Wed. Mar 29th, 2023


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‘Prepare for war’, says ex-military boss, urging defence spending hike

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Rishi Sunak has been warned Britain’s armed force must be “fully equipped for a possible war” in the face of escalating tensions with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Lord West of Spithead, who as former First Sea Lord headed up the Royal Navy from 2002 to 2006, said the Government was “sleep-walking into disaster” unless defence spending is urgently increased.

Lord West was among a number of ex-top brass at Westminster to argue the pressing need for a hike in defence spending against the backdrop of cutbacks and the war in Ukraine.

The calls for additional cash were made as the House of Lords debated the resilience of the UK’s armed forces.

Assurances were also sought that British military stockpiles were being replenished given the level of support being provided to the Kyiv government, fighting to repel invading Russian forces.

Lord West said: “I find it extraordinary that as almost every other country has raised defence spending, some by huge amounts as the war in Ukraine has progressed, that the UK has not. How much risk are we willing to take?

“It’s all very well providing Ukraine with equipment and it’s absolutely right we should do and if necessary provide even more, but I think we must make sure our forces are ready and fully equipped for a possible war.

“By doing that, we are much more likely to prevent a world war. Because people like Putin look at our armed forces, he’s looked over the past few years at how we and Europe seem to have had no interest in their defence forces and he’s taken that as a green light.”

The Labour former security minister continued: “I believe the Government are sleep-walking into disaster unless they rapidly grip the initiative and there is an increase in defence spending.”

Former chief of the defence staff and independent crossbencher Lord Stirrup said: “We need larger armed forces.

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“Numbers have been progressively reduced by successive Governments on the basis of cost saving, with no underpinning strategic rationale.”

He added: “While we certainly need to expand the size of our armed forces, our immediate and urgent priority is to ensure that our current force structure can fight effectively and enduringly in high-intensity conflict. At the moment, it cannot.”

Lord Stirrup argued the current level of defence spending at two percent of GDP was “simply inadequate”, in the face of an increasingly dangerous world.

He said: “It is well past time that the Government faced up to their responsibilities in this regard. Fine words butter no parsnips – particularly when we cannot afford the parsnips in the first place.”

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Fellow former defence chief Lord Houghton of Richmond said: “Simply put, what we ask of defence and our armed forces is based on a wholly unachievable set of mutually conflicting ambitions, given the current levels of funding.

“We simply cannot, at one and the same time, face the threat of land warfare in Europe, commit to a strategic tilt to south-east Asia, sustain a nuclear deterrent, undertake a maritime renaissance, be the default government response to strikes and domestic emergencies, contribute to the nation’s prosperity agenda, help it to become a tech superpower and perform remarkable acts of state ceremonial, all while supporting a defence industrial base that looks first to its shareholders, and achieve all this with fewer people, not much more money and through a misplaced reliance on the enduring alchemy of efficiency.”

Opening the debate, Tory former defence minister Lord Robathan said: “Spending money on defence is just like any other insurance policy. You have to pay the premiums on, for instance, a house.

“While people resent the premiums as a waste of money, when the house burns down they turn to the insurance policy and find that they have not spent enough on their premiums.

“It is much more serious for our country if we are unable to defend ourselves because we did not pay sufficient premiums for defence.”

Defence minister Baroness Goldie said: “We are in defence changing and adapting. We are learning the lessons of Ukraine.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure we support Ukraine to secure victory and ultimately build up more robust resilience so we are ready for whatever strategic threat comes next.”

She said peers’ contribution had provided a “potent weapon” to Defence Secretary Ben Wallace in his discussions with the Prime Minister and the Treasury.

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