All leaks emerging out of the new British government’s defense review indicate a budgetary bloodbath is in the offing. Reports indicate that the review was seeking cuts as deep as 15 percent in the UK’s defense budget. Later reports suggested reductions in the range of 10 percent. In addition, it is reported that the review will conclude that the Ministry of Defense must pay the entire cost for modernizing the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent from its own funds. British defense spending is likely to fall below two percent of GDP, which is a threshold for strategic irrelevance.
Even at the smaller figure, such cuts would have a dramatic, even catastrophic, impact on the British military. Entire Army brigades would have to be disbanded, fighter squadrons eliminated and naval vessels scrapped. One or both of the UK’s planned new aircraft carriers could be cancelled, new intelligence programs terminated and the number of Joint Strike Fighters to be bought reduced.
Increasingly rare among U.S. allies, Britain retains the will and so far the means to oppose hegemony and aggression in critical parts of the world. This is the basis of the so-called special relationship. Without the means to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the U.S., of what good is British will alone? Without both will and wallet, how long can the special relationship continue?
The UK’s review may prove the final straw breaking the back of the U.S. willingness to underwrite the defense of Europe. Other NATO countries are conducting their own reviews looking to reduce government expenditures in the wake of the recent global financial crisis. Further defense cuts by major NATO nations will render moot the Alliance’s new strategic concept.
So alarming is the current trend that both Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates made mention of it at a recent NATO summit. Gates warned against the expectation that the U.S. would pick up the check if Europe reduced its defense spending. Clinton noted that NATO is premised on the idea of the common defense to which every member must contribute.
NATO could be sustained so long as a core group of countries were willing to invest sufficiently in their military capabilities. Britain was the symbol of Europe’ willingness to remain a relevant force in regional and global security. The review is likely to mean the end of the United Kingdom as a nation of military note. As goes Britain, so will go NATO.
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