Voices: Ukraine is a wake-up call for the UK to invest in its military

Our government must really take seriously the underinvestment in our army  (AFP/Getty)
Our government must really take seriously the underinvestment in our army (AFP/Getty)

It has been suggested recently that some of our Nato partners consider the UK armed forces too weak to play a full role within Nato. This is both disappointing and wrong; however, it points to the major concern among many that our defence budget is too small, and that our defence capability is woefully lacking.

To be specific, under current plans, Germany is due to hand over the 11,500-strong Nato Very High Readiness Joint Task Force to the United Kingdom later this year. Germany’s force is centred on Panzergrenadier Brigade 37, and our force will be centred on one of our armoured infantry brigades.

Although our army has been very low on the Ministry of Defence’s priority investment list, when it comes to playing our part within Nato and European collective defence, we will pull out all the stops to meet our commitments.

However, times are changing within Nato – and the reality of a land war in Europe means that priorities have got to change here, too. In response to the brutal Russian aggression in Ukraine, Nato is moving to a new force model, announced at the June 2022 Madrid summit. The number of high-readiness troops available to Nato will rise from around 40,000 to a pool of 300,000.

Many Nato nations are already rising to this challenge – Poland in particular. Not surprisingly, considering its common border with Russia, Poland is on course to have the largest land forces in Europe.

The Baltic states are increasing their capability, and both Sweden and Finland are clamouring to join Nato. If the negative whispers attributed to Berlin have any basis, it is that countries like Germany, France and the United Kingdom have got to up their defence game considerably.

With just 1.3 per cent of its GDP spent on defence, Germany has been lagging behind the Nato baseline of two per cent for years. Its chancellor, Olaf Scholz, may have declared a Zeitenwende – a historic turning point – on 27 February last year, but the euros have got to start flowing in huge quantities into the German defence budget very soon, or his moment of history might start to look very hollow.

For the same reason, our government must really take seriously the underinvestment in our army. Of course, we are right to have gifted 14 Challenger 2 tanks, 30 AS90 self-propelled artillery, and very much else to Ukraine, but it is without question that we must not only replenish our stocks, but also make a major new investment in our land forces.

The planned cuts in the strength of our army must be stopped (and ideally reversed); an increased number of Challenger 2 tanks should be upgraded to become Challenger 3s; the decision to phase out our Warrior infantry fighting vehicles must be reversed; and fresh investment must pour into our artillery, air defence, communications and logistic capability.

The Treasury will not like it, but this increased spend cannot be at the expense of our investment in new areas such as cybersecurity and utilising space.

Defence does not come cheap, but it is not an optional extra for our government – defence of the realm and its citizens is the number one responsibility of His Majesty’s Government. No 10 must never forget that.

This week, Vladimir Putin has claimed that Ukraine and the West had started the war in Ukraine. He was filmed in a huge football stadium, addressing the masses. More telling was that many of those bussed in to the event left before he spoke.

They understood truth. By walking out, they were demonstrating their responsibility, and their great courage. We must hope that all Western governments, including our own, demonstrate the same responsibility and courage, and thereby help Ukraine to bring this horrific war to a successful conclusion in the vital interests of all those who believe in democracy, free speech and the rule of law.

Lord Dannatt is a former chief of the general staff