When I was growing up, my father would always teach me snippets of British history on my daily morning car journey to school. From these ‘lessons’, I understood the historic prowess of the British Royal Navy. As an island nation, Britain’s Navy has not only successfully safe-guarded its country’s shores for near a thousand years, but also facilitated the removal of dictators in mainland Europe. The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, Nelson’s victory in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and even the first modern sea warfare in the Battle of Jutland in 1915, are only a few examples where the Royal Navy prevented European aggressors from obtaining their ambitions.
Yet, as a child, when I asked my father about the current state of Royal Navy, he ironically joked ‘it won’t be long until the French start guarding the Falkland Islands’. Repeated spending cuts to the defence budget from 2010, have not only impoverished the fighting capacity of the Royal Navy, but also British Army, Royal Marine Core, and infamous Royal Air Force (RAF), that admirably held the Nazi forces at bay during the Second World War. The 2017 defence budget is lower than what it had been in 2011, permitting the current fighting capacity of UK’s Armed Forces to sink to lower levels than prior historic heights. With the UK’s domestic security in an enormously fragile position, it would be immensely difficult to prevent new European aggressors, namely modern-day Russia, from achieving territorial expansion if they decided to act on their desires.
Despite economic crisis, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has increased military spending and production at worryingly rapid rates in the years from 2014. In 2017, the Russian government’s military spending reached nearly 4% of GDP, compared to the United Kingdom’s 2%. Similarly, the physical size of the Russian Armed Forces is beginning to dwarf the UK’s. At the beginning of this year, Russia had 798,000 active military personnel, 20,000 tanks, 3800 aircraft, 13 Destroyers, and 63 submarines. The UK: 150,000 active personnel, 250 tanks, 850 aircraft, 4 Destroyers, and 11 submarines. With the concession that the British Armed Forces rely on quality not quantity set aside, the difference in these absolute figures are alarming, especially when comparing the Naval levels.
The 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea must not be forgotten. The recent actions of Russia in the Ukraine region have placed Putin into the category of European aggressors, like Napoleon and the fascist German regimes before him. It would be a mistake to think that placing Crimea under the Russian banner is the limit to Putin’s ambitions. Russian military forces on the borders of the Ukraine, and in Kaliningrad, which borders Poland and Lithuania, have recently performed huge military exercises: the largest since the 2014 invasion of Crimea. As leading British Army General, Sir Nick Carter, said last week, ‘we must take notice of what is going on around us’, proposing that Russia ‘could initiate hostilities sooner than we expect’. It is not only in the interest of the UK to reinvest in its Armed Forces to protect its own shores from Russia, but also importantly, to uphold the agreements, such as the recent Poland-UK military pact, made with the UK’s allies that border Russia; as of course the most destructive war in world history was fought originally to maintain the independence of those states, and the legacy must be upheld.
However, simply allocating more government funds toward defence to increase physical number military units is not the answer. As shown by last year’s- likely Russian- hack on international online systems, modern warfare has changed entirely. General Carter states that a war with Russia will not ‘start with little green men; it will start with something we don’t expect’. The Ministry of Defence needs to use extra funds to invest within military research and development, in order to create new and innovative military units to combat the likes of electromagnetic or cyber weaponry. This is the only way to keep up with the pace of Russian military development.
As long as European aggressors walk the Earth, there can be no room for a diminishing national Armed Force. As the Royal Navy’s motto goes ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’. The Russian threat is real, and if we want to maintain the peace, or at least protect the sovereignty of the Eastern European nations, we need to prepare for it.