• Toby Irwin

UK and France, the New Pillars of European Security

Defence is closely linked to economics. This is revealed when looking at two of Europe’s top economies: the United Kingdom and France. Europe is still recovering from the 2008 global financial crash (UK defence spending still not yet at 2008 levels), yet there are signs of positive growth. Across the board there have been decreases in interest rates, meaning lower costs for debt repayments. Further, GDP growth rates have been positive, particularly for the UK and France compared to their neighbours, see below.

This has allowed governments to approve defence spending increases of 3.2% and 4.1% respectivaley. As such, Britain’s budget is set to rise to US$49.5bn and France’s to US$53.2bn. For Britain, this has meant extra funding for things like the new Dreadnought submarine programme, gaining an extra £400m. Such an initiative will mean that the nuclear deterrent remains active and the replacement of Trident on track. It has further allowed the establishment of the BAE Systems ‘Submarine Academy for Skills and Knowledge’. Submarines are to receive the majority of the MOD’s spending, with Land Equipment and Ships coming in second, and then Combat Aircraft.


Breakdown of MOD Spending 2016-2026:

Submarines - £44.0bn (24.7%)

Land Equipment - £19.1bn (10.7%)

Surface Fleet - £19.0bn (10.6%)

Combat Aircraft - £18.0bn (10.1%)

Air Support - £16.6bn (9.3%)

Armaments - £13.5bn (7.6%)

Helicopters - £10.6bn (6%)

Intelligence and Reconnaisance - £4.6bn (2.6%)



RAF Eurofighter Typhoon


In France, modernisation of their nuclear deterrent is taking precedence. On top of this, a significant portion is being diverted to the ‘civilian’ sectors of the military: cyber-defence and intelligence. Further, procurement of Reaper UAVs and transport aircraft are planned.


This all said, European defence spending still lags significantly behind the United States, despite having a comparable GDP. The US has a GDP of around $20.5 trillion and a defence budget of $643.3 billion (3.2% of GDP), while the EU28 has a GDP of around $18.75 trillion and collective defence budget of $284.6 billion (1.51% of GDP). The United States is pivoting its attention more and more away from Europe and the threat of Russia towards a containment of China, and a careful watch of Iran’s nuclear programme. It is very feasible that any assertiveness from Russia against the Baltic states will have to be countered primarily by NATO’s European members. In such as scenario, it would be France and the UK leading the way. Such leadership can already be seen in the Baltic States and NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence. Here, the UK maintains the largest contribution of over 900 personnel in Estonia and 115 in Poland (this is around double that of Germany’s presence in Lithuania).


- https://www.naval-technology.com/news/royal-navys-dreadnought-submarine-programme-gains-400m-funding/

- https://www.contracts.mod.uk/blog/breakdown-planned-defence-expenditure-2018/

- https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/SPROLLs/world-economic-outlook-databases#sort=%40imfdate%20descending


At the time of writing, Toby Irwin is a second year student at the University of St Andrews. He is studying International Relations. Areas that interest him the most are UK defence strategy and foreign policy.

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