Britain maps out future military strategy

Updated: 2011-12-15 10:26


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LONDON - Britain's Chief of the Defence Staff David Richards has mapped out his nation's future military strategy, now primarily based on partners and alliances as Britain is struggling with a declining budget and low economic growth.

Richards gave the annual Chief of the Defense Staff lecture Wednesday at the central London thinktank, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

"As we find it harder to maintain large armies, or politics make it more difficult to employ them in isolation from others, partnering will become more vital," he said.

"We will increasingly operate alongside more culturally acceptable forces," Richards said, citing as an example Britain's military intervention in Libya alongside its principal ally France and supported by the United States.

"The Libyan people, operating on the ground, made the decisive changes to the future of their country," he said.

He said armed forces from Western and Arab countries provided sea and air assistance, but the Libyan National Transitional Council forces were  "the land element."

"An 'army' was still vital. And this was provided by our Arab partners both from Libya and the Gulf," Richards said.

"Alliances will be increasingly important, and as the world evolves, new groupings will emerge," he said.

He said the most obvious indication of this for Britain is the Anglo-French alliance, which is "much more than the Entente Cordiale (the Anglo-French alliance which fought Germany in World War I) of a century ago -- it is a vehicle for joint action." Moreover, Britain would be seeking "other carefully chosen alliances over the coming decade," he said.

Collaboration with nations in the Gulf, an area of significant strategic importance to Britain because of its energy resources, and in Africa have been rewarding, Richards said.

"Perhaps we should be focusing our defense relationships on these regions rather than competing for influence, with many others, in China or India," Richards said.

The British military is struggling with two handicaps, both of them related to money. The first is the budget cut imposed by Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government as part of its principal task to slash spending across all parts of the government to tackle the near-record public spending deficit, which this year is set to stand at 127 billion pounds (about $195 billion).

While some government departments have to implement cuts of 20 percent or more over four years, military spending is set to fall by 8 percent.

The second handicap is a military spending program that the government said has committed itself to spending 38 billion pounds (about $58 billion) over the next 10 years which it does not have in its budget.

Dealing with both these handicaps is a military problem, Richards admitted.

"The country's main effort must be the economy. No country can defend itself if bankrupt," he said, adding that he is "working hard to control spending."

Currently, Britain's main military effort is maintaining a force of 10,000 troops to fight the war in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Cameron has ordered all combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, with only several hundreds of soldiers left as trainers.

Richards said that his "key role over the next three years is to ensure that British forces leave in good order, enabling the decisive elements of an enduring campaign, those based on effective Afghan National Security Force, governance and development, to continue over the coming decades."

This is not "a change of strategy" but a "change in ownership" as it transitions to Afghan leadership, he said, adding that the Afghan security forces would soon reach 352,000 and that half of all military missions were carried out by Afghan forces.

The head of the armed forces said the US-initiated surge in troops in Afghanistan has worked, and that over the past three months, the number of complex attacks by the Taliban has fallen by over 40 percent, indicating their failing strength.