What next for the British Army post-2020 withdrawal from Germany? [Op-Ed]

Contributor: Martin Cakebread
Posted: 03/13/2017
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The UK has been steadily withdrawing its forces from Germany over the past few decades, having over 55,000 men and women stationed in the mid-twentieth century, down to approximately 17,000 at present. The point of strategic interest is one surrounding just what the British Army will do after its withdrawal from Germany is complete… 

Some commentators are concerned that the withdrawal is in effect a political mechanism for reducing the overall headcount of the Army even further. Others view the move as an opportunity to free up existing units for further overseas deployments.  

Either way, what is certain is that the geopolitical landscape was decided some time ago. Some suggest the SDSR of 2010 largely influenced the final withdrawal from Germany due to the increasing costs of exchange rates and of maintaining such a large garrison in Germany. Others have suggested it is high time the German Government funded its own defence and security, particularly as – economically speaking – the German economy has been booming and the German current accounts are well in surplus. In effect the Germans could afford to fill the gap financially, although it would take time to physically create the units and equipment required. 

Strategic choice vs tactical deployment 

The withdrawal from Germany comes at a cost for the UK militarily, and to a great extent diplomatically. Britain has had forces stationed in Germany since the end of the Second World War and to finally pull out once and for all should not be taken lightly. Whilst some UK politicians do not quite grasp the strategic importance of being able to deploy large numbers of conventional ground forces abroad, its need has never been so great.  

From a foreign affairs perspective, we have political clout with the Germans simply because we take their security so seriously. The diplomatic effect of having a division deployed to a country gets the attention of the local government and most definitely provides political sway – a fact that British politicians often seem to forget.  

Strategic movement of military forces is in fact good for trade, diplomacy and influence in a country and region. Unfortunately, decades of cuts to the defence budget have not helped the situation and, regrettably, some politicians still do not value the HM Armed Forces when it comes to these benefits. 

Is there a ‘Where next’? 

Where next for the British Army comes out of a geopolitical vacuum being caused by the freeing up of those forces formerly stationed in Germany. Will the UK government now seek a new foreign base for the Army, one of strategic importance, that can support and help bring stability to a nation, let alone a region?  

If we take the crisis in Syria we can see clearly that there has been a massive destabilising effect on the Kingdom of Jordan, our friend and ally for many decades. While British forces regularly conduct exercises in Jordan, establishing a permanent military base would be a win-win for the UK, and not just in the diplomatic sense. It would allow the British military to play a stabilising role, rather like the current activity in Bahrain. And let’s not fool ourselves – the Middle East has found itself in an almighty mess and there is no doubt that Britain’s ability to project and maintain power on the ground would deliver a major boost on the local area in question.  

Critics have argued that the UK government was very slow to react in support of Jordan during the early years of the conflict in Syria. The British should have deployed regular Army units on exercise along the northern Jordanian border as a show of force, but more importantly, a show of unity and support to our friends in this nation. Even recent news reports from Israel suggest that the Kingdom of Jordan has come under massive strain from the crisis in Syria, not just from the destabilising effect of Islamic terrorism, but from the vast numbers of refugees who have fled from Syria for sanctuary. 

What are we talking about in terms of numbers? 

The simple fact of the matter is, withdrawal from Germany frees up an Armoured division, at least if not more for deployment overseas. Said units, assuming all respective vehicles are fully operational (but that is a separate maintenance and budgeting matter) should be able to deploy within 48 hours of call up. A permanent basing or deployment of said division to another sovereign nation like Jordan, assuming it is agreeable with that nation’s government, would be most appropriately based away from population centres in the northern part of the country with at least a full Armoured division, attack and transport helicopters, backed up by artillery and infantry units. This would not only be an ideal training ground for UK forces, but provide much needed reassurance to the Kingdom at little cost to the UK taxpayer. 

Is Germany the UK’s problem? 

From the perspective of allied forces during the Second World War, it could be claimed that yes, it is. But, 70 years after that conflict, the fact of the matter is Germany is now a modern, democratic nation, whose GDP far exceeds that of the UK and affording defence is arguably more of a political question than a military one. Some say, why is the UK pulling out when the USA is staying put? That’s a valid strategic question. How does it impact NATO? Britain’s concerns are financial not military, in that the only motivator for leaving appears to be money. This actually raises further questions of Britain’s ability to deploy a division in the field for a prolonged period, given the existing financial constraints. 

Are we expecting too much? 

Given the immediate financial constraints facing UK PLC which are forecast to last up to at least 2025, how can the UK realistically expect to maintain overseas relationships when it is hamstrung financially and unable to deploy military units as a result? Hence the idea of a new permanent base overseas in the likes of Jordan would actually alleviate some of that strategic pressure and allow for the UK to shift its focus to the Middle East where so many of our Strategic allies and interests lay. 

The Proposal 

A jointly funded British Army base to house at least 4,000 men and equipment in the Kingdom of Jordan for an unspecified, open ended period. This would be designed to maintain the UK’s ability to deploy overseas, ensure we have sufficient assets and training in relevant climates and cultures.  

Most importantly, it would build upon the soft diplomatic power of having such a force in the area. We have recently seen Russia take the decision to re-open its naval base in Syria for the first time in decades – a new base designed to support thousands of infantry, at least a dozen surface ships, let alone aircraft. Point being, the region represents an opportunity for UK plc to extend its existing partnerships. 

Conclusion 

As the Germany withdrawal gathers pace, British Army units remain stationed back home on UK soil. The strategic benefits of deploying Army units for stability, nation building and diplomacy cannot be understated. We’ve seen the benefits of Naval ships visiting numerous ports on goodwill visits and just how powerful a diplomatic gesture that is. 

It is a view that the withdrawal represents an opportunity for the British Army to redeploy overseas to a new nation like Jordan, demonstrating most of all, at a time of need, Britain is there for its friends and allies.  

Martin Cakebread is a representative of UKNDA. He is also an experienced political strategy consultant and researcher. 

Note: UKNDA campaigns for HM Armed Forces in an ‘A’ political manner, with thousands of members from MPs, Lords, current and former members of HM Armed Forces and business directors from Industry. 

Visit www.uknda.org for more information.

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Contributor: Martin Cakebread