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Britain says it has no plans for conscription, after top general says the UK may need a citizen army

LONDON (AP) — The U.K. government said Wednesday it has no plans to introduce conscription, after the head of the British Army said a “citizen army” would be needed to fight a future war with a country like Russia.

Chief of the General Staff Gen. Patrick Saunders said preparing for a potential land war would have to be a “whole-of-nation” undertaking. He praised European nations closer to Russia for “prudently laying the foundations for national mobilization.”

Saunders, who has long argued for more military spending and is due to leave his job this year, said that “within the next three years, it must be credible to talk of a British Army of 120,000.”

“But this is not enough,” he added during a speech at the International Armored Vehicles conference in London. “Taking preparatory steps to enable placing our societies on a war footing when needed are now not merely desirable but essential.”

He said "Ukraine brutally illustrates that regular armies start wars; citizen armies win them.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain, said the government “has no intention” of introducing conscription.

“The British military has a proud tradition of being a voluntary force. There are no plans to change that,” he said.

He added that “engaging in hypothetical wars” was “not helpful.”

Defense Secretary Grant Shapps has also used stark language about the threat to the U.K. Last week he referred to Britain “moving from a post-war to pre-war world.”

Despite that, the government has no plans to increase the size of the army from its current level of about 74,000 full-time troops, down from 102,000 in 2006. The government says it will increase military spending from just over 2% of GDP to 2.5% -- still much less than at the height of the Cold War.

The British Army conscripted soldiers during World War I, and again during and after World War II, but it has been an all-volunteer force for most of its 364-year history.