WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Britain’s defense secretary on Wednesday sought to dispel U.S. concerns about cuts in his country’s defenses, saying it was maintaining and developing a credible capability and urging fellow European NATO members to step up their forces.
“Let me assure you the United Kingdom, like the United States, has no intention of lowering its guard,” Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said in a speech before meeting new U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
Last week U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno caused a stir in London when he questioned Britain’s plans and urged London to maintain spending at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s agreed level of 2 percent of national output into the future.
Odierno, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph newspaper, warned that with its force cuts British units could end up fighting inside U.S. units rather than alongside them.
Britain reduced defense spending by about 8 percent in real terms in the last four years to help cut a record budget deficit, shrinking the size of the armed forces by around one sixth.
Speaking to the CSIS think tank in Washington, Fallon said his government had committed to maintaining the 2 percent level this year and next. Future plans would depend on later reviews, he said, but he insisted Britain’s capabilities were adequate.
“We can deploy a division in the field, with sufficient notice, and very few countries can still say that today,” Fallon said. “We have committed not to reduce our army any further and we are adding reserves,” he said.
Britain and the United States, two of the main pillars of the NATO alliance, have a long history of close military cooperation, including most recently in Afghanistan and in the campaign against Islamic State in Iraq.
In response to a question, Fallon rejected a suggestion that he was on a damage-limitation mission. He laid out an array of military innovations, including a plan to invest 285 million pounds in design work for the next generation of nuclear submarines replacing the Vanguard class over the next decade.
In remarks addressed to the U.S. administration, he said: “Make no mistake here, we are after the same thing together. You want Europe to do more to pay its way in defense. So do we.”
He said 20 of the 28 NATO members were paying less than 1.5 percent of their national output on defense.
Reporting By David Storey; Editing by Tom Brown