The 1945 Attlee Labour government faced the daunting task of rebuilding Britain’s battered post-war economy against the backdrop of a rising Soviet threat and emerging Cold War. It is proudly remembered for founding the NHS, making the UK the first country in the world to provide free healthcare for all its citizens. But just as Aneurin Bevan created the NHS to be the heart of Britain’s new era of social security, so Ernest Bevin established Nato and our UK nuclear programme as its strong arm for a new era of national security.
This is our party’s heritage. We’re proud of it. And with Keir Starmer, our Labour commitment to Nato and the UK’s nuclear deterrent – maintained on behalf of Nato allies – is unshakeable.
Our joint visit to Washington DC last week – for meetings in the White House, State Department, Pentagon and Congress – reinforced the seriousness and scale of the challenges Labour aims to inherit after the election. The world has become less stable and more dangerous since we served as ministers in the Blair and Brown governments.
Putin’s bloody war in Ukraine confirms we face a dictator ready to use military force to redraw the map of Europe, while his irresponsible nuclear rhetoric continues to be a cause for concern. China is increasingly assertive in its neighbourhood and expanding its military reach in all domains. Iran continues to breach the enrichment limits of the JCPOA nuclear deal in pursuit of its nuclear programme, while North Korea threatens Britain’s friends like Japan and South Korea.
We must be sober about the threats we face, and honest about the state of our Armed Forces. Concerns have been growing among allies about the UK fulfilling its Nato obligations, with the former defence secretary Ben Wallace telling the Commons earlier this year that Conservative governments have “hollowed out and underfunded” our Armed Forces since 2010. Over the last 13 years, our Army has been cut to the smallest size since the days of Napoleon.
In government, Labour will chart a new direction for UK foreign and defence policy that ensures our Armed Forces are properly strengthened to keep our country safe. During our first year, we will undertake a strategic defence and security review and, within our first 100 days, we will conduct a “Nato test” on major programmes to ensure our Nato commitments are fulfilled in full.
One constant that continues to underwrite our national security is Britain’s nuclear deterrent. Labour’s commitment to our independent nuclear deterrent is total. Labour will build the four new submarines at Barrow and undertake the future upgrades necessary to maintain our continuous at-sea deterrence. For seven decades, this independent, credible deterrent has protected the UK and our allies 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
As a P5 UN Security Council member, we also want to see Britain doing more to lead efforts to secure strategic arms limitation and multilateral disarmament. We’re a party with deep pride in forging international law and security – the Geneva Conventions, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty were all signed by Labour prime ministers.
Britain’s security depends on well-established foundations but it also relies on fresh approaches to the alliances of our future. American friends described the Aukus agreement between the UK, US and Australia as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” for all three nations, but there’s a worrying lack of leadership and vision from the British Government.
Nato will remain the cornerstone of European security but Labour’s proposed UK-EU security pact will complement our existing alliances in Nato through new foreign and defence policy cooperation, with regular EU-UK summits and structured dialogue to tackle Europe’s shared threats in areas like cyber, energy security and organised crime.
In this more divided world, keeping the peace demands both strong deterrence and vigorous diplomacy in equal measure. Sound defence policy is sound foreign policy. That is why we have jointly visited Ukraine, the US, Germany, Belgium and Singapore in the last 18 months; and we plan to continue such joint visits if Labour enters government next year. Together, we are determined to support our armed forces, strengthen Nato and revitalise our diplomacy.
David Lammy is the shadow foreign secretary. John Healey is the shadow defence secretary