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Britain to have smallest Army since Napoleonic Wars

British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed in a statement to parliament today that the British Army will be slashed by 20,000 troops over the next decade as part of a new strategic plan called Army 2020. Nearly one-fifth of standing forces will be relieved of their duties as 17 major units are culled and many others shrunk in the effort to limit the army's force numbers to 82,000, its lowest level since the Napoleonic Wars.

In a video interview with the Telegraph, Hammond cited a "black hole in the defense budget" and a need for the military to contribute to "the wider package of fiscal correction." Calling Army 2020 "an army designed package to create an army fit for the future," Hammond called for a reorientation of British security policy as the country withdraws from its active combat role in Afghanistan. 

"It will be one of the most effective armies in the world, best of its class supported by a defense budget that is still going to be above the four or five largest in the world," Hammond predicted, declaring that increased integration of reserve forces and heavier use of private contractors would produce an army that was "more agile...able to do all the tasks set out for it in the strategic defense and security review."

Others, however, disagree. In the days' leading up to the predicted announcement, several high ranking military officers warned that the cuts were "not a  sensible military option" and called for a reconsideration of the Army 2020 plan. Labour Shadow Defense Secretary Jim Murphy responded immediately to Hammond's statement, deriding the speech as "rightly long on detail but totally short of strategic context." Murphy elaborated in a statement to Sky News, warning: "You can't make cuts in the British army of this depth and at this speed without it having an impact on our ability to project power, our influence in the world and the ability of the British army to be deployed on a sustainable basis at points in the future...This isn't without cost and without consequence."

As Passport reported last May, a general trend of European demilitarization has begun despite Asia's dramatic defense build up. Coupled with the United State's pivot towards the Pacific and NATO's increasing reliance on European forces, the announcement highlight's Stephen M. Walt's question last week: "Are the EU member states serious about being in the security and defense business at all?"

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images

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Who should worry about SyriaLeaks?

WikiLeaks has struck again. The self-professed whistleblower site announced this morning that it would release a whopping 2.4 million emails from Syrian political figures, ministries, and the companies with which they interacted. Founder Julian Assange promised that the document dump would prove “embarrassing to Syria, but... also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents.”

WikiLeaks is  working with a few select newspapers to get the news out, and will release the entire trove gradually on its website. At the time of this writing, only 25 emails have been released -- but here’s a look at who may be affected by the release.

Syrians on the fence: This is the most important category. Syria, by President Bashar al-Assad’s own admission, is in a “state of war” -- and any instances of Syrian officials opening channels with rebels, or vice versa, could get someone killed.

WikiLeaks’ record of protecting sources is already checkered: It was unable to prevent the release of unredacted versions of the 250,000 State Department cables it released as part of “Cablegate,” potentially endangering those named in the memos. The stakes are even higher in Syria -- here’s hoping WikiLeaks does the right thing and protects those mentioned in these emails.

Engagement-happy Western officials: It may seem like an eternity ago, but it was only a few short years back that U.S. officials such as then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. John Kerry were making the journey to Damascus in an ill-fated attempt to restart Israeli-Syrian peace talks and split the Assad regime from Iran. Kerry, in particular, took the lead in the attempt at diplomatic engagement -- famously having a cozy dinner with Assad at the Old Damascus restaurant Naranj.

Many in Washington had misgivings about “engagement” with Syria at the time, but the effort looks even worse in light of the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown. Did a U.S. diplomat, in an attempt to butter up Assad and his team, send a note to a Syrian official offering fulsome praise for their hospitality and open-mindedness? If so, it could haunt their reputation for years to come.

Western companies looking to make a buck: This seems the most likely -- in fact, the initial batch of emails suggest that the Italian company Selex has provided the Assad regime with technological assistance, even during the crackdown. As sanctions drove most businesses from Syria, it only stands to reason that a few enterprises would seek to bend the rules and capitalize on the Syrian government’s need for foreign expertise.

The Assad regime itself, however, may not belong on the list of those that should be particularly worried by this release. Sure, there could be the odd email that paints Syrian officials as out of touch or deepens existing fault lines within the elite. But generally speaking, the Syrian government is an open book: Its leaders believe they are in the midst of an existential battle, and will use whatever means necessary to perpetuate their hold on power. You don’t need millions of leaked emails to tell you that -- you just need to read the news.

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