Why did the British government decide to expand defense spending when the COVID-19 pandemic caused an economic depression?

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The UK is set to invest £24.1 billion in defence over the next four years to dispel ideas of Britain being a “token force”.

The injection of spending aims to both reverse impressions of an EU reliant Britain and stimulate the economy in the wake of COVID-19.

Photo: Clarion Defence And Security Limited

Director of Military Sciences at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Peter Roberts told Eat News, “It’s a signpost to what the UK aspires to be in the world.”

The announcement last Thursday was a sign British politicians recognise that the “threat landscape” of the world has changed and can no longer rely on the UK’s history as a militaristic force when defence resources have declined since the 1980s, Roberts explained.

“The UK has played on its history in military terms quite hard to take over command positions in both the United Nations and in NATO.

“Since the 1980s, successive governments have continued to hollow out the reality of how military force might be employed.”

Lack of funding meant the defence sector has seen reduced repairs supplies and war stocks necessary in the event of a high-intensity conflict.

“I think people were starting to doubt whether there was any metal behind the demands that kept being pushed for more command positions,” Roberts said.

There was kickback from the public in response to the budget, with people concerned that Government spending should go towards preventing pay freezes for public sector workers – among those worst affected by the pandemic in the UK.

However, Roberts explained: “Investing in defence equipment built in the UK will net the treasury a bonus in terms of a taxable return over the coming decades.”

Photo: Royal United Services Institute

Research by Roberts’ colleague at RUSI, John Louth, found that the UK Government can receive approximately 30% in tax back from investments made in the defence industry.

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Although this is an important fiscal stimulus for the UK in response to COVID-19, the new budget also reflects a Government seeking to reassert the UK as “Global Britain” after Brexit, Roberts said.

By promoting a “Global Britain”, politicians have recognised the new “threat landscape” of the world and aim to be in a better position to tackle it.

“The threat environment around the world has changed distinctly,” explained Roberts.

“With both Russia and China playing into an era of great power competition, there needs to be a moment at which you pick your side and the UK is very clearly picking a side of what Boris Johnson would call ‘peace and democracy’.

“It is also an acknowledgement that Boko Haram, ISIS, the Taliban; the variety of adversaries and insurgent groups around the world…are changing the threat analysis of what the UK is facing in the coming decades.”

The UK Government increased the defence budget by £16 billion, pushing the budget to a total of £24.1 billion and leading the UK to remain as Europe’s greatest spender on defence.

Photo: British Army/Facebook

“There are a number of areas where the UK is going to emerge out of COVID with a throbbing defence industry that’s building equipment probably for the next 10 years,” Roberts said.

PM Boris Johnson’s announcement of the spending surge accompanied verbal commitments to fund artificial intelligence, electronic warfare, and space defence.

The UK has yet to venture into the realms of space defence outside of EU arrangements which are no longer accessible to the UK due to Brexit.

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“There was a clear articulation that there will be a UK space command and the UK will launch it by 2022. Now, I think these are somewhat ambitious, but the UK acknowledges that the societal dependence on space-based systems is key to our current way of life,” added Roberts.

“The Government acknowledges the vulnerabilities in society to space, but it is also an ambition to rebuild the UK’s space capabilities in national terms, rather than relying on partnerships from abroad.

“This is a moment of which the Government could invest money in some heavy industries in the UK as well as some cutting edge industries in order to rebalance part of the economy and to stimulate growth as we come out of the second lockdown in the UK.”

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) is a British defence and security think tank. It was founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington, Sir Arthur Wellesley, Former British Prime Minister, and the current President of RUSI is the Prince Edward, Duke of Kent. RUSI has a membership consisting of military officers, diplomats and the wider policy community, numbering 1,668 individuals and 129 corporate members.

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Millie Turner is an Eat News correspondent in the UK who has received accolades for her features. She writes with special focus on international politics, corporate corruption, and the climate crisis.

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Eat News is a Taiwanese digital media, analyzes current events and issues through column articles, videos, visual aid, and exclusive interviews.

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