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Defence Committee Renews Spending Demand for 3% of GDP

Defence Committee Press Notice – 26 June 2018

In advance of the NATO summit in July, the Defence Committee publishes a report which concludes that only if its Armed Forces are properly resourced can the UK retain its influence in NATO and in Washington.

In an inquiry begun during the previous Parliament, the Committee concluded:

  • The NATO mission has diversified and expanded. It now encompasses the need for territorial defence of Europe and the protection of sea lines of communication, as well as the stabilisation of areas at risk of terrorism in the European neighbourhood.
  • To support this wider NATO mission, the UK needs to bolster its anti-submarine warfare capability and increase the overall readiness of its Armed Forces generally.
  • The UK must lead by example, filling NATO capability shortfalls and personnel gaps, where we have expertise available, and ensuring that decisions taken within the Modernising Defence Programme are co-ordinated with the NATO Defence Planning Process.
  • Just as the UK-US military relationship is vital to the functioning of NATO, the UK’s leading contribution to NATO helps to sustain the UK–US relationship. The UK, US and NATO are interlinked and interdependent.
  • US military power is vital for the defence of Europe. Were there to be an attack on a NATO member in Europe, an Article 5 response would not work in practice without US support and participation.
  • However, the US has increasingly been critical of its allies’ (including the UK’s) unwillingness to share the burden within NATO – whether that be defence spending, the development of capabilities or contributions to NATO headquarters, missions and operations.
  • Despite this criticism, in the same period, the US has recommitted itself to the defence of Europe, both through the European Deterrence Initiative (which has increased by 40% under the current US Administration) and by continued contributions to stabilisation operations.
  • The UK benefits greatly from the width and depth of the UK-US defence and security relationship, but such a relationship requires a degree of interoperability that can be sustained only through investment in UK Armed Forces. We calculate that, in order to fill the existing black holes in the equipment plan and elsewhere, UK defence spending would have to rise to 2.5% of GDP. However, significantly to improve the capacity – as well as the capability of the UK Armed Forces, defence spending would need to rise closer to 3% of GDP.

Accordingly, the Defence Committee have recommended that our future target for defence spending should be 3% of GDP – a level last achieved in 1995-96.

Chairman's comments

Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis, Defence Committee chairman, said:

"Defence spending is an area where a strong message needs to be sent to our allies and adversaries alike. The Government has consistently talked about increasing the UK’s commitment to NATO after our departure from the European Union. An increased commitment, in the face of new and intensified threats, means that further investment is essential. Where percentage of GDP for Defence is concerned, our mantra must be: ‘We need 3, to keep us free’. Anything less is simply rhetoric which endangers us and our allies."

Rt Hon John Spellar MP, Defence Committee senior Labour member and former Minister for the Armed Forces, said:

"This inquiry has underlined the importance of the UK-US relationship in the area of defence and security and emphasises the benefit which the UK receives as a result. We have heard that there are perceptions in the US that the UK’s defence capabilities have slipped and that concerns have been raised about the UK’s ability to operate independently. We need to challenge this perception and the Modernising Defence Programme is an excellent opportunity to do so."

[To read the full Report, click here.]

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NATO is the cornerstone of UK defence. The 2018 NATO summit is taking place against a backdrop of increasing political uncertainty and potential military threat. As in previous times of danger, the UK Government must work with allies to ensure the country’s security. NATO has responded to the change in threat following the annexation of Crimea by Russia, but there is more to be done. The UK is a major contributor to NATO and therefore one of the guarantors of overall European security. In this Report we examine the UK’s priorities for the forthcoming NATO summit and determine how the UK can provide further support to NATO in improving its response to the deterioration in relations with Russia.

We also examine the UK-US bilateral relationship, taking particular note of the impact both of the UK-US relationship on NATO, and the UK’s NATO role on our engagement with the US. The evidence is clear that the UK-US military-to-military relationship is central to our wider bilateral relationship. That relationship, based on interoperability, shared interests and a similar analysis of threats, is not an accident but a product of sustained investment, including in personnel and equipment. It is also vital to the functioning of NATO. Finally, we examine the pivotal role played by the US in NATO, both as an irreplaceable security guarantor and as a driver of modernisation.

Throughout this inquiry it has become clear to us that, if the UK wishes to maintain its leadership position in NATO and to continue such fruitful defence relations with the United States, then it will have to invest more in its Armed Forces. Analysis we commissioned has demonstrated that at current spending levels, the Ministry of Defence will not be able to maintain UK military capacity and capability. Diminished capacity reduces the UK’s usefulness to the US and our influence within NATO. The Government must not allow this to happen.