Civilians in the West must prepare for all-out war with Russia within the next 20 years, a top Nato military official has warned.
While armed forces are primed for the outbreak of war, private citizens need to be ready for a conflict that would require wholesale change in their lives, Adml Rob Bauer said on Thursday.
Large numbers of civilians will need to be mobilised in case of the outbreak of war and governments should put in place systems to manage the process, Adml Bauer told reporters after a meeting of Nato defence chiefs in Brussels.
“We have to realise it’s not a given that we are in peace. And that’s why we [Nato forces] are preparing for a conflict with Russia.
“But the discussion is much wider. It is also the industrial base and also the people that have to understand they play a role.”
Adml Bauer, a Dutch naval officer who is chairman of Nato’s Military Committee, praised Sweden for asking all of its citizens to brace for war ahead of the country formally joining the alliance.
Stockholm’s move, announced earlier this month, has led to a surge in volunteers for the country’s civil defence organisation and a spike in sales of torches and battery-powered radios.
“It starts there,” Adml Bauer said. “The realisation that not everything is planable and not everything is going to be hunky dory in the next 20 years.”
Some 90,000 Nato troops will next week begin the bloc’s largest military exercise since the Cold War.
The Steadfast Defender 2024 operation has more than doubled in size since it was announced last year, and is explicitly designed to prepare the alliance for a Russian invasion.
Britain has committed around 20,000 soldiers, as well as tanks, artillery and fighter jets to the drills taking place across Europe until May.
But senior Nato officials are increasingly concerned that governments and private arms manufacturers are falling behind in preparations on the domestic front.
Stockpiles of weapons and ammunition have been drained by the conflict in Ukraine and will take years to replenish at the current rate of production.
Meanwhile, Russia has tripled its military expenditure to 40 per cent of the entire national budget, while drastically speeding up manufacturing lines.
“We need to be readier across the whole spectrum,” Adml Bauer said. “You have to have a system in place to find more people if it comes to war, whether it does or not. Then you talk mobilisation, reservists or conscription.
“You need to be able to fall back on an industrial base that is able to produce weapons and ammunition fast enough to be able to continue a conflict if you are in it.”
Western aid to Ukraine has dwindled amid growing public resistance in the United States and European Union.
The EU has been unable to deliver on its promise to send one million 155mm artillery shells to Kyiv by next month, contributing to a collapse in the rate of fire of Ukrainian artillery.
Joe Biden has also been unable to convince Republican leaders to back further spending packages for Ukraine, as they argue the money should be spent on domestic priorities, such as border security, instead.
On Thursday, David Cameron warned against 1930s-style appeasement of Vladimir Putin and promised Britain would keep supporting Ukraine in the “struggle of our generation”.
The Foreign Secretary urged Britain’s allies not to push for peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow, arguing that unifying behind Ukraine was the best way to end the war.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Lord Cameron compared the calls for negotiations to the appeasement of Adolf Hitler by prime minister Neville Chamberlain in the lead-up to the Second World War.
“If foreign ministers keep saying ‘Yes, we will support Ukraine but, yes, we must also start a peace process’, they’ll neither get a strong Ukraine nor a peace process,” he told the gathering of diplomats, foreign leaders and executives.
“This is like being a foreign minister or prime minister in the 1930s and fighting that aggression. And what we know from that is, if you appease aggression you get more of it.”
Lord Cameron also nodded as Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, stood up and said: “There is never a shortage of pocket Chamberlains willing to sacrifice other people’s land or freedom for their own peace of mind. We shouldn’t do it.”
French support questioned
It came as France’s defence minister hit back at German accusations it had fallen short on supporting Ukraine.
Sebastien Lecornu said a list compiled by the Kiel Institute, a German think tank, showing Paris 12th in terms of military deliveries was “neither trustworthy nor viable”.
The tracker, last updated before Emmanuel Macron’s latest promises of missiles and bombs, showed that Paris had provided just €544 million in bilateral military aid to Kyiv since the start of the full-scale invasion almost two years ago.
In comparison, Germany was credited with promising €17 billion towards Ukraine’s war effort.
“It’s entirely based on promises and declarations,” Mr Lecornu said.
“You have certain countries which, for domestic political reasons, have made a lot of announcements and then the promises have not been kept, or when they have been kept, it’s with equipment that is sometimes faulty.”
He also lashed out at Germany for shying away from sending “game-changing” long-range missiles to Ukraine, in a further escalation of the row between the EU’s first and second largest economies.
“Germany refuses to deliver Taurus missiles which are the equivalent of SCALPs and which are the real game-changers,” Mr Lecornu said.
“And yet President (Macron) has announced a new delivery of 40 or so of these missiles.”