Why the Left should be thinking strategically

Keir Starmer at the Tapa NATO Enhanced Forward Presence operating base in Estonia. Credit: Flickr https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Peter Kenyon reviews Starmer’s defence commitments

British Labour leader Keir Starmer left no one in any doubt about Labour’s commitment to defence and nuclear deterrence in an article in the Daily Mail in April. Its content suggests serious reflection about the obligations of the nation state to its people and the damage to those capabilities inflicted by the Conservatives. After two years of open warfare in Ukraine, and ten years of Russian expansionism, it is time to bite the bullet: an imperative underlined by threats from US Republican presidential hopeful, Donald Trump. NATO states failing to commit to spend 2% of GDP on defence could no longer depend on US military support under the NATO treaty, he warned.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ill-fated invasion of Ukraine galvanised the European Union into speedy and remarkably successful action, most notably in the reform of its energy market to eliminate dependence on Russian supplies of oil and gas. But diverting defence supplies to Ukraine has not prompted the same determination to rebuild military manufacturing capability in Europe. Instead, there is now a greater dependence on the US military industrial complex, already stretched by Ukraine’s needs and the ever-present threat to Taiwan on the other side of the world.

Here, in our own offshore, post-Brexit diminished country, we still boast a “nuclear deterrent” alongside a dwindling army of 75,000 troops, fewer than two centuries ago, when the UK stood up to Napoleon. Starmer’s interview follows a series of public interventions by Labour’s shadow defence secretary, John Healey. Healey is a seasoned loyalist with over 25 years’ parliamentary experience including time as a minister in both the Blair and Brown governments.

In an interview in the New Statesman in April, he recognised that the UK has a lot to learn from Ukraine’s resistance. “Ukraine has resisted Russia because of the strength of its civilian and military resistance… A country is only as strong as the resilience of its people and the strength of its industry, and that is just a blunt lesson from Ukraine we have to learn,” he was reported as saying. But rather than pressing for a bigger defence spend now or aping the Tory defence secretary’s demands to boost defence spending to 3% of GDP, he is ready to be patient and check the books. He is already on the record with concerns about the Ministry of Defence’s notorious procurement weaknesses – documented in detail by the House of Commons Public Accounts and Defence Select Committees.

He also wants the UK to refocus on European defence cooperation and drop the global pretences of our shrivelled Conservative government clinging to post-colonial delusions. The suggestion of a return to conscription (dropped over 60 years ago) was also gently brushed aside. The previous month he set out in detail operational changes Labour will be making in the way in which the MoD functions in a speech prepared for a Policy Exchange event. He said, “Simply put, my vision is to make Defence not just central to the security of Britain, but central to the country’s success in a new era. Central to greater economic growth and prosperity across the UK, central to reconnecting Britain in the world, central to the new partnership for Britain between government, business, and workers with their unions.”

So, no one should be in any doubt about Labour’s commitments to NATO, nuclear deterrence, or the need for a well-equipped military. A sharp contrast some would say to Labour under Jeremy Corbyn at the time of the last general election. Labour’s stand will no doubt arouse ardent activists in organisations such as Stop the War, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and the Movement against War. But with Ukraine’s ability to remain an independent sovereign state hanging in the balance in the face of dwindling supplies of ammunition, and inadequate budgetary support, the UK and the rest of NATO face a stark choice – rearm or await further Russian aggression.

At the end of April, six-months after a multi-billion-dollar aid package that would relieve those pressures on Kyiv finally passed through Congress. In an interview with the US cable news channel CNN, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that package was vital to enable Ukraine to defeat Russia. Even if Russia is eventually forced to capitulate, the defence uncertainties will remain for decades, and with them the need to increase military spending.


  1. the big question is whether NATO WILL survive. Trump has said a lot more than spend or else. He – and his ally \Orban who went to see him but not Biden in defiance of protocol – have backed Russia in Ukraine, Trump by silence. Congress who know what is happening passed a bill in 2023 demandind Congress decide on all NATO matters. Trump would however be head of the armed forces if he wins.

    Do not count on NATO – Labour does not know it is under threat

    trevor fisher

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