End anti-UK nonsense - this is why we should be proud of Ukraine action
Vladimir Putin's abhorrent invasion of Ukraine is a tragic reminder that democracy is precious, freedom is fragile, and peace relies on the strength of arms. Sadly, too many in the West have taken these things for granted. It's why defence spending has deteriorated, woke self-hatred festered in the West, and Europe allowed itself to become hooked on Russian oil and gas. In the wake of a new war in Europe, we cannot let the West decay any longer.
The Kremlin's brutal act of aggression must be a wake-up call for every free nation. Following the collapse of the USSR, the West replaced its unity and strength with complacency and naivety. Misinformation, sympathisers and useful idiots cast a false veil over Putin's intentions which fooled far too many in free countries. Instead of maintaining our substantial military capabilities, we sacrificed some strength to profit from the prosperity peace brought.
In the 1980s, the UK's defence budget was equivalent to 5 per cent of our GDP and this included a substantial conventional force as well as a revitalised nuclear deterrent, Trident. Our military strength meant we could defend the right to self-determination of fewer than 2,000 Falklanders on the other side of the world. It made us second in command of the world's largest alliance, NATO, and bolstered our position on the United Nation's Security Council. Today, the British military has shrunk to 159,000 personnel and we spend just over NATO's 2 per cent of GDP spending target.
That's why the Prime Minister's November 2020 announcement that the UK Armed Forces would receive the biggest boost in thirty years was so welcome. This £24.5 billion cash injection over four years cemented the UK’s position as the largest defence spender in Europe and the second largest in NATO. But, in the wake of President Putin's invasion of Ukraine, we must go further in restoring the strength of the British military.
In addition to increasing our defence spending, we must also revisit our strategic priorities. Understandably, with the collapse of the USSR and the rise of new security threats from terrorism to cyber attacks, we have shifted our capabilities away from conventional warfare. The planned overhaul of the British Army to reduce the number of full-time, fully trained soldiers from 76,500 to 72,500 by 2025 and cut our tank numbers from 227 to 148 upgraded ones must be reviewed. It's clear the old threats are still as real as the modern ones. That means the UK needs to defend against both attacks, not defend a new front at the expense of another.
We must also do more to counter the anti-British, anti-Western woke narrative that undermines our unity and confidence. The USA is not an imperial force. NATO is a defensive alliance, not an aggressor. While racism still exists and must be rooted out, the UK is not fundamentally racist nor the source of all evil in the world as some have absurdly claimed. We need to stop being ashamed of ourselves and engrossed in backwards debates that do nothing to further our society but a lot to divide us.
While woke activists tear down statues in the UK, they fail to recognise that our nation is a bastion of freedom and equality in the world. We're not perfect, but that's okay because we strive to be. Unlike Russia or other dire dictatorships, we liberate instead of persecute, spread prosperity instead of hoarding it, and empower people instead of a single individual. It's no surprise that our resolve weakens when so many doubt the West's motivation and intentions abroad. This must change.
In the immediate term, the Prime Minister's approach to saving Ukraine is the right one. The West's economic might alone could defeat corrupt regimes like Putin's. Russia's economy is about the same size as the Netherlands and Belgium's GDP combined. The sanctions the UK is applying along with our friends and allies will defund the Kremlin's war machine and wake Russian citizens up to Putin's deception and aggression towards their neighbour which the vast majority bear no ill towards.
But to save Ukraine and secure its own energy supplies, Europe must also begin to end its reliance on Russian oil and gas as well. While the UK imports relatively little compared to our European neighbours, we too are exposed to Putin's malign influence on global energy supplies. Through the government's push for renewables, new nuclear and continued support for maximising oil and gas in the North Sea, we can bolster our energy security.
However, this will come at a cost at home. As the breadbasket of Europe, the Ukraine war will impact food prices. But Europe weaning itself off Russian gas all at once will also increase energy costs. In this context, it would be prudent for the government to conduct a wholesale review of our domestic energy resilience. This could well include a reconsideration of the case for fracking to secure our energy supply in addition to speeding up our renewable and nuclear programmes. By reducing our reliance on gas and producing more energy at home, in the medium term we can lower people's energy costs and support the rest of Europe in ditching Putin's pipelines.
The UK should be proud of its response to the Ukraine crisis. We're arming the Ukrainian soldiers we helped train, leading the world in sanctions to punish Putin's regime, and are wholeheartedly committed to supporting refugees fleeing the conflict. But we must learn from the awe-inspiring bravery and determination of President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people. They emulate the strength and unity the West forgot. It's time we remembered that democracy, freedom and peace aren't free.
Article by Gareth Bacon MP first published by The Daily Express.