Will Labour commit to spending 2% of GDP on defence?

Gray Sergeant

Labour activists don’t knock doors on a Saturday morning to argue for more money for bombs. No party does because voters don’t care that much about defence spending.

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The UK’s role in the world is often a low priority for the electorate, rarely are votes gained or lost over a foreign policy decision. War may seem like the exception to this rule, but even the unpopular UK involvement in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein didn’t result in a change of government in 2005.

This isn’t going to be any different in 2015. Labour will rightly fight this election on living standards and the NHS. Some in Labour may feel uneasy about spending money on the military in tough financial times. However, we should commit to retaining NATO’s standard of spending 2% of our GDP on defence. 

Vernon Coaker has talked about a financially responsible Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015. A future Labour government should be prudent with military expenditure. What money is spent on should be tailored to our foreign policy objectives, a subject which needs discussion. However, one thing should be clear and that is that a Labour government will commit to NATO’s minimum defence expenditure threshold.

While other members of the military alliance may not comply with the 2% target, for Labour to renege on this agreement would send the message that Britain no longer wants to be an influential actor on the world stage.

If Labour is a serious party of government then we should commit to this target. As a government we would have the responsibility to protect our citizens and defend our national interests. 2014 was a year of turmoil in the international system. With continued Russian aggression in the Ukraine and Islamic State further destabilising the Middle East, this year doesn’t look like it will be any less dangerous.

We shouldn’t lean towards isolationism, turning our back on the world isn’t going to make us safer. It also means we turn our backs on the oppressed and suffering across the globe.

As a democratic socialist party we also want to see our country play a positive role in the world, spreading the rights we take for granted. Labour’s always championed international development and its right we support overseas aid.

But the United Kingdom should be more than a glorified aid agency. Food, health and education are important but so is freedom of speech, the right to vote and freedom from slavery. Unfortunately, sometimes these rights can’t be obtained through hand outs.

A Labour government can use the military to change parts of the world for the better. Kosovo and Sierra Leone are widely accepted examples of this, while other foreign interventions are more controversial.

The current government has complied with NATO standards of defence spending. Despite this, the Defence Select Committee finds that the UK has failed to effectively combat the rise of Islamic State. This group threatens our national security as it could become a safe haven for terrorists. Islamic State fighters also flagrantly abuse the human rights of the civilians who live under their fascist caliphate. If we can’t deal with a threat like IS now, what chance do we have if we further cut away at our military.

Spending two percent of our GDP on defence is a target most Labour supporters and members of the public don’t care about. However, a commitment to maintain this NATO agreement is important. It will ensure that Britain, under a future Labour government, won’t be marginalised, can challenge foreign threats and act as a force for good in the world.

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