Britain Cuts Defense Spending

19 October 2010
Britain Cuts Defense Spending
Photo: AP
British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal lies alongside a quay at the navy dockyard in Portsmouth, England, 19 Oct 2010

Britain on Tuesday announced plans to cut the country's defense budget that include losing thousands of troops and slashing weapons programs. British allies are concerned that the cuts might affect the country's status as a global power.

British Prime Minister David Cameron says national defense is the first duty of any government, and that restructuring Britain's armed forces is necessary.

"We will look at the real threats we face today in our world, whether it is from cyber terrorism, whether it is from international terrorism or terrorism that comes from dissident republicans in Northern Ireland," said Cameron. "We will look at the modern threats we face in a modern world and make sure our armed forces are fit to face them."

Mr. Cameron says Britain will spend about $800,000 during the next four years on a national cyber security program.

"This will significantly enhance our ability to detect and defend against cyber attacks, and it will fix shortfalls in the critical cyber infrastructure on which the whole country now depends," Cameron added.

Under the plan, Britain will scrap several plane systems, decommission several ships early, eliminate some 25,000 military-related civilian jobs and reduce its number of troops by about 7,000. There will be no cuts for troops or equipment in Afghanistan.

Malcolm Chalmers is an analyst at London's Royal United Services Institute.

"I think for a number of years now, Britain's policy has been based centrally on NATO - on operating militarily along with allies, particularly the United States. The United States, perhaps, will find that perhaps we can make a smaller contribution. But I think it will still be the most important military power in NATO Europe," noted Chalmers.

While in Europe last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States is concerned about the cutbacks. Britain has been America's strongest ally in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Cameron says the cuts will not hurt Britain's "special relationship" with the United States.

"I talked to President Obama last night about some of the decisions that we are taking, and the Americans and he absolutely believe that it will allow us to maintain that very strong partnership with the United States and with NATO," said Prime Minister Cameron.

Chalmers says Britain is the third largest military spender in the world, behind the United States and China, and that despite an eight percent cut in its defense budget, Britain will remain strong.

"The United Kingdom after this defense review will remain the most powerful European NATO partner in terms of military force," added Chalmers. "It will continue to spend more than other Europeans. And not least, the UK's willingness to get in there and to get engaged in operations with the United States, when we believe it is in our interests to do so, will continue to be very strong. And I think that is evidenced in Afghanistan."

Prime Minister Cameron says Britain will keep its independent nuclear deterrent, although it will delay building new nuclear submarines and extend the life of existing ones. He says the goal is to build a military force that is more mobile, more flexible and better equipped to meet future challenges.