Westminster Reflections: In the face of increased Russian aggression, NATO members must spend more on defence, says Bernard Jenkin MP
The Salisbury nerve agent attack is the latest in a long line of examples of illegal Russian aggression, disregard for international law, and a lack of concern that the rest of the world will bother to do much about it. If Russiais to be deterred, there needs to be a complete strategic re-evaluation by all the NATO countries of the threat to world peace Russia increasingly represents, which reflects the founding purpose of NATO. This must lead to increased defence spending by most members of NATO, including the UK.
Recent examples of Putin’s overconfidence include the part-invasion of Georgiain 2008, the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, the downing of the MH17 airliner that same year, the ongoing military support for separatists in Eastern Ukraine, and it’s meddling in European and USdemocratic processes, including the 2016 US presidential election, the 2017 Catalan independence referendum, the 2017 French presidential election, and possibly, the EU referendum here in the UK.
Russia has vastly increased spending on defence to modernise its armed forces and increase its capabilities. It has invested in the professionalisation and readiness of its ground forces; its nuclear arsenal, which is the largest in the world; and its air force, including the development of highly advanced unmanned aerial vehicles. Its nuclear capability includes substantial reserves of modern tactical nuclear weapons.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis, defence spending among NATO members dropped significantly, from over $1 trillion in 2010 (representing 3 per cent of the GDP of NATO members), to a low of $895 billion in 2015 (representing 2.4 per cent of GDP), before increasing slightly to £946 billion last year (representing a little over 2.4 per cent of GDP) and this is overwhelmingly dependent upon the United States. This is not enough to ensure an effective deterrent, and the ability to mount a graduated response swiftly. In such scenarios, speed of decision-making, a range of response options and, if necessary, rapid deployment and modern capabilities are essential.
Presenting his Annual Report on 15 March, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that all NATO members have pledged to continue to increase defence spending in real terms over the coming years and the majority have put in place plans to meet the 2 per cent guideline by 2024. More must, however, be done.
Why should the US regard Russia as anything more than a regional European problem, if we Europeans show so little sign of taking the Russian threat seriously ourselves? Twenty-two NATO members failed to meet the 2 per cent target in 2017. Germanyonly spent 1.2 per cent. Why should we expect the US to be willing to shoulder such a disproportionate burden? The UK nominally does meet the 2 per cent target, but PwC have estimated that the UK defence budget will be £30 billion short of what is necessary to deliver just present capabilities and programmes over the next decade.
The UK and NATO must now recover from these challenges. However, this requires a complete transformation of the strategic mind-set of NATO governments. NATO’s credibility is now in question. Either Russia is effectively contained by a full spectrum of diplomatic and military deterrence, or Russia will continue to feel immune.