The victory over al Qaeda in Iraq has been noticed in Britain, sort of.
Or so it appears. This year, the number of recruits for the British armed
forces has gone up 12 percent. Not surprisingly, public opinion polls show that
81 percent of Britons have a favorable view of the armed forces, versus 74
percent five years ago. Unemployment is up a bit as well (to 5.7 percent),
which always helps military recruiters.
For half a
century, the British military has 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, made 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.
plans to help 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. Nevertheless, the increased popularity of the victorious
troops helps as well. Everyone loves a winner.