The Conservatives shocked almost everyone who has been tracking the UK elections by winning an outright majority with 331 seats in the House of Commons. Their victory, however, has raised concerns that the UK will not maintain its defense spending. The Tories refused to commit to meeting NATO’s target of spending 2 percent on national income on defense during the general election, as David Cameron’s budget cutting plans are likely to include defense cuts. As one of only four of NATO’s 28 members that meet the 2 percent target, Britain missing the target would deal a symbolic blow to NATO. On current projections, British military spending will fall below that level within the next few years as London tries to rein in a bloated budget deficit.
Cameron has refused to commit to the spending target despite urging other NATO members to spend more on defense at last year’s NATO summit in Wales. Some critics claim that the UK is at risk of losing credibility in the eyes of their fellow NATO members if they miss the target after trumpeting the importance of the 2 percent target just a year ago. President Obama has urged Cameron to commit to the spending target, warning that failure to do so sets a damaging example for other European countries and weakens the status of the transatlantic alliance.
In light of Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, several NATO allies have promised to increase military spending and the alliance has shown a new determination to stop defense cuts. If the Conservative government in the United Kingdom fails to maintain defense spending under these conditions, it may risk its standing as a leader in Europe, instead looking more distinct from the mainland. Count it as one more small crack in the concept of a united Europe.