The Not Guilty Man

Britain’s top general says you can’t face down Putin on the cheap

Paul Mason

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Gen. Sir Patrick Sanders at RUSI Land Warfare Conference, June 2023

[This article appeared on my Substack newsletter — Conflict & Democracy — yesterday for subscribers. Amid the Twitter rationing/outage I’m releasing it also here 24 hours later.]

The omens are not good for Britain’s forthcoming Defence Command Paper. General Sir Patrick Sanders, chief of the general staff, is to quit the role early, after apparently losing a fight within the Ministry of Defence over the priority of land warfare rearmament.

I’m told by two reliable ex-military sources he “resigned in protest” at decisions taken in the DCP2023 review, though over exactly what remains unclear. The Times reports:

“Sanders has lost the battle to reverse cuts to the number of main battle tanks and decision to shrink the army to 73,000 soldiers, decisions he has described as ‘perverse’.”

Though I have no doubt there are personal frictions between Sanders and his bosses at the MoD, the essential problem is political.

  • The Conservative government has refused to commit to increased defence spending in response to the Ukraine crisis, instead holding out the prospect of 2.5% of GDP (up from 2.2%) as an “aspiration”, when fiscal conditions allow.
  • The government remains committed to the so-called Indo-Pacific Tilt, which will likely see an increased emphasis on aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines, designed to make Britain an independent player in the West’s face-off with China
  • As a result the MoD remains determined to shink the British Army to 73,000, which in turn implies a strategy of letting Poland, Finland and Germany provide the heavy manoeuvre forces needed to defend “every inch” of NATO territory against a potential Russian attack.
  • With the USA, and therefore NATO, committed to the revival of division-centric land warfare — as I outlined here previously — a mixture of austerity and procurement disasters leaves Britain potentially unable to to field a “modernised warfighting division” by 2030 — a key commitment of the Johnson administration.

Anybody with knowledge of military history can see where this mismatch between ambition and resources could lead.

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Paul Mason

Journalist, writer and film-maker. Author of How To Stop Fascism.