The Third World War is coming, and Britain is likely to be fighting a many-sided conflict against Russia, Iran, China and North Korea within five years.
That is not scaremongering. It’s the warning this week from Grant Shapps who, in his first major speech as Defence Minister, announced that we are ‘moving from a post-war to a pre-war world’.
We are already embroiled in this New World Disorder. We face a ‘multi-crisis’ that includes the rise of China; Russian imperialism; the mullahs in Iran trying to kick the Americans and their influence out of the Middle East; mass slaughter in Israel and the Gaza Strip; and latent terrorist threats — as well as huge shifts in the global economy through mass migration.
It is a combination that created the most dangerous situation for Britain since 1945. We have lived through the Cold War and the threat of nuclear obliteration, but in the East-West struggle, we faced one main adversary.
Under Kremlin chief Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet Union wielded a colossal arsenal and interfered in politics across the globe, but its goals were fundamentally rational … unlike the deranged threats of nuclear escalation now heard frequently from the Putin regime, or the nihilistic death cults of Islamist extremists.
The fact our defence secretary appears only now to be waking up to this international poly-chaos highlights how naive and arrogant successive UK governments have been in running down our armed forces for 30 years.
It is not just Britain. Europe’s democratic leaders have not looked weaker since the 1930s.
France has a puffed-up popinjay for a president in Emmanuel Macron, while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is indecision personified. It is a sign of how rudderless the continent is that Italy’s Giorgia Meloni appears competent and charismatic by comparison.
At the same time, the doddery American President Biden can’t even summon the strength to support Ukraine as Vladimir Putin tries to end its existence, both as an independent nation and as a bulwark against Russian invasion of Eastern Europe.
The need to protect Ukraine is the most imperative issue possible — yet U.S. support is dwindling and risks disappearing altogether if Donald Trump is returned to the White House later this year.
Trump has made it clear he thinks the rest of the West gets a free ride on U.S. shoulders. In 2020, he stunned the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen by telling her, ‘NATO is dead’, and he means it.
‘You need to understand that if Europe is under attack we will never come to help you and to support you,’ he said, in a private meeting that came to light only this month.
Anyone who finds the consequences of that threat difficult to imagine need only look at the Red Sea, where the U.S. Navy is keeping sea lanes open in the teeth of attacks from Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The route to the Suez Canal is crucial, not for American trade, but for Europe. Yet Britain is a token presence there and our continental allies are nowhere to be seen.
British defences are pitiably weak. Our aircraft carriers are white elephants that — when they are working — require virtually the full force of the Royal Navy to guard them. Our new weapons systems are cripplingly expensive and many existing ones are long overdue for replacement.
We are short of personnel in all three forces and, equally alarming, of ammunition.
The waste, incompetence and greed in military procurement is appalling. Houthi militias, like the ingenious Ukrainians, can construct drones with off-the-shelf parts or by using 3D printers.
These lethal gadgets cost mere thousands. But our hapless Armed Forces are waiting for over-complicated kit that costs tens of millions — if it ever arrives.
The Mail revealed last year, for example, how Britain’s £5.5 billion project for a new Ajax armoured vehicle has been riddled with problems and will not fully enter service until 2028 or 2029.
A huge portion of our defence budget is dedicated to replacing our nuclear deterrent, but in between these doomsday weapons and our renowned Special Forces lies a middle ground filled by ships without crews, planes without pilots, and Army regiments short of soldiers and lumbered with outdated equipment.
If Britain is to survive the New World Disorder, radical action is needed now. We need to accept we can no longer rely on the Americans.
With our special relationship with the U.S. waning we must jettison all pretensions to continuing influence as a global power. All our focus should be on defending Europe against Putin. If we spread our resources too widely, they will be ineffectual everywhere.
This means ruthless choices. There is, for instance, little point in Britain having heavy armour. The Poles have tank factories able to produce these behemoths more cheaply, efficiently and quickly than we could ever hope to.
More vital still, we must give up our hugely expensive aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. Better to hand them to the U.S. Navy, which at least has crew and planes to operate them, rather than continue to fritter our naval budget on squiring these floating vanity projects around the seas.
We have to be part of a co-ordinated European response to rapidly changing threats. Putin knows that without U.S. backing in Nato, British troops in Estonia could find themselves staring down Russian tank barrels with too little firepower to defend ourselves.