Article published in The Daily Mirror, 18 March 2022. © Richard Kemp
Putin’s war in Ukraine could easily escalate onto NATO territory and Britain is not ready. Since the end of the Cold War successive governments have savagely cut our armed forces so that today the army, navy and air force are all shadows of their former selves.
The army had insufficient troop numbers and combat equipment to hold its own against jihadists in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in both theatres had to call on US reinforcements to fill the gaps. Fighting Russian tanks, artillery and planes in Europe will be much more demanding than dealing with jihadist gangs in the Middle East and south Asia, even though Putin’s forces in Ukraine have shown themselves to be far less capable than most people thought.
It is too late to rebuild our forces to face an immediate threat. The same goes for all other European countries, which is one reason why NATO has been forced to stand and watch as the Russians tear our neighbours apart. We must hope that the economic damage inflicted on Moscow, plus the Ukrainians’ stiff resistance, are enough to blunt Putin’s plans for future aggression in Europe.
But hope is not a strategy and we should immediately start to build up our forces to deter Putin with military strength and be ready to fight him if that doesn’t work. Last year’s defence review slashed our conventional forces even more, spending instead on cyber, drones, space and artificial intelligence. These are all essential to our defences but so are tanks, artillery, anti-air missiles, armoured infantry and combat planes.
The Chancellor must immediately double Britain’s defence budget. This will be even more painful as we suffer increasingly tough economic conditions post-Covid and as the consequences of our sanctions against Russia bite us too. But it will be less painful than failure to defeat Putin the next time he lashes out.