A soldier from the Royal Anglian Regiment.
Leon Neal | Getty Images News | Getty Images
LONDON — The U.K. is poised to announce the biggest program of investment in British defense since the end of the Cold War.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday is due to tell the House of Commons, Britain’s lower house of Parliament, that the government will spend an additional £16.5 billion ($21.8 billion) on defense over the next four years. The current budget of the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence is almost £41.5 billion.
“I have taken this decision in the teeth of the pandemic because the defence of the realm must come first,” the prime minister said in a statement on Wednesday evening.
“The international situation is more perilous and more intensely competitive than at any time since the Cold War and Britain must be true to our history and stand alongside our allies. To achieve this we need to upgrade our capabilities across the board.”
Johnson said this was a chance “to end the era of retreat” and bolster the U.K.’s global influence.
The government said it expected the increased spending, which will go toward investing “in cutting-edge technology,” positioning the U.K. “as a global leader in domains such as cyber and space and addressing weaknesses in our defence arsenal that cannot be allowed to continue.”
The money will see further investment in military research and development, as well as new areas of defense. Johnson will announce the creation of a new agency dedicated to Artificial Intelligence, a new “National Cyber Force” to protect people from online harm and a new “‘Space Command’, capable of launching our first rocket in 2022,” the government added.
The extra defense spending could create 10,000 extra jobs annually, according to the government. The announcement is on top of a pledge made by the ruling Conservative Party ahead of the 2019 election “to exceed the NATO target of spending 2 percent of GDP (gross domestic product) on defence and increase the budget by at least 0.5 percent above inflation every year of the new Parliament.”
Extra spending would “cement the U.K.’s position as the largest defence spender in Europe and the second largest in NATO,” it said.
The announcement comes after the Ministry of Defense has pressed for increased investment in recent years. Defense Minister Ben Wallace called the announcement “excellent news for (the Ministry of) Defence, and provides us with the financial certainty we need to modernise, plan for the future and adapt to the threats we face.” The extra investment would also secure U.K. jobs and livelihoods, he added.
The government noted Wednesday that the threat from the U.K.’s adversaries has been “evolving since the Cold War” but did not outline who those adversaries are.
“Our traditional defence and deterrence capabilities remain vital, and our Armed Forces work every day to prevent terror reaching the U.K.’s shores. But our enemies are also operating in increasingly sophisticated ways, including in cyberspace, to further their own interests.”