The slow drift to irrelevance – the decline of UK power and influence

The Old War Office building, seen from Horse Guards Avenue, London. The Old War Office was built in 1902 for the Imperial General Staff and was central to operations. The building was a focal point for military planning throughout the major conflicts of the 20th century, housing numerous Secretaries of State, including Sir Winston Churchill.

The Old War Office building where strategy was once a paramount consideration was sold-off in 2014 by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon

The failure to take a strategic approach to defence policy over the past decade means that the UK has dropped out of the top rank of global powers.

A lack of direction led to an incoherent approach in Iraq and Afghanistan, which in turn led to military failures on the ground that were only rectified when it was too late.

The embarrassment about the British role in those wars has in turn led to paralysis at the top of government about how to engage in ongoing crises and face new threats. Whereas once Britain would have been in the lead in providing real support on ground, sea and air in the fight against ISIS, instead there are limited air strikes and a few advisers, when hundreds are needed.

Responsibility to face up to Russian aggression in Eastern Europe has been left to France and Germany, and British engagement in recent military exercises with continental allies has been minimal at best.

Behind all this is the stripping down of military capability piece by piece that means the British Army has ever-shrinking manpower, the Royal Navy will eventually be able to put just a few ships to sea at any one time and the RAF can barely put half a dozen aircraft on a deployment.

This SDSR will do nothing to reverse this – as we discover in our UK defence report released this week.

At least previous defence ministers up to 1999 took more of an interest in their department.

Everyone knows recent commitments to spend more on defence are such nonsense that even the House of Commons Defence Select Committee has decided to launch in Inquiry.

Even more shocking is the lack of strategic thinking at the top levels of government and in the MoD is causing enough concern that the Select Committee is also launching an Inquiry into ‘potential threats posed by current and future trends of international societal change’ and furthermore ‘assess the government’s ability to evaluate these threats’.

So it is unlikely the next SDSR will do anything to rectify past mistakes. Further cuts are still demanded and the services will see more salami slicing of capabilities.

In such a stringent environment industry is not doing enough to provide value for money and without top-down strategic direction the military does not know what is being asked to do and hence equipment requirements are unstable, whilst trying to cover the growing gaps in capability.

All that is left is the government spin machine that churns out a pretend image of power when there is no substance behind it. This façade is falling away as the UK loses the respect of allies and potential enemies alike.

The strategic environment is changing and whilst others are taking the gauntlet of leadership the UK is left looking inwards – not the way a great power should behave.

Looking back, after a good start with the SDR of 1998, it seems the foreign and defence policy of the latter Blair and Brown years were the last gasp of a once-great power wielding its military capability for the final time riding on the back of US interventionism.

But at least they were engaged, did not shirk taking a leading international role and gained respect and influence for doing so. Since then, the fear that has gripped the establishment and the lack of even a will to properly understand international affairs has castrated the country and it is only a matter of time before an even more serious crises emerges and Britain will be left dangerously exposed.

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