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Mattis gives UK ultimatum to increase military spending or risk US relationship

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Thomas Shannon, the under secretary of state for political affairs, talk with Theresa May, the prime minister for the United Kingdom, during an international conference on Somalia at the Lancaster House in London on May 11, 2017. (Department of Defense/Staff Sgt. Jette Carr)
July 04, 2018

Britain’s lack of military spending is jeopardizing its relationship with the United States.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis sent a letter to his British counterpart, Gavin Williamson, in which he expressed concerns that if Britain’s military funding was not increased, its military excellence was “at risk of erosion,” The Sun recently reported.

“I am concerned that your ability to continue to provide critical military foundation for diplomatic success is at risk of erosion, while together we face a world awash with change,” Mattis’ letter said.

“A global nation like the U.K., with interests and commitments around the world, will require a level of defense spending beyond what we would expect from allies with only regional interests.”

The letter, reportedly sent June 12, has been referred to as blunt and threatening, and it is said to have embarrassed some British leaders, including Prime Minister Theresa May.

Including pension spending, Britain barely meets the NATO-established minimum of 2-percent GDP on defense spending

Earlier this year, France announced its plan to increase the country’s military spending by €295 billion ($343 billion) by 2025. The plan includes an annual increase of 1.7 percent between 2019 and 2022, and will increase to 3 percent in 2023.

At the time, President Emmanuel Macron said: “I want a strong France, in charge of its own destiny, protective of its citizens and its interests.”

“For that, we need a full defense capability, a modern, powerful force that is responsive and looks to the future,” he added.

Mattis’ letter highlighted France’s increased spending.

“As global actors, France and the U.S. have concluded that now is the time to significantly increase our investment in defense,” Mattis said.

“Other allies are following suit,” the letter pointed out.

“It is in the best interest of both our nations for the U.K. to remain the U.S. partner of choice. In that spirit, the U.K. will need to invest and maintain robust military capability,” it continued.

“It is not for me to tell you how to prioritize your domestic spending priorities, but I hope the U.K. will soon be able to share with us a clear, and fully funded, forward defense blueprint that will allow me to plan our own future engagement with you from a position of strength and confidence,” Mattis added.

British military generals have called on May to increase defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP annually, amounting to £6 to £7 billion ($7.9 to $9.2 billion).

May has made no comments on maintaining “Tier One” military capabilities, only referring to the U.K. as a “leading nation.”

Former British Chief of Defense Staff Nick Houghton said: “U.S. observers have come to realize we are living a lie. President Trump is not remotely impressed by our national pretension to be America’s greatest ally.”

Former Defense Minister Mark Francois said: “For many months, the Defense Committee has been arguing that we must increase our defense spending, not least to remain a credible ally of the United States.”

“This letter is a real wake up call that we need to invest to maintain our leadership in NATO, and I hope the Prime Minister takes urgent note,” Francois added.

At next week’s NATO summit in Brussels, it’s expected that the U.S. will reinforce calls for increased defense spending.

Mattis’ letter added: “In advance of that, the President and I look forward to hearing details of the progress you have made with your Modernizing Defence Programme at the upcoming NATO Summit.”