Britain should be prepared to “decisively” raise the proportion of national income it spends on defence once it has left the EU, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.
Mr Hunt said major increase in military spending would demonstrate the the UK’s commitment to defending democratic values at a time of growing global uncertainty.
Addressing the Lord Mayor of London’s banquet at the Mansion House, he said the additional funding should be for new capabilities, such as cyber and artificial intelligence, rather than “plugging gaps” in existing plans.
At the same time, he warned that it was not sustainable to expect the US to carry on spending 4% of its GDP on defence while other Nato allies spent only 1% to 2%.
“For these and other reasons I believe it is time for the next strategic defence and security review to ask whether, over the coming decade, we should decisively increase the proportion of GDP we devote to defence,” he said.
“The outcome of such investment should demonstrate beyond doubt that when we say Britain stands for the defence of democratic values, when we promise never to leave our great ally, the United States, to perform this task alone, then we are as good as our word and in doing so we encourage other democracies who share our values to follow suit.”
The Foreign Secretary is widely expected to be a contender for the Tory leadership when Theresa May steps down, and his address will be seen as a pitch to Conservative MPs concerned about the level of defence spending.
He acknowledged the UK currently accounted for almost 20% of total EU defence spending, and that British forces possessed a “hugely disproportionate share” of some key capabilities such as heavy lift transport aircraft.
But at a time of evolving threats, he said the country needed to be prepared to do more to defend its traditional values.
“We are in a multipolar world without the assurance provided by unquestioned American dominance,” he said.
“We face a more aggressive Russia and a more assertive China.
“We simply do not know what the balance of power in the world will be in 25 years time.
“At the same time the nature of warfare is changing.
“The conflicts of tomorrow could well start with a cyber attack, then escalate into precision strikes by hypersonic missiles followed by swarms of unmanned aircraft.
“The new domains of space and cyber and the immense capabilities of artificial intelligence will transform the conduct of warfare.
“If we want Britain to defend the Enlightenment values that owe so much to our finest thinkers, like David Hume in Edinburgh and Adam Smith in Glasgow, then we need to be leaders in these areas too.”