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As UK ramps up defense spending, Pentagon tells other allies to follow suit

U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters and the United Kingdom's Lightning 617 Squadron, are shown shortly after embarking HMS Queen Elizabeth in September 2020, off the U.K. coast. Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller lauded U.K. plans to give its military the largest spending boost it has seen in 30 years.

BELINDA ALKER/ROYAL NAVY

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 19, 2020

STUTTGART, Germany — The Pentagon’s new chief praised plans by the United Kingdom to give its armed forces the largest spending boost in 30 years, saying other NATO allies should take note.

“Their commitment to increased defense funding should be a message to all free nations that the most capable among us can — and must — do more to counter emerging threats to our shared freedoms and security,” Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller said in a statement Wednesday.

On Thursday, the U.K. detailed some of its spending priorities, which include setting up a new space command much like the U.S. has done. Other focus areas include development of a cyber command and a future air combat system.

The $21.8 billion increase, doled out over four years, is the largest boost in defense spending since the end of the Cold War. It cements Britain’s status as the second biggest defense spender in the NATO alliance.

The investment also comes as the UK is exiting the European Union, which some analysts say has made military funding a larger priority as London aims to stake out a more assertive position on the world stage.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the investments were needed even as the country struggles to recover from the economic damage brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I have taken this decision in the teeth of the pandemic because the defense of the realm must come first,” Johnson said in a statement Thursday. “This is our chance to end the era of retreat, transform our armed forces, bolster our global influence.”

Within NATO there are concerns that the pandemic could put pressure on allied governments to slow down increases in defense spending, which have been on the way up for six consecutive years due largely to concerns about a more aggressive Russia.

Elevating defense spending among European allies also has been a top priority of President Donald Trump, who has made threats about linking security guarantees to whether they meet NATO spending targets. Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, has been repeatedly criticized by Trump for not spending enough on its military.

Miller, who took over leadership of the Pentagon last week, described the U.K. as America’s “most stalwart and capable ally.”

“With this increase, the UK military will continue to be one of the finest fighting forces in the world,” said Miller, who is expected to serve out the remaining two months of the Trump administration as the acting Pentagon boss.

When President-elect Joe Biden enters the White House Jan. 20, reconnecting with NATO allies is expected to be one of his top national security priorities.

Security analysts have said Biden is likely to keep pressure on NATO members to boost their defense spending levels, but probably with a more diplomatic tone.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle from RAF Lakenheath, foreground, and a U.K. F-35B Lightning II from RAF Marham fly in formation in November 2018. Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller lauded U.K. plans to give its military the largest spending boost it has seen in 30 years.
TAYLOR WHITE/U.S. AIR FORCE