Britain was forced to take a backseat in this weekend’s US-led military action in Syria as defense cuts left the country without a single warship and just a few dinosaur jets.
Once in lock-step, the UK has seemingly been leapfrogged by France as the US’ ‘special’ friend, with the French providing significantly more military support than the British in Donald Trump’s recent attack on Syria.
While Prime Minister Theresa May sought to highlight Britain’s military might by declaring, following the attack, that she was confident the strikes had been a “success,” little was said about the diminished role played by UK forces in the operation. Ongoing cuts to the Ministry of Defense (MoD) meant the UK’s equipment was either too old or too weak to be involved.
READ MORE: ‘UK govt can’t demonstrate convincing evidence’ – Labour’s Chakrabarti questions Syria strikes
While France deployed five of its missile-equipped frigates that were based in the Mediterranean, none the UK’s rusty fleet of Type-23 frigates were used. The ships remarkably are not equipped to fire missiles and were deemed unfit for the mission. New British frigates are being built, though they are only set to enter service in the mid-2020s at the earliest.
As the news of the attack broke, footage emerged on Twitter of five French Rafale fighter jets setting off from the UK’s military base in Cyprus. Five Mirage 2000 jets and two AWAC radar-equipped planes were also deployed. By contrast, the UK could only fire it's Storm Shadow missiles from four RAF Tornado GR4 jets, which first entered service in 1979. The model is set to be removed from service next year.
The British planes fired only eight of the 105 missiles reportedly launched during the joint operation, compared to 76 fired by the US. The UK does have the advanced Typhoon jet model, but cuts to defense spending has stripped them of the capability to fire cruise missiles in operations.
And while Britain did have the £1 billion ($1.43 billion) HMS ‘Duncan,’ a Type-45 destroyer, in the region, it was unable to help as plans to build a cruise missile launcher on its deck were scrapped to save money.
“It is pretty depressing,” a military officer said. “If I was analyzing this and there weren’t any countries that I know — I didn’t have any loyalty to them — I would say the United States led, followed by France and then Britain,” the British serviceman said.
While the UK had limited striking powers, it did reportedly provide the necessary intelligence and surveillance imagery needed to target the three suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria.
The reduced role of the British military comes as questions are raised over the UK’s so-called ‘special relationship’ with the US. Forged during World War II, solidified by shared fiscal policies of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and sealed by the wars waged together by Tony Blair and George W. Bush; now one of the longest and strongest alliances in foreign affairs is at risk.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to win the approval of US leader Donald Trump was evident from their first handshake, and since then Macron has feted Trump by making him the guest of honor at the Bastille Day military parade and treating him to dinners atop the Eiffel Tower.
Trump has now given in to his charm, as President Macron readies for the first French state visit to the White House under the current administration later this month. Macron also credited himself on Monday morning with “convincing” Trump to keep troops in Syria after the US president said forces would soon withdraw.
Once the US’ partner in all legally dubious wars, the UK and it's diminished military have to now accept the new entente cordiale.
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