Delivered on: 14 December 2022 (Transcript of the speech, exactly as it was delivered)
Firstly, thank you Jonathan for welcoming me back to RUSI.
It’s a warm welcome and somewhat stands in stark contrast to my recent blacklisting by Iran. Sadly, I’ve had to cancel the family holiday in Tehran.
And thank you Ritula for your overview of an extraordinary year that will forever be remembered for 2 monarchs, 3 prime ministers and the return of war in Europe.
But let me start by paying tribute to those men and women from all three services who are on duty over Christmas, both at home and overseas.
And we’ve seen today the Armed Forces are once more key to responding to tragic events, this time in the Channel. And the next few weeks we will be stepping in to fill vital public sector roles due to industrial action.
Whether it’s the splendid ceremonial events that we saw earlier this year, or the critical work of driving ambulances, we serve the nation.
So, a big thank you from me to those who will be away from home this Christmas, and especially to their families.
Last year I steered away from focusing on the geopolitical outlook, and instead concentrated my remarks on my priorities for Defence, the need to transform the Armed Forces, and to better support and empower our people.
That agenda has not changed.
We’ve made lots of progress. In other areas we’ve not moved fast enough, and I could easily devote the next 25 minutes to unpacking all of this, and I’m happy to answer your questions.
But rarely in our recent history has our purpose in Defence been in sharper focus. We protect the nation and help it to prosper. And given all that has happened over the past 12 months it would be remiss of me not to devote most of my time this evening to the situation we find ourselves in.
My premise is three-fold:
First, that these are extraordinarily dangerous times.
Second, that extraordinary times call for an extraordinary response. This explains why Russia is losing. And the free world is winning.
And third – what comes next, the link between our security and prosperity and the need to stay global.
Last year, in the margins of this event, I said that our worst-case intelligence assessments suggested a Russian invasion of Ukraine would unleash fighting on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War.
In the headlines the following morning it seemed alarmist at the time, but they don’t now.
What we have seen unfold is tragic and dangerous.
An illegal and unjustified invasion. Naked aggression and territorial expansion. Extraordinary vilification and hatred. Ethnic scourges. Sub-human labelling. Thousands of missiles and armoured vehicles. Millions. I say again, millions of artillery rounds. Hundreds of thousands of troops. Millions of people displaced. Millions without electricity and water. Deliberate attacking of civilians and civilian facilities. IEDs in children’s toys.
War crimes. Sham referendums. Faux annexations. Arbitrary detentions. Show trials. Summary executions. Populations being bussed to ‘camps’ in another country. Millions put at risk of famine. Hundreds of millions suffering the pressure of increased energy prices, inflation, job losses, and the consequences that follow, whether mentally or physically.
Nuclear threats. Nuclear anxiety. Crazy nuclear debates about whether ‘tactical nuclear weapons’ can be distinguished from ‘strategic nuclear weapons’.
So, a war in Europe that challenges Euro Atlantic security and impacts the world.
But it gets worse. Because the other challengers to the world order do not stand still. They support, take advantage and fuel the aggression, with war crimes and hideous justifications.
And these other challengers to the world order are creating their own threat streams and initiating violence. Iran and its supply of missile drones – a captured one which I saw on my last visit to Kyiv with the Prime Minister.
Or Iran and its nuclear programme.
Or ask the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia about the missiles fired at their territory by Iranian-backed Houthi forces this year.
Head further East and we have another Putin ally, North Korea, seeking to smuggle artillery shells to Russia. This should not come as a surprise. This is nuclear North Korea. Pouring bile and anger on its neighbour and mixing rhetoric with over 60 ballistic missile launches this year. 23 of these were on a single day. In a ‘normal year’ that would astonish the world.
And then there is China.
Not a threat in the same vein as Russia or Iran or North Korea. But a tacit supporter of Russia, whether at the United Nations or taking advantage of cheap energy.
Another nation that determines advantage from increasing substantially its nuclear arsenal, its missile inventory, its Army, Navy and Air Force.
And doing so, accompanied by the language of threat and implication, whether in the Indo Pacific and the brazen claims of 80% of the South China Sea, the plundering of fishing grounds and the denial of protein to neighbouring states. Or the protests in Hong Kong. Or the aggression shown toward Taiwan.
All of this combined with the use of economic and institutional power and hence, the label of ‘systemic competitor’, to quote the Prime Minister.
So, as 2022 draws to a close, we have a world in which four separate geo-political crises are unfolding in parallel.
Whether it’s Putin’s sense of impunity, Iran’s meddlesome and destabilising behaviour, North Korea’s outright belligerence, or an increasingly authoritarian China.
None of these challenges exist in isolation.
Each is connected. Each represents a test of the rules which have guaranteed global security and enabled the spread of prosperity and opportunity throughout our lifetimes. And in aggregate, are extraordinary and profound.
If that all sounds gloomy – and it is – we can take confidence from the response, which is my second point.
Because the response is affirming the perilous nature of using violence and the military instrument as the means to achieve political goals. That is profound. It has resonance around the globe. And it makes us all safer.
At its heart is the will of one country to fight for its survival.
The ingenuity, courage and determination of Ukraine. And the paradox and dilemmas that that has created for the Russian leadership. The brutality of Putin begets resolve. Resolve begets support. Support begets victory.
Despite Putin’s best efforts to divide, he has unintentionally assembled an extraordinary coalition of democracies against him. It’s as if he has illuminated what our beliefs really mean and entail. The importance of aggression being defeated. The need to abide by international rules. The hideous thought of the nuclear taboo being broken.
Governments have sought to examine and overturn long held policy positions. Be it German defence spending or Finland and Sweden joining NATO. Or Japan’s evolving defence posture. And the economic response to Russia’s invasion was far greater than has ever been seen and Russia was ill prepared.
Of course, Putin will look for ways to get around sanctions.
But the loss of capital, thousands of international companies fleeing, the brain drain as talent flees tyranny, the reductions in investment, the absence of critical technologies, all of these increase in impact over time.
And the diplomatic response was unequivocal. At the UN 141 nations voted to condemn Russia’s invasion, with just five opposing. We can quibble that the world is not so bound together as at the shock in February. But come October it was 143 nations that declared Russia’s annexation to be invalid and illegal.
And observe Putin’s non-attendance at the G20. Matched by the awkwardness of China, Turkey and India at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. And, even if much more privately, the strength of messaging that Russia had to endure from the United States, China, India, Saudi Arabia and others when anxiety surfaced about the prospect of nuclear avenues being considered. Thank you to those nations for being responsible.
So now let us examine Russia’s predicament.
NATO is stronger. Not just in the response on its eastern flank and in the Atlantic and the hard power amassed. But in its sense of purpose. And that purpose is backed by money. 20 nations have already agreed to increase their defence budgets since 24 February. And this is on top of an extra £320 billion of additional spending pledged by European members and Canada since the NATO Summit in Wales in 2014.
This is all in contrast to the horror of the Russian army. About hundred thousand soldiers dead, injured or deserted. Whole battalion tactical groups destroyed. Some 4,500 armoured vehicles and 600 artillery systems destroyed or captured. And it extends to the sea with 12 ships, including a capital ship, lost either at sea or alongside in a supposed safe port. And in the air more than 70 helicopters, 60 aircraft and 150 drones destroyed. These are losses that will be felt for at least a decade.
That is not to say that the coming year won’t be difficult. It will be incredibly demanding of Ukraine, and for all of us. But just look at the maths. Russia seeks solace with Iran, North Korea and China. Ukraine turns to the extraordinary might of America and the world.
I attend the monthly contact group chaired by the US Secretary of Defense. It is usually 50 nations in the room and with others joining remotely from across the globe. Political resolve is public, backed by cash, ammunition, armaments, humanitarian aid and, most recently, winter clothing.
We have to hand our phones in before entering the room. It’s a shame. It must be terrifying to be a Russian spy and to see what you are really up against.
This, backed by that central will to fight, explains why Ukraine – a modest military power by any calculation – has recaptured already over 50% of the territory it lost.
And it will only get worse for Russia.
Putin’s generals were cussed for explaining the need to give ground to preserve their Army. Now they have a far more difficult conversation emerging.
So let me tell Putin tonight what his own generals and ministers are probably too afraid to say: that Russia faces a critical shortage of artillery munitions.
This means that their ability to conduct successful offensive ground operations is rapidly diminishing.
There is no mystery as to why this is the case. Putin planned for a 30-day war, but the Russian guns have now been firing for almost 300 days. The cupboard is bare. Morally, conceptually and physically, Putin’s forces are running low.
What about our place in this?
I want to be radical and deeply unfashionable by talking up a few things. We should be proud of the UK’s response.
I am grateful for bold action by ministers, a united parliament and responsible opposition politicians who have accepted briefings under Privy Council rules and abided by them.
The sense of unity and cohesion across the political spectrum is a source of strength at a time when our democratic values are being tested internationally.
The Government has made Ukraine a priority, in funds but also through National Security Council meetings, through Prime Ministerial time – with all three of them – and even some four or five dedicated Cabinet meetings at the outset.
That attitude has been matched by our media: brave people going to the front line in the best traditions to tell astonishing stories. And we have all benefitted from the thoughtfulness of commentators, speed of analysis and the ubiquitous access to these views. Thank you, and especially to many of you here.
That backdrop has been further supplemented by our magnificent intelligence community. Defence Intelligence and GCHQ, alongside American NSA colleagues, cued us at the very beginning and provided remarkably accurate windows into plans and psyche all the way through.
People ask does it make a difference? Absolutely. And we have been able to spike guns, prepare plans and galvanise allies. Similarly, MI5 have been essential in keeping the home base safe at a point of tension. And, yes, MI6 do provide an astonishing array of insights and opportunities. Thank you to all in the UK Intelligence Community.
We should also be proud we were the first European country to supply lethal aid. We have gifted almost 200 armoured vehicles and more than 10,000 anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. Over a hundred thousand rounds of artillery ammunition.
Now, as the year ends, nearly 10,000 Ukrainian troops have been trained on British soil in an effort that includes Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand and, from next month, Australia.
This is significant. Ukraine’s fight is our fight. We support Ukraine because we share their belief in the rule of law and the simple conviction that aggression must not pay.
The result is Russia is losing. And the world is winning. Russia has failed – and will continue to fail – in all its war aims. Russia is diminished on the world stage. Its claimed ‘near abroad’ is weakened. NATO is strengthened. And if President Putin acts now and withdraws his forces, he would also be able to save Russian and Ukrainian lives.
And providing we maintain our cohesion and resolve, the real victory within our grasp is much more significant. The message to despots and authoritarians attracted to using violence is both classical and modern.
Classical in the sense that violence and outcomes are hard to predict and control.
And modern because we have a world where the leading powers and economies might be prepared to act. Extraordinary collective power that, when harnessed, puts an aggressor’s economy, authority and regime at risk.
So, this really has been an extraordinary response for extraordinary times.
My final point is what next? These are difficult times. And we have the opportunity to refresh last year’s Integrated Review.
Last year’s Review proved remarkably prescient and stands up well when measured against previous strategies.
It was correct to identify Russia as the most acute threat and was the first to begin to grapple with the scale of the challenge of China.
It was correct to emphasise the importance of continued collective security, nuclear deterrence and defence modernisation.
And it was correct to view the Armed Forces as part of the wider machinery of government, and to advocate the role we play to support the national interest in its very broadest sense.
We have made significant progress over the past year to implement the accompanying Defence Command Paper and modernise the Armed Forces in a way that will further strengthen NATO over the coming years.
All nine P8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft have entered service. The A400M aircraft is replacing the C130. E7 Wedgetail is on the way and the Lightning Force is growing. We’ve established Space Command.
We’re sorting out Ajax. Boxer production is underway, with UK production now ramping up. We’re investing in Apache and Challenger 3 and recapitalising our deep fires.
We’ve placed the contract for the second batch of Type 26 frigates, and for the Naval Strike Missile. The Fleet Solid Support Ship programme is moving forward, and we’ve purchased a new Multi-Role Ocean Survey Ship to protect our critical underwater infrastructure.
This has been matched by more support for our people: a pay rise of nearly 4%; capping of food and accommodation costs; and providing Wraparound Childcare and Forces Help to Buy Scheme.
But what has happened is that events of the past year have trended towards the most negative scenarios we envisaged in the IR. And we have seen all too clear the far-reaching consequences this has for our domestic wellbeing. So, it’s important to recognise what the IR got right while also having the humility to recognise what has changed.
And this poses a series of questions which the IR Refresh will seek to answer:
How do we manage a weaker but more vindictive Russia over the long term?
Are we going to remain committed to a global outlook?
And if so, how much do we invest?
These are serious questions. And I welcome the Government’s willingness and seriousness to undertake the answers.
One view for the IR Refresh is that we will draw on the tenets of our traditional way of warfare:
The belief that Britain is an expeditionary rather than a continental power.
That our interests are best served through the indirect application of power by, with, and through our partners.
That our operational advantage comes not from the mass but through disproportionate effect.
And that we do not shy away from our status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a nuclear power with global responsibilities and the 6th largest economy in the world.
There is something very British about our approach to having the bomb: almost mild embarrassment. And yet perhaps one of the starkest lessons of the past year has been our extended nuclear deterrence. It has protected us and our Allies, allowing us to resist coercion and continue to do what is right. A reminder that nuclear and conventional deterrence are linked.
And in the same way, the notion that you can separate security in Europe from security in the Pacific seems difficult – especially if you happen to be a global trading nation with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
There is not some easy option of focusing on our own backyard while leaving the US and others to deal with the rest of the world. The two are inextricably linked. And once again, Europe is the beneficiary of American generosity.
Were the US to contemplate a more radical pivot to the Indo-Pacific, it would cost NATO’s European nations more than $300 billion over 10 years to match US current investment in our security.
We also need to consider the melting of the ice caps in the coming decades, which will unleash a difficult new competition for minerals and resources; halve the time it takes for shipping to travel between Europe and Asia, and surely China’s military forces will start to reach into the Atlantic.
But when we get it right, our spend on defence invests in our security and prosperity.
We invest in people and places, and we invest in our nation’s future.
And this will be at the heart of our approach as we work to update the Integrated Review, just as it was in the original Review. To protect the nation and help it prosper. Opportunity and not just threat.
In this regard, AUKUS is totemic on so many levels. On one level it’s an opportunity to join with our closest allies to offer a technological and strategic response to the challenges of the Indo-Pacific.
But if we have the courage to do this properly then it’s also the means to strengthen the resilience of our own nuclear enterprise and grow our submarine numbers in the decades to come. This will benefit our contribution to NATO as well as our presence in the Indo-Pacific.
The same is true for FCAS, now called the Global Combat Air Programme or GCAP.
A project that looks both west and east. To Italy and the proven strength of our traditional European industrial and military cooperation. And to Japan, a new partner that reflects the post-Brexit opportunity and ambition that is bound up with our domestic prosperity.
More than 2,500 people are already working on GCAP, sustaining an industry that employs 40-50,000 people in the UK.
The submarine programme currently supports almost 30,000 jobs across the UK.
And the Land Industrial Strategy supports 10,000 jobs directly and another 10,000 indirectly, but more importantly reflecting a capital budget that is prioritising the need to strengthen our Army.
So, if the costs of Defence may be high, and the timescales lengthy, the value we derive is every bit as large:
£320 billion to GDP annually.
£6.6 billion of R&D.
£8 billion of exports annually – and our position as the second largest defence exporter in the world.
The IR update will reflect the lessons of Ukraine because it is vital to learn in real time: rebuilding and enhancing stockpiles, filling the gaps in our inventory. Unlocking the potential of our people so we can be more agile and inventive, particularly in our approach to technology.
But it’s also about thinking big: accelerating the transformation of the Armed Forces to become even more lethal and integrated. Maximising the capabilities that offer a decisive advantage. Being even more global in our outlook.
Might that mean an Army equipped with anti-ship or hypersonic missiles capable of striking the enemy thousands of kilometres away?
Might it mean a British carrier regularly deployed in the Indo-Pacific at the heart of an allied strike group?
Or an ambition to embrace drones on a far greater scale than previously envisaged – perhaps in the order of 10,000 by 2030?
And do we tackle our productivity, with fresh ambitions to double our outputs – such as deployability and lethality – between 2020 to 2030?
Some of these ideas will fly, others won’t. But they are all worthy of scrutiny.
Because the biggest lesson from the past year is to recognise that we are part of a generational struggle for the future of the global order.
And the alternative to thinking big, and to thinking on a global scale, is that we become an introspective, cautious nation, that looks the other way.
And we’ve seen what happens when countries look away. Authoritarians are emboldened. Rules get broken, economic turmoil and global insecurity follow. And we all pay the price.
So, to conclude. These are worrying times. But I remain optimistic and confident about our security.
We should take succour in the way we and international partners have responded to the challenges.
And we should heed the catastrophe that the Russian leadership has landed itself in.
Let me end by reiterating how incredibly proud I am of our response to the events of the last year: from our servicemen and women, regular and reserve, but also our civil servants our diplomats, our industry partners, and our allies.
This is how we will succeed.
By being confident in our values.
By staying strong at home and in the world.
And by leveraging the extraordinary strengths and opportunities this presents. Thank you.
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