Ukraine 'is fighting proxy war on behalf of Nato', says ex-military chief as he criticises 'incoherent' defence spending

18 April 2024, 20:44 | Updated: 18 April 2024, 20:48

Lord Nick Houghton speaks to LBC’s Andrew Marr.
Lord Nick Houghton speaks to LBC’s Andrew Marr. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Ukraine 'is fighting a proxy war on behalf of Nato', the former head of the Armed Forces has said as he criticised the government's 'strategically incoherent' defence spending.

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Speaking on LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr, Lord Nick Houghton said the UK focuses too much of its defence budget on "aircraft carriers, nuclear deterrents and fast jets" and not enough on "conventional forces" that make up "the heart of conventional deterrence".

"I found the government was somewhat strategically incoherent on that," he said.

"I mean, both the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary are very good communicators.

"They've made hugely eloquent speeches about never having been in a more dangerous time in 80 years, but when they talk about what they will spend now they fail to be able to identify a way to navigate to 2.5% in the near future.

"There is a requirement not to put the whole of the nation on a war footing, I'm not suggesting that.

"But this should be on the agenda of the National Security Council every other week, they should want to know the degree to which the British defence industry has been mobilised to regenerate the manufacturing capability to produce warfighting stocks to send as much as we can conceivably can to Ukraine to help them to train, to train their pilots.

"We're doing just enough to get away with commentary at the House of Lords despatch box. But in truth, it's still minimal compared to what Russia are doing. And if you take America out of the piece, we're in a sad old state."

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Lord Nick Houghton says the government has been 'incoherent' on Ukraine

Lord Houghton went on to say that Ukraine is fighting a "proxy war on behalf of Nato to defeat Russia".

He added that "it can't be right, that one country alone, Ukraine, is fighting that war on our behalf without the absolute total support of the balance of Nato".

"We've been supporting it through what are our existing levels of conventional resilience, which have become a wafer thin over the last 10 or 15 years," he said.

"And therefore, the Ukrainians are close to becoming exhausted by this, and the support is reducing.

"And, at the same time, Mr Putin has shifted his own economy to a war footing, 30 odd per cent of the GDP, the ability to generate munitions on a level that we just can't comprehend here."

Lord Houghton on Ukraine fighting a proxy war for Ukraine

When asked what he meant by a proxy war, Lord Houghton said: "In many ways there are two different sorts of war going on.

"Ukraine in many respects, is a limited war in military parlance, because it's limited by both geography and the means applied.

"And the limitation or the means applied in a way is to avoid the risk of escalation by Mr Putin, and to potentially the use of tactical nuclear missiles.

"But in fact, that the wider war, if you like, is one that's against the whole of the rules-based society, and it's playing out in Ukraine.

"But it's also got parallels in the South China Sea, in the Middle East and all that. And so, it is a war in which we should be defending the international rules-based order, as we understand it, in order to continue to enjoy the quality of life, which for 80 years, we have enjoyed."