The war over the UK Ministry of Defence’s budget took another turn on Wednesday after reports of a top Trump administration official demanding the UK spends more on its defense during a meeting of key NATO security chiefs.
John Bolton, who has been Donald Trump’s national security advisor since April, made the demands to his British counterpart Sir Mark Sedwill during a meeting on Monday which also included French and German security chiefs, ahead of a much-anticipated NATO summit in Brussels in July.
During the meeting, Bolton voiced concerns from the White House that Britain’s deterioration in defense spending was causing unknown damage to the British Armed Forces, with one UK official telling the Daily Telegraph that there were “some frank conversations about our spending on defense.”
Another source quoted said Bolton made it “abundantly clear what the Trump administration expects from Britain in terms of defense spending and its future military capabilities.”
The comments will no doubt be music to the ears of Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson who, over the last number of weeks has been increasingly vocal about his displeasure at not acquiring more cash for his department.
Last week, it was reported that “shock waves” were sent through the MoD after a meeting between Williamson, Prime Minister Theresa May and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond saw Williamson leave empty handed in his demands for more funding. Instead the government plans to pump extra funds into the NHS.
Facing a funding shortage of up to £20.5 billion, Williamson is in the midst of a defense spending review on the MoD’s future modernisation plans. Initially due in July, the plan’s publishing date has been pushed back until the early autumn. But May is expected to give a brief overview of the plan at next month’s summit.
Likely to take place on Thursday July 12 – ahead of Trump’s working visit to the UK – the summit is likely to see Trump reiterate demands that European allies spend more on defense after previously threatening to pull out of the alliance.
Washington is expecting that all 29 of NATO’s members move towards a spending requirement of at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense, many are reluctant to do so. But while UK ministers insist that they are hitting that 2 percent, there are fears that the figure stands at only about 1.7 percent, according to the Telegraph.
Yesterday, MPs from the Commons Defence Select Committee gave their backing for more defense spending after the release of a committee report recommending that the UK ups its budget to 3 percent of GDP to maintain its warfighting capabilities in the wake of perceived threats such as conflict with Russia.
These concerns were reiterated by the former Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) General Lord Houghton, who said a continued decline in military capabilities would only “encourage Russia to be more aggressive.”
Houghton also warned against being dismissive of Russian concerns of the “strategic threat” posed by the rollout of NATO and EU memberships so close to its borders. Rather than telling Russia to “shut up and go away,” as Williamson said earlier this year, Houghton said the issue required a greater understanding of “Russia’s predicament” and that concerns should be dealt with diplomatically.
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