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US general voices defence cuts fear

The head of the US Army has expressed serious reservations about the impact of cuts on the capacity of British forces, heaping further pressure on David Cameron to commit to maintaining spending.

Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno said he was "very concerned" about the falling proportion of national wealth devoted to the military and warned it could result in British units being forced to operate within US ranks rather than alongside them.

Ministers are under increasing pressure from Tory MPs and senior military figures to commit Britain to meeting the Nato target to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence beyond 2016.

With deep cuts to Whitehall budgets to continue after May's general election, Chancellor George Osborne is reported to have warned privately that it may fall below that level.

Former defence secretary Liam Fox said he and fellow Tory MPs would find it "hard to swallow" if the Prime Minister allowed defence spending to fall below the threshold while maintaining a pledge to spend 0.7% of GDP on aid.

In an intervention which will bolster those seeking a manifesto commitment to maintain resources above 2%, General Odierno told The Telegraph: "I would be lying to you if I did not say that I am very concerned about the GDP investment in the UK."

"In the past we would have a British Army division working alongside an American division. 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."

"It is about having a partner that has very close values and the same goals as we do," he said of Britain's role as a key ally.

"As we look at threats around the world, these are global issues and we need to have multinational solutions,

"They are concerning to everyone. We all need to be able to invest and work together to solve these problems."

Dr Fox warned against cutting defence spending at a time when international security is deteriorating and "one miscalculation" with respect to Russian aggression in eastern Europe could lead to conflict with Nato.

He told BBC1'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.

"We have a commitment to Nato as part of our international treaty obligations to spend that 2%."

Former head of the British Army General Sir Peter Wall called for the major parties to make general election manifesto commitments on defence spending.

He warned that a dip in defence spending to the mooted 1.8% could see a reduction in funding for training or equipment.

Sir Peter told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend: "We military folk would like to see manifesto commitments to levels of defence expenditure and it's of concern to us that all parties would probably be content to have this conversation not happening at the moment.

"Implicit in what the current government was saying around the time of the Nato summit in Wales last year where we were suggesting that it was everybody's responsibility around Europe to meet the 2% of GDP for defence expenditure ... is the fact that that's what we ought to be doing ourselves."

Tory former defence minister Gerald Howarth said Mr Cameron had "castigated other countries for their failure to meet that 2%, therefore it would be damaging for the United Kingdom if we were to fail to do so.

"It would diminish us in the eyes of our closest allies, the United States of America."

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "With the second largest defence budget in Nato and the largest in Europe, the Government is committed to spending 2% of GDP on defence. Decisions on spending after the financial year 2015/16 will be determined in the next spending review.

"Over the next decade we are committed to spending £163 billion 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."


From Belfast Telegraph