November 1, 2010  

An ally diminished

TO THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT for proposing defense spending cuts that send ominous signals to its coalition partners. The White House, Pentagon and State Department rushed to put an optimistic face on their reactions to the U.K.’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, unveiled in mid-October. But the scale of the cuts — 7.5 percent in real terms over the next four years — and Prime Minister David Cameron’s declaration that Britain’s expeditionary ambitions will be scaled back in the future is concerning. Most worrying and puzzling is the decision to immediately retire the Royal Navy’s flagship carrier, HMS Ark Royal, and to build two new carriers but not use either — one is to be mothballed or possibly sold, the other parked in limbo until at least 2020. The government says this is a cheaper option than canceling the contracts. Cameron’s new coalition government is in a tight spot having inherited two wars, a horrible national deficit and a fragile economy struggling to climb out of recession. A war-weary public is more willing to accept large cuts in defense spending than to stomach a gutting of health, education and social programs. Still, the nation that invented the aircraft carrier, and which is our Navy’s closest ally, is about to lose its seaborne strike capabilities — an essential military and diplomatic tool. Relearning those “big-deck” skills some 10 or more years in the future could prove impossible.