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Hillary Clinton's warning to Britain over cuts in defence budget
Hillary Clinton's warning to Britain over cuts in defence budget
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La Clinton minaccia Londra: se tagliate le spese militari, non sarete più “amici speciali”. E magari, subirete un attentato di Al Qaeda...

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and Robert Gates, the secretary of defence, both said they were worried about deep reductions in Britain’s Armed Forces and the consequences for international security.

The unusual public intervention came as talks on the defence budget went down to the wire, with defence chiefs making 11th-hour personal appeals to David Cameron against cuts last night.

The Daily Telegraph disclosed last month that US officials were privately concerned that British defence spending was about to fall below 2 per cent of gross domestic product, the minimum standard expected of Nato members. Mrs Clinton and Mr Gates, America’s two most senior figures on international relations and security, made those fears public in separate remarks.

In a BBC interview to be broadcast today, Mrs Clinton was asked whether defence cuts being made in Europe, and specifically in Britain, worried the US administration.

She replied: “It does. The reason it does is because I think we do have to have an alliance where there is a commitment to the common defence.

“Nato has been the most successful alliance for defensive purposes in the history of the world, I guess, but it has to be maintained. Now each country has to be able to make its appropriate contributions.”

Mr Gates attended a meeting of Nato defence ministers in Brussels yesterday, where he delivered his own warning. “My worry is that the more our allies cut their capabilities, the more people will look to the US to cover whatever gaps are created,” he told reporters on his flight to Belgium. “At a time when we are facing stringencies of our own, that’s a concern for me.”

Later, he told the Nato meeting: “As nations deal with their economic problems, we must guard against the hollowing out of alliance military capability by spending reductions that cut too far into muscle.”

The American intervention will increase tensions within Whitehall over the scale of the defence cuts to be announced next week.

Britain is one of a handful of European Nato members that meets the 2 per cent standard. Officials believe that defence spending could fall as low as 1.7 per cent of GDP.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, is pressing for a 10 per cent cut in the defence budget, which Dr Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, is resisting fiercely. Sources said the two sides were discussing a “midpoint” compromise of around 6 per cent. That would represent a political victory for Dr Fox but would still leave the Services facing painful losses.

The Royal Navy could lose its amphibious landing capability, meaning Britain would be unable to mount another campaign like that in the Falklands. The future of Harrier and Tornado jets also hangs in the balance. Navy insiders said cutting the Harriers would mean that Britain’s first new aircraft carrier would enter service in 2016 with no British aircraft to fly from it.

The heads of the Navy, Army and RAF went to No 10 last night for private meetings with the Prime Minister to warn of the “serious consequences” of the Treasury plan.

“The PM should be aware that the cuts the Treasury is looking for are ridiculous,” said a senior military source. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, tried to play down US fears, insisting: “We will remain a very serious country in defence matters.”

The National Audit Office today will disclose that the “black hole” in the order book for defence equipment grew by £3.3 billion in Labour’s final year in office. The decision to delay construction work on the new carriers will add £650 million to their final cost, taking the eventual bill to £5.9  billion, the watchdog will say.

A £2.7 billion increase in the cost of Typhoon jets was caused by a decision to buy 16 additional aircraft, in order to meet international obligations to Germany, Italy and Spain.

By James Kirkup, Political Correspondent

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