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POLITICS MATTERS: Defence spending is in focus amid an unsettled world

By David Stewart

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War-torn areas of Kharkiv and Izyum in Ukraine during December 2022.
War-torn areas of Kharkiv and Izyum in Ukraine during December 2022.

“Defence will always need courageous people to do dangerous things; we cannot see a future in which that is not required.” – Ministry of Defence Command Paper, July 2023.

The famous German war strategist, Helmut von Moltke, said that “no plan survives contact with the enemy.” That might seem today as an overly cynical or depressing assessment of our military top brass’ powers to plan for the future of the army, navy, and air force.

When Ben Wallace MP was Secretary of State for Defence last year, he wrote the foreword for a weighty tome which analysed Britain’s defence capability following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The defence paper argues that Europe has not seen this scale of conflict since the end of World War II. The authors of the report assess that although Russia has weakened land and guided weapon capabilities, it has significant nuclear arsenal, as well as the capacity to recruit large scale mercenary forces to aid its armed forces.

Russia spends a significant proportion of its GDP on defence to the detriment of services such as health and housing for its citizens. Some observers have argued that Putin’s imperialistic ambitions are based more on the Russia of Peter the Great than the Soviet Union of Stalin.

The Command Paper does not pull its punches – Russia is a threat to not just Ukrainians, but to the public in the streets of London, Paris and Berlin.

On the wider international stage, China, Iran and North Korea also present clear and present danger to global security. Terrorist organisations still present a threat to the UK and international intelligence-sharing with allies, within NATO and beyond, is a crucial defence for security at home. However, there is no room for complacency. Terrorists only need to be lucky once – the security services need to be lucky every time.

What have we learned from the conflict in Ukraine?

The key importance of forming strong military partnerships within and outwith NATO. Sweden has recently joined the 32-member alliance.

The importance of keeping pace with technology, for example in drone warfare.

Developing sufficient reserve forces to react to changing conditions in battlefield.

David Stewart. Picture: Gary Anthony.
David Stewart. Picture: Gary Anthony.

The scale and effectiveness of the MOD’s spending will be a crucial factor in the future. The current budget is around £50 billion, or about 2.3 per cent of GDP.

There is, of course, a wider point – that the political aim should be to grow the economy so there are more funds for health, education and housing. An expanding, dynamic balance sheet should rightly prioritise social spending, but a wise Chancellor will always keep one eye on the nation’s defence.

n Huge congratulations to my old school, Merkinch Primary, and headteacher Jillian Kean, for picking up the award of school of the year at this year’s Highland Heroes awards.

The school is a class act (pun intended!) and delivers for the whole of the Merkinch and South Kessock community.

During my time as MP and MSP, I visited the school a number of times and was always impressed by staff, pupils and parents. I have not been inside the school since the major refurbishment, but am so pleased that the school gained this significant and well-deserved achievement.

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