After the NATO Summit: Towards the ‘Normalisation’ of British Military Spending?

By James Rogers and Alessandro Renzulli

He may express it in a brash or ‘undiplomatic’ way – but President Trump has a point on European military spending and Western allies must respond, argues a new Policy Briefing paper from the Global Britain Programme at the Henry Jackson Society.

In an analysis produced in the wake of the NATO Summit, President Trump’s visit to the United Kingdom and the Trump/Putin meeting in Helsinki, Global Britain Programme Director James Rogers argues that NATO member states should be looking to increase their military spending to not only reach the 2% target agreed in Newport in 2014, but to go beyond it to maintain the alliance’s credibility.

The paper also sets out a number of options for the UK as it completes the Modernising Defence Programme process:

  1. Maintain military spending at the currently anticipated levels (2.1% of GDP), possibly leading to moderate cuts to the existing programme insofar as it requires an estimated £2bn extra per year. The UK would still remain one of the leading powers in NATO, but it would become potentially less secure and more ‘European’, while losing influence in Washington.
  2. Reduce spending further to around 2% of GDP, still in keeping with the commitment the UK made in 2014, freeing up an additional 0.1% of GDP for investment in other areas, but with the possibility that the UK would be less secure, and considerably less geopolitically significant – not only in Washington, but also in Paris and Berlin, as well as with emerging partners like Japan and Australia.
  3. Partially ‘normalise’ defence spending to around 2.5% of GDP over a five-year period to fully plug the existing funding shortfall, while providing more up to date capabilities such as more escorts for the Royal Navy and better cyber capacity; and fully realise, in a new context, the 2015 SDSR. Based on an annual growth rate of 1.5%, Britain’s ‘real’ military budget would reach approximately £49.5bn by 2023.
  4. Fully ‘normalise’ military spending to 3% of GDP over a five-year period to boost national security, uphold the UK’s position as Europe’s leading military power and NATO’s second-most important member, and draw other countries – not least in the Indo-Pacific – towards the British military-industrial base, particularly in the context of withdrawal from the European Union.

The fourth option would allow for:

  • enhancing the size of the Royal Navy, both in terms of escorts for anti-submarine and anti-air defence, as well as projection capabilities for deep-strike land attack;
  • boost the ability of the British Army to support NATO allies in eastern and southern Europe, especially in the Baltic and Black Sea regions;
  • bolster the Royal Air Force’s technological capacity and reach into space; and
  • enable the research into and procurement of radical new technologies to offset competitors’ advantages, including offensive and defensive cyber capability – and new weapons, such as direct energy weaponry.

To read the full Policy Briefing, click here.


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