Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 June 2019

Britain’s top general warns of ‘existential threats’ to nation

Gen Sir Nick Carter said that the West was in a period of change greater than both world wars

Gen Nick Carter said China 'had invested carefully in new methods and capabilities designed to exploit British weaknesses'. AP
Gen Nick Carter said China 'had invested carefully in new methods and capabilities designed to exploit British weaknesses'. AP

The chief of Britain’s armed forces delivered a stark message in a lecture on Tuesday night: evolve or die in a dangerous and ever-changing world.

Pinpointing the multifarious military threats facing the country, in which he controversially included mass migration, calling it “arguably an existential threat to Europe”, Gen Sir Nick Carter said that “for me, it’s hard to remember a time when the strategic and political context was more uncertain, more complex and more dynamic.”

Gen Carter, who joined the army at the age of 19 in 1978 and reached its pinnacle in June this year, said that “instability is the defining condition” of the modern age, and that “the threats to our nation are diversifying, proliferating and intensifying very rapidly”.


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He evoked the current geopolitical condition as harking back to an era of Great Power competition, reminiscent of the years between 1900 and 1910.

“Ambitious states such as Russia, China and Iran, are asserting themselves regionally and globally, in ways that challenge our security, stability and prosperity.”

And this was “overlaid by the threat from non-state actors, such as [ISIS], using terror to undermine our way of life”.

“Now we are in a period of change, more widespread, more rapid, and more profound, than humanity has experienced outside of world war.”

Gen Carter twice said that “populism and nationalism” were adding to the toxic brew that threatened global peace, as he talked of how “the multilateral system that has assured our stability since 1945 is threatened”.

Identifying Russia and China by name as countries that “have studied our strengths and invested carefully in new methods and capabilities that are designed to exploit [our] weaknesses”, the general laid out the spheres of conflict where innovations were taking place: cyber; ballistic and cruise missiles; low-yield nuclear weapons; space and counter-space weapons; electronic warfare; integrated missile and defence systems; rocket launchers linked digitally to drone-targeting systems; and “new conventional capability in low-signature submarines, aircraft and armoured vehicles”.

He also set out how “what constitutes a weapon in [the] grey zone below the threshold of conventional war no longer has to go bang".

“Energy, cash as bribes, corrupt business practices, cyberattacks, assassination, fake news, propaganda, the usurping of our supply chains, the theft of intellectual property, and old-fashioned military intimidation are all examples of the weapons used to gain advantage, to sow discord, to undermine our political cohesion, and insidiously destroy our free and open way of life.”

Pointing out that he thought no country actually wanted a war, he warned that “there is a serious risk of inadvertent escalation leading to miscalculation”.

Gen Carter also explained how his current review of British defence capabilities would address these legion threats, saying that “we must place data and science at the heart of our thinking”.

“Our modernisation will be led by technology, we will frame our modernised force through the integration of five domains: space, cyber, maritime, air and land, with information at the core.”

But he was keen to stress that alongside the technological advances that he wanted to bring in, Britain would still need to rely on human talent – talent that he stressed would come from “all of British society” and be “inclusive”, a nod to poor recruitment in black, Asian, minority ethnic and other minority communities.

And in a punchy peroration to his lecture, the general gave a forthright warning to future governments not to embark on military endeavours which British forces will be asked to engage in without thinking through the consequences.

“It is vital that the next time the armed forces are used at scale,” he said, “we are used successfully, and we have to ensure the policymakers only take us to war with a clear-eyed view of the consequences, recognising that when they do, they have a responsibility to make sure the country believes in the cause we’re fighting for and understands the context.”

Updated: December 12, 2018 03:43 PM