An Ally in Exile?

Article excerpt

Byline: John Barry

No other NATO ally has the ability--and willingness--to deploy forces like Britain. Which is why the Pentagon is standing by with a sense of foreboding as the U.K. undertakes a formal review of its defense posture. The question now arising in certain circles is how much backup America can count on after the recession-battered British government makes deep cuts to its military budget. "It's bad. It's really bad," says a senior NATO official in Brussels, who asked not to be identified discussing a sensitive topic.

Whitehall's new National Security Council, which is chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron, has begun sifting through the results of a closely held four-month review by top civilian and military officials of ways to reshape Britain's forces in light of the country's budget crunch. Foreign Secretary William Hague has publicly pledged that the review will lead to "no strategic shrinkage" in Britain's military capabilities. Defense Secretary Liam Fox has vowed that the U.K. will retain "robust and well-equipped armed forces, capable of intervening abroad whenever necessary."

But both men's promises are dismissed by four sources involved in, or briefed on, the three options that, NEWSWEEK has learned, have gone to the NSC. All propose dramatic cutbacks in British forces--and, by extension, the country's role in future conflicts. …