You don’t need me to remind you that the pandemic has inflicted the greatest economic contraction on the UK in three centuries and the most severe curtailment of liberties in our history. It has eclipsed all else. And before the pandemic, protests and direct action against the spectre of ecological oblivion through climate change was leading headlines around the world.
With these two threats to our way of life uppermost in the thinking of governments and policy makers, there’s a deepening risk that the worsening global security situation is crouching below our collective radar. More than at any time since the end of the Cold War, our Armed Forces, along with our world-leading defence industry supporting them, need to be strengthened and placed at the nucleus of Government planning.
On the 12th of April China launched its largest recorded incursion into Taiwan’s airspace, penetrating the perimeter of the island nation’s Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) with 25 military aircraft. There is increasing fear in Taiwan, viewed by China as a renegade province, that China is preparing to invade the island nation.
Recognising the military threat posed by China, Australia is spending $580 million on upgrading its northern military bases. There would be a moral duty for democracies around the world, and particularly on the United States, to come to Taiwan’s aid if an invasion is launched.
Between late March and early April, Russia amassed over 100,000 troops with convoys of tanks and armoured fighting vehicles on the border with Ukraine. Putin has form when it comes to igniting external conflicts to distract from domestic failures, and the pandemic’s damage to the Russian economy may precipitate a conflict with Ukraine or, perhaps of greater geopolitical concern, the Baltic States. Having ascended to NATO in 2004, an attack on the Baltic States would result in the invocation of NATO’s article 5 and conflict between Russia and the West, including the UK.
These two situations alone show not only that we must be prepared but recognise the importance of our defence sector and the role it plays in training engineers and scientists whose skills are harnessed elsewhere in the economy. Here in Somerset, Thales sits, nestled in Templecombe, and now home to a vast Maritime and Air Operations business. The site houses over 750 highly skilled employees, inventing, developing and delivering technology to customers around the world. With 24 engineering and manufacturing apprentices, the site adds £210 million to our local GDP, supporting 3,600 jobs directly, indirectly and through the supply chain.
Our defence sector, and companies such as Thales, are a shot in the arm for our local economy. And, politically, the defence sector can play a central role in the Government’s levelling up agenda. While our attention is diverted elsewhere, it’s rather important to know that many have their sights on a wider, and equally critical perspective.