The head of the army has said Britain would struggle to withstand Russian forces on the battlefield and ministers must invest in defence or further erode the country’s ability to combat threats.
General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the General Staff, said Vladimir Putin’s aggressive modernisation of Russian forces means the Kremlin has battlefield abilities that the UK would find difficult to match, and that we risk falling further behind.
He was speaking at the Royal United Service Institute, a British defence and security think tank based in London and went on to say:
“The time to address these threats is now – we cannot afford to sit back.”
Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Defence, is currently involved in an ongoing Cabinet fight with the Treasury to avoid cuts to the Armed Forces. But the intervention from Sir Nick makes a strong case for increasing military funding.
Under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, all British troops in Germany were earmarked for recall back to the UK, with the final units set to leave the county in 2019 and the bases there closed.
But General Carter said when it comes to threats, it is important to recognise that “readiness is about speed of recognition, speed of decision-making and speed of assembly”.
“Therefore we are actively examining the retention of our infrastructure in Germany, where we store our vehicles in Ayrshire Barracks in Rheindahlen, and our training facilities in Sennelager, as well as our heavy equipment transporters that are based there, and our stockpiling and ammunition storage,” he revealed.
General Carter who was commissioned into the Royal Green Jackets upon passing out from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst has faced criticism that asking for more money is not the solution. The defence budget is already very high and the MoD are notoriously good at wasting money. Russia who in 2016 had a smaller defence budget than the UK are far better equipped in terms of manpower and hardware.
It is no coincidence that he is making the plea now, that is designed to scare us, because the government is about to announce a new defence spending review and the next few months will be dominated by a push by the Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, and the MoD for a rise in the UK defence budget.
The UK spends more on defence than France, Germany, Italy, Spain or any other EU country. And the problem for the UK is that much of this is on the renewal of the Trident nuclear programme and on two expensive new aircraft carriers.
The purpose of having the Trident nuclear programme is to avoid a conventional war by falling into a stalemate known as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), i.e. you can’t fire your weapons at us or we will fire them at you.
If General Carter is saying we need more money for conventional assets (on top of what he already has) then the argument for spending money on renewing Trident collapses as it is not a worthy deterrent. And while other countries have a nuclear programme we certainly shouldn’t get rid of ours.
Of course if money was no problem you’d have both [Trident & troops] but as it is the UK already spends 2% of GDP on defence. The MoD would like to see this closer to 3%, but that would mean cuts in health, education or other state spending.
The chancellor, Philip Hammond, despite being a former defence secretary, is not sympathetic to a further rise in defence spending, given the pressures elsewhere on the government budget.
The last decade has seen the UK fighting an enemy in the Middle East that doesn’t wear a uniform or play by the rules and has required the military to adapt to that challenge. But wars only occur between nation states when diplomacy fails. That should be the main focus for our government, not giving the MoD more money; as it is too many private companies are getting rich off contracts where they face no competition and provide inadequate services.
Anyone can spend money but a good boss knows how to save it. General Carter – if you can’t protect our country with what you already have, then you never will.