Britain’s defense secretary has urged the Treasury to stop hoarding ‘peace dividends’ and boost the army budget, as Britain’s army chief warns Europe faces a “moment of 1937”.
Ben Wallace’s comments came as Britain prepared to send more artillery, helicopters and air defense systems to Estonia, where British forces are on the NATO frontline against any possible Russian attack on the Baltic States.
The Defense Secretary wants a long-term investment in the British military, but claimed the issue ‘does not fit into the top three or four political policies that drive Chancellors and Prime Ministers at the time’.
He spoke as Boris Johnson traveled to a NATO summit in Madrid, where the Prime Minister will urge other members of the alliance to go beyond the agreed target of spending 2% of domestic product raw for defense.
Wallace denied a report that he had asked Johnson to raise Britain’s military spending target of £10bn by 2028 to a new target of 2.5% of GDP, insisting he had not requested specific digit. But he told an event hosted by New Statesman magazine that while prime ministers and chancellors have responded to a winter health crisis by increasing NHS spending, they don’t see security crises the same way.
He said the Treasury continued to collect a “peace dividend”, referring to savings made since the end of the Cold War. “If the threat changes, you need to have this discussion about investing rather than taking [the peace dividend],” he added.
Figures released by NATO on Monday showed the UK is expected to spend 2.1% of its national income on defense in 2022. Johnson claimed this year’s figure would be 2.3%, when 1, £3bn of emergency aid to Ukraine was included.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has approved a four-year spending settlement for the Ministry of Defense in 2020, increasing annual spending by more than £6billion a year in cash terms. Johnson insisted on the large cash injection.
Treasury insiders argue that future talks on military spending will have to wait until the next spending review, although emergency funds for military operations may be released from the reserve.
Johnson’s allies have confirmed the government has abandoned its 2019 manifesto pledge to raise the defense budget by 0.5 percentage points above inflation every year in this parliament.
They said soaring inflation and the damage wrought by Covid-19 had changed everything, adding that the manifesto’s promise had been made in “another time”.
Commenting on speculation about the 0.5 percentage point commitment, Johnson said on his way to the NATO meeting that the UK “has been well over that target for some time now”.
He added: “We are confident that we will get there. You don’t look at inflation as a single data point, you look at it over the span of parliament and I’m confident we’ll get there.
Meanwhile, General Sir Patrick Sanders, Chief of the General Staff, denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “brutal aggression” in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank.
“Let’s be clear, the British Army is not mobilizing to cause war – it is mobilizing to prevent war,” Sanders said, adding, “This is our moment of 1937. We are not at war, but we We must act quickly so as not to be drawn into a war by inability to contain territorial expansion.
Johnson to tell NATO summit that 2% of GDP target for defense spending was ‘a floor, not a ceiling’ and suggest he favors calls for bigger MoD budget in the future.
“As we think about shaping a future in which the British people are secure and prosperous, we must again look to defence,” Johnson will say. “To neglect the needs of our armed forces is to neglect our country.