Las Vegas brags that what happens there, stays there. But what’s happening in Whitehall—Britain’s political equivalent of both ends of Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue—will not stay in the U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond’s budget requires huge cuts in Britain’s military. Already down to 79,000 from an authorized strength of 82,000, it would further decline to 70,000.
The Royal Navy, which once ruled the seas, will acquire two giant aircraft carriers, but it will not have sufficient aircraft to man these behemoths. And the RAF, which won the Battle of Britain, is a sliver of its former self. Worse yet, the special relationship between America and Britain, in part based on military-to-military and intelligence linkages established during World War II, is at risk.
A firestorm has erupted in Britain over these proposed cuts. Last weekend, a very senior member of the House of Commons called me in despair over what could happen to the British military. A large number of former Conservative defense ministers and retired generals have registered their strongest protests. But no matter how this debate is resolved in Whitehall, the pressures to slash defense have already crossed the Atlantic.
Though the differences are important, the outcome for both militaries could be the same: hollow forces unready and ill-prepared to carry out their missions.