We must understand the importance of collective defence. Article 5 of NATO commits us to come our allies’ aid, and them to ours. This is the foundation of our country’s defence, and it is at risk from us ignoring defence spending and from countries across the Alliance seeing it as unnecessary expenditure as well. The Conservative manifesto promised to continue to meet the 2% of GDP spend on defence NATO target with the budget increasing by 0.5% each year in real terms. This should be regarded as a minimum; we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a well funded armed forces for the UK’s defence. It’s our allies’ defence at stake too, and if we can’t defend them why should they defend us?
The moment to begin thinking about the next war is at the end of the last war. We have given little thought since the Cold War to how we might be forced to fight against another state (especially one with a similar capability), as counter-terrorism has dominated the military manuals since 2001. Despite the initial progress of the 1990s and 2000s, it is clear that Europe and the West cannot regard the Russian Federation, under its present leadership, as a friend.
Although possessing an economy smaller than Italy, Russia, through autocratic and single-minded political leadership has poured money into its armed forces, modernising and reequipping them. What’s more alarming is how this dangerous move has the support of the majority of Russians. Russia is now the only country in the world in possession of a twenty-first-century battle tank. An exercise planned for this summer, close to the border with the Baltic States, will involve 70-100,000 troops, comfortably more than in the current British army, while still maintaining military operations in both Ukraine (covertly) and Syria (overtly). Putin’s aggression ensures Europe is under greater military threat than at any time in decades.
NATO, therefore, has no alternative, in these days of uncertainty about American priorities, but to rely more upon European capacity and resources. Eastern Europe and Scandinavia are already increasing their defence budgets rapidly. Finland is reforming its military readiness, allowing up to 25,000 reservists to be mobilised for snap drills. Sweden plans to reintroduce conscription. Lithuania has abandoned plans to balance the national budget in favour of increasing defence spending by 25 percent.
As charter members of NATO – the first Secretary-General was Churchill’s Colonial Secretary, General Lord Ismay – we have an obligation to set an example. NATO remains the guarantor of our security, as a collective organisation pooling sovereignty for effective deterrence; we find safety in the number of our allies.
The United Kingdom has a significant contribution to make to European defence. We will soon have two of the only three supercarriers in Europe. We participated in the pan-European design and production of the Eurofighter, and have considerable expertise to offer in future such ventures. Our army retains a multirole capacity in advance of every other European state. NATO’s second most senior post, the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, is permanently held by a full British general (most recently filled by the highly respected Cavalry Generals Shirreff and Bradshaw) demonstrates our importance to European defence.
Britain still has a role to play in European defence. While not perhaps yet cold, the temperature of the continent’s relationship with Russia is cooling. The Conservative commitment to increase defence spending is needed to meet our international commitments and one that must not be allowed to wane.
Written by a Conservative activist in the North West of England.