With the release of its Strategic Defense and Security Review this week, and announcement of an 8 percent reduction in defense spending over the next four years, Britain is clearly retrenching from its role as one of the world's leading military forces able to project power around the globe. The question for expert bloggers this week: What impact will those cuts have on the U.S.-U.K. "special relationship"?
A key aspect of that "special relationship" was Britain's willingness and ability to act as the United States' ally of first resort in times of crisis or conflict. Britain was America's most important partner in the 1991 Gulf War, the 2001 Afghan War, and the 2003 Iraq War. Given that the British army had already been cut a third since the end of the Cold War, and will now lose an additional 7,000 troops, some experts estimate that the United Kingdom will only be able to keep a single brigade in the field for sustained periods. The once vaunted Royal Navy will be pared down to a single operational aircraft carrier and fewer than 20 frigates and destroyers. Britain's purchase of the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be cut from a planned 138 to just 40.
Given the depth of those cuts, will Britain retain the kind of "full spectrum" military capabilities that have made it such a valued ally to the United States? After the domestic controversy surrounding Britain's participation in the Iraq war, are the British people even interested in maintaining the "special relationship"? Is there any other nation the United States can turn to in the absence of a reliable British partner, or do the defense cuts signal that an already overstretched U.S. military is likely to bear a greater share of the burden of policing the global commons?