Realism and realities
What theory of geopolitics does the Integrated Review serve?
Geopolitical thought is a series of theories and concepts which can help strategic analysts understand where, how and why threats may manifest. Geopolitical analysis thus helps to provide a framework for understanding what forces are needed to deter or defeat existing or emerging threats in various physical mediums or domains. In this article I briefly outline how geopolitical concepts can be useful; assess some of the key geopolitical trends which apply to both adversaries and allies; and then consider some of the operational and technical consequences for the Integrated Review of Security and Defence (IRSD).
What is geopolitics and what is its value to the analyst?
Geopolitics is the effect of geography on international politics and geography is a key and ubiquitous strategic dimension. Politics is the master dimension of strategy because it provides strategy with its purpose. But politics is itself greatly conditioned by geography and, in turn, the political significance of a given physical space is animated by the political value attributed to it. Of this symbiosis Colin Gray noted: ‘all politics is geopolitics, and … all strategy is geostrategy.’
Taken as a whole, geopolitical concepts help the strategist to consider the salience of the following variable factors: the destructive intent and capability posed by a particular threat; the physical proximity of threats; the time it may take for them to manifest; the nature of relevant military technology; and the values and political will of a political antagonist to use this space for gain. In short, Geopolitical theories describe how and where egregious threats may develop.
For example, Halford Mackinder’s ‘Heartland’ or ‘Pivot’ theory outlined how geography, time, technology and threats had combined to determine which powers would be predominant. He noted how the advent of trans-oceanic naval technology in the 15th and 16th centuries had enabled European sea powers to project their power globally. Writing in 1903, he warned how new geopolitical trends threatened to end this ‘Columbian Epoch’. Specifically, he illustrated how space (the Eurasian landmass), technology (the railways), time, intent (at some points in time he emphasised the Russian threat, and at others the German) and destructive potential could combine to present an existential threat to the maritime powers.
During the unipolar post- Cold War period various geopolitical thinkers pointed to the rise of China as an emerging threat to US hegemony. Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former US National Security Adviser, applied geopolitics to American grand strategy referring to Mackinder’s Heartland as the ‘chessboard’ of geopolitics. Brzezinski’s principal advice to American leaders was to extend for as long as possible the USA’s domination of Eurasia by the application of power and clever statecraft. Brzezinski, Gray and Paul Kennedy agreed that the USA’s unparalleled power had allowed the great sea power to punch decisively into Eurasia; Gray concluded that the Columbian Epoch had been ‘extended indefinitely’.
However, by 2013 C. Dale Walton adapted Mackinder to highlight the threat posed not to Western powers by a potential Eurasian hegemon, but rather the risks posed to the US by the rise of China.
Therefore, the enduring value of geopolitical theories and works lies in the simple but powerful way in which they connect space, power, time and technology to illustrate the ever-shifting locus of greatest risk.
Geopolitics as both power and destiny
Though geopolitics is a discrete subject area, because it is concerned with the source of external factors such as power, threats and so on, it overlaps with other concepts such as polarity and aspects of grand strategy. Consequently, geopolitical analyses tell us something useful about the grand strategic ends, ways and means of the great powers. The means part of the equation equates to power and the ways and means relates to both material and ideational concepts, particularly in relation to how geopolitics informs a nation’s perception of itself within the international system. This perception has a synthesis of geographical-historical-cultural ‘memory’ hardwired into it. It can be inferred in much of the language polities have used to describe political, economic and military labels and concepts such as: sea power; an island state; a certain idea of France; Manifest Destiny; the Middle Kingdom; the transatlantic bridge; spheres of influence; Weltpolitik; the North German Plain; GIUK Gap; East of Suez and so on. There is a postmodern critique of this language with the charge being one of geographic determinism. However, the reality is that geopolitics long predates geopolitical language. On the contrary, the benefit of understanding a nation’s geopolitical ‘psyche’, the normative gain, is that it tells the analyst why an actor values a specific physical and political geography which should aid the pursuit of policies which can help avoid conflict and war.
Current geopolitical trends
Thus, there is an ideational and a material element in all geopolitical analysis. Consequently, it is important to consider both the means and ends of the great powers. From this analysis we can identify the trends that UK defence planners should be mindful of when devising policy.
Power is a beguilingly slippery concept, but some attempt must be made to define it in order to proceed. It may be said that it comes in three main forms – hard, soft and latent. The point of power is to help achieve influence, which is to say: to get someone else to do, or not to do, that which you would wish. Influence though requires more than means, it requires ways (strategy) also, in pursuit of some (hopefully) rational ends.
Power is also said to be distributed throughout the anarchic international system in ways which vary over time – unipolarity, bipolarity and multipolarity. Multipolarity is said to exist in either a stable state (relatively calm) or an unstable state (relatively volatile). We can also talk meaningfully about global and regional distributions of power.
Alas, as is often the case in International Relations, there is no canonical definition of power or what type of country constitutes a great power. Nevertheless, a simple ranking of some key metrics of power will allow us to make some headway as regards to who has what.
*aircraft carriers and battlecruisers
What can be observed from the table?
- The first thing to note is that only the USA scores strongly against every factor. Thus, though we may talk meaningfully about great powers it remains first among equals
- Russia though having only a fraction of the latent power of the US & China, is the joint most powerful nuclear state
- Though the UK and France have a long reach, they lack mass
- Though Japan and Germany have a relatively large amount of latent power, they lack mass and nuclear weapons
- Russia’s GDP on a PPP basis is far more significant than on a dollar exchange basis – it buys home-made weapons
- China and Russia lag in terms of the soft power index
Thus, the distribution of power is uneven in the international system. We can say that the US is a pole and China and Russia are two other, albeit smaller, ones. The short-lived US unipolarity has waned, and its writ, particularly in East Asia, is no longer unchallenged. The EU and its constituent states would like to be another systemic pole but, as will be discussed below, the quest for strategic autonomy has so far been elusive. Neither India, Japan, nor the UK could be said to be poles though they are all significant regional powers. The UK’s reach is, in many respects global, but it clearly lacks mass in both a relative and an absolute sense.
Global hegemony is probably beyond any of the existing powers because of the existence of other powerful states in North America, East Asia and Europe. The US is the regional hegemon in the Americas and holds the balance of power in Europe and East Asia. However, its power is limited and is in gradual, relative, decline. Russia has the greatest land power in Europe and China has the greatest in East Asia. France and the UK are significant regional powers but are not European hegemonic candidates. India has the potential to be a South Asian hegemon but is unlikely to be able to challenge for hegemony beyond there. Germany could be a European hegemonic candidate but chooses not to make the attempt and Japan is unlikely to be an East Asian hegemon again because of the power of China as well as its own political reluctance. In any case, as neither Japan or Germany are nuclear powers it is debatable as to whether they are even great powers at all. Surveying all of this, the two most significant trends in recent years has been the extraordinary rise in Chinese power and Russia’s forceful rejection of the eastward expansion of NATO and the EU’s soft power.
The geopolitical aims of the great powers
China seeks regional hegemony over East Asia, a reprisal of its former long-held historical position. Imperial China viewed itself as the ‘Middle Kingdom’, the apex of human civilisation situated between heaven and the barbarian worlds outside China. For centuries China sustained this geopolitical dominance via the tribute system, whereby nearby vassal states were allowed a degree of autonomy in return for paying tribute. Graham Allinson argues that China seeks to regain its regional hegemony but that war between the US and China is not inevitable and that the ‘Thucydides Trap’ can be avoided by understanding and respecting each other’s red lines. Nevertheless, in its pursuit of regional hegemony the PRC is seeking to create new geopolitical facts on the ground by annexing, or threatening to annex, strategically significant geographies such as the South China Sea. Its naval expansion has been prolific in pursuit of these objectives but its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) trans-Eurasian infrastructure project is ‘Mackinderseque’ in its scale and ambition.
Consequently, there are a large number of potential flashpoints between China and its adversaries. Conflict is not inevitable but much of the West and China is now in a de facto cold war state. This process has been accelerated by the chronic mistrust generated by Covid-19 and the strongly held perception that the Chinese state lied about both the timing and the nature of the outbreak. Further, the shock of the pandemic and its effect on supply chains has stimulated western states to reduce their over reliance on China for a multiplicity of products and to seriously consider a more overt balancing alliance against it. This in turn, Allinson argues, may prevent the China from escaping the ‘middle income’ country trap, stymieing its geopolitical aims, and possibly triggering outright conflict.
Vladimir Putin declared that the fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical disaster in history and if he could restore Russia’s former position he would. Putin has resisted the eastward expansion of the EU and NATO. There is little doubt that much of Russia’s policy is aimed not solely at defensive resistance to such expansion but also to the offensive rollback of this influence. Russia seeks to restore its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and pursue its national interests in its near abroad.
It is probable that Putin sees the fortunes of Russia and his own personal fortunes as being intrinsically linked. Scholars are divided as to whether Putin acts primarily instinctively and in pursuit of short-term advantage or primarily as part of a wider grand strategy to restore Russia’s fortunes. Either way, Russia’s foreign policy brings it into a direct clash with the West.
To these ends the modernisation of Russia’s armed forces is well advanced. That said, Russia is also prepared to seek ‘battle’ in the so-called Grey Zone – the realm of subversion which falls short of conventional war. This might lead to the view that Russia would not escalate beyond the Grey Zone into the realms of conflict proper. Moreover, so the argument goes, if war did break out then the West’s superior latent power would make eventual victory certain. Sadly, the possibility of Russia escalating to de-escalate – escalating to the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons in order to exploit the manifest problems associated with extended nuclear deterrence – cannot be lightly dismissed.
Russia’s soft power should not be lightly dismissed either. Via factors as disparate as the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline and the Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine, discord has been sewn between the Western powers.
Following the Obama era administration, President Trump continued the pivot towards Asia and also sought to apply more pressure on the European members of NATO to spend more on defence. This policy tilt was looked on approvingly by ‘Offshore Balancers’ such as John Mearsheimer, partly because China does indeed represent a challenge to the East Asian balance of the power, and partly because they feel that the relatively wealthy European states do not need the USA to contain Russia.
It seems probable that the new Biden administration will reinvigorate multilateralism at the level of rhetoric, at least, whilst continuing the pivot towards Asia. As the US is the brightest star in the geopolitical firmament its actions matter the most. China and Russia will calibrate their forces with the US most in mind and allies will consider how best they can influence America’s actions, probably at the lowest possible cost to themselves.
Of greatest importance to the USA is the rise of China. China’s rise is both a geo-economic challenge and a geostrategic threat to the USA’s interests. However, until recently, America’s policy was to seek to co-opt China into the international rules- based system through trade and complex interdependence. The 2008 financial crash, stagnant American wages, the election of Trump and Covid-19 and increased Chinese muscularity have combined to place this policy under enormous pressure.
Geography has been no kinder to any state than the USA. Though the USA still needs the world, arguably the world needs it more. Its vast economy, human and material resources, geographical position and absence of nearby great powers give it more freedom for geopolitical manoeuvre than any other power. The USA’s command of the seas has allowed it to project its power across the globe including into western and eastern Eurasia. Further, it has dominated its region in a way in which the British never could. That said, a retreat into outright isolationism would enable a more rapid expansion of Chinese power, which could, conceivably, erase the USA’s naval supremacy, hence why even ‘Offshore Balancers’ advocate a US policy of balancing against China. It does not follow that conflict is inevitable – there have been cases of powers passing one another on the geopolitical ‘escalator’ avoiding conflict – the UK and the USA for example – but the trends outlined above indicate how narrow this diplomatic tightrope has become.
The EU is a difficult phenomenon to classify. It is not a state, but that is clearly its desired teleological goal. However, as Hedley Bull noted many years ago, should the EU become a state it will not transform international politics, it will simply be a very large unit within the anarchic system. Since its inception the EU had expanded ever more rapidly providing a geopolitical ‘port in a storm’ for those southern and eastern European states exiting military and communist dictatorships. Brexit represented an abrupt and significant reversal of this expansion but what remains, whether perceived as a proto state, or as a very integrated international organisation, commands – via its constituent parts – latent and soft power roughly comparable to the USA. What it lacks is hard power.
Recently, some EU politicians have lobbied for strategic autonomy and even the realisation of a European ‘empire’. This conjures up images of the ancient and medieval Holy Roman Empire and Charlemagne and a pan-Europeanism which was undone by the rise of the nation state. However, the pursuit of strategic autonomy would require a level of defence investment well beyond what is currently invested. Somewhat juxtaposed the desire for EU strategic autonomy is French neo-Gaullism with the traditional French pursuit of strategic autonomy being harnessed to, and propelled by, German economic heft. This geostrategic ambition may be attainable, but it bumps up against internal EU economic tensions, notably in relation to the imbalances caused by the euro, and also German reluctance to significantly dilute trans-Atlantic ties.
The Royal Navy and the RAF lack reserve forces of any scale. The sinking of just one frigate would be problematic
Germany, in many respects, has made a virtue of relative military weakness. In terms of hard power Germany is a threat to no one and manages, via the euro and the Single Market, to enrich itself whilst enjoying the protection of France, the UK and the USA. Its relations with Russia are somewhat conflicted; on the one hand it has been in the vanguard in imposing sanctions on Russia following the annexation of Crimea, but on the other hand it is dependent on Russia for fossil fuel imports and it is evident that some elements of German society do not view Russia as an existential threat; not so long talk of a new Ostpolitik was common. Germany’s economic strategy is based on goods exports and its first, second, fourth and fifth largest export markets are the USA, China, France and the UK respectively. Thus, Germany needs to maintain harmonious relations with both its liberal allies and its authoritarian trade partners.
Germany does not wish to make decisive choices – between East and West; between national economic autonomy and EU solidarity; between EU autonomy and multilateralism. Unsurprisingly this is creating tensions with France and its neo-Gaullism which does want to choose strategic autonomy no doubt in part as a counterweight to its relative economic weakness viz a viz Germany. This internal tension will make it hard to fulfil what many see as the EU’s superpower manifest destiny.
The economic rationale of leaving the EU was to reduce trade barriers with the rest of the world, where the UK enjoys a trade surplus, in contrast to its large trade deficit with the EU. Under the current government increasing extra EU trade is increasingly seen as one way to help achieve the domestic ‘levelling up’ agenda, a key guiding light of the administration. Thus, though a major geopolitical event, Brexit’s economic rationale is geo-economic. A key question facing the IRSD is the degree to which the strategy, the hard power, should or should not, follow the economics? In any case, at the level of a bloc, the EU will remain the UK’s largest export market for some time to come, so, barring a complete breakdown in trade relations, the UK will retain a strong economic and strategic interest in the EU’s security; but Brexit will to some extent pull the UK’s geopolitical focus further East.
Some commentators have also suggested that the UK should seek a loose geopolitical confederation with Canada, Australia and New Zealand (and possibly others) aka CANZUK. Should something resembling this come to pass then the power of the UK (and the others) would increase significantly. The constituent parts of the organisation would have a combined GDP PPP of c. $6.3 trillion, ahead of Japan, or in dollar exchange terms, c. $5.7 trillion, behind only the US and China (and the EU, if counted).
What then can be drawn from these geopolitical trends?
- There is a clear risk that a Sino-Russian alliance might deepen and might represent a permanent check on the power and range of the sea powers, heralding the end of the Columbian epoch and fulfilling Mackinder’s prophecy
- Even if this does not happen it is easy to foresee how conflict could occur in both Europe and East Asia. As such conflicts would be so costly (significantly more costly than the pandemic, for example) they should be avoided if at all possible
- In military terms this requires improving the credibility of conventional deterrence forces. In diplomatic terms, as Allinson and others have suggested, conflict need not be inevitable and, from a position of relative strength, a new modus vivendi may be negotiable
- The cohesion of western powers is not what it once was. In particular there are geo-economic tensions which threaten to unravel geostrategic alliance systems. This is true, to varying degrees, in relation to the EU-UK; EU-USA; and France-Germany
The consequences of geopolitical trends for military strategy and defence policy
Consequently, the two geopolitical crucibles, or ‘chessboards’, which matter the most are East Asia (often now referred to with the more expansive Indo-Pacific Region (IPR) term) and the Euro-Atlantic area. One of the most critical question which these trends have thrown up for the IRSD is whether the relative weight of British effort should be made in the Euro Atlantic area or in the IPR?
The UK’s primary military bases are in the UK and so long as the UK remains in NATO, Russia is a possible threat to the UK’s air and maritime security. Thus, though the weight of the UK’s effort should be towards the Euro Atlantic area, it could increase its hard power footprint in the IPR on a largely occasional, or transitory, basis because the UK’s forces are expeditionary by design. The UK’s forces may lack mass but they do not lack mobility. It is perhaps surprising to note that the UK retains the sinews of global power, even if the muscle has long since withered. Its overseas bases and installations stretch eastwards to include facilities in Gibraltar, Cyprus, Bahrain, Oman and Singapore. Further, the type of forces which could make a modest difference in the IPR are those which are the most mobile. Of course, one could counter these points by saying that the US pivot to the IPR necessitates the UK focussing more on the Euro Atlantic, better to be strong everywhere than nowhere, as Patrick Porter noted in a recent interview with the Atlantic.
Of course, such arguments echo the perennial ‘British Way in Warfare’ debate – should the UK prioritise a continental commitment or an East of Suez one? The answer to this is, was and always will be contingent upon geopolitical trends. As noted above, Russia is a threat to the UK but not as great a threat as was the Soviet Union, Germany or Napoleonic France. The current situation is not a straight re-run of the Cold War, the UK’s front line is several hundred miles further east. Thus, though the Euro Atlantic is the UK’s priority, geography does allow the UK to focus some of its efforts elsewhere.
Theatre and tactical challenges
As noted earlier new and threatening technology is also a part of geopolitical analysis. Such technologies come in many forms but perhaps the most arresting has been the growing conventional missile threat which looks to blunt the maritime power of the USA and its allies.
China and Russia have invested heavily in countering western airpower via A2/AD (Anti Access/ Area Denial). In addition, Russia retains a fleet of long-range bombers and both powers are developing hypersonic missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles to add to their already large cruise and ballistic missile fleets. In the round this Russian investment threatens UK access to Eastern Europe, transatlantic communications and potentially military bases and CNI within the British Isles. The ability to defend the air and seas around the UK is non-discretionary and arguably the most important strategic role of the armed forces alongside the provision of the nuclear deterrent.
The British Isles are within the range of Russian missile types including the Kalibr land attack missile and the Zircon hypersonic missile. Such missiles are/ or will be distributed amongst a wide number of platforms and can be fired from within Russian air and sea space. The only viable defensive counter is the Type 45 PAAMS/Sea Viper system, though even this will require being upgraded to the Block 1NT variant to keep pace with the threat. Unfortunately, Sea Viper is only deployed on the six Type 45s and their main role is to protect the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) so they cannot also defend the UK’s airspace.
The early signs are that defence review buzzword bingo is alive and kicking
An alternative to defence is counter force. In this regards the UK has two cruise missile systems – the SSN launched TLAM and the Storm Shadow ALCM. The Navy Lookout website estimates that the UK has about 100 TLAMs which might be expended in two to three days of high intensity warfare. The RAF has a healthy sounding c.900 Storm Shadow missile in its inventory but its relative short range would put the Typhoon jets carrying them in jeopardy. Russia’s A2/D2 missiles could also hold a British expeditionary army at risk by depleting its combat air support and this support would be essential in helping to offset the Russian Army’s superior firepower. The UK is investing in the Sky Sabre system to offset this but not, it is felt, at the necessary scale.
Finding an offensive and/ or defensive counter to these threats should be a key focus of the UK’s military strategy. Failure to do so cedes escalation dominance to Russia in this key domain.
Air Sea Battle
A2/AD is also the challenge posed by China to the US and its allies. Again, a variety of cruise and ballistic missiles threatens to hold US forces at bay and at peril in any future crisis relating to Taiwan, the South China Sea, the East China Sea and so on. Any British tilt towards the IPR would have to consider how it could contribute to the general deterrence effort.
This year a UK CSG will transit to the area, conduct drills with regional allies and conduct a freedom of navigation patrol in the disputed South China Sea. This feels like the right level of British contribution to the IPR – taking advantage of the inherent mobility of naval platforms to undertake such operations – the temporary deployment of a slice of the Euro Atlantic to East Asia. There may well also be some value in a modest expansion on the UK’s basing facilities East of Suez in places such as HMS Juffair, Duqm, Sembawang and/ or the forward deployment of some platforms and stocks.
The tactical challenge for the Queen Elizabeth’s CSG is much the same tactical problem faced by UK forces in the Euro Atlantic. In order to provide a credible conventional deterrent, the UK needs to be able to deal with the defensive challenge posed by Chinese long range missiles. The primary difference is that the UK contribution to the collective effort in the Euro Atlantic will be higher than in the IPR. But the technological solutions in each region are broadly the same.
Implications for Defence and a preliminary assessment of Part 1 of the IRSD
On the 16th March 2021 the government published the first part of the IRSD. This final section considers the implications of geopolitics for UK Defence and draws some tentative conclusions on part one of the IRSD (in bold).
- The land matters most, with a caveat. As scholars from Corbett to Mearsheimer have noted, people live on the land and so consequently being competitive in land warfare is a non-discretionary requirement. That said, for a sea power and an archipelago state, this land power can only be projected if sea and air control have first been achieved. Ergo, sea and air control are even more non-discretionary than the ability to project land power. Nevertheless, the UK should retain the capability to defeat a peer competitor’s land forces of a similar scale as part of an allied effort. Geo-strategically it makes sense for the UK’s land forces to be benchmarked against Russia’s, whilst retaining the flexibility to conduct land warfare outside of the Euro Atlantic area. Analysis by RUSI analyst Jack Watling on the shortcomings of the UK’s desire to deploy a warfighting division is sobering. The picture he paints is one of inadequate armour, inadequate stocks, a lack of artillery, insufficient air defence and generally a lack of firepower. IRSD leaks suggest that though some essential modernisation of tanks and armoured vehicles will happen the scale of the UK’s expeditionary army will be reduced. The fact that the word ‘army’ is not mentioned once in part one of the IRSD is, perhaps, telling.
- The RN and the RAF lack reserve forces of any scale. The sinking of just one frigate would be problematic. However, the glacial time required to build and integrate new platforms means that generating mass even on a medium-term timescale is unlikely. Generating firepower, however, could be done more quickly and would be less expensive. It would also enhance the deterrent effect of deployed forces regardless of where they are. Consequently, the UK should rapidly increase its stocks of long-range missiles and increase the number of platforms from which they can be fired. This means providing platforms with the weaponry needed to make them competitive in the Euro Atlantic and the IPR. Here we might turn for inspiration to the 1981 Defence Review. Though it was far from perfect it was praiseworthy for its desire to increase overall effect delivered from platform fleets.
- However, IRSD part one pulled the proverbial ‘rabbit out of the hat’ with the decision to increase nuclear stocks from 180 to no more than 260. This may suggest that the UK will eschew substantial investment in long range conventional firepower. The problem with such an approach would be that it risks ceding escalation dominance on the lower escalatory rungs which might in turn call into question the credibility of extended deterrence and a defence policy which is over-weighted towards nuclear weapons. In which case the IRSD will be closer to the 1957 Sandys review than the 1981 review.
- The weight of this effort should be in the Euro Atlantic with forays into the IPR undertaken on a primarily transitory basis. On this the IRSD part one strikes the right balance between the Euro Atlantic and the IPR; the Euro-Atlantic remains the primary region but the UK will perform a limited pivot to the IPR.
- The copious IRSD leaks suggest that a number of ‘legacy platforms’ will be cut and troop numbers cut significantly. The leaks suggest a desire to deal with fifth generation threats by trading in ‘legacy platforms’ for lasers, AI, space systems, robots and so on. The problem with this logic is that if it takes 10 to 20 years for this R&D to yield any strategic effect then how does it deal fifth generation threats which are maturing now? IRSD part one commits £6.6 billion to new technologies, seemingly part funded by the new money and partly by platform and troop cuts – it’s quite a gamble to trade extant capability for technologies which may or may not come to pass.
- We need to be clear-eyed about the nature of our opponents; what animates them geopolitically; and not fall into the comforting trap that they share our liberal values. Until Kant’s Perpetual Peace is realised, the old Roman maxim, si vis pacem para bellum, still applies. Commentators have noted a degree of hedge-betting from the UK towards China in the IRSD. It is cited as the greatest systemic challenge but the desire for Chinese trade and investment is also noted. An unkind critic might decry this as strategic ‘cakeism’.
- The Donald Trump presidency illustrated the risks that might accrue from deleting capabilities wholesale and always hoping that the US will always act as the UK’s security blanket. The tensions that exist in the UK-EU relations also underscore the fact that though alliances are necessary, all states are ultimately responsible for their own security. Consequently, though highly sub-optimal, muddling through has something to recommend it in comparison with the radical choice approach of capability deletions and divisions of labour. Part Two of the IRSD will determine whether the UK’s Corbettian credentials remain intact – some allies, however, may look askance at the cuts to the Army.
- Finally, the purpose of the armed forces is to defend the UK, its interests and its allies. It is not to restore the nation’s credit rating or turn the UK into a ‘scientific superpower’. Long-time, world weary observers of defence reviews will wince at the buzzword bingo which accompanies these publications, but whilst we should be generous in our praise where it is warranted we must see through the chaff and offer constructive criticism where it is required. The early signs are that defence review buzzword bingo is alive and kicking.
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