America can count on the UK

Ministry of Defence

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently published the results of his department’s four-yearly review of America’s defense priorities. I welcome the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) for three reasons: first, as the unforeseen crisis in Ukraine shows, it is vital that we keep our assumptions about global security under constant review; second, the QDR provides a sober and realistic assessment of the increasingly complex range of security challenges we face — an assessment the United Kingdom shares — and offers clarity on the approach the U.S. military will take to meet those challenges; third, and perhaps most significantly, its evaluation of priorities reflects the current fiscal realities — a context that the U.K. shares.

Announcing reductions in the size of your nation’s armed forces as a result of fiscal constraints is something no defense secretary wants to do. In Britain, it has involved the disbandment of units with proud histories, to ensure we focus on the priorities of the future. I’m sure that these decisions will be no less painful in America.

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Britain is a different country with its own set of circumstances. But Americans should draw comfort from our experience of dealing simultaneously with fiscal and security challenges. As a result of the hard choices the U.K. Ministry of Defense has made, we are in better shape today, with a balanced and affordable program and greater certainty about the future.

We already have, as a result of the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, the best-equipped army of its size in the world. We will soon have a fleet of state-of-the-art F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and two brand-new aircraft carriers to fly them from. The first, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, will float in July. We are modernizing our strategic airlift, reconnaissance planes, destroyers, submarines, frigates and unmanned aerial vehicles. We are building up our cyber capabilities. Most importantly, Britain will remain capable of projecting its military power whenever and wherever in the world it is needed, to protect our interests and to support our allies.

Hagel’s announcement is only the start of a debate that will no doubt draw impassioned contributions from all sides. But by recognizing fiscal reality, as well as the range of security challenges we face, he has provided a clear-eyed analysis that will serve as a foundation for the discussion to follow.

Whatever the eventual outcome, I know that the United States will emerge from this experience stronger than ever. That is true partly because America’s closest allies, including the U.K., remain willing and able to share the burden of international security.

Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry have both said that greater coordination between the U.S. and its allies and partners will be an important part of meeting America’s, and the world’s, security challenges. I agree — and Britain stands ready to contribute.

Valuable collaboration is already underway. The U.S. is helping Britain regenerate its carrier strike force, allowing British warplanes to operate at sea, alongside U.S. jets, projecting power and influence around the world. We are replacing our respective aerial intelligence-gathering fleets with the same Rivet Joint aircraft, so that they, like our unmanned aerial vehicles, can be used interchangeably whenever U.S. and U.K. forces deploy together. Increasingly, we are planning on the basis of a shared understanding of the threats and building complementary forces to meet them.

That cooperation should include being more open-minded about buying equipment from beyond our own borders. By buying from our allies, we invest in each other’s economies and help develop each other’s military capabilities. That approach is working well for the U.K. and the U.S. For example, as the top partner in the F-35 project, Britain invests $2 billion in the U.S.-based development program, and shares in the production of every aircraft. This saves us both many millions in research and development costs, while ensuring from the very start that British and American systems can operate effectively together.

Events now unfolding in Ukraine show once again the need to present to the world a united Europe with a strong transatlantic bond. NATO remains the primary forum for achieving that. The U.K. is proud to be hosting NATO’s 65th anniversary summit in Wales in September. Last week, Hagel and I, together with our 26 NATO counterparts, confirmed that boosting cooperation among NATO allies and with our global partners will be a key theme of the summit.

No matter how the debate around the QDR concludes, Americans should be in no doubt that the U.K. will retain the range of advanced capabilities that make us a capable ally to the United States. Make no mistake: Britain is, and is determined to remain, ready, willing and able to work with our American partners on the global security challenges of today and tomorrow.
 
Hammond, a member of the British Conservative Party, has served as Defense secretary since 2011.