HoC Defence Committee Report (02/03/2015) Summary

  • The key element in the report is that Russia poses a significant and substantial threat to Europe.
  • The UK does not currently have the capacity to respond to the threat of Russia, Rory Stewart has said.
  • The UK lacks intelligence and information at every level, from the strategic level all the way down to the ISTAR level of watching Russian kit moving around
  • Stewart criticised the apparent lack of Russian analysis and understanding in government.
  • Russian capacity is being built up from a very low base again, which is troubling.
  • The HoC’s Defence Committee’s report focuses on two things: the conventional threat posed by Russia, and the threat that we describe as next generation warfare, ambiguous warfare or the asymmetric threat posed by Russia.
  • On the conventional threat posed by Russia, the report argues that, through its Zapad exercise in 2013, Russia showed its ability to deploy almost 70,000 troops at 72 hours’ notice. The current estimate is that it would take NATO almost six months to deploy that number of troops. Russia has also displayed its ability to fly nuclear bombers to Venezuela and to exercise for a full amphibious assault on a Baltic state. It has upgraded its nuclear arsenal and it is committed to spending $100 billion a year on defence. All of that is taking place in the context of a decline in NATO defence spending.
  • In terms of responses to the Russian conventional threat, we have planned, for 20 years, for fighting enemies in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. We have planned on the basis of such expeditionary warfare. We have not really thought about taking on an enemy such as Russia. That means a lot of things: it has implications, of course, for nuclear weapons; it has implications for many capacities that we have got rid of in Britain over the past 20 years, such as our ability to exercise at scale —in the mid-1980s we used to be able to exercise with 130,000 or 140,000 people, whereas last year we were exercising with about 6,600 people, at a time when Russia was exercising with about 70,000; it has meant that we got rid of our significant capacity in wide-water crossing—that is engineering; it has meant a reduction in armour, because we did not expect to be fighting tank battles, and it has also meant that we need to think much more seriously about ballistic missile defence, and about chemical, biological and radiological and nuclear.
  • To face down conventional threats the Committee believes we should be looking to exercise at a larger level, so we should begin to return to some of the kinds of exercises we did in previous eras, which involve exercising at least at a divisional level.
  • We have to look carefully at this very high readiness taskforce. One thing the Committee recommended was the setting up of a deployable force under SACEUR like the allied rapid reaction corps, which could go out and respond rapidly within 72 hours to a Russian threat.
  • But it is asymmetric warfare that needs to be focused on most of all, because although Russian tanks crossing the border into Estonia would be a high-impact event, it is estimated at the moment that it is a low-probability event. It is not one we should ignore, because of course were Putin to do it, we really would not know what to do. Were Putin to roll tanks across and take over even a mile or two of Estonia, NATO would be in a very serious problem, but the most likely move is asymmetric warfare first.
  • Given that Putin does not necessarily wish to invoke a major military conflict, how does NATO deal with those hybrid attacks? The answer is it is really difficult and we absolutely need to raise our game in three areas. As has been indicated, those are cyber, information warfare and special forces operations.
  • The basic problem for Russian minorities in the Baltic states is the fact that they watch Moscow television. We need to ensure that we have the ability to project television into the Baltic states in the Russian language that is entertaining and engaging, that the minorities in those areas are prepared to watch, and that counters propaganda not with propaganda but with the truth.
  • Then there was a focus on the Prime Minister’s NATO commitment to spend 2% of our GDP on defence. Why does it matter? Quite simply, it matters because failing to hit the 2% target would degrade our armed forces, damage our standing with our allies and hit our credibility as a major player in NATO and on the world stage. Above all, it would clearly limit the ability of our armed forces to project and protect our interests around the world. (Many in the House believed 2% was nowhere near enough).

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