Britain must spend 3% of GDP on defence or 'face defeat', former government officials say

Group led by former defence secretary Michael Fallon calls for military to be strengthened as global threats rise

British troops march at King Charles III's coronation ceremony. The UK currently spends about 2 per cent of GDP on defence. Getty Images
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The UK’s political parties must commit to spending 3 per cent of gross domestic product on Britain's military or the country “could suffer defeat”, a group of former defence ministers and armed forces chiefs claimed.

With the UK facing its “gravest threats since the Cold War”, political parties should commit before the general election to increase defence spending to 2.5 per cent immediately, then to 3 per cent by 2030, the Council on Geostrategy think tank said.

The Defence Pledge was published on Tuesday by the group, led by former defence secretary Michael Fallon.

“Countries which wish us harm are growing stronger and more dangerous,” the statement said. “To deter them and properly protect our interests, we need stronger armed forces. Absent this investment, British interests could suffer defeat, making the disruption we have experienced in recent months look moderate."

The UK's current defence spending of about 2 per cent of GDP was “no longer enough to protect all our interests at home, within Nato, and further overseas”, the group added.

It said Russia was among the main threats facing Britain, with President Vladimir Putin viewing Britain “perhaps more than any other country, as an absolute enemy”.

The statement also referred to the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea and said China was “rearming at scale”. With the threat of global war growing, it claimed, it is more important than ever for the UK to have strong armed forces to act as a deterrent.

“Our inability to muster sufficient forces to protect our allies may encourage hostile states such as Russia to invade them, sparking an international crisis,” the group said in its statement, which was also signed by former defence secretary Ben Wallace and two former leaders of Britain’s armed forces.

Prosperity risk

Britain needs to ensure greater protection for its trades routes, energy supplies and undersea cables, which are vital for financial system data. These are “all now at greater risk than at any time this century”, the statement added.

“Our future economic prosperity is at risk,” it said. “Conflict and instability elsewhere threaten our borders.”

But the group said a drop in the number of British naval vessels meant “the loss of a warship against a swarm of drones would exhaust the Royal Navy’s ability to protect our vital trade routes”.

The erosion of Britain’s position as Nato’s strongest European military power would also “weaken our hand in Washington” and other parts of the world at a time “when our leadership is needed more than ever”.

Too late

Emma Salisbury, an associate fellow at the council, criticised the current UK government over its “vague promise” to increase spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP “as soon as economic conditions allow”.

“We must not wait for it to be too late. We must increase defence spending,” she said.

Ed Arnold, a military analyst at the Research Fellow for European Security think tank, said that in 1936, with the threat from Nazi Germany rising, Britain’s defence spending was 3.75 per cent of GDP. It reached 52 per cent in 1945.

“Defence spending should derive from the threat, not fiscal rules,” he said. “UK defence spending must significantly rise, but of greater importance, it must also become far more productive.”

He said that neither Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak nor Labour leader Keir Starmer had yet prioritised defence spending for the next parliament.

“By then it may be too late," Mr Arnold said.

Updated: April 02, 2024, 2:55 PM