Commentators have welcomed the increase in defence spending announced by Boris Johnson last week but how the money is to be spent and what the vision is still remains unclear. The Prime Minister's pledge to make the UK "the foremost naval power in Europe" provides a clue to future strategy according to Aris Roussinos:
"Johnson was surely correct to observe that “the international situation is more perilous and more intensely competitive than at any time since the Cold War,” and as an island nation dependent on the free flow of world trade, reversing the decades of cuts which saw our surface fleet dwindle to dangerously thin levels is an unalloyed good.
"Similarly, we can hope that the emphasis on sea power will allow our planners time to decide what it is we want the Army to do in future, and give us breathing space to rebuild our creaking military infrastructure. We are living through a period of rapid technological change likely to dramatically change the battlespace of the near future, as shown by the recently concluded war in Karabakh, and space to coolly assess its full implications is not necessarily a bad thing. The deployment of a new generation of combat drones by the middle-sized powers likely to be our future adversaries presents a challenge without a clear solution, and Johnson’s pledge to invest in defence research and development, including Directed Energy Weapons and accelerated space research, is an encouraging sign.
As a predominantly naval power, if this is the plan, Britain will have two potential roles around which our grand strategy will revolve. The first is a modest task as a North Atlantic power, protecting the sea lanes around our home islands and up to the high Arctic, which is a realistic and modest aspiration likely to be encouraged by the US. The second aspiration — implied by Johnson’s urging us not to “curl up in our island” — is as a force projecting, expeditionary power, likely focussed on the Pacific and Far East, a declaration of intent shown by the deployment of the new Carrier Strike Group East of Suez next year."
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As an addendum we enclose an additional piece by Bronwen Maddox of the Institute for Government with a slightly different perspective on the same announcement:
"The prime minister has committed big sums of money to the defence budget, but he must also do more to ensure this money is not misspent. This means addressing the failings in defence procurement, the jargon often used to describe the astounding ability of the ministry to spend public money badly. Those who are exposed to the details of waste and bad judgements often take the cause up in passionate horror. Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP, in her stint as head of the Public Accounts Committee, seized on this record as one of the best uses of the committee’s time and public pulpit. Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s top adviser until his sudden exit last week, agreed. They are both right."