NATO Nowhere Near Ready for Direct War With Russia: Ex-General

A former NATO general has warned that the alliance is not ready to engage in a war with Russia should its invasion of Ukraine turn into a "worst case" scenario.

General Sir Richard Shirreff, who served as the deputy supreme allied commander Europe between 2011 and 2014, said the success of Ukraine's counteroffensive had been "vindication" of the military support for Kyiv, particularly from the U.S. and U.K.

The Briton said that could "send a powerful message to the wobbly nations" in the alliance about backing Kyiv, "particularly the Germans who have been utterly pathetic."

But in his call for NATO members to "take the gloves off" and "ramp up" the supply of weaponry to Kyiv, Shirreff feared that the alliance was not in a position to act, should the war spill beyond the borders of Ukraine.

Sir Richard Shirreff poses for picture
Sir Richard Shirreff attends the Edinburgh International Book Festival on August 22, 2016 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Britain's former top NATO commander says the alliance needs to "be prepared for the worst case." Awakening/Getty Images

"The way to manage the risk of escalation is for NATO to be prepared for the worst case and that is still not happening," he told Newsweek. "When I mean the worst case, the worst case is NATO at war with Russia."

Since the start of Vladimir Putin's full-scale invasion on February 24, the U.S. and its NATO allies have tried to tread the fine line between giving military help to Kyiv without escalating the conflict.

Russian state media and some politicians in Moscow pointing to the military support that NATO is giving Kyiv have already framed the conflict as one between the alliance and Moscow.

Direct NATO involvement would only happen if one of its member states faced attack, triggering its principle of collective defense, Article 5, a predicament Shirreff said that the alliance is unprepared for.

"Being ready for the worst-case means mobilizing reserves. It means rebuilding lost capabilities thrown away in years of defense cuts.

"It means getting industry tooled up to produce artillery shells, anti-tank resolves, anti-aircraft missiles," he said. "Not only to replace stocks handed over to the Ukrainians, but also to start building up our own stocks because we are hollowed out."

"Tick in box for certain NATO nations providing weaponry," he said referring to the assistance given to Kyiv. "Tick in box for the statement made by [alliance chief Jens] Stoltenberg after the NATO summit about the commitment to Ukraine and the defeat of Russia."

NATO drills
Members of Lithuania's Armed forces are pictured in March in Kazlu Ruda, Lithuania, as part of the Defender-Europe 2022 military drills between U.S. troops and allied forces. Former NATO general Sir Richard Shirreff said the alliance is not ready for a war with Russia. Paulius Peleckis/Getty Images

"But absolutely Gamma fail for doing what needs to be done to prepare for war," said Shirreff, who is now executive vice chairman of Sigma7 Global Risk Outcomes.

In July, Stoltenberg said there would be a seven-fold increase in the number of alliance troops on high readiness as part of the NATO Response Force (NRF). However, in August, he urged Western nations to provide more weapons more quickly to help Ukraine, particularly with winter coming.

In March, the alliance's annual report said that just eight of its 30 nations met its guidelines that at least 2 percent of a member's gross domestic product (GDP) be spent on defense.

Rose Gottemoeller, NATO's deputy secretary general from 2016 to 2019, told Newsweek that Ukraine's counteroffensive was an "amazing example of how well Ukraine has worked together with NATO allies and with NATO itself to improve the performance of its armed forces."

Shirreff's criticism of Germany follows accusations by Ukraine that Berlin is ignoring Kyiv's pleas for weapons such as tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, although it has promised further military aid.

Newsweek has contacted the German foreign ministry and NATO for comment.