By Elizabeth Piper
LONDON (Reuters) – This year must mark an “inflection point” to decide the future of British defence, minister Grant Shapps said on Monday, setting out steps to better protect the nation against threats posed by a number of conflicts that are “likely to grow”.
In a speech setting out his view that 2024 will see the world become more dangerous and require Britain and its allies to deal with “irrational” powers, Shapps said the government was striving to increase defence spending to 2.5% of gross domestic product – something he urged other democratic nations to follow.
“In five years’ time, we could be looking at multiple theatres including Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. Ask yourself … is it more likely that that number grows or reduces? I suspect we all know the answer. It’s likely to grow,” the defence minister said. “So 2024 must mark an inflection point.”
He said Britain was spending more money in cash terms on defence than it ever had, adding the government was increasing funds for modernising its nuclear deterrent and replenishing stocks and should continue to do so, while studiously refusing to call directly for additional funds.
“We’ve made the critical decision to set out our aspiration to reach 2.5% of GDP on defence and as we stabilise and grow this economy, we’ll continue to strive to reach that as soon as possible,” he said.
“But now is the time for all allied and democratic nations across the world to do the same thing and ensure their defence spending is growing too,” he said in reference to those NATO members, which are not reaching the goal of spending 2% of GDP.
Asked whether the government would go beyond current spending, a spokesman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it was a matter for the finance minister but the government was expanding defence spending.
Keen to underline Britain’s engagement in the world, Shapps said Britain was committing 20,000 military personnel to serve across Europe in a major NATO exercise in the first half of this year, as well as warships and fighter jets.
He also said Britain had shown it will “step up to the plate when it is needed” through its strikes, coordinated with the United States, against the Houthis in Yemen to protect international shipping.
“We intended it as a single action and we will now monitor very carefully to see what they do next,” he said, adding such action was harder for other European countries to take.
“The United Kingdom is one of those countries which has always traditionally, and continues to, step up to the plate when it is needed.”
(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Andy Bruce; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)