Monday 28th August 2017
Daniel Kawczynski, Conservative Party Parliamentary Candidate for Shrewsbury and Atcham
It is the first duty of Government to protect its citizens. Whilst the defence of the realm should be above party politics, we must make sure that no party tries to deny our brave men and women in the armed forces the equipment and support that they require in order to carry out their job.
We must lead the way within NATO and continue to commit to spending two per cent of GDP on defence. It is, of course, a crude way of making a spending commitment to base it on GDP; however, within NATO it is probably the only easy way of knowing whether each country is pulling its weight.
Some countries are going way above the required spending target, such as the US, but other countries such as Germany need to step up to the plate. That said, things are improving – each nation in the NATO alliance has, for the first time, committed to spending two per cent of GDP on defence by 2024. It seems that Russia’s military action in Ukraine was a real wake-up call for some and hence progress is now being made – 23 NATO allies increased their defence spending in 2016.
However, that is unlikely to satisfy the Americans and their President and, to be honest, with good reason. Only eight countries will reach the two per cent target next year. Indeed, at the recent NATO summit in Brussels, President Donald Trump made it abundantly clear what is required from some of those nations that are not meeting the two per cent commitment and why it is so important that they do so.
That cannot continue, for it leaves Germany and other countries with money that should be spent on defence, instead of being spent on supporting their industries. I am sure that our Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, would not mind an extra £23 billion to spend, which is the equivalent amount that Germany underspends on defence. It could be put to good use to support our industries, improve our social care, or could even, if left unspent, halve our deficit.
Some have chosen to criticise President Trump for his forceful speech to the NATO heads of State. However, the US leader was right to embarrass them. David Cameron, when he was Prime Minister, warned NATO members at the summit in Wales that they needed to increase their spending – indeed, he started a conversation that is continuing today. Theresa May should not shy away from reminding our European Union allies, during her re-negotiations, that they are not paying their insurance premiums but are, nonetheless, receiving the benefits of membership of the NATO alliance.
Defence, however, is bigger than any one country. Whatever our domestic issues, the importance of a strong and resolute defence of sovereignty, self-determination and peace are as important now than ever before. Russia has already displayed its willingness to encroach upon sovereign territory in Eastern Europe and is rapidly expanding its Arctic operations to an extent not seen since (and perhaps greater than) the Cold War.
While we are, for now, safe beyond the reach of Putin’s arm, many of our Eastern European allies are, given that history is prone to repeating itself, justifiably concerned by Russia’s actions. After all, it is within living memory, including my own, that the people of Eastern Europe lived under the crushing yoke of Communist Russia. What Russia did to Poland and other countries on the Eastern flank is unforgivable and will not be forgotten by them in a hurry.