* Britain holds defence review in 2015, election year
* Parliament's defence committee backs military spending
* Questions remain over future of nuclear weapons system
By Kylie MacLellan
LONDON, March 27 Events in Ukraine have shown
Britain must not cut its armed forces too deeply, a committee of
lawmakers said on Thursday, saying it was concerned that allies
had begun to question the country's military capabilities.
Britain has, over the last few years, been shrinking its
armed forces by around a sixth as part of a plan to reduce the
public debt, but the scale of the cuts has fuelled a debate
about its ability to project force globally.
"Recent events in Ukraine illustrate the speed with which
new threats, and indeed the reappearance of old threats, can
manifest themselves," said James Arbuthnot, chairman of the
Defence Committee, which scrutinises government defence policy
"Strong conventional forces provide the UK with a
contingency against the unexpected threats that may emerge ...
Events might require the reconstitution of conventional forces,
but once cut back they will be very difficult to rebuild."
Britain is due to hold its next strategic defence and
security review (SDSR) in 2015, the year of a national election.
The committee said operating a nuclear deterrent did not
remove the need for substantial investment in other security
measures, including diplomatic and intelligence assets as well
as retaining adequate conventional forces.
"Deterrence must be credible to be effective: Britain has to
show the capacity and the will to respond proportionately and
effectively to threats at every level," said Arbuthnot.
Security strategy has been made more complex by threats such
as cyber attacks, where identifying the enemy is harder, the
committee said, increasing the need for focus on resilience to
and recovery from potential attacks.
British generals have warned the military cuts, which come
as the country prepares to withdraw the last of its troops from
Afghanistan at the end of 2014, are hollowing out the armed
forces and could limit Britain's ability to fight wars.
In January, former U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates
warned British defence cuts meant the country could no longer be
a full military partner of the United States.
The committee said it was concerned about these comments and
the deterioration in perceptions abroad of the UK's military
capabilities. It also said NATO remained a cornerstone of UK
deterrence and said next year's defence review should focus on
how best the UK can contribute to the alliance.
Britain is due to make a final decision in 2016 on whether
to renew its Trident nuclear deterrent, an issue which has
divided the coalition government.
The committee said the decision about retaining a nuclear
deterrent should be made on its own merits, rather than on the
basis of what Britain could do with the money saved.
"It would be naive to assume that a decision not to invest
in the nuclear deterrent would release substantial funds for
investment in other forms of security," it said.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)