Great Britain, doing the best it can to regain its past influence in the international arena, is trying to showcase how active it is in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries. However, besides the UN Security Council, Britain is not actually included in any of the negotiation mechanisms for resolving conflicts in the world’s eastern regions, including the Middle East. But this does not prevent it from trying to “push its agenda”, which tends to imitate and lend support to American policy, something for which the British population has repeatedly criticized its government.
The United Kingdom has always preferred promoting the interests of its own political elite, rather than following the will of the people, which also makes the British approach similar to the American one. This kind of approach has persisted for many years, and after the discovery of huge oil and gas reserves, and other resources, in the Middle East it finally became firmly entrenched in British policy. It was the presence of the necessary natural and other kinds of resources on the territory of countries that did not belong to it that pushed Britain, along with the United States, to unleash sociopolitical conflicts in many countries using, among other things, the tactics of “color revolutions” and armed interventions.
The United Kingdom has sold, and continues to sell, arms to most countries in the world’s eastern regions, and has become one of the largest arms exporters, ranking sixth in the world. Aviation technology and the munitions for that account for about 50% of all British arms exports. The main area of focus for these arms exports has become the Middle East – a region in which military operations are constantly taking place and, accordingly, there is always a need for weapons shipments. And this is where Saudi Arabia has long been the main buyer of its weapons. Along with that, back in the summer of 2019, a British court of appeals ruled that is was a violation of the country’s laws to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia because of the war in Yemen, and ordered the government to stop issuing new export permits, including in a multibillion-dollar deal involving the supply of 48 Typhoon fighters. However, a year later, the UK government announced that it would resume issuing licenses for the export of arms to Saudi Arabia since, allegedly, “the likelihood of a violation of international humanitarian law being committed owing to the use of British weapons in Yemen is minimal”.
At present, Britain is implementing far-reaching military reform, and the attitude toward that is quite equivocal, even among the British themselves. In November 2010, Britain published a new national security strategy – “A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty”, which elaborates the main prospective threats that the country will face in the period from 2020-2030. The threats that take first place that it outlines are international terrorism, cyber attacks, national-level catastrophes, natural disasters, pandemics, and crises in international relations. The main regions in which the use of British military force is being deliberated is a wide swath of countries that span from West Africa to Southeast Asia.
Underpinned by this national security strategy, two fundamental documents were developed, and these became the cornerstone for subsequently developing the United Kingdom’s military capabilities: “On Strategic Defense and Security”, and the plan to restructure the British Army “Army 2020 Refine”.
Recently, however, in the British media more and more reports began to appear about the very deplorable current state of the British Armed Forces. The press points to a lack of funding and reductions in the number of troops as the reason for the decline experienced by the Armed Forces whose numbers were halved after the reforms of 2010 that were put in place by then-Prime Minister David Cameron. At the same time, the Daily Mail and other British publications note that right now the Army cannot even cope with its duties in NATO, let alone conduct operations in other countries. Today, writes the Daily Mail, they want to use British soldiers as “cannon fodder”, as evidenced by the decision made a couple of years ago to deploy British troops (800 people) and Challenger tanks at a base in Estonia: in the event an attack occurs, they will simply “be sacrificed”.
The state of its military equipment also leaves much to be desired, which has been repeatedly substantiated following military exercises in the United States. Historian Paul Kennedy of Yale University, in an interview with Asia Times, expressed concern about the current strength of the British Navy, despite the fact that the ships preparing to join the fleet will be much more powerful than older ones. Iain Ballantyne, the editor-in-chief of the naval magazine Warships International Fleet Review, admits that the role now played by the British Navy in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific is much more modest than in bygone eras. In the actions it takes on the high seas, Britain is highly dependent on its allies, and cooperation with them permits it “to make up for the lack of combat units and resources in Britain itself,” says Ballantyne.
However, not only have the cuts in funding had a lamentable effect on the current state of the British Armed Forces, but so has the fraud committed by its commanding officers. The Times reports that due to machinations on the part of officers and sailors, the British Ministry of Defense winds up short of 60 million GBP annually. Vivienne Buck, the Chief Of Military Police Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, delivered that warning, underscoring that the fraud not only undermines prestige and discipline for the Armed Forces, but in some cases poses a direct threat to the security of the United Kingdom.
In these conditions, the British are naturally surprised by the active efforts put forth by the United Kingdom’s current political elite to allocate funding to modernize the Ukrainian Navy, rather than using public funds to help improve their own Armed Forces. It should be reiterated that in early October, following a visit to London made by the President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelenskiy, Britain offered Kiev a loan of 1.25 billion pounds to bolster cooperation in areas of defense and military technology, and specifically to build eight missile cutters. However, it turned out this means a manifestly outdated technology that is not able to stand up to modern weapons. According to Ukrainian media reports, the hull itself was developed back in 1992 for the Qatari Emiri Navy, and thus Ukraine is getting technology from 30 years ago, prompting the country to see the very dubious nature of this agreement that it signed with London.
One example of another very shady deal involving the sale of weapons by Britain to “eastern regions” is when the Latvian National Armed Forces ultimately received all 123 Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) armored fighting vehicles, which were purchased following a 2014 agreement. According to the Latvian news agency LETA, seven of them were delivered without even having been overhauled. CVR (T) vehicles are designed to mechanize an infantry brigade with the ground forces of the Latvian Armed Forces, and the first ones were delivered to Latvia in the fall of 2015 – and before being delivered they underwent overhaul work. At the same time, Andrejs Elksniņš, the Latvian Seimas deputy from the opposition party “Consent”, in 2016 accused government authorities of purchasing used British armored fighting vehicles for the same amount that could have purchased American Abrams tanks. Back then the amount of this contract was disclosed – 249.5 million Euro – although in 2014 the British government officially announced that this contract was estimated to be 39.4 million GBP (48.1 million Euro at the exchange rate at the time), which included the overhaul and upgrading work on these armored vehicles. As Elksniņš wrote on his Facebook page, the funds that Latvia spent on the purchase of old British CVR (T) armored fighting vehicles could have sufficed for Latvia to construct its own tank plant. Britain itself has decided not to use the armored vehicles from the 1960s that it sold to Latvia starting in 2020, but to provide its army with more modern technology.
Against this backdrop, the catastrophic fall in the prestige enjoyed by Britain and its Army – and not only within the United Kingdom itself, but also beyond its borders – should hardly come as a surprise. Moreover, it is not the “propaganda of the United Kingdom’s opponents” that is at fault here, but the policy espoused by today’s military and political elite in Great Britain.
Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.