May 18, 2024

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Chris Mason: Defense Policy in a Dangerous World

Chris Mason: Defense Policy in a Dangerous World
  • Written by Chris Mason
  • Political Editor, BBC News

Under the cold spring sun at a Polish military base, a noisy, smoke-filled tank spins at a 90-degree angle, the metal in its tracks scraping along the concrete.

Creatures of war became backgrounds for defense policy.

A dangerous world collides in a general election year.

In the years following the Cold War, many Western countries reaped the benefits of peace.

This logic meant that a safer world meant that money previously spent on soldiers, warplanes and aircraft carriers could instead be spent on health services or schools.

But how things have changed.

There is a conflict in the Middle East. And the war in Europe.

Rishi Sunak traveled here to meet his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

But the Prime Minister came here with an announcement in his pocket as well.

He is aware of the threats the UK faces internationally, and the internal threats it faces politically.

And if you're talking about a spending commitment, who better than Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, as well as Defense Secretary Grant Shapps?

Sunak said he wants to increase defense spending to 2.5% of national income by 2030.

The government estimates that the total increase – taking into account assumed economic growth – would mean an extra £75 billion over the next six years.

The Prime Minister is wrapping the plan in grandiose rhetoric, and yes, if implemented, it will lead to a significant increase in defense spending.

The governors say they have limited their numbers.

Much of it comes from cutting jobs in the civil service to pre-pandemic levels. Ministers believe this equates to a reduction in staff numbers of around 70,000.

They argue that extra staff are needed to get through the pandemic and deliver Brexit, but they are not needed now.

Enter Next, Action. A key element of Sir Keir Starmer's attempt to reinvent his party has been to cover himself in the Union flag (or indeed the flag of St George for St George's Day) and stress his commitment to the armed forces.

He was photographed in combat fatigues.

He stressed the Labor Party's commitment to NATO.

Quite the opposite with Jeremy Corbyn.

But on funding, his promise is not as concrete as the Conservatives'.

Labor has promised to increase defense spending to 2.5% of national income when “resources allow.”

How will they react now that the Conservatives have outmaneuvered them?

In the hours immediately following the Prime Minister's speech, shadow ministers appeared uncertain.

But the fact that the two largest parties in Westminster are locked in a political arms race over defense tells you a lot of what you need to know about the state of the world.

“Russia's presence as a neighbor comes at a price.

Yes, the leader of a defense alliance is always likely to want more money for his cause.

But it is a sobering observation.