Ignore the generals’ bombast on Ukraine. Nato has extended enough | Richard Norton-Taylor

Instead of indulging in bluster and provocative rhetoric, the UK should make clear that Nato has no designs on the country

It has not taken long for the Ukraine crisis to be seized on by vested interests in the west. Nato commanders and British generals, as well as those lobbying for a new Trident nuclear missile fleet, are warning about the potential dangers of a resurgent Russia. Whatever their motives, the messages behind this strategic rhetoric are clear enough: Nato forces may be pulling out of Afghanistan but the alliance still has a role; cuts in the British army should be restored; and the UK’s nuclear arsenal will deter Russia in a new cold war.

General Philip Breedlove, Nato’s supreme commander, has warned that Russia had assembled a “very, very sizeable and very, very ready” force on Ukraine’s eastern border that could be planning to head for Transnistria, a Russian-speaking enclave that declared independence from Moldova in 1991. “That is very worrisome,” Breedlove said, adding that Nato should rethink the positioning and readiness of its forces in eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, General (now Lord) Richard Dannatt, former head of the British army, says diplomacy must be backed up by greater military capability. Rather than committing itself to removing all its 20,000 troops from Germany, where they have been stationed since the end of the second world war, a newly formed brigade of 3,000 soldiers should be deployed there, Dannatt said. In an article in the Daily Telegraph, he described tensions between east and west as “uncomfortable shadows of the Thirties“.

British generals, past and present, are deeply unhappy about the government’s decision to cut the regular army by 20%, from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2020. “Military manoeuvre capability … takes us generations to create and we may need it sooner than we think,” the head of the army General Sir Peter Wall told a meeting earlier this month hosted by the Chatham House thinktank.

“We have only got to look to the tension in the Ukraine to see a situation that was not foreseen and is confounding our previous assumptions about stability across Europe,” he said. “The sense of what some have described as moral disarmament in the west … may already be a factor in others’ expectations of our reaction to provocation.” He continued: “Having ready [land-based] forces sends strategic messages to potential adversaries that will shape their behaviour towards us, ab initio … they serve as a deterrent.”

A threat of deploying British soldiers against Russian forces (500 are being sent on a Nato exercise in the Baltic) may be a slightly more realistic deterrent than a Trident long-range nuclear ballistic missile, but it will not help to prevent more violent ethnic disputes along the national state borders of central and eastern …read more    

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