March 15th 2014

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EDITORIAL: Putin's power-grab in Ukraine

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Cabinet bid to 'set Qantas free' in global marketplace

SOUTH AUSTRALIAN STATE ELECTION: Labor fracturing badly after 12 years in power

TASMANIAN STATE ELECTION: The Ides of March for Labor's Lara Giddings?

CORRECTION: Victorian Women's Trust requests correction to News Weekly article

ECONOMIC AGENDA: Abbott government needs an economic agenda

GEOPOLITICS: An emerging mega-zone of conflict

DEFENCE: U.S. and Britain both face defence catastrophes

EASTERN EUROPE: The historical roots of Ukraine's agony

MARRIAGE AND FAMILY: Same-sex 'marriage' and its consequences

LIFE ISSUES: Abortion, depression and suicide

MEDIA: The ABC and its serpent's egg, Radio Triple J

CULTURE: Standing up for day-dreaming

BOOK REVIEW Socialist or Tory anarchist?

BOOK REVIEW The man of God who turned to crime

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U.S. and Britain both face defence catastrophes

by Hal G.P. Colebatch

News Weekly, March 15, 2014

More huge cuts have been announced for the United States armed forces without any analysis of the threats the nation faces.

The A-10 attack aircraft, which in the past proved themselves invaluable for ground support, are due to go, along with the U2 reconnaissance aircraft, and a host of soldiers and marines.

U.S. Secretary of Defense

Chuck Hagel. 

The U.S. Navy currently cannot afford to refuel one of its latest Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft-carriers, resulting in it — and the rest of its battle group — being stuck in port for the foreseeable future. This is matched with cutting half of the navy’s cruiser force.

The armed forces are to be shrunk to their lowest level since 1940.

President Barack Obama’s “Pacific Shift”, aimed to protect Japan, Taiwan and the rest of the Pacific Rim nations, is now officially a nullity. So is his promise to replace the ground-based missile-defence, that George W. Bush promised Poland, with a sea-based system.

Military pay raises will be capped at 1 per cent for the second straight year. Pay won’t actually be reduced, but some allowances will be, such as the housing allowance, which is the reason military families can sometimes live off-base when on-base housing isn’t available.

Existing pay rates are far less than civilian bureaucrats make, without the latter having to cope with all the disruptions service life imposes on military families and without being required to risk their lives in combat.

The Obama administration proposes army cuts from 520,000 to 440,000 and the marines to be cut from 190,000 to 182,000. So a total of 88,000 soldiers and marines will lose their jobs — through attrition and outright firing — and not be replaced.

However, there are no plans to reduce the vast population of bureaucrats, who number about 2,723,000. (There are about 1,400,000 people in uniform).

Jed Babbin, former Deputy Undersecretary of Defence in the George H.W. Bush administration, wrote: “But for every $100,000 bureaucrat fired, you could keep 1.4 mid-rank sergeants. And I’ll guarantee that 0.4 sergeants are a lot more valuable and productive than 4.0 expensive bureaucrats” (American Spectator, February 26, 2014).

Commentator Tom Rogan writes: “But if the last ten years of war have taught us one thing with certainty, it’s that we can’t make do without a significant ground forces capability. Neglected of troop levels, in Afghanistan and Iraq, the result was a relentless deployment schedule — think fifteen months in Iraq, a year at home, and then twelve months in Afghanistan.

“For some, that routine brought a terrible dividend.…

“[Defense Secretary] Hagel … suggests that the Army’s new force levels will enable America to simultaneously fight one major war and support another military action somewhere else. Unfortunately, however, his claim relies upon one precarious assumption. The Defense Secretary assumes that any future military action would be short in duration — Kuwait 1991 versus Iraq 2003.

“That’s a risk too far.

“Imagine, for example, that the Pakistani government collapsed. That terrorists then seized access to elements of Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile. Such a situation would demand a major intervention — to secure those weapons and ensure Pakistan’s transition back to a semblance of peaceful stability. Imagine if North Korea then decided to take advantage of the situation by testing American resolve with an incursion into South Korea. That a skirmish then led to full-scale war. Faced with these joined catastrophes — unlikely but eminently possible — America would stand on the precipice of defeat.

“And those are just two hypotheticals.

“The President’s budgetary protection for Special Forces pretends that the bases are covered. The Administration seems to believe that Special Forces operators offer a magic bullet for the unknown crisis situations America may face — a comparatively low cost expenditure for a grand strategic effect. And while it’s true that Special Forces are critical to the U.S. defense strategy, their utility is inherently limited. They lack the numbers necessary to seize territory and overcome enemy divisions.

“Still, this budget isn’t just badly orientated, it’s also delusional. Noting that the world was undergoing ‘unprecedented change’, Defense Secretary Hagel nevertheless claimed that this budget would ‘manage these anticipated risks’.

“That latter comment likely had Clausewitz turning over in his grave. Of course judgments can be made about anticipated threats. But what about unanticipated threats?

Rogan concludes: “Yet for all its weaknesses, the real deficit of this budget is found in its message to the world. Already cognisant of our hesitancy, America’s adversaries now have another reason to smile. With these cuts, Obama isn’t simply signalling his disinterest in facing down America’s adversaries, he’s showing his disregard for the cornerstone of American power — its consistency. This budget thus plays to a most dangerous presumption — that America is in decline and lacks the resolve to lead in the 21st century” (American Spectator, February 25, 2014).

Former Vice-President Dick Chaney described the cuts as “absolutely dangerous” and “just devastating”.

“I have not been a strong supporter of Barack Obama. But this really is over the top. It does enormous long-term damage to our military,” Cheney told Fox News. “They act as though it is like highway spending and you can turn it on and off. The fact of the matter is he is having a huge impact on the ability of future presidents to deal with future crises that are bound to arise.”

Cheney said believes the cuts reflect President Obama’s beliefs and priorities. “He would much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops” (Fox News, February 25, 2014).

It is impossible to know whether Obama believes a militarily weaker and humble America will be less “provocative”, or if he is weakening it out of hatred for its present culture and institutions and its role of flagship of the West. Certainly it can be said he shows no love for its culture and institutions.

Meanwhile in Britain the number of army reservists grew by only 60 in the last quarter of 2013, despite a government drive to recruit 11,000 part-time soldiers by the end of year, to compensate for the slashing of the regular forces from 102,000 to 82,000.

The minuscule increase followed a year in which the reserve actually shrank and added to concerns that the Ministry of Defence will struggle with targets to replace 20,000 regular soldiers with a boosted reserve of 30,000.

Given the complexity of modern equipment and the long training now required, the extra number of reservists — even if they were attained — would not begin to equal the loss of 20,000 regulars.

Around 1,400 soldiers, including hundreds of Gurkhas, will be made redundant later this year, the Ministry of Defence is expected to announce. This is a scurvy return for the Gurkhas’ long record of gallantry and loyalty, especially given the lack of social security in their native Nepal.

Up to 70 RAF personnel will also lose their jobs in the fourth round of job cuts to sweep the Britain’s armed forces. The island now has a bathtub navy, with just 19 surface combatants — smaller than that of France.

Never mind the lowest strength since 1940, which is causing outrage and despair in the UK’s armed forces — these cuts will leave the British regular army its smallest since the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.

Hal G.P. Colebatch, PhD, is a Perth author and lawyer. 

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