British Army: How much UK spends on defence against Putin’s threats

Estimated read time 3 min read


Britain was at the height of its power before the 20th century with an Empire stretching across the globe. Things have changed a lot since then, but the UK’s military remains a leader for maintaining world peace.

In the mid-1950s, about five to 10 years after Germany surrendered in World War Two, the British Army took a much larger portion of funding than it does right now.

At the time, the government was spending about 7.5 or eight percent of its income on defence spending as the world was adjusting to the horror of six years of fighting.

In 1939, Britain relied on a fighting force of more than one million soldiers – including reserves – to protect its empire.

By the time the war had ended, this increased to a size of 3.5 million troops after protecting the British Isles became the government’s sole focus.

READ MORE: Tory minister warns ‘insane’ Putin that UK will fight Russia for NATO

Since then, the British Army has gradually reduced in size, and defence spending has followed suit.

In the 1960s, Britain was spending about 7.1 percent of GDP on defence spending according to figures from the World Bank.

This gradually declined as the new global order set in with the United States taking the role of the world’s military superpower.

By 1979, defence spending had reached levels of about 4.7 percent of GDP with total numbers of troops 315,000.

Spending on the British Army has decreased almost every year since then to its current level of 2.2 percent.

All NATO members, which the UK is part of, are expected to spend at least two percent of their GDP on defence spending, following a 2006 agreement.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this year has woken up several NATO countries who are now moving to increase spending in their own militaries.

Germany announced in May that it would increase military spending by 100 billion Euros in a move Chancellor Olaf Scholz said “was the right answer to the turning point that started with Russia’s attack on Ukraine”.

Britain’s own defence spending also went up recently, to £42.4 billion in cash terms in 2021, a nominal increase of £2.5 billion on the previous year.

But some Members of Parliament have argued more spending is needed to keep the country safe.

In January, Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, who spent six years in the British Army, argued that Britain needs to increase its defence spending further and described the world as having “a 1930s feel”.

He wrote in a column for Bright Blue: “Over the next five years our Royal Navy surface fleet will become smaller than Italy’s. The British Army is the smallest it has been for 200 years.”

The cost of living crisis has seen the Government use its spending powers to help households with energy bills grants, and the impact of the pandemic is still being felt.

But Russia’s growing threat and continued progress in the war in Ukraine will make many wonder whether Britain should be bolstering its defences now before it’s too late.

And as Russian MP Yuri Shvytkin threatened: “If [Russia] has to”, the country would be ready to use its nuclear weapons and “destroy the whole of the UK in two minutes”.


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