UK Houses of Parliament. Image: jumpStory

British Red Dawn: The New Labour Government Will Boost Defence Spending

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While Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives promised in their election campaign to bolster national defense and bring back national conscription, Labour pledged to pump more money into defence, also. Labour has also emphasized the importance of maintaining a strong defense industry. In France, the parliamentary elections may bring big changes in the country’s security and defence policies.

There is very little doubt whether the new UK government would continue supporting Ukraine’s war efforts or close NATO cooperation. In France, the chance is more likely. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally has toned down its previous anti-NATO and pro-Russia statements but is still openly hostile towards a possible Ukrainian membership of either NATO or the EU. President Emmanuel Macron supports both. The French left-wing alliance does openly support Ukraine, but its leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a former Trotskyist, has called for France to leave NATO. Mélenchon has described NATO as “a useless organization”.

UK Labour and the Military

Tony Blair’s close ties with the US was his political downfall. Image taken at the Imperial War Museum / NDR.

Historically, the British Labour Party’s stance on military issues has evolved significantly. In the aftermath of World War II, Labour was instrumental in establishing NATO and committed to maintaining a robust national defence. However, during the 1980s under leaders like Michael Foot, the party adopted a more pacifist stance, advocating for unilateral nuclear disarmament, which alienated many within the military and defense sectors.

Tony Blair’s New Labour was a staunch ally to the United States, joining the controversial latter war in Iraq. The relationship between Labour and the military deteriorated during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, where his perceived anti-military stance and criticisms of NATO were met with suspicion and disapproval from military personnel and veterans. However, under Keir Starmer, Labour has been working to rebuild its reputation on defense, emphasizing a strong commitment to NATO and national security.

Sunak’s National Service Scheme

With its own polling data, the Sun is famous for virtually always rooting for the winning side in UK elections.

Conservatives also promised to hike Britain’s defence budget, prioritizing the modernization of the UK’s armed forces. One of the cornerstone promises of Conservative leader Rishi Sunak’s campaign was the reintroduction of a form of national service for 18-year-olds. This proposal, officially announced on the Conservative Party’s website, aims to instill a sense of civic duty and patriotism among young people while addressing broader societal issues such as social cohesion and community engagement. The proposal got mixed reactions and was not backed by other parties in their election campaigns.

Sunak’s proposal was in line with other big European NATO countries’ considerations. There have been similar discussions in Germany and Italy. And with varying aspects, military service is already in force in nine countries: Cyprus, Greece, Austria, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark.

Historically, the introduction of military conscription is a European innovation. It dates back to the Napoleonic era, when nation-states decided to conscript citizens en masse.

The Structure of Sunak’s National Service Scheme

Labour’s negative election marketing in 2024.

The proposed Conservative National Service Scheme would not have been a return to the compulsory military conscription of the past but rather a more flexible program that combines military and civilian service options. The scheme would have offered a variety of pathways, including military training, community service, and participation in public sector initiatives. This approach was designed to accommodate diverse interests and abilities while fostering a sense of national unity and responsibility. The program was expected to last between six months to a year, with participants receiving training in various skills such as first aid, leadership, and teamwork. The Conservative Party’s official announcement emphasized that this initiative will help young people develop valuable life skills and enhance their employability while contributing positively to society.

Starmer Pledges to Boost Military Size

The Economist supperted Labour in 2024.

One of the key elements of Labour’s current defense policy is a significant increase in defence spending. During its 2024 election campaign, Labour declared to boost defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP, a notable increase from the current level of approximately 2 percent. This increase is intended to address various modern security challenges and ensure that the UK remains a key player in international security.

Labour has also indicated a commitment to reversing the trend of a shrinking British Army. There are plans to potentially boost the size of the army, countering recent reductions that have seen troop numbers fall to their lowest in centuries. This move is designed to enhance the UK’s capability to respond to global threats and maintain a robust defence posture.

NATO and International Alliances

Keir Starmer’s Labour will continue to be a strong ally to the other NATO countries.

A cornerstone of the Starmer-led Labour’s defence policy is its unwavering support for NATO. The party has consistently emphasized the importance of the NATO alliance in maintaining global security and has pledged to strengthen the UK’s commitments to it. This marks a clear departure from the skepticism towards NATO that characterized earlier periods in the party’s history.

In addition to NATO, Labour has highlighted the importance of other international alliances and partnerships, such as The AUKUS agreement between the UK, the US, and Australia and the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), an alliance between Britain, the Netherlands, the Baltic states and the Nordics. This includes a commitment to working closely with European allies on defense matters, despite Brexit. The party has articulated a vision of the UK playing a proactive role in international peacekeeping and conflict resolution efforts.

Cybersecurity and Emerging Threats

Recognizing the evolving nature of security threats, Labour has placed a strong emphasis on cybersecurity. The party has outlined plans to significantly enhance the UK’s cyber defense capabilities, including increasing funding for cyber defense initiatives and improving coordination between different branches of government and the private sector.

Labour’s focus on cybersecurity is part of a broader strategy to address emerging threats such as hybrid warfare, terrorism, and the proliferation of advanced military technologies. By prioritizing these areas, Labour aims to ensure that the UK is well-prepared to counter both traditional and non-traditional security challenges.

Defence Industry and Innovation

Labour has also emphasized the importance of maintaining a strong defense industry. This includes support for domestic defense manufacturers and encouraging innovation within the sector. By investing in research and development, Labour aims to keep the UK at the forefront of military technology and ensure that the armed forces are equipped with state-of-the-art capabilities.

Additionally, Labour has highlighted the need for ethical considerations in defence procurement. This includes a commitment to ensuring that defense contracts are awarded transparently and that suppliers adhere to high ethical standards.

Foreign Policy and Military Engagements

Labour’s foreign policy plans reflect a balanced approach that combines a commitment to national defence with a cautious approach to military engagements abroad. The party has expressed a desire to avoid unnecessary military interventions, focusing instead on diplomacy and conflict prevention.

However, Labour has also made it clear that it will not shy away from taking decisive action when necessary. This includes maintaining a strong presence in strategic regions and participating in international coalitions to address global security threats.

Rebuilding Trust with the Military

One of the significant challenges for Labour will be to rebuild trust with the military and defence community. The Labour Party’s relationship with the military has been strained in recent years. To address this, Labour will need to demonstrate a genuine commitment to the armed forces and deliver on its promises to enhance defense capabilities.

Economic Considerations

Increasing defense spending from 2 to 2.5 percent of GDP will have significant economic implications. Labour will need to balance this increased expenditure with other budgetary priorities, ensuring that it does not negatively impact other critical areas such as healthcare and education. This will require careful financial planning and possibly seeking bipartisan support to ensure sustainable funding.

Global Standing and Influence

By strengthening its military capabilities and reaffirming its commitment to NATO, Labour aims to enhance the UK’s standing on the global stage. This could lead to increased influence in international security matters and a greater role in shaping global defense policies. However, this also means that the UK will need to be prepared to take on more responsibilities and potentially engage in complex geopolitical situations.

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