Defense Cuts Threaten US-UK Partnership, Says Robert Gates

Former Secretary of Defense Robert GatesDefence cuts are limiting Britain’s capacity to be “full partner” with America, a former US defence secretary has said.

Robert Gates, who served under George W Bush and Barack Obama, said the “fairly substantial reductions” in spending mean Britain can no longer stand alongside the US as a leading military player. . . .

Mr Gates told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “With the fairly substantial reductions in defence spending in Great Britain, what we’re finding is that it won’t have full spectrum capabilities and the ability to be a full partner as they have been in the past.”

The former US defence chief singled out naval cuts as particularly damaging, noting that for the first time since the First World War Britain does not have an operational aircraft carrier. . . .

Mr Gates said he believed it was important for Britain to have its own nuclear capability to bolster the strength of a combined arsenal.

“This is an area where I think Britain having an independent capability has been an asset and a strength for the United States, and as we reduce the size of our nuclear arsenal, we potentially get down to numbers that having allies who have their own capability could be very helpful.”

Mr Gates warned: “If we are to reduce our military capabilities, as we are, I think it ought to be done much more gradually and with a wary eye to the global environment, not willy nilly as a matter of just making the budget numbers work.”

His concerns echoed those of senior military staff in the UK.

Last month General Sir Nicholas Houghton, the Chief of the Defence Staff, warned that manpower was increasingly seen as an “overhead”, and that Britain was in danger of being left with hollowed out armed forces, with “exquisite” equipment but without the soldiers, sailors and airmen needed to man it.

He told the Royal United Services Institute military think-tank that the Royal Navy was “perilously close” to its “critical mass” in terms of manpower.

Image: Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (photo: Tommy Gilligan/US Army)