Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can Britain Meet Its NATO Defense Commitments?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can Britain Meet Its NATO Defense Commitments?

Article excerpt

As leader of the country hosting the NATO Summit in Wales, British Prime Minister David Cameron has flaunted the UK's defense credentials. He's committed 1,000 troops to a new "rapid reaction" force to safeguard Eastern Europe from Russia, and taken a lead in urging members to increase their spending on defense.

But in reality, the UK is barely meeting its own defense spending goals.

In a paper published today, Malcolm Chalmers, head of research for the Royal United Services Institute think tank, says that in the next financial year, the amount Britain puts toward defense spending could fall to 1.88 percent of GDP. That's below the 2 percent target that Britain has long demanded of other NATO members.

"I think the UK government has got itself in quite a difficult position on this," says Professor Chalmers.

His predictions are based on reductions in the defense budget - cuts made in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the winding down of operations in Afghanistan - and the projected rebound of the British economy. To meet a 2 percent target, Britain would have to prioritize the defense budget over health and education spending. "And I don't think we are yet at the place in this country where defense is given the top place in the pecking order," Chalmers says.

Britain has long proved its credentials as a global player when it comes to defense. Within NATO, Britain is only one of four members that even met the 2 percent target last year, along with the US, Greece, and Estonia.

The UK is the US's most reliable partner and is likely to be for the foreseeable future: Britain's views on the priority of defense comports more with US thinking than does continental Europe. In last year's Transatlantic Trends survey by the US German Marshall Fund, 28 percent of British respondents said funding on defense should be increased, compared to an average of 14 percent for Europeans (it was 25 percent for Americans). …

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