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?"
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