It may have taken a war to bring it to light, but gradually British foreign policy has become militarized since Brexit, becoming an increasingly defining feature of Boris Johnson’s tenure as Prime Minister.
Today, the UK wants to play a leading role in arming Ukraine. He held a military aid “donors’ conference” last Thursday, and this week ministers demonstrated the missiles and armored vehicles he hopes to donate to beleaguered forces in kyiv to Ukrainian ministers and generals.
Helping Ukraine fight off Russia’s unprovoked invasion isn’t particularly controversial, but less than a year ago – in May 2021 – two Royal Navy ships were sent to Jersey in the in a post-Brexit dispute over fishing rights with France.
Aukus, a tri-party military pact between the US, Australia and the UK also came into being last year, initially to supply nuclear-powered submarine technology to Canberra. It also involved a dispute with France, which had supplied Australia with diesel-powered submarines, only for Paris to discover that its partner had secretly negotiated an alternative.
Aukus was further extended this week. The three countries must also work on the development of hypersonic missiles, which Russia and China already have. In theory, they can be nuclear-armed, but Aukus members insist that any high-velocity maneuverable warheads they use will be conventional.
Shipping arms and engaging in new arms races is a far cry from the Brexit promise Boris Johnson laid out in a speech he gave in Greenwich in February 2020, just after Britain completed its exit from the EU. “Global free trade needs a global champion,” he said, as he raised the prospect of trade deals around the world.
Peter Ricketts, former national security adviser, said: “Brexit was sold on an economic ticket, but it fell through.” Britain’s trade deal with Australia is set to add 0.02% to the size of the UK economy over 15 years.
“Trade deals have not proven to be the eye-catching dimension of global Britain they were built for, while military deals are in the news and increasingly fit the moment,” he said. declared.
Aid spending has been cut by £4bn a year in 2020 and will remain below the statutory target of 0.7% until 2024-25, while defense spending has been increased by one similar amount, £16.5bn, over four years.
Robin Niblett, director of the Chatham House foreign policy think tank, said Britain has long had a strong military component to its foreign policy, but leaving the EU inevitably brought it to the fore: “The military element is something a British leader can reference to show that the UK is a credible global power,” he said.
Johnson hosted Polish President Andrzej Duda at Downing St on Thursday, promising to launch a “deep security and defense partnership” between the two countries. In fact, the relationship between London and Warsaw is already close. Britain agreed in November to send 550 troops to Poland in three stages.
Eastern European NATO members have also made clear they want more direct military support as part of the ‘deterrence through defence’ plan to keep Russia – and the UK – at bay. should react positively as a plan is developed later this spring. “NATO is the club that Britain is always in,” Ricketts said.
The question is whether the UK has the resources to meet the ambition. He is also theoretically committed to the Indo-Pacific tilt outlined in his Integrated Review of Defense and Foreign Policy last March.
Evidence of tilt in action has been modest, however, beyond the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth’s voyage to the Pacific last year, during which the British flagship had to rely on a destroyer and fighter jets Americans, as well as a Dutch frigate, for the escort. .
Soaring inflation also means defense budgets are down, by 1.9% a year in real terms relative to the CPI, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies. But the crisis in Ukraine continues, calls for help from Eastern Europe grow louder and Johnson remains eager to show that global Britain makes sense – which means the militarization is here to stay.