28th October 2023 Daily Express
We must blame Hamas for the start of all this horror
The real responsibility for thousands of deaths lies with Hamas
Exactly 60 years ago this month the world held its breath as the Cuban missile crisis took us to the brink of nuclear war. By the end of a terrifying week wiser heads prevailed and the Russians pulled their ships back.
Today we watch again as the Middle East explodes into war. And it is a war, already involving not just Israel and Hamas, but now Hezbollah missile attacks from Lebanon and US air strikes against Iranian proxies in Syria.
In fact we now have two terrible wars – one in the Middle East and the other on our own continent in Ukraine. Both threaten our security here in Britain and each will have long-term consequences for our standard of living. Most alarming of all, these wars are starting to merge: they’re throwing up new, very dangerous alliances.
President Putin welcomes Hamas leaders to Moscow; Prime Minister Orban of Hungary, a Nato and EU member, flies to Beijing to pander to President Xi.
The international machinery – United Nations, G7, G20 – on which we have relied is breaking down, with no clear response, and little hard thinking about how we in the West should respond.
Here Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been admirably firm about Israel’s undisputed right to respond to the October 7 attacks.
Nobody can doubt where the real responsibility lies for the thousands of deaths that have followed: it lies with the Hamas terrorists who began the slaughter.
It is Hamas’s responsibility too, in starting a conflict that would inevitably invite retaliation, to protect its own citizens in Gaza. In fact Hamas does the opposite, turning civilian buildings into military targets, slowing evacuations and failing to provide its people with proper shelters.
Like other countries Britain is involved: we have hostages and our nationals trapped in Gaza. We need to be working alongside our allies to get them out.
Beyond that, it is not too early to consider the future.
What kind of space can be safely kept for Gaza’s citizens that won’t be used to keep threatening Israel’s very existence?
How do we persuade the Arab nations to step up and underwrite a more secure existence that can give all Palestinians the prospect of a better economic future?
Before the Hamas attacks, we were already seeing some promising diplomacy between Israel and its neighbours. And we should encourage similar fresh thinking on the Palestinian side, too.
Second, behind almost every recent conflict in the region is Iran, a country officially dedicated to promoting Islamist revolution.
It is Iran that fuelled the terrible war in Yemen, that funded Houthi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, that finances the Hezbollah terrorists’ grip on Lebanon, and that attacks Western shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. The same Iran that is already breaking its promise not to develop nuclear weaponry.
Here the government has identified more than a dozen credible threats over recent months to kill or kidnap people in the UK, both UK citizens and UK-based Iranians.
Yet, unlike the US, the UK has still not proscribed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the force behind its terrorist activities across the region, including attacks on British troops.
The current sanctions are simply too weak to deter IRGC terrorism.
Third, Britain has vital interests at stake. The Gulf is where we get the oil and gas on which our economy depends. Our key exports flow through its shipping lanes. Vital subsea cables link our telecoms and financial markets.
Allies in the region share critical intelligence with us about terrorist threats to our cities. So we, too, need to step up. We should beef up our naval presence in the Gulf and in the eastern Mediterranean. And flying ministers in and out isn’t enough.
Despite his many faults, Boris Johnson led the world in supporting Ukraine in its hour of need.
I’d like to see a senior minister sent out now to the Middle East, and staying there to work across the region, not just with Israel but with all our Arab allies.
This appalling conflict has already escalated dangerously. The terrorism and instability that it has unleashed will affect us all.
19th July 2023
We’re ignoring the real lessons from Ukraine
Slashing the size of the Army has left Great Britain with little capacity to plan for the unexpected
How big an army do we need? Are we buying the right amount of high-tech kit? Similar issues have confronted every defence secretary – but today, as we reckon with war in Europe, there is one overriding question: what does the current war in Ukraine tell us that might reshape our military for our next conflict? This week’s Defence Command Paper should have been the moment to provide real answers.
Surely, the first lesson of Ukraine is that size matters. A country with an international role – in Nato, at the UN, and in partnership with the United States and key strategic allies across the globe – needs armed forces to match. When friends call for help, we have to be there to defend their freedoms and our values – and to be able to deliver that, an army of just over 70,000 is too small. Kyiv’s formidable forces have shown the power of having the numbers ready to fight.
Ben Wallace is right, of course, that a larger army would require a bigger defence budget. We’re spending just over the Nato minimum, at 2.1 per cent of GDP. But Russia was spending a higher proportion of its GDP in the run up to the invasion and even that hasn’t proved enough for them. Meanwhile, China is developing a third aircraft carrier, nuclear ballistic submarines and a massive surface fleet.
If you still think 2.1 per cent is enough, consider this: at the turn of this century, before 9/11 and international terrorism, before Russia invaded Crimea, before Iran and North Korea developed long-range missiles, before China openly threatened Taiwan, we were spending 2.7 per cent.
The Prime Minister and Chancellor have talked of a new target of 2.5 per cent but, despite all encouragement, this is still just talk. Without a firm glide-path towards it, the need to plan and pay for new and expensive weaponry means that the Army in particular will continue to shrink. Whitehall jargon about “draping capabilities across platforms” and “it’s all about the effect you deliver” is no substitute for hard numbers of well trained and deployable troops.
The second lesson of Ukraine is that you must plan for the unexpected. In my first few months as defence secretary, we had to organise our new Nato deployment of hundreds of troops to Estonia; we had to send men to join a huge allied training programme to help rebuild the Iraqi forces struggling against Daesh; we started to plan British Army training of the Ukrainian army resisting the original Russian advance into the Donbas back in 2014.
In the midst of all this, we suddenly had to dispatch 700 troops and helicopters to tackle the deadly outbreak of Ebola in Sierra Leone. And all of it came on top of existing commitments in Northern Ireland, in Cyprus, in different trouble spots in Africa and across the Middle East, and alongside domestic preparedness here to help with floods, tanker driver and ambulance disputes, and backing up armed police guarding against key terrorist targets.
The next defence secretary may have to be ready to send hundreds more troops to reinforce Nato’s eastern frontier, to defend British interests in the Gulf, to stand by allies under threat in the Indo-Pacific. You simply can’t honour all these commitments with small packets of soldiers, endlessly rotated.
The third lesson is perhaps the most important of all. Ukraine mobilised extraordinarily quickly to combat the Russian invasion. It has been a whole of nation effort, involving not just regulars and reserves but civilians, too. It is a war of technology, to be sure, involving drones and long-range missiles, but it is also a war of territory. And defending territory means holding and recapturing ground. That requires infantry supported by armour and artillery. Even with earlier and better air support from the allies, this would still have been a ground war fought by soldiers.
Ukraine, like Russia, has thrown thousands of men into this fight. If Nato’s north-eastern border is breached, if Russia again threatens Georgia and Moldova or the western Balkans, we would have to mobilise here in numbers, too. These are, as the Defence Secretary acknowledges, very dangerous times. Far from cutting Army numbers, we should be increasing them, and supplementing them with stronger reserves.
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The EU owes Ukraine an apology
The bloc has been shockingly slow to mobilise its resources to help President Zelensky
“I need ammunition, not a ride” replied President Zelensky to the American offer to evacuate him as the Russians invaded. He still does. His forces are being out-shelled three-to-one every day. He has been touring Europe’s capitals and the G7 over a year later, with the same desperate requests for more ammunition alongside new drones and missiles. Why? Week after week military support from the West seems to have been drip-fed – first, some shells, then missiles, then more powerful missiles, then some armoured vehicles, then handfuls of tanks, and now possibly some fighter jets.
That Ukraine isn’t a member of Nato isn’t relevant. Any country has the right both to defend itself and to ask its friends for help. Some have stepped up promptly – with the US, ourselves and Poland leading the way. But why has the rest of Europe been so slow?
Last Sunday, President von der Leyen told the Charlemagne prize-giving that “Ukraine’s forces are also fighting for our freedom and our values”. Yet the EU’s response has been shocking. A couple of weeks ago, member states finally approved what it laughably called a “fast-track” scheme to purchase and supply ammunition to Ukraine by 1 October, 19 months after the invasion. They’re still arguing about whether procurement should be handled via the European Defence Agency or by individual countries; some even want purchasing restricted to EU suppliers.
The defence firms are ready to step up. They need a more flexible pipeline of orders that can be accelerated or decelerated to match Ukraine’s demands. The allies should be pooling orders, encouraging purchasing by smaller consortia, and sharing information about forward requirements to incentivise investment in new production. We should also change the narrative around inventories. Ample levels of unused stocks are not profligate: like our nuclear submarines they are part of deterrence, in use every day.
And the City of London can do more. Defence companies should not be shunned by investment advisers in terms of ESG compliance: keeping us all safe is a prerequisite to keeping us green or diverse. Defence equipment also needs a more sophisticated market: it shouldn’t be impossible to devise forward purchasing arrangements along the lines we have developed for investment in new energy.
Nato, too, should do better. The alliance has common procurement machinery but simply isn’t using it. The forthcoming summit in Vilnius should review the commitment at the Wales summit in 2014 to spend a minimum of 2 per cent of GDP on defence by next year. Only seven of 30 members do so; worse still, 12 of the rest, by no means the poorest, don’t even spend 1.5 per cent.
A minimum of 2.5 per cent should be the new target. Here in the UK we spend under 2.2 per cent. Our ambition, not even a “target”, is to reach 2.5 per cent by 2030. But at the start of this century, we were spending 2.7 per cent. In the long run weakness in defence isn’t just risky: it’s expensive. Putin wasn’t deterred from invading Ukraine. So what the West failed to spend on defence, we now spend on energy subsidies, on housing refugees, and coping with slower growth. When the war ends, we will have to spend more again on the reconstruction of Ukraine.
This is our war, too. If Putin wins in Ukraine, no democracy is safe: he can go on to win in Moldova and Georgia, and threaten the Baltic states. He badly underestimated Ukrainian resistance and courage. But he may not be underestimating the political will of the West. Nine years in which only seven countries meet the Nato defence spending target? Nineteen months for the EU just to organise an ammunition tender? Every day of those 19 months Ukrainian soldiers have been fighting and dying. Zelensky deserves an apology as much as the Charlemagne prize.
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Nato shouldn’t fear calling Vladimir Putin’s nuclear bluff
We’ve heard the naysayers before, warning us against helping Ukraine over and over again. They’re still wrong
Once again the naysayers are out in force. Even before President Zelensky had begun his inspirational address to Parliament, we were told that giving Ukraine fighter jets would bring Nato closer to war with Russia, would invite further escalation, and would likely trigger retaliation with the first use of nuclear weapons since Hiroshima.
We have heard all this before – before Britain led the way in supplying tanks, before the allies supplied better air missile defence, before we provided the anti-tank weapons and heavy artillery that Ukraine needed from day one. (And I heard it back in 2014 when we refused those same weapons that could have stopped Putin much earlier, and began army training instead.)
First, Nato isn’t at war with Russia: it remains a defensive alliance ready to protect its members from attack. But under the UN charter any country, Nato member or not, is entitled to ask its friends for help. Second, Russia has already escalated. It is shelling civilian infrastructure – apartment blocks, hospitals, nurseries – in breach of all the rules of war. Further atrocities are being committed by its troops on the ground. Third, we have heard Putin’s nuclear bluster before: each time it’s turned out to be just that – bluster.
Putin will in any case be very aware that any tactical use of a nuclear weapon would be strongly opposed by China, India and others. Holding nuclear weapons as a defence against an existential threat to your own country is quite different to deploying them to conquer another. Britain, the US and Russia were guarantors to the treaty by which Ukraine gave up its own nuclear weapons: for Russia to use them now would destroy the Non-Proliferation Treaty to which it is party. The implications for countries such as China, India and Iran are enormous: all are Russia’s trading partners, each faces its own risk of regional conflict.
Nor is it obvious that Russia’s military is anywhere near its last resort. It can still throw thousands of fresh troops into the campaign; its factories can race the West in producing shells; it can buy in more drones from abroad. Putin can fight a long campaign this year and next, and wait for Western resolve to weaken.
The nuclear threat cannot be completely ignored. Nato will want to ensure, privately if not publicly, that Putin fully understands the consequences. And there’s always some risk with such an irrational leader: we should not rule out some minor detonation (or deliberate “accident”). But it’s equally important not to be panicked into linking any decision to supply fighter aircraft or train their pilots with the eventual resolution of this terrible conflict. While Ukrainian sovereignty remains at stake, it would be simply immoral to make our provision of weapons conditional upon any particular outcome.
From the start, Zelensky has simply asked for the weapons he needs to protect his country from the invader. Slowly, and against much expectation, the West has indeed responded. Yes, that response has varied, understandably, across a democratic alliance: the more lethal weapons have often been supplied fitfully, sometimes even fearfully. But why should our fear be greater than that of the Ukrainian people?
At Westminster Hall, Zelensky thanked Britain for its “bravery” in being the first to supply Ukraine with weapons. He noted that in the past both Britain and Ukraine had defeated “the fear of war” ahead of the time to enjoy peace. Again, if Ukraine doesn’t fear Russia or its weapons, why should we?
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In defeat, Vladimir Putin is becoming desperate
It is likely that in the mess of war there will be more accidents. That is why the Russians must be beaten
Over nine terrible months, Ukraine has certainly learnt who its friends are. Britain has been steadfast, supplying training, weapons and strong political support. The United States, as always, has done the heaviest lifting of all, spending over $18 billion on munitions and other military equipment.
But Ukraine’s truest friend is Poland. It’s Poland that has taken the bulk of Ukrainian refugees; it’s the Polish economy that has taken among the biggest hits, cutting its growth rate from 4 per cent to 1.6 per cent next year; and it’s Poland that has unstintingly raided its own inventories to give Ukrainian troops the weapons that they desperately need to defend their homeland.
The missile that hit eastern Poland may not have been Russian. But that doesn’t change the facts. All the hostile missiles fired since February have been Russian. Contrary to the laws of war, they have been targeted against Ukraine’s civilian population: residential buildings, power stations, water supplies and shopping centres have all been hit. Indiscriminate attacks like these always carry the risk of spilling the conflict into neighbouring states.
But Russia is resorting to indiscriminate missile attacks precisely because it’s losing the conventional war. Its initial invasion failed: Russian forces, once in the suburbs of Kyiv, had to pull back over the border to the north. In the south-east, Ukrainian troops are pushing the Russians deeper into the Donbas; the liberation of Kherson has opened the way from the Dnipro to Crimea. The campaign to restore Ukraine’s sovereignty looks to be long and bloody but winnable.
An unintended missile strike naturally brings fears of escalation, especially when Nato territory is involved. But it is Russia that now must fear escalation the most. It can hardly prosecute the war it is currently fighting. The last thing it needs is for this conflict to escalate. On the contrary, we have already seen Nato rediscovering its unity of purpose and its forces stiffening their defences in Eastern Europe.
Ukraine is in Poland’s debt, for its immediate and extraordinarily generous response. But the rest of us owe Poland, too, not just for its open-hearted humanitarian response but for its persistent prescience in warning us against the Russian threat.
Throughout my time as defence secretary, it was always Poland that understood that threat most clearly, that pushed for a firmer Western response. Nato’s troop deployments in the Baltic states, in Poland itself, and its air defence in Romania, owe much to Polish leadership and pressure.
And Poland should shame its Western allies into doing more to help. Nearly eight million Ukrainians have crossed the border into Poland since February; over 20,000 more still arrive every day. They’re fed, housed, and given free travel and places in school for their children. Families across Poland have opened their doors to the biggest movement of people on our continent since the Second World War.
Poland will spend a staggering €8.4 billion (£7.3 billion) on helping those Ukrainian refugees this year, yet has had a contribution of only €144 million from the EU. Contrast this with the huge amounts that the EU pours into extensive refugee programmes for those fleeing North Africa and the Middle East. Indeed, the EU seems more concerned about the independence of parts of Poland’s court system than the displacement of eight million Europeans. Substantial payments legally due to Poland under the seven-year EU budget and from the post-Covid recovery fund (€73 billion and €35 billion respectively) are being withheld at a time when Poland needs all the financial help it can get.
Wealthier neighbours aren’t pulling their military weight either. Poland has donated more military equipment to Ukraine than any other EU ally, and four times as much as France. Poland has supplied self-propelled gun howitzers, portable air defence systems, and dozens of its tanks; yet Germany, despite its talk, still drags its feet on supplying rocket launchers and armoured vehicles.
Over 20 years ago, Germany deployed its Leopard tanks to the defence of Kosovo, yet there’s still no stomach in Berlin to lend them to the Ukrainian army fighting for its freedom. “The issue is whether we have it in us to keep warmongers like Putin in check,” Chancellor Scholz told the Bundestag back in February, but those tanks, key to the recovery of further Ukrainian territory, remain in storage.
Putin has clearly become desperate. It’s likely that in the mess and confusion of war that there will be more accidents. But our response should surely be all the steadier. The wider risks of this terrible war will not be mitigated by well-meaning attempts at peace-brokering. The way to prevent further accidents and escalation is to end this conflict as quickly as possible: that means doing everything we can to ensure that Ukraine wins it.
Stopping Putin once and for all is the surest way of ensuring that the villages of south-eastern Poland – and the rest of us – stay safe.
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Siren voices in the West are wrong to think that peace is possible without Russia leaving Ukraine
There are siren voices, there are useful idiots, and then there are car salesmen. “History is bunk,” said Henry Ford, arguing that the US should just let Germany win the First World War. Now Elon Musk, today’s auto billionaire, would apparently leave Ukraine’s fate to random polling.
A bit like Strictly Come Dancing, Musk’s peace plan involves two rounds of voting: first, his 100 million Twitter followers vote on the principle, then selected populations within Ukraine can vote to accept a different national identity and join Russia. Has he forgotten the plebiscites that Hitler rigged to seize the Rhineland in 1936, then Austria in 1938? Perhaps he should poll the Czechs, too?
But beyond the useful idiots are more seductive siren voices. Isn’t the Ukraine war unwinnable by either side? Can Europe go on bearing the enormous cost of its financial support? Doesn’t Crimea actually belong to Russia? Do we really want to risk Russia’s use of even one tactical nuclear weapon?
Musk, like Ford, doesn’t understand what’s at stake here. Allowed to keep any of Ukraine’s sovereign territory, Putin wins. That’s how he won Crimea, eight years ago. And if Putin wins, no border country with a sizeable Russian-speaking population is safe.
Russia mounted a savage cyber attack on Estonia in 2007; occupied Georgia in 2008 (and still holds Georgian territory today); sent troops into the Donbas in 2014; and attempted a coup in Montenegro in 2016. Today Russia controls Transnistria, properly part of Moldova, and stirs insurrection in the western Balkans. At huge cost we learnt twice in the past century that appeasement doesn’t work — so, in the end, did the United States.
There isn’t a sustainable peace plan that doesn’t involve ejecting Putin’s forces from Ukraine. This isn’t a conflict that can be frozen and forgotten: the strength of the Ukrainian resistance has already shown us that its sovereignty is inviolate. We should understand why.
Suppose we forced Zelensky to accept some kind of truce, involving a partition, say, of Crimea and bits of Ukraine’s south-east. Even if he agreed to it, which he certainly wouldn’t, the real point is that Russia wouldn’t either. As he did in 2014, Putin would pause and come back for more. Moldova, Georgia, even Latvia would be less safe.
Putting pressure on Ukraine now to negotiate some kind of settlement carries another danger: it would show that the West is giving in to Putin’s latest sabre-rattling, his threat to deploy tactical nuclear weapons. Those threats are indeed serious, and they need to be handled seriously. Putin needs to be warned, privately and publicly, that the West will indeed respond to any such use. That response should include the targeting of Russia’s conventional forces and its supply lines in Ukraine, including its military infrastructure.
Meantime, Europe should be doing much more to help. It’s extraordinary that Germany still refuses to supply the armoured vehicles and tanks that the Ukrainian army so desperately needs. They need more artillery, anti-aircraft missiles, all kinds of advanced weaponry. Every European military should re-examine its inventory and send more of what can be spared. We should look again at how we can support Ukraine’s air defence. European sanctions should be tightened further. Russian oil is still getting out, re-tankered and re-labelled. Its financial system is damaged but not yet cut off from the West.
Yes, there is a huge cost. We see it here already in our energy bills and in the coming recession across the eurozone. Politicians should be clearer with their electorates that this cost will only rise. The bill is high because we didn’t pay it when Ukraine first wanted help after its Maidan revolution in 2004. Even 10 years later, we didn’t do enough to help modernise the Soviet-era infrastructure of eastern Ukraine, or to accelerate Ukraine’s membership of the EU and Nato. If we will the end, that fragile democracies should enjoy peace and security, we have to will the means.
But that bill will be even higher if we weaken now. It could lead to permanent damage to Europe’s economies, a massive switch from social spending to defence budgets and even to conscription in countries that haven’t known it for generations.
A desperate Putin is testing us as never before. This is no time for faint hearts, let alone car salesmen.
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Europe’s errors have given Putin an opportunity
The western Balkans are a tinderbox. If war returns to the region, the Kremlin won’t hesitate to exploit it
Seems to me that Serbia will be forced to begin the denazification of the Balkans.” That was Sunday’s ominous tweet from a Serbian government MP. While we are rightly focused on the plight of Ukraine, we should wake up to the tinderbox that is the western Balkans. Through its Serbian proxy, Russia is once again probing European weakness. Independent countries like Kosovo and Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH) are the next front line: fragile democracies, but both of them outside Nato and the EU.
Serbia, ostensibly still a candidate for EU membership, is buying Russian jets and tanks; far from imposing Western sanctions, President Vučić has just signed a three-year gas deal with Moscow. He now promotes separate institutions to “protect” the Serbian minority in Kosovo. Vučić, we should remember, was Milošević’s minister for information; the latest border flare-up, over number plates and ID cards, is straight out of the Milošević playbook. Border disputes, fanned by “black ops” can all too easily spill over into wider conflict.
After visiting Mariupol in 2015 as Secretary of State for Defence, I warned of the vulnerability of eastern Ukraine. The West did too little too late, denying Ukraine EU candidate status. Nato members refused to supply the weapons it needed for proper defence. The European Investment Bank failed to support Ukraine’s left-behind regions. Russia was allowed to choke off trade in the Sea of Azov, with only minor disapproval from Brussels.
In the Balkans we are making the same mistakes. Countries like Serbia were awarded “accession” status but with no real prospect of joining the EU any time soon: polling in Belgrade now shows public opinion moving against it. The EU gives leaders like Vučić all due respect but does nothing to help build stronger civic institutions or call out the drift away from democratic norms. The West isn’t seen to defend the values it professes to espouse. State-sponsored media are being allowed to squeeze out a free press and fuller political accountability.
However long it takes to have Putin pushed back in Ukraine, we should learn those lessons. Fledgling democracies need more than a waiting-room: the EU should offer immediate interim access to its markets and to its structural funds. Candidate status would give Montenegro, Kosovo and BiH better protection. Weak judicial and legal systems need strengthening. We should increase the Nato presence there and make clear that the constitutional and territorial integrity of these countries matters to us all.
Britain has a big role, too. We should lever up our diplomatic and military presence in both Kosovo and BiH. We already have in place our own former defence chief, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, as Special Envoy. As well as helping to tackle serious crime and security, he has a wider mission to strengthen civic society and democratic institutions: we should give him the resources he needs.
Balkan wars book-ended the 20th century. Putin and Russia have not forgotten how they were humiliated by the stand-off at Pristina Airport during the last one. If Serbia chooses further escalation, it will surely have Russian support. Putin has already tried to destabilise the region: six years ago a Russian-backed coup attempted to stop Montenegro joining Nato. That was foiled but Russia has not lost interest. Win or lose in Ukraine, Putin does not want to see more countries gaining the formal protection of the West.
So once again it is our Western values – free elections, open media, accountable government, independent judiciary – that are on the line. We must not make the mistake of assuming that these are only compatible with full membership of either the EU or Nato. On the contrary, we should reach out beyond our walls: making it easier and quicker for applicants to join, and to have better incentives to do so.
In the past, Europe found a way to reconcile the bitterest of ethnic and religious divisions, and has successfully exported that system of democracy around the globe. Now back on our own continent we’ve seen democracy under missile attack in Kyiv. Thousands were slaughtered in the last Balkan conflict. Do we really have to see missiles raining down on Sarajevo and Pristina all over again before the West steps up?
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Vladimir Putin has made his biggest blunder yet
Finland and Sweden aren’t joining Nato out of fear, but because nobody can be neutral on autocratic terror
If anybody doubted Vladimir Putin’s capacity for miscalculation, the decision of Finland to apply for Nato membership, almost certainly to be followed by Sweden, is probably his biggest blunder yet. Let’s be clear what this means. Both countries want to join Nato, not because they fear any imminent Russian attack but because they believe that a strong alliance is the best guarantee of European security.
They also understand that Russia and Nato cannot be equal partners. Russia has shown repeatedly that it does not respect international treaties: Putin has breached agreements on international borders, on the use of chemical and biological weapons, on the stationing of troops in Georgia and Moldova, on the development of intermediate nuclear weapons, and on the notification of military exercises. Indeed, in 1994, Russia was one of the signatories to the Budapest treaties, guaranteeing the territorial integrity of Ukraine itself: 20 years later it invaded Crimea and started the insurrection in the Donbas.
Finland and Sweden already know that Russia cannot stop them joining, nor need they fear any reprisal. If Russia’s quarter of a million strong army couldn’t capture Kyiv, it’s hardly likely to be able to take Helsinki. Russia now faces a long attritional war in the Donbas and will find it difficult, with a cratered economy and under Western sanctions, to refit its forces properly.
So, neither Finland nor Sweden should be seen as weak supplicants desperate for shelter under the Nato umbrella. Both have highly effective, well-equipped militaries that are already training and exercising with Nato forces. For five years they’ve also been playing a prominent role in the Joint Expeditionary Force which Britain set up in 2014: now 10 nations strong, it was designed to accommodate both Nato and non-Nato members.
These applicant countries bring something else to the Alliance: far from their 1960s image of being peace-loving, easy-going democracies, both Finland and Sweden have built their defence around national service and enhanced resilience.
Finland’s defence forces and its border guard have long been based on compulsory military service; the Finns came out top of a recent major Nato exercise in cyber defence. Sweden has developed a concept of Total Defence: it has re-introduced limited conscription and has regularly tested its population in national resilience exercises. Both countries have modern air forces and navies. Nato will be all the stronger for their joining, and the security of all the Baltic states will be further enhanced.
What these applications for Nato membership do signal is a wider move away from neutrality, a recognition that the world is dividing along new lines. Studied neutrality in the face of autocratic terror is no longer sustainable, practically as well as morally. With Switzerland joining in with western sanctions, and the EU itself committing to supply defensive weapons to Ukraine, there may now be fresh thinking required in other capitals, such as Dublin and Vienna. Who is to police Irish airspace against Russian overflights? Or help protect Austria against a sustained cyber attack? These aren’t matters that can be left to the kindness of others. Countries such as Australia, on the other side of the world, understand the need for more collective security.
So Nato should accept both applications as quickly as possible: Sweden and Finland already meet all the membership criteria. But there’s a bigger challenge for the Alliance in how it responds to less advanced applicants that are not yet ready for membership. It can’t be right to suggest that membership might be decades away: that’s what left Ukraine vulnerable to Russian aggression.
This needn’t involve weakening the Article 5 guarantee under which full members come to each other’s defence. For Georgia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and others we should consider a stronger form of associate membership under which Nato will agree to supply the defensive weapons that they need. We should replicate the model of our Joint Expeditionary Force, and enable applicant nations to train and exercise their militaries with Nato members.
Nato remains the world’s most successful military alliance. It has kept us safe in western Europe for over 70 years. It is just about to become even stronger.
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24 February 2022
No, Vladimir Putin isn’t triumphing over the West
The Kremlin’s aggression has given Nato a new lease of life, and forced Germany and others to change tack
Is Vladimir Putin really winning? He’s invaded another country again. He has Europe’s gas bills in his hands. Former US president Donald Trump thinks he’s a genius. A serious British commentator describes the Kremlin’s strategy as “brilliantly disguised”.
But it’s a little too easy to conclude that the allies have been outplayed. Of course, Putin will have enjoyed the political tourism to Moscow; yes, there’s been some naivety, though it’s surely always better to try to prevent war. But now there are no more illusions to shatter. Once again Putin has broken his word, broken Russia’s own treaty commitments, and broken international law.
So look more closely at the West’s response. Across Europe there have been a series of impressive further commitments to the Nato alliance and, in particular, to the defence of the Baltic states and Poland. American troops have been flown across the Atlantic; hundreds more British, French and German troops are being deployed to Nato’s eastern border.
Nato today is in fact stronger, not weaker. Far from being “brain-dead” as President Macron once called it, the alliance has surely recovered its primary purpose – the defence of Europe. All Nato members are spending much more on defence since we first agreed the 2 per cent of GDP target: 10 countries meet it already and 25 members have passed the second target of spending 20 per cent of their defence budgets on equipment.
Under the military leadership of our own former defence chief, Sir Stuart Peach, Nato has modernised its military strategy and refocused on deterrence and defence. Individual members’ expertise in hybrid warfare, cyber capability and information operations are better co-ordinated. Troops are moved more rapidly across internal Nato borders. Every year different Nato members share air-policing missions in the Baltic from Estonia and over the Black Sea from Romania. The Royal Navy has led a series of regular Nato ship visits into the Black Sea.
And let’s not forget what really worries Putin – that Nato might expand. But Nato, though a purely defensive alliance, is expanding. It now includes Montenegro and North Macedonia, leaving only three of the 10 Balkan nations outside. It has listed Georgia, Moldova, Bosnia Herzegovina and indeed Ukraine as “aspiring members”. More significantly still, both Sweden and Finland are now Nato partners, regularly exercising and training together with Nato forces. In 2017, I encouraged both to sign up to the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force, a more flexible 10-strong grouping that my successor Ben Wallace convened again this week.
Secondly, Ukraine is better placed to defend itself than when Putin annexed Crimea. When I first visited seven years ago, I found a very poorly equipped and understandably demoralised military. Today, thanks to a huge international effort, in which British Army trainers have played a notable part, the Ukrainian army is a far stronger force and much better equipped. Of course, it remains outnumbered by Russian forces but nobody should be in any doubt as to the effect on Ukrainian national solidarity of Putin’s bullying and subversion in Donbas.
Thirdly, look at what Putin is achieving in Germany. There the new coalition government has already frozen the Nord Stream 2 pipeline; it now has to rethink completely its future energy policy. Italy, Hungary, and others likewise now know that they have been far too dependent on supplies from Gazprom. The EU will accelerate its energy market reforms, increasing the use of dual flow pipelines and inter-connectors between member states. Far from dividing Europe, Putin may in fact be pushing it together to face up to reality.
There is much more to be done. The key capitals – Berlin, London, Paris and Washington – do need better and faster security co-ordination. We will certainly need more sanctions and we will need to be firmer than last time in enforcing them.
We should also, unlike Putin, learn from our mistakes. We welcomed the ambition of countries like Ukraine to join our Western democratic communities, Nato and the EU. We saw it as a compliment yet we didn’t do much about it.
But if we will the end, we must also will the means. Shamefully unsupported by European funding after the 2014 revolution, much of eastern Ukraine was left behind with Soviet-era standards of infrastructure and investment. Fragile democracies need our long-term support. Stronger defence, modern infrastructure, and a higher standard of living are the keys to their future.
Russia has military might. Putin may well exercise it further in eastern Ukraine or in all of it, in defiance of international law and opinion. But the only people who can really defeat the West are ourselves. We should not make the mistake of underestimating our own strength. Unlike Putin, we have both friends and values: let’s keep them close.
Read online here
11th April 2021
Stability in the Middle East now depends on how serious we are about tackling climate change
Countries without regular power and sufficient water are prone to shortages, droughts and crop failures, all of which foster insurgency
Beyond the terrible conflicts in Syria and Yemen, and the continuing threat of a nuclear Iran, the Middle East is changing, and so is the west’s security relationship with it.
In the past, our predominant interests in the region were in counterterrorism and lucrative arms deals. The recent meeting between John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, and the UK’s own Cop26 president, Alok Sharma, demonstrated that the new common interest is climate change, and especially its link to security.
In government, I held both the energy and defence briefs, and the linkage became very clear to me. Countries without regular power and sufficient water were prone to shortages, droughts and crop failures that fostered instability and insurgency: man-made climate change was itself becoming a key driver of that instability.
The UK’s 2015 strategic defence review, which I oversaw, recognised this as a new and growing threat; last month’s integrated review promised sustained international cooperation to accelerate progress towards net-zero emissions and build global climate resilience.
Richer countries are affected, too. Stable security partners such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both heavily dependent on hydrocarbon revenues, are now moving fast to develop projects that tackle climate change and help switch to more renewable sources of energy. This isn’t selflessness: they need new skilled, high-tech industries that can provide quality jobs for their young populations. Secure jobs and new modern industries will help safeguard the security partnerships on which the west relies.
My counterparts in the Obama administration, right up to the president himself, were very alive to the impact of climate change on the stability of the Middle East. President Obama directed his security agencies to consider the effect of a warming planet on all future doctrines, plans and strategies. After the hiatus of the Trump years, the Biden administration has now picked this up again. Holding a last-minute round table of this nature, in a nation considered one of America’s strongest security partners, is a subtle nod to the enhanced role that energy and climate will play in America’s future security agenda.
John Kerry was in the United Arab Emirates earlier this month, co-chairing a climate-change round table of Gulf nations. That underlined America’s future agenda. And its partners in the region are responding proactively. The UAE already has one of the region’s most ambitious emissions reduction plans: a cut of 23 per cent by 2030. Five years ago, they might have laid on a military inspection for John Kerry. This time, Dr Sultan al Jaber, his UAE counterpart, took him around the world’s largest solar park, Noor Abu Dhabi.
Across the region, other oil-dominated economies are following suit. Investment in solar panels and in other renewables is becoming as important as in military hardware. Countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE will be leading participants in this winter’s climate change conference in Glasgow.
The US has always been committed to the stability of the Middle East. Of course, the new nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna are important. But it is striking that the first formal engagement of senior officials of the Biden administration in the Middle East wasn’t about hard power at all. It shows how, for Joe Biden and Kerry and their teams, climate change and regional security are now two sides of the same coin.
Read online here
10th April 2021
Prince Philip was a refreshingly down to earth man who just got on with it
“One must wait until evening to see how splendid the day has been.”
Though he wasn’t actually Greek, Prince Philip would perhaps have appreciated the relevance of that ancient philosophical saying to his extra-ordinary life.
The light has gone out on a remarkable man: Royal husband, decorated Naval officer, great-grandfather. But there is one phrase you won’t read in the many tributes to Prince Philip and that’s “Grand Old Duke”.
The Duke of Edinburgh wasn’t grand in any sense at all. On the contrary, he was refreshingly down to earth, hating fuss, often mocking over-elaborate protocol.
Every few months at the Ministry of Defence we had to review the military plans for his funeral, making sure we had contingents from each of the three services ready and trained to play their part in the procession.
I was struck just how slimmed down, at his own request, that funeral was going to be, with a Land Rover for a hearse. Thanks to Covid, it will be even simpler.
The Navy teaches you to be simple and straightforward; life at sea has little time for frippery. The response to any over-complicated request will be “make it so”. You “get on with it”.
And that’s what Prince Philip — deprived of a normal childhood, sent off to join the Royal Navy as a teenager, pitched into World War Two, thrown unexpectedly early into royal life — did above all else. He just got on with it.
He understood one thing from the start, something that still eludes some high-ups today, that it wasn’t all about him. Instead, it was about his wife, his Queen and his adopted country.
And what a selfless life he gave us. More than 20,000 public engagements, more than 850 organisations supported by his patronage and interest, a retirement delayed 30 years beyond the norm.
Too often we see royal engagements as just a photocall.
But behind the photo there was the Duke, walking 20,000 times into a room full of complete strangers, most of them extremely nervous, and having to break the ice with them.
The true mark of a gentleman is putting people at ease and Prince Philip, with a deft remark or jest, could do that at once. Of course, on occasion he spoke his mind, and we loved him for that.
He told me once how he had to spend VE Day not with the cheering crowds in London but in the Orkneys, with the Fleet at Scapa Flow. “Bloody awful place,” he added.
I always thought him at his most relaxed when surrounded by servicemen and women. He properly understood the value and ethics of military service, and he translated those successfully into his own Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme.
But he was so much more than just an ex-military type. His was an inquiring mind.
He was interested in everything — science, design, engineering, religion, evolution, even UFOs. He championed sport, playing fields, inter-faith dialogue.
And he was a very early environmentalist. Forty years ago I heard him stun an after-dinner audience of corporate types with his blunt warning about the future of our planet’s wildlife.
His was a life that cannot be repeated. Prince Philip’s extra-ordinary combination of European parentage, war service, promising Naval career, royal husband and 73-year marriage is also unique.
As Shakespeare put it of the life and death of another royal: “We that are young shall never see so much, nor live so long.”
For your selfless service to our Queen and to our country: Thank you, Sir.
Read online here
14th March 2021
Global Britain: Michael Fallon says ‘door wide open’ for UK to define ambitions
Former defence minister calls for an ambitious strategic defence review. Read in full here
8th March 2021
Britain doesn’t need to be a second-rate power
The upcoming Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy is an opportunity to fashion Britain’s place in the world post-Brexit and post-Covid. It’s also the chance to answer Sir John Major’s question as to whether we should resign ourselves to being a good but second-rate power.
As with the last strategic review in 2015, we should be clear about the threats we face. Russia has killed in one of our cathedral cities. China steals our technology and undermines the rule of law that we jointly bequeathed to Hong Kong. Iran sponsors terrorist attacks across the Middle East and in Europe. North Korea develops intercontinental missiles within range of London.
Their weapons aren’t just missiles, bombs or poisons. Russia interferes with transatlantic cables. Chinese firms collect data for the state. Iran and its proxies direct cyber attacks against our institutions. In the so-called grey zone, these enemies operate with impunity, without attribution and below the threshold of military response, using misinformation to undermine our democratic processes.
Then there is the erosion of the rules-based order. Treaties that were signed by all of us are breached, abused or disregarded. Russia committed not to develop or store biological weapons, then uses them to try to murder its own citizens. China signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea but refuses to abide by court rulings on the South China Sea. Donald Trump undermined the World Trade and World Health organisations.
Look at the response to Covid. Ten years ago the world came together to tackle the financial crisis. Today we see the opposite: China failing to notify on the virus early enough; the EU threatening to block vaccine exports.
Terrorism is still with us. Islamist terrorism – directed or inspired by groups such as Daesh – doesn’t discriminate between its victims. The official threat level is “substantial”: an attack in the UK remains likely. Finally, there’s regional instability. Conflicts in the Middle East threaten our energy supplies and trigger migration to Europe. Russia continues to fuel the seven-year war in the Donbass in Ukraine. Insurgencies in the Sahel and elsewhere in Africa threaten European security. Territorial disputes in the Indo-Pacific endanger our trade routes.
In this context, the review should first prioritise our geo-economic security. That means strengthening our resilience, ensuring our supply chains are more robust and that we retain sovereign capacity in industrial sectors such as biopharma and cyber. We should use both development aid and export finance to underpin our economic security. The military must be encouraged to better harness our defence in all five domains – land, sea, air, cyber and space – with British industry, building stronger partnerships in the new technologies.
Second, we should commit to reinvigorating global institutions. That means enforcing the membership rules, calling out breaches, sanctioning offenders and tackling corruption in the allocation of key posts. Nato needs modernising: it lacks policy on China, a coherent approach to Africa and is too fragmented in cyber deterrence.
Third, there’s our ambition. The 2015 review reversed some of the more damaging cuts necessary in 2010, and we increased the budget again. With the welcome further boost in defence spending we remain the fifth or sixth biggest military power on the planet. So our reach should exceed our grasp. Instability in Africa, Russian aggression in Europe and the North Atlantic, the spawning of transnational terrorism in fragile democracies, Chinese behaviour in the Indo-Pacific – all these directly affect our own security.
More than 70 countries came together to join our fight against the horror of Daesh. Our military can support our allies around the globe, showing a more permanent British presence in every region. We should work now with President Biden to build broader coalitions of the willing.
Finally, there are values. Democracy is running short of defenders: recent Freedom House surveys chart more countries becoming less democratic each year than the reverse. British experience in institution building, strengthening newly independent judiciaries, tackling corruption and increasing accountability should all be part of a much more imaginative deployment of our aid budget.
So we don’t need to be nostalgic or complacent about our place in the world. The review is our chance to show that Britain needn’t be a bit player. With the right ambition and the new funding, it can reset our role as a rebuilder of the international order, a muscular champion of democratic values and a very useful ally of the free.
Sir Michael Fallon is a former defence secretary
The Foreign Affairs Society, University of St Andrews
12th November 2020
Through the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay
It is a pleasure to be speaking again at St Andrews. I’m happy to discuss any aspect of defence and foreign policy later.
This evening is well-timed. We leave the European Union, one way or another, at the end of next month; we must shortly conclude our five-yearly Defence Review; and we must prepare to deal with a new President in the White House and a Democrat Administration. A good hard look in the mirror, therefore, is opportune: I will touch briefly on Europe, then the Review, and our wider place in the world, before opening up for comments and questions.
But the overall exam question is clear: must we, as the former Prime Minister Sir John Major argued this week, resign ourselves now to being a good second-rate power? Or can we still use our over-lapping memberships of NATO, the UN Security Council, the G7 and the Commonwealth (but no longer the EU), our history, our powerful military, our cultural soft power to continue, as the Foreign Office loves to claim, to “punch above our weight”? Is British exceptionalism still useful camouflage or a deceptive chimera?
Let me start with Europe. When I came up, exactly fifty years ago this autumn, the world was relatively benign. Though the Vietnam conflict dragged on, Europe was peaceful. But it wasn’t of course free. Half of Europe’s citizens didn’t have the vote, and not just those behind the Iron Curtain: Greece, Spain and Portugal were dictatorships. Nor was communism on the wane: there were growing Euro-communist parties in Italy and France, and soon a nationalising quasi-socialist government here too.
As students we were pro-Europe; we supported Britain’s joining the European Community in 1973. Many Conservatives (but not all) then saw the European Community as a limiting constitution in the Hayekian sense, protecting citizens from communist, fascist or dictatorial governments by insisting on democratic norms. Indeed it’s forgotten now that it was a Conservative Government that took Britain in, a later Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher that championed both the single market and enlargement, from six members when we arrived to 29 countries as we leave.
Neither Thatcher nor Major, however, were able to do more than park the essential incompatibility of successive European treaties and the legal positivism of its institutions with our parliamentary and legal systems. The unspoken but implicit consent involved in the transfer of substantial sovereignty from Westminster to Brussels was always likely to wither unless refreshed. Instead it was steadily abused. For the federalists “Europe” was always a centralising, harmonising, essentially coercive project: lost or very close referendums in France, Denmark and Ireland should have warned them against excessive speed. Pressure to regain “control” was the inevitable reaction.
But we should also be careful about what we’re giving up. Co-operation on security and against terrorism requires the closest co-ordination and intelligence-sharing between our police forces and our agencies. The legal weight of EU sanctions – against Russia or Iran for example – can only be matched by that of the United States. Some mechanism to co-ordinate foreign policy will matter: we won’t always take different positions from our former partners. It hasn’t had the attention devoted to fisheries and car parts but a comprehensive Security Agreement must be part of the final Brexit negotiation.
Next, he Integrated Review offers a timely opportunity to review current threats and to match our capabilities against them. (It’s not in fact the first to be “integrated”: the 2015 Review was Strategic, fusing homeland and external security, elevating economic prosperity as a security objective, and strengthening the role of defence diplomacy).
Let’s look at those current threats. First, there are those countries that actively wish us harm, politically or economically. Countries such as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea – each in different ways posing a very real threat to our way of life. Russia has attacked and killed in one of our cathedral cities; China steals our technology and undermines the rule of law that we jointly bequeathed to Hong Kong; revolutionary Iran sponsors terrorism directly in the Middle East and indirectly in Europe and Britain; North Korean missiles are being developed within intercontinental range of London as well as of Los Angeles.
And the weapons of these countries aren’t just missiles or poisons. Russia interferes with transatlantic cables; Chinese companies collect data and intelligence for the state. They also use misinformation and subversion to undermine democratic processes; they deploy cyber to disrupt our institutions and businesses; they can operate in the grey zone, out of uniform, through shadowy para-militaries and private armies.
Second, there is the retreat from multi-lateralism and the startling decline of the rules-based international order. Treaties and conventions that were signed by all of us – by Russia, by the United States, by China – are breached, abused, or simply disregarded. Russia pledged not to develop or store biological weapons, then uses them to murder its own citizens; the United States helped found the rules of world trade but under President Trump has deliberately undermined the functioning of the WTO; China signed the Law of the Sea Convention but refuses to abide by the Hague court’s rulings.
Or look at the response to Covid. Just ten or so years ago there was extensive international co-operation in tackling the financial crisis. Finance ministers and bank chiefs across the globe co-ordinated their policies to avoid a total meltdown: from the UK Gordon Brown led a huge international effort. With this year’s pandemic we’ve seen the exact opposite: China failing to notify its dangers sufficiently early; the United States threatening to defund the World Health Organisation; EU member states re-introducing border controls and blocking the movement of vital equipment; richer countries grabbing personal protection equipment around the world from the poorer.
Third, there’s terrorism. From London Bridge to Nice, Paris to Vienna we’ve suffered murderous attacks on our way of life. Islamist terrorism – organised, directed or just inspired by transnational groups such as Al Quaeda and the Daesh – doesn’t discriminate between its victims, Christian, Jew or Moslem.
And terror now takes new forms. Through the cyber domain our enemies can target us from anywhere on the planet: not only stealing our information but disrupting our energy systems, our infrastructure, even our Parliament. Anybody can become a cyber warrior: a laptop and smart software can inflict enormous physical and financial damage on individuals or even on entire countries. The Daesh continues to use social media to spread terror; state-based hackers target our NHS; loners in their bedrooms can shut down government networks.
Fourth, there is regional instability. Long-running conflicts in the Middle East threaten our energy supplies and trigger huge immigration flows towards western Europe. Russian continues to fuel the six-year long war in the Donbass, and openly intervenes in democracies across the western Balkans. Disputes in the Indo-Pacific threaten our trade routes.
I hope that the Integrated Review will help us deal with all these threats. First, by prioritising our geo-economic security. That means strengthening our resilience as a country, ensuring that our supply lines are more plural and more robust, that we retain sovereign capacity in key industrial, biopharma and cyber security sectors, and that we can better handle both natural hazards and malicious threats. It should also involve further fusion across government, using both development aid and export finance to underpin our economic security. Within the military, it means fusing effort across all five domains – land, sea, air, space and cyber – with British industry to maximise its effectiveness. More sophisticated information systems and technologies will be the new hardware.
Second, the rules-based international order. Here we really must build back better. We should commit to re-invigorating and modernising the key global institutions: WTO, UN, NATO, WHO and the rest. That means enforcing the rules of membership, calling out breaches loudly and clearly instead of passively accepting them, sanctioning or expelling offenders, refusing to tolerate moral corruption in the allocation of key posts and chairmanships. It should also mean modernising: NATO’s membership has doubled from 15 to 30 but it has no policy on China, no coherent approach to the Gulf and Africa, and too fragmented an approach to cyber deterrence. The United Kingdom, a founder member of so many of these bodies, has much underspent capital here: it’s time to deploy it.
Third, there’s our ambition. The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review reversed some of the more damaging cuts that were financially necessary in 2010; and we began to increase the budget again ahead of inflation for the first time. We remain the fifth or sixth biggest military power on the planet. So our reach certainly should exceed our grasp. Instability in Africa, the spawning of transnational terrorism in fragile democracies, Russian aggression in the Euro-Atlantic area, Chinese behaviour in the Indo-Pacific – all of these directly affect our own security. If Afghanistan collapses, that’s potentially several million migrating westwards. If Iraq implodes again, our gas and oil supplies from the wider region are in jeopardy.
Committing forces abroad, more persistent presence in the Gulf and the Pacific, more regular exercising and training with allies across the globe – all these things require a bigger budget. But consider that twenty years ago, in the last year of the last century, long before 9/11 and Al Qaeda, long before the Islamist attacks in London and Manchester, before Russia invaded the Crimea, before Chinese imperialism, before Kim was able to fire missiles over the Sea of Japan, we were spending 2.7 per cent of our GDP on defence. Today it’s 2.1 per cent. Despite all the other pressures we have to do better: let’s set a new benchmark of 2.5 per cent for the end of this Parliament.
Finally, that Review should be values-driven. It falls to us, with our belief in free elections and the peaceful transfer of power, including the important principle of loser’s consent (apparently forgotten for the moment in the United States) to be democracy’s champion. Democracy is running short of defenders. Who could have foreseen the erosion of hard-won freedoms in some EU member states or that Russia would attempt a coup in Montenegro or intervene in American elections ?
Democracy can never, therefore, be taken for granted. In a lifetime from study at St Andrews fifty years ago to retirement, via senior public office, I’ve seen democracy ebb and flow. Countries that we thought had finally become democratic are no longer so; others are under external pressure to revert. Freedom House in its annual surveys in each of the last six years charts more countries becoming less democratic than the reverse, amongst them venerable democracies such as the USA and India.
So, at the dawn of a new US Presidency, I suggest that we need to do two things: we must recommit to our democratic values and we must redouble our determination to defend them. At home that means strengthening our own democracy before we preach too fervently to others. Better voter ID (you need a photo to drive a car but not to vote), regular and compulsory boundary reviews, an independent statistical watchdog with real teeth, better protection of free speech and debate: these are reforms essential to the restoration of trust.
Abroad, there’s much we can do to help with institution-building: reinforcing independent judiciaries and training in systems of accountability. And when those democracies are in danger we should act. With the advantage of one of the world’s biggest and best trained militaries, we should continue to support fragile democracies when they call for help: not always with boots on the ground but with the technology, air power, training, and counter-terrorism and intelligence systems that they may lack. That’s in our long-term interest as well as theirs: facing up to transnational terrorism will, sadly, continue to be the challenge of your generation.
But we will not be alone. Setting aside the Falklands heroics, a campaign that was a one-off, Britain works best in concert: in NATO, with key allies like the USA and France, in international coalitions. More than 70 nations, some of them Islamic, joined our fight against the horror of the Daesh. We can work with President Biden now, to build broader coalitions of the willing: to uphold the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific, to protect key international waterways such as Hormuz, the Bab-el-Mandab and the Strait of Malacca, and to help stabilise war-torn countries such as Libya and the Yemen.
So I don’t wholly agree with my friend Sir John Major. Of course, we shouldn’t be complacent or nostalgic. But equally we don’t have to drift downwards into being a bit-part world player, a part-time champion of democracy and freedom. That would mean walking away from our international obligations, letting down our natural allies, and in the end leaving us less safe.
So this Review really matters. It can fill out the Prime Minister’s vision of a more open, confident, forward-looking and global Britain. With the right ambition and more generous funding, it can reset our role as a rebuilder of the international order, a muscular champion of democratic values, and a very, very useful ally of the free.
Conservative Defence Policy
Rt Hon Michael Fallon, Defence Secretary
Royal United Services Institute
10 April 2015
It’s a pleasure to be here to set out the Conservative Party’s Defence Policy.
Defence of the realm is the first duty of government. In 26 days’ time people will be casting their votes at a time when we are seeing multiple, concurrent challenges to the international order that many believe is unprecedented.
In Eastern Europe, Russia is subverting democracy – seeking to change international borders by force and destabilising a sovereign state.
In the Middle East, ISIL is spreading a new form of fascism in its warped drive to create a caliphate and bringing its terror to the shores of the Mediterranean in Libya. We are seeing conflict in Yemen which threatens our interests in the Gulf.
And in Africa, Boko Haram, is causing chaos in northern Nigeria and along its border
Britain is better placed to respond to the threats we face because over the past five years Conservative Defence Secretaries have acted to ensure that our Armed Forces have the support they need to keep Britain safe.
That meant taking difficult decisions to deal with the £38 billion black hole in the defence budget that we inherited from Labour:
We had to scrap much-loved capabilities such as the Harriers and HMS Ark Royal.
We cancelled out of control procurement programmes like Nimrod.
We’ve sorted out the rebasing of our troops bringing back our troops from western Germany.
And, we’ve made some tough choices about the size of the Armed Forces.
Although we did so in a way that has protected our front line clout.
And it meant undertaking a major programme to reform the Ministry of Defence to ensure that unlike the chaos we inherited that equipment is delivered on time and on budget.
Our reforms are cutting the costs and delay of defence projects – the cost of the 11 largest projects fell by £400m in 2014.
And we are becoming more efficient so we can better support the frontline and our more agile Future Force. Our reforms are on track to deliver the £4.3Bn of efficiencies agreed in the 2010 Spending Review as well as a further £1.1 billion agreed in the 2013 Spending Review.
Over £5 billion of efficiencies that were not identified, let alone achieved by Labour.
As a result of these reforms, we have successfully balanced the budget and the MOD is now trusted again with the Treasury having granted us the largest delegated budget of any Whitehall department.
It is only with a strong economy that you can have a strong defence: we now have a properly funded £34 billion a year defence budget. The biggest in the EU and the second biggest in NATO.
We need that budget to keep Britain safe and to play our part in enforcing the rules based system.
So this is Conservative defence policy.
First, we will keep Britain safe.
Our brave Armed Forces are working 24/7 across the world to protect us. Last year 90,000 troops deployed to over 50 countries.
In Iraq, we making the second largest contribution to airstrikes against ISIL after the US and providing critical surveillance, command-and-control and refuelling. Britain is also training and equipping Iraqi forces and we have 145 troops inside Iraq training on heavy machine guns, infantry and counter-IED.
In the Ukraine, British personnel are delivering training in medical, logistics, infantry and intelligence capacity building. We are also increasing our provision of non-lethal equipment.
At the same time, we are reassuring our NATO allies through Baltic Air Policing, and significantly increasing our exercise programme in eastern Europe, to remind President Putin of our commitment to Article 5.
As well as all this, we were still able to dispatch a ship, helicopters and 700 personnel, with just 10 days notice, to Sierra Leone to combat Ebola. Helping cut new cases of the disease from 700 a week to fewer than 40.
But our Armed Forces also keep us safe at home whether the Quick Reaction Alert crews ready to defend our skies, the Royal Navy protecting our home waters, or the military guarding the Olympics and backing up the police on counter terrorism.
Second, Conservatives will ensure Britain remains at the forefront of efforts to overcome threats to the international rules-based order on which our security and prosperity depend.
Some thought that Labour’s vote against limited action against Assad’s regime in Syria in 2013 marked the end of Britain playing that role. I’m relieved that has not proved to be the case.
But continuing to play our part means we must be readier than ever to respond to multiple crises simultaneously. So we will deliver our reforms to create a more agile and deployable Future Force drawing on regulars and reserves to deter and, if necessary, to engage aggressors.
We are investing nearly £2 billion in our Reserve Forces and recruitment is on track. The Army Reserve trained strength has gone up over the past 12 months to 20,480 – above our target for year end. Overall we are on track to deliver a trained strength for all three Armed Forces of 35,000 by 2020.
Our plans mean we will be one of very few countries able to deploy a Division-sized force when required. And the Prime Minister has made clear that there will be no further cuts to our regular Armed Forces.
In contrast, the Labour Party have said they would not take Army 2020 forward in its current form. Scrapping the plan that was designed by the current Chief of the General Staff would throw our forces into chaos at a dangerous time.
And our commitment to defending the world order is unstinting. That is why we’re pressing hard to strengthen NATO – the bedrock of our defence.
At last September’s NATO summit in Newport, we and the US persuaded all Alliance members to increase their spending on defence and to respond more rapidly to unfolding crises.
Since then we’ve become one of the first Nations to support NATO’s new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force – committing to lead the force in 2017. And we are the only country so far to commit to all eight new headquarters and Force Integration Units in eastern Europe.
Third, a Conservative government will make sure our Armed Forces have the capabilities that they need.
Over the next ten years we are committed to spending £163 billion on equipment and equipment support.
That includes new Joint Strike Fighters; more surveillance aircraft; seven hunter killer submarines; two aircraft carriers; and nearly 600 of the most advanced armoured vehicles.
The future of our nuclear deterrent has become one of the big questions at this election.
For 45 years, Britain has kept a ballistic missile submarine at sea providing the ultimate guarantee of security against nuclear attack or nuclear blackmail, 24/7, 365 days per year.
And today, in a world where there are approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons, we cannot gamble with the security that our deterrent provides.
We know that there are substantial nuclear arsenals and the number of nuclear states have increased. Russia is modernising its nuclear forces and actively commissioning a new class of 8 ballistic missile submarines. North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests and ballistic missile tests in defiance of the international community.
Other often unstable states want nuclear weapon and seek the technology to develop them.
We cannot know what nuclear threats may emerge in the 2030s, 2040s and 2050s, the only responsible choice is to recommit to our continuous at sea deterrent now so that we can cope with any direct nuclear threat to the UK, or our NATO allies.
That is why I have announced that the Conservative manifesto will guarantee that we will build a new fleet of four Successor Ballistic Missile Submarines, replacing the four Vanguard boats. We will retain the Trident continuous at sea nuclear deterrent to provide the ultimate guarantee of our security.
There is simply no alternative to continuous patrols that provides the same level of protection and deterrence. Two years ago the official government review concluded that there is no alternative as capable or cost-effective as a submarine-based deterrent.
While some parties have proposed three boats, all earlier studies have shown that four submarines are required to maintain this continuous posture.
The cost of the Successor submarines is estimated to be £25 billion at outturn prices. These costs will be spread over 25 years and if the cost was spread evenly, they would represent an annual insurance premium of 0.13% of government spending.
Yesterday, as you may have seen…I raised the dangers that a Labour Party propped up by the Scottish National Party would pose to renewal of our deterrent. The only way Ed Miliband can get into Downing Street is with the support of Nicola Sturgeon – and earlier this week she said we ‘better believe that Trident is a red line’.
Among the bluster in response, the central issue facing voters in four weeks’ time remains can you trust Ed Miliband not to put the nuclear deterrent on the bargaining table in some shabby back room deal with the SNP?
The next Government must plan ahead, renew that deterrent, so that we can always keep one of our boats continuously at sea.
The Conservatives are the only party to make that pledge unequivocally.
Some of the other parties’ positions are frankly absurd. The Liberal Democrats, for example, want to spend billions to “replace some of the submarines” and make our deterrent part time. They have now committed to going to sea with unarmed missiles. Pointless patrols proposed, a pointless policy proposed by an increasingly a pointless party.
Put simply, it is only the Conservatives that will not gamble with the security of the British people.
Finally a Conservative government will always back the Armed Forces community – our troops, our veterans and their families.
We enshrined the principles of the Military Covenant in law so that never again can our servicemen and women find the Covenant is not honoured.
Over the past five year we have supported our personnel and their families with £1 billion invested in better accommodation and our £200m Forces Help to Buy scheme has helped thousands of personnel move in to their own home.
We have used over £100m of LIBOR fines to improve accommodation, childcare, and support military charities.
Injured soldiers now have access better treatment and to the latest prosthetics and £300 million will be invested in a new world-class rehabilitation facility at Stanford Hall.
Supporting our troops also means protecting them from legal claims that seek to override established international humanitarian law with human rights laws.
The cumulative effect of Strasbourg’s decisions on the freedom to conduct military operations raises serious challenges which were highlighted again by former Chiefs’ only last week.
And over the last few years we have seen the lodging of legal claims on an industrial scale. Many are for events that happened long ago. I have instructed the MOD to robustly contest such claims but they are costing taxpayers millions of pounds and are undermining our Armed Forces.
The next Conservative government will ensure that our Armed Forces overseas are not subject to persistent human rights claims that undermine their ability to do their job.
This isn’t about putting our Armed Forces above the law. The Law of Armed Conflict based on the Geneva Conventions will still apply. Our troops who are injured will still get the compensation they deserve.
But it will stop spurious claims and the worst form of ambulance chasing.
Top of the in-tray after the election will be the SDSR and spending review.
I have been overseeing some preliminary work to assess what has changed in the international security environment, and how the risks to our have evolved.
We have also been examining lessons from past operations and assessing what operations we may have to conduct during the next decade, where, when, with and against whom.
That work will inform the National Security Strategy and the next SDSR and decisions around capability gaps.
As Defence Secretary I have been instilling the need for the MOD as an organisation that spends £34 billion a year to be permanently fit, not just getting fit for spending reviews.
In this Parliament we have shown the major savings that can be made through new approaches:
By selling the Defence Support Group which maintains the Army’s vehicles, we got £140 million for taxpayers and will generate £500 million of savings over a ten year contract.
We brought in a strategic partner to get to grips with the sprawling defence property estate which will save £3 billion over ten years.
We need to continue this in the next five.
Where my party differs from Labour is that, while we will find more efficiencies we are committed to spending £34 billion this year on defence – their zero-based review means that they cannot commit to any of our spending programmes.
To conclude I want to set out our commitment to a strong defence.
We have met and will this year again meet the 2 per cent target. Decisions on spending beyond 15/16 are for the autumn spending review.
But we make three stronger, more specific commitments, a new triple lock that guarantees the shape and power of our armed forces beyond the spending review right through to the end of the next Parliament.
First, we commit to increasing the defence equipment budget by at least 1 per cent more than inflation throughout the Parliament: this will enable us to invest in our two new aircraft carriers, the biggest ships the Royal Navy has ever seen; seven hunter killer nuclear submarines; 600 new armoured vehicles for the Army; and the new Joint Strike Fighters.
Second, we commit to making no further reductions in the size of our Regular armed forces.
Third, we commit to modernising our independent nuclear deterrent, replacing the four existing Vanguard submarines with new submarines that will serve through to 2060.
Three long term commitments unmatched by any other party.
I am confident that the public will look at the last five years and judge that it is only the Conservative Party and our long term economic plan that will make sure our Armed Forces have the resources they need to defend our interests and values across the world for the next five and beyond.