The subject no one seems to want to quiz the party leaders on
Glaring in its absence thus far in the General Election campaign has been foreign policy. Ed Miliband and David Cameron have been thoroughly quizzed on such important matters as their favourite pop music, but we are still none the wiser when it comes to what they would do in the area of defence.
The same holds true for the other parties. We know the SNP don’t like Trident but we know little in terms of how they plan to support the fight against IS – which presumably they do support? And do the Greens really still view NATO as as big a threat to European peace and security as Russia?
The howling void where a discussion of foreign policy should be is taking place against an alarming backdrop. Britain is winding down its armed forces at an alarming rate. The Commons Defence Committee recently reported that the failure by the UK to maintain the defence spending target of 2 per cent of national income, set by NATO, risks undermining the alliance. All this at a time when global security threats are multiplying.
A coherent and robust foreign policy will be hugely important in the years to come; yet no one seems to want to ask our politicians about it. Here, then, are a few questions for the party leaders the next time they face the cameras.
1) Should Britain try to meet its 2 per cent NATO spending commitment (which it is set to miss next year)? If not, why sign up to the commitment in the first place? At a time when Vladimir Putin is behaving increasingly belligerently, does now not seem a good time for the alliance to project a clear message of unity (not to mention resolve)?
2) Should NATO honour its mutual defence obligation should Russian forces launch an attack on one of the Baltic states? This question is no longer purely academic – bolstered by the successful annexation of Crimea, Russia has been holding frequent snap military drills near its eastern European neighbours. Should Putin take things further and try to use force to bring one or more of these states to heel, should Britain join the US in honouring its NATO treaty obligations which stipulate that an attack on one is an attack on all?
3) What is your opinion of the Iranian nuclear deal? Should we really trust Iran, a country which has helped to prop up a murderous dictator in Syria and sowed chaos in Lebanon via its proxy Hezbollah? On the other hand, is there any alternative to the current deal, presuming that a military response should be an absolute last resort?
4) Presuming we eventually defeat ISIS in Iraq, how do we prevent the country from turning into an Iranian proxy and feeding the Sunni alienation that feeds the growth of groups like ISIS in the first place?
5) Surely, four years on and with over 200,000 dead, it was a mistake not to intervene in Syria to support democratic tendencies right at the beginning of the Syrian uprising in 2011? The lesson of Iraq was that intervention can have horrendous and bloody consequences. Isn’t the lesson of Syria that inaction can have a similar cost? And why isn’t Britain doing more to help Syrian asylum seekers?
James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.