By Fang Xiaozhi
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an increase of £16.5 billion (US$22.0 billion) in defense spending recently, with the focus on cutting-edge technologies including cyber and space combat capabilities to forge edges in those two domains.
This is Britain’s most important armed forces investment plan and the largest military spending budget in 30 years after the Cold War. It is of great importance in the current period with the raging COVID-19 pandemic and the arrival of the post-Brexit era.
First of all, Britain has increased its defense budget to cope with the changing security situation in Europe. New insecurity factors have appeared in Europe and its surrounding areas, such as regional crisis and conflicts, terrorism and extremism, the spread of mass destruction weapons and their carriers, cyber attacks, natural and man-made disasters, illegal immigration, and organized crimes. London believes it is necessary to increase the defense budget, comprehensively upgrade its military forces and develop next-generation military capabilities to cope with the fast-changing security situation effectively.
The British government has continuously adjusted and expanded the scope of missions of its troops. It has advanced the combined operation capability and IT development, and immensely increased the funding for developing new-type forces engaged in IT-based warfare, cyber warfare, electronic warfare and counter-terrorism, with a particular emphasis on its IT and cyber combat capabilities and unmanned combat platforms. It has also launched an informatized retrofit of its existing equipment and devices, including developing the new-generation informatized main battle platform to build the national defense information network universally applicable across the military.
Second, as a long-standing military power, Britain intends to consolidate its international status in such areas as security, national defense, development, and foreign policy at a moment of tremendous changes in the global landscape. The British military is no more like what it used to be. However, it still should not be underestimated with the complete and powerful military industry system, weapon R&D and manufacturing capability, and overall military strength. The British government launched the “Comprehensive Spending Review” program in September this year, planing to set up the space command, national cyber force, and AI bureau successively, which revealed its ambition for global leadership in cyberspace and outer space.
Meanwhile, Britain increased its defense budget to strengthen the collaboration with NATO. Although a post-Brexit UK is still a NATO member, its relation with other European members in the military bloc will become more subtle and complicated. Therefore, it has continuously adjusted its position, role, and function in NATO according to the demand for “NATO collective defense” to improve the coordination with other NATO members and allies.
The military budget hike is a counter move taken by the UK when Europe is developing itself in such new security domains as outer space and cyberspace, with the aim of strengthening the defense cooperation with European countries and consolidating and promoting the solidarity and development of NATO. The move also signifies that Britons are no longer content with being a regular European country focused on regional affairs only, but aspires to revive its past glory as a global empire.
(The author is a researcher at the Center for Asia-Pacific Development Studies of Nanjing University. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.)