Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, visits Exercise Wessex Storm on Salisbury Plain 11052023 CREDIT MOD
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace pictured here visiting Exercise Wessex Storm on Salisbury Plain (Picture: MOD).

Who is Ben Wallace? From Army officer to Defence Secretary

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, visits Exercise Wessex Storm on Salisbury Plain 11052023 CREDIT MOD
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace pictured here visiting Exercise Wessex Storm on Salisbury Plain (Picture: MOD).

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who had initially shown interest in becoming the next Nato Secretary General, has ruled himself out of contention to succeed Jens Stoltenberg.

Before dropping out of the race, the former Army officer had received support from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who praised the Defence Secretary as "widely respected" by international allies.

Mr Wallace said he is keen to succeed Mr Stoltenberg but has failed to garner enough support, stating that the US would prefer if the current Nato chief stayed in the role.

Who is Ben Wallace?

Mr Wallace was born in 1970 and studied at Millfield School in Somerset.

After leaving school, he worked as a ski instructor in Austria before embarking on a career in the Armed Forces.

He attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was commissioned into the British Army's Scots Guards at the age of 20 and, during the 1990s, served in Northern Ireland, Germany, Cyprus and Central America.

In 1992, he was mentioned in dispatches.

Mr Wallace joined the aerospace company QinetiQ in 2003, having already entered politics as a Member of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, and was elected to the UK Houses of Parliament in 2005 after moving to Lancashire.

He started as Parliamentary Private Secretary to then-veteran Cabinet Minister Ken Clarke, as Justice Secretary. He went on to serve as a whip, the Northern Ireland Minister and, lastly, the UK's longest-serving Security Minister (July 2016 to July 2019).

During his three-year stint came the 2017 terror attack and the Salisbury poisonings in 2018.

He took over from Penny Mordaunt as Defence Secretary in 2019.

He is the MP for the Wyre and Preston North constituency.

Ben Wallace met UK trainers and Ukrainian soldiers learning how to operate the UK's Challenger 2 tank 22022023 CREDIT MOD
In February, the Defence Secretary met UK trainers and Ukrainian soldiers learning how to operate the UK's Challenger 2 tank (Picture: MOD).

His time as Defence Secretary

In his role as the Secretary of State for Defence, he has overall responsibility for the business of the department.

His responsibilities include:

  • strategic operations and operational strategy, including as a member of the National Security Council
  • defence planning, programme and resource allocation
  • strategic international partnerships: US, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, and Nato
  • nuclear operations, policy and organisations
  • strategic communications

Mr Wallace has constantly pushed for increased defence spending while in the Defence Secretary role, and he managed to secure a real terms increase of £24bn, pledged over four years from late 2020.

He has overseen cuts to the size of the Army, which has grabbed negative attention, alongside troubled procurement programmes, such as the Ajax vehicle.

The Integrated Review, dubbed the biggest of its kind for defence since the end of the Cold War, outlined a restructuring of the Armed Forces in 2021 – with fewer personnel taking on broader roles (the Army's Ranger Regiment performing similar duties to Special Forces) as a shift toward greater equipment was prioritised.

Ben Wallace during a visit to Sandhurst
Ben Wallace during a visit to Sandhurst (Picture: MOD/Crown Copyright).

The Integrated Review Refresh was announced earlier this year, updating the Government's defence and security policies to reflect changes in the global context since 2021 - notably Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

An increased defence budget of £5bn over the next two years was revealed - around half of what Mr Wallace had reportedly called for as military budgets were squeezed by the impact of Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine and high inflation, although officials said he was "delighted" with the settlement.

Labour said the refresh failed to secure Britain's national defence for the future. 

Mr Wallace went on record saying he was let down by other Nato leaders in not replacing the presence left behind in Afghanistan following the US withdrawal and was brought to tears at the outcome following the Taliban takeover in 2021.

In June, in a speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in Singapore Mr Wallace reaffirmed the UK's commitment to a strategic shift towards the Indo-Pacific region.

He emphasised the importance of co-operation, adherence to international rules, and the promotion of common standards in maintaining balance and stability.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Secretary of State for Defence the Rt Hon Ben Wallace 21112022 CREDIT MOD
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) called Ben Wallace (right) a "widely respected" Defence Secretary (Picture: MOD).

Response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Mr Wallace has played a key role in the UK's response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and has stood steadfast in support of Ukraine.

The UK is the second largest donor of military equipment to Ukraine, only behind the US.

Large-scale weapon donations and UK-based training for Ukrainian forces have been widely appreciated, at least by those in Ukraine, and Mr Wallace has even visited Kyiv himself.

The UK was the first nation to give Kyiv long-range cruise missiles.

The Defence Secretary confirmed in May that Ukrainian forces have used UK-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles against Russian targets.

When meeting Ukrainian troops training in the UK earlier this year, Mr Wallace told Forces News that Russian forces will not be able to cope if Ukrainian troops can be trained to fight like a Nato army.

The UK is providing Ukraine with £2.3bn worth of support in 2023, a move confirmed by Mr Wallace.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace next NATO secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Ukraine Defence Contact Group 20012023 CREDIT MOD
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace next to Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg in January at a Ukraine Defence Contact Group (Picture: MOD).

Touted for PM role

Last year, many looked to the Defence Secretary as a potential UK leader at a time of war on European soil.

Since Russia's invasion, Mr Wallace has gained exposure as a key voice in the conflict.

A steady hand in his role since 2019, a survivor of reshuffles and a loyal servant to the serving prime ministers, ministerial peers considered him a top candidate for the top job on more than one occasion to replace Boris Johnson and then later Liz Truss. 

He would later rule himself out of the Tory leadership race, saying that he was "privileged to be the UK Defence Secretary and the current threat requires stability in that office".

Watch: Wallace praises the 'dedication' of Ukrainian soldiers training on British tanks.

The Nato job

Mr Wallace has confirmed his interest in replacing Jens Stoltenberg as Nato secretary general but in June ruled himself out. 

It was reported that Mr Sunak, during a trip to Washington, would hope to encourage US President Joe Biden to back the Defence Secretary for the role.

The Prime Minister declined to comment if the bid for Nato's top job would be on the agenda during their meeting.

During a press conference in Dover before his trip, he praised Mr Wallace for his continued service in his role and the UK's contribution to Nato but did not comment directly on the Nato role.

"Ben does a fantastic job. He is a great Defence Secretary," Mr Sunak said.

"This is a conversation that is happening amongst leaders around the world more generally and I'm sure it will continue to happen.

"Ben is widely respected among his colleagues around the world. We're one of the only countries that participates in every single Nato operation. We are widely perceived as a thought leader in Nato."

He added: "And I think if you asked the Nato secretary general, he would agree with everything I've just said and we will always continue to be a strong contributor and participant in Nato."

Nato member states typically decide on the alliance's next chief behind the scenes.

It was reported Mr Wallace would have to overcome the opposition of those said to be pushing for a woman or someone from Eastern Europe, while France reportedly preferred an EU candidate. 

Watch: Mr Wallace sells poppies alongside members of the Armed Forces on London Poppy Day.

Voting record

According to parliamentary monitoring website, Mr Wallace has consistently voted for the use of UK forces in combat operations overseas, including airstrikes against the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

He also voted against the requirment of conditions to be filled out before any military action in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. 

Mr Wallace has almost always supported replacing the UK's Trident nuclear deterrent programme with a new system and he has also generally voted for investigations into the Iraq War. 

From 2011-2012, he generally voted against the strengthening of the Military Covenant, a promise from the UK to prevent members of the forces from being disadvantaged as a result of their service (now enshrined in law).

In March 2014, Mr Wallace voted against making same-sex marriage available to Armed Forces personnel outside the UK. 

He has almost always voted against equal gay rights and, in 2013, Mr Wallace twice voted against allowing same-sex couples to get married, reports.

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