The US Chief of Staff, 4-star Army General Raymond Odierno has broken silence in interviews with both the BBC and Daily Telegraph about his deep concern over the impact of spending cuts on the UK's armed forces.
General Raymond Odierno speaking with President Barack Obama
The very topic Electus Recruitment commented on a month ago, the General has voiced reservations about the falling proportion of the UK’s national wealth being spent on the military and the associated cuts. There are obvious defence implications with tensions in Eastern Europe increasing and military actions against I.S. stepping up. Moreover the General warned it could see British units operating within US ranks and command structure rather than fighting alongside their trans-Atlantic brethren.
Whilst the Ministry of Defence said the government was committed to spending 2% of the country's GDP on defence it is on the red line of NATO’s target spending and is only guaranteed until the end of the current parliament. A second term or a new administration could see that figure cut further, jeopardising the UK’s place in NATO at the absolute worst possible time.
General Odierno told The Daily Telegraph:
‘As we look at threats around the world, these are global issues and we need to have multinational solutions.
‘In the past we would have a British Army division working alongside an American division. I would be lying to you if I did not say that I am very concerned about the GDP investment in the UK.
‘Now it might be a British brigade inside an American division, or even a British battalion inside an American brigade. We have to adjust our programme to make sure we are all able to see that we can still work together.’
He described Britain's relationship with the US as ‘…having a partner that has very close values and the same goals as we do’.
British and US forces have a long history of co-operation since the Second World War and have been working together in one form or another since the Gulf War in 1990-91.
‘As we look at threats around the world, these are global issues and we need to have multinational solutions,’ he said. ‘They are concerning to everyone. We all need to be able to invest and work together to solve these problems.’
The growing number of real threats stacking against the UK coincides with the British Army undergoing a 20% reduction in regular troop numbers, from 102,000 in 2010 to 82,000 in 2020. This is to be accompanied by a rise in the number of reservists, from 24,000 to 30,000.
Similarly the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are both preparing to lose 5,000 regulars each and gain 500 reservists over the same period.
NATO has already set a target that member states should each spend a minimum of 2% of their national wealth - or GDP - on defence. Alarmingly, few countries seem to be holding up their end of the bargain with countries like Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway and Romania all falling short of the mark. Germany, Italy, Canada, Hungary and Bulgaria are planning on cutting defence spending alongside the UK.
Indications are that defence spending in the UK will drop from 2.07% to 1.88% next year. There is suggestion this move is politically motivated ensuring that should the Conservative party lose the up coming election, the new government is handed a live grenade in the form of a wildly unpopular problem with the added headache of negotiating with NATO and the US.
Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox said Conservative MPs would find it 'hard to swallow' if defence spending fell below the 2% threshold while a pledge to spend 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid was kept by the government.
He told BBC One's Sunday Politics:
‘I think this would be a political problem inside the Conservative Party because I think that people feel that the government's first duty is the protection of the United Kingdom and its citizens.’
Former head of the British Army, General Sir Peter Wall called for the major parties to make general election manifesto commitments on defence spending, essentially ring fencing the armed services from more cuts.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman responded, saying the UK had the second largest defence budget in NATO and the largest in Europe. However this is a fairly misleading statement. The US spends more on defence than next 25 countries combined, 24 of which are allies. It does this because (a) it has significantly more country to defend than its 24 allies and the US and UK are active in countries around the world in various peacekeeping or humanitarian roles.
‘Decisions on spending after the financial year 2015/16 will be determined in the next spending review,’ the spokesman said. The 2014/2015 spending review has seen a large amount of military assets sold off for relatively little return - £380 million or so. Which is roughly what it costs to buy too full armed Eurofighter Typhoons.
‘Over the next decade we are committed to spending £163bn on equipment and equipment support to keep Britain safe. That includes new strike fighters, more surveillance aircraft, hunter killer submarines, two aircraft carriers, and the most advanced armoured vehicles.’
It’s worth noting that the MoD has squandered millions through poorly managed projects, inefficient processes and cancelled or incorrect orders.