Facts about Britain and France and Belgium

by on February 19, 2013 at 1:59 pm in Current Affairs, History, Political Science | Permalink

Britain’s Royal Air Force now has just a quarter of the number of combat aircraft it had in the 1970s. The Royal Navy has 19 destroyers and frigates, compared with 69 in 1977. The British army is scheduled to shrink to 82,000 soldiers, its smallest size since the Napoleonic wars. In 1990 Britain had 27 submarines (excluding those that carry ballistic missiles) and France had 17. The two countries now have seven and six respectively.

And yet Britain and France are commonly regarded as the only two European countries that still take defence seriously.

That is from Gideon Rachmann.  Here is one possibly rude remark:

The Belgians distinguished themselves in the Libyan campaign of 2011. But about 75 per cent of Belgian military spending now goes on personnel – causing one critic to call the Belgian military “an unusually well-armed pension fund”.

Ray Lopez February 19, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Pax Americana. Paying for other people’s defense, not unlike the Brits did, not unlike the Romans did, and to their eventual downfall. The USA should be out of Korea and Japan. Let them fight their own battles.

charlie February 19, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Isn’t that when the roman empire fell — when they had to withdraw troops from the borders due to constant civil wars? Not sure of the logic here…

Alexei Sadeski February 19, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Clearly Rome, with it’s grand coups every few years, is not exactly the best analogue to the US. However, citing the Pax Romana as the cause of Rome’s downfall seems a bit perverse. The Pax Romana was what made Rome great – one of the empire’s finest achievements.

If the US is able to replicate, imitate, or even surpass that success, well… that would be wonderful indeed.

AADL February 19, 2013 at 4:14 pm

The U.S. government should withdraw all its forces from outside a three-mile zone of the U.S. Then use the planes and ships for scrap metal. And then…

U.S. out of North America!

Ashok Rao February 19, 2013 at 2:07 pm

God knows why we pay 5% of our GDP for them to subsidize bloated welfare schemes and young retirement ages. Oh and then prance about denouncing the US as a terrible warmonger.

BC February 19, 2013 at 9:54 pm

I think a more interesting question, one that doesn’t seem to be asked very often, is why European countries have such large debt problems, given their dwindling defense budgets (and high taxes). Your observation — that “savings” from defense cuts seem to just go towards ever larger welfare schemes — may indeed be part of the answer. That observation would seem to have some consequence in our own ongoing debate about how to deal with our own debt.

Ricardo February 20, 2013 at 12:39 am

Not all European countries have large debt problems, though. If we look at debt as a percentage of GDP among OECD countries, plenty of European countries are below the U.S. including the Scandinavian countries, Canada, Spain, Poland, Switzerland and even Turkey. Spain’s problem isn’t debt; it’s being on the Euro. Debt appears to be related to governance quality rather than spending or the size of the military alone: the correlation is not perfect but countries with a reputation for clean and well-run government tend to have low levels of debt. Greece, Italy and Israel — notorious for dysfunctional governance and corruption at least in the case of Greece and Italy — are at the top. The U.S. seems in about the right position given this correlation as a somewhat corrupt and dysfunctional country compared to other countries at a similar level of development.

TheAJ February 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm

What? The Euros use savings to pay to take care of its citizens and the US uses money to pay for wars . . . why WOULDN’T they denounce the US as a terrible warmonger? Your strawman is still a perfectly rational conclusion.

Still doesn’t even get to the question of how much is enough for “defense.” I don’t know why the US level of spending is automatically the correct amount and anything less must mean its being a subsidized. Another stupid implication.

go February 19, 2013 at 2:43 pm

My prediction for this thread is that it will be filled with angry Americans trying to make themselves feel better by talking about how Europe and Canada only exist by dint of America’s generosity in providing defense, and those countries get to spend money on health care and retirement funds, and the least they could do is say “thank you”, and the same old.

I don’t understand. If you guys don’t think that people are sufficiently thankful for Pax Americana, why do it? You just like being martyrs?

Urso February 19, 2013 at 3:07 pm

What, like they asked me?

mavery February 19, 2013 at 3:25 pm

It can be in America’s best interest to maintain a large military and exert its will overseas while also being true that Europe free-rides off the resulting status quo. Those aren’t mutually exclusive.

Hong Konger February 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Withdrawal from a global hegemony is difficult to do at the best of times, let alone now. The bizarre idealistic generosity of the Americans is of benefit to my city-state in maintaining our limited independence, at least. The Sings are even more pro-US in their unofficial foreign stance, and are known for being deeply confused about the motivations of the US in East Asia. In a region filled with realpolitik actors, a lone idealist confuses the hell out of everyone.

Major February 19, 2013 at 4:07 pm

If you guys don’t think that people are sufficiently thankful for Pax Americana, why do it?

What a strange question. Do you refuse to do anything for anyone else unless they are “sufficiently thankful” to you? The fact that Europeans often behave like petulant children towards the U.S. does not make America’s geopolitical goals and obligations go away.

Ricardo February 19, 2013 at 5:12 pm

“If you guys don’t think that people are sufficiently thankful for Pax Americana, why do it?”

Allow taxes to be directed voluntarily (“I allocate 10% of my tax burden to Social Security, 12% to the arts, 25% to defense, and so on”) and many of us wouldn’t do it.

Willitts February 19, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Public goods are notoriously under supplied through voluntary contributions. That’s why public goods are known as a market failure. Defense is a public good.

Social Security is a purely private good, and pensions should be completely privatized. Retirement savings should be mandated because of another market failure – moral hazard. If social security were voluntary, likely 95 percent of Americans would opt out.

Art has me small amount of publicness to it, but it is excludable. Government’s contribution should be close to zero and focus mainly on large monuments.

Jayson Virissimo February 20, 2013 at 4:21 am

Yes, national defense is a public good, but as Peter Leeson pointed out, so is offense.

Dismalist February 19, 2013 at 6:54 pm

…how Europe and Canada only exist by dint of America’s generosity in providing defense, and those countries get to spend money on health care and retirement funds…

You mean it’s not true?

JWatts February 19, 2013 at 2:50 pm

“causing one critic to call the Belgian military “an unusually well-armed pension fund”.”

Relatively well-armed. Not Texas well-armed.

“I don’t understand. If you guys don’t think that people are sufficiently thankful for Pax Americana, why do it? You just like being martyrs?”

Because it’s still a lot better than another World War would be. The US tried isolationism and then got dragged into WW1. And then we tried it again and got forced into WW2.

Frederic Mari February 19, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Hold on. I’d agree you were pretty innocent parties in WW1. Though it worked out rather well for you in the end. But WW2? You don’t remember doing anything that might have pissed off or worried the Japanese? Really? Or were they just ‘freedom hating’ slant-eyed yellow monkeys beyond human comprehension?

Urso February 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Yes, the US cruelly and evilly embargo’d oil shipments, for no other reason than they were a bunch of racist meanies… oh, also that Japan had invaded China and Indochina, killing hundreds of thousands of people and committing uncoutned war crimes along the way, and had made abundantly clear they were interested in gobbling up the rest of Asia next. But other than that it was because we were meanies.

Frederic Mari February 20, 2013 at 2:48 am

The fact that the Japanese were imperialist and racist (then again, at the time, who wasn’t?) doesn’t mean the USA (and the rest of the European powers) were blameless…

That’s an issue I often have with many Americans in such discussions. Because the Other Guy is Bad (and I would obviously agree that the Nazis or Imperial Japan were bad), they assume they’re the Good Guy. And that’s where I disagree. You can easily have two villains fighting it out. It then is not so much Good Guy vs. Bad Guy as Bad Guy versus Worse Guy…

For example, you call Japan ‘racist’. And they were. But don’t you recall US’s propaganda about the same time? It’s not like Americans weren’t racist about the Japanese, as my words were meant to remind you…

In any case, I was talking about that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causes_of_World_War_II#Competition_for_resources_and_markets

Charles Lindbergh February 20, 2013 at 9:03 am

Yeah guys, the US was bad as well as Japan. The Japanese did a little innocent Rape of Nanking, and then the US goes ahead and embargoes them! Why don’t we also consider what might have pissed off or worried the Nazis about the Jews? Ultimately, if you step back and look, isn’t it both side’s fault?

Urso February 20, 2013 at 11:08 am

If you’re claiming some sort of moral equivocation between invasion and wholesale slaughter on the one side, and racist propaganda posters (or even segregated lunch counters and buses), on the other side, you’ve lost me.

Anyway the original question isn’t about who was the “Good Guys,” in some Church Lady sense, it was about who started the war. It’s ludicrous to suggest it was the US.

Alexei Sadeski February 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm

How remarkable.

The US involvement in WWI “worked out quite well” for the US in the end? In what end? The end which involved Fascist Germany and Soviet Russia destroying mainland Europe not even twenty years later?

I’m not so sure that the tens of thousands of Americans who lost their lives in WWI would consider that a worthy investment.

Willitts February 19, 2013 at 9:36 pm

WWII was not a foreseeable consequence of WWI and obviously didn’t enter the decision of whether WWI was worth it at the time we decided.

Did we anticipate the October Revolution six months earlier when we entered WWI? Did we anticipate the rise of Stalin and Soviet theft of nuclear technology from us? Did we anticipate the rise of national socialism in Germany? We could have just as easily anticipated a sustained Weimar Republic or a Communist revolution in Germany.

Was WWI the problem or was the Treaty of Versailles the problem?

Chris H February 19, 2013 at 9:51 pm

The Treaty of Versailles was only possible given a complete collapse of Germany’s ability to fight, an outcome ensured by the US intervention. Lacking that intervention less punitive terms may have been possible. For the rest of my argument see my other comment.

Peter the Shark February 20, 2013 at 6:04 am

The real disaster at Versailles was that Wilson went overboard to help the Slavs. If Austria had been allowed to keep its German majority lands in Bohemia, Moravia, South Tyrol and Slovenia – thereby creating an economically richer and more viable “German” alternative to the Wilhelmine state – history might have taken a different path. Certainly it would have been much harder for someone sitting in Berlin to be able to claim to speak for “all the German people” as Hitler was wont to do. It also might have deepened the rifts between Protestant and Catholic Germany, which would have been good for the rest of Europe. In an even better world Bavaria would have been awarded to Austria as well.

athEIst February 20, 2013 at 10:00 am

WWI and WWII were the same war, as was predicted by some at Versailles. A truce to rest and raise a new generation of twenty-year-olds.

athEIst February 20, 2013 at 10:18 am

In an even better world Bavaria would have been awarded to Austria as well.

WOW, was this proposed at Versailles? That(or even better all of South Germany) would have made a real difference.

mpowell February 20, 2013 at 4:51 pm

The problem in WWI was the war-mongering elites in Germany were disgraced but not fully removed from power. Then the country was hit pretty hard by the great depression and the nazis were helped into power by those same elites. Would German culture have been capable of changing without having to lose two massive wars? I don’t know. But a lesser victory in WWI that allowed Germany to retain more power and more of their old aristocracy would have been a much worse bet for peace. This was a government that preferred fighting Russia, France and England to peace.

Chris H February 19, 2013 at 9:49 pm

There is always the possibility that had the US been more isolationist and not intervened the terms against Germany at the end of the war may have been less punitive (or not punitive at all depending on how exactly the war would have ended), which probably would have prevented the rise of Hitler. No Hitler and at minimum there is no holocaust and likely no world war 2 in Europe (which also means no Warsaw pact after the war). So that’s millions of lives saved and communism more effectively blocked by the US being less interventionist.

Now, it is unfair to castigate Wilson and Americans at the time for not forseeing that, hindsight is 20-20, and after all Germany was sinking American merchant ships. Of course, America wasn’t exactly being neutral in their response to shipping blockades. Britain blockaded Germany from the start of the war with barely a peep from the US, but Germany’s attempt to do the same was viewed as an aggressive act. Not precisely fair there. And the other major causus belli, the Zimmerman telegram, was explicitly a proposal only to be made if the US had already decided to go to war. Having a proposal ready for the possibility of you attacking another nation seems to me to be a rather poor excuse for going ahead and declaring war on that nation.

So while it might be argued the US was too isolationist prior to WW2, given the extremely negative consequences arising from total German defeat in WW1 and the highly questionable excuses for going to war on the US’s part, I think there is a strong case to be made that insufficient isolationism was the problem during WW1.

Randy McDonald February 19, 2013 at 10:44 pm

A Germany victorious at the end of the First World War would be prey to the same extremist currents–race thinking, bloody-minded expansionism, et cetera–as the Germany that was defeated. The key difference is that a victorious Germany would be _starting_ from a position of European dominance.

American intervention in the First World War, leading to a German defeat, may have been necessary to prevent a worse, stronger tyranny from emerging.

Peter the Shark February 20, 2013 at 4:44 am

“A Germany victorious at the end of the First World War would be prey to the same extremist currents–race thinking, bloody-minded expansionism, et cetera–as the Germany that was defeated”

You’re ignoring the huge role that the loss of ethnic German territory in Bohemia, Moravia and Poland after the war did to the German psyche. A victorious Germany would probably have been more self-confident and more tolerant of diverse opinion. Yes, they would have continued to “Germanize” the Czechs and Poles in German territory – but the English and French did the same to their minority peoples and no one (other than the Welsh, Irish and Bretons) complains too much,

Chris H February 20, 2013 at 11:59 am

I find that implausible both for the reasons Peter The Shark states below, and because a victorious or at least not defeated Germany would have likely retained the position of Kaiser. German Kaisers were in a stronger political position than for instance the Italian kings, and therefore would have been less likely to tolerate the rise of a dictator coming from the political arena. Also a Germany that doesn’t have to pay war reparations is a Germany that likely would have avoided the hyperinflation which undermined the Weimer Republic.

Now it may be the case that far right elements may have taken over France in the event of German victory and a punitive anti-France treaty (maybe, I’m just speculating here on worst case scenarios), but a Nazi-esque France or even Great Britain would have been less threatening and less capable of conquest (and even if they were as anti-semitic with most European Jews living in Eastern Europe they would have had less access to them and less ability to commit genocide on them) than a Nazi Germany.

An Allied victory with less punitive conditions on Germany might have been ideal, but a German victory would have been a decent second-best compared to what actually happened. And even for scenario one to have occurred, that would have only been possible as long as the Allied powers, France in particular, did not feel secure that if Germany was recalcitrant on the negotiating table they could always throw fresh American troops at them. As long as France felt it had that ace in the hole, the conditions on Germany were going to be harsh and thus the problems that subsequently developed were, if not inevitable, hugely more probable.

Frederic Mari February 19, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Lol at Go’s comment…

Plus: Do we need more? We lack projection power (apart from our nuclear capability) but since we’re not really invading anyone far away on a regular basis, it’s not that big a problem. If you don’t need it, don’t spend tons of money on it…

Osual February 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Kosovo, Libya, Mali never happened?

Alexei Sadeski February 19, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Don’t forget about Egypt, Syria, Lebanon (all three coming soon?). I hope I’m being too pessimistic.

The Anti-Gnostic February 19, 2013 at 8:33 pm

Okay, we shed blood and treasure to keep Kosovars, Libyans and Malians from killing each other and they can work for us from now on. Deal?

Otherwise, I don’t give a flying eff-yoo-know-what, or is this another area where economists go all squishy inside.

Frederic Mari February 20, 2013 at 2:36 am

They did but these are not far from our shores/bases. We don’t need to ask the USA to project our power for those. We did with regards to Iraq or Afghanistan…

Alexei Sadeski February 20, 2013 at 11:27 am

>We don’t need to ask the USA to project our power for those. We did with regards to Iraq or Afghanistan…

This is an obviously false statement.

Dan Kärreman February 19, 2013 at 2:59 pm

So? The only nation that actually can threat either country is the US, and I believe there is a treaty that has taken care of that (and if the US went rogue, UK and France both have nuclear capacity, meaning that supercarrier groups count for nought in that scenario).

According to wikipedia, UK ranks 4th and France 5th in absolute defense spending in the world for 2012 (despite no threat). UK and France combined spending is 25% higher than Russia’s spending. Total EU spending on defense easily dwarfs China, who is number two in the world. The absurdity here is the US spending, not EU spending.

Dan Kärreman February 19, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Sorry, misread the table, combined UK and France spending is 57% higher than Russia.

Gustavus Adolphus February 19, 2013 at 4:04 pm

No, the absurdity here is using spending as the ultimate barometer of military strength.

Robert Olson February 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Quite. Britan and France have no capablity to dislodge China from the Taiwan Strait. I highly doubt that China has the capablity to close the Strait of Malacca to French and British sea traffic, though.

Maurice de Sully February 19, 2013 at 8:32 pm

We may have no ability to defend the Taiwan Strait, but I suspect we would have even less interest in doing so.

More seriously, the inability to keep the Suez flowing and/or the Strait of Hormuz a quiet neighborhood- those could be a real problem for my highly civilized brethren. Luckily, its still important enough to the US that they will insure it gets done no matter how little we deserve the assistance.

Willitts February 19, 2013 at 9:42 pm

You underestimate the capabilities of the US military. We would sink the entire Chinese Navy and shoot down the entire Chinese Air Force within days of the start of war.

They would probably shoot down many of our planes, but I would wager they wouldn’t sink a single US ship.

China’s only capability to wage war with us is either with nuclear weapons or covert sabotage on US soil.

Of course we have an interest in defending Taiwan, and any Chinese move in that direction would get a swift response. But I don’t think it will come to war. More like Cuba Missile Crisis.

JWatts February 20, 2013 at 10:36 am

Depending on the context, you are probably wrong. If the US aggressively attempts to defend Taiwan, we would need to move Carriers into support range. Which would put them into range of the Chinese tactical missile force. Which can probably sink a US carrier.

awp February 19, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Paywall Couldn’t Read

“Britain’s Royal Air Force now has just a quarter of the number of combat aircraft it had in the 1970s. The Royal Navy has 19 destroyers and frigates, compared with 69 in 1977.”

What are the relative capabilities (Calvary and Bayonets and what not) and why would they need more? These comments are stupid without that.

How many 1970s aircraft would it take to take down an modern aircraft? I wouldn’t be all that surprised if the modern navy could whoop the 1970s navy. (no specialized knowledge here, open to correction)

Is it possible that they needed a larger military in 1970 for some reason that no longer exists today? Maybe something about curtains?
How many fighter jets do you need to adequately protect yourself from random nutjobs blowing up subways?

jtf February 19, 2013 at 3:41 pm

+1

That’s the key. There are cuts but that doesn’t necessarily mean a decrease in capability. The 600-ship navy of the 1980s in the US is far less capable in comparison to today’s 300-ship navy. In real terms for Britain and France these are probably indicative of a relative decrease in military power when compared to other countries, but let’s not forget that a modern cruiser has arguably more utility than a battleship did in 1920 (or the upgraded battleships did in 1980, for that matter). A large part of the reduction in force size is due to capability increases and not budget cuts.

DataMaster February 19, 2013 at 4:06 pm

A modern destroyer (e.g., HMS Dragon) could probably take on an early WWII battleship (e.g, Bismark) and leave it at the very least—the worser-off of the two after the encounter. If Dragon were fitted with the eight optional Harpoon launch tubes, the Bismark would probably be significantly the worse for wear—if it were still on the surface.

If the Dragon’s vertical launch tubes were loaded with surface-to-surface missiles then the Bismark would be done for—well before the Dragon was within range of the Bismark’s guns.

MikeDC February 19, 2013 at 4:32 pm

I’m not sure about that, because WWII battleships were armored enough that the 500lb warhead on a Harpoon might not have done much damage to it. By comparison, the sort of weapons designed to actually sink battleships were the ammunition on other battleships, which, by the end of WWII were the 2700lb radar-targeted AP shells on Iowa class battleships which, when fired, travel something like 4 times as fast as a Harpoon.

Harpoons can be shot down by relatively cheap close in defense systems. Battleship projectiles likely cannot.Likewise, the Harpoons are expensive and the Dragon carries only a few of them.

In short, it’s very likely the battleship would be nearly impervious to the modern ship’s ASUW weaponry, and could be made doubly so by the addition of cheap extras.

On the other hand, the battleship has much more staying power in a battle, and one hit from its guns likely sends the new technology to the bottom of the ocean.

Alexei Sadeski February 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Whilst all of your specific points are no doubt correct, the point is that the modern destroyer is worth more to the modern navy than would a Bismarck. The Bismarck simply wouldn’t fit in to any modern navy’s mission. The Battleship’s useful capabilities wouldn’t be deployed (arguably they weren’t deployed even in WWII – or only rarely) in any plausible modern operation, whereas the destroyer’s would.

A more apt comparison would be between the 1970′s era destroyers and modern destroyers, as that is the comparison made in the FT article.

MikeDC February 19, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Well, that’s not necessarily true. A battleship would have great utility in shore bombardment and power projection roles. The US Iowa class battleships were pretty effective in this role into the 80s and early 90s. The problem with them was they were, being from a much older time, manpower intensive and thus more expensive to operate.

At the time, the US was developing some interesting ammunition for those 16″ guns, like extra long range 11″ GPS guided shells with a range of about 100nm. Basically, these would have given the same or more firepower of a Tomahawk missile, but much cheaper and in much greater quantity.

So I’d guess that a modern evolution of the battleship, incorporating recent air defense concepts and evolved weaponry would be pretty effective. Both for attacking most shore targets and outfighting other surface ships, since they’d have higher range on their guns than most surface ships’ missiles.

For that matter, it’s not really clear what use a modern destroyer is in most navies.
* They have little sustained capability against land targets. Sure, they could fire cruise missiles, but it’s cheaper and safer to do that from a plane.
* For most navies, the destroyer is already the largest ship, so there’s not much escort role to be had. Basically the modern destroyer basically is an AAW and ASW ship, just like it’s older predecessors, but its mission is to defend larger ships against air attacks and subs. But most navies don’t have larger ships. So why send the destroyer in the first place unless it’s defending a power projection ship?

Historically, they escorted convoys too, but there’s no threat anymore of mass submarine warfare. And no one really has any idea how modern ASW works. So you’re left with AAW. Like I said, most navies don’t have this mission. The Brits do, because they want to provide AAW cover to their carriers, but the reality is the history of AAW warfare since WWII is also almost entirely blank.
1. It’s unclear how many of these AAW systems actually work. The little evidence there is from the Falklands war wasn’t very encouraging. Until they gained air superiority, the Brits got hammered but Argentine planes and their AAW systems couldn’t stop the Exocet missiles the Argentines fired.
2. And really, very few Navys would operate away from any sort of air cover for extended amounts of time anyway, because the typical destroyer can’t care all that many missiles. One or two concerted attacks and the Destroyer will likely be out of missiles and a sitting duck.

Basically, I think the modern destroyer persists in most navies because it’s all most navies can afford. If navies could afford battleships, they’d be used and destroyers would be used to escort them.

Willitts February 19, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Battleships were rendered obsolete by aircraft carriers and submarines. Modern carriers would be vulnerable too if it weren’t for the remainder of the carrier group and its air wing protecting it. A battleship might survive with the protection of a carrier group, but its guns are nowhere nearly as effective in firepower or range as a carrier’s air wing and a destroyer’s Tomohawk missiles.

One US aircraft carrier has more aircraft than the air forces of most countries.

I’ve seen mixed opinions about whether a Harpoon would penetrate the armor belt of an Iowa class battleship, but it doesn’t have to. The missiles can render the ship combat ineffective by destroying the turrets and command centers. Certainly a destroyer’s torpedoes would take out a battleship. A Raptor from a carrier could drop a 1000 pound bomb onto a battleship deck from 50,000 ft. An F18 could drop a 17,000 pound bomb.

Missions have changed. Frigates and destroyers are more capable and less expensive to operate than a modern dreadnought would be.

One concept for future naval firepower is an unmanned stealth weapons ship.

F. Lynx Pardinus February 19, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Hey, it’s John Birmingham’s “Axis of Time” novels:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axis_of_Time

JWatts February 19, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Thanks for that link. Bought and delivered to my Kindle.

suntzuanime February 19, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Well, if you’re gonna have a pension fund, you may as well keep it well-armed.

Ricardo February 19, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Social Security is a very well armed pension fund… just try withholding your “contribution” and see what happens.

Thor February 19, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Ha ha, that is very funny.

Edward Burke February 19, 2013 at 3:45 pm

News of the diamond heist at the Brussels airport suggests Belgian airport security pensions may not be similarly funded . . . . in either case the Walloons seem not to be at fault.

Alex A. February 19, 2013 at 3:49 pm

It’s worth noting that the author cherry-picked defense categories…Britain doesn’t need a large standing army; today power projection is all about aircraft carriers and long-range aircraft. So in discussing the UK it’s notable that the author excluded Britain’s two brand new multibillion pound sterling aircraft carriers in the works, not to mention the accompanying purchases of the new F35 fighters and their existing stock of 100 Eurofighter Typhoons. Britain alone will still have as many aircraft carriers as China in 2020.

It’s totally legitimate to argue that the rest of Europe must step up defense spending to meet their own NATO commitments; although it may make sense for the US to be the plurality funder of Europe’s security blanket given US foreign policy goals and its status as the single largest treaty member, funding 75% is silly and probably unfair. The ‘blame’ falls mostly on Germany, the Scandinavian countries, and the smaller NATO members who collectively fall far, far short of paying their fair share of their own defense.

JWatts February 19, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Well to be fair the author did say:

“And yet Britain and France are commonly regarded as the only two European countries that still take defence seriously.”

So I think he would agree with your last sentence.

Plamus February 19, 2013 at 11:29 pm

“… Britain’s two brand new multibillion pound sterling aircraft carriers in the works, not to mention the accompanying purchases of the new F35 fighters…”

You mean these carriers (“Major costs savings are necessary because the Treasury budget for the carriers only covers the costs of building an empty shell – leaving no money for the aircraft to fly from them.”) and the F35B’s they hope to “borrow” from the US? Not meant as snark – your other points are very valid; I also may have missed the UK actually finding money to buy the aircraft – if so, please correct me.

WillS February 20, 2013 at 4:25 am

Quoting a more than 2 year old article from the Daily Mail does not help your case.

Plamus February 20, 2013 at 6:42 am

Quoting nothing at all does not help yours either, even if it were clear what your case is. But since you prefer your intellectual food predigested – here, is this better?

Urso February 20, 2013 at 11:14 am

I thought those carriers were going to be on a “time share” basis with the French. Or did they change the plans? That always sounded crazy to me; a whole host of Englishmen from Godwinson to Nelson rolling in their graves.

gwern February 19, 2013 at 3:58 pm

“Judge me by my size, do you?”

Ranking by such metrics leads to conclusions like ‘North Korea will take over Asia any time now’.

collin February 19, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Of course there begs a question for European nations. Who are they defending against? They don’t fight each anymore and colonial empires is a thing of the past. Maybe that Krugman alien will come down from the sky.

Begs the second question (from Matt Y.), hopefully the sequester cuts don’t hurt military too much that they can not respond to a Canadian or Mexican invasion.

The Anti-Gnostic February 19, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Begs the second question (from Matt Y.), hopefully the sequester cuts don’t hurt military too much that they can not respond to a Canadian or Mexican invasion.

The US military is not concerned with protecting the US homeland from invasion by foreign nationals. All of Mexico could walk north and nobody would resist. They did a good job for a while keeping Soviet Russians out of Western Europe and Chinese Communists out of Southeast Asia but our popular will for protecting the territorial integrity of other nations is fast dissipating. In retrospect, does anybody really care who runs Kuwait, I mean, other than the ruling clan of Kuwait?

Really, the US military is just a globalist institution to swat down foreign peasants who get too uppity, but they can’t even muster the will against illiterate Somalian pirates. In the apparently remote event of another meat-grinder war in Europe or Asia, I think the US will bow out. Obviously, the US military is way too big and lumbering for its shrinking raison d’etre.

Maurice de Sully February 19, 2013 at 8:38 pm

–does anybody really care who runs Kuwait, I mean, other than the ruling clan of Kuwait?–

Only people who participate in the world’s energy markets. Very few of them may actually care who runs Kuwait, but they will care deeply if the person running Kuwait does so to the detriment of said markets.

If Iran decided to shut down the Strait of Hormuz to shipping traffic, which UN official do you think would be powerful enough to get it back open? Or would we come face to face with the reality that for all of our love of “civilization,” its really the ability to focus unimaginable violence that is the West’s greatest achievement?

The Anti-Gnostic February 20, 2013 at 7:57 am

Then the market participants can purchase insurance. When Somalian pirates start imposing externalities, they can hire Blackwater to take them out. Or use another shipping lane.

So the US military exists to administer transnational commerce and the Department of Homeland Security exists to administer transnational labor movement. Sounds like free trade isn’t “free” after all but then nothing is. This could all be handled by contract.

ezra abrams February 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm

figures on military spending are here
SIPRI factsheet on military expenditure 2011.pdf (url below)
which you can download from the swedish organization sipri (ps – the document has some horrid formatting; i urge you to call sipri and complain)
any way, if you look at the table 1, two things jump out:
First, about 40% of world military spending is by the US
Second, spending by UK, France doesn’t seem out of line

http://www.sipri.org/research/armaments/milex/sipri-factsheet-on-military-expenditure-2011.pdf

Mat February 19, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Defence capability is not measured in platforms. Spending as a percentage of gdp is a useful broad measure of ‘seriousness’ as any modern force will spend significant portions of its budget on personnel and associated costs, although Belgium I think is an outlier here – I believe the UK and US are around the 50% mark by comparison.

For a much better view than mine try this…http://thinpinstripedline.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/the-united-kingdom-is-still-warrior.html

The whole blog is incredibly informative on UK defence matters in general and comes highly reccomended.

Go Kings, Go! February 19, 2013 at 5:05 pm

So we can start calling them the Malvinas?

Roy February 19, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Archduke Albrecht of Austria said that the day the Empire couldn’t beat Italy would be the day the Empire was finished. That finally happened at the end of October 1918, a week later and the Austrians were abandoning Prague. I think the day the UK loses to Argentina will be the day Tyler posts he can’t understand the Cornish desire for Independence.

Richard February 19, 2013 at 9:14 pm

European military spending has declined after the end of the Soviet Union because European countries see no states who threaten their security by invasion. The U.S. needs to maintain a large defence budget because most of the world that is not the U.S. hate them.

JKB February 20, 2013 at 11:49 am

The Soviet Union has gone but Russia remains. The Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe was just a continuation of the long historical Russian imperative to create a buffer given the lack of natural defensive borders in Eurasia.

Or at least that is the view I’m picking up from reading Robert Kaplan’s ‘The Revenge of Geography’. It puts things is a good perspective and highlights that regardless of the transitory politics, the geography remains. He does, however, speculate that there is less of a chance of an attempt to build a Russian empire by military action when Russia controls the valves that feed Europe their energy. But then he also speculated that European-like sensibilities would be expanding to the shores of the southern Mediterranean. Would it be wrong to point out the increasing spending by Russia on its military in recent years?

ChrisA February 20, 2013 at 12:17 am

As others have noted, surely this is a story about improving productivity in defense capability, rather than a degradation in capability in UK and French warefare systems. In industrial manufacture you see the cost of an individual manufacturing machine increase over time while the total number of manufacturing machines falls. Trained personnel required per machine generally increase. If you just look at these tendencies you would think that manufacturing is in a bad shape – but that’s not really a good set of metrics. Of course the reason that the new machines are being introduced is that they can produce more than the previous generation. The fact that they cost more or take more people to operate per machine is irrelevant, what matter is the cost per unit of production. A great example of this is modern looms, producing carpets.

Hoover February 20, 2013 at 2:24 am

You can spend any amount on your armed forces, but if you don’t use them they’ll be ineffective (this is not a demand that we go to war).

An army is a learning organisation. The US army wasn’t that good at dealing with urban uprisings until Fallujah. The British Army thought it knew everything about counterinsurgency (based on Malaya), but has had to learn new lessons in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Experience, and the capacity to alter doctrine, counts for so much. The Royal Navy’s type-45 destroyers are amazing machines, but they will only be really effective with experience in war. And they’re part of a reconfiguration that’s still happening: the change from Atlantic counter submarine warfare to air defence.

Two new aircraft carriers will indeed be delivered to the RN in a few years. Meanwhile, sailors come and go, strategists retire, and the navy will have to learn how to use them.

The UK often goes to war. Dollar for dollar, that alone makes it more effective than other armed forces that don’t often go to war.

JWatts February 20, 2013 at 11:36 am

+3, Excellent post.

Matt February 20, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Do you really want to try and measure these things by absolute numbers of these particular kinds of military units?

If so, please introduce relevant comparison for the US and China also. How’s the peace dividend working out for you?

Tony February 20, 2013 at 12:47 pm

It’s also worth considering that some of the Royal Navy’s submarines are nuclear powered and invulnerable to most other navies. After HMS Conqueror sank ARA General Belgrano in 1982 the remainder of Argentine navy stayed in port. One submarine neutralised an entire navy.

As for Pax Americana I’m afraid that it’s your turn. Britain maintained Pax Britannica for almost a century until two world wars bankrupted the country.

The Anti-Gnostic February 20, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Did it ever occur to you that you’ve had two world wars because of the “Pax Britannica?”

So … a century of imperial bleeding, two world wars, and Germany is the dominant power on the Continent and “Britain” will probably be gone in two generations.

Tony February 20, 2013 at 2:40 pm

I’m not sure that I understand the causal connection between Pax Britannica and the outbreak of WW1. Please explain. Besides, my point was that Britain maintained world peace (more or less) for almost a century and tried to play its part for another 40 years. You’re complaining after only 70 years.

I doubt that it’ll take as long as two generations for Britain to cease being political entity. The Scots are voting on independence next year. Roll on the restored English parliament.

As for “…you’ve had two world wars”. I know that you guys arrived late but you were involved.

The Anti-Gnostic February 20, 2013 at 4:03 pm

“Pax Brittanica” was just Britain and France divvying the globe up between them and triangulating against rival Germany. Hardly surprising that this culminated in WWI. What is surprising is that after two world wars, the Allies still haven’t dislodged Germany as the Continent’s heavyweight. The US has never been a monarchy or empire, so I’m not sure why it’s up to us to keep Europeans and Middle Easterners from slaughtering each other.

The “restored English parliament” in a rump Britain will be a plurality of Hindu, Pakistani, Arab, African and Caribbean. The English will emigrate to their former colonies.

Tony February 20, 2013 at 7:35 pm

Odd to think that Pax Britannica was the victor of Waterloo triangulating with the loser at Waterloo against a political entity that would not exist for another half century. I thought that it was using the world’s largest navy to support free trade, and fighting lots of small wars to prevent them becoming big ones.

Pax Americana supports your ability to import raw materials on favourable terms, export products and services freely and invest overseas. It ensures that the dominant model for developing countries is the Washington consensus and not the Beijing consensus. It means that the US can enforce international treaties that suit its interests (TRIPS) and ignore those that do not (Kyoto, ICC).

As for the English emigrating en masse – have you any idea how difficult it is to emigrate into Australia, Canada or New Zealand? Most Brits are ineligible.

The Anti-Gnostic February 21, 2013 at 8:27 am

I thought that it was using the world’s largest navy to support free trade, and fighting lots of small wars to prevent them becoming big ones.

So how did that work out for you? Broke, socialist and populated by your enemies. Oh, and great job drawing those borders up in the Middle East. That’s probably where WWIII starts.

Guilhem February 22, 2013 at 2:49 am

For those numbers to make any sense, one would need to compare them to the evolution of the navies of the US and USSR/Russia on the same period: may I recall everyone here that the end of the Cold War happened between 1970 and now.
Difference in difference, people…

GOOGLE March 5, 2013 at 7:53 pm

New daily successes are already extra. GOOGLE http://www.google.com

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