The cost of European peace

After six months of delay, the US Senate has finally passed a $60 billion foreign-aid package which will send urgently needed ammunition and military equipment to Ukrainian soldiers. It may well be the last such cheque to be signed in Washington. Donald Trump is favourite to be the next president of the United States and the senators closest to his brand of ‘America First’ politics, J.D. Vance of Ohio and Josh Hawley of Missouri, led the opposition to the Ukraine package. Their argument, crudely put, is that Europe should bankroll its own defence. The American money confirmed this week gives Europe about a year to adjust to this new reality and

Has Angela Rayner redeemed herself?

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With Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer away, Oliver Dowden and Angela Rayner stepped in for PMQs today. Questions quickly turned to the long running row about Rayner’s tax affairs. Did she redeem herself?    Also, the prime minister has announced further UK military spending, confirming it will rise to 2.5% of national income by 2030. Does the move cause problems for Keir Starmer?  Katy Balls speaks to James Heale and Isabel Hardman.  Produced by Megan McElroy.

Britain doesn’t need an Iron Dome

Air defence was in the news this week, after Israel, with the help of allies including the UK, shot down around 99 per cent of over 300 cruise and ballistic missiles and drones fired at it by Iran. The perils of depleted air defences were shown by Russian missile and drone bombardments of Ukrainian energy infrastructure and cities, leading again to many civilian deaths. Eighteen civilians were killed in a Russian strike on Chernihiv. In the wake of the Iranian attacks, Tobias Ellwood, former chair of the House of Commons Defence Committee, told the Telegraph that the UK needs to build ‘a permanent umbrella of security defending our key locations’. This required, he said, ‘investments,

Germany’s missteps in Ukraine have left Scholz fighting for his political life

Difficult though it may be to believe, there is chaos at the top of the German government over its mishandling of the war in Ukraine. Germany’s defence minister, Christine Lambrecht of the Social Democratic party, has quit her post after the most extraordinary series of unforced errors.  The war has brought all of this to a head. It has exposed Europe’s lax security and complacency. But German defence has been in a league of its own for many years. Over the course of the war, there has been no end to the amount of troubling information that has emerged.    German authorities so underrated the chance of war, the country’s intelligence chief

Will Nato accept Ukraine?

Shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky made an offer to Vladimir Putin. Ukraine would drop its ambition to join Nato and would instead stay neutral, he said. It would not align with the West, in exchange for an end to hostilities. It was a sincere offer, and unpopular with Ukrainians. Yet it was significant: Putin had cited Ukraine’s Nato ambitions as the main reason for the invasion, saying it showed the West was somehow threatening Russia. But today, that offer ended and Zelensky is seeking the ‘accelerated’ Nato accession granted to Finland and Sweden this year. Will Nato accept? Jens Stoltenberg, Nato Secretary-General, dodged the question when asked today. ‘Our focus

Nato is no longer ‘brain dead’

Finland and Sweden will be formally invited to join Nato today. Them joining the alliance will bolster Nato’s presence in the Baltic and make it easier to defend Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The alliance now has a clear, strategic purpose again Turkey had objected to the two countries joining, regarding them as too soft on Kurdish separatists, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees as ‘terrorists’ threatening his country. But having received some concessions on that front, Erdogan has dropped his objections. There’s also speculation that the US will sell F-16 fighter aircraft to Turkey in exchange for its cooperation on this matter. It is remarkable that Sweden, a country which has so

France is strong where Britain and America are weak

Emmanuel Macron unveiled his campaign manifesto in a carefully orchestrated press conference on Thursday and his pledges to cut taxes and reform the welfare system dominated the headlines on Friday morning. But the president also touched on defence, promising that spending – €32.3 billion when he came to power in 2017 – will rise to €50 billion by 2025. Some of that money will be invested in cyber warfare technology, as well, presumably, on ammunition; if reports are to be believed the French army would run out of ordnance after four days of a major war. It’s a favourite pastime of Anglophones to mock the French military, though only those

Can Britain afford to spend more on defence?

With rumours swirling that the Ministry of Defence will see its budget boosted in next week’s spring statement it’s hard not to wonder: was Donald Trump right? The former President repeatedly criticised Nato members in Europe for not contributing enough to support the alliance, relying instead on the US to shoulder the burden. And while the UK has met the Nato commitment to spend 2 per cent of its GDP on defence, we’ve seen a massive decrease in our defence budget over the last half century. As war returns to Europe, a consensus view has emerged – that the UK grew complacent when it came to security. We recoiled at

Putin’s invasion has exposed the frailty of Europe’s armies

Putin’s forces are currently steamrolling Ukraine’s defences, with Russian troops circling the capital and invading from the south and east of the country. Meanwhile European leaders, neutered by their military weakness, have been unable to do little more than offer pointless sanctions and statements of solidarity. As Russian troops streamed across the border, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen condemned the ‘unprecedented military aggression.’ When the Kremlin moved to recognise the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts as independent states, the response in Brussels was to pass a fresh package of sanctions. This was repeated in London, with Boris Johnson telling our ‘Ukrainian friends’ that ‘we are with you and we

What I really said to Gordon Brown: Field Marshal Lord Guthrie sets the record straight

A headline in the Mail on Sunday, taken up eagerly by the BBC’s Today programme, claimed recently: ‘The SAS is getting worried that not enough posh officers are applying for jobs.’ Having hooked those shocked by the thought that the SAS should draw such distinctions, as well as those appalled that oiks are applying at all, the piece actually went on to explain that one officer failed the selection because he ‘lacked the sophistication’ to be able to brief cabinet ministers on operations. No lack of sophistication ever attached to Charles Guthrie. When, as head of school at Harrow, you’ve had tea with Winston Churchill in the headmaster’s study, planned

Why is the Ministry of Defence so useless?

A new Commons report is out today and it does not make for happy reading. The Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) system of procurement is ‘broken’ with billions of taxpayers’ money wasted, according to a cross party committee of MPs. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) judges that out of the MoD’s 20 largest projects, 13 were running late by a cumulative total of 21 years.  This includes the £4 billion farce of the Ajax armoured vehicle — a piece of kit that has thus far managed to inflict more damage on its users than its targets, thanks to its excessive vibration and noise which left crews suffering from nausea, swollen joints and tinnitus. Currently there is ‘no timescale’

Defence contractors were the real winners in Afghanistan

The fall of Kabul, like the fall of Saigon, will be taught in classrooms for decades to come. But the dramatic images coming out of Afghanistan don’t necessarily hail the beginning of a post-American world. If America learns the right lessons, it has the chance to pursue a more sustainable foreign policy. One lesson it could learn is to stop outsourcing its war-making and foreign policy to overpaid private firms. In a less politically correct era, these groups would be called what they really are: mercenaries. The corruption and graft expended on contracts of dubious value is legendary. In one episode, some £20 million was spent on forest camouflage for

Has Britain learned from its failures in Afghanistan?

As the Americans prepare to leave Afghanistan, and in the UK we hold our own Defence Review, should we not be asking: have we really learned from the lessons of our failures there? I was in Afghanistan for a brief and intense time in 2007 when I was filming for Channel 4 Dispatches and CNN. We saw a country that had been brutalised for decades by the Russian occupation, the ensuing civil war and then American carpet bombing to ensure US troops met no resistance. A country which was becoming restive as the allies seemed increasingly unable to help them rebuild, or for that matter interested in doing so once

The terrifying development of AI warfare

The Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in France contains some of the earliest known Palaeolithic cave paintings, including those of lions, bears, and hyenas. Thought to be the earliest expressions of human fear, it is hard for us to compute today how frightened man once was to live alongside creatures who viewed us as prey. This primal fear is buried deep within us. It explains our fascination with rare stories of humans being eaten by sharks, crocodiles and big cats. The fear isn’t just about our mortality, but the very thought of us as prey to an unfeeling predator, who doesn’t recognise us as individual thinking humans. In science fiction, this deep-rooted fear

An off-the-shelf insect repellent could help kill Covid-19

Should we be spraying surfaces, and ourselves, with an off-the-shelf mosquito repellent to tackle the spread of Covid-19? The Ministry of Defence has revealed that it has been issuing soldiers with Mosi-guard natural, a spray derived from eucalyptus oil and manufactured by a small company called Citrefine, in Leeds, from the beginning of the Covid crisis. The spray has been tested by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and found to have a rapid effect on reducing levels of the virus when sprayed onto surfaces. It did not, however, succeed in eliminating the virus altogether. In one test, the product was sprayed onto latex synthetic skin an hour before being

Tanking the tanks could be a big mistake

That an abundance of tanks is no guarantee of a happy and secure nation was evident from the Soviet Union’s annual May Day parades through Red Square. A more controversial point is whether Britain can remain a serious military power without any working tanks. The government is reportedly considering, as part of its promised defence review, mothballing the country’s entire fleet of Challenger 2 tanks in order to save money and invest in evolving forms of military technology such as cyber and space warfare. This has raised the ire of some military figures, such as the former chief of the general staff General Lord Dannatt, who this week described the

Four defences of free speech that everyone should read

Every generation, and individual, has to rediscover the arguments for free speech for themselves. Some people learn from major incidents. Some when the censors come for someone close to them, or an opinion that they hold. Others come to believe in free speech because they realise that while being offended on occasion might be terrible, it is nowhere near as terrible as any system designed to make being offended impossible. Fortunately there are short-cuts to finding the best defences of free speech. The English language provides an especially rich tradition on which to draw. From many centuries of literature allow me to list just four works: two classic, two modern.

Will Ben Wallace be allowed to turn on the defence spending taps?

Ben Wallace also has an Iran-shaped problem in his Defence in-tray. One of the complaints about the British government’s handling of the tanker crisis is that the Navy’s capacity is too thin. It is a long-established complaint from defence chiefs that there isn’t enough money for the Armed Forces, and they are now expecting Johnson to show his true blue Tory credentials by turning on the spending taps. Jeremy Hunt pledged during the leadership contest to double defence spending, and there has been a regular drumbeat from Tory backbenchers on the need to push spending up. The Joint Committee on the National Security has warned that ‘the cornerstones of UK

Jeremy Hunt shows some ankle with defence budget pitch

With Theresa May’s departure expected later this year, the race is underway among her Tory colleagues to position themselves as her likely successor. The weekend papers were filled with ministers at pains to prove their credentials – with Liz Truss calling for one million homes to be built on the green belt and Matt Hancock and Amber Rudd sparking rumours of a double ticket after they penned an article calling for a ‘modern, compassionate Conservative party’. On Monday evening Jeremy Hunt appeared to show some ankle of his own with a speech to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet. Discussing Britain’s place in the world, the Foreign Secretary said the UK is held

Australia at the crossroads

 Sydney For decades, Australia has been known as ‘the lucky country’. At the end of the world geographically, we are separated from the global troublespots by vast oceans. We have recorded 27 years of uninterrupted growth, partly because of a surge in exports of commodities to China. At the same time, our tough border protection policies boost public confidence in, as John Howard put it, ‘who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come’. As a result, our politics have not been profoundly affected by the kind of populist forces dismantling established parties across Europe. Nor have we witnessed an anti-globalisation backlash. Not for us any Trump-