The Strategic Security and Defense Review (SDSR) conducted by the British Government in October proved a major watershed in British security and foreign policy. The SDSR reviewed the present capabilities and costs of the British military and led to a complete overhaul at the Ministry of Defense by withdrawing aircraft carriers, 30,000 regular troops, thousands of vehicles, and fighter jets in an effort to plug the $72 billion black hole in defense spending. It suggested the British coalition government was going to adjust its military ambitions to the present economic environment whilst maintaining its commitment in Afghanistan. However the Libyan civil war arose and British Prime Minister David Cameron could not resist the temptation of taking the lead with the French in a NATO intervention. But after cutting the military so drastically, the coalition government is displaying its confused stance on Britain’s military role in global affairs by taking the lead in Libya.
The campaign centered on airstrikes got off to an inauspicious start when the Americans who had been hitherto reluctant to take any part fired the majority of the opening salvo of Tomahawk missiles, proving to be the initial muscle of the operation as the rest of NATO became hesitant to use their arsenals.
From the start, the Libya campaign has exposed the negative impact of the British defense cuts and highlighted the confused strategic thinking of the Tories. Though recent developments have shown that the campaign is finally turning in favor of the rebels, the campaign would have been completed more quickly if Britain was able to call upon recently cut military enablers such as aircraft carriers and if British boots are to be placed on the ground there will be need for the many hundreds of armored vehicles that were recently retired by the government.
In implementing these cuts, the British government has shown a distinct lack of strategic foresight which has caused power projection issues for the British military in the Libyan campaign. Without these cuts, Britain and France would have aircraft carriers parked of the coast of Libya providing rapid air support. Presently the RAF is forced to fly from Italy, Britain, and Cypress to conduct bombing sorties.
With Britain’s continuing engagement in Afghanistan and Libya and Cameron’s insistence on providing British leadership on many international issues, there is a question as to how effectively Britain can carry out its commitments. If Britain is to play a role in a post civil war Libya it will most likely involve British and NATO soldiers on the ground peacekeeping.
Once again in British policy, much like in Iraq and Afghanistan, there seems a complete disconnect between what the government wants to achieve in Libya and what it is willing to commit both in manpower and equipment. Britain went into Iraq and Afghanistan undermanned and with no clear military doctrine. The government's repeated caveat is including itself under the NATO umbrella, but if Britain is to take the lead on this, Cameron should reverse as much of the SDSR as possible. The coalition government must ensure that British troops are not again given too much to do with too little resources, unclear aims, and inadequate financial backing from their political masters.
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