The United States has privately called on the United Kingdom to eliminate its nuclear-armed submarines and ballistic missiles as a means of saving money amid strains in NATO states' armed forces budgets, the New York Times reported on Monday.
"Either they can be a nuclear power and nothing else or a real military partner," an anonymous high-level U.S. official told the newspaper.
European nations two years ago had in total cut $45 billion in armed forces funding, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen noted at the time. He said those reductions had undermined NATO's capacity to carry out military operations in tandem with the United States.
Reductions have continued amid deep budget troubles in Europe. Just three of the 28 NATO nations -- Greece, the United Kingdom and the United States -- are adhering to NATO recommendations that at least 2 percent of gross domestic product be directed toward member states' armed forces, according to issue specialists.
The United Kingdom is making initial preparations to replace all four of its Vanguard-class submarines that carry nuclear-tipped Trident ballistic missiles. While a final decision on the plan is not expected until 2016, its expense has been estimated at $30 billion or more.
"The vast sums of money involved are reason alone to question the necessity of Trident, especially when put in the context of huge cuts to equipment and armed forces personnel the government has had to make in an effort to balance the books. Trident is, quite simply, a burden that distorts the defense budget," the London Guardian on Monday quoted former British Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey as saying.
The Liberal Democrat lawmaker had until last fall headed an analysis of alternatives for the "like for like" nuclear deterrent replacement plan. The document is expected to be completed in a matter of weeks.
Prime Minister David Cameron and other leaders in London have argued that threats from nations such as Iran and North Korea demonstrate the continued need for a British nuclear deterrent.
"Some have argued that we should sacrifice our continuous at-sea deterrence," Defense Secretary Philip Hammond stated in a February commentary. "But not having a submarine permanently at sea would make us vulnerable to a pre-emptive strike. A deterrent only deters if it is credible and available. All the evidence points to a continuous at-sea presence, based on Trident, as the most cost-effective route to deliver the deterrent effect."