A Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter jet takes off as part of its Baltic Air Policing mission.

A Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter jet takes off as part of its Baltic Air Policing mission. NATO

UK Steps Up Defense Posture, Spending Ahead of Review

British armed forces are stepping up their response, and future presence, against threats from Russia to terrorism.

Every day, we see new threats emerge. And every day, the United Kingdom is working to counter them.

Just last week, we saw violent attacks in Tunisia, where up to 30 British citizens were murdered on the beach at Sousse, as well as in France, Kuwait and Northern Syria. These were stark reminders of the challenges the international community now faces.

These threats were at the front of the minds of NATO defense ministers as they gathered last week in Brussels, reflecting that the world we face is more complex than ever. To meet these challenges, defense ministers agreed on bold new commitments. First, to increase the size of NATO's Response Force. Second, to streamline deployment of its new, ultrafast "spearhead" unit, the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, or VJTF, of 5,000 ground troops. Third, to increase flexibility within NATO’s military and political frameworks, so that NATO can adapt to the challenges of the day.

A stable and predictable world order cannot be sustained if Russia, one of the world’s largest and most powerful countries, can simply march its troops into another nation’s sovereign territory and grab it with impunity. So we, through our diplomatic channels, will continue to enforce sanctions on Moscow while maintaining a persistent land, air and sea presence in NATO’s Eastern front-line states.

The UK has stepped up to the plate with over 4,000 personnel involved in Eastern Europe. Our Typhoon jets will continue to police the Baltic. And in addition to our continued leadership of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, the UK will lead NATO’s new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force in 2017 with 3,000 personnel. 

Britain is a serious global player in the world with a budget to back it up.
David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

The UK recognizes that there is not a quick or easy solution to Russian aggression. We are in it for the long term. Last week, Defense Secretary Michael Fallon announced that the UK will commit a battle group of 1,000 personnel to the new rapid reaction force every year from its launch and into the next decade. And we are doubling our funding to train Ukraine’s armed forces.

(RelatedNATO Members’ Defense Spending, in Two Charts)

Of course, Russia is not the only cause of concern. As part of the coalition against the Islamic State, or ISIS, UK planes have carried out nearly 1,000 missions against ISIS targets. Today there are more than 900 UK personnel in Iraq, providing counter-IED training and assisting Iraqi armed forces.

Combating ISIS and protecting against Russian aggression is only part of our global effort. As it has for decades, the UK continues to see NATO as an integral part of its collective defense. We have the second largest defense budget in NATO, and the largest in Europe. In total, 4,000 men and women of our Armed Forces are engaged every day on 21 different joint operations in 19 countries – which is double the number five years ago.

We know that the world is becoming a more, not less, dangerous place. So we are investing in our Armed Forces, spending £160 billion on new aircraft carriers, helicopters, armored vehicles and Joint Strike Fighters. And because we cannot be clear that there will be no strategic threat to the UK 20 or 30 years from now, we are renewing our nuclear ballistic deterrent submarines. 

Shortly before signing the North Atlantic Treaty that would create NATO, U.S. President Harry Truman addressed the cluster of foreign ministers standing beside him. “In this pact,” he said, “we hope to create a shield against aggression and the fear of aggression.”

The UK has always been a vital part of that shield and we will be so in the future. In the next few months, the UK will undergo a strategic defense review. As Prime Minister David Cameron made clear at last month’s G-7 meeting, “Britain is a serious global player in the world with a budget to back it up.” We will continue to meet our commitments, and intend to remain a lynchpin of global security. We stand ready, willing, and able to meet the challenges of today’s and tomorrow’s world.