By Tang Jun
British Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace recently announced that Britain's military spending will double and reach 100 billion pounds by 2030, meeting the new Prime Minister Truss' goal of increasing military spending to 3% of GDP.
The plan to double military spending in eight years has aroused intense attention and the timing – the subtle moment of the Russia-Ukraine conflict – reflects multiple considerations on the UK side.
The UK plans to foster new-type combat forces to meet the demand of future warfare. The increased military spending will be used in such areas as aerospace, anti-UAV systems and AI. As all military powers are actively forming space forces and developing space weapons and information support equipment to improve their combat capacity in the outer space, Britain, to catch up with the trend, formed its own Space Command on April 1, 2021, followed by the British military’s first independent document on the space domain. That marked the British space force entering the period of accelerated development. The value of the space force in future warfare has been partially demonstrated by the large-scale use of UAVs and cruise missiles during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Enhancing combat forces in those areas will require a horde of new weapons and equipment, hence sufficient military funds.
The UK eyes military influence commensurate with a “global Britain”. The British government released the Global Britain in a Competitive Age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy in March 2021, which envisioned “global Britain” to be a country of global vision that can solve problems and share burdens. In the backdrop of major-country game and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Britain holds that a more complex and serious international situation lies ahead and it must upgrade its national defense capacity comprehensively. A sharp increase in military spending sends the world a signal that the country will continue to deeply engage in important international issues and prove that it has the action force and influence matching its vision for a “global Britain”.
The UK tries to maintain regional military supremacy in response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The Russia-Ukraine conflict made the UK worry about its security. Following the escalation of the conflict, Poland began to buy military equipment in large quantities and actively expanded its armed forces, while Germany announced to drastically increase the military expenditure too. Under such circumstances, only by largely increasing its military expenditure and enhancing its military capacity can Britain keep an edge in the European arms race and maintain its military supremacy in the region as a response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
The UK wants to cement a special relationship with the US in order to leverage Uncle Sam to achieve its strategic ambitions. Despite its ambitious “global Britain” strategy after Brexit, the UK is unable to sustain this ambition by itself and has to follow America on diplomatic and security affairs. To pander to the big brother, London must sharply increase military spending and enhance military capacity in order to share America’s pressure as the “world cop” and truly lessen its defense burden. In return, Britain hopes America can repay its “loyalty” by supporting its “global Britain” strategy.
However, such a massive increase in military spending is up against both various realistic difficulties and a dim prospect.
First, what with the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Britain is going through the most serious economic challenge after WWII, and how to strike a balance between increasing military expenditure and launching better benefits for the people is a great test to Downing Street given the strained public finance, not to mention that the military spending hike is already under fire at home.
Second, the military funds really available may be discounted by inflation. Economist Ben Zaranko at the British Institute for Fiscal Studies said the number 100 billion pounds is an exaggeration of the magnitude of growth. Of the 52 billion-pound increment, only about 23 billion is in net value, while the rest is puffed up by inflation and estimated economic growth in the future.
At last, the British military is looking at a huge gap of budget for equipment, and the increase in military spending may once again trigger a fierce scramble for funds by different services. So far, the carrier-borne fleet onboard the British aircraft carrier isn’t fully equipped because of underfunding, the Royal Navy is out at the elbows with its type 31 and type 26 frigates, and the Army also needs mountains of money for transformation and modernizing its nuclear forces. An increasingly fierce competition for military funds both within each service and among the services is on the horizon.
Besides, during the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Britain’s military aid to Ukraine also takes up a lot of military spending. Therefore, we’d better not hold our breath for how useful the doubling of military expenditure will be for Britain.
Editor's note: Originally published on thepaper.cn, this article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.