​Russia could beat us in war says army chief

War machine: A British soldier (on the left) matched up against a Russian counterpart (right).

Should we invest more in defence? Yesterday the head of the British army issued an urgent call to build up the military, but sceptics ridiculed the idea that modern Russia is a real threat.

The threat of war with Russia is “on Europe’s doorstep”, claimed the head of the UK’s armed forces. And if that threat turns real, Britain may not have the resources to fight back.

That was the disturbing message yesterday as General Sir Nick Carter piled pressure on politicians to give the Army more cash.

He claimed that the military’s ability to fight “will be eroded if we don’t keep up with our adversaries”, and that threats will only be countered by “finding more money for defence”.

Britain’s army is already the smallest it has been since the Napoleonic wars, and there has been speculation of more cutbacks to come.

Even so, the extent of the danger Russia poses to the UK is disputed. According to journalist Ewen MacAskill Russia is far enough away “not to pose a territorial threat”.

However, that does not make conflict unthinkable. Currently, British troops are part of a NATO force deployed in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. And Britain’s obligations to NATO mean that it must defend these countries if Russia attacks.

Western leaders were put on edge last year when Putin oversaw massive military exercises, which specifically simulated a European invasion. Last week the Swedish government even distributed leaflets instructing people on what to do in the event of a nuclear war.

Tension in the region is increasing, but Putin himself has said it would be “insane” to attack a NATO member.

It could, however, be that other less conventional tactics are now on the cards. In his speech, Sir Nick also warned of the dangers of cyber-warfare on both military and civilian life.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, it has unleashed a “digital blitzkreig” of cyber attacks on the population. Hackers have cut the power to thousands of homes and paralysed essential computer systems. And last year it was revealed that Russian cyber attacks have already hit British energy and communication networks.

So should Britain invest more in its military?

Red scare

The Russia threat is a “red herring,” says columnist Simon Jenkins, and some agree. The UK is advised to spend 2% of its GDP on defence, and that is exactly what it is doing. Furthermore, it is not the number of soldiers or tanks we have that creates military might, but strategic alliances like NATO. By standing tall with our allies we can ensure the Russia threat will be contained.

We must not be complacent, others respond. Russia is clearly becoming more aggressive, both on land and in cyberspace. The peaceful consensus which has graced most of Europe since the second world war cannot last forever, and Britain must be able to stand on its own two feet when old alliances fall apart. Give the military the money they need.

You Decide

  1. Will there ever be another big war in Europe?
  2. Can armies be a force for peace?

Activities

  1. Imagine you have been granted an interview with Vladimir Putin, but you can only ask him one question. What would you ask him and why?
  2. Watch and read the resources in Become An Expert. Give yourself 15 minutes to write a response to the following question: “War with Russia is the single biggest danger facing the UK right now. Discuss.” Try to make your writing as clear and concise as possible.

Some People Say...

“War does not determine who is right, but only who is left.”

Bertrand Russell

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Between April 2016 and March 2017, the British Government spent £35.3 billion on defence. The UK has the fifth biggest defence budget in the world and the highest in the EU. Russia currently has the world’s third highest defence budget behind the USA and China.
What do we not know?
Whether the UK government will heed the calls for greater defence spending. Also the true threat that Russia holds for Europe is hotly debated. According to NATO, 4,500 troops have been deployed to the Baltic region following growing fears of Russian incursions. However, we do not know what actions Putin plans to take in the region.

Word Watch

Smallest
As of October 2017, there were 82,040 full-time and fully-trained troops in the British Army. When members of the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, and Royal Marines are included the number of fully trained service personnel is just over 137,000.
Napoleonic wars
Series of conflicts between the French Empire led by Napoleon, and a coalition of European forces led by the British (1803—1815).
NATO
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Established in 1949 and currently made up of 29 Western nations. If one member state is attacked, all others are required to come to its assistance.
Military exercises
Known as “Zapad”, these drills involve thousands of Russian troops and take place every four years.
Revealed
Ciaran Martin, chief executive of the National Cyber Security Centre, said that these attacks were an attempt by Russia to “undermine the international system”.
Advised
This spending target is set by NATO for all of its member states. In 2016 only 5 countries hit the target.