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UK risks falling behind France as NATO’s military power in Europe

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The UK might fall behind France as NATO’s foremost military power in Europe, a think tank has warned. An annual comparison of the strengths of armed forces around the world by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) states that France has more combat aircraft, more frigates and more troops than Britain despite spending significantly less on defence, according to the military balance.

A senior IISS researcher warned that “the jury’s out” on whether Britain still maintained the most capable military in Europe, reported The Times.

Asked whether there was a risk of Britain being replaced by France — or Germany — as the foremost military power in Europe, Brigadier Ben Barry, a senior fellow for land warfare at the IISS, told the publication “the jury’s out”.

He also questioned the commitment, made in the last integrated review, for the British armed forces to play a more active role in the Indo-Pacific as troops “can’t be in two places at once”.

He said: “France and Germany have militaries that are in some respects larger.

“The UK has a pretty capable navy and air force.

“Across its forces, it’s also well-balanced between combat support [and] logistics . . . in a way that not many other expeditionary armed forces are.

“But they’re now very, very small, and they can’t be in two places at once.”

He added: “Ukraine poses uncomfortable questions in terms of the size of the British stockpiles of spare parts and ammunition and its ability to sustain a high intensity of combat.

“It also poses uncomfortable questions for the army, which is much less modernised than the navy or the air force.

“I’d say the jury’s out. If the plans the MoD has come to fruition, some of these deficits will be tackled but not all . . . whether they’ll be tackled quickly enough, that’s an open question.”

President Macron has unveiled a multi-year plan to boost defence spending by a third to protect France from the increased threat of Russian aggression.

Rishi Sunak is reluctant to sanction a similar increase in British defence spending.

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The Treasury has pointed to the Ministry of Defence’s recent history of wasteful procurement as it resists pressure to spend more on the armed forces.

Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, has promised to increase defence spending once the government publishes its integrated review of foreign policy next month.

However, in its annual assessment of the world’s militaries, the IISS said it was likely there would be a real-terms cut in British defence spending due to high inflation.

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