The top general likens the situation in Ukraine to the crises of 1914 and 1937 and insists that only ‘citizen armies’ will be able to defeat the coming onslaught on the West’s way of life.
The head of the British army has warned UK citizens to be prepared for a war on the scale of the great conflicts of the 20th Century – and that they themselves may need to mobilise.
Speaking at the International Armoured Vehicles exhibition in London, General Sir Patrick Sanders said the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a sign of things to come, warning that the lessons of previous wars must be remembered before it is too late.
“Our predecessors failed to perceive the implications of the so-called July Crisis in 1914 and stumbled into the most ghastly of wars,” he said. “We cannot afford to make the same mistake today. Ukraine really matters.”
Crucially, General Sanders insisted that the potential scale of the conflict in years to come must not be underestimated.
“This war is not merely about the black soil of the Donbas, nor the re-establishment of a Russian empire, it’s about defeating our system and way of life politically, psychologically, and symbolically. How we respond as the pre-war generation will reverberate through history. Ukrainian bravery is buying time, for now.”
The general also called for a near-doubling in size of the British army. The UK military in general plans to reverse a long-term recruitment crisis that has shrunk its numbers even as British forces participate in various missions overseas.
However, he also said that while traditional mobilisation was important, everyday British citizens must be prepared – if not for full conscription, for a level of civic mobilisation not seen in Western Europe since 1945.
In response to his speech, the government insisted that a full military call-up is not on the table.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain, said the government “has no intention” of introducing conscription.
“The British military has a proud tradition of being a voluntary force. There are no plans to change that,” he said.
He added that “engaging in hypothetical wars” was “not helpful.”
Edge of disaster
Sanders’s words follow months of ominous warnings from other key NATO members, particularly in mainland Europe.
The German defence minister, Boris Pistorius, recently made radical calls to prepare for war that would dramatically reorient the German military after nearly eight decades spent in a multilateralist defensive mode.
Documents recently leaked to the German newspaper Bild have revealed that Berlin is making contingency plans for a massive Russian assault on Western Europe, specifically the Baltic states.
The plan, described as an “exercise scenario”, envisions Russia mounting a hybrid warfare campaign against Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in July this year, using false claims of discrimination against Russian speakers as a pretext for massing troops on its western borders with EU countries and in Belarus.
According to this scenario’s predictions, the NATO alliance would itself deploy 300,000 troops to Eastern Europe, but not until early 2025.
The Ukrainian war is currently at something of a stalemate. With the front line relatively static and forces hunkering down in icy conditions, long-range missile and drone strikes have come to the fore, with an increasing number of strikes seen in Russian territory.
Kyiv and its allies are worried that the supply of foreign weapons and ammunition to the Ukrainian military is stalling, with Republicans in the US Congress choking the funds the Pentagon needs to fulfil its aims.