The United Kingdom failed to meet its defence spending obligations to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance in 2016, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
NATO heads of state and government committed to spend at least 2 per cent of GDP on defence in September 2014. But the IISS’s analysis suggests that the UK’s commitment fell to 1.98 per cent in 2016.
The findings are a source of considerable embarrassment to the British government, which has been lecturing its European neighbours on their NATO spending obligations. The Ministry of Defence claims the IISS is simply wrong.
They say the UK has in fact spent 2.21 per cent of GDP on defence, with any apparent shortfall due to fluctuations in the dollar exchange rate “skewing the true picture of UK defence expenditure”.
The David Cameron administration was accused of using “creative accounting” to meet its NATO target in 2016, including intelligence spending, armed forces pensions, and so on to meet the 2 per cent threshold.
Savage cuts have already left the British Army’s target size at its smallest since the 1820s when Lord Liverpool served as Prime Minister from the House of Lords.
The Royal Navy has also been severely depleted, with the Defence Select Committee warning that its 19 frigates and destroyers represent a “pathetically low total” which may be incapable of facing potential challenges.
More recently, the Ministry of Defence was forced to deny that the country’s entire attack submarine fleet is currently out of action. The government was also accused of attempting to cover up a failed test of the multi-billion pound Trident nuclear missile system.
The position of NATO itself has begun to look more precarious in recent years. U.S. President Donald J. Trump has labelled it “obsolete”. The Eurasian politics expert Professor Richard Sakwa has pointed out that, having rapidly expanded despite the end of the Cold War, the alliance now suffers from a “fateful geographical paradox: [it] exists to manage the risks created by its existence”.