Cuts ‘threaten UK-US military partnership’
Former US defence secretary Robert Gates says cuts in defence spending mean UK will no longer have ‘full-spectrum capabilities’.
A smaller armed forces would mean the UK could no longer be a full-spectrum military partner to the US, America’s former defence secretary has warned suggesting the traditional military basis of the UK-US special relationship is under threat.
Robert Gates, promoting his autobiography about his time at the Pentagon, told the BBC that cuts in the number of military staff would limit the UK’s global position.
The government is planning big cuts to the armed forces. The army is being cut from 102,000 to 82,000 over a number of years, with 20,000 posts expected to be gone by 2020.
Navy numbers are expected to fall by 6,000, while the RAF will lose 5,000 staff.
Gates is a Republican who served under presidents Barack Obama and George W Bush.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that naval cuts were particularly damaging, noting that for the first time since the first world war Britain did not have an operational aircraft carrier. Britain is building a replacement.
In his most critical remarks. he said: “With the fairly substantial reductions in defence spending in Great Britain, what we’re finding is that it won’t have full-spectrum capabilities and the ability to be a full partner as they have been in the past.”
He said he would always prefer to have a UK flagship alongside a US warship in the Middle East.
“We have always been able to count on UK forces having full-spectrum capabilities,” he said, referring to the ability to fight on land, sea or in the air.
His remarks will have resonance on the Tory backbenches since they echo those of senior military staff in the UK.
But former defence secretary Liam Fox, who worked alongside Gates, defended the British capability saying the UK was the world’s eighth biggest economy with the fourth biggest defence budget. He said there would be two new aircraft carriers, as well as new aircraft and extra helicopters.
He supported the continuance of UK nuclear dependence saying it guaranteed for 35 to 50 years safety from nuclear blackmail.
Last month General Sir Nicholas Houghton, the chief of the defence staff, warned that manpower was increasingly seen as an “overhead”, and that Britain was in danger of being left with hollowed out armed forces, with “exquisite” equipment but without the soldiers, sailors and airmen needed to man it.
He told the Royal United Services Institute military thinktank that the Royal Navy was “perilously close” to its “critical mass” in terms of manpower. He has said Britain would have to scale back its global ambitions without an increase in defence spending.
There is no sign that the Ministry of Defence is going to be exempted from further defence cuts after the general election even though some senior Tories would prefer to see defence, as opposed to overseas aid exempted, from further cuts in the next parliament.
Vernon Coaker, the shadow defence secretary, said: “It should worry David Cameron that Britain’s strongest ally has concerns about his government’s mishandling of defence.
“Philip Hammond’s botched procurement reforms, the mess he’s made of armed forces reform and the latest fiasco over the MoD IT system are damaging confidence in Britain’s commitment to defence and our ability to continue to play a significant role in the world.
“It’s clear that there needs to be a rebalancing after withdrawal from Afghanistan and the closure of bases in Germany.
“And no one is disputing the financial constraints within which the UK military must operate. But the government must ensure that Britain’s defence capability is maintained.
“Labour will ensure that the next strategic defence and security review in 2015 will be strategy-led and financially responsible.”