A senior officer in the US Army is “very concerned” about the impact of budget cuts to the British Army. General Raymond Odierno, the Chief of Staff of the US army, has told a conference that Britain and America both need partners which share “close values and the same goals”.
Prime Minister David Cameron has come under increasing pressure from members of his own party to honour the Nato commitment of spending two percent of GDP on defence, annually. Former Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox warned “for Britain to fall out of the 2 per cent club would not only be a source of great anxiety to the United States, which already carries a disproportionate burden in terms of Nato spending, but will hugely undermine Britain’s moral authority and our ability to persuade others to make the spending commitment.”
In January US President Barack Obama also warned Cameron about the dangers of allowing the defence budget to fall below the 2 percent mark, saying: “if Britain doesn’t spend 2 per cent on defence, then no one in Europe will.”
Speaking to the Telegraph, Gen Odierno has confirmed that America is concerned about the apparent lack of commitment from Britain, pointing out that “This is the most uncertain global environment I have seen in 40 years of service,” he said.
Gen Odierno has fought alongside Britain in several recent conflicts, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Historically, it has been a long-held assumption within American military planning that Britain will contribute a combat force in excess of 10,000 men, as well as aircraft and naval vessels.
But that assumption has been rocked by the cuts made to the British armed forces by the Coalition government. Since 2010, the army has been cut by a fifth, the RAF is down to just seven combat squadrons, from the 30+ it had during the first Gulf War, and the Navy is only just able to fulfil it’s international duties.
Ironically, the cuts to defence have been made whilst the foreign aid budget has been ring-fenced, leading to a bizarre situation in which Britain is unable to defend her own borders whilst handing money to countries already able to defend theirs.
As part of the cuts the government scrapped the RAF’s fleet of Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft, leaving the forces unable to track a Russian submarine spotted in British waters. The RAF have estimated that the fleet could be replaced by the Boeing P8 Poseidon at a cost of £200 million a year. Coincidentally, £200 million is the amount given to India each year, although she already has a fleet of aircraft able to patrol her waters.
American confidence has been further undermined by the rhetoric coming from some Cabinet ministers: last summer, former Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told senior officers that the military would be unable to spend 2 percent of GDP even if the government agreed to provide it. There are also rumours that, under a Conservative government, the Army could see another 20,000 forces cut, reducing it to just half the size of the French army.
“We have a bilateral agreement between our two countries to work together. It is about having a partner that has very close values and the same goals as we do,” Gen Odierno told the New America Foundation’s “Future of War” conference.
“What has changed, though, is the level of capability. In the past we would have a British Army division working alongside an American army division.”
Looking to current threats, Gen Odierno warned that the alliance “had to be prepared for Ukraine”. He also highlighted the Iraqi’s government’s plans to liberate Mosul later this year, which is likely to require backup from America and her allies.
“The US is willing to participate, and in some cases lead, but we need our multi-national partners to help,” he said. “As we look to the threats around the world, we need to have multinational solutions. They are of concern to everyone, and we need everybody to help, assist and invest.”