President Putin’s merciless invasion of Ukraine gravely violates international law and UN conventions. Ukrainians are showing massive bravery but Russia has such crushing firepower and utter ruthlessness that we can expect more of Putin’s military objectives to be taken in the weeks ahead.
Whatever short-term gains he secures, we must make sure that Putin fails in the longer run through Ukrainian resistance, tougher sanctions, more humanitarian help, wider international isolation, justice for the war crimes being committed and, above all, lasting western unity in confronting Russia’s aggression.
The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, rightly declared that the invasion of Ukraine “marks a watershed in the history of our continent”. We’re now entering a new era in European security. During a 30-minute speech to the Bundestag, he shifted decades-old German defence policy and doubled the defence budget with a €100bn boost this year. Denmark has announced the “largest investment in recent decades” to match Nato targets in response to Russia’s aggression. The Netherlands has done the same.
All democracies must respond to the newly realised threats to national and European security.
Labour in government did exactly this. In 2002, we introduced the longest sustained real-terms increase in spending for two decades and expanded the defence budget by £3.5bn a year. When speaking about 9/11, our then chancellor, Gordon Brown, said: “Recent events demand that we strengthen not just our national security, but our national resilience, our capacity to respond.” We also modernised military equipment and maintained the size of the army throughout our 13 years in government.
But how well – not just how much – a government spends on defence matters.
The Ministry of Defence is a uniquely failing department. It is failing British troops and British taxpayers. None of its 36 major projects, totalling £166bn, are rated “green” for being on time and within budget. It has wasted at least £13bn in the last decade through mismanagement and misjudgment and the Public Accounts Committee’s 2021 procurement review concluded: “The department’s system for delivering major equipment capabilities is broken.”
As our first steps in dealing with these deep-seated problems, Labour in government would commission the National Audit Office to do an across-the-board audit of MoD waste and make the MoD the first department subject to our new Office for Value for Money’s tough regime on spending decisions.
Exactly one year ago today, the government published its strategy for “Global Britain” with its integrated review. The prime minister trumpeted a “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific and the review overlooked the European Union. It was billed as a “threat-led” strategy but failed to mention any Taliban takeover in Afghanistan or invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, ministers also published plans to cut the strength of the British army by a further 10,000 soldiers.
Before the integrated review was published, I outlined Labour’s principles for national security, arguing defence planning had to focus on where the threats lay, not where the business opportunities might be. I argued that the biggest threat to stability for Europe was coming from Russia, and that Labour would give the highest priority to security in Europe, the North Atlantic and the Arctic to reflect our unshakeable commitment to Nato.
We will be dealing with the consequences of this invasion for years, with more danger and complexity to our national security than at any time since the cold war. That’s why I’m asking ministers to urgently revisit the integrated review and the current defence settlement, reform military procurement and rethink army cuts.
If the Conservatives now step up to the seriousness of the moment and review our defence spending as Labour did after 9/11, they will have our full support.