Thursday, 16 February 2017

Europe and the Indefensible


America's new Defence Secretary, James Mattis, is warning Europe that it needs to start paying more for defending itself. This is, or ought to be, in no way controversial. In a world in which ISIS is a constant threat against which we cannot let down our guard and, more importantly, in which Russia is a growing and deliberate threat it is the first duty of all sovereign states to defend themselves.

NATO was created precisely because of the then Soviet threat. The Russian bear is once again growing its military and probing for weaknesses. Throughout Europe it is finding plenty. Britain, though the accountants quibble over exactly what we are spending, it clearly isn't enough. When we hear tales of submarines being out of commission or of regular breakdown in surface ships there is clearly a problem both with the levels of spending and with the way it is spent. For too many politicians, in particular Labour, defence procurement is just a means of creating jobs that win it votes . This is precisely why the money is so often wasted.

And, though money is clearly tight, it could easily be found. Once again we should question the priorities of a government that cuts defence spending to the bone and yet keeps finding ever greater sums to fulfil a nonsensical policy of spending 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid. This is a figure that was plucked out of the air. It means that DFID has to scramble around for ways to spend this money and waste and corruption are legion. Better to divert some of these billions into areas like defence and social care where there is clear and identifiable need.

We shall soon be sending our letter to the EU beginning the process of leaving. That too will free up money we should be spending at home. If Europe objects to our spending our money on ourselves there is fortunately little they can do about it. For many membership and the all-for-one ethos of the EU is a way of shirking their own duties and passing them on to others. That sums up the EU beautifully, although NATO is much the same. Anger at this state of affairs is not unique to the Trump administration. This time though America seems to mean business. The worry is that Trump's relationship with Russia is unclear and worrying. But then that just means we should start defending ourselves better.

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