Australia backs defense spending cuts

Australia backs defense spending cuts

SYDNEY - Agence France-Presse
Australia backs defense spending cuts

NATO Secretary General Rasmussen (L), Australian Defense Minister Smith (C). AFP photo

Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith yesterday defended military spending cuts, saying the belt-tightening would not impact overseas operations or those with key ally the United States.

Canberra announced in May that it would slash Aus$5.5 billion ($5.76 billion) from its defense budget as part of sweeping government cuts, deferring or scrapping jet and weapons deliveries and sacking 1,000 staff.

Smith said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on three occasions about the cuts, which do not involve cutting military personnel numbers or overseas operations, most recently last week.

“And he is absolutely convinced, as I am, that the cuts that we have made in our defense program continue to protect our long-term capability but most importantly don’t have any adverse consequences for our overseas operations,” he told ABC TV.

“And don’t have any adverse implications for what we are doing with the United States, our enhanced practical cooperation, whether that’s (U.S.) marines in Darwin or the prospect of enhanced aviation access to our airbases in the Northern Territory.” Australia has some 1,500 troops serving in Afghanistan as well as peacekeeping deployments in East Timor and the Solomon Islands, and is set to became a critical regional ally of the U.S. in the Asia-Pacific.