Do budget cuts pose a risk to UK credibility as a military power?

Budget cuts risk UK credibility as a military power
© Maj. Paul Smyth, MoD/UK Crown Copyright

The former commander of the UK’s maritime forces, Rear Admiral Alex Burton, has warned that budget cuts risk the country’s credibility as a military power.

Speaking to the BBC, Burton said that rising threats will require the UK to reverse years of budget cuts to the Ministry of Defence, both to restore its credibility as a military power on the world stage, and to adapt to growing threats from Russia and elsewhere.

NATO recommends that its member countries spend at least 2% of GDP on defence, and the UK is currently one of only five countries meeting this recommended target. However, Burton insisted that a significant increase is still needed to address changing threats.

What needs to change?

Burton recommended an increase of at least 0.5 percentage points, which would amount to an extra £7.7bn (~€8.7bn) per year: “If you do not spend more on defence than we currently are as a percentage of GDP, then we put at risk the fact that we are currently a credible military power, and from that we put at risk our position on the global stage.”

He warned that budget cuts over the past ten years have had a direct impact on the ability of those on the frontline to carry out their duties effectively. Burton said: “What worries me, and worried me when I left the front line and was operating in headquarters, is that some of the decisions we were making – and potentially over the next 12 months some of the decisions that will be made – will affect the ability to fight and win on the front line.”

Currently, Russia spends more than 5% of GDP on defence, and Burton cautioned that the potential military threat that the country represents needs to be addressed. Further, he argued that as Brexit negotiations progress, the UK will need to reinforce its military capabilities to ensure it is on equal footing with trading partners during negotiations.

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