Attrition: Britannia Fades Away

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August 21,2008:  Britain is having a hard time recruiting new troops and officers. It's been coming up about ten percent short of qualified students for its 44 week officers course at Sandhurst (where new army officers are trained). In the United States, officer training is run differently. A free college education is offered at government run academies like West Point (for the army), along with college based training and schools for training enlisted personnel to be officers. Most Sandhurst students enter there as recent university graduates. The U.S. Army equivalent of Sandhurst is a three month Officers Candidate School, followed by up to a year of schools that show the new officer how to lead and manage the troops he will be in charge of.

Britain is also having trouble recruiting enough troops. For half a century, the British have been relying on volunteers. Until the 1990s, there were few problems attracting sufficient new recruits. But after the Cold War ended in 1991, the budget cuts just kept on coming. Personnel strength was cut 40 percent (from 300,000, to the current 180,000). While Britain is able to barely recruit and maintain three professional military personnel per thousand Britons, the United States manages to recruit five per thousand. After the Cold War ended, the U.S. military was only cut 30 percent (from two million to 1.4 million). The U.S. and Britain both spend about the same per military personnel ($387,000 a year for the U.S., and $367,000 a year for Britain), but the British media manages to make it seem like British troops are being constantly starved and deprived of essential equipment. That, and the general unpopularity of the war on terror in Britain (as in the rest of Europe), especially operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, makes it hard to recruit. As in the U.S., multiple trips to Iraq and Afghanistan have not been popular, even though British troops have suffered far fewer casualties than the Americans.

Britain could probably reverse the recruiting problems by increasing pay (in only in the form of bonuses directed at those spending the most time in combat zones), but this is a contentious issue as well, with Britain currently suffering an economic recession. Unfortunately, it's not enough of a recession to drive more lads to join the military. All this has caused Britain to lean on their European allies a bit more, to shoulder more of the burden of supplying troops for Afghanistan.

 


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