Minimizing the Implications of Britain's Defense Cuts (7/24)     Print Email

By Michael Mosettig, Former Foreign Editor, PBS News Hour

It was a tough sell to a worried and skeptical audience, but British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond insisted that his country's military, going through a severe round of budget cuts, will remain "advanced enough to operate alongside the United States anywhere in the world."

At a lunch address to the Center for a New American Security, coinciding with the announcement that more military forces will be required for Olympics security after a private security contractor admitted falling far short, Hammond said, whatever the criticism in the British press, "these are not the armed forces of a nation in retreat."

The Defense Review, part of the Cameron government's effort to cut the overall budget deficit, has had a stormy reception at home with stories about troops coming home from Afghanistan directly to the unemployment office and analyses asserting Britain would no longer have the capability to carry out an operation such as the 1982 Falklands expedition.

Hammond's think-tank audience in Washington included military contractors facing the prospect of shrinking business as the Pentagon prepares for Congressionally-mandated cuts of at least $500 billion as part of an American deficit-trimming exercise.

Acknowledging a dramatic shrinkage of the Army, Hammond insisted it will be a force capable of quick deployment and can be supplemented by reservists, an assertion that has drawn skeptical comments from former British commanders.

Unlike other unnamed European nations, Britain will continue spending at least two percent of national GDP on defense, the minister said. In view of the Obama administration's announced "pivot" to Asia and the Pacific, including moving at least one Army brigade out of Europe, Hammond said the Europeans will "have to do more heavy lifting" in their region and the Middle East.