06 Aug 2013

US ambassador warns against further UK defence cuts

Summary: Matthew Barzun, the next US ambassador to London, has spoke of the UK’s recent defence cuts as being an area of ‘critical concern’ for the US in a recent speech to senators.

Mr Barzun reportedly told a committee on foreign relations that the US and the UK relied on each other and that “the world counts on our alliance”, urging the UK to maintain a full spectrum of capability following further cuts to defence budgets by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and the government.

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

Republican senator Bob Corker told Barzun that Britain was “barely” meeting its NATO obligations following a reduction of 20,000 soldiers in the regular army, from 102,000 to 82,000.

Mr Barzun said: “We are committed to working with that strong relationship to ensure that they remain full-spectrum capability, that they remain operable with us, and also that they are able to continue to lead missions on behalf of NATO.

“It is an area of critical concern – one that I will engage on when I get on the ground.”

Mr Barzun is President Barack Obama’s nominee for the role of US Ambassador to London. He is poised to replace Louis Susman, who stepped down earlier this year.

While meeting in London, Mr Barzun  make the war in Afghanistan, proposals for a transatlantic free-trade pact and security challenges such as the Syrian civil war, the Middle East peace process and Iran’s nuclear programme as his key priorities.

Mr Hammond has played down the importance of the 2% threshold in the past, saying that spending as a share of GDP “isn’t the best and most effective way to measure defence effort”.

He said: “We are meeting our 2% target and will continue to meet if for the remainder of this Parliament.”

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