With the election only a few days away it’s worth taking a look at some of the main defence policies of the parties. The war in Afghanistan may be finished, but with ISIS still in existence and tensions with Russia mounting, not to mention the issues and challenges we cannot forsee, it’s important to understand where each party lies on the major policies that will effect the UK’s future security and international stability.
One issue that has already been thrown around in this election fight is Britain’s nuclear deterrent. The Conservatives and Labour are both committed to keeping Trident – and ultimately replacing the submarines when they become obsolete in 2016. The Liberal Democrats would reduce the number of subs from four to three, and would not have them on constant patrol but deployed only when the threat level increases. The Green Party would get rid of them entirely, as would the SNP.
The sticking point seems to come if there were to be another coalition government. It has already been suggested that if Labour have to share power with the SNP, they would renege on their promise to keep Trident. Labour have denied this and reiterated their intention to stick with the four subs.
In March of this year, the UK passed a bill that enshrines in law its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of its gross national income (GNI) on aid every year, making it the first G7 country to meet the UN’s 45-year-old aid spending target. The bill was in the manifestos of all the major parties in the 2010 election and NGOs have rejoiced at the news that this promise has finally been delivered.
The Conservatives argue that aid is essential to both the UK’s interests and those of the developing world. Labour is promising to rebalance the budget to target their funding of the poorest countries in the world while the Lib Dems have said they will work to fight climate change, offer humanitarian aid, and promote trade, development and prosperity. Plaid Cymru also supports the 0.7 per cent legislation. The Green party, meanwhile, goes much further than the others and pledges to increase the overseas aid budget to 1 per cent over the course of the next parliament.
The one party against the bill is UKIP. They have pledged to slash Britain’s overseas aid spending by more than two-thirds, as well as abolish the Department for International Development (DfID). This would bring the UK’s aid contributions in line with those of the US, which currently spends 0.2 per cent of its national income on overseas aid.
The Conservatives have pledged to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s relationship with the EU, to get a better deal for Britain, followed by an in/out referendum in 2007 if they win power in this election. Some have argued that this pledge is in response to UKIP and their well-known commitment to withdrawing from the EU. Meanwhile Labour’s Tony Blair has Britain leaving the EU, arguing that there would be great instability should this happen. The Lib Dems want to stay in the EU but try to reform it to make it ‘more competitive, efficient and accountable’. The Green Party’s policy has been described as “Three Yesses” –Yes to a referendum, to major EU reform and to staying in a reformed Europe.
The German Defence Minister, Thomas de Maizière, has previously warned that leaving the EU would have profound defence implications for the UK. In April 2013 De Maizière argued an exit would weaken Britain’s influence within NATO and reduce its influence in the world. Others have argued that UK withdrawal from the EU would have little impact on its defence policy.
With matters of austerity dominating the headlines, it’s no wonder that cuts to Britain’s defence budget are being debated. In a recent , the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) argued that defence cuts were likely whichever party was to come to power, and that Britain would fall below the NATO target of spending 2 per cent of its GDP on defence. Indeed, no party except UKIP, has pledged to meet the 2 per cent target. The Conservatives have promised no more reductions to the size of the regular army and an increase in spending on military equipment by 1 per cent. Labour has committed itself to an immediate strategic defence review if it wins power at May’s General Election. The Lib Dems have said that they think it is ‘sensible’ for the UK to share and pool resources with other EU and NATO members while the Green Party would drastically reduce the defence budget and ‘abolish the army’. As well as pledging to meet the 2 per cent target, UKIP have a range of policies aimed at helping veterans (including creating a Minister for Veterans).