General Patrick Sanders’ comments were interpreted as a call for conscription
The UK’s Chief of the General Staff, Patrick Sanders, has said that civilians should be “trained and equipped” for a potential call-up to fight Russia. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted that there are no plans to introduce conscription, and rebuked the general for his comments.
In a speech at the International Armored Vehicles conference in London, Sanders said that the UK must urgently expand the size of the army to around 120,000 within three years, almost doubling the force from its current strength of just under 76,000.
But this is not enough,” he declared, adding that Britain must start a “whole-of-nation undertaking” to train and equip a “citizen army” that could be activated in the event of a hypothetical war with Russia.
The general cited Sweden as an example for the UK to follow, hailing the Nordic nation of just over ten million people for taking “preparatory steps” to placing its society “on a war footing.” Sweden, which has been approved to join NATO, announced plans earlier this month to reintroduce civil conscription, having reinstated military conscription in 2017.
“Ukraine brutally illustrates that regular armies start wars; citizen armies win them,” Sanders declared.
Sanders’ statement was widely perceived as a call for conscription, and Sunak’s office issued a statement shortly afterwards to downplay concerns of a potential draft.
“The British military has a proud tradition of being a voluntary force. There are no plans to change that,” a spokesman for the prime minister said. “Engaging in hypothetical wars,” the spokesman added, was “not helpful.”
Sanders has predicted a hypothetical war with Russia on several occasions over the last two years. In a letter written days after he assumed command of the army in June 2022, the general declared that “there is now a burning imperative to forge an army capable of fighting alongside our allies and defeating Russia in battle,” and that preparations must be made to “fight in Europe once again.”
Sanders will be replaced as chief of the general staff in June by General Roly Walker. According to British media reports, Sanders was forced out of his job over his bellicose comments. However, Sanders is not an outlier in the British defense establishment. The UK’s new defense minister, Grant Shapps, said last week that the country must be prepared for an all-out war with Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, and that military spending will be hiked beyond its current target of 2.5% of GDP to meet this “existential threat.”
Britain’s army, navy, and air force ended 2023 with 184,865 active-duty personnel, the lowest number since the end of the Napoleonic wars. The army alone has seen its headcount shrink from more than 100,000 in 2010 to 75,983 at the end of last year.
Russia, by contrast, has more than 1.1 million active duty troops, around 617,000 of whom are currently active in the combat zone in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin revealed last month.