I suppose I should not have been surprised to find the defence sections of the manifestos very near the end. So much for “the first priority of government”. Perhaps there is no need to be unduly cynical about this. After all, what is important is what they say or, in most cases what they don’t say.
We can’t judge the policies by their length, although there is no getting away from the fact that the longest is also the one which most closely matches UKNDA thinking and, coincidentally or not, is produced by the party whose name starts with the same initials. Whether UKIP will have enough MPs to have any influence is a moot point but they do, largely, have the right idea and seem to know what is required.
Otherwise, there is little new or unexpected in the manifestos, which range from the almost acceptable to the downright dangerous. Are there still politicians who believe that there is such a thing as a part-time deterrent? Is this any worse than those whose main priority seems to be to have bases and defence manufacturing centred in a particular part of the UK? Maybe there aren’t any votes in defence, and the main parties are playing on the public’s dislike of the recent overseas deployments and think that, by reducing the size of the armed forces, they will avoid being able to do the same again. Can we persuade the public that the present state of the forces is such that we cannot properly defend our own shores?
What about the figure of 2% of GDP which our membership of NATO commits us to spending on defence? Two parties are committed to it; another two say they have met it, but don’t promise to continue and the others don’t mention it. How relevant is this figure in reality? Is it just a number picked out of the blue as a guideline? The danger with such a precise definition is that it will be seen as a maximum, rather than the bare minimum it is. Not so long ago 2% would have been thought extremely low, but we are probably stuck with it as a target even if the major parties are keen not to be committed to it.
Once the election is over, and the SDSR looms into view, we have got to ensure that it is the proper review of the defences that the country needs to ensure safety, security and stability.
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