One of the necessary debates for a Post-Brexit World is the reexamination of the role that Britain seeks to play on the military stage of the world. The public needs a debate reexamining the role the United Kingdom’s influence on the strategic map. Especially since the threat landscape is changing with the resurgence of Great Power Politics occurring and fundamental threats to NATO’s structural integrity that could see the alliances’ internal collapse. Britain in turn, finds herself more isolated than at any point in the post war era. With this one, would assume that the United Kingdom is seeking to retrench itself and focus on national defense. It is not. Paradoxically it’s seeking to further expand its power projection and global strike capacity; while also not wishing to pay the cost in blood and treasure to do so.
On the budgetary side, continued cuts to military budgets and increases in spending has put the MoD in a crisis as spending is at an all-time low of just around 2% of GDP, the NATO minimum. Contrary to this reality though the Government desires global power projection, and in pursuit of this it has purchased two carriers and several new frigates that it cannot afford. The Committee on Public Accounts noted that the addition of these carriers alone left the MoD budget “financially exposed”, and has led to the cancelation of necessary modernization of other ships in the fleet. These carriers will also be under equipped due to lack of funds to purchase aircraft. Each carrier will only have 12 planes each, out of a storage space of 58. The most damming of all though is that they are unnecessary expenditures. As with its current bases in Cyprus, Afghanistan and Nepal the UK has been able to execute strikes in all the major theaters the British military is currently engaged in. Additionally it is seeking to establish new bases in the Gulf to further multiply its ability. Unless Britain gets into a war with China or North Korean on the back of the United States, there is no need for these carriers in a defensive context.
As well these expenditures on vanity projects have caused the Army to make cuts as well, angering planners within it who note that the Army cannot even keep up with its modernization as most of its equipment is from the Cold War. As well, the tank fleet of the United Kingdom is set to shrink a third from its current size, due to budget cuts.
While on the manpower side, there just aren’t enough soldiers in the military. Across the forces it is undermanned to the point that all branches have concerns that they will not be able to respond to a crisis. The military has run recruitment deficits of between 35-45% every year since the mid 2000s. It has hardly ten thousand more active personal than are in smallest Chinese military branch the People’s Liberation Army Missile Divisions.
If the UK wanted to keep to its current plans of global power projection and its pursuit of ensuring that a vague set of interests are accounted for, then the solution to its current crisis is clear. It must increase defense spending. The last time the British military had multiple carriers and over 200,000 active personal it was spending 4-6% of GDP on the military. The government would have make joining the military more enticing – probably through a pay increase which would only cause a further increase in spending; which in a post Brexit world seems like a hard political sell if the economic effects of Brexit hit hard.
However, with available funds shrinking due to austerity and a clear gap between the aims of the MoD and capacity to actually carry out these aims it is still attempting to have a global projection capability. A more logical spending goal would be to refocus on defense of the island from the most present threat to the UK, a resurgent Russia. To do this would require less aircraft carriers for global projection and more corvettes or submarines focused on defending the coasts from threats. Less bases abroad and more focus on improvements to British infrastructure. Most importantly it would be a more strategically feasible goal within the confines of Britain’s current capacity.