I should like to begin by talking about the House of Commons Defence Committee’s report. The key element in the report, and in what I hope will be my relatively brief remarks, is that Russia poses a significant and substantial threat to Europe. That argument has been made in great detail by the Defence Committee and, in the months since the report was published, it has become increasingly evident that it is correct.
I remind the House that, while we were working on the report, we had a statement from the Foreign Secretary that he had been assured by Lavrov that Russia would not invade Crimea. Four days later, Russia invaded Crimea. We then heard a number of specialists and analysts say that Russia would not go into eastern Ukraine, but it then did so. We also heard people say, after the Malaysian airliner was shot down, that that would be the moment at which Russia would back off because it was embarrassed by what it had done. Russia did not back off. People then made it clear that Russia would not extend its activities to Mariupol or Odessa, but as we can now see, separatists with Russian support are moving towards those two cities.
What does this mean for the United Kingdom, the Ministry of Defence, NATO and defence spending? The House of Commons Defence Committee’s report focuses on two things: the conventional threat posed by Russia, and the threat that we describe as next generation warfare, ambiguous warfare or the asymmetric threat posed by Russia. Although those two things are related, it is worth analysing them separately.
On the conventional threat posed by Russia, the report argues that, through its Zapad exercise in 2013, Russia showed its ability to deploy almost 70,000 troops at 72 hours’ notice. The current estimate is that it would take NATO almost six months to deploy that number of troops. Russia has also displayed its ability to fly nuclear bombers to Venezuela and to exercise for a full amphibious assault on a Baltic state. It has upgraded its nuclear arsenal and it is committed to spending $100 billion a year on defence. All of that is taking place in the context of a decline in NATO defence spending.