The Daily Telegraph

Pan­demic risks re­peat of 1930s chaos, says forces chief

Gen Sir Nick Carter warns eco­nomic cri­sis in wake of Covid could stoke na­tion­al­ism

- By Con Coughlin de­fence Editor By Military · Politics · Infectious Diseases · Warfare and Conflicts · World Politics · Health Conditions · Nick Carter · European Union · Europe · Beijing · Oxford · Northern Ireland · Ireland · United Kingdom · Boris Johnson · Ministry of Defence · Russia · Russian Empire · British Armed Forces · Royal Navy · Royal Navy · Royal Air Force · Royal Air Force · Iraq · Bosnia and Herzegovina · Afghanistan · Libya · Ukraine · Iran · North Korea · South Korea · Oxford University · United Kingdom Ministry of Defence

THE head of the Armed Forces has warned that coro­n­avirus has led to the erec­tion of “na­tion­al­ist bar­ri­ers” and eco­nomic crises rem­i­nis­cent of the lead up to the Sec­ond World War.

Gen­eral Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the De­fence Staff, said that the “se­cu­rity chal­lenges” pre­sented by the pan­demic were sim­i­lar to those faced in the 1930s. In an interview with The Daily Tele­graph, Sir Nick ar­gued that bet­ter global co­op­er­a­tion was needed to tackle the pan­demic and its eco­nomic im­pact.

“What you gen­er­ally find with a cri­sis like this, which be­comes an eco­nomic cri­sis, is that it then un­der­mines the sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion as well,” he said. “If you look at the 1930s, that started with a sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic crash and that acted as a very desta­bil­is­ing fea­ture. There are mo­ments in his­tory when sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic chal­lenges have led to se­cu­rity chal­lenges be­cause they act as a desta­biliser.”

The eco­nomic cri­sis caused by the Great De­pres­sion was linked to the rise of fas­cism in Europe and ul­ti­mately to the out­break of the Sec­ond World War.

There are now deep­en­ing global ten­sions de­vel­op­ing over Covid-19, with mount­ing con­cerns over sup­plies of vac­cines and the clo­sures of bor­ders.

Sir Nick cau­tioned: “There has been some unity with the vaccine, but gen­er­ally speak­ing peo­ple have put up na­tion­al­ist bar­ri­ers, and that does not ex­actly help you with se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity. What the virus has re­vealed is some fault lines in­ter­na­tion­ally, but also within so­ci­ety.” It is the gen­eral’s stark­est sug­ges­tion yet that the world could face an­other large-scale con­flict. Pre­vi­ously he has warned that es­ca­lat­ing com­pe­ti­tion be­tween states could lead to “mis­cal­cu­la­tions” re­sult­ing in a war.

The un­even ef­fects of the pan­demic and roll­out of vac­cines across the globe have led to ten­sions. China has faced al­le­ga­tions of cov­er­ing up the ori­gins of the pan­demic af­ter the ini­tial out­break was said to have oc­curred in the city of Wuhan. A Rus­sian dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign has been ac­cused of un­der­min­ing public health and spread­ing fear by mak­ing false claims about the Ox­ford vaccine. Mean­while in Europe ar­gu­ments have bro­ken out over vaccine sup­plies, with the EU widely re­buked for tem­po­rar­ily trig­ger­ing Ar­ti­cle 16 of the Brexit pro­to­col to pre­vent doses of other vac­cines trav­el­ling from the bloc to North­ern Ire­land and on to Bri­tain.

Sir Nick warned that the dif­fer­ent ap­proaches taken by ri­val states could lead to in­creased ten­sions around the world. “Covid has asked some very big ques­tions about your sup­ply chains and how you pro­tect your peo­ple,” he said.

He said the steep­est chal­lenge would come when the worst ef­fects of the pan­demic start to re­cede. “We will be con­fronted with a cou­ple of big choices.

‘Covid has asked some very big ques­tions about your sup­ply chains and how you pro­tect your peo­ple’

There will be a big choice be­tween to­tal­i­tar­ian sur­veil­lance and cit­i­zen em­pow­er­ment, and there will be a big choice be­tween global sol­i­dar­ity and na­tion­al­ist iso­la­tion.”

His in­ter­ven­tion comes ahead of the pub­li­ca­tion of the Gov­ern­ment’s “in­te­grated re­view” next month, which Boris John­son has de­clared will be the big­gest over­haul of for­eign, de­fence and se­cu­rity policy since the Cold War.

The Prime Min­is­ter has al­ready awarded the Min­istry of De­fence a sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing boost, worth an ex­tra £16bil­lion in real terms over the next four years. Sir Nick also warned that the global pan­demic was tak­ing place against a de­te­ri­o­rat­ing global sit­u­a­tion, which had seen a marked in­crease in state-based threats dur­ing the past three or four years.

He added that the sup­port pro­vided by the es­ti­mated 6,000 mil­i­tary per­son­nel who have been as­sist­ing the NHS and other agen­cies involved in tack­ling the pan­demic had helped the public to ac­quire a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the mil­i­tary.

“In the past we have been pop­u­lar with the Bri­tish public, but we were not well un­der­stood,” he ex­plained. “As a re­sult of the pan­demic, peo­ple have learnt a lot about our adapt­abil­ity and in­no­va­tion and plan­ning abil­ity.”

As the head of Bri­tain’s Armed Forces, Gen­eral Sir Nick Carter’s pri­mary task is to en­sure that the mil­i­tary is ready to tackle any chal­lenge that may come its way, from the threat posed by rad­i­cal Is­lamist ter­ror­ists to de­fend­ing the realm from hos­tile states such as Rus­sia.

So the fact that the Bri­tish mil­i­tary now finds it­self play­ing a key role in the na­tion’s bat­tle to de­feat the Covid pan­demic has pro­vided a sig­nif­i­cant test of its abil­ity to meet any chal­lenge, no mat­ter how un­ex­pected it might be.

There are cur­rently about 6,000 mil­i­tary per­son­nel drawn from the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force who are pro­vid­ing sup­port for the NHS in tack­ling the pan­demic, which, as Sir Nick points out, is the largest num­ber of medics the Armed Forces has de­ployed since the Iraq war in 2003.

And Sir Nick be­lieves the mil­i­tary’s con­tri­bu­tion to fight­ing the pan­demic, from build­ing the Nightin­gale hos­pi­tals last year to as­sist­ing with test­ing and pro­vid­ing vac­ci­na­tions, has helped to raise the stand­ing of the Armed Forces in the eyes of the public.

“In the past we have been pop­u­lar with the Bri­tish public, but we were not well un­der­stood,” he ex­plains. “As a re­sult of the pan­demic, peo­ple have learnt a lot about our adapt­abil­ity and in­no­va­tion and plan­ning abil­ity.”

And, at a time when all three Ser­vices have been strug­gling to main­tain re­cruit­ment lev­els, Sir Nick be­lieves the ex­pe­ri­ence has helped the public to see the mil­i­tary in a more pos­i­tive light.

“The Armed Forces have been in the public eye dur­ing the pan­demic, and have been seen to be do­ing a pos­i­tive job,” he says in an exclusive interview with The Tele­graph. “We have not tried to take any­thing over. We have been there firmly in sup­port of the heroic ef­forts of the NHS. We should be avail­able in ex­tremis to be used in sup­port of the civil ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

But while Sir Nick is clearly proud of the con­tri­bu­tion the mil­i­tary has made to tack­ling the pan­demic, he is also aware that this must not de­tract from its cen­tral role, namely the de­fence of the realm. “The prin­ci­ple pur­pose of the Armed Forces is to be ready to fight the coun­try’s en­e­mies and to pro­vide the de­ter­rence that is in­her­ent in all of that.”

And to that end, Sir Nick is con­cerned about the pos­si­ble neg­a­tive con­se­quences of the pan­demic, both in terms of its im­pact on the econ­omy and the wider world.

“What you gen­er­ally find with a cri­sis like this, which be­comes an eco­nomic cri­sis, is that it then un­der­mines the se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity sit­u­a­tion as well. And what of­ten fol­lows a very sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic event is a se­cu­rity chal­lenge.”

Sir Nick, 62, who is now in his third year as Chief of the De­fence Staff, is par­tic­u­larly con­cerned that the grow­ing na­tion­al­ist ten­dency that has emerged in some coun­tries as they strug­gle to tackle the epi­demic could ul­ti­mately re­sult in in­creased in­ter­na­tional ten­sions.

“If you look at the Thir­ties, that started as a very sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic crash and that acted as a very desta­bil­is­ing fea­ture.”

A shrewd, thought­ful man who spent much of his ca­reer as an Army of­fi­cer com­mand­ing forces in such var­ied lo­ca­tions as North­ern Ire­land, Bos­nia and Afghanista­n, Sir Nick has ded­i­cated his ten­ure to un­der­tak­ing a rad­i­cal re­struc­tur­ing of Bri­tain’s Armed Forces so that they can fully em­brace the rapidly chang­ing na­ture of mod­ern war­fare.

In what he has des­ig­nated the In­te­grated Op­er­at­ing Con­cept, he has launched an am­bi­tious mod­erni­sa­tion pro­gramme that aims to in­te­grate new tech­nol­ogy with more tra­di­tional war-fight­ing skills. “We are mov­ing to­wards be­com­ing a mod­ernised force, which is less about crewed fight­ing units and more about un­crewed units and ro­bot­ics, and that will have an im­pact on the num­ber of peo­ple you will need in the fu­ture,” he says.

For ex­am­ple, the Royal Navy is cur­rently de­vel­op­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of minesweep­ers that will be un­manned. Sim­i­larly, mil­i­tary com­man­ders need to un­der­stand that “the next gen­er­a­tion of mil­i­tary equip­ment will not nec­es­sar­ily be gas-guz­zling and fos­sil-fuelled.”

A glimpse of what can be achieved by un­manned equip­ment can be seen from re­cent fight­ing in places in­clud­ing Libya and Nagornokar­abakh, where un­manned equip­ment such as drones have played an im­por­tant role.

Sir Nick also cites Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Ukraine as a good ex­am­ple of a mil­i­tary force us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of elec­tronic war­fare, com­bined with drones and mis­sile sys­tems, to achieve suc­cess.

He also fully ap­pre­ci­ates the im­mense sig­nif­i­cance ac­quir­ing data from the in­ter­net will have in de­cid­ing fu­ture con­flicts.

“If you want to suc­ceed on the bat­tle­field in the fu­ture, then data is go­ing to be at the heart of what you want to do, and we need to think about how we can be­come clev­erer at this.”

One no­tion is to cre­ate what has been called a “data foundry”, which can be used to pro­vide units from all three ser­vices with data rel­e­vant to their op­er­a­tions. An­other plan de­signed to en­hance the mil­i­tary’s abil­ity to in­te­grate new tech­nol­ogy into mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions is to es­tab­lish a cy­ber academy.

“You have got to be­come very savvy at min­ing data and avail­ing your­self of the op­por­tu­ni­ties that come with it. Oth­er­wise you will be out­wit­ted by your ri­vals in de­ci­sion-mak­ing. It will be nec­es­sary in fu­ture war­fare, which is why we must mod­ernise.”

Sir Nick be­lieves that the mil­i­tary’s abil­ity to plan for the fu­ture has re­ceived a sig­nif­i­cant boost as a re­sult of the “ex­cel­lent set­tle­ment” it re­ceived in the Gov­ern­ment’s re­cent de­fence re­view.

The need to mod­ernise Bri­tain’s Armed Forces should also be a top pri­or­ity. “The world is very un­sta­ble,” he says. “Over the past three or four years, state-based threats have be­come more ob­vi­ous.” He cites Rus­sia, Iran and North Korea as three coun­tries that pose a sig­nif­i­cant threat to global se­cu­rity. But he is less convinced about the threat posed by China.

“We have to be care­ful when we talk about China be­cause it is not so much a threat as a chal­lenge.”

In which case, I ask him, why is the Gov­ern­ment, as has been re­ported, plan­ning to send the new Queen El­iz­a­beth air­craft car­rier and an ac­com­pa­ny­ing bat­tle group to the South China Sea, which is likely to be seen as an act of provo­ca­tion by Bei­jing?

“This will be a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion, and no de­ci­sion has yet been taken,” he says. “We are not in the busi­ness of threat­en­ing any­body or stir­ring things up.”

As for his own fu­ture, he dis­misses re­cent re­ports that he will be leav­ing his post early, and says he will con­tinue to serve in his cur­rent post un­til June. “And it is en­tirely pos­si­ble that I will be asked to serve be­yond June,” he says.

Mean­while, the Royal Navy has been run­ning a highly vo­cal cam­paign, for the next mil­i­tary chief to be a naval of­fi­cer. Sir Nick of­fers a diplo­matic re­ply.

“It should be the best per­son for the job, and in a sense your Ser­vice back­ground is less rel­e­vant than your abil­ity to bring to­gether the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, and now cy­ber and space. Be­cause ul­ti­mately you are the Prime Min­is­ter’s mil­i­tary ad­viser … Some­times the Prime Min­is­ter needs to be able to look his mil­i­tary ad­vi­sor in the eye and have con­fi­dence he has been given the best pos­si­ble advice.”

 ??  ?? Gen­eral Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the De­fence Staff, out­side his of­fice at the Min­istry of De­fence in West­min­ster
Gen­eral Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the De­fence Staff, out­side his of­fice at the Min­istry of De­fence in West­min­ster
 ??  ?? Mem­bers of the Royal Scots Dra­goon Guard set up a coro­n­avirus vac­ci­na­tion cen­tre in Drum­chapel, Glas­gow, as part of the largest peace­time re­silience op­er­a­tion ever un­der­taken by the Bri­tish Army
Mem­bers of the Royal Scots Dra­goon Guard set up a coro­n­avirus vac­ci­na­tion cen­tre in Drum­chapel, Glas­gow, as part of the largest peace­time re­silience op­er­a­tion ever un­der­taken by the Bri­tish Army
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