Faced with a calamitous economic situation, all Western powers are cutting their military expenditure to risible levels. They are becoming small-time players, but they are still talking a big game.
Announcing the better part of $500 billion in cuts over 10 years, and hinting at another $500 billion soon, President Obama warned all potential adversaries: the US military will be leaner, but even meaner. ‘The United States will maintain our military superiority,’ he promised, without at first specifying over whom. But then he made that clear, after a fashion: ‘We’ll be strengthening our presence in the Asia Pacific and budget reductions will not come at the expense of this critical region.’ The implication is that they’ll come at the expense of other, less critical, regions, which is encouraging news for the rest of NATO, and also Israel.
Assuming the US isn’t fearing Japan, it’s clearly China over which they’d like to reaffirm their military superiority. The idea isn’t without attraction: All those aircraft carriers rolling off China’s production lines aren’t exactly cruise liners. They’re going to threaten the Philippines and Taiwan, Japan and Malaysia — possibly even Australia. In all likelihood they’ll be used as a blackmail weapon, the same way the Soviets used their nuclear capability in the good old days. Be nice to us or else, is the unspoken message. But meanwhile, last week China’s Defence Minister told the army to prepare for war, which fact was widely covered in the Chinese press, but not in the West.
The once and future President Vladimir Putin doesn’t do unspoken messages: the Russians are no match for the Chinese in the inscrutability department. Practically every speech he delivers includes a kind reminder orbi et urbi that Russia is still a nuclear power. And it’s not just words; Russia’s military buildup is proceeding apace. The Russians have just conducted a series of successful firing tests for their submarine-launched missile system Bulava (‘mace’ in English). They plan to deploy 170 Bulavas in 2012, which will put a big pow into their already mean punch. Considering that each Bulava will be MIRVed to carry up to 10 independently targeted warheads with a yield of 150 kt each, Russia will be able to overpower all Western European countries put together with even greater ease than it can do so now.
This doesn’t mean that, with the US busy in the Pacific, Russian tanks will sweep across the plain. They won’t have to — it’s not for nothing that curricula in Russian military academies invariably include the study of the Chinese strategist Sun Tzu. Back in the 6th century BC, he taught that ‘to win without fighting is the acme of skill’, and the Russians are able students.
In the face of the opponent’s overwhelming superiority, a chess player doesn’t play to the bitter end. He resigns, which is precisely what the EU, bereft of America’s protection and devoid of what the Spanish call los cojones, will do. Col. Putin and his KGB colleagues will simply dictate the terms of surrender — much to the delight of the British press that by that time will be owned mostly, as opposed to merely in part, by KGB thugs. In any region, at any time in history, the dominant military power has always been able to ride roughshod over its neighbours. And I do hope you don’t think for a second that the ruling KGB camarilla fronted by Putin would have qualms about pressing their advantage home.
Our repsonse is truly logical: we disarm. Our army has dwindled away to the numerical strength it last had when little Ollie wasn’t even a twinkle in Mr Cromwell’s eye. And the Royal Navy has lost its carriers, a weapon known since the battle of Medway to be the key to naval warfare. In its present state our navy wouldn’t even be capable of launching another South Atlantic operation, never mind matching up to hundreds of Russian nuclear submarines armed with Bulavas. (Incidentally, when Britannia ruled the waves in the 19th century the Navy Department in Whitehall had a staff one tenth of what it has now.)
And it’s not just Russia, at least not directly — the world has many other threats and many other flash points, the Middle East prime among them. Considering that the most powerful European country has a vested interest in much turmoil there (trouble means higher oil prices, and Russia’s economy is based on the exports of hydrocarbons), and America doesn’t seem to regard the Middle East as critical any longer, who’s going to keep peace in the region? Italy? Greece? Are we prepared to live with the consequences of a nuclear conflagration a few miles south of Europe?
Britain and the rest of Europe have been relying on the US for their protection far too long. Money that should have gone into defence of the realm has instead gone into social programmes that have succeeded where the Luftwaffe failed in destroying the country. At the same time France has been talking up its puny force de frappe and slagging off les Yankees, while sponging off US military spending. And Germany neither is nor wishes to be a serious military power. It no longer wants to conquer Europe. It would rather just buy it.
Well, now that the US is taking an Asian slant in its strategic presence, what’s going to happen? Shall we continue to regard our military budget as a soft touch for debilitating cuts? You bet we will. We can’t cut social spending or foreign aid, can we now? Our politicians know how to get elected, but that’s all they know. They don’t realise that such strategic myopia may mean that soon they won’t be elected but appointed. By foreigners.