Ex-MOD chief demands defence budget boost after Afghanistan 'disaster'

‘We are totally dependent on the US’: Ex-chief of the defence staff Lord Richards says NATO nations must boost defence spending because ‘disaster’ in Afghanistan has shown technology cannot replace boots on the ground

  • Lord Richards, ex-chief of defence staff, said Afghanistan withdrawal a ‘disaster’ 
  • He said non-US NATO nations have ‘had their defence on the cheap’ for too long
  • Lord Richards said that the UK and others are ‘totally dependent’ on US forces
  • Exit from Afghanistan must prompt NATO members to ‘get a grip’ of spending
  • Meanwhile, Tory MPs said budget cuts had made UK military ‘very small player’ 

The ongoing ‘disaster’ in Afghanistan must prompt the UK to spend more on defence, the former head of Britain’s armed forces has said as he warned NATO nations are ‘totally dependent’ on the US. 

Lord Richards, who served as the chief of the defence staff from 2010 to 2013, said he had a ‘sneaking sympathy’ with the US after it decided to withdraw its forces from the country by August 31. 

He said other NATO members, including the UK, have ‘had their defence and their deterrents on the cheap for a number of years now’.

Lord Richards said budget cuts were now ‘coming home to roost’, with the UK unable to act unilaterally in the country because it lacks the capability to do so. 

He said he hoped that ‘one of the good things that comes out of this disaster’ is that European nations in NATO ‘get a grip of their defence expenditure’. 

His comments came as Tory MPs warned that military funding cuts had reduced the UK to a ‘very, very small player’ on the global stage.    

Lord Richards, who served as the chief of the defence staff from 2010 to 2013, said he had a ‘sneaking sympathy’ with the US over its decision to withdraw its forces from the country by August 31 

Boris Johnson had urged US President Joe Biden to extend the withdrawal deadline beyond August 31 to provide more time for airlifts from Kabul airport after the Taliban seized control of the country. 

But Mr Biden is sticking to his deadline and the UK now has no choice but to withdraw its forces at the same time as the US.  

Lord Richards was asked this morning during an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if the nature of the exit from Afghanistan will cause damage to NATO. 

He replied: ‘I think you are answering your own question, self-evidently I think it has been very damaging for Nato and levels of trust… but that said I have a sneaking sympathy with America. 

‘NATO nations have had their defence and their deterrents on the cheap for a number of years now. 

‘We are totally dependent on the Americans for true combat effectiveness and it is all coming home to roost.’ 

Asked whether the withdrawal from the country could prove to be a catalyst for increased defence spending, Lord Richards said: ‘It could be and let’s hope one of the good things that comes out of this disaster really is that NATO nations, European nations in NATO, do get a grip of their defence expenditure, start to work more closely together and become generally more effective. 

‘But they have got to decide what their longer term strategy is going to be. We can have another discussion about that. 

‘I, for example, don’t think Nato should be too worried about what China is doing, allow America and her allies in the region to do that, we should focus on our defence and deterrents against a resurgent Russia and do that properly and perhaps in the Mediterranean and obviously the Atlantic. 

‘But we have got to accept we are more circumscribed than we might like to be and that goes for so-called Global Britain and our protections in the Far East as well.’  

Lord Richards said increased interoperability and pooling of resources between NATO allies will be crucial in the coming years. 

‘At the moment although we have a good alliance often at the political level, at the military level you would be surprised how little interoperability there still is and that needs sorting out,’ he said. 

‘Countries need to decide where they are prepared to put faith in other countries, properly prepared and trained obviously, rather than all spend money on the same capability and that is just one example.’  

People being taken out of Afghanistan on a Spanish military flight today as the clock runs down on the airlift 

Meanwhile, Sir James Bucknall, deputy commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2011, said the UK must reverse cuts to troop numbers. 

He said in a letter to The Telegraph that the situation in the country had demonstrated that ‘numbers count’ and while ‘technology can and must facilitate our soldiers… it cannot replace boots on the ground’. 

Tory MPs said Ministry of Defence budget cuts had curtailed the UK’s ability to act unilaterally. 

Colonel Bob Stewart told MailOnline: ‘Let’s be quite clear, parliament and the British public have reduced the armed forces of this country to very, very small players, and we cannot do things. 

‘We should be paying at least three per cent of gross national product on defence.

‘People say “why don’t we do more?” Well, we can’t do more. We haven’t got the resources to do more, because they have all gone.

‘We don’t have the capacity to do more than ally with a stronger military power.’

He added: ‘You cannot have your cake and eat it. People are saying we should be protecting more people, but at the same time they are cutting our armed forces.’

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