Coffee House

The Tories must commit to more defence spending in the next parliament

1 August 2014

Nato is 65 years old this year; but there’s little cause for celebration. The Defence Select Committee’s latest report suggests that the populations of western Europe and North America are lukewarm about Nato’s collective defence guarantee – the principle that an attack on one Nato member is an attack on all. Paragraph 70 quotes research conducted in the aftermath of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Georgia in 2008; it found that less than 50 per cent of the populations of major Nato powers would support the defence of the Baltic States if they were attacked.

The report explains that the substantial Russian minorities in Latvia and Estonia, under the influence of invasive Russian media, are vulnerable to ‘information warfare’ and of ‘inciting disturbances that have caused such chaos in Ukraine.’ The report also notes that Lithuania is strategically attractive to Russia, as it would allow the Russian enclave at Kaliningrad to be linked to mainland Russia through Belarus. The Baltic States fear that their citizens have been the target of Russian information campaigns. There appears to be a receptive audience among the minorities: local polls found that 43 per cent of Russian speakers in Latvia back Putin’s annexation of Crimea.

Nato has concocted a plan to deter Russian mischief. Earlier this month, the then Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told the Defence Select Committee that Britain would contribute to Nato plans for a ‘more enduring pattern of exercises in the Baltic States and Poland, and the Baltic itself’. These exercises have been ongoing since March, when Putin was busying himself with Crimea. The latest operation, Black Eagle, includes a contingent of more than 3,500 British personnel and 350 armoured vehicles and tanks. There is also a considerable air force in the region, to which Britain has contributed a number of Typhoons.


The aim of these exercises is to establish a permanent presence in eastern Europe without resorting to a costly permanent establishment. Sources in the Ministry of Defence and the army say that there is no strategic reason to found a ‘British Army of the Vistula’ to match the ‘Army of the Rhine’ of yesteryear – an indication that the present Russian threat is small. A series of rolling exercises is adequate, so the thinking goes, to deter any Russian incursion (be it conventional or asymmetric), and to keep Nato in a state of readiness.

These exercises also serve a broader political purpose. The era of fiscal restraint, combined with war-weariness following the wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere, has diminished Nato. Philip Hammond bemoaned this in a speech to the Atlantic Council in 2012:

Afghanistan and Libya have shown that the alliance as a whole, and the contributions of some of its members, fall short of what our collective defence requires – in terms of capability, in terms of the balance of contribution and in terms of the will to deploy.

Yesterday, the new defence secretary, Michael Fallon, reiterated the point, and argued that Nato’s reluctant members must pull their weight by committing to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence (the alliance’s basic requirement).

Britain’s stance is underpinned by the belief that collective defence is, to quote Hammond, ‘the only practical response to the world we live in’. The government has come to see that the principle needs to be revived among Nato’s members – among both their politicians and publics. The logic is that collective defence works but it can only work if it is truly collective. Nato exercises in eastern Europe are part of this effort, which is why they are being so widely publicised. (They may, of course, succumb to the law of unintended consequences by exposing the gulf in tactical expertise and operational capability between Nato nations, which could entrench differences.)

On the domestic front, the stated positions of Philip Hammond and now Michael Fallon make it a near certainty that the Conservatives will, eventually, commit to meet the 2 per cent spending requirement in the next parliament. Will that commitment appear in the manifesto? One would expect so.

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  • Terence Hale

    Deducting the effects of negative interest rates and depreciation with a high inventory of old weapons we need a war.

  • Jonathan Burns

    Lets see the current government is more concerned with forcing the military to accept women in combat roles. This means lowering standards like the police and setting quotas, as only about 1% of female recruits are capable of qualifying.
    We need at least 6 more Destroyers and all 13 frigates replaced by 13 new Frigates.

  • Mynydd

    Defence spending must be for the defence of the United Kingdom of Great Britain not for the defence of the Baltic States. What is the problem, a few years ago the Baltic States were part of the USSR, so let them return to Russia,

  • Simon_in_London

    “Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Georgia in 2008″ – As I expect you know, Georgia invaded Russian-held South Ossetia. The Russians were the ones attacked.

  • swatnan

    NO. I’d rather the money were spent on Social Services and Social Security, and not on fighting off an imaginary enemy. And creating jobs for young people.

    • Ordinaryman

      That’s probably a similar mindset to that which led up to the first and second world wars. One wonders whether either of these wars would have happened or would have been so disastrous if Britain had a strong military and had made the consequences perfectly clear to the belligerents. Austria and Germany were desperate for Britain to remain neutral. As it turned out, Britain did not remain neutral but was too weak to have any initial effect resulting in the fiasco of the BEF in WW1 and the evacuation of, what remained of the British army, from France in WW2. It’s unfortunate, but in todays world you can only negotiate from a position of strength, as primitive as that may be. Perhaps, when the world becomes more civilised we can negotiate differences without hitting each other over the head to prove that we are right. But in the meantime!!

  • BoiledCabbage

    We shouldnt make fun of the smaller NATO contingents. The Belgian and Italian armies have a useful contribution to make, though probably not in the front line. Kitchens and latrines, excellent.

    • John Clegg

      Or reverse gear sets and white flags, perhaps?

  • Andy

    Bugger the Foreign Aid budget. We should be spending the vast majority of it on the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

  • Blindsideflanker

    “The Tories must commit to more defence spending in the next parliament”

    Metropolitan , metrosexual, cultural Marxist political parties don’t value our defence. Not unless they are there for them to make PC gestures to show how much equality means to them.

  • BarkingAtTreehuggers

    The Tories must commit …
    Why? Tax receipts are dwindling, foreign engagements have come to an end, BFG in Munster Lager, Osnabruck et al have long been closed down. What on earth are we spending all this money on?

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …hey, you’re the socialist nutter who wanted to go charging into Syria to help the islamofascists slaughter everybody, laddie. You tell us.

      • BarkingAtTreehuggers

        Did I? Is that what your Greenie mum thinks?

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Yes, you did, laddie.

          You fascists always stick together, as we know.

  • evad666

    Put 2 reactors in each carrier.
    Have we still got squash courts in the Type 45?

    • Roger Hudson

      It’s actually a fives court, surely.

  • In2minds

    What are we ‘defending’? Not the infiltration of UK schools, that’s for sure.

  • HookesLaw

    We are already spending 2.5% of GDP on defence. It has a fully funded 160 billion equipment budget.

    • HJ777

      Yes, we are already spending more on defence than other Western European countries. They prefer for the Americans and us to defend them (often while disparaging us and the Americans) .

      The problem with defence spending is that you really don’t get a return on the money invested if there is peace – it is just a cost and those countries that spend more have less to invest in other areas to the detriment of their economy. It’s a dilemma.

      • BarkingAtTreehuggers

        Oh yes, the good old benefit cost ratio – we need a new war to make that work in our favour, don’t we. Cameron’s reelection would be guaranteed in the process … I think you and I will agree that Labour have proven beyond doubt in recent decades that they are far better at that.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Yes, you socialist nutters are good at provoking war, like the one you want to engage in Syria, helping your islamofascist pals slaughter everybody.

          • you_kid

            I think I know what he is trying to do – it’s an ill-conceived attempt through endless and dumbfoundingly cretinous repetition to get that word listed in the Oxford Dictionary.
            So far to no avail:


            Good luck with that, laddie.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              …you’re an islamofascist-snuggling socialist nutter in any of your sockpuppet guises, lad.

  • david trant

    Is the author suggesting that the present situation whereby all the troops will be back from Germany shortly should be reversed? The Tories have always been the party of defence cuts, if it hadn’t been for the Falkland’s the Navy would have gone years ago, Cameron would have scrapped the new aircraft carriers if he could have, as it is he screwed them up by forcing through changes which had to be abandoned.

    • HookesLaw

      You talk the language of an infant.
      The carriers are bloated and we do not need them. If we could have cancelled them we could have spent the money on a practical navy that met our needs.
      ‘Cameron’, ie Fox the defence minister, launched an investigation to look at redesigning the carriers to have a catapult – something that would have made the ships useful – but they could not generate enough steam for a conventional catapult.
      So no changes were ‘forced through’ and as such they did not need to be abandoned.

      • Michael Mckeown

        The ships are designed from the beginning to have catapult and arresting gear along with cruise missile pods, they did have issues with steam catapults but there is electromagnetic development ongoing so the chances are if that works then a future refit will see them added:

  • kyalami

    We don’t need to maintain the current level of spending.

    We need to substantially increase it, but to do so intelligently. Personally I would not have ordered the carriers, but now we have for heaven’s sake get them adequately equipped and get both fully operational. Get more Chinooks and Apaches. Make sure our troops are not adequately equipped and trained but excellently equipped and trained. Look after those who have been physically and psychologically scarred in the armed forces. Double the size of the SAS, who are good value in most situations. Get involved in fewer conflicts but choose those where we can win overwhelmingly.

    Too often large organisations and governments seem to commit just enough resources to ensure failure. Do fewer things and do them excellently.

    • HookesLaw

      To double the size of the SAS might mean lowering its standards.
      But I do believe that we should design our forces to create and retain a bigger ‘elite’ ‘special forces type’ element. This could be based around parachute and commando elements. But it is our special forces that can be most useful. I am not sure the numbers are there to double them.

      • kyalami

        Well, let’s set doubling as a goal, moderated by the quality of the applicants.

      • Andy

        We should vastly increase the size of the Royal Navy.

      • Roger Hudson

        The answer to increased special force numbers is direct recruitment, the size of the regular army is not so relevant ( in 1969 the British army was large yet 22SAS had less than a hundred ‘badged’ men). Britain has enough useful people but the barrier has always been the style of many regular unit , the ‘bullshit baffles brains’ mentality that turns off the more thoughtful proto-specialist.
        The new PUSS at the MoD ( JUlian Brazier) should be given the job of sorting it out, as an ex-TA man (summer selection ’77 and B squadron) he knows what’s needed.

    • IainRMuir

      Can’t fault any of that.

    • Michael Mckeown

      These Chinooks and Apaches will be taking off from what soverign bases if you choose not to have carriers? Aircraft carriers do deal with helicopters too.

      • kyalami

        Astonishingly, Apaches and Chinooks have been very effective in recent years without those carriers. The carriers and helis together add capability: the new carriers have taken into account the requirement for Chinooks (e.g. when designing lifts: two fighters or one Chinook).

  • IainRMuir

    We should stop justifying defence spending by trying to answer the question: “who are we defending against?”

    We don’t know, any more than I know where the threat to my house and contents is likely to come from when I renew my insurance every year. The difficulty is in achieving a sensible balance between threats from air, land, sea and now domestic sources, without bankrupting ourselves in the process.

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