By Maximilian Clarke
As defence cuts take effect, the UK would struggle to commit to military action as seen in Libya, whilst NATO as a whole is overly reliant on US command and control facilities.
This is the conclusion of a Commons Select Committee report into the UK’s military capabilities, published today.
"We consider that the Libya operation raises important questions as to the extent of the United Kingdom's national contingent capability,” commented Rt Hon James Arbuthnot MP, Committee Chair. “The Government needs to review our capacity to respond to concurrent threats. This work should be conducted as a matter of urgency before the next Strategic Defence and Security Review."
The report notes the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review aim that the UK would be more selective in its deployment of UK Armed Forces and would do so where there was a "clear strategic aim...and a viable exit strategy". There is, however, a disconnect between this assertion and the admission of the Minister for the Armed Forces that there is a limit to the number of engagements that can be undertaken where the exit strategy is known with complete clarity.
For the time being, there will continue to be a heavy reliance on US command and control functions for future NATO operations. Whilst accepting the current economic climate and its implications for defence capabilities, the Committee is also concerned that future NATO operations will not be possible if the US is not willing or able to provide capabilities such as unmanned aerial vehicles, intelligence and refuelling aircraft. It should be a priority for NATO to examine this over-reliance on US capabilities and assets. This challenge will be heightened by the US stated intention to shift its military, geographic and strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region.
"The mission in Libya was successful in discharging the UN mandate,” Arbuthnot added. “The real test is whether the success of this mission was a one-off or whether the lessons it has highlighted mean that future such missions can be successfully undertaken, whilst maintaining the UK's capability to protect its interests elsewhere."
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