Terrorists are attempting to manufacture chemical weapons to carry out deadly attacks, Britain’s Defence Secretary said today.
The threats from the type of weapons used by Saddam Hussein on his own people in Iraq were “actually happening”, said Ben Wallace, with the West facing “increasingly emboldened adversaries”.
He also highlighted Turkey’s continued use of armed drones in conflicts across the Middle East, striking hundreds of armoured vehicles and missile defence sites.
“Make no mistake, we have adversaries from terrorists with chemical weapon ambitions to hostile state actors – this country, our citizens and our values are all targets,” the defence secretary said. “These threats are not scenarios in the mind of our planners, they are actually happening.”
Raising the issue that the West was being left flat-footed on modern warfare, Mr Wallace said it tended to divide conflict between “a proper so-called ‘shooting war’” and the “sub-threshold of everything before the shooting starts”. He argued that today's conflicts were mostly carried out at the ‘sub-threshold’ level, which was mostly non-violent but undoubtedly hostile, such as cyber warfare. Both terrorists and countries hostile to the West were fighting in this fashion, he added, and “in truth, they are the masters of the sub threshold”.
He warned that while the West applied the rule of law to warfare, this made it “deeply vulnerable to those who don't play by the same rules, especially below the threshold”.
Mr Wallace speech came after Boris Johnson had promised a £16.5 billion increase in British defence spending to end what he calls “an era of retreat” from defence commitments and restoring Britain’s position as the foremost sea power in Europe.
Mr Wallace highlighted the dangers of the low-level warfare waged by countries such as Turkey, using mercenaries, drones and innovative weaponry to avoid the political fallout of an overt war. He referenced the Bayraktar TB2, an unmanned aerial drone capable of either autonomous or remotely controlled operations.
“The sobering fact remains that many of us are still not leading the way in the West, but are watching others do so. Take, for example, the Turkish UAV, the Bayraktar TB2 – it is used in Syria, Libya and elsewhere, has been responsible for the destruction of hundreds of armoured vehicles and even air defence systems.”
Turkey, like Iran, has made the drones from within its own defence industry which, while not quite as refined as some Western models, still prove effective. “They did what we used to do so well. They innovated. The TB2 and its accompanying munitions combine technical abilities with an affordability. That means their commanders can tolerate some attrition, or present real challenges to the enemy,” Mr Wallace said.
It may be that countries such as Britain, having become bound to legal frameworks and bureaucracy, are now stale and predictable whereas potentially hostile states, having analysed their own weaknesses, are overcoming them through innovation and a disregard of the rules.
“There are state adversaries prepared to go way beyond what we assume were the accepted norms,” Mr Wallace said. “I do believe that we are no longer leading and innovating enough. We are in danger of being prepared only for the big fight that may never come.”