Britain commits to NATO defence spending target
Britain's Conservative government said Wednesday it would meet a NATO target of spending two percent of GDP on defence until 2020, a move immediately welcomed by the United States.
Prime Minister David Cameron's austerity drive has seen the defence budget slashed since 2010, prompting concerns that NATO's second strongest power will no longer be able to pull its weight in the military alliance.
The armed forces have been reduced by 18,000 personnel in five years, and only last month, finance minister George Osborne announced further defence cuts of £500 million (695 million euros, $768 million).
But in his first budget statement since the May general election, Osborne said he would increase defence spending every year in real terms, and set up a new "security fund" of £1.5 billion a year by 2020.
He told the House of Commons that Britain's security would be a priority, and committed "to meet the NATO pledge to spend two percent of our national income on defence -- not just this year, but every year of this decade".
The news was greeted with loud cheers from Conservative lawmakers, many of whom had despaired at the government's refusal to commit to the NATO target beyond next year.
Officials had said they were waiting until a new strategic defence and security review, which is due to complete later this year, before making the commitment.
The United States, which itself announced on Tuesday that it would be cutting 40,000 army jobs over the next two years to save money, was quick to welcome Britain's move.
"America welcomes Her Majesty's government's commitment to two percent defense spending, proving again the indispensability of the UK to global security," US ambassador to Britain Matthew Barzun said on Twitter.
Sceptics will be looking for details of the funding settlement, however, after indications that the government may include foreign aid in the defence budget.
"We will ensure that this commitment is properly measured, because we know that while those commitments don't come cheap, the alternatives are far more costly," Osborne said.
© 2015 AFP