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Ukraine conflict shows calling up public can win wars, says UK Army chief – by Danielle Sheridan for The Telegraph – 24.01.24

General Sir Patrick Sanders warns that Britain should train and equip a 'citizen army' in preparation for potential mobilisation.

The head of the Army has said the conflict in Ukraine shows citizens win wars, as he warned Britain it must be ready to mobilise.

General Sir Patrick Sanders said the Army, which is set to fall to just 72,500 fully trained soldiers by 2025, would not be big enough to fight an all-out war with Russia even if it numbered 120,000.

Sir Patrick suggested Britain should “train and equip” a “citizen Army” to ready the country for a potential land war and urged the Government to be “clear-eyed” about Russia, which he said was spending nearly 40 per cent of public expenditure on defence.


In comparison, the UK aspires to spend 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence. Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, said he would like to increase this to 3 per cent, though he has failed to set a date for the target.

Speaking at the International Armoured Vehicles conference in Twickenham on Wednesday, Sir Patrick said: “Ukraine brutally illustrates that regular armies start wars, citizen armies win them.

“Within the next three years, it must be credible to talk of a British Army of 120,000, folding in our reserve and strategic reserve. But that’s not enough.”

On Wednesday, Downing Street ruled out any move towards a conscription model, saying that Army service would remain voluntary.

Sir Patrick added: “Our friends in eastern and Northern Europe, who feel the proximity of the Russian threat more acutely, are already acting prudently laying the foundations for national mobilisation.”


He cited the chairman of the Nato Military Committee, who warned last week of war with Russia within 20 years, and the fact that the Swedish government is preparing for entry to Nato, and said this showed that  “taking preparatory steps to enable us to place our societies on a war footing when needed are now not really desirable, but essential”.

“We won’t be immune,” he warned. “And as the pre-war generation, we’ve got to similarly prepare, and that is a whole nation undertaking.”

Sir Patrick acknowledged that while the Army was at “increased readiness”, this was not enough.

“We need an Army designed to expand rapidly to enable the first echelon, resource the second echelon and train and equipped for a citizen army that must follow,” he said.

The Telegraph revealed on Tuesday that Sir Patrick believes there should be a “shift” in the mindset of regular British people, where they think more like troops, who are mentally prepared that war with Russia could happen.

Vladimir Putin has tripled Russia’s military expenditure, putting him on the front foot in Ukraine but, Nato is struggling to replenish weapon stocks it has given to Kyiv.

Sir Patrick compared the current political climate to the period just before the First World War, known as the July crisis, in which the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand triggered a series of events which eventually saw the outbreak of war.

The Army chief, who would not support conscription, said: “Our predecessors of course failed to perceive the implications of the so-called July crisis in 1914, and stumbled into the most ghastly of wars.

“We can’t afford to make the same mistake today. Ukraine really matters.”

He said Ukraine was “the principal pressure point on a fragile world order that our enemies wish to dismantle”.

“This war is not merely about the black soil of the Donbas, nor the re-establishment of a Russian Empire. It’s about defeating our system and our way of life, politically, psychologically and symbolically. How we respond as that pre-war generation will reverberate through history. Ukrainian bravery and resilience are buying us time for now. So Ukraine really matters. I can’t overstate it,” Sir Patrick added.

Asked about whether Rishi Sunak could rule out conscription in future circumstances, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “There is no suggestion of that. The Government has no intention to follow through with that.

“The British military has a proud tradition of being a voluntary force. There are no plans to change that.”

The No 10 official said “hypothetical scenarios” about potential future conflicts were “not helpful”.

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Ukraine conflict shows calling up public can win wars, says UK Army chief – by Danielle Sh
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Danielle Sheridan, Defence Editor

Dispatches Newsletter - Let our foreign correspondents bring you the stories that matter - from Ukraine and around the world.

General Sir Patrick Sanders said the British Army should prepare for a potential land war Credit: SGT JIMMY WISE/MOD

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