As Britain heads toward an incredibly hard-to-predict general election, nearly everything about our country seems up for discussion – everything except Britain’s declining level of military spending, our long-term national defence strategy and our commitment to the armed forces we are quick to call heroes but grudgingly slow to fund.
James Forsyth, writing in The Spectator, talks about the bear in the room:
You wouldn’t know from this election campaign, but Europe is in crisis. On its eastern border, the threat from Russia is as great as at any point since the end of the Cold War. Crimea has been annexed and large parts of eastern Ukraine are under control of Russian-backed forces. Russian aircraft have even been taunting the RAF in the English Channel. The Baltic states are increasingly fearful that they will be next to suffer from Vladimir Putin’s attempt to reassert Russian dominance on its doorstep.
On Europe’s southern border, Islamic State continues to cause death and destruction — the recent decapitations in Libya were filmed along the shore to make the point that the jihadis have reached the Mediterranean. More worrying, perhaps, is the number of Europeans fighting for it. Last weekend, Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister, warned that the number of Europeans who will have taken up arms with Isis may treble to 10,000 by the end of this year. As these radicalised youths return home, the terrorist threat in Europe will rise exponentially.
But neither of these subjects features with any prominence in the election campaign. Isis and the Russian threat are deeply inconvenient truths that don’t fit into the party leaders’ scripts. The Tories’ six-point long-term economic plan doesn’t have room for foreign entanglements. Labour wants to talk about the National Health Service, not international security.
These are sobering words. There has been a worrying tendency of late in the Tory-friendly press to excuse David Cameron’s various failings and oversights – be it refusing to champion the conservative case in the televised leaders’ debates, or failing to ringfence defence spending during a period of global turmoil – in order to help push the Conservatives across the finish line on 7 May. It is good to see The Spectator taking a firmer stance on the issue of defence, at least.