Britain should consider arming Ukraine – former Chief of Defence Staff

Britain's Chief of Defence Staff Sir Jock Stirrup (Reuters / Andrew Winning)
Prime Minister David Cameron should contemplate sending arms to Ukraine as a show of NATO strength against Russia and keep his promise to restore defense-spending levels, a former Chief of Defence Staff has warned.

Air Chief Marshal Lord Stirrup echoed sentiments of other senior politicians and officials, who claim if defense spending is cut the West will look increasingly weak.

After Russian bombers were detected over international waters near Britain’s south coast last week, Stirrup said Russia was “testing” Britain and its NATO allies.

NATO over the years, in the eyes of Putin at least, has become weak. Putin views the West as weak all round and that is a very, very dangerous position for us to be in,” he told Sky News's Murnaghan program.

My concern is that NATO is not spending enough resource on defense. If NATO is weak or is perceived to be weak by Putin then the risk of miscalculation is much greater and our security is much lowered as a result.”

He added that the “swingeing cuts” to defense spending had left the armed forces “right on the limit.”

“The 2010 defense review was predicated on defense expenditure increasing in real terms every year after 2015. The prime minister acknowledged that when he announced the outcome of the review in the House of Commons,” he said.

“We now have to make sure that those undertakings are kept. It was important in 2010. It is much more important now.”

Stirrup claimed the flights by Russian planes off the coast of Cornwall were intended to scout UK defenses, calling their behavior “very dangerous.”

They are becoming more aggressive. These aircraft – Russian Bears for example – are not going on these very flights simply as joy rides. They are mission rehearsals,” he said.

These aircraft launch stand-off missiles against Western targets and just as they used to do in the Cold War they are practicing those profiles.

“They are testing us, they are testing our defenses, they are testing our reactions and they are engaging to a degree in a game of chicken, and that's very dangerous.

“So, we are seeing the possibility of mid-air collision not between, I think, RAF and Russian aircraft but between Russian aircraft and civilian aircraft increasing.”

No evidence for such an eventuality has been given, however.

The advocates of a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis have contradicted Stirrup’s remarks.

READ MORE:US, UK mulling more sanctions against Russia – Kerry

Speaking to RT, Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: “The last thing that an already volatile situation needs is more weapons. What is needed is a peaceful and diplomatic settlement, not more war and conflict.”

He further warned against supplying arms to the area, saying that the UK had a long history of involvement.

It was revealed in March last year that the UK had granted £80 million of arms licenses to Russia in 2013, including ammunition and equipment for military aircraft.

The UK arms embargo against Russia should be strengthened and any licenses to Ukraine should be halted,” Smith added.

The licenses were granted to Russia despite the Foreign Office listing Russia as a state it considers a human rights concern.

Suggestions of sending arms to Ukraine were ruled out by Leader of the Commons William Hague, who said the right approach was to increase sanctions.

We are not planning as the UK to send arms to Ukraine. It hasn't been our approach in any recent conflict in recent years to send arms into those conflicts,” Hague, foreign secretary until last year, said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

We want to see a diplomatic solution. We believe that that long-term economic price to Russia and all of those other penalties are the right penalties for Russia to pay.”