With Brexit on the horizon, growing Chinese influence and a resurgent Russia, this article aims to outline why an increase in defence spending is critical to the UK’s interests and for maintaining its diplomatic influence on the global stage for the future.

This article was submitted to the UK Defence Journal by Edward Davies, an MA in International Relations at the University of Leeds with a keen interest in the military especially the RAF, having been a member of Yorkshire Universities Air Squadron and intending to join the RAF next year. 

A recent report published by the Commons Defence Committee has outlined how defence spending should see a 1% increase (of GDP from £40bn to £60bn) in order for the UK to ‘maintain influence among Washington and NATO allies’1.

This comes at a time when the UK is facing an increasing number of new threats on the global stage. Most significantly, a resurgent Russia, a more ambitious and assertive China, and an evolving world order; moving away from the liberal rules and norms based system to, arguably, a new period of great power politics which is sure to present novel challenges to the UK in the 21st century.

It is in this backdrop that the UK finds itself attempting to project its global power and influence, with many starting to question the impact Brexit will have on the UK’s ability to protect its national interests. Despite the competing claims in the media, in academic circles, it is a widely held view that Brexit will only serve to detract from Britain’s once global influence. This will come as a result of the UK being removed from the decision making body of the largest cooperative block on earth, no longer being able to exert the great influence on the policy formulation processes that it once held and, therefore, losing one of the UK’s most important bargaining chips for bilateral relations on the international stage.

These concerns have been echoed in the Washington, as the UK Defence Journal recently reported that US defence secretary Jim Mattis is concerned that the UK’s military and diplomatic power is being ‘diminished’ amid a world that is ‘awash with change’2. As a result of this developing situation, the question of how the UK will protect its national interests whilst maintaining its influence is both an important and timely one.

In recent global history, the UK was able to exert its influence in the form of ‘soft power’ a term first coined by Joseph Nye in the late 1980’s3. Soft Power is described as the ability to attract and co-opt, shaping the preferences of others through appeal and attraction using the currencies of culture, political values and foreign policies. The soft power index provides an annual assessment and ranking of the soft power of states in relation to one another.

Whilst Britain once continuously led the world in the soft power index, Brexit has seen a changed in attitude toward the UK, with its status being downgraded and other countries, such as France becoming more prominent4. Therefore, in light of Brexit and the recent political turmoil in the UK, it seems clear that Britain will be increasingly less able to influence international affairs through the power of attraction.

This has led many to call for an increase in ‘hard power’, defined as the use of both military and economic means to influence the behaviour or interest of other political bodies, coercing another to act in ways in which that entity would otherwise not have acted5,6, in an effort to retain some of the UK’s global influence and protect its national interests. Here, Nye describes the ‘carrot and stick approach’ in which ‘carrots’ are inducements such as the offer of an alliance or the promise of military protection and ‘sticks’ are the threat of coercive diplomacy and the use of military force7. Therefore, an increase in defence spending would see an increase in Britain’s ability to project ‘hard power’ onto the global stage.

The review outlines how increased funds would be put to use stating that an increase in defence spending of 1% would comfortably fill the current ‘black hole’ in the defence budget, whilst enabling the UK’s armed forces to expand its current capabilities.

The significance of the potential increase in spending and improved capabilities is amplified when current global affairs are taking into consideration.

Since its 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russia has repeatedly shown its willingness to utilise a new form of aggression to attain its objectives. Aimed mostly at western states, this new Russian tactic termed ‘hybrid warfare’8, utilises a new blend of traditional hard power, nationalism, populism and subversive misinformation to attain Moscow’s objectives. This has generated a new generation of non-traditional security threats toward NATO and other EU states.

Most notably, increased aggression toward key national infrastructures in cyber space has seen a jump in the number of cyber-attacks by groups labelled as ‘cyber-criminals’, with only a thin veil separating them from their state sponsors. This has been followed by a propaganda war, conducted online, through the creation of conflicting stories designed to create confusion and obscure the real picture, allowing Moscow to set the narrative for unfolding events and subversively influencing national politics of other nations; Brexit and the U.S elections just two examples.

Finally, this has been underpinned by Putin’s new willingness to deploy ground forces, or the ‘little green men’ as they have come to be known in the media, claiming to be Russian nationals, with plausible deniability separating them from their true identity, in order to achieve Russian territorial gains and remind other nations of Russia’s strength. This new Russian aggression is likely to threaten the UK’s national interests and security if the country is not properly equipped and prepared to rebuke them.

Europe has not been the only place which has witnessed rising tensions in recent years. As is only natural for any rising major power, China has looked to challenge U.S hegemony in its region, hoping to replace the regional hegemon through a more assertive foreign policy, spearheaded by an annually increasing defence budget and land reclamation programme in the South China Sea. This has seen more assertive confrontations between U.S and Chinese forces as each side tests one another’s capabilities and limits creating a strong feeling of strategic mistrust between Beijing and Washington with an increasing potential of miscalculations spilling over into conflict.

Although no direct threat to the UK Britain has a vested interest in ensuring that the East Asia region remains peaceful with freedom of navigation in the seas to ensure continuing prosperity for all nations. Additionally, with global economic power shifting east, the UK must be prepared to adapt to the potential of an evolving world order in which the U.S is not the sole global hegemon, requiring the UK to project itself into the region in order to reinforce current relationships whilst forging new ones; a task facilitated by an expanded and capable armed forces.

Britain leaving the EU will also further expose the UK to threats of terrorism and organised crime, as leaving the EU will result in Britain’s removal from intelligence sharing and policing agencies, such as Interpol, which has contributed to the security of all of Europe. In the future, the UK will solely be responsible for securing its borders, a task that would seem difficult simply as a result of the islands proximity to mainland Europe and the continent’s freedom of movement.

The UK may stand alone relying on policing on UK shores and self-generated intelligence to tackle organised crime and terrorism, or be forced to develop new treaties with European nations to ensure continued cooperation. Decreased cooperation between the EU and UK on these matters will leave UK resources not only overstretched but disassemble many years of fruitful work developing world leading counter-terrorism and organised crime procedures and institutes in the face of an increasing terrorist threat to the UK.

An increased investment in defence would allow the UK to remain at the forefront of global affairs, effectively tackling these new challenges, influencing bilateral relations, reassuring allies, deterring potential aggressors and protecting its overseas interests. Away from issues of national security, one practical example of this is how increased investment in the armed forces could benefit the UK is in trade negotiations.

Possessing an expanding and capable armed forces and reaffirming British commitment to NATO would provide a powerful bargain chip in any future trade negotiations Britain may conduct with the U.S and Canada, in which the UK would likely find itself on the back foot, providing a return on the investment spent. This could also be true for Australia and New Zealand, both of whom are very aware of increasing Chinese influence in the region, making the UK an attractive trade and security partner.

Domestically, the importance of the UK’s armed forces has also recently been highlighted with a new report published by Philip Dunne9 stating that British prosperity ‘relies on defence’. The review reports that over 500,000 people work directly or in-directly with defence, with the sector being a leading provider in highly skilled jobs, including 25,500 apprenticeships, and bringing in £22 billion annually.

Therefore, any boost in defence spending would also bring clear economic benefits at home, as growth in the defence sector cold expect to be met with an increase in exports and trade deals for UK industry, helping to protect and generate new jobs.

Therefore, an increase in defence spending would go some way to mitigate a margin of the political fallout Brexit is expected to generate in the future, helping to sustain some of the UK’s influence in bilateral relations.

Furthermore, an increasingly capable armed forces would ensure the UK is seen as a serious partner in defence, security and other sectors, also ensuring the continued protection of the United Kingdom as it faces numerous challenges to its national security. However, an increased defence budget alone will not be a sufficient remedy to counter the effects of Brexit and would only be part of the solution the UK would need to project a successful foreign policy, helping the country to tackle the many evolving challenges on the international stage in the 21st century.

A full effort of novel solutions, policies and attitudes will have to be adopted in London to ensure the UK is best placed not only to navigate but prosper in the future rough seas of the international environment.



  1. https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/defence-committee/news-parliament-2017/modernising-defence-programme-preliminary-report-published-17-19/
  2. https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/pentagon-joins-battle-over-british-defence-spending-warns-against-risk-of-erosion/
  3. Joseph Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, 2004
  4. https://softpower30.com/
  5. Daryl Copeland (Feb 2, 2010). “Hard Power Vs. Soft Power”. The Mark.
  6. Ernest J. Wilson (March 2008). “Hard Power, Soft Power, Smart Power”(PDF). The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 616 (1):
  7. Joseph Nye (January 10, 2003). “Propaganda Isn’t the Way: Soft Power”. International Herald Tribune.
  8. Kingsley Donaldson and Paul Cornish, 2020: World of War, 2017
  9. https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/british-prosperity-relies-on-defence-according-review/
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David Steeper

Well I have to say there is barely a single sentence in this article I agree with. Where to start ? For sake of brevity I’ll stick to one point. We should increase defence spending in order to remain an valuable ally of the US and the EU ? The US whose leader is giving a very good impression of a 5 year old with a serious man crush on most of the worlds dictators ? The EU that has publicly stated that we are a security threat to them and in the weeks and months to come will be… Read more »

Bill Kenny

I think the ‘Washington and Nato allies’ reference that you refer to was in fact a quote from the Commons Defence Committee. The author lists this as Ref 1 at the bottom of the article.

David E Flandry

“…a serious man crush on most of the world dictators”? What an absurd statement. Are you saying he is a latent homosexual or what? He has been critical of all of them, but in a news conference he was reluctant to call Putin a liar. That would be a great way to ensure Russia avoided summits. He has North Korea talking, and if that means he has to stroke Kim Jong Un’s little ego, so what? It was done over and over again during the Cold War, when US and British leaders ignored serious actions of the Soviet Union and… Read more »

Mike Saul

Soft power is useless if its not backed up by hard power.


What a silly statement


Allow me to be more clear.
“Soft power” = sucker to be taken to the cleaners at every opportunity.
“Hard power” = Be a good boy or you get at best a Hellfire through your rooftop or at worst you commit National Suicide like Saddam Hussein or Mummar Qaddafi.
One makes your look like a fool for thinking you can buy off terror and threats to liberty. By taking the lazy and most feel good path possible. While the other removes threats to the nation as thoroughly and expeditiously as possible.


? Trust you to comment giving it Charlie big spuds. What a complete toolbox. Like a few people on here including Mike Saul you have absolutely no idea what soft and hard power is or indeed meant for, you see the word power and that soft power doesn’t include the military so you assume military intervention is hard power working, it isn’t. Here’s a quick explanation “dumbass” Hard power never worked against Iraq or Libya because we had to use military intervention! Get it yet dumbass? Hard power is the offer of military protection, economic alliance through trade or the… Read more »


To be honest, I struggled to read the above and found fault with virtually all of it. But for the sake of brevity (and my sanity) I will gas about this snippet: “It is in this backdrop that the UK finds itself attempting to project its global power and influence, with many starting to question the impact Brexit will have on the UK’s ability to protect its national interests.” I think you will find that the vast majority of those many people who question ‘the’ (not what, but the ) Impact Brexit will have on the Uks ability to defend… Read more »

Evan P

“The young of today” – and you wonder why some of the “young” don’t respect you! I’m really having to restrain myself from using too much colourful language here. The entitled millennial thing is old (like you it seems). Find something better to whine about than a whole fucking generation. 🙂


Evan wrote:
““The young of today” – and you wonder why some of the “young” don’t respect you! “

Evan, if you are going to attack me for something i wrote, then it would help your cause if you actually quoted what I wrote and not what you think I wrote.
I actually stated:
The young of the day (seeing as it is the young we send off to war) and not :
The young of today”

Thank you for making my point.

Evan P

I should have put square brackets around “today”. You imply what I said by saying that previously, the young got on with the job at hand, and now they don’t; they are busy “crying”. Again, stop whining.


Again, stop whining.

So now you’ve been caught out, you have to go on the offensive in which to try and regain the moral high-ground. Its a MB, if I have got under your skin, then the issue is with you.

Evan P

Nope, I admitted my mistake on the lack of square brackets. I was just pointing out how my point still stands – you are whining about young people which is silly. The fact that you ignore what my comment was about tells me a lot.

Daniele Mandelli

Farouk. Well said Sir.


Nazi Germany was hardly a “global superpower.” It had influence in Europe but had hardly none in the Americas, Africa or the Pacific. Any claim to superpower status was quickly shown to be spurious when it stupidly declared war against the Soviet Union and then the United States.

Alone the UK couldn’t and didn’t defeat Nazi Germany.


PK wrote:
Nazi Germany was hardly a “global superpower

In 1940 after Germany had conquered Europe, when the world was waiting for the Uk to fall. Germany under Hitler was the worlds superpower.

Alone the UK couldn’t and didn’t defeat Nazi Germany.
I never said they could, so why insert that statement.


“To be honest, I struggled to read the above and found fault with virtually all of it”

Yeah I’m going to go with that as well Farouk, except not the article, your inane rant.


You’re welcome


PS note to Farouk

England has never “stood alone” against the Spanish or French empires, and we were never really truly ‘alone’ against Germany either, who most certainly were not a “global superpower”

A few snippets from history ?

A few lies more like.

David E Flandry

Well, the UK had Canada, New Zealand, and the resources of the Empire to draw on, plus the tacit support and aid of the US. US troops were in Scotland in 1941 prior to Pearl Harbor.


well in all fairness, the UK had the largest empire in history supporting it against Germany, twice, and the same can be said for France!

john martin

Farouk, you said it all good reply.


A relevant article here (Hi Folks – been roughing it in Vermont for a few days… :D).


I’d really like to see a significant RN presence in this region. Having a permanent and robust presence (3-4 vessels of various types) along with occasional “surge” deployments of a task group size would truly mark the difference between a regional and global power.

Cheers! (still scratching skeeter bites)


I will only post one reply here to avoid becoming embroiled in an on-going debate but I would like to clarify some points on my above article. Evan P and Soul Survivor I share your sentiments. Farouk I believe you may have misunderstood some key points. Firstly, when I state ‘defending it’s national interest’, in this instance I am not purely referring to the defence of the realm or UK territories but had in mind the UK’s interests abroad. Although there are some credible authors who believe that the UK is under a direct threat (see in my references 2020:… Read more »

Evan P

Now that was well said.


“Farouk I believe you may have misunderstood some key points.” Understatement of the century ? Good points on Europe in this comment and the article, just to add though it’s also really important to keep as much influence as possible in Europe as France is on the UN Sec council and we have always voted the same way on it, Britain and France come as a package on that council and that should remain. Imo our relationship with France is just behind the US as our most important relationship, it’s kept the European balance of power the same for over… Read more »


The UK is not leaving Interpol and Interpol is not European, it’s leaving Europol.

To my knowledge no terrorist threat in the UK has ever originated in Europe and Europol has never prevented a single terrorist Attack in the UK.

The UK has considerably greater intelligence resources than the rest of Europe combined. If anyone has a terrorist issue post brexit it’s the EU not the UK.