03 May 2013

UK defence cuts could call Britain’s military power into question

Summary: Whitehall sources have suggested that new cuts in the defence budget could take British defence spending below 2% of Gross Domestic Product, the level regarded by the United States as the minimum standard to be considered a serious military power.

The financial crisis has put pressure on governments all over the world to drastically cut expenses, and one area suffering the most is in defence spend. For example, Germany wants to save some 8 billion euros ($10.4 billion) by 2015 by slashing its military budget and other countries in Europe and within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) see hefty cuts coming their way as well.

In the UK, Whitehall sources have suggested that new defence budget cuts could reduce British defence spending to less than 2% of GDP, the level regarded by the United States as the minimum in order to be considered a serious military power.

UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has refused to rule out the possibility of Britain spending less than 2% of GDP on defence in the next Parliament following this year’s spending review.

Britain is one of only two European NATO members that meets the 2% target.

Speaking on a visit to Washington, Mr Hammond admitted that the US, Britain’s closest ally, is concerned about British military “leadership” in Europe in the light of the current spending talks.

Mr Hammond has recently played down the importance of the 2% target, suggesting it is an arbitrary statistic and not always the best measure of military might, saying that spending as a share of GDP “isn’t the best and most effective way to measure defence effort”.

The Defence Secretary said he would be “fighting [his] corner” to prevent more military redundancies, but said he could not promise to stay above the NATO threshold.

He said: “We are meeting our 2% target and will continue to meet if for the remainder of this Parliament. I can’t give guarantees about the cost cuts and the spending review until after we’ve completed it.”

Mr Hammond was speaking before a private meeting with Chuck Hagel, the US Defense Secretary.


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