At a time when Russian fighter jets are forcing civilian flights into UK airports to be diverted, you would expect defence to be one of the big issues of the election campaign. But it is not. It doesn’t fit into the script that the two main parties want to stick to. The Tories’ long-term economic plan doesn’t have space for any foreign entanglements and Labour would rather talk about the National Health Service than national security.
But we do need to have a discussion about Britain’s role in the world and how we respond to the Russian threat. It is worth remembering that if Putin tried any funny business in the Baltics we would be obliged—because of Nato Article 5—to come to their aid.
As part of a serious conversation about defence, there should be a commitment to spending 2 percent of GDP on defence. At the moment, Osborne doesn’t want to commit to this because it would, from the third year of the next parliament, lead to substantial increases in defence spending and he doesn’t want to box himself in like this. There is also a fear that the more departments the Tories in some way protect, the more obvious it will be where the spending axe will fall post-election. But if Britain is not prepared to spend the Nato minimum on defence, despite having harangued other European members to increase their military budgets at the last Nato summit, the alliance would be severely weakened at a time when its strength is essential to maintaining the peace in Europe.