British military still 'first-rate': White House

20th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

The White House on Tuesday backed British Prime Minister David Cameron's contention that his country would still have a "first-rate military" despite slashing cuts in troop numbers and key assets.

"Our view is that certainly the level of help and cooperation that we get and the sacrifice of that country in places like Afghanistan certainly is vital and important to our coalition," spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

The United States also believed Britain "will indeed continue to have a first-rate military," and that the "readiness and capability of the British armed forces would continue," he said.

His remarks were echoed later in the day by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Pentagon.

"We are reassured that the UK conducted its review in a thoughtful and clear-eyed manner, and that the result will be a UK military capable of meeting its NATO commitments and of remaining the most capable partner for our forces as we seek to mitigate the shared threats of the 21st Century," Clinton said.

The Pentagon said the British military would remain strong despite the cuts, praising Cameron for increasing funding for cyber security and special forces.

US officials were particularly keen for Britain to preserve its nuclear deterrent and funding for special ops, both of which were left largely intact in Cameron's review.

The United States is carefully watching defense cuts in Britain and among NATO allies, worrying that a reduction in the alliance's capabilities could lead to an over-dependence on the American military.

Cameron announced that 17,000 armed forces personnel would go and the Royal Navy flagship Ark Royal would be decommissioned as part of a wide range of public spending reductions designed to tackle the bloated deficit.

He vowed however there would be "no cut whatsoever" to the level of support for forces in Afghanistan under the eight percent cuts to the 37 billion pound (42 billion euro, 58 billion dollar) Ministry of Defence budget.

Britain, which had maintained defense spending at the NATO target level of two percent of GDP, would "preserve a robust force capable of projecting power and addressing a wide range of military contingencies," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said in a statement.

Cameron's national security review had shown that Britain and the United States had a "shared view" of security threats, including terrorism, nuclear proliferation and cyber attacks, he said.

Washington also welcomed "the UK's decision to maintain its nuclear deterrent, which reinforces NATO's nuclear strategy even as we work together toward our shared goal of a world without nuclear weapons," he added.

The British government has delayed a decision on renewing the Trident nuclear deterrent until 2016, although Cameron stressed that he wanted to "retain and renew" it.

The announcements came ahead of a sweeping program of reductions of up to 25 percent in most government departments which will be unveiled in a comprehensive spending review Wednesday.

US officials had already said that Cameron told Obama in a telephone call that Britain would continue to be a "first-rate military power" despite the British strategy review and defense cuts, without saying if Obama had agreed.

In a statement on Monday, the White House said that Obama appreciated that Britain would retain the "full spectrum of military capabilities that permits our forces to partner effectively around the world."

© 2010 AFP

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