UK vows to ‘guarantee security’ of Falklands, Gibraltar

Britain's defence secretary lays down commitments for key pieces of real estate, but if the balloon went up, could he deliver?

Great Britain’s Conservatives are having one of their regular confabs over on the other side of the pond, and it’s worth perusing the remarks of Defence Secretary Liam Fox. Although from our American perspective, the British military situation looks as thin as it’s ever been, Fox urged his party colleagues that if they stick it out and see it through, the U.K. will get to the other side of today’s bathtub with forces that were worth the struggle.

Here was one key excerpt from the full text of Fox’s speech:

[E]ven after the MoD’s contribution to deficit reduction we still have the fourth largest defence budget in the world and we will continue to be one of only five countries (out of 28) in NATO meeting our 2% GDP obligation. By the end of the decade the Royal Navy will not only have its world beating Type-45 destroyers and seven cutting edge Astute Class submarines but a step change in carrier capability that will be in service for 50 years.

The RAF will have the Joint Strike Fighter and battle tested Typhoons and our aging Hercules and Tri-Star fleets will be replaced by the state of the art A400M and Voyager transport and tanker aircraft. We are spending over £1 billion for new Chinook helicopters. Unlike the previous government, we are actually funding and delivering on the promise of more helicopters for our troops.

And this will support a remodeled and properly equipped army. Few parts of our Armed Forces were more neglected by Labour than our Reserves. That is why we will commit more than £1.8 billion over ten years to revolutionise our Reserve Forces— with the aim of increasing the size of the TA by 50%. This party will never allow our Reserves to reach such a sorry state ever again.

And that’s not all. Resources for our world renowned Special Forces are increasing, we are investing over £600m in cyber security, we are setting up a new four-star Joint Forces Command, and we are establishing the first ever UAV squadron in the RAF. Finally, we will maintain and renew our continuous at sea, submarine launched, nuclear deterrent based on the Trident missile. We cannot and will not take a chance on the security of future generations.

Interesting stuff — despite the economic problems plaguing everyone these days in the Western world, Fox argues that there’s a light at the end of the British tunnel, and that (so long as voters keep supporting the Conservatives) the U.K. will ultimately be stronger.

And here’s something else he said: It’s probably just party boilerplate, the way our politicians have to check boxes about “working families” and “creating jobs,” but it’s interesting in the context of what Fox just talked about:

And with the focus on Afghanistan and Libya let’s not forget the Falklands. Next year is the 30th anniversary of the victory for self-determination in the Falklands: A victory made possible by the resolve another Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. And we will continue to guarantee the security of the Falklands. However, this is not the 1980’s. We are now working towards healthier relations with the Argentinians. But one thing is unchanged; for as long as the people of the Falklands choose to, they are, and will always be, British.

And let’s also be clear about Gibraltar. Gibraltar has had a strategic importance to the UK for 300 years. It remains an important naval base and there can be no question over its sovereignty.

Rah rah rah, Britannia Rules the Waves, etc — and yet Fox does not seem to address the apparent incongruity in these two parts. He is implicitly acknowledging the reality that today’s British forces are not in an optimal posture — the U.K., for example, has just one carrier in a semi-ready state, with no fast jets for it to fly — and yet is laying down old-fashioned, hard-power commitments for key patches of British real estate.

Fortunately for everyone, war doesn’t seem likely in either case. But if, as many people believe, the hard-power decline of U.K. and Europe could presage what might happen to the U.S., it’s a telling example of a policymaker writing a check that his armed services may not be able to cash.