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UK announces biggest military spending boost since Cold War

November 19, 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has earmarked space and cyber-defense projects and pledged to make Britain "the foremost naval power in Europe." The government wants to define its post-Brexit role on the world stage.

The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives back in Portsmouth Naval Base
Image: picture-alliance/empics/A. Matthews

Britain on Thursday pledged to end the "era of retreat" by announcing the biggest increase in military spending since the end of the Cold War as it seeks to define its post-Brexit role on the world stage.

It comes as the UK's public finances have been stretched by the coronavirus pandemic and after it emerged that ministers are planning to slash the foreign aid budget.

"I have taken this decision in the teeth of the pandemic because the defense of the realm must come first," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.

"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."

Where is the money going?

The British government said it would spend an extra 16.5 billion pounds ($21.8 billion, €18.4 billion) on the military over the next four years. The current defense budget is just short of 42 billion pounds a year.

The money will help to counter potential future threats, Johnson said. High on the list are space and cyber-defense projects such as an artificial intelligence agency.

Johnson also said the defense funding would "restore Britain's position as the foremost naval power in Europe'' and"`spur a renaissance'' in British shipbuilding. He announced plans for 13 frigates as well as committing to a new generation of warships.

This would not only safeguard hunderds of thousands of jobs, he said, but also create "40,000 new ones."

 The last soldier in a patrol from the 1st Battalion Royal Regiment Fusiliers goes through the gate at his base
Britain was the main battlefield ally of the US in Iraq and AfghanistanImage: picture-alliance/PA Wire/B. Birchall

Where is the money coming from?

The government did not set out where the money would come from at a time when the finance ministry has spent billions on trying to protect jobs during the COVID pandemic.

Britain’s main opposition Labour Party said the increase was long overdue after the ruling Conservative party had cut the size of the armed forces by a quarter in the last decade.

The opposition fears the government is preparing to abandon its commitments on overseas aid to finance the military spending. 

British military strenght graphic

What does this mean for Europe? 

The increase would put the United Kingdom way ahead of any other European countries in terms of its overall spending on defense, and cement its postion as biggest European spender in the NATO military alliance.

A 2018 European Parliament research paper said that France is the second biggest spender in overall terms, setting aside €40 billion a year for its military.

Germany comes in third position, spending €32 billion, according to the report.

Both countries have been locked in a fierce debate over how to pay for European security and defense in recent weeks.

French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to criticise the leader of Germany's Christian Democrats, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, in an interview last week.

He said her claims that Europe's defense can never independent of the United States "a historical misinterpretation."

Kramp-Karrenbauer had penned an op-ed for the Politico website urging "an end to illusions of European strategic autonomy" — a key policy championed by Macron.

jf/rt (AP, Reuters)