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Volume 528: debated on Monday 16 May 2011

The UK is playing a leading role in the push to modernise NATO through the reform of its supporting agencies and improving its financial management and programming. The UK is also a leading proponent of important work to streamline NATO’s command structure. We hope to reach final agreement at a meeting of NATO Defence Ministers next month, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be attending.

The role and purpose of NATO has changed radically over the past 20 years. Does the Minister agree that NATO needs to concentrate on reviewing its strategic purpose as well as finding new ways of interacting with other international institutions in a world that is radically different from that of the cold war?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, but I suggest to him not only that article 5 is absolutely central to NATO’s mission but that since 1989, as Afghanistan, the anti-piracy operations in the Arabian sea and the Libyan operation have shown, NATO has already developed remarkable flexibility and is working with other institutions, most notably the European Union, where we are seeking to ensure there is no duplication.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that NATO remains the cornerstone of the UK’s defence, and will he resist any attempt by the EU to challenge that position?

I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that categorical assurance on behalf of the entire Government.

Does the Minister agree that any modernisation of NATO should ensure that those member nations who have the troop numbers and resources, such as Germany, should pull their weight in the same way that we do in NATO operations such as those in Afghanistan and Libya?

I am very happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman. As I have said in response to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), a number of NATO countries seek to take advantage of article 5 and the other protections that NATO gives them without divvying up the membership fee. That is certainly something that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is working on—showing other countries that if they want the protection of NATO, they have to contribute to its funding.

Will the Minister assure the House that there will be careful analysis of what went wrong in the early days of the Libyan encounter? Ever since the United States seems to have pulled back on its operational activity, we seem to be have been much less effective at defending innocent people in that country.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is being slightly churlish. I was extraordinarily impressed by the speed with which NATO responded. After all, there was a United Nations resolution and no mechanism by which it was going to be implemented. It is hugely to NATO’s credit, and particularly to the credit of its Secretary-General, that he and it made those structures available to enable support for the Libyan people to be provided not only by NATO but by many other countries. I am sure there will be a review about how successful everything has been in due course.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that despite the programme of modernisation, which is very welcome, and NATO’s extremely effective and speedy response over Libya, the question of NATO’s transformation is proceeding not nearly fast enough? Does he agree that it would be a pity if the Ministers’ meeting at NATO did not come up with a really substantial reform in that department?

As ever, my hon. Friend puts his finger on the point. He is absolutely right and we are absolutely determined. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be pressing ahead with transformation. We have led the way on this and we are determined not to let the issue lapse because if NATO is not efficient, lean and modern, it will not be able to deliver what we all seek.