military conflict


military conflict
   As Britain made the transition from a global to a regional power, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) became the central focus of British security policy. The withdrawal from east of Suez in 1967 was the beginning of a major restructuring of the armed forces, which continued in the 1990s under the programme ‘Options for Change’. This should be seen in the context of a rapidly changing technological environment, which has led to an increasing reliance on nuclear deterrence (for example, Polaris and Trident). However, British garrisons are still maintained in Gibraltar, Belize and the Falkland Islands (and in Hong Kong up to 1997). There is still a British UN presence in Cyprus, and troops have been active in Northern Ireland following the 1969 decision to send Army units to ensure the security of the province. The IRA’s bombing campaign caused many casualties throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
   The Falklands War in 1982 was an important event in the collective British psyche. Parliamentary criticism of government mishandling of the early stages of the Argentine invasion of the islands led to the resignation of the Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington. But with her political survival at stake, Margaret Thatcher ordered a campaign to retake the islands, which received wide public support (although there was controversy over the sinking of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano). The British task force succeeded, at a cost of 225 men killed and 777 wounded.
   The involvement of considerable numbers of British troops in a conflict did not occur again until 1990, when 45,000 personnel took part in Operation Desert Storm against Iraq following the latter’s invasion of Kuwait. British troops intervened as part of a UN-sponsored coalition of national forces.
   From the late 1980s, Britain became more involved in UN peacekeeping operations. With the disintegration of the Cold War balance of power, there has been a proliferation of complex civil emergencies and a corresponding growth in UN solutions, often ‘second generation’ peacekeeping missions outside traditional parameters. For example, Britain has sent troops to Namibia (1989) and Cambodia (1992–3) to monitor and create elections, on observer missions in Iraq/Kuwait (1991–4), and humanitarian assistance and general peacekeeping duties in Rwanda (1994) and the former Yugoslavia (UNPROFOR 1992–5). The latter conflict, with its ethnic cleansing and attendant atrocities, has proved a gruelling challenge for British troops.
   See also: Ireland
   Further reading
    Ovendale, R. (1994) British Defence Policy since 1945, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
   RACHAEL BRADLEY

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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