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In my brief remarks, I will consider the security situation with regard to European affairs and the impact that it can and should have on our defence spending.
My approach to Russia, which is the most urgent security challenge when it comes to European affairs, would be one of peace through strength. We must consider that attitude at a time when our own military strength has been significantly reduced following the fiscal challenges of 2010 onwards. Concurrently, we have had the rise of a resurgent Russia, with 1 million men under arms, that invaded Georgia in 2008, has invaded Ukraine and Crimea and has recently prosecuted this outrageous attack in Salisbury. We need to be very clear-eyed about that and realise that we need to regain this ground if we are to have a credible deterrent.
The strategic defence and security review 2015 laid out a very good plan for regaining that ground, but the bottom line is that if we want a strong, capable military, we have to pay for it. We need to urgently address the £2 billion black hole in the SDSR 2015 plan. The Treasury is seized of the importance of that in terms both of national security and of our security posture in Europe.
The issue is also urgently important because we have an enhanced forward presence. We have 800 soldiers in Estonia. General Sir Richard Shirreff, the former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, has said that investment in their capabilities is important because without it they will remain a political token and that
“without proper command and control and the artillery, engineers, attack helicopters and logistics to turn individual battalions into an effective fighting brigade, and spread over four countries, those four battalions would be picked off piecemeal should Russia attack.”
The need for urgent investment is very clear indeed.
Of course, we prosecute our defence posture in Europe through NATO. We must also urgently make the argument to our allies about the need for them, like us, to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defence. We are one of only five countries that do that. If NATO is to be a credible deterrent to a resurgent Russia, that needs to change.
NATO is not without its problems, but we must express a collective political will in NATO if it is to be credible. It is alarming that in 2015 the Leader of the Opposition called for NATO to be “closed down” and for it to
“give up, go home and go away.”
It is on the record that he has refused to say whether he would defend a NATO ally if it was invaded by Russia. That is astonishing, because a collective deterrent and collective defence is the fundamental basis of NATO, as stated in article 5.
On another outrageous Russian foreign policy act, namely the invasion of Crimea, an adviser to the Leader of the Opposition is on the record as saying that, in his view, it was not an invasion but an annexation that was “clearly defensive” and that
“western aggression and lawless killing is on another scale entirely from anything Russia appears to have contemplated, let alone carried out—removing any credible basis for the US and its allies to rail against Russian transgressions.”
If NATO is to be the basis of our collective deterrent, we need to express political will and political conviction.
On Crimea, I will conclude by quoting a former Prime Minister of Great Britain who understood the importance of peace through strength and of deterring Russian expansionism and aggression through a credible military force. Speaking in 1858, Lord Palmerston knew a thing or two about dealing with Russia, because back then, of course, we were engaged in the Crimean conflict. He said:
“The policy and practice of the Russian Government has always been to push forward its encroachments as fast and as far as the apathy or want of firmness of other Governments would allow it to go, but always to stop and retire when it met with decided resistance”.
We must provide that decided resistance, and we must not allow the voices of apathy or those who want firmness in their political conviction to our collective security to undermine that. I hope that that attitude of peace through strength will guide not just our investment in our defence and our engagement with Europe, but our security policy as a whole.