The world is “more complex and dangerous” than at any time since the end of the Cold War, with China and Russia among the main sources of concern, the new head of the armed forces warned.
Admiral Sir Tony Radakin said Vladimir Putin’s Russia was “a threat to our values and interests”, while China was “challenging international norms of behaviour”.
Setting out his mission, the Chief of the Defence Staff – who took office on November 30 – said he wanted more personnel deployed on operations or training rather than “stuck in barracks”.
And he said the armed forces needed to be more inclusive – although he insisted this was “not about wokefulness” but a need to reflect the nation the military serves.
In a speech to the Royal United Services Institute, Admiral Radakin said although the world was more prosperous and more people lived in democracies than at the end of the Cold War, “our security outlook is far more complex and dangerous than at any time over the past 30 years”.
“Russia’s behaviour is a threat to our values and interests,” he said.
“Iran could soon join North Korea in posing a nuclear and ballistic missile threat to the UK and our allies.
“Instability in the Western Balkans is surging again. China is challenging international norms of behaviour: whether freedom of navigation, economic intimidation or wolf-warrior diplomacy.
“And like it or not, our withdrawal from Afghanistan is grist to the mill for those who subscribe to a narrative around the decline of the West.”
In response to the situation, the Government’s review of foreign and defence policy had confirmed the need to modernise every aspect of the armed forces and “deter and defend against state-based opponents”.
Admiral Radakin said the forces needed personnel and equipment which were “more deployable and deployed more, whether at home or abroad”.
“Our forces need to be out in the world supporting British interests, deterring and shaping on a continuous basis,” he said.
The forces also needed to “better reflect society” whether that was through issues such as more women in senior roles or changes to uniforms.
Failing to reflect the “diverse nation we serve” could mean “we risk looking ridiculous”.
He said: “This is not about wokefulness. It is about woefulness. The woefulness of too few women. The woefulness of not reflecting the ethnic, religious and cognitive diversity of our nation.”