Article for the Daily Mirror by Peter Luff and Bob Ainsworth

Putin's aggression has put defence on the election agenda. Or it should have. Worryingly, all the major parties seem reluctant to take the hint.

For the first time since the end of the Cold War, Europe faces a real military threat on its borders.

Until Putin rattled his sabre, the direct threat to the UK was mainly from terrorists. His invasions of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine have changed all that.

Now we face a Russian leader who sees no real limit to his ambition. Look at his provocative flights of nuclear bombers off the coast of Southern England.

Putin leads the first major power since the Second World War to invade another state to gain territory. He claims to be the protector of all the Russian minorities in Central Europe. That means we must expect direct, or, more likely, indirect attacks on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This, after all, is a man whose greatest regret is the end of the Soviet Union.

Russia is not the only threat. The world is more dangerous than it has been for years. Instability in the Middle East exports terror and threatens our economy. Argentina is getting Russian and Chinese help to rebuild its Air Force, which menaces the Falklands. China's rising military power is a direct risk to many of our important trading partners.

Despite all this, the major parties are trying to avoid talking about defence. Of the parties likely to win many seats at the election, only one, the Scottish Nationalists have a clear policy, but a disastrous one - disarmament.

Britain has rightly been urging our European allies in NATO to spend the organisation's target of at least two per cent of national income on defence. But while we meet that target this year, just, soon we will be below it. Russian spending on defence climbs year on year while ours falls.

No one likes paying for insurance - until they have to make a claim. Defence is a bit like that. No one wants to pay the bills unless they have to.

But strong defence is more than insurance. It doesn't just let you respond if you are attacked . It also deters the attack in the first place. So it's like insuring your house and putting strong locks on all the doors.

If ever there was a time to pay the insurance premium for peace and put locks on every door, this is it.


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