Sunak rejects calls to increase defense spending to 3% of GDP
Ishi Sunak has dismissed calls to increase defense spending to 3% of GDP, while acknowledging growing challenges from China and Russia.
The Prime Minister said an updated foreign and security policy would show Britain “is ready to assert itself” and “ensure we are never vulnerable to the actions of a hostile power”.
He pledged a further £5 billion for defense this year and next, although significant sums will gobble up replenishing stockpiles of ammunition handed over to Ukraine and work on the Aukus project to develop nuclear submarines for Australia.
This short-term funding is only about half of what Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace had reportedly called for as military budgets are squeezed by the fallout from Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and high inflation.
As the government unveils the 2023 Integrated Review (IR23) update on Monday, Mr. Sunak is visiting San Diego, California for talks with Aukus ally US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
We will strengthen our national defenses, from economic security to technological supply chains and intelligence expertise, to ensure we are never again vulnerable to the actions of a hostile power
Mr. Sunak will aim to increase defense spending to 2.5% of gross domestic product – a measure of the size of the economy – in the longer term.
The Defense Secretary has previously called for 3%, which ex-Prime Minister Liz Truss had promised, as did Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Tory Commons Defense Committee.
The UK was already on track to reach 2.5% by the end of the decade according to plans set while Boris Johnson was 10th.
Mr Sunak insisted he worked closely with the defense secretary on the funding package and claimed the 2.5% pledge was “the UK demonstrating leadership on this issue”, urging other NATO allies to to follow him.
He told reporters on the flight to San Diego that spending would increase from 2% to 2.25% between 2020 and 2025.
“At that point we will set the course for the next phase,” he said.
The Department of Defense insisted Mr Wallace was “delighted” with the settlement in these “economically challenging times”.
The spokesman said: “The Secretary of Defense looks forward to working with the Prime Minister and Treasury to ensure our armed forces receive the investment to keep us all safe, now and in the future.”
But Labor accused the Tories of failing to secure Britain’s national defenses for the future.
Shadow Defense Secretary John Healey said: “This announcement does not address capability gaps that weaken our national defenses and undermine the UK’s contribution to NATO. While 25 other NATO nations have already restarted their defense plans and spending since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Conservatives are still hesitant to make big decisions.”
The IR23 document, which will be formally unveiled with a Commons statement on Monday, updates the 2021 integrated review following the war in Ukraine and pressure from Tory MPs to take a harder line on China.
Mr. Sunak acknowledged that the Chinese Communist Party’s military, financial and diplomatic activities presented an “epochal challenge”.
The prime minister, who called China the UK’s greatest long-term threat during his bid for leadership last year, said: “It is a regime that is becoming increasingly authoritarian at home and more assertive abroad, with a desire to disrupt the world order to remodel.
“We recognized it as the greatest government threat to our economic security. What I would say is that I don’t think it would be prudent or sophisticated foreign policy to reduce our ties with China, which after all is a country of a billion and a half, second largest economy and member of the UN Security Council, in just two words, and therefore will You see a very thoughtful and detailed approach to China in the IR.”
Speaking of IR23’s goals, he said: “As the world becomes more volatile and competition between countries intensifies, the UK must be ready to assert itself.
“By investing in our armed forces for the long term, we are prepared for the challenges of today and tomorrow. As I will discuss today with our American and Australian allies in the US, the UK will remain a leading contributor to NATO and a trusted international partner, standing up for our values from Ukraine to the South China Sea.
“We have seen all too clearly over the past year how global crises are affecting us at home, with Russia’s appalling invasion of Ukraine driving up energy and food prices.
“We will strengthen our national defenses, from economic security to technological supply chains and intelligence expertise, to ensure we are never again vulnerable to the actions of a hostile power.”
From Monday, a new national security agency within MI5 will provide UK businesses and other organizations with expert advice.
Funding for the government-wide China Skills Program will be doubled, boosting Mandarin language training and diplomatic skills.
A new curriculum for the National Security College will improve expertise across government, while a £1billion Integrated Security Fund will replace an existing scheme to focus on priorities in the Integrated Review.
The UK’s critical minerals strategy is updated to ensure access to vital resources, while the BBC World Service gets an extra £20m to run 47 language services to combat disinformation from hostile states.
Leaders of Australia, Britain and the US will meet on Monday to discuss the next phase of the Aukus project, which is expected to involve thousands of British workers in the design and construction of the new submarines.
Mr Albanese is expected to opt for a UK-designed fleet, with US boats being bought as a stopgap measure.
Negotiations over the last 18 months have left the Canberra government with a choice between a British or a US design.
According to reports, Australia could opt for a modified version of the British Astute-class submarine and fill the gap until entering service with up to five American Virginia-class boats in the 2040s.
The UK hopes Aukus will lead to work for British shipyards such as BAE Systems’ works at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.
https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/joe-biden-gdp-ben-wallace-ukraine-california-b1066681.html Sunak rejects calls to increase defense spending to 3% of GDP