Although I have written this piece under the heading of UK Defence, rather than writing a specific UK related defence commentary this morning I will touch on various international aspects of defence and hope that UK defence ministers are observing more closely how various Nordic and NATO member states are bolstering their resolve to build greater resilience against the increasing threat from Russia.
Before moving on to that, let me touch first on the submission by the Executive Office of the President – Office of Management and Budget – that covers an amendment letter request to the value of $4 billion in respect of the 2018 Fiscal Year DOD Budget, the basic detail of which is a request (see paragraph below) for supplementary based funds to the current year budget.
The $4.0 billion Department of Defense request is primarily required to support urgent missile defense enhancements in order to counter the threat from North Korea, plus an additional $0.7 billion to repair damage to the two US destroyers that occurred earlier this year in separate self-inflicted incidents – the USS John S. McCain and the USS Fitzgerald – plus $1.2 billion for increased US troop levels, operations and maintenance in Afghanistan, this latter amount being in support of the Trump administrations continuing support of the Obama South-Asia strategy. The total of these amendments increase the proposed 2018 Fiscal year Budget by $5.9 billion for DOD, including $4.7 billion designated as an emergency requirement and $1.2 billion designated as Overseas Contingency Operations.
So why do I choose to mention this today under a UK Defence piece heading? Awareness would be one answer – awareness needed in the UK that if the DOD isn’t frightened to fight for the money it requires for defense neither should we be. I suppose the most obvious comment or question to accompany the thought process from me is that ‘wouldn’t the UK’s defence budget woes be far better served each year by allowing supplementary requests on the same basis as those regularly put in by the Department of Defense in the US?’
Separately and on a totally different subject ‘The Times’ reports today that according to secret research called ‘Strategic Perspective 2040’ which has been carried out for the German Defence Ministry on the back of imagining the scenario of disintegration of the European Union disintegration by 2040 due, according to the article, the twin threats of Russian aggression and Brexit. Thus, according to research conclusions, the thought process is that such a scenario would lead to multiple confrontations across Europe. The research analysis which we are told took two years to draw up had apparently been leaked to ‘Der Spiegel’. This is believed to be the first time a German ministry has contemplated the breakup of the EU in such detail. The paper was drawn up largely before the election of President Trump and forecasters and thankfully, did not envisage the US turning against Europe in any scenario.
Admittedly this is a worst case scenario and there is no suggestion as far as I can see of what action Germany might take should the envisaged scenario become fact. The easy conclusion is that such notions would weaken plans for an EU Army but personally, I am not so sure that sufficient common sense exists in the corridors of power in either Berlin, Paris or within the EU itself in Brussels.
Writing on the same theme, the ‘Guardian’ reminds its audience that the urgent problem we all face is terrorism together with what it describes as “the decline of consent among populations for the present economic system and high levels of migration”. They have begun, according to the article, “tearing holes in the fabric of the EU itself – via the Greek crisis of 2015, Brexit and in the standoff between the Polish and Hungarian governments and the European commission.
Right now, according to an interesting article in the Guardian today, the issue at the front and centre of German political minds is that of French president, Emmanuel Macron’s proposal for accelerating Europe’s economic integration, an issue that almost everybody in Germany wants to reject.
Rightly the article points out that Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU coalition believes the notion implies requiring more fiscal transfers to poor countries in the periphery. The Social Democrats are not that far apart either believing that further integration in the EU would weaken the remaining social protections for workers whilst the far-right AfD is opposed because it fears more Europe and less Germany.
Meanwhile, as we all know to our cost, Russia and China are no longer just nibbling at the edges, they are watching and testing the resolve of the West and of all European nations. The hope is that common sense will prevail and while I have no wish to see the EU damaged, my hope is that stupid notions of European Armies are abandoned and that all of us, whether members of the EU or outside, get behind NATO.
Speaking of which, did you notice the Reuters report yesterday suggesting that Nordic countries have agreed to increase defence cooperation and exchange more air surveillance information because they are concerned about Russia’s increasing military activity. Nordic countries – usually defined as Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – have been increasing defence spending and cooperation with NATO and each other ever since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. The aim is a combined strengthening of national defence and in cooperating together against the increasing threat from Russia combined with other security concerns.
Building better resilience appears to be a very important theme running through Nordic countries right now. The US Secretary of State for Defense General Mattis who will be in London later this week as part of a five day European tour, found himself in Finland yesterday welcoming the importance of strengthening Nordic defense and the determination of those same Nordic countries to strengthen relations in the face of a rising threat from Russia. Although it has bilateral defence pacts with NATO and the US, Finland is not actually a member of the alliance, this due in the main to resistance by a majority of the population – although I am bound to wonder for how much longer this will be the case. General Mattis also applauded Finland’s creation of the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats suggesting that the centre’s 12 members including the US and UK would be learning from each other and building resistance to those that malign intent toward our democracies. Apart from Finland, the US and UK, the other nine members are Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Spain and Sweden. Participation is open to EU member states and NATO allies,
The view of the Finnish and Danish Governments sums the situation nicely “We see an aggressive Russia that is building up its forces, renewing its materials, having new missiles in Kaliningrad and that this is the new picture that has arisen in our part of the world and it is one that we are determined to address. I hope that the new Secretary of State for Defence in the UK has taken note of what some of our most important NATO and other allies are doing in the face of increased threats from Russia and from terrorist acts.
Finally, a separate Reuters report notes that General Petr Pavel, head of the NATO military committee, suggested that the organisation needs to establish a new regional base for protecting the North Atlantic against increased Russian naval strength. The report suggests that he will help put the case forward to allied defence ministers later this week for a new planning and strategy base to be located in a chosen NATO member country in order for this to focus more on keeping Atlantic shipping lanes safe from enemy submarines. General Pavel, a Czech army general, told Reuters that ‘If we look at the growing capabilities of countries like Russia and China, those with a global reach, it is quite obvious that maritime lines of communication have to be [better] protected’ adding that ‘we observe increased Russian naval activity in the Arctic in the northern Atlantic … we also assess that for any future crisis, the reinforcement of Europe and free lines of communication will be vital for European security.’
By the way, did you know that in 1990, with UK GDP apparently 46% less than it is today, the Royal Navy was three times larger than it is today?
CHW (London – 7th November 2017)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785