Friendly advice: Clinton warns UK off defence cuts

By Ian Dunt

Hilary Clinton has warned the UK that deep cuts to its defence capabilities could lead to the decline of Nato.

The high profile intervention adds another layer of complication to the already difficult process of reducing spending on Britain’s defence arrangements without sacrificing national security.

Speaking in Brussels, the US secretary of state said: “It does [worry me], and 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.

“Each country has to be able to make its appropriate contributions.”

Defence secretary Robert Gates added: “My worry is that the more our allies cut their capabilities, the more people will look to the United States to cover gaps.”

The leaking of defence secretary Liam Fox’s letter to the prime minister expressing serious concerns about cuts to his department last month drive cuts to defence firmly into the political spotlight.

David Cameron’s repeated statements underlining his concern with national security suggest the leak consolidated Dr Fox’s position but recent developments in the publication of the strategic defence and security review suggest that things are still frantic behind the scenes.

It now appears that the review will be published on the 19th, just one day before the comprehensive spending review dominates the headlines.

Analysts are bemused by the decision, especially given rumours of workers struggling to complete the document on time.

Writing in the Times today, Dr Fox said: “Every department must make its own contribution to deficit reduction and the MoD is no exception.

“It will be painful, and sacrifices will be made, but we must get the economy back on track and we must get the defence programme balanced.

“There is a hard road ahead of us, but make no mistake, at the end of the process Britain will have the capabilities it needs for the future, we will continue to be a big contributor to Nato and our interests will be more secure.”

He added: “Some projects would actually be more expensive to cancel than to continue – which is an absurdity that you would only really find made in Whitehall.

“And some projects we may simply have to accept that we need them and we have to continue to spend on them, but some we may have to decide simply to pull the plug, because we can’t continue in the current environment to afford them – despite the amount of money that has been sunk into them so far.”

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) this morning accused Labour of spending £3.3 billion over its plans in 2009/10.