There is a “risk” of a Third World War due to growing global uncertainty, the head of the military has warned, as he called on the Government to commit to “long term” funds for the armed forces.
General Sir Nick Carter said that the increase in regional conflicts playing out across the world could ramp up into a “full-blown war”.
The Chief of the Defence Staff said that the world was a “very uncertain and anxious place” during the coronavirus pandemic and suggested that “you could see escalation lead to miscalculation”.
“We have to remember that history might not repeat itself but it has a rhythm and if you look back at the last century, before both world wars, I think it was unarguable that there was escalation which led to the miscalculation which ultimately led to war at a scale we would hopefully never see again,” Sir Nick said.
He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the military also needed long-term investment from the Treasury in order to deliver on “modernisation”.
It comes after reports of a clash between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor on the issue of defence spending.
Boris Johnson is said to have called for a £15 billion package of funding until 2025 while Rishi Sunak is in favour of a one year settlement worth £1.9 billion as part of the spending review.
However, Sir Nick said negotiations with Downing Street and the Treasury were “going in a very constructive way”.
Confirming he would be seeking a multi-year package, he said: “Clearly we’re going to argue for something like that because we need long-term investment because long-term investment gives us the opportunity to have confidence in modernisation.”
As part of the process, the Defence chief suggested that one quarter of the army could be staffed by robot soldiers in a decade’s time.
He said: “I suspect we could have an army of 120,000 of which 30,000 might be robots, who knows?
“But the answer is we need to open our minds to perhaps numbers not determining what we should be doing but rather the effect that we can achieve, is really what we should be looking for.”
He also suggested that tanks would not be mothballed in the next decade, arguing they were necessary in order to “show that you’ve got the political will to fight”.
“Now that may change over the next ten to 15 to 20 years, but certainly for the next ten years it would be surprising if that wasn’t the way in which warfare continued to be fought,” Sir Nick added.
The military chief also suggested the army could be brought in to run the Government’s test and trace programme.
He said: “I think actually the testing thing has been a really impressive effort. The tracing is another matter altogether and I’m not sure that that’s necessarily a military task.
“Of course, we’ll step up to the plate if we are invited to do it but I’ve got confidence in the system at the moment.”
However, Sir Nick admitted to being uneasy about the prospect of the military being drafted in to police coronavirus lockdowns in the UK.
He said: “I think it comes down to our relationship with society and our task fundamentally our principal task is to protect the United Kingdom and its people and to deter war from happening.
“Our task is not to go out with weapons or machetes or large sticks and force people to get off the streets, and that’s not what the military is.”
He added: “I would be leery about getting involved in all of that. There are others who are better qualified to do it, I would suggest.”