Britain will send 20,000 troops from across its armed forces to take part in NATO wargames this spring – with the focus on repelling a Russian-led invasion. Such a conflict, if it were to become a reality, would likely end in a nuclear exchange, warns CND.

In a bellicose speech at Lancaster House on Monday, defence secretary Grant Shapps said the West stood at a “crossroads” and that Britain “must be prepared to deter our enemies, prepared to lead our allies and prepared to defend our nation.” He added the government would be committed to military spending of 2.5 percent of GDP and would urge other NATO members to do so.

Shapps also confirmed an announcement made by the prime minister in October, that 20,000 armed forces personnel from across the Royal Navy, RAF, and British Army will take place in the upcoming NATO Steadfast Defender Exercise, due to take place in February and March. He added that the deployment is one of “NATO’s largest deployments since the end of the Cold War.”

They’ll be joined by troops from the other 30 NATO members as well as Sweden – whose application to join the bloc has been held up by Turkey. According to the Financial Times, the drills will take place across Germany, Poland and the Baltics and are “designed to model potential manoeuvres against an enemy modelled on a coalition led by Russia, named Occasus for the purposes of the drill.” Shapps said the drills – which happen to coincide with the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – would provide “vital reassurance against the Putin menace.”

The British contingent, according to the Ministry of Defence, will include the deployment of “eight warships and submarines.” Britain’s submarine fleet includes six nuclear-powered but conventionally-armed Astute-class attack submarines as well as four nuclear-armed Vanguard-class submarines. Shapps didn’t mention which submarines would join the exercise. However, he would be unlikely to admit that nuclear-armed submarines would take part under the policy of strategic ambiguity.

NATO’s annual nuclear drills – Steadfast Noon – took place last October across southern Europe. During its annual summit in Vilnius last year, NATO members agreed to increase the number of annual drills it conducted from one to two, as well as conduct training against terrorist threats outside its borders.

CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said:

“NATO military planners are keen to wargame a conflict with Russia and this will no doubt involve planning for the potential use of nuclear weapons. The US deployment of F-35 warplanes and new B61-12 guided nuclear bombs to Europe is in full swing and NATO’s nuclear doctrine allows for first-strike attacks. With an escalating war in the Middle East, and the continuing war in Ukraine, now is not the time for bellicose talk, and provocative exercises. Our government needs to take steps to bring about ceasefires in both Gaza and Ukraine, rather than escalating tension and preparing for more wars. Either of these wars could go nuclear and they have to be brought to a peaceful and just conclusion before the worst happens.”

Image Credit: Crown Copyright 2014 / Photographer: SAC Mark Parkinson / Defence Imagery Flickr