Colin Brazier: A new cold war is upon us whether we like it or not

Defence is an expensive insurance policy that some people always want to cancel. But freedom isn’t free

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When a motorway gets blocked it’s not always by accidents or break-downs.

Sometimes the cause is more unusual, escaped animals and the like.

But imagine coming to a halt on the motorway because it was blocked by fighter jets using it as a runway.

Ridiculous?

No, it’s an old Cold War tactic that’s being revived in the face of Russian military hostility.

Who says so? The head of our air force says so.

This week Air Chief Marshall Sir Mike Wigston explained that so-called Scatter Drills, last used 30 years ago, will start again.

The exercises are designed to make it harder for an enemy to wipe out our fighter-jets in one devastating first strike.

We have 119 Typhoon interceptors, most of them based in Lincolnshire and Moray in the north east of Scotland.

In these exercises, which would happen without notice, the jets would take-off and scatter. Mainly to smaller commercial airports, but potentially motorways too.

“We’ll be re-learning how to disperse,” said Sir Mike, because there is now “a pressing requirement to remember how to do it.”

What is that pressing requirement?

Sir Mike said he, and presumably other senior military figures, are worried that Russia is ramping-up its ability to do the UK harm.

He pointed specifically to the possibility of advanced new cruise missiles being fired from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, capable of hitting British targets more quickly and with less warning. Hence the Scatter Drills.

Some of you will be shaking your heads and muttering about war-mongering.

This is how the military-industrial complex works you say, the top brass scaring us to death to keep the defence contractors in business.

But I struggle to see it that way - because of HISTORY and GEOGRAPHY.

History?

Anyone like me, I’m 53, remembers growing up in the shadow of an imagined nuclear mushroom cloud.

As a child, I had a recurring nightmare about the four-minute warning. That was how much time we were told we’d get to prepare for a Soviet nuclear strike.

In my dream, I’d be scrabbling around, trying to collect tinned food and water, before hiding under the stairs. It sounds utterly ridiculous. But it was actually about as real as life can get.

After the collapse of the Soviet empire we dismantled the National Early-Warning Siren System in the 1990s, but not before one sounded accidentally in my home town in the mid-1980s.

Those four minutes felt very real, I can tell you.So, that’s the history.

What about the geography? As I told the Russian ambassador to Britain a month ago on this news channel, I have three children who go to school in Salisbury.

I wanted him to think about the slow, agonising deaths they would have faced if they, not others, had chanced upon the lethal novichok planted by Russian state murderers.

I’m not a Cold War warrior. I’ve been to Moscow and love the idea of Mother Russia, as it’s presented in the brilliant novels of Dostoevsky or Tolstoy.

But this Russia, the Russia of Vladimir Putin, is a threat.

His cyber-propagandists want to break up our United Kingdom by stirring up Scottish nationalist hatred of the union.

His defence spending, massively out of kilter with his economy, is paying for hyper-sonic missiles, gigantic new submarines and an advanced generation of tanks capable of outgunning our thickest armour.

Boys toys? Never going to be needed? Maybe not.

Defence is an expensive insurance policy that some people always want to cancel. But freedom isn’t free.

Putin is a bully and bullies exploit weakness.

Which is why we have to ensure our capabilities are a plausible deterrent.

A new cold war is upon us, whether we like it or not.

We will have done well if the gravest inconvenience we face in coming years is a blocked motorway.