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18 Jan, 2024 14:19

Prepare for war with Russia, China, Iran and North Korea – UK defense minister

Grant Shapps wants Western nations to increase their military spending ahead of a possible conflict
Prepare for war with Russia, China, Iran and North Korea – UK defense minister

British defense minister Grant Shapps has predicted a global conflict between the West and Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, within five years. Shapps has called on Britain’s allies to increase their military spending in response to this so-called “existential threat.”

In his first speech as defense chief on Monday, Shapps described the UK as a leading global military power, citing the country’s record £50 billion ($63 billion) defense budget, its recent airstrikes on Houthi forces in Yemen, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s announcement of a £2.5 billion ($3.2 billion) military aid package for Ukraine last week.

Shapps vowed that he would further increase Britain’s military spending, and that he would  “use our influence to ensure other allies and friends… match our commitment.”

“In five years’ time we could be looking at multiple theaters [of conflict] including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea,” he said. “Ask yourself, looking at today’s conflicts across the world, is it more likely that that number grows or reduces? I suspect we all know the answer. It’s likely to grow, so 2024 must mark an inflection point.”

The UK spends more than 2% of its GDP on defense and aims to increase this figure to 2.5%, Shapps said. NATO requires that its members spend more than 2%, but only a third of its 31 members actually meet this requirement, according to a bloc report released last summer.

Shapps is not the first senior UK figure to predict that the country would soon be involved in a large-scale war. Britain’s chief of the General Staff, General Patrick Sanders, declared in 2022 that “there is now a burning imperative to forge an army capable of fighting alongside our allies and defeating Russia in battle,” and that preparations must be made to “fight in Europe once again.”

However, the UK’s allies have doubts about Britain’s fighting ability. Early last year, a senior US general told Sunak that Washington considers Britain “barely a tier-two” military power, closer in stature to Germany or Italy than “tier-one” powers like the US, Russia, China, or France, Sky News reported. 

Shapps said he aims to “turn the defense tanker around” with sustained spending hikes after the British military ended 2023 with its lowest number of active-duty personnel since the end of the Napoleonic wars, and ammunition stockpiles so depleted that soldiers would reportedly run out of artillery shells after 22 hours of full-scale combat.

The American general who spoke to Sky News estimated that it would take the UK between five and ten years to build a new warfighting division of 25,000 to 30,000 troops backed by tanks, artillery and helicopters.

Speaking to reporters after his speech, Shapps did not elaborate on how a potential conflict with Russia, China, Iran and North Korea could develop. He said that “the whole purpose of this speech today is to ensure the whole of NATO does indeed share that burden” by upping military expenditure.