On November 19th, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to announce Great Britain’s £16.5 billion increase in defense spending, pledging to end his country’s “era of retreat.”
The Ministry of Defense’s current annual budget of £41.5 billion will increase by £4 billion per year for the next four years, on top of the Conservative Party manifesto commitment to up defense spending by 0.5% above the rate of inflation each year of the current parliament.
This represents roughly a 10% increase, the country’s largest military investment since the end of the Cold War.
“I have taken this decision in the teeth of the pandemic because the defence of the realm must come first,” Johnson said in a statement ahead of the announcement.
“The international situation is more perilous and more intensely competitive than at any time since the Cold War and Britain must be true to our history and stand alongside our allies. To achieve this, we need to upgrade our capabilities across the board.
This is our chance to end the era of retreat, transform our armed forces, bolster our global influence, unite and level up our country, pioneer new technology and defend our people and way of life.”
This comes as the conclusion of long discussions between the Ministry of Defense, the prime minister’s office and the Treasury about whether defense will receive a multi-year settlement – even as other departments are only expected to be given a single-year budget.
However, the new funding announcement comes without the full weight of what had been billed as a sweeping review of foreign, defense and security policy.
The Integrated Review was meant to set out the UK’s global priorities, an assessment of the security risks and how it is adapting to meet them. The Review will come after New Year’s Eve.
The prime minister is expected to confirm the creation of a National Cyber Force, which is a partnership between the military and the spy agency GCHQ.
The force has the ability to launch offensive cyber-attacks as well as defend against hostile action in cyber space – seen as an increasingly critical domain of conflict between states.
Another new domain, along with the traditional ones of land, sea and air (and cyber-space), is space.
Johnson will unveil a new “Space Command”, which the government said would be “capable of launching our first rocket by 2022”.
In addition, a new Artificial Intelligence agency will be created to focus on the fast-moving advances in that area. It is thought this agency will be part of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, welcomed the spending decision and said there would actually now be a £24bn boost to defense spending – when the extra money is added to the Conservatives’ election commitment to increase the budget by at least 0.5% above inflation every year.
“This means that we can have a proper discussion about what are our global ambitions, and how we are going to fund it,” he said.
“This very large settlement for defense will allow us to fix the problems we’ve inherited… and allow headspace to modernize our forces.”
Wallace said that “the actual decisions on the numbers” behind the boost to defense spending would be revealed by Chancellor Rishi Sunak at the spending review, coming in the week starting on November 24th.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the following:
“One of the failures of the past reviews was our funding never matched our ambition. And that goes for most of the reviews for the last 40 years … This very large settlement for defense will allow us to fix the problems that we’ve inherited … and allow headspace to modernize our forces.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and struggling economies everywhere, including in the UK, defense spending is at an all-time high, which means that the UK, a traditional US ally, is likely expecting some sort of confrontation, either with Russia or China, or both.
Incoming US President Joe Biden is a mystery, and it is unclear in which directions he would push and pull, but regardless, the UK appears to be ready to fulfill and exceed NATO and Washington’s expectations towards it.
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