UK's armed forces chief Radakin warns of global impact of Middle East wars

Armed forces chief uses speech to stress the key role of nuclear deterrent as worldwide instability mounts

HMS Diamond in the Red Sea after more than half of UK export businesses reported they had been affected by disruption to shipping in the region since the war in Gaza broke out. PA
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Britain's armed forces chief Admiral Sir Tony Radakin warned the Gaza war could spread across the Middle East as he revealed the "pace and intensity" of global instability was moving far faster than officials had estimated.

Speaking at the Chatham House think tank in central London, Adm Radakin said the UK's role in the Middle East was a vital pillar of its defence strategy with the conflicts in Ukraine and the Red Sea now shaping future plans.

"We have a war in the Middle East with attendant risks to implode across the region and impact on the globe," he said. "We add in an extra frigate and destroyer in the region, our operations in the Red Sea are getting seriously up [to the] threat, to protect our merchant ships."

Under the US and UK-led coalition to protect Red Sea vessels, successive rounds of strikes have been launched targeting the Houthis militias, which since late last year have been attacking shipping lanes of the region in a strategy the Yemeni faction says is in retaliation for Israel's war in Gaza.

The air force and naval deployments since the UK joined the US in strikes in January are already feeding into the future needs of Britain's arsenal.

"There are lessons we must learn from Ukraine and the Red Sea in terms of future investment choices," Adm Radakin said. "Integrated air and missile defence for the UK; long-range missiles for the army; land attack for our surface fleet; strengthening nuclear deterrence; and hundreds of thousands more drones across all three services."

Maintaining the British position as the second-largest foreign power with a Middle East presence was important to the defence, not least to ensure the country's trade ties with the rest of the world were not disrupted.

"Look at what we're doing in the Middle East and how we compare to other nations and again, I think it's clear that we're stronger than any other nation, other than America."

The war in Ukraine has triggered speculation that the UK could end up having to draft conscripts as its armed forces expand to counter future Russian threats, Adm Radakin said

"We are not on the cusp of war with Russia, we are not about to invaded, no one in the Ministry of Defence is talking about conscription in any traditional sense," he said. "I am not saying that Russia is not dangerous. It has demonstrated that with the aggression it employs both domestically and internationally.

"But at the same time, it is also significantly less capable than we anticipated following its disastrous illegal invasion into Ukraine."

After the recent failure of the missile system that carries the country's nuclear deterrent in a test off the Florida coast, Adm Radakin stressed its nuclear force was a key part of its ultimate guarantee.

"These are dangerous and uncertain times," he said. "But Britain has what it needs to succeed. A G7 economy. An extensive science and technological base. Our island geography.

"Our membership of the world’s strongest alliance. Our status as a nuclear power and our seat in the UN Security Council.

Other near-term issues that could cause the UK problems included "random attacks in space [and] on our underwater cables".

Updated: February 28, 2024, 7:52 AM