Russia’s attack on Ukraine signals a new period of global conflict – in which totalitarian regimes like Russia and China are trying to break up the system of treaties and laws that have kept order since 1945. They don’t just dislike our democratic way of life: they want to destroy it.
I’ve been in the forefront in building solidarity with Ukraine in the UK – I was in Kyiv until 36 hours before the bombs dropped, making links with unions and human rights groups there. We should go on supporting arms, aid and training for Ukraine for as long as its people want to resist Putin, and we should boost our own defence output to do so.
In a dangerous world like ours, we need strong alliances. That’s why I opposed Brexit, and want the closest possible economic and security links with Europe.
And it’s why I pushed for Labour to declare its commitment to NATO “unshakeable”, and to make our commitment to the nuclear deterrent “non-negotiable”. As more of our European left and socialist partners join NATO I have campaigned for the reform of the alliance, prioritising democracy, human security and human rights.
The Tories are failing us on defence. Look at Afghanistan – the possibility of collapse not even mentioned in the risk assessment they published before our troops had to scramble to rescue those facing Taliban repression. Look at the billions they’ve wasted on failed procurement schemes. But done right, defence spending can boost growth and security at the same time.
I want a Labour government to match Tory the defence spending promise – of 3% of GDP by 2030 – but to rapidly overhaul procurement, which is squandering billions through lack of transparency and oversight. We need to buy and build as much as possible here in the UK, expanding both defence production and research capacity as part of Labour’s new industrial strategy.
That means more capacity in the basic industries we need as a country to survive. And centralised investment in energy – so that we don’t leave it to the private sector to decide when the new nuclear, wave and grid capacity gets built.
I want to see the UK’s armed forces deeply embedded in the society they defend – and to look more like the communities they come from. Those changes are already under way in the armed forces, and Labour should accelerate them.
One of the ways we can do this is to enshrine the rights of veterans and service families to first class public services into law. Another is to expand the reserves system, so that every community has a visible, active relationship to the men and women defending us.
Our party has a long and legitimate tradition of pacifism – but in the 1930s, at the crucial moment when Hitler threatened our existence, the working class demanded anti-fascism, not pacifism – and Labour led the way. Sadly, that’s what we have to do again. We need to face down Russia’s threats with a strong deterrent force, but always with an eye on the rules-based global peace we must construct once the dictators are overthrown.
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