U.K. strategic defence

The Centre for Military and Strategic Studies hosted yet another noteworthy speaker when Brigadier Chris Day, the Defence and Military Advisor to the British High Commission to Canada, visited the University of Calgary last week to discuss the past, present and future of strategic defence in the United Kingdom.

With a wealth of experience at several levels in the British military, Day has been able to observe U.K. security from a number of different angles. According to Day, the priorities of the British military begin with defending Britain and its overseas territories; followed by its contributions to global security; then regional issues in Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East; and finally its international defence commitments and responsibilities.

British involvement in international organizations is a key factor in its own security.

“For the U.K., membership in NATO is absolutely central to our defence,” Day emphasized.

Britain is closely linked to Canada militarily , through both NATO and the ABCA (America, Britain, Canada, Australia), an alliance of “like-minded nations who have the advantage of a common language” formed just after World War II. ABCA was recently involved in the military intervention in East Timor.

Day continued to break down the British defence strategy.

“The current defence strategy is to maintain forces structured, manned and trained for high-intensity warfare (but configurable for other operations), to use guarded readiness and flexibility to respond to emergency situations; and to ensure that permanently committed forces be kept at a realistic minimum.”

According to Day, the British military has undergone a steady restructuring since 1997, when British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Labour Party took power. A strategic defence review was produced in 1998, and a continual analysis occurred between 1998 and 2001, as the U.K. took part in military initiatives in Kosovo, Macedonia and Sierra Leone. Observing the quick responses of their American counterparts, the British military aspired to the same capability.

“At the flick of a finger, U.S. forces were going for rapid intervention,” said Day. “The U.K. was unable to do the same.”

On September 11, 2001, the British military, as with most such organizations in the Western world, had to reassess their abilities and goals. The Ministry of Defence determined a strategic response to similar situations was required.

“Out of that came a new aim,” said Day. “To eliminate international terrorism as a force for change in international affairs.”

In terms of homeland security, Britain has a history of bloody conflict.

“We have a long experience of dealing with terrorism on our own soil,” he said, referring to the U.K.’s lengthy conflict with the Irish Republican Army.

A defence budget increase was also in the works for Britain:

£3.5 million over the next three years, enough to pay for all the changes in the British defence strategy.

Day acknowledged the Canadian contribution to U.K. defence, most notably the use by British forces of Canadian Forces Base Suffield; and offered some praise for the Canadian military in light of their own budget cuts.

“[Canadian] forces are marvelous. They’ve been through a rough ten years,” he said. “It’s hard to make progress when you haven’t got much room to maneuver.”

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