The U.K. must increase its military readiness and prepare for the possibility of a land war with Russia that could see civilians conscripted into the army, the U.K.'s Chief of the General Staff, General Patrick Sanders, said in a speech on Jan. 24.
Officials from NATO countries have voiced growing concerns about the alliance's lack of preparedness for a conflict with Russia since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Lieutenant Admiral Rob Bauer, Chair of the NATO Military Committee, said earlier in January that civilians in NATO countries should be ready for the prospect of an all-out war with Russia within the next 20 years.
Sanders said that the U.K.'s recent cuts to its army indicate it is not taking the threat from Russia and other countries seriously enough.
The U.K. announced in 2021 that it was reducing its army to 72,500, down from 100,000 in 2010. There are currently 73,000 soldiers, including reservists, U.K. Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said in January.
"Ukraine brutally illustrates that regular armies start wars; citizen armies win them," Sanders said, adding that the U.K. cannot simply rely on its air and naval power.
The U.K. must reverse the trend of slashing the size of its standing army, he emphasized, but even this may not be sufficient.
"Within the next three years, it must be credible to talk of a British Army of 120,000, folding in our reserve and strategic reserve. But this is not enough," Sanders said. Efforts to modernize and better equip the army must be an additional feature, he added.
Sanders did not call for mandatory conscription but said that "preparatory steps" are required to put NATO societies on "war footing."
He lauded Sweden for beginning what he characterized as the appropriate measures to prepare for a potential conflict. Swedish officials sparked concern within the country in January after warning there could be a war on its own territory in the coming years.
Sanders said, "We will not be immune and as the pre-war generation we must similarly prepare - and that is a whole-of-nation undertaking."
A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pushed back on Sanders' speech and implication that the U.K. might fight Russia, saying, “These kind of hypothetical scenarios, talking about conflict, are not helpful.”
The spokesperson said there is currently no possibility of a conscription-based army in the U.K.