We lead our newslinks with morning with David Cameron’s letter to NATO leaders urging a harder line against the Russian Federation.
In it, the Prime Minister proposes moving weapons to Russia’s borders to show that the trans-Atlantic alliance, and its members, will ‘not be intimidated’. And according to the Daily Telegraph, he has also “strongly hinted that he wants defence spending to start to increase now that Western democracies’ economies are starting to recover.”
Meanwhile, today’s Times reports that: “Britain, the birthplace of heavy armour, will have just one tank regiment from today and the ability to field just a few dozen tanks to fight a war.” The army’s last two Royal Tank Regiments are merging, in the latest in a string of money-saving moves which are reducing our armed forces to, depending on your preferred source, their smallest since either the Boer or Crimean wars.
All that is happening in Britain, a country which has largely managed to maintain her martial culture and – Syria excepted – has not historically shied away from projecting strength around the world. A similar flaccidity afflicts the United States, traditionally the lynchpin of NATO, under Obama’s increasingly hapless-looking foreign policy.
If that is the state of the alliance’s critical military partnership, the rest are in even worse shape. Erdogan is emasculating the Turkish armed forces in his bid to dismantle the Kemalist constitutional settlement, and with his shifting foreign policy turning his troops away from the West. Germany continues to huddle in the shadow of her past – a ‘mother hen’ of a Hun, as Charles Moore put it in the Telegraph this morning.
The rest of Europe is, remarkably, even worse. European governments have seized upon the idea of a ‘peace dividend’ from the end of the Cold War to wilfully ignore NATO’s putative rule about spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence. As one New York Times writer describes it:
“The Dutch response has been of tip-toeing deference to Moscow. As for the European Union, it has been near-non-existent. When crisis comes, Europe vanishes — the ghost that slithers away. The West has become an empty notion. The Dutch trade a lot with Russia. Europe floats along in a bubble of quasi pacifism. Better to be bullied than belligerent.”
He sums it up with a cold line: “Dutch passivity has a name: the Srebrenica syndrome. It is becoming the Europe syndrome.”
This is the context, then, in which we have to put Cameron’s rallying cry. Two decades of falling defence spending at home, the withering of American resolve, and a continent of allies most of whom view appear to view military spending as a sort of inherited ritual from less enlightened times. They really liked the idea of a peaceful, rational, multi-lateral age – Fukuyama’s famous ‘end of history’ – and are unwilling to acknowledge that armed strength is as vital now as it was in 1988.
If he’s serious about reviving a muscular West, to counter both the brooding strongmen of Russia and the gibbering fanatics of ISIS, the Prime Minister will need more than a letter – he must lead by example. This means finding room in what will continue to be painfully restrictive financial circumstances for meaningful increases in British defence spending. It also means demonstrating, most of all to the Americans, that he is not hamstrung by dovish tendencies in Parliament and public opinion.
Public spending cuts and expensive foreign entanglements, both at once? Perhaps it would be easier just to write a letter…