Michael Fallon is Secretary of State for Defence and MP for Sevenoaks.
Last week’s announcement that the defence budget will increase through the rest of the decade sends a powerful message that Britain stays a major player in global security.
With the world becoming a darker place, this government has ensured defence and security will have extra resources to keep Britain safe. The defence budget will now grow by 0.5 per cent in real terms until the end of the decade. A new joint security fund of £1.5 billion a year by 2020/21 will be available to the Armed Forces and security and intelligence agencies. And we will meet the NATO’s investment pledge to spend two per cent of GDP on defence every year of this decade.
By committing to our Armed Forces and our intelligence agencies, the Prime Minister and Chancellor showed that Britain will always be resolute in defence of liberty and stability. Our increased defence budget means we can now step up our efforts to deter and, if necessary, respond to aggression whenever and wherever it occurs.
Today 4,000 of our servicemen and women are deployed on 21 operations in 19 countries – double the number in 2010. Nearly 900 are helping the fight against ISIL: the RAF with airstrikes and surveillance, the Army with training and support inside Iraq. 500 more are helping to keep Kabul safe and train the next generation of Afghan officers. Others are in Ukraine, training their armed forces, or getting ready to go to Nigeria to help the new government combat the menace of Boko Haram.
We are leading the NATO high readiness task force in 2017, and are committing 1,000 troops to it each year thereafter. Our RAF Typhoons are patrolling the Baltic this summer and will go back again next year. Apart from the United States, no other country is doing as much around the world.
After the Budget, our allies and adversaries alike can be in no doubt that we are ready, willing and able to defend our values as we always have done. The US were the first to applaud our two per cent announcement, praising Britain as their “indispensable partner”. Let’s now see others follow our lead and increase their spending in turn.
With certainty about the defence budget for all five years of the Parliament, our servicemen and women now know we are committed to world-class Armed Forces. And we have the confidence to plan ahead and deliver our manifesto commitments – to maintain the size of the Armed Forces, to build four Successor ballistic missile submarines, and to increase our spend on equipment every year.
That planning centres on the full Strategic Defence and Security Review now underway. Driven by our national security objectives, SDSR 2015 is assessing the complex threats we face, taking a long hard look at the capabilities and force structures we need, and deciding where best to place our resources.
An increased budget does not end the need to be more efficient. We can only invest because we have brought the defence budget back into balance. Like any large organisation spending £34 billion a year we must take every opportunity to be more efficient, to reform our ways of working, and to innovate. Our track record is strong – we are on course to deliver £5 billion of savings since 2010. But there will be no let up in our drive to deliver full value for every tax pound spent. And we have the strongest of incentives to succeed, since we can recycle our efficiency savings into new equipment to face tomorrow’s challenges.
As with the rest of the economy, we took some tough decisions with defence five years ago. Now the defence budget is growing again. We are meeting the two per cent NATO pledge. Put it another way. Only four countries in the world are building aircraft carriers: we’re building two and we’re clearing our deficit at the same time. Britain is certainly back.