The United Kingdom will ramp up defense spending by $6 billion to “fortify” against growing threats from Russia and China, the country’s leader announced on the eve of highly anticipated talks with AUKUS partners, the United States and Australia.
In a statement released Sunday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to use the extra spending, spread over two years, to replenish ammunition stocks, modernize the UK’s nuclear submarine program and fund the “next phase” of AUKUS, a security pact struck between the three nations in 2021.
Details of the AUKUS program are set to be revealed Monday in San Diego during a joint news conference between Sunak, US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
The partners are expected to announce that Australia will purchase at least four nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarines from the US, then build a modified version of the British Astute-class submarine with US combat systems and weapons during the second phase of the program. The deal is seen as a bid to counter China’s military ambitions in the Pacific.
Democrat Congressman Joe Courtney told Australia’s national broadcaster on Sunday that the Virginia-class subs provided by the US would be of “the highest quality.”
“No one’s gonna be foisting off clunkers on good friends and allies,” said Courtney, a member of the US Congress’ Armed Services Committee and chair of its Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.
“This is about really having the type of stealth and the type of reach which the strategic environment requires,” he said, naming China as the prime motivator for the submarine deal.
“China’s missile force is really, in my opinion, the real reason that’s driving this decision, because surface ships right now are so vulnerable,” Courtney said. “We saw it in Ukraine where two relatively crude short-range missiles took down the flagship of the Russian Navy. The surface is really a much more risky place.”
Last week, China reiterated its opposition to the AUKUS agreement, saying it “seriously exacerbates risk of nuclear proliferation” and drives an arms race that would destabilize the Asia Pacific region.
“We urge the US, UK, and Australia to abandon the Cold War and zero-sum game mentality, faithfully fulfill their international obligations, and engage in efforts conducive to peace and stability in the region,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said Thursday in a regular news briefing.
Britain named China, along with Russia, as the driving force behind the need for higher defense spending.
The increase of $6 billion dollars (£5 billion) is the outcome of “Integrated Review Refresh,” an update to a report first published in 2021 about the UK’s foreign, defense and security spending, revised to take into account new threats.
“We have seen all too clearly in the last year how global crises impact us at home, with Russia’s appalling invasion of Ukraine driving up energy and food prices. We will fortify our national defences, from economic security to technology supply chains and intelligence expertise, to ensure we are never again vulnerable to the actions of a hostile power,” Sunak said in the statement.
The British prime minister wants to increase defense spending to 2.5% of gross domestic product in the longer term, according to the statement. To that end, defense spending will be reviewed in 2025, the statement said. In 2021/22, the UK spent 2.2% of its GDP on military expenditure, according to the World Bank, amounting to around $55 billion (£46 billion).
Australia is also preparing for the future with the AUKUS pact, which Prime Minster Albanese called “a new dawn for Australia’s defence policy.”
The nuclear submarine plan will create 20,000 direct Australian jobs over the next 30 years, the prime minister’s office confirmed to CNN on Monday. It is expected to cost more than $133 billion (200 billion Australian dollars) over three decades, The Australian newspaper reported.
“This is about jobs, including jobs and manufacturing and Adelaide in particular will be a big beneficiary of this announcement, as well as Western Australia,” Albanese said.
“This is about building up our capacity. And when you talk about the issue of manufacturing submarines in Australia, that’s an absolute priority for us. That will be seen as part of the announcement,” Albanese said on Saturday during a trip to India, where he said he briefed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the plan.
“Briefings are taking place, as appropriate, with other countries,” Albanese added.
John Blaxland, Professor of International Security and Intelligence Studies at the Australian National University, said China’s growing “wolf warrior” diplomacy had driven the collaboration between the three countries.
Blaxland listed China’s growing expansion in the South China Sea, its actions among South Pacific nations and its treatment of Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, as reasons of concern to Australia and its allies.
“Australia’s got nervous. We’ve seen the armed forces of China expand – the army, navy, air force, space force, cyber force [and] ballistic missile force, have all expanded exponentially in the last few years dramatically raising concerns about what that means for the security of Australia,” he said.
“A decade ago, this would have been unimaginable. But the changes in China, the wolf warrior diplomacy, President Xi’s own actions have generated a wake up call in Australia, the US, the UK and beyond. That’s why we’re seeing the fruits of today.”