Former top NATO commander cautions si vis pacem, para bellum — if you want peace, prepare for war — for the West as NATO faces an “existential threat” in a conflict in Europe it may be unequal to preventing.
Europeans do not yet feel truly threatened by the war in Ukraine and this generates a lack of political will to prepare Western nations and NATO for a “potentially existential threat”, says General Sir Richard Shirreff. The retired General, who was a commander in Kosovo and Iraq, and was NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe until 2014 made the remarks speaking to the Daily Telegraph, and said that while he highly rated the “operational art” of the Ukrainian military, there were serious questions to be answered and the West should start preparing for them now.
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Shirreff, who has long warned of the danger posed by Russia to Europe while highlighting what he sees as NATO’s failure to prepare to counter it, decried the state of European militaries — a weakened posture effectively permitted by the United States underwriting NATO’s joint defence while many other members get a near-free ride — strongly inferring that an even bigger war in Europe or Asia was possible if NATO didn’t effectively deter it.
The General told the publication:
…at a time where the West, NATO is facing a potentially existential threat. It’s existential for Ukraine, but this war, we should remember, is not just a war against Ukraine. It’s a war against the West. It’s a war against NATO, it’s against Ukraine joining the West.
The only way to ensure this war does not turn into something much, much worse that engulfs us all is through effective deterrence. Effective deterrence means military capability and strength.
A NATO member state like the United Kingdom should “talk softly but carry a big stick” to deter aggression, Sir Richard warned, remarking “Prepare for the worst case. Prepare for war, because that’s the way to prevent war, or prevent Britain being engulfed in a war”.
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Part of this, he said, was ensuring Ukraine gains ultimate victory over Russia, apparently at any cost, as this could see off the future existential war for NATO the General said he foresaw. This would also discourage Chinese leader Xi Jinping from becoming entangled in Taiwan, he said, but made clear the present level of Western expense in underwriting Ukraine’s military would likely be a drop in the ocean compared what would be ultimately needed.
The West needs “strategic patience” and to “knuckle down” to give long-term support, said the General, saying the support given so far was just the beginning, remarking: “the only way to finish this war quickly is to get behind Ukraine in a thoroughly wholehearted way, which we’ve yet to really do”. The implications of Ukraine losing the war are “massive” to the West, by his reckoning.
Ukraine had an opportunity to change the strategic dynamic in the war last year after the battle of Kherson but was unable to capitalise on this chance, General Shirreff said, because the West had been “dilatory” in providing military aid by this point. Consequently, in his view, the moment was lost for a lack of equipment in 2022. Now the Ukrainians have a great deal of equipment supplied, they have to produce such a strategic moment again.
As of this month, United States financial support to Ukraine since Russia restarted its invasion last year is reckoned to be at $113 billion and was slated to grow to $135 billion including at least $43 billion in military aid. Ukraine’s outgoing Defence Minister had revealed in September the nation was spending $100 million a day on trying to rout the Russian invasion.
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