Britain announces its biggest military investment since the Cold War
Over the next four years, the British armed forces will receive an additional 16.5 billion pounds ($ 21 billion), which will help develop cyber and space capabilities, create an artificial intelligence agency and “restore Britain’s position as the leading naval power in Europe, Johnson said.
Britain, which has made invasions alongside the United States in places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, already had one of the largest military budgets in Europe, surpassing the NATO guideline of 2 percent of gross domestic product. This new budget would represent a 10 percent increase over previous spending plans, in what the government characterized as the largest increase in 30 years.
Britain will “end the era of withdrawal, transform our armed forces, strengthen our global influence,” Johnson told Parliament via video link from his Downing Street residence where he is in quarantine after coming into contact with a lawmaker positive for coronavirus, although the prime minister had the virus in the spring and tested negative this week.
Defense analysts said the rise was higher than anticipated, especially given the hit the economy has taken from the pandemic.
Johnson told Parliament on Thursday that he made the decision “in the midst of the pandemic” because “the defense of the kingdom and the safety of the British people must come first.”
The world is “more dangerous and more intensely competitive than at any time since the Cold War,” he said.
Britain is particularly concerned about cyber threats, Chinese expansionism and the possible conflict with Russia, which since 2018 has been accused of poisoning a former double agent and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury.
But the spending spike also comes at a time when Britain’s position on the world stage is changing. The Brexit transition period will expire next month.
Malcolm Chalmers, deputy managing director of RUSI, a London-based think tank, said one of the possible “drivers of this generous agreement has been the need to demonstrate that the UK has unique value as an advocacy partner for our allies. closest, the United States and our European neighbors. ”
At the start of the new year, the government may be “eager to repair any damage caused by the Brexit process,” Chalmers said. “This sends a clear message that the UK will continue to be a major contributor and, by most measures, the strongest military power in Europe.”
Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University, said the government may have both Brexit and the incoming Biden administration in mind.
“It’s a combination of Britain wanting to show that it can still make a splash in ways that will hopefully fit in well with the new president’s priorities,” Bale said. “It is also a way of reminding Europe that they are still a great player when it comes to defense and while we are separating from the EU, we are not separating ourselves from defending Europe.”
As part of the defense investment, the prime minister announced the creation of the National Cyber Force, a partnership between intelligence and defense; Space Command, which will launch satellites; and a new agency dedicated to artificial intelligence.
Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labor Party, welcomed the additional spending, but questioned where the money will come from. In particular, he said he was concerned that the government would default on its promise to spend 0.7 percent of gross national income on foreign aid.
“How will this ad be paid for? Such is the government’s handling of the pandemic, the UK has the sharpest economic recession of any [Group of Seven] country, “Starmer said.
Andrew Mitchell, a former secretary for international development, told Johnson that he should “take into account the wise words of General [Jim] Mattis, the former US defense secretary, who said to Donald Trump, and I quote: ‘The more you cut It helps, the more I have to spend on ammunition. ‘
Johnson responded by saying that Britain “will continue to lead the world” in international aid.
Washington welcomed the rise in defense.
Acting US Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller said the United States “applauds the announcement,” which he said would allow the British Army “to remain one of the best fighting forces in the world.”
“Your commitment to increasing defense funding should be a message to all free nations that the most capable among us can, and must, do more to counter emerging threats to our nation.