As we’ve been recently been informed by the various media, Gordon Brown, the prime minister, has pledged five hundred new (presumably) combat-role servicemen to Operation Herrick — the British mission in Afghanistan. Five hundred would boost the British presence to a total of 9,500 service personnel from all the services including the Royal Air Force and the large Royal Navy training body. Within your humble correspondent’s lifetime, Britain deployed whole divisions to operational theatres such as Northern Ireland, where three brigades numbering several thousand kept the police in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. A task force of 9,500 does little to compare to the 68,000 American service personnel in “Afghan.”
American defense spending is a staggering 41 percent of the global total. Its armed forces population is so large that the United States Marine Corps is bigger than the entire British Army and due to its all-arms nature, considerably more effective. At a time when American military expenditure dwarfs the whole of the British economy, it is hardly surprising that there is some difference in capability here.
Therefore it is curious that the British media remain shocked that British forces get little mention in American strategic and military dialogue about the region. What is more surprising is that American commentators and possibly even politicos expect a greater contribution from the British Armed Forces.
The briefest of glances at the history of the services from 1945 onward will provide anyone with the knowledge that defense cuts by both parties across all successive governments have neutered the operational capabilities of state. The possibility of fighting the Falklands War in 1982 was small enough, now it would be next to impossible. With the end of the Cold War and the subduing of the Troubles in the Province, further cuts and reductions seem not only economic but dare I say it sensible, certainly in the Army. That this hasn’t been taken on board by our erstwhile journalists is probably due to the myth of the special relationship, on which I have spoken on in the (scarcely) public domain before.
What is certain is that until required reforms in the British Armed Forces are implemented, five hundred troops is about as much as can be deployed with political constraints, and without them there wouldn’t be that much more.