Monday, September 27, 2010

The British aren't coming

There is a certain tightness to the great anglophone alliance — the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and, to a lesser extent, New Zealand, and Ireland have for at least a century (usually) been as close as lips and teeth. Great Britain in particular could be counted on for support in military operations in places like Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

But there are new concerns that with a planned ten-percent slash in its military budget, the UK may no longer be America's go-to gopher in the future.

From the New York Times:
Plans by the British government to make significant cuts in defense spending have spurred concerns among American military experts about Britain’s ability to carry out its role as the United States’ most dependable ally.

A wrenching government spending review has pitted Britain’s army against its navy, spawned a series of leaks to the British media and raised the question of whether the military that emerges from the budget cuts — expected to be 10 percent to 20 percent of current outlays — will be a strategically agile force that can join the United States on major combat operations.

American and British officials said that they did not expect any cutbacks to curtail Britain’s capabilities to fight in Afghanistan over the next five years. But some American military experts question whether the British military will be capable of undertaking future ground operations that are as demanding as those in Afghanistan or to carry out simultaneous operations, including risky humanitarian missions, effectively.

Frankly, I see this as an excellent opportunity for South Korea to step in and take over some of the role that the British have played. Like the US, South Korea is a country that depends on trade, and it would behoove the ROK government to play a more prominent role in, say, making sure sea lanes from the Arabian Peninsula through the Strait of Malacca and on to the East Sea (aka Sea of Japan), supporting political stability in Afghanistan, providing humanitarian aid in Haiti, etc.

My position has always been that the Pax Americana is now and for the foreseeable future necessary for peace and stability in Northeast Asia, but that does not mean that the ROK-US alliance should flow one way. While the USFK presence on the Peninsula is a near guarantee of South Korea's territorial integrity, one that would be prohibitively cost-prohibitive for South Korea to supply on its own (as it would cost far more than the added cost to the US of stationing USFK in Korea), it frees up the South Korean military to provide support services outside the Peninsula that would go a long way toward playing a more equal role in the partnership.

Of course, we've been here before. South Korea was far and away the US's biggest ally during the Vietnam War (after South Vietnam, I guess), and the sequestered contingent of ROK soldiers in Iraq made it the third largest force outside of the US and the UK. That would certainly suggest South Korea should make sure it carefully picks and chooses which future battles to fight, and it makes the regular patrolling of sea lanes and being a go-to source for humanitarian missions all the more appealing as a military supporting role.


I dare say that Japan, too, should work with Seoul and Washington to find ways for the three to strengthen their military relationship (preferably while resolving their outstanding territorial disputes). Japan is effectively required to stay under the US security umbrella, and any moves toward expanding its military role might make the neighbors very nervous, but partnered activities with South Korea's military could go a long way toward relieving such anxieties while also providing useful service that Japan itself benefits from. Were Taiwan to do this, though, it could trigger a backlash from China that would cause far more problems than its worth.

Of course, I'm not suggesting that the UK is out of the picture. But it would behoove allies like South Korea to fill whatever vacuum the British military cuts create, to show how much they value the alliance and the stability it brings.


  1. If the Argentinian junta had just waited a few more years to invade the Falklands, the British would have scrapped their aircraft carriers, according to plan, I've heard. Then they wouldn't have been able to fight the Falklands War at all.

  2. Viva las Islas Malvinas!

    Geez, I hope the Argentinians don't take advantage of this and try all over again. And if they did, I wonder if it will precipitate a change of heart by the cost-cutting Brits.

  3. Britain bankrupted themselves by getting involved in all those wars with the US. I don't think South Korea would want to join that club.

  4. I read this book, written by admiral in charge of the UK Naval Force sent down to take the islands back.

    It wasn't years. If Argentina waited just a few months, UK would've been in no position to strike back. In fact if any one of the 2 carriers sent down had been damaged, the whole operation was to be called off.


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