Ukraine proves defence spending cut would be ‘big mistake’
Rory Stewart, the Chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee, has said it would be a “big mistake” for spending on Britain’s military to fall below the Nato target of two per cent of the national budget.
He warned that recent actions by Russia in Ukraine illustrated that spending needed to be maintained as a “symbolic” message to President Vladimir Putin.
Reports have suggested that George Osborne, the Chancellor, has told the Prime Minister that spending was on course to fall below the target within two years, and that he was content for it to do so.
Mr Stewart told Radio 4’s Today programme: “The view of the Defence Committee is that that would be a big mistake, because that commitment came out of a Nato summit that was directed against what’s happening in the Ukraine.
“It really happened in the context of demonstrating to Putin that the whole of Nato, that’s not just Britain and the United States but all the other countries, were committed to spending 2 per cent on defence.
“Putin’s an opportunist, he’s looking for signs of weakness, he’s testing the alliance so it’s very important symbolically that we hold to that two per cent commitment.”
World leaders including American President Barack Obama and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish former head of Nato, have urged Britain to maintain the target.
Mr Stewart also backed David Cameron’s decision to send a small military training force to the Ukraine, and added that other steps were needed.
“Yes I think the Prime Minister has made the right decision,” he said. “It’s certainly a change, it’s really a sign that as the current ceasefire agreement seems to be fraying, Britain and the US and Canada and others are prepared to provide support for the Ukrainian government and I think that’s the correct thing to do.
“These people are not primarily trainers, they’re there to give a sense of the options and the ground truths.
“We need intelligence on the ground to publicise what Russia has been doing, its basically flagrant lies and abuse over the last 12 months.
“It’s a way of showing to Putin that there is support for the Ukrainian government and that there are limits to how far he can push, if people are thinking of pushing on to Mariupol or Odessa, right along the Black Sea coast there needs to be a sense that the West are serious about this peace agreement.
Mr Stewart admitted however that there were dangers in sending troops to the region.
“This is the tightrope, I think people are very aware how dangerous this is,” he said. “What one doesn’t want to do is further alienate or provoke Putin which, of course, is the risk in doing something.
“But equally, we have to be clear that the policy that has been followed since the middle of last year, which has been to essentially hope that Putin is going to be satisfied with the territory he’s taken, hasn’t worked, so I think it is genuinely very, very difficult.”