Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is saying all the right things about spending more on defence. There’s no need to quote – just think of all the right things, and that’s exactly what Mr Wallace is saying.
And what do you know – Labour agrees. Speaking on Sky News this morning, Lisa Nandy, Shadow Secretary for Levelling Up [sic!], also said all the right things. In fact, for the first time ever I found myself agreeing with everything a socialist says.
The government’s first duty is to defend its citizens, said Miss Nandy. Yes! This issue should transcend partisan bickering. Yes!!! She agrees with Ben Wallace: defence budget must be increased. Yes!!!!
Don’t think the Ukraine war is far away. It’s on our doorstep. Yes!!!!! This government has been grossly negligent in stripping the army down to a negligible size. Well, yes. But not just this government, Lisa, and I thought this issue went beyond scoring cheap political points.
Since that Russian perestroika lulled the West into a false sense of security, all governments, Tory, Labour, Tory-LibDem coalition, have treated the defence budget as a hunk of salami. Whenever other departments got hungry, the government would hack off a piece. What’s the point in spending money on defence when there’s no one to defend against?
Lest you may think I’ve got it in specifically for the British government, other European countries have been even worse. At least Britain has tried to meet the pledged Nato minimum of two per cent of GDP. Germany, for example, has hovered just above one per cent for years.
The interviewer Kay Burley then asked the inevitable question: “Where is the money going to come from, in these hard times of growing inflation and dropping living standards?”
That was counterproductive. No politician, red, blue, green or piebald, will ever give a straight answer to that question. Did Kay expect a Labour politician to say she was prepared to reduce social spending? Stop throwing billions down the bottomless NHS pit? Refuse to succumb to union blackmail? Really.
Lisa said none of those things. Instead, in the good tradition of democratic politics, she repeated word for word what she had said before, even though that didn’t answer the question. But at least she had said all the right things before.
While we are on the subject of money, building up the defence industry doesn’t have to impoverish a country. Just look at the US before and after the Second World War, and you’ll agree that a vast defence effort can also spell boom, not just bust.
I suppose we must thank Vlad Putin for making our politicians at least pay lip service to the first (more radical people than I will say ‘only’) duty of any government: protecting the nation from foreign and domestic enemies.
It’s not a government’s job to eliminate poverty: only robust economic activity can do that. In any case, every war on poverty declared by any government in modern history has only succeeded in making more people poor.
Spending enough money on defence to ensure national security should be the only non-negotiable item of expenditure. Instead, it has been the only expendable item.
Last year, our Tory government, with the newly hawkish Ben Wallace its Defence Secretary, pledged to reduce the army to 72,500 soldiers by 2025. The last year in which Britain disarmed herself to such a derisory level was 1823. Two centuries ago, when the population of Britain was about 10 million.
Our newly hatched hawk, then still a dove, explained that we didn’t need any more soldiers. In fact, our “increased deployability and technological advantage” meant we didn’t need any.
Just joking: he didn’t say we didn’t need any soldiers. That’s just my logical inference: since our military technology is bound to get more and more sophisticated, the need for boots on the ground will continue to diminish. Our troops’ “deployability” will increase, and will continue to do so until we have no troops to deploy.
The response of Britain and other civilised countries to Russia’s bandit raid on the Ukraine shows that, when they perceive what Americans call “a clear and present danger”, they begin to do something about it. Sluggishly, reluctantly, begrudgingly, overcautiously – but they do take their collective finger out, after a fashion.
Since they have done nothing like that since the end of the Cold War, one can deduce that they had never seen Russia as a factor of danger until 24 February, 2022. This shows a gross failure of intellect, character and understanding of history.
Generally speaking, I dislike the hubristic “I told you so” school of writing. But since I accuse Western governments of strategic negligence, it’s essential that I establish my bona fides.
In that spirit, with no hubris anywhere in sight, I started writing about the imminent danger of the post-perestroika Russia in the early 1990s. At that time Major Putin still spied on the West out of the KGB’s Dresden station, figuring out how he could skim enough off the operational funds to buy a Grundig stereo and possibly a Bosch washing macine.
It was already clear to me that the much-vaunted glasnost and perestroika were merely a transfer of power from the Party to the KGB. That’s why no Nuremberg-style closure ever happened. How could it if essentially the same people remained in charge?
The country needed a few years to regroup, but there was no doubt what it had to regroup for. The first task was to plunder Russia and turn the new ruling class into dollar billionaires. Given the richness of Russia’s natural resources, that didn’t take long.
Then came the time to rebuild Russia to her former grandeur, understood as a carte blanche to occupy or at least bully her neighbours. As the country regained some of her former strength, the need for subterfuge diminished. Russian chieftains stopped making emollient noises for the consumption of Western ‘liberals’. More and more, the bugles of supremacist diatribes began to command airwaves.
The West didn’t hear the bugles because it didn’t want to hear. If early on the KGB (in its new guises) was doing its utmost to dupe the West, now there was no need. The West was more than happy to dupe itself, getting fat on what was then called the peace dividend.
Defence budgets dwindled away to practically nothing, trillions poured into Russia as investments or payment for her natural resources. Gangsters and KGB operatives (by then the two groups had largely merged into one) began to hobnob with Western politicians, dominating the social scene in European capitals.
Russia was committing one atrocity after another, murdering dissidents all over the world, pouncing on her neighbours like a rabid dog – and still the likes of Mr Wallace and Miss Nandy closed their eyes, sometimes pulling their eyelids down with their fingers.
As for their German colleagues, they kept their eyes wide open – to the opportunities of collaborating with Russia’s now transparently fascist regime.
I don’t know if Angela Merkel was a Russian agent and neither do I care. For it’s not immediately clear how differently she would have acted had she indeed been recruited by Putin. (The opportunities for such an arrangement were rife when Putin was a KGB spy in Dresden and Merkel a nomenklatura official in Kommunistischer Jugendverband Deutschlands in Leipzig, 70 miles away.)
She systematically eliminated most domestic sources of energy, making Germany’s economy hostage to Putin’s good graces. She admitted more than a million aliens, putting a great strain on the German economy and indirectly increasing its dependence on Russian hydrocarbons. And she reduced the Bundeswehr to a level that even any self-respecting police force would consider risibly inadequate.
Better late than never, they say. Western Chamberlains aren’t exactly turning into Churchills, but neither are they still rushing to become Quislings. Thank God for small mercies.
Had they acted earlier, the danger of a major war wouldn’t be as real as it is now. And Ukrainians wouldn’t be paying with their blood for the West’s cupidity and stupidity. A consistently strong, strategically deployed Nato would have kept Putin’s appetites down, and no need to fight would have arisen. Now it’s very real, and the consequences are unpredictable.
That’s what happens when all Western cabinets lack an essential member: C.O. Jones. Sorry for the crude pun.