Today’s British papers are filled with news of a damning report on the nation’s declining defense capabilities, issued by a bipartisan committee of the House of Commons. As the headline in the Daily Mail puts it: “Facing our Waterloo: Swingeing cuts will put defence of the realm at risk, warn MPs.” (“Swingeing cuts” means “punishing cuts.”) For an account in something closer to American English, try Reuters. Here’s an op-ed from the Telegraph on Britain’s defense crisis that’s well worth a read. Note that even the Labor party’s shadow defense secretary is holding this bipartisan report against the current government. That’s the equivalent of a powerful Democratic senator hitting a Republican president for hollowing out America’s Pentagon budget.
Britain’s sagging military capabilities have been exposed by its lack of capacity in Libya. That’s why this report is having such an impact. Agree of disagree with the Libyan intervention (I think it was a mistake, but should have been fought more aggressively once undertaken), what is emerging as the defeat of NATO at the hands of Qaddafi is a severe blow to the credibility of the West’s defenses. That is going to embolden the West’s foes, costing us more money, trouble, and blood in the future.
America needs to keep Britain’s military crisis in mind as we head toward our own showdown over defense cuts. I’m for a new foreign policy, one that downplays democratizing and humanitarian interventions. But the truth is, the failed Arab Spring means we’re facing greater danger now, not less. Cutting capacity is no way to retool foreign policy. We need to rethink our policy, while retaining our strength for what is swiftly becoming a more dangerous world. Britain has cut itself into a weakness that politicians on all parts of the spectrum now regret. Will we make the same mistake?