Russian threat ‘much more serious than Cold War’, former defence secretary says

A British soldier looks into a telescopic sight on a sniper rifle during a Nato exercise in Poland in March
A British soldier during a Nato exercise: Sir Michael says Britain should lead the way in Nato - Wojtek Radwanski/AFP
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The threat posed by Russia is now “much more serious” than during the Cold War, a former defence secretary has said.

Sir Michael Fallon said Britain should be “setting an example” within Nato on defence spending, urging all parties to commit to 2.5 per cent of GDP ahead of the election.

When asked whether he believed the UK was spending too little on defence, Sir Michael, who was in office between 2014 and 2017, told Sky News: “Yes, I do.

“We need to be spending more. The threat has increased and … in the Cold War… we didn’t have Russia invading countries on our continent. So the threat is much more serious than it was.”

He pointed to other Nato countries, such as Hungary and Romania, that have recently increased their defence spending, before telling political parties to commit to an additional £8 and £9 billion a year.

“The [Ministry of Defence] budget has been rising. And to be fair to my successors, and to successive prime ministers, the budget has been slowly increasing.

“However, the threat has been multiplying. And that’s the difference now. That’s why we need to step up a gear and that’s why we’d like every candidate in this election to commit to a new target of 2.5 per cent.”

He added: “We need to be cajoling the rest of the alliance and setting an example. Some countries on the eastern side of NATO are now doing that. Poland, for example, the Baltic states ... Romania and Hungary are now spending much more, and we should be leading.”

Sir Michael Fallon, pictured in 2017, after announcing his decision to resign as defence secretary
Sir Michael Fallon was defence secretary from 2014 to 2017 - Leon Neal/PA

Britain spends around 2.3 per cent of GDP on defence, with Rishi Sunak stating 2.5 per cent as an ambition but giving no timeframe when it might be achieved.

It comes after Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, warned that we have moved from a “post-war to pre-war world” amid threats posed by Russia, China and Iran.

Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Shapps said Nato countries that do not spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence spending are playing “Russian roulette” with the West’s future.

Referring to Nato’s anniversary, he said: “Paying tribute to Nato’s past is not enough. Today we must give urgent thought once again to the alliance’s future. We have moved from a post-war to a pre-war world.”

He added: “Russia is menacing our neighbours. China is increasingly belligerent. Iran is using its proxies to cause regional havoc from the Middle East to the straits of Yemen. North Korea is perpetually rattling its nuclear sabre. Increasingly, these malign powers are aligning and our democracy is in their crosshairs.

“Seventy-five years ago George Orwell painted a terrifying picture of a world without Nato. Today, we live in a more dangerous age. Once more, autocratic Big Brothers are seeking to divide us.

“But we have a big advantage. Today our alliance is bigger, stronger and more experienced than ever. And as long as we stand together, we’ll guarantee that Orwellian ending never comes to pass.”

‘Nato must not fret about Trump’

Sir Michael’s comments come after Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, told allies at a NATO summit yesterday that spending 2 per cent on defence – the alliance guideline – was the “best way to prepare for the American elections in the autumn”.

These remarks were seen as a clear reference to the possibility of Donald Trump winning the US elections in November.

Last year, only 11 Nato members met the 2 per cent target, set almost two decades ago, with France and Germany spending less on defence. The two nations have since said they will hit the target in 2024, but several other countries have yet to do so.

A Swedish soldier sits behind a machine gun wearing camouflage gear
A Swedish soldier takes part in a Nato exercise in 2022 - Jonas Gratzer/Getty Images

Sir Michael, who was defence secretary during Lord Cameron’s premiership, said NATO countries should stop “fretting about Trump”.

“NATO has been a very successful defensive alliance. Countries want to join us and have joined it, Finland and Sweden have in the last year or so. So it’s a stronger alliance all the time.

“But the answer to Trump is not to keep fretting about Trump, but to do what the Americans want us to do.

“And by the way, that’s across the board in America, Republicans and Democrats – they want Europe to spend more on its own defence.”

“They see our continent being invaded by Russia and they expect us to do more about it. And we should,” he added.

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