Post-Brexit UK announces military spending boost

Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised US President-elect Joe Biden that Britain was determined to remain a valuable military ally. (Reuters)
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Updated 19 November 2020

Post-Brexit UK announces military spending boost

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce an extra $22 billion for the military over the next four years

LONDON: Britain pledged to end the “era of retreat” by announcing a major increase in military spending, despite the coronavirus crisis pummeling the economy, as it seeks to define its post-Brexit role on the world stage.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the extra spending reflected the need to upgrade military capabilities, with plans for a new space command and artificial intelligence agency.
In a speech to parliament on Thursday outlining first conclusions from a big review of foreign policy and defense, Johnson will announce an extra $22 billion for the military over the next four years. The defense budget is now just under $56 billion a year.
The government did not set out where the money would come from at a time when the finance ministry has spent billions on trying to protect jobs during the COVID 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.
“The international situation is more perilous and more intensely competitive than at any time since the Cold War and Britain must be true to our history and stand alongside our allies. To achieve this, we need to upgrade our capabilities across the board.”
Britain was the main battlefield ally of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, and alongside France the principal military power in the EU. But its 2016 vote to leave the European Union has made its global role uncertain at a time when China is rising and President Donald Trump has cast doubt on US support for traditional allies.
The military spending announcement comes just a week after Johnson promised US President-elect Joe Biden that Britain was determined to remain a valuable military ally.
Christopher Miller, acting US defense secretary in Trump’s outgoing administration, welcomed the extra spending.
“The UK is our most stalwart and capable ally, and this increase in spending is indicative of their commitment to NATO and our shared security,” he said. “With this increase, the UK military will continue to be one of the finest fighting forces in the world.”
The government said the increase will cement Britain’s position as the largest defense spender in Europe and second largest in NATO.
Britain’s main opposition Labour’s Party said the increase was long overdue after the ruling Conservative government had cut the size of the armed forces by a quarter in the last decade.
Media reports said billions of pounds could be cut from Britain’s foreign aid budget. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the defense spending would not come at the expense of aid.
“It doesn’t mean to say we are abandoning the battlefield of international aid, we’re still one of the most generous givers of international aid,” Wallace told Sky News.

Foreign donors pledge $12 billion to Afghanistan

Updated 26 November 2020

Foreign donors pledge $12 billion to Afghanistan

  • Facing uncertain future, Kabul promises to see through Taliban talks stalemate

KABUL: Afghanistan on Wednesday vowed to fight graft and hold officials accountable after an international donor conference renewed its conditions-based pledge to provide the country $12 billion in foreign aid over the next four years.

“Afghanistan feels committed and pledges for the sake of the nation, for the sake of God, for its future self-sufficiency to fight against corruption,” Shamrooz Khan Masjidi, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry told Arab News.

“We want to work for good governance and for transparency and give accountability to the international aid,” he added.

The pledge was made during a two-day conference in Geneva which ended on Tuesday, where ministers from almost 70 countries and officials from humanitarian organizations spoke about funding cuts and tighter restrictions on vital aid for Afghanistan, marking further challenges for a country that is preparing for an early withdrawal of US-led troops and grappling with the pandemic.

And while the pledged amount falls short of the nearly $16 billion aid raised during a similar meeting in Brussels in 2016, Masjidi said it was a “major” sum considering the financial constraints faced by many countries amid the pandemic.

“Kabul, unlike in the past, expects donors to channel most of the aid through the Afghan budget,” he said, adding that the international community had expressed a willingness to release $3.3 billion next year and, based on a mechanism to be drawn by Afghan authorities and its representatives, review and extend more aid for 2022.

However, several of the donors imposed tough conditions for extending aid, such as progress in the intra-Afghan peace talks between the country’s government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, which have reached a stalemate since they first began on Sept. 12.

The pledge comes amid uncertainty about Afghanistan’s future and an escalation in violence as the US plans a complete withdrawal of troops from the country as per an accord signed with the Taliban in February.

The Afghan government welcomed the $12 billion in aid on Tuesday, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar labeling it a “success,” adding that the strict conditions set by the donors would renew focus on peace negotiations.

Taliban representatives were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News.

In the past, however, the group, emboldened by the February accord and US exit plan, has resisted pressure and repeated calls by Kabul and the international community to enforce a cease-fire.

Fawzia Koofi, a government negotiator who took part in the Qatar talks before returning home several weeks ago, said that both Kabul and the Taliban need to “grasp the delicacy of the situation” and the conditions attached to the aid.

“All sides now engaged in negotiations should know the urgency for peace in Afghanistan because both sides, especially the Taliban, must realize that the luxury of having the world and international community stand with us will not continue,” she told Arab News.

Koofi added that “peace and stability are vital for delivering services and good governance” in the country.

“And the worst scenario would be the international community losing hope for Afghanistan. I think both sides should understand that and show logical flexibility in the process,” she added.

However, experts said “shutting out” the Taliban from the Geneva conference “did not demonstrate inclusive peacemaking on the part of the conference organizers.”

“The Taliban can say to the donors ‘we were not present at the conference to give our view … and for stamping out corruption, please talk to your friend in Kabul,’” Torek Farhadi, an adviser to the former government, told Arab News.

Unlike in the past, the US said it had pledged $300 million in civilian aid for use next year and would extend another $300 million based on progress in peace talks. Washington has contributed about $800 million per year in civilian aid in recent years.

Farhadi said that with President-elect Joe Biden assuming power in the White House, there is a possibility of Washington expressing its view on the Taliban talks and proposing another conference involving the militant group.