Guy Hands’ View

22 June 2015

Defence Spending Will Have to Be Increased to Contain a Resurgent Russia

The announcement that another £500 million is to be saved this year from the UK’s defence budget has raised fresh question marks over whether Britain will meet its pledge to spend two per cent of GDP on defence. It’s an embarrassment for David Cameron because only last year he called on fellow NATO leaders to join Britain in meeting the goal – something only three other countries out of the 29 members were achieving.

It is why, despite the cuts, we can expect frantic efforts in the coming weeks to demonstrate the two per cent target has been met. But while including military pensions as defence spending for the first time may please the statisticians, it will do nothing to make Britain more secure or ease growing concerns among our allies.

The cuts announcement came in the same week that US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter warned further reductions in UK military spending would put the country’s global influence at risk. It is a concern shared by the Armed Forces themselves and many defence experts. For it is hard to think when, in recent decades, the threats to UK security and national interests have been greater or the potential demands on British forces greater. As the all-party Commons Defence Committee warned in March, the risks are so numerous that Britain’s already over-stretched forces could be needed in a dozen war zones all at once.

Looming over all these risks is a new threat from an old enemy. As the land grab in Ukraine has demonstrated, the West faces a resurgent Russia intent on recreating – at the very least – a sphere of influence corresponding to the former Soviet Union. And let us not kid ourselves that this threat will lessen when Vladimir Putin goes. There are plenty of more extreme figures who make him seem like a consensus politician. Whatever the long-term effect sanctions will have on the Russian economy, they have already increased anti-Western sentiment, emboldened its nationalist fringe and made the country more unpredictable.

We may escape the worst days of nuclear brinkmanship but it is already plain that the West will again have to try to contain Russian ambitions. But what has changed since the end of the Cold War is the reluctance of the United States to foot the bill. America has endured a brutal two decades, paying a heavy human and financial cost for its military operations with little to show apart from a global loss of popularity.

This article appeared in the Huffington Post on the 22nd June.

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