"...The defence budget is one of the very few elements of public expenditure that can truly be described as essential. This point was well-made by a robust Labour Defence Minister, Denis (Now Lord) Healey, many years ago: 'Once we have cut expenditure to the extent where our security is imperilled, we have no houses, we have no hospitals, we have no schools. We have a heap of cinders.'“
Margaret Thatcher, Statecraft: strategies for a changing world, 2003
The debate on UK defence spending comes at a crucial time. Its conclusions are likely to be considered far beyond these shores. Military weakness in Europe (and the United States) has inevitably provoked belligerent new incursions.
One year ago, the failure of the West to respond effectively to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea is now being exacerbated by the failure of the West to recognise the need for maintaining its defence capacity.
The subsequent Russian escalation in Ukraine will not be the end of the story. It should now be clear that Russia intends to extend its control and influence much further than Crimea.
If the West is to prevent Eastern Europe from being engulfed by Russian expansionism, it must be prepared to deter Russia now. Adopting a stance of appeasement as suggested by some, would only encourage further aggression. An attack on a NATO country, whilst still unlikely, would lead to an Article 5 response which would entail active British military involvement and the danger of a chaotic, spiral of conflict. The West must therefore deter Russia from further aggression before a NATO country is threatened, whether directly or covertly.
As it stands, the cities of Luhansk and Donestsk are largely controlled by pro-Russian separatists. The city of Mariupol, Russia’s gateway to a land border with Crimea, is threatened with attack and vulnerable to a Russian-backed takeover. If Mariupol falls and Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv becomes a new battleground, the very existence of the Ukrainian state will be under threat. With respect to the Baltic nations, the inability of NATO to defend itself would endanger global security. The fall of Mariupol, an attack on Kharkiv and an attack on the Baltic nations should be regarded as redlines for the West.
It is therefore a great danger not to meet the NATO benchmark of at least 2% of GDP spent on defence. This will not be achieved by reallocating funding of the intelligence agencies as defence spending – but could quickly be established by a reconsideration of the international aid programme.
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
John F Kennedy, Inaugural address, 1961