The UK government has countered U.S. demands for Nato members to increase defence spending by stressing that the UK intends to continue playing an “active role across the world.” The secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James caused a minor stir last week when she used a Brussels speech to call for an increase in defence spending by America´s European allies.
Speaking last Wednesday, she urged an increase in spending by all Nato members, calling on each to share the burden of tackling a whole range of threats ranging from Russian “aggression” and Islamic State to Chinese cyberspace hackers and health crisis such as Ebola.
Mrs James said, “l firmly believe Nato can continue to be a force for peace and stability in Europe but we have to understand that peace and stability does not come free.
“This is why we must invest in our security, both as individual nations and regions, like the EU.”
The UK has been criticised elsewhere for refusing to commit in the future to spending 2 per cent of its GDP on defence.
Responding to her comments a UK spokesman told this website,”When we came into government in 2010 we faced a massive budget deficit including a £38 billion defence black hole. We had to make difficult decisions to turn that around and balance the budget.
“Britain’s £34 billion a year defence budget is now the second biggest in NATO and the largest in the EU. That means our armed forces can play an active role across the world and we are investing in the latest military equipment. We are meeting the 2 per cent NATO target this year. Decisions for spending in 2016/17 and beyond are for the spending review.”
He added, “We can only have strong, well-funded armed forces if we have a strong economy. Our manifesto commitments will ensure the shape and power of our armed forces by maintaining the size of the regular armed forces; increasing the equipment budget by 1 per cent above inflation every year; and building four new Successor ballistic missile submarines.”
Further reaction to the U.S. comments came from UK MEP Geoffrey Van Orden, Conservative defence spokesman and a former brigadier in the British Army, who said, “Mrs James is right to issue warnings and to insist that allies spend more on defence given the unpredictable but inevitably dangerous challenges we all face in the years ahead.
“But it’s time the Americans got off the fence and recognised that the EU is not going to provide the required solutions. It’s more likely to do the opposite. The sum of the EU is not greater than its parts. In trying to create its own defence organisation it fulfils a classic old Soviet aim of separating the European nations from the United States. EU defence policy distracts from revitalisation of NATO. And too many European governments see the pretence of action through the EU as an excuse for doing even less.”
Van Orden, who spent a career in several senior roles in the army, added, “For the past 60 years the United States has rightly wanted European allies to share more of the defence burden. It says it doesn’t mind how this is done. As senior US diplomats have often remarked, “how the Europeans organise themselves is up to them – as long as they do more”. This isn’t good enough.”
The MEP veteran went on, “The West can’t afford – financially or strategically – to run two defence organisations with more or less the same members, based in the same capital, but with different goals. The US needs to understand that, for the EU, military activity is a political exercise in building an integrated European state and has little to do with generating more military capability. The US should insist that the EU drops its military pretensions, encourages all its members to build cohesion through NATO and spend more on defence, and focus on those civil activities where it might actually add some value.”
Mike Hookem, a UK Independence Party MEP and his party´s defence spokesman, was particularly scathing of her comments.
He said: “UKIP has said for years it is time the government met the two percent target and started adequately funding our armed forces. The British people do not want to see more of their money spent on foreign aid when our troops are poorly equipped and veterans are left abandoned after service.”
“However, it appears however that Mrs James, like the rest of the Obama administration, is unaware of the economically devastating effects of the eurozone on many NATO members. To ask Greece, Spain, Italy, and Portugal to increase their spending on the military when millions of their people are unemployed and their economies have collapsed shows a blindness in Washington to the devastation the EU causes to many of its member states.”
Hookem said, “As for richer EU countries such as Germany, the present defence minister thinks the way to build up the army is to have soldiers work office hours and put crèche facilities in barracks. If the EU hadn’t tried to expand its empire east and thereby rattle Mr Putin’s cage, there would be no reason for NATO to talk about increased defence spending by NATO members.”
Elsewhere, Michael Emerson, a senior analyst with the Centre for European Policy Studies, a leading Brussels based think tank, commented, “Mrs James’s arguments are absolutely justified. Most of Europe seems to think that it can drift down and down in its level of defence spending, as if they lived in Kant’s dream world of ‘everlasting peace’. Fortunately the EU has indeed made of itself something close to that dream internally. But its leaders seem to have dreamed on that this could apply progressively also to our neighbours, who would be getting more and more ‘like us’.”
By Martin Banks