Call to restore defence spending

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Published: Saturday 28th February 2015 by The News Editor

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A former spy chief has joined calls for UK defence spending to be restored to counter the security threat posed by Russian aggression.

Sir John Sawers, head of MI6 from 2009 to 2014, said the Ukraine crisis was only one symptom of the wider problem posed by Moscow feeling “exposed” and Vladimir Putin seeking to bolster his own security.

Ministers are under increasing pressure from Tory MPs and senior military figures to commit Britain to meeting a Nato target to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence beyond 2016.

With deep cuts to Whitehall budgets to continue after May’s general election, Chancellor George Osborne is reported to have warned privately that it may fall below that level.

Sir John told BBC Radio 4’s Today that Moscow posed a threat that would require increased dialogue but also an end to reductions in spending on the armed forces.

Pointing to increasingly aggressive flights by Russian nuclear bomber aircraft off the coast of the UK, he said: “Europe and Russia are not converging with one another so we’re going to have to find a new way to coexist with Russia.

“This crisis at the moment – it’s focused on Ukraine but Ukraine is a symptom. It’s not the real problem.

“The real problem is how we live with a Russia which feels very exposed. Putin’s actions are ones of a leader who believes his own security is at stake.

“And here we’ve got nuclear bombers approaching the Cornish coast,.”

He went on: “We’ve got to have the capability to deal with things like the hybrid warfare that we’ve seen Russia deploy, first in Crimea and then in the Donbass region, we’ve got to have the ability to deal with cyberwarfare.

“What’s really important is that we’re able to fulfil all of our defence commitments and I think that that’s going to require a reversal in the trend in defence spending.

“We’re going to have to spend more on our defence and our security because the threats are greater.”

Sir John said there were “real dangers” posed by the end of Cold War certainties.

“We shouldn’t kid ourselves that Russia is on a path to democracy because it isn’t,” Sir John said.

“One of the aspects of the modern world is that we live in a much more dangerous world these days.

“The stability that we had during the Cold War, or the predominance of the West that we had in the decade or two after the Cold War – that is now changing.

“It’s a much sort of flatter world, a much more multi-polar world and there are real dangers associated with that.”

Asked about the 2% target, Sir John said: “I’m not hooked on a particular figure. There is a political importance attached to that figure.

“But what is really important is that we are able to fulfil all our defence commitments and I think that is going to require a reversal in the trend in defence spending – we are going to have to spend more on our defence and security because the threats are greater.”

He said: “The level of threat posed by Moscow has increased and we have to be prepared to take the defensive measures necessary to defend ourselves, defend our allies – which now extend as far as the Baltic states and central Europe.

“And that is going to be a big issue I think in the strategic defence and security review after the election because we clearly have, since the Cold War, run down our defence spending quite considerably as a proportion of GDP.

“The measure is not so much the percentage that we spend of national wealth on defence but we have got to have the capability.

Published: Saturday 28th February 2015 by The News Editor

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