Nato is ‘brain-dead’, President Macron of France opined to a British magazine just over three years ago.
How wrong can you be? The Russian invasion of Ukraine has pumped new lead into Nato’s pencil. It is more united, determined, relevant and well-resourced than ever.
What is, if not brain-dead, increasingly tired and irrelevant is the Franco-German alliance which used to call nearly all the shots in Europe. Power in the newly revivified Nato has tilted away from Paris and moved distinctly eastwards, where Poland, with the backing of its smaller regional allies, is Nato’s coming military force to be reckoned with.
Macron did down Nato (never a favourite of French presidents at the best of times) because he was bigging up his concept of European ‘strategic autonomy’ — that Europe develop its own security and military resources and end its reliance on America.
The Poles never saw it that way. They regarded America as essential as ever to the defence of Europe, especially from a revanchist Russia. The invasion of Ukraine proved them right beyond peradventure. America has been indispensable in Nato’s response, suppling Kyiv with more military and financial aid than the rest of the alliance put together. Strike one to the Poles.
Nato is ‘brain-dead’, President Macron of France opined to a British magazine just over three years ago
For years, Warsaw warned Berlin that it was a huge mistake to become too dependent on Russian gas, that one day the Kremlin would resort to energy blackmail.
Instead of building, like Germany, more pipelines to suck in more Russian gas, Poland built offshore gas terminals to import gas from the rest of the world. Strike two to Poland.
When Poland warned that President Putin did indeed intend to invade Ukraine, Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz dismissed its warnings. Right up until Russian armour and troops poured over the border, Macron persisted in thinking he could convince Putin to resolve any differences diplomatically. Strike three for the Poles.
The consequence of being right when it mattered is that, since the invasion, Warsaw has increasingly called the shots in gaming Nato’s response, while Paris and Berlin, after resistance, prevarication and delay, have belatedly fallen in line.
From the need to supply Ukraine with heavy armour and artillery to the recent debate over providing tanks, where Warsaw has led, Paris and Berlin have followed.
This is the major reason why the centre of gravity within Nato has moved east.
But other factors have reinforced this trend: the decision of previously neutral Sweden and Finland, for example, to join the alliance plus the fact that the Baltic states and other east European countries share Poland’s robust response to Russia.
All have reinforced the eastward tilt (bar Hungary, whose Kremlin-fawning prime minister, Viktor Orban, is determined to be on the wrong side of history). This is good news for Britain, whose uncompromising attitude to Putin’s Russia is far closer to Warsaw than to Paris or Berlin.
Pictured: French president Emanuel Macron (left) addresses the media at a bilateral meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda (right) at the 2023 Munich Security Conference
Polish President Andrzej Duda was in London this week to commemorate the priceless contribution of Polish pilots to our victory over the Nazi Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, a reminder that the current meeting of minds has strong historic roots.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Mr Duda reiterated their ‘staunch support’ for Ukraine and agreed both were committed to Ukrainian victory. But the Poles are putting their money where their mouth is.
Britain has yet to do that on anything like a sufficient scale if it is to remain a significant power and influence in the ‘new’ Nato.
Poland is ramping up its military in a manner that could soon make it the strongman of Europe. Defence spending, currently 2.4 per cent of GDP, is scheduled to rise to 4 per cent (versus 2 per cent in the UK).
It plans to raise its army from 114,000 to 300,000 (250,000 full-time and 50,000 reserves), making it the largest European land army in Nato (Britain’s Army is barely 80,000 and scheduled to fall to 72,500).
Poland already has almost 650 tanks (three times Britain’s tank numbers). But another 366 state-of-the-art American Abrams are on order (coming in two batches) while a deal has been done with South Korea to build 1,000 (yes 1,000!) of its K2 main battle tanks. Warsaw is also buying fighter jets from South Korea on top of 32 F‑35 fifth-generation fighters from America.
Poland is a country which clearly takes its defence seriously. But I guess if you have Russia on your doorstep and been invaded, dismembered and invaded again throughout history, it’s wise not to take your national sovereignty for granted.
President Biden will go to Poland next week to mark the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion
So it’s no surprise that President Biden will go to Poland next week to mark the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion. America likes allies who are prepared to do their own heavy lifting when it comes to defence. Allies like South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and now even formerly pacifist Japan. And unlike Germany, France or now, sadly, Britain.
The condition of Britain’s military is nothing short of a national scandal. U.S. generals say that their most reliable ally is no longer a ‘top-level fighting force’. It beggars belief that we spend £48 billion a year on defence yet can’t field even a single 10,000-strong fighting division.
Doubts have been expressed that we have the capability to take over from Germany the leadership of Nato’s rapid reaction force in Eastern Europe.
France spends several billion a year less on defence than we do, yet it has a much bigger army, more combat aircraft and more frigates. Britain’s boast that we’re the second most important military power in Nato is now seriously under threat.
The Ministry of Defence is a cesspit of waste and mismanagement, squandering billions in the cack-handed procurement of equipment that makes the HS2 project look exemplary. The MoD should be renamed NOTAAB — Never On Time, Always Above Budget.
The sorry shambles of the Ajax light tank is totemic. Billed as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the Army, almost 600 were commissioned at a cost of £5.5 billion way back in 2010 for delivery in 2017.
None has yet been deployed. The MoD frequently briefs that’s about to happen. But it never does. I’ve seen one report that it might not be ready till 2030, by which time it will almost certainly be out of date.
Yes, 26 have been delivered to the MoD. But in trials the vibration was so bad that it harmed the hearing of those inside. So they’ve still not been deployed. The MoD is paying compensation to those whose hearing has been impaired. Some experts think it would be best just to junk the whole programme.
That’s what we did with an early-warning aircraft which was developed but never deployed. It went straight to the junkyard. We bought in some Boeing planes as a stopgap, then got rid of them before their longer-term replacement was ready. We now depend on other Nato allies for an early-warning capability.
Ben Wallace, the current Defence Secretary, is a cut above most of his predecessors. But it’s not clear he’s made much headway in improving the MoD’s wasteful ways
The litany of disasters is endless. The new £3 billion Prince of Wales aircraft carrier has spent more time in repair docks than on the high seas. No matter: we don’t have enough fighters for a properly equipped carrier force anyway.
What remains of our tanks — 227 Challenger 2s — will be upgraded. But only 148 of them, which means France will soon have more tanks than us, too. The MoD has squandered so much money it can’t afford to build enough Type 32 frigates or multiple-launch rocket systems (so crucial in Ukrainian battlefields).
Ben Wallace, the current Defence Secretary, is a cut above most of his predecessors. But it’s not clear he’s made much headway in improving the MoD’s wasteful ways. He’s badgering the Treasury for more money and, if Britain is to remain a serious military power, he needs to get it.
America, France, Germany and Poland are ploughing billions more into defence and it would be strange indeed if Britain didn’t do the same. We are, effectively, at war and when you’re at war you spend more on the military, whatever the budget constraints. It’s as simple as that.
The taxpayer, of course, has every right to expect the extra money will not be squandered. On that, I remain to be convinced. The root-and-branch reform of the MoD’s procurement processes will probably have to wait for another day.
It could make a start by giving South Korea a call to see what we could buy off the shelf instead of gold-plating our own stuff. But its shameful record should not give the Treasury an excuse for denying more money for defence.
We spend about £500 billion every year on health, welfare and pensions. We can surely find another £10 billion for defence spending this year and next — then head towards at least 2.5 per cent of GDP before the decade is out.
Sunak’s five priorities did not include extra for defence. So he should add a sixth. After all, isn’t defence our first social service?
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