The incredible shrinking British military

You know, there once was a time in the not too distant past when the British military defended civilization against a genocidal German regime that appeared intent on rampaging across much of the planet. Now, it looks as if it will be reduced to a shadow of its former self: Proposed cuts would slice the Royal Air Force to levels not seen since World War I, while the Army could see reductions of as much as 40 percent of its forces.

Some observers suggest that these selectively-leaked numbers are merely posturing -- the military is airing a doomsday scenario in order to rally support for scaling back the cuts. That may be true, but the reality of serious reductions to the Britain's armed forces is here to stay. The government's budget, weakened further by a persistent economic crisis, simply can't support the present size of the British military.

Critics of the size of the U.S. defense budget will no doubt look to Britain for tips regarding how they can reverse the growth in military spending. I'm not sure, however, that they are going to find anything useful. If we take Britain as a model, the keys to reversing defense spending appear to be, in order of importance: Have an unsustainable budget deficit that cannot be managed any other way, find another global superpower to police the world for you, and transform the region of the world where your interests lie into one of peace and stability. The United States doesn't look likely to fulfill any of those requirements in the short-term -- though, with the capabilities of one of its most important allies looking to be slashed, its job is only about to get tougher.



U.S. teen will visit Kim Jong-Il to pitch DMZ "peace forest"

File this under "wonderfully weird": A Korean-American teenager will fly to Pyongyang this week so that he can ask Kim Jong-Il whether he'd consider planting a forest in North Korea's backyard -- and by "backyard," of course, we mean the 2.5-mile-wide demilitarized zone that happens to be filled with over a million landmines. From the AP:

Jonathan Lee, who was born in South Korea and lives in the U.S. state of Mississippi, is scheduled to fly to Pyongyang on Thursday from Beijing with his parents, the family told The Associated Press. They said North Korean officials in Beijing gave them visas Wednesday night.

Jonathan said he expects to meet with North Korean officials and will propose the children's peace forest, 'one in which fruit and chestnut trees would be planted and where children can play.'

Before you laugh, consider this: since the Korean armistice, nature has all but reclaimed the DMZ. The area is now filled with thousands of rare plants and animals, even as stone-eyed guards on either side of the preserve continue to glare at one another. Could adding a few more trees between them really be so hard? (Then again, one might wonder how symbolic those trees would seem when set against the backdrop of ... uh, other trees. But I digress.) Jonathan's even got an ally in Ted Turner, the media mogul who in 2005 called for turning the DMZ into a peace park and a U.N. World Heritage Site. While the idea of children frolicking in no-man's land sounds a little far-fetched -- think of the bears and wildcats if landmines don't do it for you -- the DMZ could always use a little more love.

The only irony is that should the Korean war ever become hot again, Jonathan's peace forest would likely be the first thing to go.

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images