Britain’s armed forces are no longer able to play a full role in NATO or defend the homeland after years of cutbacks, according to British defence sources, with a senior American general warning London that it has a “barely tier two” force.
Broadcaster Sky News reports multiple British defence sources lamenting Britain’s military decrepitude, with one warning that the “bottom line” is that the armed forces are will be “unable to protect the UK and our allies for a decade” despite extremely heightened tensions with Russia and increasingly tenuous relations with Communist China, particularly in the South China Sea, among other dangers.
Other NATO powers have been blunt with the British government, with a “high-ranking U.S. general” reportedly telling the British defence secretary, that Britain was no longer on the level of tier-one powers like America, China, and Russia, but “barely tier two” — the level of countries like the neutered former Axis powers Germany and Italy.
“We have a wartime prime minister and a wartime chancellor,” one British defence source emphasised, referring to Rishi Sunak and his de facto finance minister, Jeremy Hunt.
“History will look back at the choices they make in the coming weeks as fundamental to whether this government genuinely believes that its primary duty is the defence of the realm or whether that is just a slogan to be given lip service,” they added.
In reality, despite traditionally being seen as the party of the armed forces and law and order, Britain’s governing Conservative (Tory) Party has seen the military and the police, in particular, as easy targets for heavy government spending cuts since they regained office from the Labour Party in 2010, as their ability to strike and otherwise make life difficult for politicians is extremely limited compared to often institutionally leftist public sector institutions such schools and universities.
Defence has also simply not been a priority for the notionally right-wing party, with the green agenda and foreign aid, for example, having been largely spared the cuts inflicted elsewhere in the name of fiscal discipline.
Tobias Ellwood, a senior Conservative Party backbencher who heads the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, conceded that years of cutbacks had left the armed forces in a “dire state”.
“Our army is simply too small, we have cut down by 10,000 troops,” he told Sky News.
“It is up to the Treasury and Number 10” — the Prime Minister’s residence and office — “to recognise the world is changing — we are now at war in Europe, we need to move to a war footing,” he said.
“We have become complacent. We need to invest to make sure we retain people, the good people that are there, but there are not enough of them and the equipment is now obsolete.”
Ellwood highlighted the parlous state of Britain’s tank fleet in particular, noting that the country had around 900 “a couple of decades” ago but is only upgrading 148 of its Challenger 2s into Challenger 3s, with the remainder set to be used for parts — likely a large part of the reason Rishi Sunak has only been able to commit a token force of 14 tanks to the Ukrainian war effort.