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London Defence Conference 2024 Defence Secretary keynote

Good morning. Welcome to London. Welcome to the London Defence Conference. And welcome to Bush House.

The iconic building from which the BBC World Service broadcast their very last programme in July 2012.

Now, it was a time of comparative optimism and harmony.

There was talk of a so-called golden era in UK-China relations. Russia was a member of the G8. Nuclear talks were ongoing with Iran that would lead to the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal.

And in London right here, we were sprucing ourselves up for the Olympics and I imagine in complete secrecy, her late Majesty the Queen was conducting her final few practice parachute jumps.

Now, you may recall that the UK went on to have our most successful ever Olympic games, winning 65 medals, as it turned out, the exact same number as Russia.

Four years later, we discovered how Russia had done so well and it had nothing to do with their sportsmanship.

The World Anti-Doping Authority in a 144-page Maclaren report found that: “The Russian Olympic team corrupted the London Games on an unprecedented scale…”

The report detailed the central role of Russia’s Internal Security Service – the FSB – in a systematic doping conspiracy and cover up.

It was a sobering reminder that not everyone plays by the rules or plays with the same honour.

The Olympic values of excellence, respect, and friendship had lost out to state-sponsored cheating, hostility, and ruthlessness.

Now, wind the clock forward to today and Russia and other autocratic states are using that very same playbook.

Ruthless rule-breaking, narrow self-interest, this time not just for sport but to advance their strategic, political and economic goals.

In January, in my Lancaster House speech, I warned that the world had moved from a post-war to a pre-war era.

An axis of authoritarian states led by Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea have escalated and fuelled conflicts and tensions.

They have increasingly been working together.

And today I can reveal that we have evidence that Russia and China are collaborating on combat equipment for use in Ukraine.

As we saw from Putin’s state visit to Beijing and the 64% growth in trade between Russia and China since the full-scale invasion…they’re covering each other’s back.

But this isn’t some distant problem.

Attacks on Iranian journalists and Ukrainian-linked businesses right here in London. Apparent intelligence operations targeting Border Force and parliamentary staff and cyber-attacks on government, business, and our critical national infrastructure… all of that puts Britain on the frontline of malign activity.

In response to this continuing hostility and our more dangerous world, the UK has been at the forefront, backed up by our actions and our resources. We are leading by example.

Specifically, the government has committed to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence by 2030.

Injecting a £75 billion cash boost into our defence budget over the next six years.

We have increased our support to Ukraine, giving our largest ever gift of military equipment since this war started and it’s starting to arrive.

We’ve also increased our military aid to £3 billion and we’ve also committed to do that year after year, at the very least until the end of the decade.

But we haven’t stopped there.

We’ve provided the biggest land component to NATO’s Exercise Steadfast Defender, the alliance’s largest exercise since the end of the Cold War.

Our Royal Navy has intercepted Houthi drones and missiles in the Red Sea… our Royal Air Force has intercepted Iranian drones targeting Israel.

We are procuring new multi-purpose warships for our Royal Marines taking the total number of Royal Navy ships in the Navy’s pipeline to 28, fuelling a new golden age of shipbuilding.

We’ve committed an extra £10 billion to rebuild and expand our munitions stockpiles.

We’ve ringfenced at least 5% of our defence budget to game-changing research and development.

We’ve signed a treaty with Italy and Japan to build sixth generation fighter jets.

Agreed with our AUKUS partners the US and Australia to open-up cooperation on advanced military capabilities with other nations.

The Joint Expeditionary Force, led by the UK, has carried out its first operational deployment.

And we’ve been at the forefront of efforts to bolster NATO and a wider global democratic alliances.

So, all in all we are doing our bit.

Yet when it comes to strengthening our collective deterrence no one has done as much as Putin.

Because, the single most obvious outcome of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has been NATO’s expansion to 32 members with Finland and Sweden joining in the last year.

Plus, members everywhere are spending more money on our collective deterrence with two-thirds now on track to meet the 2% spending target this year.

Meanwhile, Poland has become the alliance’s leading per capita spender on defence and Germany has reversed decades of hesitant defence policy to build-up its own forces and make a huge contribution to support Ukraine.

Yet despite the undoubted progress, I do not believe we have collectively gone far enough.

The democratic world is saying the right things and mostly doing the right things but not on the scale, or with the pace, that this critical moment demands.

And we must be realistic that, while our alliances are strong, many nations continue to sit on the fence hedging their bets or worse are only too happy to provide an alternative market for Russian oil and energy.

So, to strengthen collective deterrence I am pursuing a proactive approach to reinforcing our partnerships and alliances.

To ensure they are bigger, stronger, more committed and above all, more prepared.

And that starts with the cornerstone of our military alliances, NATO.

Putin and his autocratic allies in Beijing, Pyongyang, and Tehran have been emboldened by 25 years of Western timidity towards their repression at home, and aggression abroad.

It’s time for the world to wake-up.

That means translating this moment into concrete plans and capabilities.

And that starts with laying the foundations for an alliance-wide increase in spending on our collective deterrence.

So, this summer I will make the unambiguous case for 2.5% to become the new NATO standard.

The second strand of my approach is to grow and reinforce our collective security.

Let me be absolutely clear – NATO is and always will be a voluntary defensive alliance.

But collective defence and deterrence is effectively a numbers game.

So I will also make the case for all those European nations which effectively benefit from NATO coverage that enjoy the benefits of freedom and liberty to come and join the Alliance.

When the bear is at the backdoor of European security we must come and stand together.

So, it is time for every European nation to step-up and for NATO to renew its case more proactively.

Thirdly, international rules work if they have global support and application.

So next week I will travel to the Shangri-La Security Conference in Singapore with a clear message that if our partners in the Indo-Pacific overlook illegal invasion in Europe it has consequences for international security everywhere including in at home the Indo Pacific.

My message will be simple. Help us to help you. Our security is your security.

But it is not enough just to make the case against advancing authoritarianism we must also do more to compete with it.

Democratic states must make a full-throated case for democracy and the freedoms that are dependent on the international order.

Which is why I will also offer to extend our military partnerships with countries in the Indo-Pacific.

Holding up AUKUS and GCAP as examples of what like-minded countries on different continents can achieve together in support of mutual security.

Now, all of this means we don’t just need more allies and partners we also need them to be more committed.

And just as it is no longer tenable for European countries to expect the US to subsidise our security, how can it be right that despite a sizable global coalition in the Red Sea it is only the US and UK who have struck Houthi targets to protect shipping.

Even though exporters and customers right across Asia and Europe benefit from the freedom of navigation.

Part of the answer is converting commitment into capability,

to encourage partners to play a bigger role in support of the world order.

So, we will step-up our training with defence allies on every continent. We will continue to help train Ukrainians, now nearly 70,000 of them since 2014.

And we will work closer with UK industry to strengthen exports of advanced British capabilities to our allies.

And it’s already happening for example, did you know that the UK has the largest order book for military maritime orders by value in the entire world and this is expected to grow even further.

Now, none of this will be easy.

The post-cold war peace dividend has softened attitudes towards defence spending across the West.

European societies have become used to seeing defence as really a second order priority.

It is hard for governments to change those mindsets overnight.

But we cannot afford to continue repeating the naivety we showed towards Russia’s doping in 2012. Because there is so much more at stake.

Just ask Yaryna from Kyiv, a combat medic with the Ukraine Marine Corps Reconnaissance division.  

Her company has been on the frontline without rotation since August 2021. Yaryna’s first military contract ended more than a year ago.  But despite having a daughter hundreds of miles away she chooses to fight on, recently joining a new unit near Kyiv, to be closer to her daughter.

Yaryna is clear about her motivation for risking her life and sacrificing so much…If Ukraine loses, she says: “We will lose our homes… our houses… our apartments will belong to Russians. We will be captured in Russian prisons…and then, when they finish their occupation…they won’t stop there, they will go to smaller European countries like the Baltic countries, and maybe Poland… and they will take all our reserves… to occupy the rest of Europe…and then all of Europe will be engaged in war.” 

Yaryna believes it is better to supply war-hardened Ukrainian fighters with the weapons they need to finish the war in Ukraine, rather than those with much less combat experience having to do so. 

I agree with Yaryna.  

Some will choose to view her warnings as alarmist.

I do not.

Putin and his autocrat friends have a completely different world outlook to Western democracies.

It is bad enough their own populations have to suffer stifled rights and freedoms but it is unthinkable that they could force their vision of world order on us.

So, it’s time for democracies to really wake up to this reality.

The good news is that Ukraine, despite currently being under significant pressure, has evicted Russian forces from more than 50% of the land they first seized.

And Ukraine, despite having no Navy, is dominant in the Black Sea, where Russia’s fleet, the Black Sea fleet, has retreated out of reach of Ukraine’s long-range weapons and its impressive ghost army of surface drones.

These successes demonstrate that when the bravery of Ukraine’s Armed Forces is supported by brave decisions made by their leaders including mobilising more personnel, matched by timely military support from their allies – Ukraine still prevails.

Ukraine’s brave resistance to date demonstrates that corrupt and coercive tyrants and autocrats will never be able to match the determination of people for their sovereignty and freedom.

So, in our more dangerous world the UK will continue to lead by example and do everything we can to ensure our wake-up call is heard loud and clear.

Because today there is so much more at stake than those Olympic gold medals.

In 2012 it was doping and cheating in sport, today, it is about freedom, livelihoods and a secure world order.

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