I beg to move,
That this House has considered NATO.
As we look around this Chamber, we see plaques on the walls, such as that of Major Ronald Cartland, killed in action during the retreat to Dunkirk; Lieutenant Colonel Somerset Arthur Maxwell, who died of wounds received at the battle of El Alamein; and Captain George Grey, killed in action fighting in Normandy. These are just some of the men who served as Members in this House who lost their lives defending our country in the second world war. They remind us of the sacrifice that people have made so that we can enjoy the freedoms and democracy of today.
They are only a small number, however, of those from every part of the country and the Commonwealth who gave everything to save our nation from one of the greatest threats it had ever faced. It is all too easy to forget the price they paid. We in this House have never been in a situation in which the actual existence of our country has been called into question. While the sacrifice and service of so many delivered victory in 1945, however, we should not forget either that Britain continued facing a real and enduring danger after that moment.
It is stronger than that, is it not? Ronald Cartland was at Cassel, on the corner between Dunkirk and Calais, when the evacuation was happening at Dunkirk. They stayed at Cassel knowing they would almost certainly lose their lives if they stayed the extra day. It is a phenomenal sacrifice they made. They knew death was coming and yet they were able to stand there to protect others.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. It is difficult to articulate or convey in a speech the sacrifice that was made, not just by one but by many, in order that we might have what we have today. The sacrifice, the commitment and the dedication, not just of those in the past but of those who continue to serve in our armed forces today, are so often forgotten by all of us. That is why we all in the House have a special duty towards them.
After the second world war, we still could not take peace and stability for granted, and it was then that we turned to NATO and the tens of thousands of British servicemen and women who stepped up to protect our nation from new threats. Had Ernest Bevin not set out his vision of a joint western military strategy and helped to sell the idea to the United States and other nation states, it is doubtful that NATO would have been born. And had it not been for the willingness of Clement Attlee’s Government to support the idea and the continued backing of successive Conservative and Labour Governments, this great strategic military alliance would never have got off the ground, let alone grown and matured into the great military alliance that has protected us for almost 70 years.
It is well worth reminding ourselves what NATO has achieved in the decades since its birth. It has consolidated the post-world war two transatlantic link. It has prevented the re-emergence of conflicts that had dogged Europe for centuries. It has led operations in the Balkans and Afghanistan. What would have happened if NATO had not held firm during the bitter chill of the cold war? Would the Berlin Wall still stand, casting its shadow over the west? Would millions still be living free, secure and prosperous lives? Even as we enter a new age of warfare, NATO continues to adapt to the times.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the appropriate way in which he has framed this debate, and it is true that NATO played and continues to play an irreplaceable role in the security of the west, but it faces immense challenges, which I know he will come to in his speech, not only from without but from within. One of them is its inability to transform itself fast enough in the face of current challenges, which are quite outside anything it has ever faced before and for which it is remarkably ill equipped. Does he agree, therefore, that it is incumbent on the Governments of the 29 members to make it a part of the 2018 NATO summit that transformation must proceed apace and that the political and military will of those Governments must be reflected in those decisions?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we do not change not just our military structures to ensure that they can best respond, but the political structures to which the military structures will turn to be given their direction—if we do not change, if we do not reform, if we do not have the agility to respond to the enemies that this nation and our allies face—NATO will be an organisation that is found wanting.
The presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Chamber, just before he ran out of the door—[Hon. Members: “He is here!”]—prompts me to raise with the Secretary of State the question of funding. Will he reconfirm the notion that our contribution of 2% of GDP is not a target but an absolute floor, and that if we are to stand true with our friends in NATO we must aim for 2.5% or 3%, because otherwise we will simply not be able to do what we are seeking to do in the world?
With my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer peering at me from behind the Speaker’s Chair, I feel that I must be on my very best behaviour.
We have always seen 2% as a floor, and spending on defence has varied over the years. I think that when the Government came to office it was at a slightly higher level than 2%. Indeed, I think that when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was Secretary of State for Defence it stood at 2.3% and 2.4%, but that took account of the operations in which we were involved in Afghanistan.
Was my right hon. Friend talking about a flaw or a floor? [Laughter.]
As we see it, 2% is very much a floor: a base on which to build. We can be very proud to be one of the few nations in NATO that meet the 2% commitment, and we can be exceptionally proud of the work done under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon)—and, of course, that of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor before he moved to the Foreign Office—in establishing that all NATO members needed to spend more.
There are various metrics by which our peacetime defence investment can be measured, one of which is how it compares with spending on other high-expenditure departmental matters such as health, education and welfare. Does my right hon. Friend recall that as recently as the 1980s, we were spending roughly the same on defence as we were spending on health and education? I am not saying we should repeat that, but given that we are spending two and half times as much on education as we spend on defence, and four times as much on health—and that was before the recent rise—does he not believe that defence has fallen a bit too far down the scale of our national priorities?
I could see the excitement on the Chancellor’s face as my right hon. Friend outlined his proposals. I was not sure whether it constituted agreement that we should be setting those targets, but I am sure that we shall have to negotiate on the issue over a long period.
We must ensure that NATO is adapting—and continues to adapt—to the times, and also to the threats that it faces. Since its creation, we have always seen Britain leading from the front. Not only do we assign our independent nuclear deterrent to the defence of the alliance, as we have for the past 56 years, but our service personnel and defence civilians are on the ground in Eastern Europe at this very moment, providing a deterrence against Russian aggression.
It has been my privilege to see their dedication and devotion to duty in Estonia, where we are leading a multinational battlegroup, and in Poland where they are supporting the United States forces. And at the same time our sailors are commanding half of NATO’s standing naval forces, and our pilots, ground crew, and aircraft have returned to the Black sea region, based in Romania, to police the skies of our south-eastern European allies. Just last year UK forces led the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force and we became the first ally to deliver cyber-capabilities in support of NATO operations.
Meanwhile, UK personnel form a critical part of NATO’s command structure. So I am proud that the UK will be sending more than 100 additional UK personnel to bolster that command structure, taking our total to well over 1,000. As we look at the emerging threats and the challenges our nation faces going forward, it is clear that we must make sure that NATO has the resources: that it has the capability and the people to man those command structures, in order for us to meet those threats.
NATO needs the extra support to deal with the growing threats. The dangers we face are multiplying all the time and come from every direction. We are confronting a host of new threats from extremism to cyber-warfare, dangers global in nature that require an international response and a global presence. We are witnessing the rise of rogue states conducting proxy wars and causing regional instability, while old threats are returning.
Russia is a case in point. Back in 2010 Russia was not clearly identified as a threat. The focus of our attention was ungoverned spaces such as Afghanistan and Iraq, but by 2015 the emergence of new threats was becoming apparent to everyone and this threat has accelerated and increased over the last three years.
In 2010 our Royal Navy was called on just once to respond to a Russian naval ship approaching UK territorial waters; last year it was called on 33 times. Russian submarine activity has increased tenfold in the north Atlantic, to a level not seen since the cold war. The Russians are also investing in new technology, through which they aim to outpace our capability. They are concentrating on our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and we must be realistic and accept that we are going to have to invest in new capabilities to deal with these new threats.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is a re-emergence of a peer-on-peer threat, and while some great new pieces of kit are now entering service with our Army, Navy and Air Force, does he agree that the pace of their arrival and the new capabilities that will augment them cannot be swift enough as we make sure we are capable once again of fighting against our peers, not just mounting counter-insurgency operations?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the pace and delivery of both the new equipment and the support we give our armed forces is important. We must make sure they get that new equipment, that new kit and that new capability as swiftly as we can.
Our Air Force planes have been scrambled 38 times since 2012 in response to Russian military aircraft. Russia continues to use its cyber-bots and fake news to undermine democracies across the world; we have seen very clear examples of that in Montenegro, Estonia and elsewhere. And we ourselves have had the shocking attack in Salisbury—the first offensive nerve agent attack on European streets since the second world war.
So there is plenty to focus our minds as we head into the Brussels summit. That is why, earlier this month at the NATO Defence Ministers meetings, we took decisions alongside our allies to further strengthen NATO’s command structure, enhancing its naval presence and putting in place the right capabilities to defend the Euro-Atlantic area as it is increasingly threatened. We also took that opportunity to clarify our three priorities for the pivotal summit meeting in July.
On the issue of the Brussels summit, while it is true that NATO is inestimably more important in collective defence than the European Union, Europe’s nascent defence capability has nevertheless shown itself to have some utility. When we leave the European Union, what will our response be to things that have worked, such as Operation Atalanta and the EU battle groups, of which the UK has been an important part?
We have always been clear that the interests of European security are very much our interests. That was the case before we joined the European Union and it will certainly be the case after we leave. We are open to discussions about how we can continue to work with our European partners—working and leading, if and when that is appropriate. We must not underestimate our capability compared with that of other European nations. We are at the leading edge. We are one of the very few European nations that can lead operations and make a real difference. We recognise the fact that, as we leave the European Union, we want good strong relationships in terms not only of operations but of defence strategy, procurement and industrial strategy. We will continue to work closely with the European Union.
My constituency is home to Astrium, which is involved in the Galileo project, and to MBDA, which manufactures Brimstone, Sea Ceptor and a variety of other products that keep our country safe. This shows the strength of bilateral relationships and the importance of procurement. Is the Secretary of State confident that that will continue to happen?
I am confident that we will be able to reach agreement on how we move forward. We must not forget that 90% of the defence industry relationships we have with other European nations are bilateral, rather than being conducted through the European Union. That is something that we will look to continue to strengthen.
As we look forward to the NATO summit, we need to accept first and foremost that we have to invest more in defence. We need our allies to step up and spend a minimum of 2%. This is something that the United Kingdom has led on ever since the Wales NATO summit in 2014, and our efforts have encouraged all allies to increase their spending. More are meeting that target, and most have plans to reach it. As the NATO Secretary General said earlier this month, non-US spending has increased by $87 billion between 2014 and 2018, but the US still accounts for more than 70% of the allies’ combined defence expenditure. When Britain leaves the European Union, 82% of NATO’s contribution will come from non-EU countries. We have to be honest with ourselves, however. We cannot expect US taxpayers to keep picking up the tab for European defence indefinitely; nor can we expect US patience to last for ever. We as a continent have to step up to the responsibility of playing a pivotal role in defending ourselves and not to expect others to do it for us.
Today presents us with an opportunity to play a bigger role in defence. Our next priority will be about ensuring that the alliance is ready to act rapidly. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) touched on at the start of the debate, we need to be able to act within weeks, days or hours, not months.
The right hon. Gentleman will remember the discussions we had about NATO and defence spending when he was wearing a different hat about a year ago. Will he go into more detail about the other countries that are not contributing 2% of GDP? When does he estimate that some of our major European partners will reach the 2% threshold? They are spending more, but when are they likely to reach the threshold?
I remember those discussions well, and I kind of wish that the right hon. Gentleman had demanded that a few more ships be built at Harland and Wolff—perhaps a third aircraft carrier. We expect eight nations to be meeting the 2% target by the end of this year and 14 nations by 2024, but that is still not enough. Some of the largest economies in Europe continue to lag behind considerably. Estonia is meeting the 2% target, but we must encourage other nations, such as Germany, to take the opportunity to spend 2% on defence. My open offer to them is that if they do not know how to spend it, I am sure that we could do that for them.
The Secretary of State mentioned logistics and forward planning just before the question from the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds). Given our continuing commitment to withdraw from Germany, will he update the House on the Government’s thinking about rebasing there?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about readiness and our ability to respond. I will touch on that later in my speech, so the hon. Gentleman should feel free to intervene then if I need to make something clear.
Going back to the naval issue and equipping NATO, does my right hon. Friend agree that that is about not just increasing the level of spending to 2%, but where it is invested? The Royal Navy is going through a period of complete renewal and will have some of the most advanced ships and capabilities in the world. Will he be making representations, especially at the NATO summit, about the need to review matters and have leading technologies, particularly against the threat of Russian naval technology? After the failure of the Zumwalt-class destroyers and its return to the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the United States is going backwards with some of its technology.
We can be proud of our investments in new technology, such as the new Poseidon aircraft that will operate over the north Atlantic or the Type 26 frigates that are currently being constructed in Glasgow. We are leading the world in the development of and investment in technology. Nations such as the United States actually look to us to take that leadership, to point the way forward and to take responsibility for ensuring that the north Atlantic routes remain safe.
On the readiness of our armed forces, will the Secretary of State tell us about the Government’s record on Army recruitment? We are worried that they are making insufficient progress on this important matter.
We are doing everything that we can, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces is leading on that, ensuring that meet all our operational requirements and, most importantly, changing how we recruit so that we are able to fill the Army to our desired target of 82,000.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I have been very generous in taking interventions. Will the hon. Gentleman let me make some progress?
We need to look at how we ensure NATO is able to respond swiftly to changing threats not in months, not just in weeks but in days and hours, and not simply on land, sea and air but in the new grey danger zones of cyber-space and space itself. For that to happen, our alliance must keep changing and adapting to deal with new threats. NATO must reform itself structurally so there are far fewer barriers to action, and it must reform itself politically so nations can swiftly agree on measures to take and on how to use the power at their disposal decisively, particularly when it comes to cyber and hybrid attacks, which often occur beneath the normal threshold for a collective response.
Lastly, NATO must maintain the mass needed to assemble, reinforce and win a conflict in Europe at short notice. We need to look at how we can forward base more of our equipment, and possibly personnel. That is why today we are looking hard at our infrastructure in Germany, particularly our vehicle storage, heavy transport and training facilities. Along with our NATO allies, we are continually testing our agility and responsiveness through exercises in Europe.
We need to do more, and we need to look more closely at how we can have the forces we need to deal with the threats we face today. The threats today are so different from the threats in 2010, but we should not underestimate our adversaries’ intent and willingness to use military force.
I see that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is no longer with us, but it will not have escaped his notice that this is a very well attended debate.
When the Defence Secretary gave evidence to the Select Committee on Defence, he told us it would take 90 days to mobilise our war-fighting division and deploy it to the Baltic states in an emergency. Can he give the House any reassurance that we are looking at that again in the Modernising Defence programme to see whether we can come up with ways of responding more quickly if the situation requires?
We must not look at this issue in isolation. We need to look at it as an issue that every NATO member has to face and deal with. We have to work incredibly closely with our allies, whether it is Germany, Poland or Estonia, on how we can be more responsive and how we can ensure that we have the capability to react to those changing threats.
NATO is only as strong as its weakest link, so every NATO member must do what it needs to do to give its people the modern equipment, the skills and the support to cope with the challenges that lie ahead. We need a future force that is able to respond rapidly and globally, a force that can operate in the full range of combat environments and across all domains, and a force to provide leadership in NATO, European formations and coalitions.
We must never hesitate: sometimes we will have to lead others, and sometimes we will have to act alone. We have to have the capability and the armed forces to be able to do that. NATO must do more to up its spending, to speed up its response and to reinforce its capabilities, but to succeed in this darker and more dangerous age, it must show one quality above all—resolve.
As in the old days of the cold war, adversaries new and old are seeking to divide us, to undermine our values and to spread lies and misinformation. Our response must be unity. We must stand firm and we must stand together, speaking with one voice and holding fast to the vision that united us in the days of old against aggression, against totalitarianism and against those who wish to do us harm. And we must be ready to stand in defence of our security and our prosperity.
The UK should be immensely proud of the role it has played in the alliance since its inception and of the way it has helped lead the organisation during the most challenging period in its modern history, but, as I told our allies the other day, we are not looking backwards. Our eyes are firmly fixed on the future and on how we can make sure NATO remains the world’s greatest defensive alliance, the guardian of free people everywhere and the guarantor of the security of future generations.
In its great charter, NATO commits
“to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.”
Those are British values. They are at the heart of our nation. For the past 70 years, brave British men and women have given their all to defend our nation. We are determined to do everything in our power to ensure the alliance continues to guard our great liberties for another 70 years and beyond.
I welcome this opportunity to debate the role of NATO. The timing is particularly appropriate, with the debate coming ahead of the NATO summit next month. The alliance is the cornerstone of our defence and our collective security, and Labour Members are proud of the role our party played in its founding. The leadership of Clement Attlee and his Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, was so instrumental in setting up the alliance in 1949. Bevin moved the motion
“That this House approves the North Atlantic Treaty”.
That established NATO. He spoke in that debate of the backdrop of growing global instability and the shared determination of the 12 founding members to avoid any return to conflict. The increasingly aggressive actions of the Soviet Union drove the Government to consider, as he put it,
“how like-minded, neighbourly peoples, whose institutions had been marked down for destruction, could get together, not for the purpose of attack, but in sheer self-defence.”—[Official Report, 12 May 1949; Vol. 464, c. 2011-2013.]
Bevin was clear that the creation of the alliance was not an aggressive act but was instead about deterrence, a fundamental principle of NATO to this day. The Atlantic treaty was to send a message to potential adversaries that NATO’s members were not a number of weak, divided nations, but rather a united front bound together in the common cause of collective self-defence.
Last year, the Labour party leader was asked about article 5 of the NATO treaty and he responded:
“That doesn’t necessarily mean sending troops. It means diplomatic, it means economic, it means sanctions, it means a whole range of things.”
Will the hon. Lady clarify from the Dispatch Box now that, if one of our NATO allies were attacked militarily and he were Prime Minister, he would respond with military action?
I will confirm that Labour 100% supports NATO and, as the Leader of the Opposition has made absolutely clear, we want to work within it to promote democracy and to project stability. That is exactly what we would do if we were in government.
Nobody doubts the hon. Lady’s commitment to our armed forces and to NATO, but her leader has one signal virtue, consistency—it is a virtue in a politician. He has not changed his mind on anything since the 1970s. What then are we to make of an individual who only six years ago said that NATO was a “danger to world peace” and that it was “a major problem”?
As I have just explained, our leader has been very clear about the position we hold, and he does see that working within NATO is very important for projecting stability and promoting democracy. Let me make some progress now, if I may.
NATO’s founding was not meant in any way to undermine or detract from the primacy of the United Nations; rather, it was to work alongside the UN, in full conformity with the principles of the UN charter. The generation that established NATO, the one that endured the horror and destruction of two world wars, were keenly aware of the overriding need to achieve peace and stability wherever possible. When he outlined article 5’s implications and its guarantee of collective security, Bevin told the House:
“This does not mean that every time we consult there will be military action. We hope to forestall attack…We have to seek to promote a peaceful settlement.”—[Official Report, 12 May 1949; Vol. 464, c. 2020-2021.]
Indeed, the principle of settling disputes by peaceful means is articulated clearly in article 1 of the NATO treaty.
Today, the alliance has grown to 29 members and, as well as its central role of ensuring the security of the north Atlantic area, NATO supports global security by working with partners around the world. NATO supported the African Union’s peacekeeping mission in Sudan and has worked alongside the European Union’s Operation Atalanta to combat piracy in the gulf of Aden off the horn of Africa. NATO offers training, advice and assistance to the Afghan national security forces through the Resolute Support mission. In addition, the NATO training mission in Iraq provides support and mentoring to Iraq’s armed forces personnel. The alliance has also assisted with humanitarian relief efforts, including those in Pakistan after the devastating 2005 earthquake and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Russia’s recent actions, including its disgraceful and illegal annexation of Crimea and the Donbass in 2014, have led to renewed focus on the immediate security of the alliance area and, indeed, the need to secure NATO’s eastern border. At the 2016 Warsaw summit, the allies resolved to establish an enhanced forward presence in the Baltic states and Poland as a means of providing reassurance to those NATO members and a credible deterrent to potential adversaries. The tailored forward presence in the Black sea region makes an important contribution to regional security there.
I have had the privilege of visiting Estonia twice, and I have met our personnel serving there as part of Operation Cabrit. It was clear from our conversations with the Estonians that they truly value our presence there, particularly as they have worked so closely with our personnel in Afghanistan. The Estonians themselves have offered to help another NATO ally, France, with its mission in west Africa. For them, that is about offering reciprocity for the security that NATO allies give them to maintain their freedom in Estonia. They know that the collective protection of NATO is what makes them different from Ukraine.
Although the provision of deterrence through conventional means in Estonia, Poland and Romania is of great importance, we must also be alive to the risk that adversaries, including non-state actors, will increasingly deploy hybrid and cyber-warfare and use destabilising tactics specifically designed not to trigger article 5. We have all heard the reports of how Russia has used cyber-warfare; indeed, when I visited the cyber centre in Estonia, I heard about how Estonia has had direct experience of a cyber-attack that affected major computer networks throughout the country, and about what the staff there did to combat it. That was a reminder that when we reflect on the state of our own defences—as the Government are currently doing with the modernising defence programme—we must bear in mind the need to invest in the whole range of conventional and cyber-capabilities, and not to view it as an either/or situation.
The Warsaw summit communiqué, which set out plans for the enhanced forward presence, also stated that
“deterrence has to be complemented by meaningful dialogue and engagement with Russia, to seek reciprocal transparency and risk reduction.”
Of course, Russia’s aggressive stance, and her repeated assaults on our rules-based international system, have made any productive engagement nigh on impossible. The response to the recent poisonings in Salisbury, for which we hold Russia responsible, demonstrated the strength of the alliance in the face of Russian aggression, with a great number of our allies, and NATO itself, joining us in the expulsion of diplomats. It is none the less positive that the NATO-Russia Council has met recently, because we need to use any and all opportunities for dialogue. What is perhaps most worrying about the current state of affairs is that even at the height of the cold war we maintained lines of communication, which are essential to avoid misunderstandings that can lead to very rapid escalations. There is currently far less engagement.
Our co-operation with allies in Estonia and Poland highlights the importance of the interoperability of our equipment in enabling us to work closely with other NATO members in a variety of settings. That is something that was raised with me when I visited NATO headquarters in Brussels shortly after I took up my post. It was clear that NATO wishes to see greater harmonisation in equipment. Although I recognise that decisions about defence procurement must of course be taken freely by sovereign states, it clearly does make sense to maximise the opportunities to work together and to avoid unnecessary duplication, wherever possible.
Of course the need to invest in the equipment necessary for NATO missions merely adds to the case for proper levels of defence spending. NATO allies are committed to the guideline of spending a minimum of 2% of their GDP on defence, with 20% of that total to be spent on major equipment, including research and development. Only a relatively small number of NATO members can even claim to be hitting the 2% figure at present, and it is right that we encourage all allies to meet the NATO guidelines, as the 2014 Wales summit communiqué made clear.
We must lead by example. The simple fact is that the UK is barely scraping over the line when it comes to our own levels of defence spending. The latest Treasury figures for the year 2015-16 show that the Government spent 1.9% of GDP on defence. The International Institute for Strategic Studies has also concluded that UK defence spending is not reaching 2% of GDP.
The reality is that the UK only appears to meet the 2% in its NATO return because it includes items such as pensions that do not contribute to our defence capabilities, which Labour did not include when we were in government. Whichever way we look at it, the truth is that the deep cuts that were imposed in 2010 and the implementation by the Conservative party of those cuts in the years following mean that the defence budget is now worth far less than it was when Labour left office. Defence spending was cut by nearly £10 billion in real terms between 2010 and 2017, and our purchasing power has been cut dramatically owing to the sharp fall in the value of the pound.
I note that the Minister for defence people, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who is no longer in his place, has said recently that he would like to see defence spending rise north of 2.5%. I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could clarify whether this is, in fact, now Government policy, or whether it is simply another plea, which will, doubtless, be rebuffed by the Chancellor.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for all she does in the defence world. I entirely agree with her about pressing the Government to increase our spending to 2.5%, or, as I have often said, to 3%. Will she take this opportunity to commit an incoming Labour Government to doing the same thing?
The hon. Gentleman simply needs to look at our record. We consistently spent well over 2% when we were in government. We do have a good record on spending.
I know that there is concern across the House about current levels of defence spending, as the hon. Gentleman has just indicated. The recent findings of the National Audit Office that the equipment plan is simply not affordable, with a funding gap of up to £20.8 billion, will have done nothing to assuage this. As I have said many times, the Government will have support from Labour Members if the modernising defence programme results in proper investment for our defences and our armed forces, but there will be deep disquiet if the review merely results in yet more cuts of the kind that have been briefed in the press in recent months.
The UK’s decision to leave the European Union means that our NATO membership is more important than ever. Although we have always recognised NATO as the sole organisation for the collective defence of Europe, and defence has always been the sovereign responsibility of each EU member state, it is none the less the case that from March 2019 we will lose our voice and our vote in the EU Foreign Affairs Council and in many other important committees. We must therefore look at other ways of co-ordinating action with European partners where it is in our interests to do so—for example, in defending the Iran nuclear deal, which was so painstakingly negotiated and risks beings completely trashed by President Trump.
It is also very important that we retain the position of Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe once we have left the EU and that we resist any attempts to allocate that role to another European state. Ultimately, Labour believes very firmly that Brexit must not be an opportunity for the UK to turn inwards, or to shirk our international obligations.
Speaking personally as someone who has worked for the Supreme Allied Commander Europe and been chief of policy at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, I cannot see in any way how anyone could suggest that the Deputy SACEUR could be anything but British as things stands. It has absolutely nothing to do with the European Union.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to let the hon. Gentleman intervene. We absolutely agree with what he says.
May I pick up the hon. Lady on the point that she has just made? Like me, does she see the future of our role in Europe as being twofold: first, on defence, with NATO; and secondly, on civil affairs, with the Council of Europe? They were both formed at the same time. They both have similar membership and they both try to do the same thing.
The Labour party wants absolute, full co-operation with European partners. We recognise that we are leaving the EU, but in every other respect we want to be fully European. We want to have full co-operation within NATO and the Council of Europe.
We are living in an increasingly unpredictable world, with a very unpredictable—and, at times, isolationist—United States Administration, so it is all the more important that the UK uses its voice.
I do not know whether the House is aware, but I was born in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), so I ask the hon. Lady: if the right hon. Gentleman were to become Prime Minister, would it be his intention to declare our nuclear deterrent to NATO as it is currently declared?
We have made our position on the nuclear deterrent absolutely clear. We support the nuclear deterrent and we support NATO. That is our party policy.
I think that I had just mentioned the isolationist US Administration.
On that point, there is a huge danger that we spend our time focusing on the President’s tweets and not looking at what America is actually doing. Certainly at the moment, its financial contributions, its people contributions and its commitment to NATO are higher than they have ever been. The support that the NATO Parliamentary Assembly receives from members of Congress such as Mike Turner, Joe Wilson and Jennifer González-Colón is absolutely 100% towards the NATO alliance. It is dangerous to see the US totally through the prism of the President.
I thank my hon. Friend not only for the work that she does on behalf of this Parliament in respect of NATO, but for making a very valid point and clarifying exactly the position that we do seem to have at the moment with the United States.
It is all the more important for the UK to use our voice, through organisations such as NATO, to be a force for good in this world. It was the same internationalist outlook that inspired Ernest Bevin when he said:
“In co-operation with like-minded peoples, we shall act as custodians of peace and as determined opponents of aggression, and shall combine our great resources and great scientific and organisational ability, and use them to raise the standard of life for the masses of the people all over the world.”—[Official Report, 12 May 1949; Vol. 464, c. 2022.]
I sincerely believe that NATO can still be that stabilising influence in an ever-changing world, and a strong and resolute force for the values of democracy and freedom that we cherish.
I believe that I am right in saying that this is the third defence debate this year to be held in the main Chamber and if the opening speeches—
Order. I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman just as he is starting. I had omitted to tell him and the House that there has to be an initial time limit of seven minutes, which will begin not from when the right hon. Gentleman started, but from now.
That is very generous of you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
If the opening speeches in this debate are anything to go by, I think that the temperature will be very similar to that of the first two debates and show a welcome unanimity on both sides of the House about the importance of defence investment in peacetime to ensure that we minimise the chances of conflict breaking out.
The shadow Secretary of State referred to the importance of investing in the whole range of conventional capabilities. As far as I can see, that is common ground among all the main parties in this House, even though there are differences of opinion about the nuclear dimension. The difficulty that we face is that defence investment costs a lot of money, and defence inflation has been running ahead of defence investment. As a result, we repeatedly hear phrases such as “hollowing out” and “black holes in the budget”. It was useful that she said that she felt that defence investment, in real terms, had fallen by about £10 billion.
I do not think I am giving away anything more than I should by saying that in a few days’ time the Defence Committee will publish a new report entitled, “Indispensable Allies?”, referring to the defence relationship between the United States, the United Kingdom and NATO. In that report, we do some calculations and projections about defence investment. We can see that at every level at which we estimate gross domestic product to grow over the next few years, an extra 0.5% of GDP equates, roughly speaking, to £10 billion. That is why when my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray) referred to the need to move towards 2.5% or 3% of GDP, we understood the sorts of figures that we are aiming to achieve.
It was slightly unfortunate that when we published our most recent report, “Beyond 2 per cent”, a few days ago, it coincided with the welcome announcement that £20 billion will be found for investment in the national health service. As I said in an intervention, while we obviously welcome the investment that is made in other high-spending Departments, it is important to remember how defence used to compare with those other calls on our Exchequer. At the time of the cold war in the 1980s, which is in the memory of most of us sitting in this House today, we spent roughly the same on health, on education and on defence. Now we spend multiples more on activities other than defence. Indeed, welfare—on which we used to spend 6% in the 1960s, just as we spent 6% on defence at that time—now takes up six times as much of our national wealth as does defence. So it is fairly easy to see that, by any standard of comparison, defence has fallen down the scale of our national priorities.
We have been very focused on Europe today because of the debate that took place immediately prior to this debate. It is worth reminding ourselves of the steps that led to the foundation of NATO. This may come as a slight surprise to some Members, but it actually goes back to the end of 1941, when three small European countries, Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands—who had all been overrun by Nazi Germany and whose Foreign Ministers were taking shelter in London—made an approach to the British Foreign Office. They said, “We’ve tried being neutral. We’ve tried keeping out of power politics. It has failed. Our countries have been occupied by brutal aggressors. When this terrible war is over, we want Britain to have permanent military bases on our territory so that we can never be caught out like this again.” It was from that invitation given to the United Kingdom to base military forces in countries that had put their trust in pacifism and neutralism, and had that trust betrayed, that NATO ultimately came into existence.
The Secretary of State began by paying tribute to the people who made the ultimate sacrifice in a time of war. It is certainly the case that when a war breaks out, there is no shortage of people willing to make that sacrifice, and what is more, there is no shortage of money to be invested in fighting and winning that conflict. The question that always faces us is what to do in peacetime. There is a paradox of peacetime preparedness, if Members will excuse the alliteration, which is that we prepare by investing in armed forces that we hope will never be used. That is what we have to do, and it is a difficult battle to fight to persuade people in peacetime to invest money in things that we hope we will not have to send into action.
In terms of future investment in something that we do not want to have to use, does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that some of that future investment could be lost through dollar dependency in the equipment plan, meaning that any additional moneys coming from the Government would be lost and have no long-term benefit?
Yes. The hon. Gentleman, who is a valued member of the Defence Committee, has argued that point consistently on the Committee. The Government certainly need to bear that in mind when placing orders for expensive new equipment, at least during a period of uncertainty when there is doubt that the pound will hold its value against another currency.
In conclusion, we have an opportunity in this NATO summit to show that we are leading by example. It was never the case that we were anywhere near the NATO minimum of defence expenditure. It was always the case that we were second only to the Americans. We must try to restore that situation, and that means raising more money for defence and spending more money on defence. Spending 2.5% of GDP will restore us to where we were a few years ago; 3% of GDP should be our target, because only that way can we be ready for the threats that sadly face us today and show no sign whatever of diminishing.
It is a great shame that the Chancellor, who was lingering by the Speaker’s Chair earlier, did not take the time to join us. As those who normally attend these defence debates will know, we have been desperate to get a Treasury Minister to join us at some point, and we have still not used our collective imagination to deliver that outcome. I am sure he will read Hansard as soon as it is off the printers later this evening.
I begin by sincerely commending the Government for bringing this debate forward. Many of us have hoped that the Government would bring a defence debate forward in Government time at some point. We debated a defence-related Bill that was in the Queen’s Speech on the Floor of the House, and there was a broader debate on national security following the Salisbury incident, but it would be useful to have more of these defence debates in Government time where possible. I am sure that those on the Government and shadow French Benches will join me in congratulating NATO on its move to new headquarters and wish it well in its new home.
The upcoming summit carries with it much anticipation. A changing threat landscape could take the alliance, which is so crucial for security, into an uncertain future. Much has been said about an increasingly defiant Russia, and I am sure much will be said about the intemperate words of the United States President. Both those things should motivate member states to unite in solidarity for the sake of the future of the alliance, which does so much to underpin international order and security.
Arguably NATO has not faced a crisis such as this since the end of the cold war. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO was a changing body that had to adapt to a new purpose; it required a new vision to continue being the most successful defence and security alliance in the history of the world. Questions were raised as to whether solidarity could be upheld sans the threat of the Soviet Union; whether new forms of threat could be met by the north Atlantic alliance; and whether a security and defence alliance of this nature was ever really required at all. Some of those questions still echo in the discourse today, which is why it is important that those of us who believe in institutions such as NATO—and the United Nations Security Council, which is a failing instrument at the moment—continue to make the case for them.
In its longevity, NATO has kept land, sea and airspace safe, but new forms of attack, such as rising cyber-warfare and the horrifying poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March, demonstrate that our security is being threatened by means not explicitly covered by the traditional article 5 definition of attack. Let us take the example of the Skripal attack. The Russian use of a nerve agent on UK soil was a violation of the chemical weapons convention and, of course, of international law. It was a premeditated attack that attempted to kill two people within UK borders. The choice of weapon in itself demonstrates the particular venom of the actor involved. The nerve agent Novichok blocks a crucial enzyme in the nervous system, causing nerves to become over-excited and sending muscles—both internal and external—into spasm. The whole House will rightly have been horrified by what happened in Salisbury in March. That is one example of how the changing threat picture affects us, but of course it is not new to our Baltic allies.
There are also the more traditional threats, some of which were outlined by the Defence Secretary himself. Let us, for example, take the threat of Russian submarine activity, which is now at the highest levels since the days of the cold war. The Secretary of State knows the concerns of SNP Members about the high north and Icelandic gap, but I implore Members not just to think of this as the Scottish bit of the NATO debate, because it would be ill-advised to look at it in that way.
The hon. Gentleman knows of my passionate interest in the Arctic. Does he agree with me in very much looking forward to the forthcoming report from the Defence Committee, which I think is nearing completion? It will come out just in time to match the Norwegian report, which I think will come out in September. I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman will come along to the all-party group for the polar regions, where we will be discussing it.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I pay a genuine and generous tribute to him, as I am sure my SNP colleagues do, for the work he has done in his party and as a member of the Defence Committee to bring attention to that part of the world. It is a seriously testing issue that, to be fair, is understood by the Defence Secretary, and is certainly understood by Sir Stuart Peach and General Sir Nick Carter. I am grateful to the Defence Secretary for taking the time to meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) to discuss these issues. We now live in hope that the high north and Icelandic gap will be a prominent feature of the upcoming modernising defence programme.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is heartening to hear the Secretary of State for Defence recognise, in the modernising defence programme, unlike in previous SDSRs, that this is actually an island and that we are moving forward in the high north and the north Atlantic?
Yes, indeed. In his opening remarks, the Secretary of State mentioned that previous SDSRs made no mention of Russia and, indeed, that the most recent one made no mention of the fact that Britain is an island, and these things really matter.
As I have mentioned, NATO now faces external and internal threats—the latter is wholly unprecedented—but it faces them against the backdrop of an entirely broken United Nations Security Council. It is regrettable that, despite repeated calls from the Opposition Benches urging the Government to knock heads together and return some order to the Security Council, they still do not appear to have done so. What of the internal threat? The US President has long criticised the alliance for the amount that the United States contributes. That has been adumbrated by the Secretary of State, and I take on board the points made by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon). She made a valuable point, but at the same time, we cannot ignore the White House, although I appreciate her expertise as a Member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
It is not a new occurrence that the United States provides almost three quarters of direct contributions to NATO, and a substantial amount of indirect contributions on top of that. This has been a source of ire for the Trump Administration, who have openly accused other member states of not pulling their weight. So all eyes will indeed be on Brussels this month. Will the President come in like a wrecking ball, or will he come in as an opportunist, seeking to improve relations after an incredibly testing G7 summit?
Last week at Defence questions, the Secretary of State emphasised Secretary Mattis’s explicit and unwavering commitment to NATO and to European defence. That would be somewhat encouraging if only it were reflected in the discourse of President Trump, who continues to lambast the alliance through the lens of his “America First” politics.
There are other dialogues taking place that are equally important. In the last week alone, we have had General Ben Hodges here for the land warfare conference. Lieutenant General Joe Anderson was here, and Admiral Foggo was here as well. So there are other dialogues happening that are equally important. Again, I would caution about the President’s tweets, as opposed to what others are actually doing.
The hon. Lady is of course right to put these things on the record, and I recognise exactly what she is saying, but this is not just about Twitter and, as I say, we cannot ignore the White House. These are speeches that the US President has made on the campaign trail and since he assumed office. Given the way in which the President operates, I am sorry to say that everything could change any day. However, I do take the hon. Lady’s point—she is absolutely correct.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. We are incredibly blessed to have such a resolute ally as the United States, and it has been a privilege to work with Defence Secretary Jim Mattis—you could not find an individual who is more committed to the transatlantic alliance. However, it is not just about words; it is about deeds and about investment of over, literally, billions of dollars, which the United States has invested in the defence of Europe. It is important to recognise that.
I take the Secretary of State’s point entirely. I had not intended to get so caught up in the Trump issue, but I am grateful for what the Secretary of State says. It would be good to see him forcefully remind the entirety of the Trump Administration—of course there are people in there who are agreeable and who get this sort of stuff—of the importance of the alliance to them and the European continent.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I want to make a bit of progress.
I want to address one other issue that I am sure will be on the lips of many at the upcoming summit, and that is Nord Stream 2. I had the pleasure recently of visiting Ukraine, and I had a series of meetings with politicians, senior civil servants, journalists, and civil society and anti-corruption activists. I would like to pay a generous tribute to the UK personnel working from the embassy out there, led by the ambassador, Judith Gough, who is doing an outstanding job.
Ukraine is, of course, not a NATO state. It is on the frontline of a military and an ideological war—and we should understand that, for Ukraine, it is indeed a war. In just about every one of those meetings, the issue of Nord Stream 2 came up. People want to know why Ukraine’s allies are allowing such a project—which would deliver enormous financial and political capital and leverage right into the hands of the Kremlin—to go ahead without much protest.
This is where the Americans have got it right. In so far as I can understand it—I am willing and hoping to be proven wrong by the Government—the UK Government position appears to be that this is a matter entirely for the Germans, the Danes and the Russians. Why are the Government feigning such impotence? Do they really believe that the establishment of Nord Stream 2 has no repercussions beyond those three states? Can they really not see the potential security threat that it so obviously represents to the United Kingdom and the alliance? I implore the Secretary of State, with the support of those on these Benches, to start some robust and frank dialogue with our allies and not to allow this white elephant to turn into a potentially dangerous snake.
I passionately agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Ukrainian Prime Minister has described Nord Stream 2 as a new form of hybrid warfare, and he has said that Nord Stream 1 allowed Russia to renew its military and to finance the invasion of Ukraine. The UK Government cannot remain neutral on this issue.
The Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee is absolutely correct. Do we really believe that the cash from Nord Stream 2 will not go into the financing of far-right political parties all across Europe, even here in the UK? Do we really believe it will not be funding lies and propaganda—we call it fake news—across the EU? Of course it will be.
I want to mention the Chair of the Defence Committee’s “Beyond 2 per cent” report, which is a most welcome document. It is clear from that document that the Ministry of Defence is struggling to create a long-term defence plan, partly due to the black hole of up to £20 billion in its equipment plan resulting from a culture of chaos and clumsy procurement decisions that have not been properly funded: a Royal Navy at historically low numbers and recruitment for the Army that is missing targets every single year. It is of paramount importance that that clumsiness does not impact on sufficient burden-sharing for the alliance. Direct contributions should be upheld in the UK, just as they are in any other member state, but indirect contributions should also be provided as a symbol of this country’s commitment to a safer and more secure world.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if the MOD is trying to meet the NATO target, it should not be trying to make it up by double counting money that is also being counted towards international development aid? The Government should be making every effort to meet the 0.7% target and the 2% target separately, with separate funds.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. No one does accounting like the Ministry of Defence. It gets past the 2% line because of pensions and efficiency savings, but the National Audit Office cannot find any evidence that those efficiency savings exist. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend.
In conclusion, the reason NATO did not collapse along with the Soviet Union in the 1990s is that it adapted to emerging threat landscapes to maintain international security. NATO has demonstrated success in its missions, such as in Kosovo where it saved lives and helped to underpin international order. However, just as after the second world war and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO is now on the brink of a new adaption to secure all of us in the modem age. I have every faith in the alliance to continue operating as the strongest multinational defence institution in history, and I have every hope that the summit next month will begin to tackle threats in a proper and peaceful way. I can only hope that the UK Government will play their proper part.
Like the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald), I am delighted we are having this debate and that it has attracted such strong attendance. NATO summits, unless we host them ourselves, do not always get the attention they should. I have attended three of them. They are always important, but they are each of them important in their own way. Rather than reminisce, however, I would like to focus on what I think will be important next month.
First, this will be the first opportunity for Britain to set out its view of our security post Brexit. We are leaving our partnership with the European Union, which involves far closer military co-operation inside the European Union than many people realise. For example, the European Union headquarters at Northwood has been mentioned. We need to be clearer about our ambition and the continuing role we want to play, both on the European continent and beyond. The security partnership document recently published by my right hon. Friends is a very good start, but I hope the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will use the summit as an opportunity to set out their view of our security after we leave the European Union. I hope they might be able to find a way of doing that in harmony.
Secondly, it is worth reminding ourselves that although the Russian threat is very real and has grown, certainly since the 2010 review and even since the 2015 review, we need to continue to take a 360 degree view of NATO. It is worth reminding ourselves that the only time article 5 has been invoked was to help the United States after 9/11. The last time that NATO troops were sent into live military operations in Europe was to help save Muslims in Bosnia. So it is not just the pressure on the eastern frontier. We need to keep looking at NATO security in the round: pressures on the Black sea, on the eastern Mediterranean and from the south. We need to understand that the survival of those very fragile democracies in the Balkans and in the middle east—even in Afghanistan—is just as important for our security here in the west, because if, in the end, they do collapse, we are vulnerable to the spread of transnational terror groups and the threat of mass migration on a scale that we have not yet seen.
Thirdly, on NATO membership, of course we welcomed the accession of Montenegro last year. It is very important that NATO continues to demonstrate that it is open and that there can be no veto on future applications. It is particularly important to the continuing stability of the western Balkans that we show that, provided they meet the proper criteria, there is a route through for those war-torn countries into the alliance.
Fourthly, on resources, there is nothing new about the American President’s insistence that European countries pay more—that has been said by every American President throughout my political career, and we should, of course, listen. However, at the Wales summit, four years ago now, we did all commit to the 2%. It is bad enough that only four countries meet the 2%, but what I still find really shocking is that 16 countries—over half the alliance—do not even pay 1.5%, including three of the biggest countries in Europe: Germany, Spain and Italy.
Fifthly, I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) said about the need to continue to reform NATO—to drive forward the plans to modernise the decision-making structures, to enable the troops, planes and ships to be deployed faster across the continent of Europe, and to make sure that the political decision-making machinery is as equally adept and ready to be triggered.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about readiness and the ability to respond. Does he think now that we ought to review the previous decision to re-base from Germany back into the UK, and that we should actually have a forward presence in Germany?
We continued in my time to keep that particular decision under review. There was not a particular year when all the troops were due to come home, and it was something that we watched particularly carefully as the plans for an enhanced forward presence in Estonia and Poland were developed. It is important, therefore, to be sure about whether the equipment is pre-positioned in the right places and whether it is ready to reinforce in the way that the right hon. Gentleman and I would want.
Finally, I hope that we will find ways beyond this debate of explaining the importance of NATO here at home—of explaining its success since 1949, as well as its obligations—to a new generation who do not, in this country, face conscription, but who are protected day and night by fresh cohorts of marvellous young men and women who step forward to serve in our armed forces. There is a compact there that I believe needs to be better understood. I hope this never happens, but when we next have to send our young men and women into military action wearing the blue beret, I think that we will regret that we did not do more to educate our public about the importance of NATO and the obligations that come with it. That said, I wish my hon. Friends every success at next month’s summit.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting St Helen’s Church in Wakefield for the unveiling of Wakefield Civic Society’s plaque to the Grenadier Guards, who were evacuated from Dunkirk and then had the good fortune to be billeted up to Wakefield, where they were fed, watered and patched up, only to be sent back out to fight valiantly in north Africa and at Monte Cassino. It commemorated the moment when a young boy with his dad, walking his dog, listened to the roll call of the people who had been left behind—killed, injured or missing—in Dunkirk. It was a very powerful ceremony.
We also had the unveiling at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park last week of “The Coffin Jump”, a new sculptural work of art by Katrina Palmer, in which she celebrates the creation of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. These brave women went out on to the battlefields of world war one on horses to bring back the injured men and to offer them medical assistance. Inscribed on the sculpture is a line of heroic modesty: “nothing special happened”.
It is important in this centenary year to remember why NATO exists. It exists to meet new challenges. We know that the new wars will not look like the old wars. I have the pleasure of serving with many Members present in the Chamber on NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly, and I serve on the Committee on the Civil Dimension of Security. Civilian protection is not a central task of NATO, but since the 1950s the Civil Emergency Planning Committee has existed, and that is what I want to talk about today.
The operations that NATO is engaged in are to meet the new challenges of mass migration, climate change in the high north and Arctic, cyber-security and cyber warfare, and resource stress, with the water, food and energy nexus becoming ever more acute. Tackling disasters, whether natural or human made—clearing up after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Kashmir in 2006, providing humanitarian assistance in Kosovo in the late 1990s—is an important part of NATO’s soft power that is not talked about or recognised and given the attention it deserves.
One new threat we face is the rise in populism, nationalism and anti-Semitism across Europe along with Russian interference in our democratic processes. Russia is active on the eastern flank, as right hon. and hon. Members have said, and through the annexation of Crimea; we have seen 9,000 deaths in a proxy war in the eastern Ukraine; the UK has had to send 700 troops to Estonia and Poland to protect Europe’s eastern flank from Russian aggression; and finally—after several years—we have had the joint investigation team’s report into the downing of Malaysian flight MH17 by a Russian anti-aircraft missile fired from the Russian Federation, in which 298 innocent people, 80 of them children, were murdered. Russia must play her part in ensuring that those responsible face justice.
On the eastern flank, we also have Russian aggression with the placing of Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad. We have an arc of threat, with Russia active in Syria, on our south-eastern border, supporting the indiscriminate bombardment of civilians and chemical weapons attacks in that country, and in the high north, where it is also active. After the cold war, Russia shut its 64 bases, but it is now reopening them, creating all-weather landing strips, and we know that 20% of Russia’s GDP depends on the Arctic, which I know is something the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) has done a great deal of work on. We in this country have seen this hybrid threat from Russia, in the poisoning of Litvinenko in 2006 and in the attack on the Skripals in Salisbury—more state-sponsored terrorism by Russia and the first use of chemical weapons in western Europe since the end of world war two.
We need to think long and hard about our civilian security in this country. The threat permeates our news channels as well. Disinformation campaigns, fake news, cyberbots on social media, even embassies and ambassadors, are being used to create confusion and alternative narratives to those in the mainstream media. In the new information war, tweets are cheaper than tanks. The cold war had rules, but the hybrid war has no rules, no norms, no regulations. It is a dangerous new era for NATO. Cyber-attacks are becoming more destructive and complex, and we know that President Putin wants to go back to the days of large nation states with spheres of influence deciding what smaller nations do. That is not NATO’s vision as set out in the partnership for peace announced by Bill Clinton back in the early ’90s; its vision is of individual sovereign states making their own decisions.
I want to conclude with the heartbreaking pictures we have seen of little children in camps and the news today that three tender age camps for infants under five have been opened in Texas. At the moment, there is no system for family reunification in those camps. We are seeing a human tragedy of catastrophic proportions unfolding in the nation that is our closest ally, and we have a duty and a responsibility to speak out when we see traumatised children being scarred for life in such conditions.
Europe and our country will not take lessons on immigration from a man who separates children from their parents and by whom they are locked up, weeping; a man who dehumanises those children and their parents as “an infestation”, using language redolent of the Hutu génocidaires in Rwanda, and who treats their parents as criminals, as if they have broken the law, when they have committed, at most, a civil infraction. He is taking the United States out of the United Nations Human Rights Council, because he only wants human rights for some people some of the time, not for all the people all of the time.
The real danger, however, is that President Trump is a man who does not like multilateralism. We have seen that with the Paris accords, the Iran deal and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and we know that it is a risk for NATO. We must come through that, and the summit must send those messages to President Trump in a clear and unequivocal way.
Order. I am reducing the speaking limit to five minutes, so that everyone will be treated equally and everyone will have a chance to speak.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), who is a member of the United Kingdom delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and it is a great privilege to lead that delegation, whose membership includes former Cabinet Ministers. We have three former Defence Ministers, a former party leader, other former Ministers, and Members of Parliament with a real interest in—and knowledge and experience of—defence issues, including one holder of the Distinguished Service Order. My friend the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) is the deputy leader.
The assembly currently has a key role. Many Members have spoken today of the need to connect people in this country with defence and help them to understand what our relationship with our allies is all about. We have the job of holding NATO to account, informing our fellow parliamentarians—with whom we can discuss many of the issues that we raise in the various committees on which we sit—and also enabling people in this country to understand this great alliance, its values, and its vision for our security. In 2019 we will welcome hundreds of NATO parliamentarians to London, and I look forward to that.
The Royal Air Force was created 100 years ago, as a result of a new technology which had created the first new battlefield for millennia. Today we face the same scenario with the cyber threat. At a recent meeting in this building, we heard from Mark Galeotti, a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations in Prague and a renowned Russia expert. He worked with my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely), who produced a fascinating paper entitled “A Definition of Contemporary Russian Conflict: How Does the Kremlin Wage War?”
As others have pointed out and as we know ourselves, conventional wars are expensive in terms of both blood and treasure. We know that the cost of one missile that we fire at a building in Syria can run into seven figures, and we know that we are not alone: Russia, too, suffers from unrest as the coffins come home. Cyber is a cheap war to wage, and an effective means of attack: we saw the impact of the NotPetya attack on Ukraine. It is important for us to look at our defence posture in this day and age, and to consider how we respond to this new battlefield. We have defined our defence in sea, land and air, but we now need a very clear cyber posture as well. We should also follow the advice of Lord Hague, who, in a recent article, referred to a re-evaluation of article 5 of the NATO treaty. That might be something for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to take to the Brussels summit.
We need to look carefully at infrastructure as well. Those of us who were cold war warriors will remember that the infrastructure in West Germany was constructed around moving troops very fast, and we know how difficult it has been to establish the Enhanced Forward Presence because of simple factors such as bridges, road widths and border controls.
In the few minutes that I have I want to touch on burden sharing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon) made a very important point. The United States is far and away the biggest supporter of the alliance, and we must help NATO-friendly members of Congress by saying precisely as the Secretary of State said earlier: that we recognise that Europe has to step up. We have the benefit of the commitment made at the Wales summit and it is a disgrace, frankly, that some countries are not stepping up to that. My figures are that six countries now do spend over 2%, which is good, and the virtue of that certainly lies with the United States, Britain, Romania, Poland, Greece and the Baltics, but there are laggards and I am going to name them, particularly Belgium and Spain. Belgium has cut its defence spending to below 1%, and I think that is wrong.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given the circumstances that he has outlined so clearly, there is an even greater responsibility on us in the United Kingdom to try to up our spending to show the Americans that some of the Europeans are playing the game?
It is very useful that we have accepted in this debate that the 2% is a floor—not a flaw, I add to help my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax)—and that as the threats change we may have to raise it.
We must be a critical friend of NATO. In terms of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Sir Hugh Bayley’s voice is in my head when we talk about trying to hold NATO to account for its failure to produce decent, sensible audited accounts. We have a strength in that regard because we are a significant contributor to the alliance; it enables us to do that.
May I finish by paying tribute to the shadow Secretary of State and those Labour Members who are committed to defence? We must work with them on a bipartisan basis, because I do not want to go into an election in which a party that could enter government does not believe in the value of our alliance, does not believe we should keep our nuclear deterrent, and does not believe that article 5 means what it says. Article 5 is the greatest security that has been delivered to our peoples rich and poor, old and young, down the ages since the horrendous carnage of the second world war. That bipartisan nature of our defence debate is very important now, and I hope we can continue to value NATO now and in the future.
As the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said earlier, this debate could have been tabled at any time over the coming weeks, so I wonder whether the Government have allowed this debate to go ahead today in order to make Her Majesty’s Opposition feel slightly uncomfortable and to draw the team of the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) to the Dispatch Box to talk in glowing terms about an organisation that he clearly does not feel particularly warm towards.
It also obviously serves the Government’s agenda to talk about how they do not intend to neglect European security after Brexit, but I cannot but feel that, in this week of all weeks, they may have inadvertently drawn attention to the relationship with the United States. Atlanticism is a noble virtue and no one on these Benches would underestimate the importance of a strong relationship with the United States, but any country’s national interest must be dictated by carefully balancing our own interest with those of our allies, which are not always the same. Like the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), I recognise that, while on Capitol Hill there is much support for NATO, the emboldened actions of the Trump Administration, not just last week, have shown us that—just as with Suez, just as with Vietnam, and just as with decolonisation—a UK Government cannot solely rely on the unequivocal support of the United States, no matter how much they may wish it; that is a historical reality.
I have noted this at other times in this place but it bears repeating: every presidential Administration since that of Dwight D. Eisenhower have made European security and integration a major priority. It is with no great relish that I note that the current Administration do not see it as a priority. I rather fear our own Government are simply deciding to hold hands and walk off into an unsure future.
In my party’s submission to the modernising defence programme consultation, we made it clear that this Government’s commitment to the north Atlantic must be explicitly stated and, dare I say it, that it must be about a lot more than just NATO. I am sure we all agree that, if NATO did not exist, we would have to invent it. So a commitment to NATO must be a commitment to work as closely as possible with those allies around us in the north Atlantic—those countries such as the kingdom of Norway and the kingdom of Denmark whose invasions during the second world war made imperative the existence of NATO, and whose continued existence as sovereign countries has greatly enhanced the international rules-based system that we must continue to protect.
NATO may be—to borrow every Brexiteer’s favourite truism—the cornerstone of our security but, from my perspective, the European Union has been the economic and social cement that has held it in place. This of course does not mean that all will fall around us, but it will make for more instability than we require. A state’s security is not simply measured by the number of people it can deploy under arms, by how many jets it has or by how many frigates protect its shores. It is also measured in the strength of our economy, the stability of our geographical neighbourhood and the ease with which we can do business there. Let me finish with this appeal to state interest. NATO has served European and Atlantic security extremely well over the last 70 years, and I fear that we are going to need it even more in future. Let us also remember that simply to praise its name is no substitute for understanding why the north Atlantic treaty was signed all those years ago.
It is a pleasure to take part in the debate this afternoon. May I just clear up one point on my use of the word “flaw” at the start of the debate, which my great friend, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), picked me up on a moment ago? When I used the word in response to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Defence, I meant that the 2% that we pay was, in my view, flawed and that I think that we should put more into defence—perhaps 3% or more. In my day—I served between 1978 and 1987—it was about 5% or 5.5%. The kit that we have now is more expensive to maintain, as are our soldiers, sailors and airmen, so, logically, we need more money to put into the defence of our country.
I have only a few minutes, but I would like to start by mentioning a wonderful film, “Darkest Hour”, which I am sure most people in this House have seen. There were two moments in the film that brought a lump to my throat. The first was when Kenneth Branagh, acting as the commander at the end of the pontoon, was waiting for deliverance from the beaches when he thought the German tanks were going to storm through and slaughter our men. He and a senior British Army officer were standing together, desolate and alone, surrounded by the enemy and with the end perhaps only minutes away. Then, out of the mist came the little boats. If I recall correctly, as the boats broke through the mist, the Army colonel turned to Kenneth Branagh and said, “What’s that?” Kenneth Branagh turned to him and said, “That’s home.” My God, that hit me! The point I am making is that we were absolutely alone, facing invasion by the Germans, followed by possible submission and all the horrors that would have followed. For those serving, both politically and militarily, in those days, I can only imagine the sheer agony of those moments when we stood alone. But, as the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) said, since NATO was established in 1949, we have not been alone.
I would also like to talk about our relationship with the EU. A point that is often made by those who are opposed to our leaving, or who object to it for one reason or another, is that we are somehow going to desert Europe. I want to touch on something that happened when I was campaigning before the last election. A Frenchman about my age came charging out of his house in a village in my constituency, and he was extremely aggrieved. As I am sure most people know, I am a Brexiteer and campaigned to leave the EU during the referendum. The man came up to me and verbally assaulted me in a particularly unpleasant way, so I let him have his say. He then calmed down, so I stood back and said, “Have you now finished, sir?” He was breathless and said, “Yes. I’ve had my say.” I said to him, “What is the definition of a good friend? A really good friend.” He said, “I’m not sure that I understand what you are getting at.” I said, “For example, if something goes wrong—a divorce or whatever it may be—a true friend stands by the man or woman, or if something else goes wrong in your life, your friends stand by you. Is that the definition of a good friend?” He said, “Yes.” So, I said, “Who was with you on those beaches? Who was on the beaches four years later, along with our American, Canadian and other allies? Who gave you your freedom back?” At that point, he completely collapsed, and we left as good friends.
That is how I see our future relationship with our European friends and allies. There will be no difference between us. We will stand with them and fight evil and fight for freedom, as this country always has. We do not need to be in a super-state to do that. We need to be in charge of our own destiny and in control of our own armed forces. We need to have MPs elected to make difficult choices about whether to send our troops into battle if needs be. Whenever France, Germany or any other member of the European Union is in trouble—there have been many recent occurrences when they have been—where will Great Britain be? Right by their side. I hope that I have made my point.
It is wonderful to see how many right hon. and hon. Members have turned up for this debate, and I want to use the brief time available to me to consider the political threats. We have talked a lot about the military threats to the alliance, but we need to address a particular political threat, and I am not just talking about the rise of populist politicians and political parties that is straining the trust between NATO members and the accepted common values and aspirations across the alliance, which is a real threat. We must remember that we live in democracies, and democracies sometimes throw up leaders with whom we perhaps do not agree and whom we sometimes strongly oppose, but the point of a democracy is that, within the establishment of a Parliament, there is an opportunity for likeminded people to come together to discuss, debate and demonstrate a different way forward. That is what the NATO Parliamentary Assembly gives to us all.
The hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) talked about the European Union. In this place, we often mistakenly say that the European Union and NATO are separate entities, but they are becoming increasingly close. That closer alignment is being complicated by political decisions within the individual members of the alliance, by Brexit, by the refugee and migrant crisis and by different domestic political priorities and coalition tensions. We must not forget that.
More importantly, however, we must address the disaffection of our own population. Canada did a poll recently with Ipsos MORI and found that only 40% of the population understood what NATO was, that 71% of women had no understanding of the NATO mission and that 71% of millennials were unaware of what NATO is. I am a member of a NATO working group that wrote to member states to ask how, and in what subjects, the role of NATO in the defence and security of the Atlantic alliance is taught in schools. Only 18 countries replied, and the UK was not one of them. The UK could not spell out how we do it. We are writing again, and I hope the Minister will join me in making sure that the Department for Education responds and looks at the issue.
We found that there is definitely an east-west divide. In the western part of the alliance, there is a lower understanding of NATO, which is taught as if it is a history lesson only about the cold war. Estonia, in contrast, teaches global security and NATO in an elective course on national defence and has a new course on cyber-defence in its schools. Latvia includes security matters in social sciences, and it distributes information packages to schools and libraries explaining the myths about NATO. The Lithuanian Ministry of Defence has an education programme on national security and defence devoted to NATO. And in Poland, core curricula at primary and secondary schools teach issues related to security and defence.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s brilliant leadership in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and to the work she does there. Does she agree that a brief history of NATO would be a more useful addition to the GCSE history curriculum than the current subjects: crime and punishment and the history of Britain’s great houses?
I hope that people in the Department for Education are listening to my hon. Friend, because it is essential that we reawaken the British public’s understanding of the nature of the threats we face. We have taken our security for granted, and too many of our citizens no longer see the risks and, indeed, no longer trust their Government to accurately portray the risks to them. That has been fertile ground for Russian disinformation campaigns and cyber-attacks. In fact, in some respects, the most horrific thing about the attack in Salisbury is how many people have said to me, “Oh, it was MI6.” They actually believe we carried out an attack on our own soil, on ourselves. We have to wake up to that and we have to deal with it.
The alliance is very good at addressing military weaknesses, but we are not very good at looking at how we ensure we take our populations with us. The disaffection of our public, their lack of recognition of the infiltration of our social media and cyber, and the attacks on our values, our politics and our alliance must be dealt with. We cannot carry on like this. We are like the frog in the water, and there is a risk we are not noticing that the heat is rising.
In relation to Brexit, our priority must be for the UK to reassure our allies not only of our total commitment but of our enhanced commitment to the NATO alliance, and that we will remain a strong, effective and committed partner. Finally—
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Forgive me, but I have misled the House. In my speech I referred to the scene of a movie and I said it was “Darkest Hour.” That is not true; I was actually referring to “Dunkirk.”
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his clarification and for his characteristic courtesy in setting the record straight through the device of a point of order, and it has been noted by the House.
For the record, they are both great movies.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon). She always speaks on these matters with great common sense, and her speech this afternoon is no exception.
In March 2018, the Defence Committee paid a visit to the United States of America, as part of which we held meetings in the Pentagon and the State Department, with some of our opposite numbers on the House Armed Services Committee and with the staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee, too. During our visit we experienced a great deal of American interest in what one might call the “Baltic states scenario.” Many of our interlocutors placed a strong emphasis on the readiness of US, European and NATO forces to respond to potential aggression against the Baltic states from a resurgent Russia. That raises the question: what might an assault on the Baltics look like? The Russian annexation of Crimea and de facto invasion of parts of eastern Ukraine provide at least some pointers towards what we might expect to see in the event of Russian adventurism and an attempt to intervene in the Baltics. If that were to come to pass, we could expect to see multiple elements of so-called “hybrid warfare” employed by Russia.
To begin with, any such assault might contain an element of maskirovka—strategic deception—perhaps by seeking to draw NATO’s attention away from the area prior to intervention, for instance, by creating a crisis in the Balkans. That might well be accompanied by the agitation of Russian minorities in the three Baltic states, where they represent approximately a quarter of the Latvian population, a quarter of the Estonian population and an eighth of the Lithuanian population respectively.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this has already been trained for? There have already been cyber-attacks on countries such as Estonia, which have locked down many of their public services. So this is happening.
My right hon. Friend is right about that, and it is no mistake that NATO’s centre of excellence on cyber-warfare is now located in Estonia.
As I was saying, such an attack would no doubt be accompanied by a considerable disinformation campaign, the widespread employment of deception and fake news, and quite possibly the appearance of large numbers of “little green men”, as we saw in both Crimea and Ukraine, perhaps under the guise of so-called “local defence units”. That would very likely be accompanied by Spetsnaz and other special forces activity, potentially backed up by airborne or air assault forces. It is worth noting that the Russian 76th guards air assault division, based at Pskov, is located only 100 km from the Estonian border.
Any such intervention would probably be covered by a wide-reaching air defence umbrella, including highly capable air defence systems, such as the S300 and S400, to help establish an anti-access area denial—or A2/AD—shield, designed specifically to prevent NATO air power from intervening. In any such scenario, speed would be of the essence, as we saw in Crimea, where the key elements of annexation were effectively carried out in a matter of days. Russia’s likely aim would be to present NATO with a fait accompli, to undermine the article 5 guarantee, which Russia would no doubt regard as a meaningful victory.
How should we best respond to this? In May, the Select Committee took evidence from the Secretary of State for Defence, who is in his place, including on our readiness in the UK to respond to a Baltic scenario. He explained that our two high readiness formations, 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade, could be deployed to the Baltics in a matter of days, although it would have to be by air and therefore assumes that air heads would still be in friendly hands. In response to questions, he further explained that it would take about 20 days to deploy a mechanised brigade, whereas to deploy a full war fighting division, as envisaged in SDSR 2015, would take about three months, by which time the conflict could very well be all over. It is obvious from those timings that we would need our NATO allies, especially US air power, to seek to hold the ring until heavier reinforcements could arrive.
What is to be done? First, NATO would have to be prepared to fight and win an intense information campaign, in which television cameras would arguably be more powerful than missiles. The Skripal case showed that in fact the west was prepared to stand together quite impressively in response to Russian misinformation, expelling more than 100 Russian diplomats. I believe that really hurt the Russians.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the era of hybrid warfare and conflict in front of cameras, it is more important than ever that our service personnel feel that if they make difficult decisions in the moment they will be protected through their lives? I raise this because of the intrusion of cameras in conflict.
May I gently say that the time limit will have to be reduced for subsequent speakers at this rate? I say that not by way of complaint, but as a piece of information to the House.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. In fairness, I understand that the Secretary of State is looking into what can be done on legacy investigations.
Secondly, NATO needs to improve its logistics and its ability to move assets, including heavy armour, to the Baltics in a timely manner. The UK has expressed particular interest in one of the 17 EU projects under PESCO—the permanent structured co-operation framework—specifically, the initiative to look at military mobility across Europe. Would it be worth establishing a NATO stock of flat-bed railway cars that European armies could share to move forces across Europe more quickly?
Thirdly, we need to enhance our collective forward presence by having more countries take part in the rotation of units to share the burden. Importantly, we also need more air defence units in that capacity. As has already been suggested, we may also wish to review our basing of units in Germany, because by remaining there they could have a considerable deterrent effect.
Fourthly, NATO should consider devolving to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe—SACEUR—the authority to sanction precautionary troop movements in a crisis, even when unanimous authority from the NATO ministerial council may not be forthcoming. That was much the case during the cold war, and we may have to re-learn that lesson in the protection of the Baltics.
In summary, as I argued earlier, in response to an act of aggression in Salisbury, the west showed admirable determination and collective will to stand up to Russia. We now need a similar combination of determination, backed up by sound military planning, to effectively deter aggression against NATO’s eastern flank. I hope that we will see evidence of all that at the summit in July.
NATO was one of the great achievements of the 1945 Labour Government. Its creation was pushed through by the tenacity and force of will of Ernie Bevin and Clem Attlee, who had both lived through two world wars—Attlee was wounded at Gallipoli. The creation of NATO was based on our party’s fundamental principles of international co-operation and internationalism, and on the idea of solidarity with other nations. Irrespective of the people who today try to rewrite history, the Labour party has never been a pacifist party. NATO was put in place with the idea that pooling resources to ensure that nations could come together and take a collective approach to defence was the way forward. That idea has passed the test of the past 70 years.
When NATO was founded, the threat was clearly the Soviet Union, as it was right up until the 1990s, and it proved to work well as a deterrent. There is a narrative that says that NATO is now somehow the aggressor. I ask people to cast their minds back to the late 1990s, when NATO was in the driving seat in respect of co-operation with the new Russian state, with the “Partnership for Peace” process and the NATO-Russia Council. People forget that at the 2000 Moscow summit, Putin actually suggested to Bill Clinton that Russia could become part of NATO. There was a great will to ensure that co-operation and peace could move forward.
We live in a very different world today, with a resurgent Russia. Not only is there the cyber-threat, about which Members have spoken eloquently, but Russia is re-arming in respect of its nuclear capability, naval capacity and long-range nuclear missiles. People might ask what NATO’s response to those threats is. Our response has to be the traditional one of preparation and solidarity, and we need to ensure that we have a united front against any threat, including that from Russia.
We saw in the press a couple of weeks ago the cynical, terrible situation whereby the new weapons that are being developed are being test-bedded on the people of Syria. Anyone who tries to tell me that that is a state that is going to look for a peaceful way forward need only ask the people of Crimea to see what its way forward is. The threats are different now, though, and it is not just about Russia; the threats include Islamist terrorism, failed states and, as has already been mentioned, mass migration and economic disintegration in parts of the world.
Our response has to include—I know that this has already been said—spending, modernisation and ensuring that we deal with the threats that we face, not just on the battlefield, but in cyber-space and in the media. The Russian threat is quite clearly designed in doctrinal terms to destabilise the western alliance and it is one to which we need to react. I think that we have been rather slow in reacting to it.
May I also add to what was said by the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) and make the case for NATO? Most of us who grew up in the cold war really knew what NATO was for. We need to re-emphasise the case for why we need it today—not as an aggressive alliance, but as a body that stands up for the values that we all cherish dearly and have fought for over many generations in this country. I also reiterate the point that Labour is a party that looks outwards, believes in international co-operation, is not pacifist, stands up to aggression where we see it and also works with other nations to ensure that peace and democracy, which we all take for granted, are preserved.
I am afraid that a four-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches now applies.
As many other Members have said, I regret that the Chancellor is absent today, because I would have liked him to hear some of this. Let me crack on. I am very grateful that we are having this debate today because I know that the organisation has done so much—arguably more than the EU ever has—to secure peace in Europe. NATO is a guarantor of peace in Europe. I agree with the position of Veterans for Britain, which argues that the EU is a consequence of, rather than a cause of, European peace.
I have grown up and, arguably, grown pretty old with the protection of NATO. I can well recall hearing those chilling siren practices that used to be held back in the 1950s in case of nuclear attack. I believe that NATO kept us secure then and continues to do so now. I am, therefore, a very keen supporter of NATO, and am delighted to see that it goes from strength to strength, which is exemplified by the upcoming summit in Brussels.
All of the advances that will happen in Brussels are a direct response to the growing threat from Russia, but we must be mindful that Russia is not necessarily the only threat that we face. Flexibility in this matter is important. We should celebrate our unity, because, as laid out in article 5, if one of us is threatened, all of us are threatened. That is the basis of NATO. Although we should be proud of our contribution in the past, we must now step up to the plate and be prepared to take a more significant role in NATO post Brexit. In order to do that, we must boost our defence expenditure towards the 3% of GDP target that the Defence Committee recommended this week.
I know that the Minister will seek to reassure me that the 2% commitment is a floor, not a ceiling, but we must pick our hard-working armed forces up off that floor and, in doing so, show them that we appreciate them and that we will address the financial challenges that they have been facing for far too long. This is as much a question of morale as it is of military and cyber hardware. My visit earlier this year to Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose showed me that. The personnel there were a fantastic determined group of people who were operating from a base that an estate agent might describe as in need of TLC—and we all know what that means. That is what I found at Culdrose.
We must maintain our status as a credible military power, because we are currently in danger of stalling instead of accelerating. If we do not accelerate, the world will become a more dangerous place. The disarmament and appeasement of the 1930s showed us that. What is more, the additional resources are necessary to keep this country safe. I will bug out now with a minute to spare, Mr Speaker.
I remind the Chamber once again that I have a child who is a serving officer in our armed forces.
I crave your indulgence, Mr Speaker, so that I may share a short memory with the Chamber. When I was at school in the highlands, my parents went away for some days and I was sent to stay with two elderly ladies called Miss Dorothy Mackenzie and Miss Catherine Mackenzie. One day—I remember that it was March—I came back from my day school to find the two old ladies in tears. I was very embarrassed about this. There on the table was a yellowing cutting from the Ross-shire Journal, announcing the death of their brother, who had died in March 1918 in the Germans’ last big push. He went to Tain Royal Academy, and went from there to Fettes, the alma mater of one Anthony Blair. After that, he won an exhibition to Balliol College, Oxford—a spectacular entry to higher education. In fact, he entered Balliol higher up than a much better known graduate of the college: one Harold Macmillan, who graced these Benches.
I was extraordinarily embarrassed by these old ladies, but the experience taught me a very sharp lesson about the reality of losing a sibling in war. Now that I am the age that I am, those school days are actually longer ago than the memory of the ladies’ brother was to them. They still saw him as the young man with that great future before him, who might one day walk in and say hello. I tell this tale because it reminds me that we in Europe were killing one another for hundreds of years. That is why, as has already been said, membership of NATO has never been more important when it comes to these relations. We should not forget that.
I am glad just to have this opportunity. I am lucky to be here to tell this tale and to honour the memory of a brave man in Hansard, which is about the best thing I can do.
I endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald). I represent a constituency at the top of Scotland, and I often wonder which Russian naval vessels are there, beyond the horizon. The right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), who is no longer in his place, puts it extremely well indeed; we have an absolute duty to sell to our constituents, particularly the younger generation, what NATO is about and why it is crucial that we are a member, and why—yes, I agree with other hon. Members—we should increase our expenditure on the defence of this country.
NATO would simply be too slow to defend against a Russian force in somewhere like Estonia or Latvia. The Russians would beat us to the draw. The alliance’s much quoted article 5 is, in fact, a commitment to consult, but not a commitment to act. I wonder how long such a decision might take, and that would be before we deployed one single person, apart from possibly the high readiness force.
Since 2014, NATO has established this very high readiness taskforce, which our 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade currently leads. But I am very suspicious of words in military titles such as “very high readiness”. I reckon that it is a case of wishful thinking. This organisation deploys at the speed of a striking slug. A RAND study in 2016 concluded that the Russians would sweep through the Baltic states within 60 hours, which is about the time that the very high readiness taskforce would be thinking about getting on its transport to go to the Baltics.
It is good that NATO has four multinational battlegroups: in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. We are the lead nation in Estonia, with a battlegroup headquarters and troops, and we also contribute a company group in Poland. But these forces are a trip wire, like my battalion was in 1970 to 1972 in Berlin, when we were surrounded by the East Germans and the Russians. They are obviously hostages to fortune. An attack on them should trigger NATO action.
I am a big supporter of NATO. It binds 28 states together and gives us common purpose. But in any high intensity war, NATO would have to change hugely. It is not good enough to fight at the moment, and it would have to change very fast indeed if it were actually to do the very dirty business of killing the enemy and winning the war.
I am really grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels in a few weeks’ time. Now is also an opportune time to make clear to our NATO allies the importance of strengthening the collective maritime strategy.
With much military activity off the coast of Scotland, now at levels not seen since the cold war, it is imperative that we put a renewed focus on our security interests in the high north. As the Defence Secretary acknowledged during an evidence session in the Defence Committee on 22 May, we are seeing much more activity in the high north. Indeed, the Royal United Services Institute, in its 2017 paper “NATO and the North Atlantic”, issued a warning that
“the North Atlantic—and in particular the Arctic—is an increasingly important part of Russian military strategic calculation, as evidenced by its growing defence modernisation efforts as well as naval and air prowess. It is therefore essential that the North Atlantic region comes to be seen as being central to NATO’s own strategic interests and be a recipient of more NATO assets.”
Despite such warnings, there was no mention whatsoever of the north Atlantic and the high north in the 2015 strategic defence and security review. This is a poor reflection on the UK Government’s ability to effectively prioritise and plan our future security requirements. The new modernising defence programme must address this issue to ensure that we are fully protected against rising Russian threats in this area. Not only that, but we need to protect our oil and gas interests, underwater cabling, renewable energy and fishing, as well as the new and increasingly important tourist activity in the Arctic as it becomes a much more interesting destination for many tourists.
ln 2010, the then Defence Secretary, the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), decided to scrap the RAF’s Nimrod maritime surveillance fleet, severely constraining our ability to locate Russian submarines off the coast of Scotland. That decision was remarkably reckless and left the UK in a tremendously weak position at one of its most vulnerable frontiers. We have had no choice but to allow others to pick up the slack, such as the Americans, the French, the Norwegians and the Canadians, who have had maritime patrol aircraft entering UK airspace in recent years. At the end of last year, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach warned that
“our anti-submarine warfare capability has been seriously neglected”
due to underfunding. He urged the UK to
“develop our maritime forces with our allies to match Russian fleet modernisation.”
Yet we are still waiting for the full P8 fleet to be delivered. The UK’s lack of maritime patrol aircraft is both embarrassing and dangerous. This must change and change soon.
Scotland is strategically located to host the new NATO maritime command base. Scotland’s proximity and accessibility to the north Atlantic makes it a prime location to form a vital link between western Europe and North America, and to cover the Greenland-Iceland-Shetland gap. I conveyed my views on this proposal to the Minister for Europe and the Americas during my Westminster Hall debate on the appointment of an Arctic ambassador last November, and I make the case again today. The east of Scotland is by far the best option for a new base. I hope that the Secretary of State will make such representations to our allies at the NATO summit in July. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that commitment.
I urge the Secretary of State to work with our NATO allies at the Brussels summit to rethink our collective defence and to put a renewed maritime strategy at the top of the NATO agenda.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, in which there has been such agreement on the importance of NATO’s contribution to the world since its formation nearly 70 years ago.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has been the pivotal organisation and the bond that has held together the freedom-loving nations of Europe and North America, maintained peace in the west of our continent and contributed to peacekeeping and nation-building exercises around the world. In many ways, its name is something of a misnomer, for as we sit here today, there is not an inhabited continent on this earth—from the plains of Afghanistan to the Balkans or the seas off east Africa—that does not have some form of NATO or NATO allies present, enhancing the security of the region and defending our common interests.
As has been said, the threats that face our country and our allies are increasing in scale and scope. In 1946, three years before NATO was formed but in a speech that certainly encouraged the Truman Administration to commit to sharing the burden of keeping Europe whole, free and at peace, Churchill famously spoke of the iron curtain descending across Europe, of the then Soviet sphere and of increasing measures of control from Moscow. Today, although the aggressor remains, the threats have evolved, not to the exclusion of conventional warfare as we know it—the experiences of Ukraine and Crimea are testament to that—but with the added constant state of cyber and information warfare permanently raging around us. That is a war we cannot afford to lose.
Once again, it is clear that a shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lightened. Countries that for almost three decades were thought to be free from outside control and free to determine their own destiny in Europe and the world face the threat of political interference, propaganda and ultimately invasion from the east once again. NATO, the transatlantic alliance and the special relationship not just between ourselves and the United States but between all the free and democratic countries of Europe and the United States are needed more than ever before.
One, of course, can understand the frustrations of the United States. It has contributed more than any country to the peace and security of a continent that, in the last century, cost it nothing but blood and money. Churchill remarked in that same speech in Missouri all those years ago that twice in his lifetime he saw America send several million of its young men across the Atlantic to fight the war against its own wishes and traditions. The American people today, having witnessed nearly a decade of constant war and of caskets returning from far-flung corners of the globe, of course wonder why it is fair that they contribute so much in dollars and men and women to an organisation in which, of 29 members, with all but two on the continent that it was created to defend, only five contribute anything like the 2% of GDP spend on defence required, when the United States, in contrast, contributes 70% of NATO’s budget on its own.
In response to that, I would turn back to the speech in Illinois in 1946. Churchill, in trying to convince another reluctant US President about the merits of collective defence, said that America, while having awesome power, also has
“an awe inspiring accountability to the future.”
It is vital that America must not feel that sense of duty alone. Sadly, too often, in its contribution to a peaceful Europe and the defence of our common interests around the world, America has felt that alone. Two years after Churchill’s speech, President Truman said, on the signing of the Brussels treaty:
“I am sure that the determination of the free countries of Europe to protect themselves will be matched by an equal determination on our part to help them do so.”
It is time that the free nations of Europe recaptured that spirit and recommitted themselves to spending what is required to defend themselves. Now, more than at any time since the cold war, Europe needs NATO, and it is up to us to make that case to our allies.
This has been an incredibly important and well-informed debate. The Secretary of State and the British Government should know, when they go to the summit, that they have the full support of this Parliament, as we are united in the belief that NATO forms the cornerstone of the defence of our nation.
Notwithstanding the appalling scenes we have seen in America that none of us could or would seek to defend, it is so important that the US is given the credit it deserves for the work it does to defend the security of our continent and the world. The Secretary-General of NATO, Mr Stoltenberg, wrote yesterday in the paper:
“In fact, since coming to office, the Trump administration has increased funding for the US presence in Europe by 40%. The last US battle tank left Europe in 2013 but now they’re back in the form of a whole new US armoured brigade.”
That is the sort of thing my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) was talking about. It does not seek to justify the American President or defend what he is doing in America, but it points to the facts of what not only the President but the generals and the armed forces of the United States are doing to work with us to secure our freedoms.
I say to the Secretary of State, and I make no apology for this, that this House is united in saying to him that whatever the arguments—about 2%, 2.3% and 2.5%, or about who is doing what and who is not—the fact is that our country needs to spend more on its defence and more resources are needed. As I have said in previous debates, as a Labour politician, I say to the Secretary of State that I support him, as my Front Benchers do, in seeking more resources from the Treasury. That should not of course be at the expense of the health service or of schools, but it does mean that we have to find such resources to defend our country.
Let me say that there will be significant challenges at the upcoming NATO summit. I do not have the time to go through them all, but let me tell the Secretary of State about one of them. Article 5—collective defence—is fundamental to the principle of NATO, but does it apply to cyber-warfare? As Lord Jopling has said, does there need to be a new article 5B? These are immense issues for NATO to consider at its summit.
In the half a minute or so that I have left, I say to the Secretary of State that we are losing the battle with the British public about why we should spend more money on defence and about what threats our country faces. My constituents do not believe that they face a threat of attack from Russia. They do not believe that Russian submarines coming into the North sea adjacent to Scotland are a threat, but we have to persuade them that it is a threat. We have to explain what is going on and why it is a threat. They see terrorism as a threat, but they have to understand NATO’s purpose and what threats we face. How we explain that to them will determine whether we get more resources.
Order. If the remaining speakers on my list speak for a little short of four minutes, Mr Thomson would also have a chance. I appeal to your natural generosity of spirit. I call Mr Alec Shelbrooke.
This has been a very wide-ranging and cross-party debate, with Members agreeing on many areas. In the brief time I have, I want to raise one issue that worries me immensely about the future of NATO and how it operates. We will need more time on the Floor of the House for this, which I will seek from the Leader of the House during business questions at some point. It is the issue of PESCO—the permanent structured co-operation of the European Union.
There must be an honest conversation, in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly at least, about how NATO’s command and control structures will actually work given the adoption of PESCO, which was signed on 11 December 2017. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) made a point about how long it would take to get a security force into the Baltic states, but that is not actually what NATO is for. It is there as a reinforcement force, and a state should be able to hold the line for 72 hours before NATO comes in and defends it, although that is probably not long enough.
As I see it, there is a problem with PESCO. I urge colleagues to go away and read article 42 of the Lisbon treaty. Specifically, it says of
“a common defence, when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides”,
that the Council
“shall in that case recommend to the Member States the adoption of such a decision in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.”
The phrase “their respective constitutional requirements” creates one of the problems in that constitutionally, in German law, Germany cannot be part of an aggressive pact. There are therefore question marks in relation to the operation of PESCO.
PESCO seeks to do many of the things that people recognise that NATO should do, including purchasing equipment efficiently and using it in the best way, but that actually clashes with the constitutional restraints on some NATO states. If the argument for PESCO is about having a European border force, are all European nations going to sign up to it in a way that means they will enforce the direction the Italians are now going in?
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will not give way.
I believe we need at a future date to spend time in the House discussing the relationship between PESCO and NATO in order to advise the NATO Parliamentary Assembly how to take this forward.
That is extremely generous of the hon. Gentleman.
We have got towards the end of a defence debate, with all the defence family here, and no one has said the word “Plymouth”, so it seems only appropriate that I should rise to my feet and talk about Plymouth.
First, however, I want Members to cast their minds back a few years. Before I was the wonderful silver fox that Members see in front of them, I had brown hair, and back in 2004 I was at the NATO summit in Istanbul. It was there that my real affection for NATO was formed and that I understood how important it is that we co-operate across borders and are ready to face the threats coming our way.
Warfare is changing—no one is denying that it is changing—and we must keep an eye on the future. NATO needs to be flexible and adaptable, but if I am honest, it has been too hard and too structured to respond to some of its needs. It was too inflexible after the terrorist threats we saw from 2001 onwards, and it is still a little too inflexible. To return to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) made, it does not seem able to cope with understanding how hybrid warfare and online and cyber-threats face us as an alliance, and it needs to.
We know that there is increased Russian activity threatening the alliance. We know that there is a very real risk of Russian cyber-attacks in the UK, and there have been such attacks on our NATO allies. However, article 5 has not been triggered, which means that we are in this limbo land, where the Russians are getting away with these things, but if we were using the tactics prevalent 100 years ago, they would have been in a conflict. We need to understand that threat.
As well as understanding what is being done with hybrid warfare to destabilise our allies, we need to understand the use of drones and swarm warfare, which Russia is practising and using in Syria, as well as the increase in its military activities elsewhere and in the weaponising of migration.
We need to keep an eye on our high-end capabilities. In particular, I want briefly to talk about the maritime role. In Devonport, we have a world-class dockyard, a world-class naval base and skills that we really need. With increased Russian submarine activity in the north Atlantic, the anti-submarine warfare of the Type 23s and the Type 26s, which I hope those on the Government Front Bench will announce are coming to Devonport shortly, is absolutely essential, as is understanding how we can counter the rise in Russian surface fleet activity and under-sea cable spy ships, which are an increasing threat, but which are not often spoken about in this place.
We also need to protect our amphibious capabilities. The UK has fantastic amphibious capability in Albion, Bulwark and the Royal Marines, and we need to make sure that that is protected in the modernising defence review that is coming. In terms of the ministerial assurances that Albion and Bulwark will go out of service in 2033 and 2034, I hope that that commitment will be maintained in the modernising defence review, when it is published next month.
Order. Because the hon. Lady was on the list, I will call Carol Monaghan next, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will be accommodated.
We have heard already this afternoon that Russian activity in the high north and the Black sea has reached levels not seen since the cold war. The NATO summit must be used to discuss and strengthen the alliance’s maritime strategy. The Russian activity off Scotland’s west coast is now at critical level. Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach has warned that British anti-submarine capability has been seriously neglected due to underfunding. The scrapping of the Nimrod fleet in 2010 has left us unable to react to the emerging Russian threat. We must ensure that we, as a NATO member, remain agile enough to respond to future threats, wherever and whatever they may be.
I was in Romania recently as part of a parliamentary delegation, and concerns were raised repeatedly about Russian activity in the Black sea. The annexation of Crimea has given Russia a launch platform in the Black sea, which has already enabled it to intensify air and sea activities in the area. That, of course, is also a threat to oil and gas pipelines.
Romania is grateful that the UK has sent Typhoons to the Black sea as part of the NATO mission, but Russia continues to flex its muscles in the Ukraine and northern Moldova. It courts NATO members in the Balkans and Turkey, and floods other eastern European countries with propaganda.
Romania is pressing for the Black sea to be a specific agenda item at the summit. That, however, has been repeatedly blocked by Turkey—a NATO member that is getting far too close to Russia. I urge the Secretary of State to support Romania’s calls for a frank discussion of the Black sea at the summit.
Finally, I echo the comments from the hon. Members for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) and for Gedling (Vernon Coaker). Many Members have viewed with horror the pictures of children who have been cruelly ripped from their parents’ arms. Their cries and distress will be hard for us to forget, and this pernicious policy has no place anywhere in the world. I urge the Secretary of State to use any influence he has as a fellow NATO member to send a clear message to President Trump that his actions are not endorsed by the Bible, that we in the UK unequivocally condemn them and that children should never be used as pawns in a political game.
If the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Ross Thomson) could confine himself to four minutes or less, that would be appreciated by the House. I call Ross Thomson.
NATO was born during the cold war when signatories to the treaty were united by their fear of Soviet aggression, which had been exacerbated by the Berlin blockade. They sought to deter that aggression by working in partnership with America, which protected them through the possession of an atomic bomb. Under article 5, an attack against one was an attack against all, which is why collective defence is situated at the very heart of NATO’s founding treaty. NATO, however, is more than just a military organisation. It is also a political organisation that seeks to promote democratic values. It is a vehicle for promoting democracy, individual rights, freedom and the rule of law.
In 2006, NATO members agreed to commit a minimum of 2% of their GDP to spending on defence, to demonstrate political will towards collective defence and to ensure that each member’s defence capacity is reflective of NATO’s overall military capability. In 2014, members signed up to the defence investment pledge, calling on all members not already meeting the 2% spending guideline to stop their cuts to defence budgets and move to 2% within a decade. Frustratingly, far too few NATO member states make significant contributions to the hardware of NATO. Six of the G7 which are in NATO do not do that. The United States spends more on defence than the other 28 members put together. Only four NATO allies spend 2% of their economic output on defence, including the United Kingdom. It is incredible that the richest country in Europe, Germany, spends only 1.2% of its GDP on defence. Understandably, Angela Merkel’s offer to raise that to 1.5% is seen by Washington as insultingly low. It is reasonable for the US to expect its European partners in NATO to contribute more, which is why successive US Presidents have been losing their patience.
There is a new global reality in security and NATO needs to adapt its capabilities to deal with threats. NATO now recognises that cyber-attacks are possible grounds for invoking article 5, meaning that weak national cyber-defences are a potential invitation to a wider conflict. Member states therefore need to build up their own strength and resilience on this front. It is important that we seek a common minimum standard of hybrid defence spending, as it is so varied across Europe.
NATO, not the EU, has been the foundation of Europe’s security. NATO is a source of hope and a safeguard of democracy and freedom. That is why it is vital for the UK to remain a proud contributor to NATO and to take a leadership role to renew NATO to meet the security challenges of today’s global reality, so that we can preserve peace and global freedom.
We have had an excellent debate. Eighteen Members have spoken and there have been many constructive interventions. My apologies to the House if I fail to mention all the Members who have spoken. The debate has displayed a wide range of knowledge. Members have spoken with passion and sincerity. I am delighted that Plymouth has been mentioned. The debate has also been largely bipartisan in tone and content. I very much take on board the very good point made by the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who said it was imperative for us all to have as much unity as possible in this important area. There has been a high degree of consensus.
This is an important time for NATO. As we have heard, NATO’s origins go back to 1949. We on the Labour Benches are very proud that the likes of Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin in particular played an important role in NATO’s formation. Today, the threats which NATO was established in response to are very different, but they are clear threats that we ignore at our peril. My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) and many other Members accurately referred to Russia’s increasingly aggressive activities. We have seen the recent actions of Russia in Ukraine, the illegal annexation of Crimea, and the destabilising cyber-activity of Russia in a number of countries, not least Estonia.
On the weekend before last, it was my pleasure to attend a festival of military music in Cardiff. This was a marvellous display of music, performed with vitality and precision. It also gave me the opportunity to speak to soldiers of the Royal Welsh who served with the Royal Welsh in Estonia. As we have heard from the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, the number of UK personnel routinely deployed in Estonia is now around 800. Our troops are working alongside French personnel and, before long, Danish personnel. This enhanced forward presence, and tailored forward presence, is vital to ensuring that NATO provides strong defence and a clear deterrence.
Significant as this eastern European theatre is, it is also important to be aware that Russia is becoming increasingly assertive in other areas as well, notably in the Arctic. Members hardly need reminding that we have seen ever-increasing military activity close to the United Kingdom. British fighter pilots, jets and warships have responded to Russian military activity near the UK more than 160 times since 2010 and, only a couple of weeks ago, a Royal Navy destroyer was deployed to escort a Russian underwater reconnaissance ship after it approached the UK coast.
At the end of 2016, along with my Front-Bench colleagues, I visited the NATO headquarters in Brussels. I was impressed by both the collegiate nature of the organisation and its accurate estimation of the growing Russian threat. Not only is Russia increasing the numerical strength of its armed forces, but it is increasing its investment in its capabilities, and it is increasingly prepared to address and test our collective responses. In the light of this, I believe that it is important for our NATO allies to make real their commitment to hit the military spending minimum of 2% of GDP for NATO. That argument has been made coherently and well by the Select Committee on Defence, and we have heard a number of Members in this debate making an eloquent case for it, not least the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) and the Chair of the Defence Committee, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). It is also important to recognise that the UK only meets its 2% target because the Government include expenditure on things such as pensions. The need for more resources has been stressed strongly by a number of Members on both sides of the House.
At the start of my speech, I stated that this is an important time for NATO, and it is indeed, for the reasons that I and other Members have given. It is also important because we must not give the impression that, because Britain is leaving the EU, we are going to lessen our determination to co-operate with our partners and friends within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. In this context, the NATO summit in Brussels in July will be of tremendous importance. There will be important discussions, especially on the creation of a new command structure to deal with maritime security and the threat that is posed in the north Atlantic. A number of Members have made their support known very strongly for these developments.
NATO is a vital alliance. We live in a dangerous and uncertain world, and we need to ensure that NATO speaks with one voice and acts as an effective alliance. All of us in this House agree that NATO is important but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) eloquently said, we must all make sure that we put the case for NATO to the people of this country to make sure that there is not only understanding, but full support.
I am very grateful to have the opportunity to wind up this debate. I intend to carry on from the very constructive way in which the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) wound up for Her Majesty’s Opposition. We have indeed had a constructive, passionate and wide-ranging debate. I am grateful to hon. Members for their ongoing and active engagement with these important issues, especially as we approach the NATO summit in Brussels next month.
I declare an interest. As a reservist of some 30 years, I have vivid memories of my own NATO experience, serving on NATO operations in Kosovo, Bosnia and Afghanistan. That experience left me with a profound appreciation for the difference the alliance can make in the world. Today, as a Minister, I have been privileged to see how both our civilian and our military personnel, whether at NATO headquarters or deployed on operations, continue to champion the global good. I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to all those who have served NATO with distinction, not just today, but in days gone by. They are the bedrock of our defence.
Hon. Members have made a number of important points today and I will endeavour to deal with them but, if I do not get to everyone, I will write to those concerned. I hope they will understand if I do not take interventions, unless they are absolutely vital, because otherwise I will have no chance of dealing with everyone. The hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) started, rightly, by demonstrating the common values we share across the Chamber. I do not intend to break with that by taking a partisan approach to this debate, and I do not doubt for one second her Front-Bench team’s commitment to defence—the same commitment we have heard in every speech today—but she will understand why there is concern in the House about some of the historical comments her leader has made, which is why I hope all Labour Members will do their bit to maintain the consensus on how we move forward.
The hon. Lady rightly highlighted the need for interoperability. As she will be aware, this morning the Royal United Services Institute land warfare conference took place, at which I spoke. I was delighted to highlight how 3rd Division, very much the core of our land forces, divisions being the smallest formation at which the full orchestra of war can be used, recently operated on the Warfighter exercise in the United States. Some 1,400 British personnel plugged very effectively into the US 18th Airborne Corps, fighting alongside the US 4th Division, demonstrating how we are completely interoperable, as a tier one nation, with our US allies.
Crucial to that, as we move forward with MDP, is the perhaps less glamorous side to MDP: our ability, and the necessity, to invest in our communications infrastructure, such as Morpheus, an open architecture communications system. Rather than nations buying closed architecture systems, which do not communicate with each other, we have to move forward in this modernised way.
The hon. Lady was also concerned about the future of the DSACEUR. I can reassure her that there is no link to Brexit. We hold that post simply because we, as the UK, are the second-largest contributor to NATO. I can only repeat the Prime Minister’s words at Munich, where she said our support for European security was unconditional.
My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) highlighted the importance of working with allies, and of course that is very much in the spirit of the NATO summit. Almost every hon. Member across the House highlighted the need for 2% to be a floor, and almost every voice wanted to see that increase. That sends an incredibly powerful message from this Parliament. I will not get drawn into an argument about how we define spending; I can only say that we follow the NATO standards and that we are committed to increasing the defence budget by 0.5% above inflation each year.
The hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) highlighted how we can now add cyber and space to the traditional domains of land, air and sea. Indeed, several hon. Members asked about that challenge. I am pleased to say that NATO has recognised cyber as a domain and agreed that it could be a reason to trigger article 5—article 5 already provides for that—but that is not to say that we should avoid discussing Lord Hague’s comments about an article 5B; indeed, it is probably vital that we do discuss them.
Along with the hon. Members for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) and for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan), the hon. Gentleman also highlighted the importance of the high north, our appreciation of it and our need to operate in it. In March, I was delighted to be able to join HMS Trenchant on Ice Exercise, and to spend two days underneath the north pole, under the ice. It is a remarkable experience, especially coming back up through the ice. That, I hope, is a clear demonstration of how seriously we take this threat, and we will of course continue to operate up there. The hon. Member for Glasgow North West also mentioned concern about our aerial reconnaissance: that is why we are buying our new P-8 aircraft, which will be located at Lossiemouth.
Will the Minister give way?
No, I will not.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon) for what he did as Defence Secretary. It was an honour to serve under him, and he did much to move this agenda forward. He spoke about the opportunity that the summit would bring us, and, in particular—this related very much to the agenda of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe—about the 360° approach that NATO must take. He pointed out that, given the approach of the west Balkan summit, which the UK will host, we must maintain our open-door policy.
I was delighted that the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) mentioned the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, an organisation that is close to my heart. I seem to be inviting the hon. Lady to go to lots of places at the moment, but, as she probably knows, that organisation still exists and operates from Lincoln’s Inn, and she should really go and see it, if she would like to. She also spoke of the need, under NATO, to take a comprehensive approach and to work closely with organisations such as the Department for International Development. Intervention in fragile states upstream—the spending of 0.7% of gross national income on aid—can have a great influence on the prevention of conflict and all the unnecessary issues that it brings, and prevent defence action downstream.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) made a powerful comparison between what is happening now and the advent of air power 100 years ago. At the time the Army did not see the benefit of our air power, apart from, perhaps, a bit of reconnaissance, but, 100 years on, we see that that was a pivotal point. One of my concerns, about which I feel strongly, is that I do not want us to find ourselves, in 10 years’ time, looking in our rear-view mirror and wishing that we had seized the opportunity of cyber to a greater extent.
Will the Minister give way?
Oh, all right, I will, but I have only two minutes left.
I thank the Minister. His right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary told the Defence Committee recently that we would be leaders in cyber. Will he please elaborate on that?
I will. I think that we are leaders in cyber. That was discussed during Defence questions. As was said then, we have invested £1.9 billion in cyber, and in March we opened the new state-of-the-art Defence Cyber School in Shrivenham. I am determined that cyber skills will be a key component for all members of our armed forces.
The hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) highlighted concerns about President Trump and his commitment to NATO. I will simply say that I agree with the hon. Members for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) and for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), both of whom rightly said that we should judge the United States by its actions and not by its words. I have seen for myself just what the US has been doing in Poland in recent weeks.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) underlined the need for us to continue our security relationship with our European allies post Brexit. The hon. Member for Bridgend and the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) were absolutely right to highlight the need for us to continue to educate people about the value of NATO.
Both my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) and my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) spoke about the Baltic states and their concerns about the need for a responsive NATO. Of course, this assumes that the UK is acting in isolation from a standing start, but NATO has graduated response plans to implement once its situational awareness indicators and warnings have identified the need to act. However, they were absolutely right about the concerns in that area, which is why we are at the forefront of pressing NATO to modernise its political, institutional and military capabilities to address the challenges that we face.
Other Members made extremely valuable contributions. I am very conscious of time. If I have the opportunity, I will write to them after the debate. NATO’s enhanced forward presence has been on the ground for over a year, with the UK playing a leading role, and if we can build on those successes, sharpening NATO’s focus, winning collective commitment for investment in better equipment, bigger budgets and less red tape, and remaining even more united in our resolve in the face of those who seek only to divide us, together, we will ensure the alliance remains what it has been for almost 70 years, not just to our nation but to the west as a whole—a great beacon of hope.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered NATO.