U.K. Boosts Defense Spending, Aiming to Cement Global Power Post-Brexit
By James Marson
The U.K. government announced its biggest increase in defense
spending since the Cold War in a bid to secure its position as the
U.S.'s main military ally in Europe after Brexit.
The U.K. will spend an additional 24.1 billion pounds,
equivalent to $32 billion, over the next four years compared with
last year's budget. That is GBP16.5 billion more than the
government had already pledged, securing the U.K.'s rank as the
second-highest spender on defense in the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization behind the U.S.
"I have done this in the teeth of the pandemic amid every other
demand on our resources because the defense of the realm and the
safety of the British people must come first," Prime Minister Boris
Johnson told Parliament on Thursday.
The U.K. shouldn't be "content to curl up on our island and
leave the task to our friends," he said.
"Britain must be true to our history, to stand alongside our
allies," he said. "To achieve this, we need to upgrade our
capabilities across the board."
The announcement came as the U.K. approaches a year-end deadline
for a deal on future relations with the European Union and prepares
for a new U.S. administration under President-elect Joe Biden.
German and French leaders, meanwhile, are squabbling in public over
how independent Europe's defense policies should be from the
"The timing is excellent," said Julian Lindley-French,
distinguished visiting research fellow at the National Defense
University in Washington. "The French and Germans can say what they
like. This sends a powerful message to the Americans that the one
ally who can ease their burdens is the U.K."
The U.K. has long prided itself on its "special relationship"
with the U.S., forged around close trade and military ties. But
that relationship has been challenged by cuts to defense-spending
plans over the past decade, and there is some concern in London
that Brexit might shift Washington's attention to Paris and
The U.S., stretched by the growth of China's military muscle and
Russia's belligerence, has long pressed European allies to increase
investment in their militaries. The call sharpened under President
Trump, who berated allies such as Germany for spending well below
the NATO target of 2% of gross domestic product. European officials
say they expect Mr. Biden to maintain pressure even while softening
After two decades primarily focused on fighting
counterinsurgency campaigns alongside the U.S. in Afghanistan and
Iraq, the U.K. military is shifting its attention to the threat of
adversaries such as China and Russia.
Mr. Johnson said the U.K. would focus on emerging technology
that would revolutionize warfare, spending an extra GBP1.5 billion
on military research and development. He announced a new agency
dedicated to artificial intelligence, a new National Cyber Force
and a Space Command.
The U.K. commissioned two aircraft carriers in the past three
years and ordered an initial 48 F-35 stealth jet fighters with the
aim of having one carrier strike group ready at all times starting
in 2023. It is building new nuclear-powered ballistic missile
submarines that carry the U.K.'s nuclear deterrent.
Those big-ticket investments have left the army in need of
modernization, analysts say. The additional spending announced
Thursday still leaves hard decisions on what equipment to upgrade
or replace, including tanks, in a review of its security and
foreign policy to be released at the start of next year.
Nevertheless, "this announcement has moved defense up the
pecking order of public spending in the U.K., to be only exceeded
by the National Health Service," said Malcolm Chalmers, deputy
director-general of the Royal United Services Institute in
The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, said he
supported the government's plans, but questioned how they would be
funded given the economic slump caused by the coronavirus
The announcement caps a turbulent week for Mr. Johnson. His
chief adviser resigned and Mr. Johnson appeared in Parliament via
video link as he is self-isolating after a meeting with a lawmaker
who later tested positive for coronavirus.
Mr. Johnson during the appearance touted the benefits of the
additional spending for Scotland, where polls show support for
leaving the U.K. is growing.
He said it would create 10,000 jobs a year across the U.K.,
including two Scottish shipbuilding hubs.
Write to James Marson at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 19, 2020 12:33 ET (17:33 GMT)
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