WARSAW, Poland — Britain's defense secretary said Tuesday that Russia's war on Ukraine has been a “wake-up call” for NATO members, making them realize that their militaries need to be better and invest more in defense.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said many nations in Europe had become complacent after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin has become “in a sense, a gift to NATO.”
He spoke during a panel discussion at the Warsaw Security Forum, a two-day gathering of trans-Atlantic leaders, security and defense experts.
Conference attendees included Ukraine's first lady, Olena Zelenska, who thanked Poland and other allies for their support of her country.
Wallace described Putin as a “pantomime villain” who “reminded us that there really is somebody out there who really, really wants to not only challenge us, but wants to inflict violence.”
He said there is agreement among his colleagues that they have not invested enough in their militaries.
“On the surface our militaries can boast numbers,” he said at the forum. “But below that bonnet, we have not enough infrastructure, not enough spare parts, not enough personnel, not enough modern weaponry, not enough weapon stocks. That’s all coming home to roost, and we’re going to have to deal with that. And that is going to cost money.”
The British government has said that it plans to increase its military spending in the next years to 3% of GDP.
Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was asked about the criticism Germany has faced in Central and Eastern Europe, where many feel Berlin made itself too dependent on Russian gas in the past and did not move forcefully enough to send weapons to Ukraine.
She said: “I can totally understand that there are so many questions especially in the Eastern countries: ‘so do you mean it this time?’”
“And I can only say: please trust us, yes, we mean it. This time we will defend every corner of our NATO territory. We will support Ukraine as long as they need us but we will do it with our international partners,” Baerbock said.