Britain will commit 1,000 additional troops and one of its two new aircraft carriers to defend NATO’s eastern flank, the defense secretary has announced.
The forces will be assigned to the defense of Estonia, where Britain already has around 1,700 troops deployed, but will be based in the UK, ready to fly out to defend the Baltic country if deemed necessary.
Speaking at the NATO summit in Madrid, Ben Wallace said the UK would “dedicate a brigade” to Estonia, increasing the number of available British troops to around 3,000, saying he would be more efficient to base some of the home forces and their equipment in Germany.
The engagement is part of NATO’s revamped European Defense Force, which will include 300,000 troops across the continent placed at a high level of readiness in case Russia threatens a military attack on any of the members. of the covenant.
A substantial part of Britain’s defense force commitment announced at the Madrid summit this week would be naval, Wallace added: “We’re going to put in a huge part of the navy. I think we’re going to dedicate one of the carrier groups to it.
Britain operates two aircraft carriers, the Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales, which have a fleet of support ships, known as the carrier battle group. Warships would be given to NATO on a rotational basis, Wallace said.
Eight NATO defense forces are based in eight countries on the eastern side of the alliance, from Estonia to Bulgaria, and on Wednesday NATO members agreed to increase them to brigade size in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Germany has already agreed to increase its commitment to Lithuania, but faced criticism when it emerged that most of the additional 3,500 troops it was offering would be based on its own soil, ready to quickly move east if necessary.
But Wallace defended the decision and argued that a surprise Russian attack on the Baltic country was unlikely. “You’re not going to get a huge surprise,” he said, noting that Russia had placed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders for several months before its invasion in February.
Existing plans to defend Estonia and the other Baltic states were outdated, Wallace said, because the existing plan called for “60 days to get the tanks there.”
But he added that Russia’s attack on Ukraine had changed everyone’s mentality: “Rightly, the Baltic states were saying, well, what we just saw in Ukraine is that if you wait five days, no one is left alive. So we don’t want to take the risk of waiting for our car ferry to pass with the tanks”.
Wallace also tried to play down the differences on defense spending with No 10, while indicating that he wanted budgets to increase at the end of the current spending review period in April 2025. Governments had taken “a peace dividend” after the end of the Cold War, but now was the time for “the investment to continue”.
The minister said he agreed with Boris Johnson that the current target of spending 2% of GDP on defense was ‘set at a different time’ and that ‘Russia was not the same as today”. But he declined to say whether, as leaks earlier in the week suggested, the budget should be increased by around £10billion at 2.5%.
When asked in a TV interview at the summit if he disagreed with Wallace on the defense budget, Johnson dodged the question, saying only that it had “increased massively” in recent years.