Mr. Cameron is about to throw a wrench into the [U.S.-UK] special relationship. Cameron is hinting that, come this fall, he’ll cut U.K. defense spending below NATO’s 2 percent GDP target.
Recognizing its symbolic commitment to the special relationship, successive British governments — including Cameron’s first-term government — have met the 2 percent target. Ironically, at last September’s NATO summit, Cameron praised himself for gaining a “pledge” from other leaders that “every NATO member not spending 2 percent of [GDP] will halt any decline on defense spending and aim to increase it in real terms as GDP grows, and to move towards 2 percent.”
But that was months ago. Now, Mr. Cameron is reneging on his once sacred pledge. And since winning reelection last month, he and his ministers have doubled down on equivocating on the 2 percent target. It’s about priorities. Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne (the equivalent of our Treasury secretary), are determined to shrink the U.K.’s budget deficit as quickly as they can. And having campaigned on the promise that they won’t cut spending on health, education, and foreign aid, they’re unwilling to rule out cuts to other government departments. Yet Mr. Cameron’s implicit assertion — that the money to meet the 2 percent GDP target doesn’t exist — is unequivocally untrue. Cameron now has a Conservative majority in the British Parliament — he does not need left-wing opposition support (even then, some Labour leaders are calling on Cameron to meet the 2 percent target). This political power gives Cameron room to cut deeper into Britain’s incredibly bloated welfare budget. Or to divert development-budget funds into military operations. Or to reform Britain’s stagnant social-security system and use the savings to bolster Britain’s defense.