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UK 'reticent to tackle Russia'

Defence cuts have left Britain reticent to tackle Russia's interference in UK airspace and offshore waters, according to the former head of the Army.

General Sir Peter Wall said the "consequences" of the squeeze on funding is now "playing out" in the UK's approach to dealing with Vladimir Putin.

In an article for The Daily Telegraph, he warned the West has been "caught napping" amid increasing threats from the Russian Federation and Islamic State.

Sir Peter criticised the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and said funding reductions were based on the assumption that there would be a "reasonably benign security environment for this decade" following the drawdown of combat troops from Afghanistan.

He wrote: "It was acknowledged that we would have less capability in an unexpected crisis than we would wish, and our political choices would be constrained.

"We can now see those consequences playing out in our reticence to counter Russian expansionism, and her interference in our airspace and offshore waters."

Sir Peter called on the Government to meet the Nato target of spending 2% of national income on defence.

He wrote: "In an era of moral and physical disarmament the West has been caught napping."

It comes after a report by the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) said it was inevitable that Britain's defence spending would drop below the Nato target in the face of continuing austerity cuts.

Up to 30,000 service personnel could go - with the Army likely to bear the heaviest cuts - leaving the armed forces with a combined strength of just 115,000 by the end of the decade, it predicted.

Prime Minister David Cameron is under growing pressure from Tory MPs and peers to make a manifesto commitment to the target.

The leadership is braced for significant criticism over its position when a backbench business motion comes before the Commons on Thursday.

Nick Clegg has claimed Mr Cameron will fail to spend 2% of GDP on defence because he is ideologically wedded to shrinking the state.

Labour has also refused to commit to the figure, with the party's Treasury spokesman, Chris Leslie, telling the BBC: "I know it will be difficult to keep that level of 2% of GDP, but I can tell you it is absolutely impossible under the Conservative trajectory."

Concern about the declining share of the military burden being borne by European countries was also expressed by the American ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.

Ms Power used a speech in Brussels last night to appeal for higher spending and to say US P resident Barack Obama will host a summit in September "to help catalyse a wave of new commitments" to peacekeeping forces.

Asked what her message would be to whoever was in 10 Downing Street after May's general election, she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "The United Kingdom is exceptional, has been a staunch Nato ally, and has stepped up, whether on Isil or on Ebola or in Afghanistan.

"So this is not about one country but it is about a larger collective security challenge that we are now facing.

"I'm not coming to Europe to tell any single country how much to spend or where to spend it, but I am observing that there is a gap between the collective security needs that we all have and the resources that we are bringing to bear."

She said the decline in investment was "concerning" when European forces had such an important part to play in UN-led missions.

"This is concerning. The number of missions that require advanced militaries to contribute around the world is growing, not shrinking," she said - pointing to the coalition against Islamic State or the fight to control the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

"If anything, they are growing more diffuse and requiring more contributions in more places.

"The leaders of the Nato countries agreed to a 2% allocation. Not only is that number only met, I think, by two countries besides ourselves in the Alliance, but in most countries the amount of defence spending is shrinking."

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