Britain Drastically Cuts Defense Spending

America's closest ally withdraws troops from Europe and reduces the strength of its navy

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On Tuesday and Wednesday the British government revealed the full extent of defense spending cuts in new austerity measures. The cuts were announced as part of a "Strategic Defence and Security Review." They come amid huge, widespread budget reductions to bring the country "back from the brink," as the British Finance Minister said this week. As America's closest ally, British defense cuts also impact the U.S. So how are pundits responding to the British decision? Here's a sample of the trans-Atlantic commentary:

  • What Prime Minister Cameron Focused On  The Spectator's James Forsyth points out the prime minster's "two main messages: i) the mission in Afghanistan would be spared from the 8 percent cuts in this Parliament’s defence budget, and ii) the problems the review is trying to deal with stem from the fact that 'the last government got it badly wrong.'" Forsyth seems to agree: "The appalling legacy that Labour has left the coalition on defence rather hamstrung [Labour leader] Ed Miliband in his response."
  • No Longer Able to Mount Large-Scale Intervention  Richard Norton-Taylor of the Guardian explains that the cuts prevent the U.S. from attempting the "kind of operations conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan. For at least a decade it will also be impossible to deploy the kind of carrier taskforce which liberated the Falklands 28 years ago."
  • ...But That's Not Such a Bad Thing  "Reduced ability to participate in America's misguided military adventures isn't the worst thing in the world," writes American blogger Matt Yglesias. He does wonder why the U.K. is choosing to focus on this rather than "phasing out second-strike nuclear capabilities. That said,"  he adds, "it's nice to see one country at least where politicians seem to grasp that excessive 'defense' spending is some of the most wasteful spending you can imagine."
  • Heavy Toll on the Royal Navy   FT Alphaville's Joseph Cotterill notices that "British troops will finally leave their Cold War German bases in 2020, only 29 years after the Soviet Union fell; defence spending will fall by 8 per cent in real terms," and it seems like there's "a lot of blood in the water for the Royal Navy's fleet." He also points out that the announcement was "enough to simply thwack shares in UK defence engineering firm Babcock on Tuesday."
  • Cameron Learned from History, 'Seeks to Avoid Past Errors,' writes Michael White at The Guardian. He thinks the prime minister is recalling "the cold war 'peace dividend' which slashed service personnel by 18% [and] left long-term recruitment and training problems." He also says of Cameron:

His emphasis on better diplomacy, intelligence and development aid to boost conflict prevention suggests painful lessons have been also learned from the Falklands and Iraq learned. It is always cheaper to prevent wars, though fighting terrorism--"non-state actors" in the jargon--is proving neither easy nor susceptible to purely military solutions. The IRA war showed that.

The paradox of Cameron's twin reviews is that Britain has never been "more secure and more vulnerable" in a complex inter-dependent complex world where viruses injected into software could bring down the power grid and much else. Russian tanks have retreated, but pirates are back.
  • More Spending on Cyberthreats, Intelligence  The defense review determined that cyberwarfare is now the top threat facing Britain, offers Newsweek's William Underhill. "On the basis of the report, the U.K.'s spooks have been promised an extra $760 million to beef up cyberspace operations."
  • Defense Isn't Even the Hardest Hit  Other departments, explains Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating, "will face an average 19 percent budget cut under the plan. One of the hardest hit will be the foreign office, which will face a 24 percent cut, likely leading to the firing of hundreds of London-based diplomats."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.