £163 billion on new equipment over the coming decade”, and the “…Government is committed to spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence…” And then the sucker punch; “…with decisions on spending after the financial year 2015/16 to be determined in the next spending review”. In other words, ‘we told you more cuts were coming. Really we did’. However, the email left the best to last. “I would like to assure you that the UK remains a truly global military power…” What complete and utter tosh!
However, the real ‘cruncher’ came in a small sub-phrase towards the end of the email when it suggested that all the planned investment, “…will keep Britain safe”. It is a phrase Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, the safe-pair-of-hands defence minister charged by Cameron and Osborne with destroying, sorry cutting Britain’s armed forces. First, it is not true. Britain recently had to rely on allies to find two new Russian nuclear attack submarines seeking to enter Britain’s territorial waters. Second, the true test of Britain’s defence is not the immediate defence of the island, but the fulfilment of its commitments to NATO allies, most notably the strategic reassurance, forward deterrence and collective defence of the three Baltic States.
Indeed, although Britain is offering to act as a key element of NATO’s new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) the coming cuts will emaciate the very forces designed to undertake such as role. No wonder US forces call the Brits “the borrowers’.
Let me be clear; implicit in the new round of planned defence cuts is a form of isolationism that passes for foreign and security policy under this Government and the final and irrevocable British retreat from strategic influence – Little Britain indeed.
Sadly, London is now committed to another Strategic Pretence and Insecurity Review and the appeasement of a rapidly-deteriorating strategic reality at a moment when illiberal power is gaining the upper hand. Therefore, Osborne and Cameron’s strategic illiteracy is quite simply a recipe for disaster as they seek to abandon security to fund ‘prosperity’. In the real world the one cannot exist without the other.
On my extensive travels of late Britain’s loss of influence in key chancelleries has become all too apparent to me. Much of that is due to the butchering of Britain’s world-renowned armed forces which have long provided the hard power foundations for London’s soft power influence.
Frankly, I no longer believe any ‘commitment’ Cameron makes is worth any more than yesterday’s newsprint – be it on Europe, the economy or defence.
George Osborne – Vladimir Putin’s most dangerous ally.