British Defense Cuts Should Be Opportunity For U.S. To Pursue Alliance-Wide Debate About Restructuring Forces Together     Print Email

(October 20) -- While Obama administration officials have voiced disappointment about UK cuts in the military budget and the possible risk of seeking it increase the load on Washington, a more nuanced reaction comes from a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Robert Hunter.

"We should use this as opportunity for more serious discussion inside the alliance about the need for countries to concentrate on using any savings to concentrate on more deployable, sustainable and useful forces in crises that the allies are liable to face outside of Europe in the foreseeable future,” he said.

His reasoning starts with the fact that military spending in being cut back across the alliance in the economic crisis, not only in Britain but also in France and Germany – and apparently soon in the U.S., too.

The cutbacks announced by Prime Minister David Cameron will reduce Britain’s armed forces by roughly 10 percent, the biggest reduction since the end of the Cold War.

In this defense review, the British government avoided making any final decision about its main nuclear strategic deterrence, the submarine-launched Trident missile.  “The delay is wise because it will allow London time to think through its future nuclear posture and prepare the ground for any restructuring there, which might well include abandonment of such an expensive system that may no longer correspond to Britain’s real needs,’’ Hunter said.

As an ally that prides itself on its “special relationship” with the U.S., Britain has fenced off its current operations in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan from any cuts and it plans to keep the capability to deploy “up to 30,000 men” anywhere in the world and sustain that expeditionary force indefinitely. That will preserve Britain’s position as the closest U.S. battlefield partner, but it probably rules out any repetition of London’s being able to mount a future operation as big as its intervention alongside the U.S. in Iraq.

That shift has some voices in Washington (and in London) warning that the British cuts could loosen transatlantic military and security solidarity.

That ominous view is wrong, according to Hunter. The right U.S. and allied response, he says, is to see Britain’s move in the context of general military cutbacks. His recommendation is to avoid recriminations about this widespread development and instead to use it as a starting point for discussion – on a NATO-wide basis, he proposes – about how to spend the remaining budgets most usefully for the challenges that Western military commanders agree are the most likely to confront the U.S. and its allies.

In addition, Hunter says, any debate about “military spending” should be broadened to include activities – such as aid, reconstruction and nation-building – that are now seemed by strategists to be a crucial component of security. The ratio of spending on these security-related “civilian” sectors to “military” spending is heavily lop-sided – 1 to 17 in the U.S. – and needs to be rebalanced, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates has himself publicly noted.

“We need ‘a new notion’ of security, a “new metric” that beefs up the non-military elements and helps soldiers and civilians learn to integrate their capabilities,” according to Hunter, who spoke to European Affairs in Washington. The U.S. ambassador to NATO during the Clinton administration, Hunter now holds a senior position at the RAND Corporation and is a board member of the European Institute – and an author in European Affairs.


-- European Affairs