'US DEFENCE SECRETARY WARNS OVER MILITARY SPENDING' [EXTRACT]

Portsmouth News – 1 June 2015

Further cuts to defence spending in the UK would be a great loss to the world', US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter has warned. Mr Carter told the BBC the UK had always punched above its weight militarily and it would be a great loss to the world if it cut defence spending in a way that suggested it was disengaged.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the UK was meeting the 2 per-cent target in the current financial year and insisted he was confident the government would continue to provide the Armed Forces with the resources they need. But he refused to pledge that the government would continue to hit the target after March 2016, insisting that he would not pre-empt the decisions of Chancellor George Osborne in this autumn's Spending Review, which will set out departmental budgets for the coming three years.

… Mr Fallon told BBC Radio 4's 'World at One':

"He is right to recognise that Britain has always punched above its weight. The United States regards Britain as an indispensable partner in operations right around the world. We've made it very clear when the target was published last year that we met it then, and we've made it very clear we are going to go on meeting it in this financial year."

Asked if he could commit to the 2 per cent target being met next year, Mr Fallon said:

"That prejudges the outcome of the spending review. Any strategy that you have for your defence and security has to be affordable. All colleagues round the Cabinet table recognise the scale of the fiscal challenge we still face in reducing the deficit. We are no different to any other department in that."

… Mr Fallon said the five-yearly Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) being conducted over the summer will identify the threats facing the UK, the military capabilities needed to deal with them and the funding required to provide those capabilities.

… But Conservative MP Julian Lewis said that Mr Carter's comments were a sign of "how serious (the Americans) believe the situation has become". Dr Lewis told the 'World at One':

"What we've got to remember is that the 2 per cent is not a target, it's a minimum. The idea that we would fall below the minimum of 2 per cent when in the Cold War we spent between 4 and 5 per cent of GDP on defence is frankly staggering. I believe that the government should say that it is out of the question that we would ever fall below the NATO recommended minimum of 2 per cent, bearing in mind that they've been quite happy to box themselves in by ring-fencing other Departments, whose work is frankly less important than defending our country."