Thu, Oct 21, 2010 - Page 6 News List

UK’s Cameron unveils military austerity plan

REFORMS:The prime minister said that Britain would invest in its special forces and develop expertise on cyber threats to counterbalance sweeping cuts to the military

AP, LONDON

Britain will lose thousands of troops, reduce its ability to fight complex missions like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and delay a program to upgrade its nuclear defenses, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Tuesday.

Outlining the first defense review since 1998 — intended both to sweep away strategies crafted before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US and to help clear the country’s crippling national debt — Cameron said 17,000 troops, a fleet of jets and an aging aircraft carrier would all be sacrificed.

Cameron’s government has hinted for months that the cuts would be severe — and sweeping. Communities around the country watched the announcement nervously, worried about jobs and the impact on local communities in a time of economic hardship.

The numbers were stark. Naval warships, 25,000 civilian staff and a host of bases will also be lost, while the country’s stockpile of nuclear warheads will be trimmed from 160 to 120.

Two new aircraft carriers will be built at a cost of £5 billion (US$8 billion) — but one will effectively by mothballed and another won’t have any British fighter jets to transport until 2019.

Instead, Britain will invest in its much admired special forces and develop expertise on cyber threats to secure the country’s status as a major global power, Cameron said.

“Britain has punched above its weight in the world, and we should have no less ambition for our country in the decades to come,” Cameron told the House of Commons.

He said funding for the mission in Afghanistan, which does not come from the regular military budget, would not be trimmed, promising extra resources for troops there.

Military cutbacks come a day before British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s long-anticipated announcement of a government-wide program to drastically cut department budgets and welfare bills. The largest cuts to public spending since World War II are aimed at virtually eliminating Britain’s deficit, which stands at over 10 percent of GDP.

Osborne’s announcement will provide details of Britain’s spending plans for its intelligence agencies, though Cameron confirmed there will be an extra £500 million in funding to counter cyber threats.

Cameron said the overhaul wasn’t just aimed at cutting the military budget — saying he was breaking decisively with the strategy of predecessors Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

He criticized the previous government’s decision to sign contracts for two new aircraft carriers — explaining that canceling the program would have cost more than building the vessels.

“That is the legacy we inherited, an appalling legacy the British people have every right to be angry about,” he said.

He said there would be an 8 percent cut to the annual £37 billion defense budget over four years — but insisted Britain’s spending on defense would remain above a NATO-demanded benchmark of 2 percent of GDP.

Cameron said some military bases would be closed — though he didn’t specify which, leaving communities anxious.

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