22 Jan 2018

Military chief warns of Russia’s ‘eyewatering’ capability

General Sir Nick Carter didn’t hold back as he warned of the threat of Russian military action. He said there were stark parallels between 1914 and how Russia might view things now.

They may, he said, fear their rivals overtake them in military capability a decade from now. When they strike they could use overpowering and swift force. Their first sally into conflict may not be easily recognisable. For good measure he showed his audience at the Whitehall headquarters of the Royal United Service Institute a Russian government propaganda video showing what he said was “eyewatering” capability.

In the question and answer session that followed, Sir Nick was asked if he had shown the video to the Treasury. He said he hadn’t, but his audience tonight included their powerhouse over Whitehall.

The Ministry of Defence is struggling with a £20bn or so shortfall in its budget which is made up of unfunded future commitments, lower economic growth, the decline in the value of the pound, Trident into the MOD budget and efficiency projections that haven’t been met.

It’s not usual to send a serving military chief out to make the case for more resources. Retired generals are usually sent into these sorts of conflicts. But the new Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has embraced the idea of conflict with the Treasury. He’s said by one who used to work alongside him to have a view of the Chancellor that’s similar to that of Nick Timothy, Mrs May’s former Joint Chief of Staff at No. 10.

The danger of Gavin Williamson’s very public engagement with the Treasury is that you have a very public failure; what MOD old hands call “getting the brown envelope from the Treasury”, which means you’re told to stick with the original budget and left to find whatever savings are needed.

General Sir Nick Carter said that his speech was in part a consequence of the Iraq Inquiry. Senior figures in the military, he said, felt “a sense of responsibility to hold people to account if we don’t have what we think we need.”

It’s all a far cry from President Obama’s rebuke to Republican nominee Mitt Romney back in 2012 when the President mocked his challenger for harking back to the 1980s by saying Russia was the number one threat.

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