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Lawmakers warn over British defence cuts
by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Aug 3, 2011

British lawmakers warned Wednesday that cuts to the defence budget, including scrapping aircraft carriers, planes and 17,000 troops, could leave the armed forces unable to fulfill key tasks within four years.

In a stinging report, the cross-party House of Commons defence committee challenged Prime Minister David Cameron's assertion that Britain will retain a "full spectrum defence capability" despite the cuts.

The lawmakers' criticism adds to concerns expressed by former senior military figures ever since ministers unveiled eight percent cuts to the armed forces budget in October as part of a government-wide austerity drive.

"We are not convinced, given the current financial climate and the drawdown of capabilities arising from the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), that from 2015 the armed forces will maintain the capability to undertake all that is being asked of them," said the report.

"Given the government's declared priority of deficit reduction we conclude that a period of strategic shrinkage is inevitable."

Cameron's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition claims it was left a 38-billion-pound (61.9 billion dollar, 43.6 billion euro) "black hole" of unfunded defence spending commitments when it took office in May last year.

The SDSR in October set out plans to reduce the size of the army, navy and air force by a total of 17,000 troops, cancel the Nimrod MRA4 reconnaissance planes and withdraw early the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and Harrier jump-jets.

The government has insisted Britain would still be a global player after the cuts, and said arrangements with allies such as France would help make up any shortfall.

However, the report questioned this claim and said a new National Security Strategy was in danger of becoming a "wish list" without more resources.

"The prime minister's view that the UK currently has a full spectrum defence capability is rejected by the committee," the report said.

It said that under current plans, the armed forces will be continually operating at full capacity, leaving little leeway to deal with unexpected events, particularly while 9,500 troops are deployed in Afghanistan.

The government's decision to join a bombing campaign against Libya earlier this year suggests it has "postponed the sensible aspiration of bringing commitments and resources into line", it added.

Committee chairman James Arbuthnot, a lawmaker from Cameron's Conservative party, said: "This is a clear example of the need for savings overriding the strategic security of the UK and the capability requirements of the armed forces."

Cameron angrily rejected the earlier criticism by military chiefs in June, after they said Britain would be overstretched by Libya, saying: "Look, tell you what, you do the fighting, and I'll do the talking."

And on Wednesday, Defence Secretary Liam Fox insisted that managing Britain's record budget deficit was a "national security imperative".

"We continue to have the fourth largest military budget in the world and the SDSR has put defence back on a stable footing," he said, adding: "I am pushing through radical reform to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated."

General David Richards, the head of the armed forces, added: "We have had to take some tough decisions, but... we will remain a formidable fighting force on the world stage.

"We will remain capable of sustaining our operations in Afghanistan and Libya before re-balancing will give us the flexibility to maintain our ability to project power across our spheres of interest."

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US defense chief warns of 'hasty' budget cuts
Washington (AFP) Aug 3, 2011 - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Wednesday against any extra deep spending cuts to the Pentagon budget which could be triggered by a further stalemate in the battle to slash the US deficit.

While the new Pentagon chief said he believed defense spending could be reduced responsibly, he was wary of any "hasty" cuts which he said could imperil national security.

"As part of the nation's efforts to get its finances in order, defense spending will be -- and I believe it must be -- part of the solution," Panetta said in a message sent to troops and civilian Pentagon employees.

But he warned that any imposed cuts "could trigger a round of dangerous across-the-board defense cuts that would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our ability to protect the nation."

Under a bill signed into law Tuesday Washington's $14.3 trillion debt limit will be raised by up to $2.4 trillion while at least $2.1 trillion will be cut from government spending over 10 years.

The new law calls for more than $900 billion in cuts over the next 10 years -- $350 billion of it in defense -- and creates a special congressional committee tasked with coming up with another $1.5 trillion in cuts to report by November 23, with Congress voting by December 23.

If the bipartisan committee deadlocks over the cuts, then an automatic mechanism will come into play slashing some $1.2 trillion from budgets, half of which would come defense spending.

Panetta said the agreed cuts in defense spending outlined in the debt deal "are in line with what this department's civilian and military leaders were anticipating."

And he stressed: "I believe we can implement these reductions while maintaining the excellence of our military. But to do that, spending choices must be based on sound strategy and policy."

But he warned against making hasty decisions which could imperil national security by pointing to mistakes made under previous administrations.

"In the past, such as after the Vietnam War, our government applied cuts to defense across the board, resulting in a force that was undersized and underfunded relative to its missions and responsibilities," he said.

"I will do everything I can to ensure that further reductions in defense spending are not pursued in a hasty, ill-conceived way that would undermine the military's ability to protect America and its vital interests around the globe," he added.

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