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22 May 2024

Day 2: The London Defence Conference 2024

Security experts, political leaders, academics and commentators came together today to explore the role of deterrence and how to strengthen defence and security in an increasingly dangerous world.

Grant Shapps speaking at the London Defence Conference 2024

Hosted by King's College London, the conference discussed what we can learn from history, nuclear deterrence, national resilience and the role of conventional forces.

In a keynote address Rt Hon Grant Shapps, MP, the UK Secretary of State for Defence, warned that “lethal aid” is flowing from China to Russia and into Ukraine.

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 the Putin state visit to Beijing and the 64% growth in trade between Russia and China since the full scale in invasion, they’re covering each other’s backs.

Rt Hon Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Defence

He added: "I think it is a significant development and we should be concerned about that because in the earlier days of this war China would present itself as acting as a moderating influence on Putin.”

Mr Shapps reaffirmed the Government’s plan to increase defence spending from 2 to 2.5% of GDP and took aim at countries who aren’t committing as much to defence. 

The conference also heard from the Rt Hon John Healey, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, and the Rt Hon David Lammy, Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, who said Labour remains committed to defence and security and there will be “no change in support for Ukraine” if they are elected to government.

There will be a General Election in Britain. There may be a change of government in Britain. But there will be no change in Britain’s resolve to stand with Ukraine, to confront Russian aggression or to pursue Putin for his war crimes.

John Healey, Shadow Defence Secretary
David Lammy and John Healey at the London Defence Conference resized for web

Deputy Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Oliver Dowden told the conference that a new series of measures will prepare the nation for crises such as a cyber attacks, solar flares, power outages and another pandemic.

“We are working ahead of time to equip the whole of society to prepare for and even prevent the next shock while delivering a clear and robust plan that is so vital to our national defences. The new measures I have set out today give us yet more tools in our armoury.

Oliver Dowden, Deputy Prime Minister

As well as encouraging households to ensure they have non-perishable foods, bottles of water and torches in case of an emergency, the Prime Minister announced a new website, training for MPs and a new programme to model what would happen in another pandemic to make the UK more resilient.

Oliver Dowden speaking at the London Defence Conference 2024

In his opening remarks, King’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Shitij Kapur, said King’s is home to one of the largest group of scholars dedicated to security and war studies.

He praised the 'Future Leaders' first day of the conference, held on 21 May, which brought together students and young professionals and he highlighted that King’s was founded almost 200 years ago by the then Prime Minister the Duke of Wellington.

I think he would be very proud to know 200 years on the institution that he founded still has a central role in matters of security.

Professor Shitij Kapur, Vice-Chancellor and President, King's College London

Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, Professor Niall Ferguson and Professor Margaret Macmillan explored what we can learn from history about the art of deterrence and also whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine showed a failure of deterrence.

In a panel on ‘Threats and Who needs Deterring’, Dr Jade McGlynn of the Department of War Studies, said there needs to be greater focus on what is at stake should Russia achieve some sort of victory in Ukraine and how if this were to happen, the costs to the British people would be enormous.

On the role of nuclear weapons as a deterrent in light of the Ukraine war, Professor Sir David Omand, a visiting professor in the Department of War Studies, said: "It is vital that Putin continues to believe that an armed attack on a member of NATO would set in train events he can’t control."

In a discussion on conventional deterrence, Air Chief Marshall Lord Peach, Brigadier General David Doss, Lt General Andrew Harrison and Jack Watling were asked about the upcoming General Election. They said it was essential for defence to remain a priority and for alignment across government on spending.

The annual London Defence Conference, hosted at Bush House by King’s School of Security Studies, continues tomorrow.