US Defence Secretary says ‘special relationship’ at risk unless UK boosts defence spending

Posted On: 
2nd July 2018

Britain's reputation as a global military power is at "risk of erosion" unless it spends far more on the military,  the US Secretary of Defence has warned Gavin Williamson.

Gavin Williamson and Jim Mattis in Brussels last year
Credit: 
PA Images

General Jim Mattis warned the Defence Secretary in a letter that  for Britain to "remain the US partner of choice", it would have to follow France’s example of a multi-billion pound hike for the Armed Forces.

His extraordinary intervention comes amid a simmering row between Mr Williamson and Theresa May on defence spending, after reports last week claimed he threatened to bring her down unless she pledged an extra £20bn investment over the next decade.

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In a two-page letter written just days after meeting the Defence Secretary in London, General Mattis said that Britain’s status as a global power "has been the credibility of the UK’s Armed Forces”.

The document, which was leaked to the Sun, said: "I am concerned that your ability to continue to provide this critical military foundation for diplomatic success is at risk of erosion, while together we face a world awash with change."

Citing the French pledge of a £260bn rise in defence spending until 2025, he went on: “As global actors, France and the US have concluded that now is the time to significantly increase our investment in defense. Other allies are following suit…”

“It is in the best interest of both our nations for the UK to remain the US partner of choice.

General Mattis went on to drop Washington’s biggest hint yet that Britain’s military should exceed the Nato target of 2% of GDP.

“A global nation like the UK, with interests and commitments around the world, we will require a level of defense (sic) spending beyond what we would expect from allies with only regional interests," he said.

“In that spirit, the UK will need to invest and maintain robust military capability.”

The letter will heap further pressure on Mrs May and Chancellor Philip Hammond with its call for Britain to offer a commitment by the time Donald Trump arrives in Europe for next week’s Nato summit.

General Mattis added: “It is not for me to tell you how to prioritize your domestic spending priorities, but I hope the UK 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.

“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.”

Former defence minister Mark Francois MP told The Sun: “For many months, the Defence Committee has been arguing that we must increase our defence 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.”