The security outlook for the UK and its allies is far more dangerous now than at any time in the past 30 years, the new head of the armed forces has warned in his first speech.
Mentioning four main rivals by name, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin called Russia’s behaviour “a threat to our values and interests” – yet he made no mention of Ukraine despite heightened concern at a threat of another Russian invasion of the country.
The chief of the defence staff accused China of “challenging international norms of behaviour: whether freedom of navigation, economic intimidation or wolf-warrior diplomacy”.
Speaking frankly, the former First Sea Lord also touched on the reputational impact of the US-led pullout from Afghanistan over the summer in the wake of a Taliban takeover.
“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,” he said.
In an annual chief of the defence staff speech to the Royal United Services think tank, Admiral Radakin described a sense of “back to the future”, with autocracies confronting democracies.
Though he said unlike in the Cold War, the picture today is far more complex with rival states competing and at the same time trading.
“We are undoubtedly more prosperous today than when the Cold War ended,” the military chief said, speaking a week after he took over from General Sir Nick Carter.
“Life expectancy has risen. Extreme poverty is falling. More girls and women are in education. More people live in democracies than ever before. And yet our security outlook is far more complex and dangerous than at any time over the past 30 years.”
He also revealed his priorities as head of the armed forces, describing as “woeful” a persistent lack of women in defence – and made a dig at officers who have been convicted of fiddling military expenses to benefit themselves, such as by wrongly claiming for school fees.
“This is not about wokefulness. It is about woefulness,” Admiral Radakin said.
“The woefulness of too few women. The woefulness of not reflecting the ethnic, religious and cognitive diversity of our nation. And the woefulness of not following our own values, whether respect for each other or the simple integrity of claiming expenses.
“This affects our culture, our fighting power, our prowess. And it is not an ‘Army thing’ or a ‘Navy thing’. It’s a challenge to the whole of defence.”