Liz Truss has defended plans to cut the British army by nearly 10,000 troops as she called on other Nato countries to “step up” their defense spending.
Speaking as western leaders gathered in Madrid to discuss the alliance’s most significant transformation for a generation, the UK foreign secretary suggested there was no end in sight to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Truss pushed back against any “false peace” or “territorial compromise” being reached with the Kremlin, took swipes at several of her cabinet colleagues and called for Taiwan to be supported more in the face of threats from China.
Splits have broken out over the government’s response to the Ukraine invasion during Boris Johnson’s international tour, with the defense secretary, Ben Wallace, pushing for the department to get a significant funding increase and the head of the British army calling a plan to reduce the army from 82,000 to 72,500 perverse.
Truss defended the cut in troop numbers, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We all need to recognize that warfare now is different to warfare as it was 100 years ago, or 200 years ago.”
She said: “We need to make sure that the defense capability we have is fit for purpose for the modern world – and we face all kinds of new threats, whether it’s cyber threats, threats in space, new technology, new weaponry, and what’s important is the overall shape of those forces.”
Truss added there had been an extra £24bn for the UK’s defense budget and called on other Nato countries to meet the commitment to the 2% of gross domestic product target.
After the cold war, the west did not collectively spend enough on defence, Truss said, adding: “We also need our allies to step up. I see the 2% as a minimum and I want to see our allies spend more too.”
She appeared unimpressed by rhetoric from Johnson and Wallace in recent days. The prime minister has claimed that if Vladimir Putin were a woman, they would not have invaded Ukraine, while Wallaced small the Russian leader with “man syndrome”.
“I believe that both men and women are capable of doing evil things,” Truss told LBC, adding: “I don’t intend that I can conduct a psychological analysis of [Putin]. Nor do I think it’s helpful.”
Truss suggested there was no end in sight to the conflict in eastern Europe in which you have of thousands of troops have been killed.
She told the Today programme: “We will only successfully end this war when Russia is pushed out and there is a proper peace settlement.”
Asked whether that included Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, the foreign secretary said there should be no trade-offs or compromises with Moscow.
She was also notably hawkish on China and hinted at moves to arm Taiwan to help see off the threat of an invasion. Truss told Times Radio that the “free world” had to “make sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself, that we continue to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait”, adding: “This is a thing that we’re discussing with our allies.”
After Johnson’s allies briefed the Telegraph about concerns over whether he would get a fair hearing by the privileges committee, which on Wednesday began its investigation into whether the prime minister misled parliament over Partygate, Truss said she had full confidence in the inquiry.
When asked about the Labor MP Harriet Harman being chair of the committee, which has a Conservative majority, Truss said: “I don’t see a problem with that.”
Truss added she trusted the cross-party group of MPs to look at the allegations properly and make an appropriate judgment.