Budget cuts are cracking the West's defenses
Facing budget shortfalls, Britain and France must make difficult choices that could reshape how Western allies meet common security challenges.
The global economic crisis is forcing many of America’s European allies to make deep cuts in defense spending and procurement. This could have a significant impact on US transatlantic defense cooperation, especially with Britain and France. These two allies have had the greatest capability for power projection. Both countries now face difficult trade-offs as they decide how to modernize their nuclear deterrents, as well as their conventional forces.Skip to next paragraph
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The choices are especially acute for Britain. Its defense officials suggest that their defense budget may be cut by 10-20 percent over the next five years as part of the country’s drive to reduce debt. Like the Labour government before him, Prime Minister David Cameron is committed to maintaining Britain’s nuclear Continuous At Sea Deterrence (CASD). That means maintaining at least one strategic ballistic missile submarine (known as SSBN) at sea at all times and replacing the four Vanguard SSBNs armed with the Trident II Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM).
A white paper on “The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent,” published by the government in 2006, estimated the total cost of replacing four Vanguard submarines to be £15-20 billion pounds ($23-31 billion dollars). These costs will fall principally in the period 2012-2027 and are expected to be the equivalent of approximately 9 percent of the current defense capital budget for the period of expenditure.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne recently stated that the costs for the Vanguard fleet replacement will be funded from the Ministry of Defense (MOD) budget. In the past, the capital costs of the procurement of the submarines have come from outside the MOD budget. Including these costs in the MOD budget would constrain Britain’s ability to modernize its conventional forces and still maintain an effective power projection capability.
Britain bases its defense plans on the assumption that it needs to maintain a high-quality nuclear retaliation capability against a bolt-out-of-the-blue counterforce strike by the Russian Federation. However, since the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent changes in the strategic environment after the cold war, a case can be made for Britain and France to maintain a “minimum deterrent” – one designed to deter potential nuclear weapon proliferators in the Middle East, specifically the Iranian Islamic Republic.