UK Defense budget cuts are rapidly becoming a controversial issue even among members of the current ruling coalition. An article from The Telegraph by Deputy Political Editor James Kirkup points out to reactions from the Commons Defense Committee to further pruning defense which would force Britain to break its promises to the NATO alliance and put the Special Relationship with the US at risk.
A report from the Conservative-led Commons Defense Committee is the latest warning against more defense cuts in the Spending Review for 2015/16, which is being drawn up in Whitehall. George Osborne, the Chancellor, is seeking to trim public spending by £10 billion, and Treasury officials are considering additional reductions in the defense budget, on top of the current round of cuts.
Those cuts will see the Armed Forces lose 30,000 and leave Britain without a working aircraft carrier for much of this decade. It was revealed this week that restructuring will also leave the Desert Rats, the celebrated tank unit, without any tanks.
An agreement between NATO countries commits them to spending at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense. Britain is one of the few NATO members apart from the US that currently meets that goal. According to the Treasury, Britain’s current defense spending is 2.6% of GDP.
However, that figure includes money taken from the Treasury’s Special Reserve to cover the costs of operations in Afghanistan. With most troops due to leave Afghanistan by the end of next year, that spending is likely to drop out of the figures.
Combined with the prospect of more cuts in the 2015/16, that has raised questions about Britain’s ability to go on meeting the 2% target.
Questioned by the defense committee earlier this year, Philip Hammond, the Defense Secretary, declined to say if the UK will meet the NATO target in 2015/16, saying that it would be “premature” to discuss future spending.
Hammond has since launched a public argument against additional defense cuts, warning last week that more cuts would undermine the Armed Forces’ military capabilities. In a report that will bolster Hammond’s argument, a defense committee report today warns that military spending must remain above the NATO target.
“We believe that it is vital that defense spending remains at more than 2% of GDP in line with the UK’s NATO commitment,” it concludes.
“We recommend that the MoD and the Treasury ensure that defense spending does not fall below two per cent of GDP in the next spending review.”
When the current round of defense cuts was drawn up in 2010, officials calculated that the UK would come close to breaching the 2% limit.
The Daily Telegraph revealed at the time that the Pentagon formally warned the British government that cutting defense spending so far would raise questions about US-British defense cooperation, a cornerstone of the Special Relationship.
The defense committee also criticizes the management of the defense budget, accusing the MoD of “a worrying lack of financial expertise”.
The National Audit Office has refused for a sixth year to sign off the department’s accounts, the MPs note.
Hammond accused the MPs of “overlooking” progress in improving the MoD financial management, and insisted: “For the first time in a generation, we have a balanced budget and fully funded Equipment Plan to make sure our Armed Forces get the equipment they need”.