Britain’s Armed Forces are ready to use ‘hard power’ against aggressors, Gavin Williamson will declare today.
In a speech in London, he will announce the deployment of the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier to the Pacific to deter the Chinese.
He will also talk tough on Russia and pledge to pour further money into boosting cyber defences.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has said it is time to increase our ‘lethality’ and warn Russia and China there will be a high price for flouting international law
‘We have to be ready to show the high price of aggressive behaviour,’ Mr Williamson will say.
‘To talk but fail to act risks our nation being seen as little more than a paper tiger. Against adversaries upping their spending and advancing technology, we have to respond.
‘If we do not, we will find ourselves with fewer options when we face threats in the future.
As uncertainty grows we must be ready to act and bring others with us. Our adversaries are increasingly using cyber-attacks, subversion and information operations to challenge us and the rules-based international order.’
Mr Williamson will urge Nato allies to step up to the challenge of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence.
The defence Secretary said Britain’s Armed Forces are ready to use ‘hard power’ against aggressors
He will add: ‘The alliance also must develop its ability to handle the kind of provocations that Russia is throwing at us.
‘Such action from Russia must come at a cost.’
Setting out the argument for interventionist policies, Mr Williamson will claim actions by China and Russia have blurred the boundaries between peace and war.
The tone of his speech is likely to frustrate Whitehall officials who have urged ministers to play down Russia’s strength and not encourage Moscow’s propaganda machine.
In his speech, Mr Williamson will fuel speculation about his leadership ambitions with a pitch aimed at Tory Brexiteers.
He will say leaving the European Union gives Britain an ‘unparalleled opportunity’ to consider how to maximise its influence.
‘Brexit has brought us to a great moment in our history,’ he will claim. ‘A moment when we must strengthen our global presence, enhance our lethality, and increase our mass.
‘We shouldn’t be shy about our ambition for our forces.’
The Royal Navy’s £3.2billion Queen Elizabeth will be deployed to the Pacific with two squadrons of UK and American F-35 fighters to reinforce freedom of navigation rights in the South China Sea.
Beijing has been accused of increasing maritime aggression in the region.
The aircraft carrier deployment will also take in the Mediterranean and Middle East.
The Defence Secretary will say the ship’s mission – its first – will help make ‘Global Britain’ a reality.
‘Significantly, British and American F-35s will be embedded in the carrier’s air wing, enhancing the reach and lethality of our forces and reinforcing the fact that the US remains our very closest of partners,’ he will say.
Mr Williamson will confirm plans for new British bases in the Caribbean and Asia-Pacific.
Britain and its allies must be ready ‘to use hard power to support our interests’, Mr Williamson will tell the Royal United Services Institute think-tank.
But Nia Griffith, Labour’s defence spokesman, said: ‘The Conservatives have slashed the defence budget by over £9billion in real terms since 2010 and they are cutting Armed Forces numbers year after year.
Instead of simply engaging in yet more sabre-rattling, Gavin Williamson should get to grips with the crisis in defence funding that is happening on his watch.’
In March last year Mr Williamson told Russia to ‘go away and shut up’ after the Salisbury novichok nerve agent attack.
‘It is absolutely atrocious and outrageous what Russia did in Salisbury,’ he said. ‘We have responded to that.’
He has also warned that Russia could cause ‘thousands and thousands’ of deaths by crippling UK infrastructure.