Threats posed by Putin and Trump mean Keir Starmer can't shirk some very hard choices

If Donald Trump withdraws the US from Nato and Vladimir Putin wins in Ukraine, the UK will need to look to its defences and ensure alliances with Europe’s democracies are strong

In the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War – when national service was required – the UK spent more than 7 per cent of the country's gross domestic product on defence. By the 1980s, it had fallen to about 4 per cent and, in the years before the Ukraine invasion, it even dipped below the official 2 per cent Nato target.

Such was the peace dividend that flowed from the UK’s ‘decline’ as a global power and the fall of the Berlin Wall. While the UK now has its smallest army since Napoleonic times, it has been able to use the money saved to shore up public services. Without those funds, austerity would have been even worse.

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So it is understandable that, although Keir Starmer has now given a “cast iron” pledge that defence spending will increase to 2.5 per cent, he did not guarantee this would happen within this parliament. As Prime Minister, he has many other important things he wants to do with public money.

Keir Starmer has made clear that the UK will stand by Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelensky (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/pool/AFP via Getty Images)Keir Starmer has made clear that the UK will stand by Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelensky (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/pool/AFP via Getty Images)
Keir Starmer has made clear that the UK will stand by Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelensky (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/pool/AFP via Getty Images)
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Drones, cyber attacks and AI

However, with Russia expected to spend 6 per cent of its GDP on defence this year – about 40 per cent of all government spending – as Putin continues to wage war on Ukraine, it is clear Starmer must urgently address the capabilities and preparedness of the Armed Forces.

The widespread use of drones in Ukraine, coupled with cyber attacks further afield, shows warfare has changed rapidly. The rise of artificial intelligence will change it further. We must be sure that our military technology is up to date.

Furthermore, the risk that Donald Trump will become US President and pull America out of Nato means the alliance needs to be “Trump proof” – capable of standing up to Putin without US help – and that European alliances are vital. If Putin wins in Ukraine, other nations will come under threat and, as the saying goes, united we stand, divided we fall.

Starmer must realise that the defence of the nation is his prime responsibility. And, in this dangerous and uncertain world, all of us must brace ourselves for some difficult choices about government spending, remembering that, without security, we have nothing.

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