NATO has managed to degrade Russia’s military by backing Ukraine against the Kremlin's invasion, the Armed Forces Minister said today.
James Heappey said Moscow’s capabilities had been hammered by allies’ support for Kyiv.
He pointed out the war had not spread from Ukraine’s borders, with many surrounding countries members of NATO and protected by its Article V clause for collective security - that an attack on one is an attack on all.
“NATO collectively, and Putin’s regard for Article V and knowledge of the superiority of NATO, has contained the fight within Ukraine, and they have taken remarkably little risk, the Russians, when it comes to the way they have prosecuted their campaign for fear of it escalating and spreading out,” he said.
“It is also inescapably the case that NATO’s principal adversary has lost - what, 1,500 armoured fighting vehicles and tanks in the course of the last year or so without any NATO armed force firing a shot?
“Our principal adversary has had its armed force written down by over 100,000, some people say 200,000, without a NATO force firing a shot.
“There is something in the idea of getting behind a partner, supporting them.”
But he warned Britain must not drop its guard against foreign terrorists as military and security planners focus on Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Following al-Qaeda’s attacks on the US onSeptember 11, 2001, many Western governments believed future threats would come from extremists rather than nation states - only for state-on-state wars, like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, to erupt.
Mr Heappey told the Royal United Services Institute’s Land Warfare Conference in Westminster: “If in the 2000s the mistake was to say, ‘No more state threats, it’s all post-9/11 violent extremism’, we mustn’t make the same mistake by now saying, ‘Well, post-Russia and Ukraine it’s now all warfighting, there’s none of that’.
“Because the reality is that if you look at the spread of Daesh (ISIS) and al-Qaeda affiliates across Africa, there is still plenty of violent extremism to deal with.”
Mr Heappey also dampened expectations about the looming Defence Command Paper, expected to be published within days.
Critics of the last review in 2021 hoped the updated edition would reverse 9,500 troop cuts to the Army and the scrapping of dozens of Challenger 2 tanks.
But Mr Heappey, a former Major who served in Iraq and Afghanistan with The Rifles Regiment, appeared to dash hopes by saying: “This is a mid-cycle refresh … this is a refresh on the previous Command Paper.”
However, he signalled Britain could eventually build a land-based ballistic missile defence system to intercept enemy weapons targeting the UK.
Currently, the only such protection is based on the Royal Navy’s Type 45, Daring-class destroyers.
Mr Heappey insisted: “We do have a BMD capability on Type 45 and that was a conscious decision that that would be where that BMD capability would sit.
“Of course, with missile technology developing as quickly as it is, it is a very live conversation about how much more air defence is required and where that should sit.”
He added: “It is also fair to say that it is the sort of thing that comes with a price tag that is not necessarily answered by a mid-cycle refresh of a Defence Command Paper.”