The Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was the main political guest on BBC’s Andrew Marr show today. Amongst other topics discussed, Mr Fallon spoke about the announcements he made in an article (full text below) in the Sunday Telegraph, which includes extending our commitment of a battle group to the new rapid reaction force and offering four Typhoons to protect Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Today, 4,000 brave and capable men and women of our three Armed Forces are working around the clock on 21 different joint operations in 19 countries. That's double the number five years ago. Just this week I saw three of our warships exercising with 16 NATO nations in the Baltic; I went on to meet RAF crews who had scrambled their Typhoons that morning to intercept Russian jets over Estonia.
When it comes to our commitment to NATO and deterring Russian aggression, the UK is in it for the long term. That’s why ahead of this week’s NATO Defence Ministerial meeting, I can announce that we will commit a battle group of around 1,000 personnel to the new rapid reaction force every year from its launch and into the next decade. Next year we will once again offer four Typhoons to protect Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
That strong commitment to collective defence is matched by our determination to take the fight to Isil. For ten months now, our planes have flown day and night, carrying out nearly 1,000 missions and 300 strikes against ISIL targets. This month we've sent another 125 troops to boost our counter-IED training there. There are now more than 900 British personnel assisting Iraqi Security Forces, and helping to keep terrorism from our streets. No country except the United States is doing more to fight this evil.
Combating Islamist extremism and Russian aggression is only part of our worldwide effort. 500 British troops remain in Kabul, mentoring Afghan forces so that they can provide security in their country and ensure that terrorists cannot find a safe haven there again. More than 200 remain in Sierra Leone, reducing the number of new Ebola cases from 700 a week to a dozen or fewer. Still others have been on rescue missions in Nepal and Vanuatu.
It doesn't stop there. Our military are training local forces in countries as far apart as Ukraine and Nigeria. We have a defence footprint in nearly half the countries of the world. Quite apart from current operations we have over 10,000 people stationed overseas, from Brunei to the Falklands, from Cyprus to Kenya.
Few nations can match that footprint – or have the ability to respond so rapidly and, at scale, to challenges. We were able to deploy a ship and helicopters and 700 troops at ten days' notice to Sierra Leone. We sent heavy lift C-17 and Hercules aircraft to Nepal. No country in Europe is playing such a strong global role. We can do this because we maintain a £34 billion defence budget, the fifth biggest in the world. And we can only go on spending on defence because our government is growing our economy and bringing our public finances back into balance.
This step-up in our international defence effort is needed because the world is becoming a darker place. The rules-based system under which states live and trade with each other faces new, multiple and concurrent threats. Russia attempts to change international borders by force. Isil advances a brutal caliphate across Syria and Iraq. Failing states in Africa fall prey to insurgency, triggering large-scale migration. Terrorism has come to the streets of London, Brussels and Paris.
Those who belittle our Armed Forces’ efforts fail to recognise that our national security depends on tackling the causes of instability, not just treating the symptoms. It means using our soft power, diplomacy and engagement, to help weaker countries build stronger institutions and law enforcement, and to promote women’s rights. It means using smart power, our better-focused development budget, on conflict prevention and stabilisation as well as on disease and suffering. Defence and international development are two sides of the same coin: well-focused aid helps protect Britain’s security in the longer term.
But it also means using hard power, the might and professionalism of our armed forces, to deter those threats wherever they arise. That's why we've committed to increasing our equipment spend each year of this Parliament. Over the next ten years we'll spend £160 billion on new aircraft carriers, helicopters, armoured vehicles and joint strike fighters. And, because we can't be sure there will be no nuclear threat in the 2030s, 2040s and 2050s, we'll renew our four ballistic missile submarines, too.
The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review will be a full review of the threats we face and the capabilities we need to tackle them. It will consider how best to deploy our defence, diplomacy, development aid and homeland security efforts together. Above all it will be positive and assertive about Britain’s place in the world: ready, willing and able to act to defend our values as we always have done.
This government put security - national security and economic security - at the heart of its manifesto. No one should be in any doubt that we will do whatever it takes to keep this country safe, now and for the future.