The Estonian town of Tapa sits less than 100 miles from the Russian border, and in December I was there to visit some of the 900 British troops that have been stationed there since 2017 — our largest land deployment outside of the U.K.
This is not just a useful training exercise with our Danish and, in a few months’ time, French allies, but rather a strategic defensive presence in a region that is vital for global security. Our Estonian allies are bolstered and reassured by having us there.
A more active, more deployed armed forces, such as those in Tapa, is a sign of things to come for U.K. defense. Like Estonia, we meet the 2 percent commitment to NATO, and in the U.K.’s latest spending review, the Ministry of Defence secured a record settlement of £16.5 billion (U.S. $22.4 billion) of funding above our election manifesto commitment over a four-year period.
The prime minister and I share a vision for how that funding will transform U.K. defense.
It is crucial to putting our defense spending on a sustainable footing — living within our means, addressing the underfunding of previous years and paving the way for a modernization that is much overdue.
It means being an even greater and ever-reliable defense ally to our friends around the world. It means adopting a more proactive posture with our forces more forward, more present and more assertive. It means remaining a leader in NATO, spending above 2 percent of gross domestic product, making the largest single commitment to the Readiness Initiative and helping drive the modernization of an organization that has kept us safe for more than 70 years. And, of course, it means remaining the United States’ most reliable, capable and committed ally.
It is not just a coincidence that this is the biggest defense investment since the end of the Cold War. Estonians know this only too keenly — and with an increase in Russian presence in the U.K., we have felt this too. Our Quick Reaction Alert forces have seen their busiest period in a decade, with our Royal Air Force fighters scrambling 11 times to intercept Russian warplanes. Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s activity in U.K. waters has risen by 26 percent since last year, with Royal Navy vessels escorting each and every one of them. From our airspace to cyberspace, the North Sea to the High North, we know the threat they pose.
So in an age of 21st century challenges, it’s more important than ever that we work together. That’s why, following our departure from the European Union, we are opening up fresh opportunities to strengthen our global relationships and stay ahead of the curve. The integrated review that we will publish in 2021 will make the most of new technologies, improve integration across the domains and demonstrate that we remain the international partner of choice: a burden-sharing, self-confident and active nation, stepping up to our responsibilities in an ever more contested world.
Ben Wallace is Britain’s secretary of state for defense.