Britain will commit an extra 1,000 troops and one of its two new aircraft carriers to the defense of Nato’s eastern flank, the defense secretary has announced at the military alliance’s summit.
The forces will be earmarked for the defense of Estonia, where Britain already has about 1,700 personnel deployed, but they will be based in the UK, ready to fly out to defend the Baltic country if deemed necessary.
On Wednesday, Ben Wallace said “we are going to allocate a brigade” to Estonia, effectively an increase in the number of British troops available to about 3,000, but said it would be more efficient to base some of the forces at home and their equipment in Germany.
The commitment forms part of Nato’s revamped European defense force, which will comprise 300,000 troops across the continent placed at high readiness in case Russia were to threaten a military attack on any member of the alliance.
A substantial part of Britain’s commitment to the defense force announced at this week’s Madrid summit would be naval, Wallace added: “We will put in a huge amount of the Navy. I think we’ll dedicate one of the carrier groups to it.”
Britain operates two aircraft carriers, the Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales, which have a supporting fleet of ships, known as a carrier strike group. The warships would be committed to Nato on rotation, said Wallace.
Eight Nato defense forces are based in eight countries on the eastern side of the alliance, from Estonia to Bulgaria, and on Wednesday Nato members agreed to increase them to the size of a brigade in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Germany has already agreed to increase its commitment to Lithuania, but faced criticism when it emerged most of the extra 3,500 troops it was offering would be based on its own soil, ready to move east quickly if needed.
But Wallace defended the decision, and argued that a surprise attack by Russia on the Baltic country was unlikely. “You are not going to get a massive surprise,” he said, and highlighted that Russia placed more than 100,000 troops on the borders of Ukraine for several months before it invaded in February.
Existing plans to defend Estonia and the other Baltic countries were outdated, Wallace said, because the existing plan was to allow “60 days to get the tanks there”.
But he added that Russia’s attack on Ukraine had changed everybody’s thinking: “Quite rightly the Baltic states were saying, well, what we just witnessed in Ukraine was that if you wait five days there’s no one left alive. So we don’t want to take the risk and wait until our car ferry gets across with the tanks”.
In the new plans, most of the troops needed “are already there”, I added.
Wallace also tried to play down differences over defense spending with No 10, while indicating he wants budgets to rise at the end of the current spending review period in April 2025. Governments had taken “a peace dividend” after the end of the cold war, but it was time now for “investment to continue”.
The minister said he agreed with Boris Johnson that the existing target of spending 2% of GDP on defense was “set in a different era” and that “Russia wasn’t the same as it is now”. But he declined to say whether, as suggested by leaks earlier in the week, that the budget should increase by about £10bn to 2.5%.
Wallace said 25,000 Russian men had died in the war in Ukraine so far, based on British intelligence estimates. The minister said Russia had gained relatively small amounts of territory and the war had been “a disaster for them”.
But he warned that the biggest risk for Ukraine is a “collapse of their economy”. Earlier Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, had told leaders assembled at the Nato summit that his country needed “about $5bn [£4.1bn] a month” to continue fighting the war against Russia.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism