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April 03, 2007

Pessimistic report on Britain's military

[Ghost of a Flea] rounds up all the depressing news from Britain, confirming that things are getting worse on several fronts:

I can only hope the anemic reaction of the British public to the last five years is because the British public does not understand the scope of the problem.* This LA Times (?) opinion piece explained the problem to the American public over a month ago. It has been born out by events.

The linked LA Times editorial has nice things to say about both British and Canadian military personnel, but correctly points out that both governments have been trying to do too much with too little:

Royal Navy, which is at its smallest size since the 1500s. Now, British newspapers report, of the remaining 44 warships, at least 13 and possibly as many as 19 will be mothballed. If these cuts go through, Britain's fleet will be about the same size as those of Indonesia and Turkey and smaller than that of its age-old rival, France.

Britain is hardly alone in its unilateral disarmament. A similar trend can be discerned among virtually all of the major U.S. allies, aside from Japan. Canada is a particularly poignant case in point. At the end of World War II, Canada had more than a million men under arms and operated the world's third-biggest navy (behind the U.S. and Britain), with more than 400 ships. Today, it has all of 62,000 personnel on active duty, and its navy has just 19 warships and 23 support vessels, making it one-fourth the size of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Of course, numbers aren't the entire story. Both Britain and Canada have top-notch soldiers, allowing them to punch above their weight class in military affairs. But there is only so much that a handful of super-soldiers can accomplish if their numbers are grossly inadequate. Quality can't entirely make up for lack of quantity.

In Canada's case, decades of neglect cannot be made up quickly: equipment takes time to order, build, and deploy, but it takes even longer to rebuild the units themselves. Soldiers do not wander in off civvie street today and become militarily effective tomorrow; it takes years to re-create effective battalions. Canada's military may not have years . . . the current minority government has no guarantee that it will see out the next session of parliament, never mind win a majority in a subsequent election (and it will take years of uninterrupted efforts to get the Canadian Forces back into shape).

Posted by Nicholas at April 3, 2007 10:24 AM
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