House of Commons Library

UK Defence Expenditure

Published Thursday, February 22, 2018

This paper summarises UK defence expenditure (historic, current, and planned), international comparisons of defence expenditure of NATO Allies, and the financial cost of UK military operations.

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This paper summarises UK defence expenditure (historic, current, and planned), international comparisons of defence expenditure of NATO Allies, and the financial cost of UK military operations.

It provides an overview of how UK defence spending is currently defined (as well as its historical definition), explains the difficulties in comparing defence expenditure internationally, details how NATO defence expenditure is reported (particularly the 2% target), and how the cost of UK military operations is calculated.

Chart 1: UK Defence Spending in real £ billion terms at 2016/17 prices. UK Defence spending over the last five years has reduced by around £1 billion in reals terms to £35.3 billion in 2016/17. By 2019/20 defence spending is planned to be £36.3 billion.

Chart 2: UK NATO 2% target. Defence expenditure as a percent of GDP. The UK has achieved the NATO 2% target in each of the last five years.Since 2010 only the UK and five other member states have ever achieved the target.

Chart 3: UK Military operations. Real £ billion at 2016/17 prices. In 2016/17 the total cost of UK military operations was around £0.7 billion. Operations specifically against Daesh in 2016/17 cost around £0.4 billion. This is up from £0.02 billion in 2014/15.

THE NATO 2% TARGET EXPLAINED

In 2006, NATO allies set a target to spend 2% of GDP on defence. The introduction of this target was perceived to be an attempt to address the imbalance of contribution between the USA and NATO's European members. There is no intrinsic significance to the level of 2% - the figure does not represent any type of critical theshold in terms of defence capabilities. The 2% is viewed by many as being politically and symbolically important.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8175

Author: Noel Dempsey

Topics: Defence expenditure, Military operations, NATO

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