The new head of the Armed Forces has warned that Britain’s 70-year-long ‘holiday from history’ may be over.
General Sir Nicholas Carter said the military needed to change ‘fundamentally’ in order to keep up with new threats – including fake news, cyber-attacks and assaults on our energy infrastructure.
The Chief of the Defence Staff, who took on the role last month, said the rules-based system that has assured our stability and prosperity since 1945 is now at risk of being overturned.
General Sir Nicholas Carter said the military needs to change ‘fundamentally’ in order to keep up with new threats
In the past three years, threats ‘have diversified, proliferated and intensified rather more rapidly than we anticipated’, he admitted.
He said our adversaries, including Russia, have become ‘masters at exploiting the seams between peace and war’ and Britain needs to up its game or risk defeat.
Speaking at the Air Power Conference at Savoy Place, central London, he said: ‘Fail to change now and our adversaries, slowly but surely, will overcome us, they will erode and finally overturn the democratic, rules-based, stable system under which we have all lived comfortably for nigh on three generations.
‘I fear our 70-year long holiday from history may well be over – and we all have a job to do to fix it.
‘We are at, I think, a paradigm shift in the character of conflict: we need to change the way we do things fundamentally.
‘What constitutes a weapon in this grey area no longer has to go “bang”. Energy, cash, corrupt business practices, cyber-attacks, assassination, fake news, propaganda – and good old-fashioned military intimidation – are all examples of the weapons used to gain advantage in this era of constant competition.
‘The rules-based international architecture that has assured our stability and prosperity since 1945 is, I would suggest, threatened.’
The general said the said the rules-based system is at risk of being overturned. He is pictured saluting Lance Corporal Joshua Mark Leakey after he was given the Victoria Cross
Sir Nicholas said the lines between peace and war had become blurred and added: ‘The risk we run in not defining this clearly, and acting accordingly, is that rather like a chronic contagious disease, it will creep up on us, and our ability to act will be markedly constrained – and we’ll be the losers of this competition.’
He said the world today is made up of ‘increasingly assertive and aggressive states’ that are prepared to attack using techniques ‘below the threshold of what we would once have called conventional war’.
He named Russia as the ‘arch exponent’ of this, describing the country as ‘probably the most complex and capable state-based threat to our way of life since the end of the Cold War’. But he added that he was not suggesting Moscow wants to go to war in the traditional definition of the term.
He said that in the past two years Russia has shifted towards using cyber, subversion and coercion as well as sophisticated use of smear campaigns and fake news.
Sir Nicholas encouraged creative thinking to modernise the Armed Forces, adding: ‘It is not about matching strength with strength, but thinking about how to out-manoeuvre him by threatening his vulnerabilities, by holding what he cares about at risk and by thinking laterally and asymmetrically.’