Britain seeks to reassure US on military cutbacks
Britain has sought to reassure anxious US officials that plans for major defense cuts will not undermine its status as Washington's most important military ally, officials said Friday.
Amid US concerns over London's plans to slash 10 to 20 percent in military spending, British Defence Secretary Liam Fox told his US counterpart, Robert Gates, in a visit to the Pentagon this week that key weapons and programs would not be sacrificed, a British official said.
As Britain undertakes a strategic review to decide which of its military programs to cut, Fox "wanted to come over to offer some reassurance and explain how the process was working," said Martin Longden, press attache for the British embassy in Washington.
"We enter it, as America's most important military ally, and we'll leave this review still as America's most important ally," he told AFP.
Fox informed Gates that Britain would retain its special forces, stick to plans to buy F-35 fighter jets and maintain its nuclear forces, Longden said.
"Those three things our friends in America care deeply about and we understood that," he said.
US officials have expressed concern over potentially dramatic military cutbacks among European allies, including Germany, urging NATO members to invest more in their armed forces.
But a US defense official said the Pentagon did not believe Britain's role as a crucial military partner was in jeopardy due to the proposed cuts.
"I think we're confident the UK will maintain a robust military capability," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But some analysts say Britain's planned spending cuts would curtail its military power, scaling back the number of troops that would be able to join a mission similar to Afghanistan.
In remarks to British reporters during his visit, Fox reportedly said Britain would be capable of deploying fewer troops in the future but would still retain forces at "a respectable and useful level."
Officials said Fox and Gates did not discuss a disagreement over the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as the US defense secretary has vehemently opposed an alternative engine for the aircraft favored by London and some American lawmakers.
GE is building the alternative engine along with Britain's Rolls-Royce.
Fox made his views clear in a letter this month to a major advocate for the alternative engine, Senator Carl Levin, arguing that killing the second engine could push up costs and pose technical risks for the project.
"The UK -- and we believe other international partners on the programme are worried that a decision now to cancel the second engine may save money in the short term but end up costing the US and her partners much more in the long term," Fox wrote in the letter, which was released by Levin's office.
© 2010 AFP