Submitted by Taps Coogan on the 30th of April 2018 to The Sounding Line.
According to the World Bank, the UK’s defense spending has fallen from roughly 6% of GDP in the early 1960s to just 1.82% in 2016.
Not only is 1.82% below NATO requirements to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense (2017 UK spending is roughly estimated at 1.98%), it may very well be the lowest level in Britain’s recorded history. Based on data from UK Public Spending and the World Bank, the following chart shows the UK’s defense spending-to-GDP since 1692. UK defense spending has averaged around 2.5% of GDP during times of peace and climbed to as high as 52% during times of war. Prior to 2016, the lowest figure on record was 1.85% in 1873 during the extended period of peace between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I.
As the UK’s defense spending has fallen, there have been increasing warnings that its military, and particularly the Royal Navy, are straining to fulfill basic missions. During its response to Hurricane Irma last year, the Royal Navy was unable to put three quarters of its ships to sea due to a “lack of supplies, staff and fuel thanks to defence budget cuts.” Reports have found that ships and submarines are increasingly being ‘cannibalized‘ amid shortages of parts and support ships are likely to begin being built overseas in anticipation of further spending constraints.
It remains to be seen how the UK, and many other nations, will manage to increase defense spending to sustainable levels while coping with aging populations, perennial budget deficits, surging welfare costs, and slow economic growth. How the UK would afford the sort of spending associated with rising military tension is doubly unclear. To the extent that weakness invites aggression, it’s a question worth pondering. Perhaps the best case for peace is that many so countries, the UK included, can no longer afford a peacetime military let alone a wartime one.
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