Defence cut threat to the special relationship
Inflicting deep cuts on the Armed Forces could threaten the Special Relationship between Britain and the US, President Barack Obama’s defence department has warned the Government.http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
In private exchanges, the Pentagon told defence ministers and senior officials that the US was worried Britain’s cuts could widen the transatlantic divide in military power and spending.
The warning could put new pressure on the Treasury to limit planned cuts in Britain’s defence capabilities.
The National Security Council will soon meet to discuss the detailed impact of the cuts. The Daily Telegraph today begins a major series of articles examining the implications of the Strategic Defence and Security Review.
The review will reshape the nation’s defence strategy, and raise questions about Britain’s role in the world.
An agreement between Nato countries commits them to spending at least 2 per cent of their gross domestic product on defence. Britain is one of the few Nato members apart from the US that currently meets that goal.
The £37 billion a year defence budget could be cut by almost a fifth as the Treasury squeezes public spending and Dr Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, struggles to pay for an unfunded “black hole” for new equipment.
Dr Fox is considering flying out to Washington to meet US officials to assuage their worries later this month, before the defence review ends.
Whitehall sources have disclosed that provisional estimates from MoD negotiations with the Treasury show core defence spending could fall below Nato’s 2 per cent standard — perhaps to as little as 1.7 per cent of GDP.
The US routinely spends more than 4 per cent of GDP on defence, and military analysts say the widening gap will make it harder for European forces to work with US forces equipped with ever more sophisticated equipment.
It is understood that a senior American official recently called the MoD to discuss “concerns” about the prospect of an even greater spending gap.
Michele Flournoy, the under-secretary for policy at the Pentagon, telephoned Tom McKane, the MoD’s strategy director, to raise the issue. “The Americans are sympathetic, but it’s fair to say they have some fairly serious concerns about where we will end up,” said a Whitehall source.
Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, has also discussed the coming cuts with Dr Fox. It is understood that he has told the Defence Secretary that the US believes it is vital that Britain retains its nuclear deterrent and its extensive intelligence-gathering operations.
He also underlined the American desire for Britain’s special forces units to be able to participate in US-led counter-terrorism operations.
Dr Fox, a passionate supporter of the Special Relationship, is said to be committed to allaying the American fears. As The Daily Telegraph reported on Saturday, special forces units are likely to be among the few winners from the defence review. Their numbers could rise, even though thousands of other service personnel face the axe.
However, some senior officers are worried that likely cuts in manpower will make it harder to maintain the elite quality of units such as the SAS.
The Trident nuclear deterrent is also set to be renewed, but work on a replacement weapons system could be delayed. Delaying the construction of new nuclear-armed submarines could allow Britain to synchronise its ship-building programme with America, which will start replacing its Trident submarines later this decade.
Insiders say Dr Fox and Mr Gates have a strong working relationship, and the US defence chief is keen to help his British counterpart deal with the impact of the cuts.
The National Security Council had been scheduled to start making decisions on cuts on Friday. However, the meeting will be rescheduled to avoid a clash with the funeral of David Cameron’s father.
Andy Smith, of the UK National Defence Association, said the defence review was emerging as “a Treasury-led process” that could endanger the relationship with the US. He said: “The Americans have been alarmed about this for some time and rightly so. Our forces are already underfunded and struggling to keep up with up the Americans.”
The MoD said: “The Defence Secretary has made clear that tough decisions will need to be made but the complex process of a Strategic Defence and Security Review will be concluded in the autumn and speculation at this stage about its outcome is entirely unfounded.”
More than 100 contracts totalling about £1.25 billion have been awarded for the construction of two new aircraft carriers. The figures were disclosed in a parliamentary answer after doubts were raised as to whether the Government would persist with the project, on which thousands of jobs in Scotland depend.