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US Administration: NATO

Volume 618: debated on Monday 12 December 2016

1. What discussions he has had with the incoming US Administration on their policy on article 5 of the NATO treaty. (907771)

5. What discussions he has had with the incoming US Administration on their policy on article 5 of the NATO treaty. (907775)

President-elect Trump has confirmed the importance of NATO during telephone calls with the Prime Minister and the NATO Secretary-General. I have written to General James Mattis to congratulate him on his nomination as Secretary of Defence, and I look forward to meeting him after his confirmation hearing.

General James Mattis has warned against appeasing the Russian regime and has said it is President Putin’s intention to break NATO apart. Does the Secretary of State agree that President-elect Trump would do well to listen to his general and to recommit the US unequivocally not just to NATO but to article 5?

General Mattis is not only experienced in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan but has served as a NATO commander. He is well aware of the importance of the alliance not only to our security but to the United States itself, and it is the unity of the alliance that sends the most powerful message to President Putin.

At the recent Warsaw summit, NATO leaders made a commitment to step up collective action against Daesh. What assurances has the Secretary of State had from the incoming Administration that they remain committed to that and to the principle of collective defence in working with allies in the fight against Daesh?

I shall be hosting the counter-Daesh coalition ministerial meeting in London on Thursday. I have seen nothing from the incoming Administration’s plans to indicate that they would take any different approach. The United States is leading the coalition work against Daesh. Considerable progress is being made in Iraq and starting to be made in Syria. NATO, too, now has a contribution to make to that.

Given the precision airdrop capability of the US and NATO, what conversations has the Secretary of State had with the incoming US Administration and with other allies on the feasibility of using this specific capability to alleviate the suffering in Aleppo?

We have continually examined options for getting aid into Aleppo, where people are now in the most appalling situation. It is almost impossible to get food or medicines in by airdrop, when the air defences are controlled by Russia and the Syrian regime and permissions are not forthcoming. We have looked at other options, such as using the airfield—but it is outside the control of the moderate opposition—and militarised convoys. We will continue to look at all kinds of options, but it is already very, very late for the people of eastern Aleppo.

When I was a young officer serving in the British Army of the Rhine and in West Berlin, I made the assumption that article 5 was a trigger: if anyone attacked a NATO nation, every member would automatically go to war. I am wondering whether that is exactly right now or whether we have just a commitment to consult, which would take much longer than an automatic reversion to war.

Article 5 was last invoked after 9/11, when the rest of the alliance pledged to do everything possible to help the United States following the most appalling attack on the twin towers. The answer to my hon. Friend's question, of course, is that once article 5 is triggered, each member state has to examine its obligations to the alliance as a whole. Before that stage, as tensions escalate, I would expect the deployments that we have prepared, including the very high readiness taskforce, to be enacted.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new Administration will be much more interested in deeds than in words when it comes to NATO and article 5, and that Britain is setting an example for the rest of Europe not just on the 2% but with the troop deployments we plan for Poland and the Baltic states?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and, indeed, we agree with President-elect Trump’s call for other European countries to do more. It is true that eight of the 28 members have now set in place firm plans to reach the 2% figure. We reach 2%, but some 19 members of NATO do not even do 1.5%, and four or five of them do not even do 1%. So European country members of NATO, in particular, still have a long way to go to fulfil the pledges on which we all agreed at the Wales summit.

It was a pleasure to read recently of the work that HMS Torbay has been doing in helping to secure the maritime security of our allies. Does the Secretary of State agree, though, that it is vital that the incoming US Administration in January recognise that there is no such thing as a peripheral NATO state, because an attack on one is an attack on all?

Absolutely; that is the principle of collective defence, and it is the best possible message to send on any further aggression from Russia—we have seen a huge increase in Russian submarine activity in recent years—or indeed on the threat from terrorism. We stand together.

On Friday, the head of MI6, Alex Younger, warned about Russian meddling in UK domestic politics. Given the revelations from the CIA about the Kremlin’s involvement in influencing the outcome of the US election, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with our NATO allies—US and European—to tackle this type of hybrid warfare interfering in other countries’ democratic electoral processes?

We are now seeing a rather disturbing pattern of allegations of direct Russian interference in areas as far apart as Bulgaria, the referendum in the Netherlands, and continuing pressure on the Baltic states. We agreed at Warsaw that the European Union and NATO would come together to co-operate on hybrid warfare, in particular, and to look at the various techniques that were necessary to help us all resist that kind of pressure.

For many years in this Chamber, people have been asking why European countries that are members of NATO are not spending 2%, and we are always told that it will happen, but it just does not seem to happen. What pressure can we put on other members of NATO to fulfil their commitment?

We agreed this commitment at the Wales summit back in the autumn of 2014. That, at least, has halted the decline in defence spending across the alliance. As I said, a number of member states—roughly half the alliance—are now committed to increasing their spending, and eight of the 28 are firmly planning to get up to 2%. The transparency involved in publishing the table every year in itself stiffens the arm of Defence Ministers when they are tackling their Finance Ministers. It is certainly encouraging to see the increase in defence spending by the countries that feel most vulnerable: the Baltic states, for example, with increases also in Bulgaria and Romania.

May I press the Secretary of State on this issue? The question was about the discussions he has had with the President-elect, and his answer was that the President-elect “confirmed the importance of NATO”. What does that actually mean for article 5 and for the policies that President-elect Trump will pursue when he becomes President? NATO and the defenders of the west need to know the answers on that. What are the Government actually saying to President-elect Trump about what policies he should pursue, and what are the answers that the Secretary of State is getting? We need a bit more than “confirmed the importance of NATO”.

That was a lot of questions to which I am sure a dextrous and pithy reply will trip forth from the tongue of the Secretary of State.

As I indicated, there have been two phone calls with the Prime Minister. The incoming President has not yet taken office, and his nominees for the different offices have yet to be confirmed, but there is a clear understanding between us and the United States Administration of the importance of NATO not simply to us here but to the United States itself.

My colleagues and I on Labour’s defence team recently returned from a briefing visit to NATO in Brussels and to SHAPE—Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe—in Mons, where we were told about plans to ensure the security of the Baltic states and, of course, about our armed forces’ leading role in helping to defend Estonia. May I press the Secretary of State further on what assessment he and his Department have made of the impact that President-elect Trump’s policies may have on the ability of NATO to implement article 5, should that ever be necessary?

The United States itself will be leading one of the four forward battalions next year. It will be leading the battalion in Poland, and we will be adding a company of our own troops to that battalion. We, as the hon. Gentleman said, will be leading in Estonia, and Canada and Germany will be leading in the other two countries. We have absolutely no evidence at the moment that the United States is going to alter its position on that; on the contrary, I have been over the Atlantic twice in the past three weeks, and from my discussions with the US military and with Senators and Congressmen who take an interest in defence, I have every reason to believe that the United States will confirm its commitment to the alliance.