Williamson: be prepared to use ‘hard power’ or risk being seen as ‘paper tiger’

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Britain must be prepared to take military action against countries that “flout international law” or risk being seen as a “paper tiger”, Gavin Williamson will say.

The Defence Secretary will use a major speech to insist the UK will stand up to adversaries with both traditional military power and a significant investment in Britain’s cyber warfare capabilities.

He will confirm HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first operational mission will take in the Pacific region, where Beijing has been involved in a dispute over navigation rights and territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The carrier and F-35 jets from the UK and US will take part in the deployment which will also take in the Mediterranean and Middle East.

HMS Queen Elizabeth will deploy to the Middle East and Pacific on her maiden operational mission (Steve Parsons/PA)
HMS Queen Elizabeth will deploy to the Middle East and Pacific on her maiden operational mission (Steve Parsons/PA)

Britain and its allies must be prepared “to use hard power to support our interests”.

He will also insist that Nato must be prepared to face up to the new threat posed by a “resurgent” Moscow following the collapse of the US-Russia intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty.

The alliance “must develop its ability to handle the kind of provocations that Russia is throwing at us”, he will say.

“Such action from Russia must come at a cost.”

In a strongly-worded defence of an interventionist policy, Mr Williamson will say the price of failing to act in global crises had often been “unacceptably high” and Western powers could not “walk on by when others are in need”.

He will state: “To talk but fail to act risks our nation being seen as little more than a paper tiger.”

Mr Williamson will say the Government’s “Global Britain” mantra must involve “action to oppose those who flout international law”.

The Defence Secretary will say the Queen Elizabeth’s first mission will be part of “making 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 also confirm plans for new British bases in the Caribbean and Asia-Pacific.

Setting out how he plans to spend some of the £1.8 billion extra funding for defence secured last year, Mr Williamson will promise a “very significant additional investment” in cyber capabilities including improving the UK’s ability to carry out its own online attacks and protect against hackers.

Mr Williamson will also promise quicker changes in military technology.

“Against adversaries upping their spending and advancing technology, we have to respond,” he will say.

“If we do not, we will find ourselves with fewer options when we face threats in the future.”

Mr Williamson will also fuel speculation about his leadership ambitions with a pitch aimed at Tory Brexiteers, arguing that leaving the European Union gives the UK an “unparalleled opportunity” to consider its role in the world.

“Brexit has brought us to a great moment in our history.

“A moment when we must strengthen our global presence, enhance our lethality, and increase our mass.”

Shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith said: “The Conservatives have slashed the defence budget by over £9 billion 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.”

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