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Volume 725: debated on Thursday 10 February 2011


Moved by

To call attention to the future of NATO and changing relations within its membership; and to move for papers.

My Lords, when I put down my name for this debate and was lucky enough to be drawn in the ballot, I did so in the almost certain knowledge that I would learn far more from it than any knowledge I would give to others. When I saw the list of speakers, I thought that that impression would be confirmed. I am looking at this from the outside in, and there are those with far greater knowledge of the subject.

My initial approach comes as somebody who regards NATO as something of a fixed term in their childhood. I was brought up in a world in which we were divided into two camps. There was our side, NATO, and there was the Warsaw Pact. We stared at each other across Europe with troops facing each other to fight in northern Germany and nuclear weapons in the background. Effectively, we lived quite happily, looking back at it, with a nuclear Armageddon waiting in the background. I say that because we went to school, we went to work, we listened out for the results of football matches with the knowledge that everything could end tomorrow. Indeed, part of the education process and the entertainment industry was telling us that it could all end tomorrow.

It has changed considerably since then. If we have won, someone must have lost; and that would seem to be Russia. The first point of this debate is our relationship with the successor to the Soviet Union, the controlling interest, if you like, in the Warsaw Pact. We must try to get an idea of how it must perceive the world now. If we do not, we cannot start to make a sensible contribution to the debate.

I had a quick look at a map and realised that the Russian Federation, the successor state to the Soviet Union, finds itself surrounded by enemies which are a lot closer to Moscow than they were. The entire western flank is closer to home, and seems to be turned, if you take into account the Baltic states. To the south, there is a series of what someone called the stans, those unstable states which Russia itself acquired only in the mid-19th century, which now seem to be a breeding ground for the more aggressive forms of Islam and which seem more anti-Russia than anything that Russia ever dreamed of from the West. That is a very unstable place.

One of the first things that NATO must address is how we handle the new reality with Russia—how we try to convince Russia that we are not out to encircle and attack it. In the past few years, we have had some worrying rhetoric from both sides. Indeed, both sides seem rather to have revelled in going back to Cold War rhetoric. The classic example is probably the Russian intervention in Georgia, when Russia felt that its interests were deeply threatened by a bellicose Georgian regime. I do not think that that action was right, but, from Russia’s point of view, it might be understandable. There was also the very worrying period when missile defence was first proposed and the Putin regime seemed to think that it was a direct attack on that regime, whereas we were worried predominantly about missiles from Iran. Both situations seem to have calmed down now and stability has been restored. However, normalising the situation is one of NATO’s biggest challenges. But it is not simply a matter of maintaining weapons and guaranteeing the survival of the surrounding states.

My last thought on this subject is that Poland—a former member of the Warsaw Pact, that great bulwark of Russian-led power—is now a member of NATO. The situation has changed dramatically in less than two decades and it is not surprising that a little paranoia remains. Poland became a NATO member in 1999, a comparatively short time ago. We need to have a little understanding of what is going on there.

As part of this process NATO has moved from a position in which it waited to be attacked to one in which it has become a more proactive—interventionist, if you like—force. Most of the articles on Afghanistan that I read in preparing for this debate, looking to plunder the ideas of others on the way forward, suggest that if we were to do it again, we would not do it again in the same way. If NATO is to intervene in other states—and some would argue that it had a better result in the western Balkans—how should we structure it so that we can guarantee it is not thought to be overly aggressive, overly manipulative and interfering, not just in Russia but also in other states around the world? Can this body of which we are a member be a force for stability and good, as we see it, at the same time as it intervenes to impose our values, which some think are not required? The diplomatic framework to resolve the question does not yet seem to exist.

If we are to belong to NATO we must work with the primary and dominant partner, the United States of America. The United States was perhaps the winner at the end of the Cold War, and it was the originator of NATO—an institution which is now more than 60 years old. How does the United States perceive NATO as part of its world policy? Indeed, should it see NATO as part of its world policy? The way in which the other European NATO member states and institutions present themselves to the rest of the world also is a very big question.

There is one model which is not totally dependent on America, regarding it as simply a partner rather than as the dominant partner, and it might provide a way forward—the Anglo-French agreement. The general consensus, or at least the consensus that I have heard, is that these two nations are of a very similar size and power, with similar traditions, interests and histories of world involvement. These two nations have come together to create a force that, with NATO guidance, can be projected into the world outside. We should remember that this combination of 28 states acting together has considerable force. If these two nations are going to take on this role on their own behalf or in conjunction with other forces, as they are both members of the European Union, although the diplomatic direct link of ASEAN is almost impossible because of the slight difference in membership, the fact that they are the two dominant members of NATO and important members of the EU links them whether we like it or not. Whether we decide that they should be formally linked or not, there is a linkage. To deny it is to defy the logic of the situation. The briefing provided stated that if you want to annoy the Eurosceptics, raise the issue of whether that linkage should be formalised, but the fact of the matter is that it is there. NATO and the EU have very similar memberships although they are not identical.

How do these organisations interact with the rest of the world? How can they expand? Is the United States always going to be required to back them up and to provide ground support for the heavy lifting? Is the United States always going to be seen as having an interest in the defence of Europe? I do not think it will because it is understandably looking towards its Pacific coast and its Pacific boundary. Russia has the rising superpower, China, on its southern and south-east borders, and America has it on its south-west border. That will take America’s attention away from Europe. We have to recognise this reality in the structure of NATO and in the command structures within Europe.

I have made notes about the restructuring of the command structure of NATO—I do not know why I bother making notes if I do not refer to them. There are 11 fixed military headquarters and 14 agencies with overlapping responsibilities manned by 13,000 military officers with 300 international committees. A restructuring is going on, but those figures show that it is slightly overdue. Surely there can be a restructuring that will enable us to have a more flexible organisation that will reflect the changes in the membership and in the realities on the ground. This must happen if this organisation is to remain relevant. We cannot always expect America to be there with us on all occasions, even if it should be consulted and be part of the decision-making process. We have got to become more flexible. Europe has got to look after itself. We have to establish better relationships with the great power to the East, Russia. It is no longer a superpower, but it is a great power. We have got to restructure the way things are organised. If we do, NATO has a future. However, if it sits back and quietly blunders around, it does not have as useful a future. The figures I gave about structure and organisation suggest that a body that is more than 60 years old will take time to die. At the moment, it is a prestige institution for the new member states that have joined it. It will not carry on that way for ever, particularly if diplomatic relationships on a state-to-state basis with Russia improve.

I have the following questions for the Government. Where do we think NATO is going? Could the Anglo-French model be replicated among other states in Europe? Should we be bringing other states into that relationship? Should we be bearing more of the load ourselves? These are very big questions. I hope I will hear answers which address them in ways I have not thought of. I beg to move.

My Lords, I congratulate warmly the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on securing this timely debate on NATO. However, in my experience, almost any day of the past 10 years would have been appropriate for a debate on NATO and the changing world circumstances in which it operates. I do not think that the noble Lord had any need for the caveat at the beginning of his remarks suggesting that perhaps others in this House have more expertise than he does. He has laid before us a groaning table of opportunity for debate and discussion, and has raised the most important issues in relation to NATO in an appealing way.

It is well known that I came to defence and security with very little background in the subject. I still do not consider myself to be an expert. I believe that part of the frustration that many people feel about the direction of travel of our collective security is a consequence of the fact that not enough politicians are brave enough to stand in this complex environment to express their views if they do not believe that they have the background that qualifies them to do so. There has been collectively across Europe an absence of strong political leadership in security and collective defence for too long. I congratulate again the noble Lord on securing this debate because even in this Parliament we spend too little time discussing these important issues.

Before I make my discriminating choices from what the noble Lord has offered, I want to draw the attention of your Lordships’ House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests, particularly my membership of the Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative, which has recently been formed by the Carnegie Institution, and my involvement with the recently incorporated European Leadership Network for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation. In addition, I should like to take the opportunity to express how much I am looking forward with keen anticipation to the maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Flight, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup.

The noble Lord, Lord Flight, is a direct contemporary of mine in terms of membership of the other place. We went in together and left at the same time. On many occasions I have listened from the opposite Benches to his forceful arguments and sometimes his ability to handle issues of controversy with great courtesy. I know that he will be a valuable addition to your Lordships’ House. I look forward to his contribution.

For two years, as Secretary of State for Defence, I benefited from the advice, strategic analysis, leadership and patience of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, as we served together in the particularly demanding environment of operations as we were withdrawing from Iraq and continuing to face the challenges of our engagement in Afghanistan. I do not think that I have ever shared with him the fact that I lived also with a constant reminder of him at home. On the occasions when we appeared together in public or in series in relation to issues, my wife constantly observed that he explained things far better than me. She said that he used a much more analytical fashion, was a much better public speaker than me and that it was time I took some lessons from him. I shall always be indebted to him for that service and I know that he will be a wise and knowledgeable contributor to the work of your Lordships’ House.

I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that our security demands a strategic partnership in NATO, including the United States and Russia. Indeed, I would argue that for the continent we occupy, that strategic partnership needs to stretch beyond that alliance. As well as including Russia, it needs to include others which share this area with us. I agree with him wholeheartedly that that will not be possible unless we follow the advice of Robert Burns and to a large degree see ourselves as others see us. I spend a lot of my time travelling in Europe, particularly to its extremes, trying to understand countries’ views of their security challenges and of the security blanket and comfort zone in which we live. He is right to suggest that we need to understand the way in which other people’s minds work. Recently, I have been doing that intensively in Turkey. It is deeply instructive, even to someone who has done the jobs that I have done.

My most recent experience comes from listening to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak very wisely at the Munich Security Conference at the weekend. I am not sure that the noble Lord is right in his fear that the United States is turning its back on Europe, but he is right to suggest that the United States, for the very reasons that he articulates for other countries—that is, their geopolitical environment—is in a much more complex part of the world than us. However, for no reason other than the news this morning of the latest activity of pirates in the Indian Ocean, he and others should realise that we all live in the same world and that what is going on at the borders to which he referred, on the western side of the United States, influences us as well. My sense is that this Administration, those who are advising them, the United States high command and those in the analytical and security environment in Washington and across the United States know and understand this better than do we in this country and that they have no intention of turning their back on Europe. Indeed, their engagement with Europe is a function of our willingness to engage with them. My experience of NATO was that we sometimes sat back too much, waiting for the United States to give us the lead and tell us what we should think rather than our telling it what we wanted—to which it would be responsive.

At their April 2009 summit, NATO heads of state and Governments tasked Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the organisation's Secretary-General, to define the alliance's role and mission for the 21st century in a new strategic concept. In Lisbon, in response, he produced such a concept and the alliance approved it.

However, as the Secretary-General and, indeed, your Lordships' House know, agreement on a form of words is not the same as securing NATO's real relevance to the security challenges that we face in the 21st century. To be a success in practice, the new concept needs to address challenges far different from those faced at the time of the alliance's formation, while protecting the founding ideas of collective defence, the transatlantic link and burden-sharing. Whatever frustrations we may have with this alliance, if we did not have it, we would have to invent it. It is crucial to our security, and we should not talk it out existence because of frustrations which we should try collectively to challenge.

The task which Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the summit have set the alliance is far from easy, but it is vital, and nowhere is it more needed than in the area of NATO nuclear policy. For months now—indeed, for about a year—a debate on the future of US theatre nuclear weapons stationed in Europe has been occurring around, but outside, formal NATO review processes. Stationed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey as part of the US nuclear umbrella which has extended over Europe, these weapons originally had a specific military purpose. With a short, “tactical” range and the majority unable to reach beyond mainland Europe, they were deployed to deter a physical invasion of western Europe by the then numerically superior conventional forces possessed by the Soviet Union at the time of the Cold War. Now, however, the weapons have declined to the point where I cannot find a military commander who says that they have any military utility. Moreover, the future costs associated with replacing the ageing aircraft that would deliver them are unlikely to be met by Europe’s Governments, who are all in some financial difficulty.

More must be done to promote multilateral nuclear disarmament, and this is an opportunity to do that. Others in the alliance are worried that if one or two countries renounce nuclear weapons unilaterally, not only will the principle of nuclear burden-sharing between the US and Europe be compromised, but so too will the transatlantic link and the overall quality of collective defence commitments within NATO. This is an opportunity for NATO to do exactly what the noble Lord suggested: to have a debate among its members on the utility and purpose of nuclear weapons, and to come to a conclusion that will make a significant difference to the collective security not just of Europe but of the world, by contributing to disarmament and reducing the role of nuclear weapons in it.

My Lords, I begin by thanking the officers of the House for their great courtesy and assistance to new boys such as me. Secondly, I thank Members on all sides for their very warm welcome. It strikes me that this is indeed the better, more civilised House, where climbing the slippery pole is pleasantly behind us all. I am honoured to have friends on all sides of the House. This is one of the few places in our country where there is sensible respect for age, experience and knowledge, even though everyone looks incredibly young for their years. I am very honoured to be a Member of the House; it is a great institution.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for his kind comments and, with your Lordship’s indulgence, will say a little about India today; I call it the second love of my life after my wife. In discussing defence, one needs to think out of the box. As India becomes a major power and economy in the world, I hope that it will become a key ally of this country, for reasons that I will speak about. India has 1 million well trained men at arms. In thinking about future defence needs, one should think about her role as she takes her place in the world. Surely there is at least a potential peacekeeping role that would be appropriate. I am naughtily using defence as an excuse to talk about India, but it is quite a big angle.

I was very pleased when the Prime Minister made his first visit to India. My associations with India go back to my days as a student, when I studied British India history and had the good fortune to work there in the second part of the 1970s. I made a group of friends who have remained close throughout my life and acted as guardian to some of their children when they came here to go to university. I am powerfully struck by the close affinity between our two countries; we are very much the eastern and western version of extraordinarily similar cultures. The previous debate, and that on the family last week, showed that India has a great deal to teach us. I also observe that through history, most British people who spent their careers in India grew to love the country and its people. Many noble Lords may have read the wonderful books by Dalrymple, particularly on the relationship between Britain and the Mughals in the 18th century. I asked Garter at my introduction ceremony where his magnificent new jacket had been made and was amused to be told that it was in India, and that it was significantly cheaper to have made there than in this country.

Some years ago, I was involved in establishing a medical facility in one of the major Indian slums. I observed, first, that inside what looked like a grim place were wonderful family units and little houses that were clean as a whistle. The upward mobility among that community was greater than I have witnessed anywhere in the world; it was a wonderful thing to experience.

On another occasion I took my daughter around Agra with a very nice young Indian as a guide. He asked me what I did and when I told him he said, “We have a democratic system over here in India. What system do you have in England?”. It was evidence of the extent to which India has, above all, completely absorbed the concept of democracy. It has not been particularly well absorbed in many other parts of the world but Indians regard democracy as just as much their own as we regard it as our own.

There are very close economic factors. We have similar institutions of commerce and the same laws. There are very close cultural factors. As time goes by and India takes its place in the world as one of the main powers and economies, I look forward to closer relations between us and India. That would be natural and, I repeat, based on affinities that go back an extremely long way. Reverting to the start, it would be strange if that did not involve some military element.

I crave your Lordships’ indulgence for my straying slightly from the direct subject of NATO. I conclude with a point that I have not made yet. If we look at this country, my goodness, what a contribution the Indian community makes. It is the most successful community in this country. It is a very hard-working community with good family values. You have only to look around this House when it is fully attended to see, happily, that India is very well represented here. It has been of great advantage to this country and is one of the rather happier fruits of a relationship that goes back a very long way.

My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Flight. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Browne, I did not have the privilege of serving alongside him in the House of Commons. I departed the other place as he arrived and I arrived back at this place just as he departed. It is great to be in the Chamber with him. I have heard a great deal about his ability, winsome humour, sharp mind and intellect. He will bring those powers of debate to bear, I am sure, on many occasions. Although the noble Lord, Lord Flight, talked about India, he began his life as an Essex boy, of which he is very proud. He had a distinguished career in business, after studying at Magdalene College, Cambridge. He was then elected as a Member of Parliament for the outstandingly beautiful constituency of Arundel and South Downs in 1997. I have it on the surest authority—from a distinguished former constituent of the noble Lord, Lord Flight—that he was a most assiduous Member of Parliament. He was a very hard working and diligent constituency MP. I am sure that that tradition and experience is something that he will bring to this House and his duties here. I am sure I speak on behalf of all noble Members in saying that he is a great addition and we welcome him.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on securing this debate in the ballot. I also had a subject in the ballot but was not successful. However, I am delighted that this subject was. Like many Members, I tend to look at the subject that I had in the ballot, then at the guy who was fortunate enough to win, and think about whether I can squeeze my words by contortion into what I first wanted to say. I will perhaps test the House’s patience on that in the last couple of minutes of my offering.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, introduced the subject of NATO so well, highlighting the key issues for consideration at present. The world has changed since 1949, when the NATO treaty was signed in Washington DC. The threat at that point was the Soviet Union, so NATO was formed.

I declare an interest: I have recently been appointed as a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. In fact, I am so new that I have not yet attended my first meeting; I do so in two weeks’ time. I was pretty amazed to hear about the number of committees there—it is 300 or 400. A distinguished former Secretary-General, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, who is in his place, says that that is perhaps not the case, and obviously I defer to his great expertise. But the assembly seems to be getting a very nice new building, smarter than what existed before, at the cost of €1 billion, I think, which seems to be quite a handsome addition for NATO in rather straitened times, particularly when we are finding things pretty tight in our defence budget here.

More important than that is to discover what NATO’s role is in the modern era. When I was looking back, I thought, “It would be good to go back to see what the different articles said in the original treaty about its purpose”. Two things were evident from the original text of the treaty, dated 4 April 1949. The first was this:

“The Parties to this Treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments”.

That is quite an interesting point. Sometimes we perhaps see NATO as a rival to some institutions, particularly the United Nations and its Security Council, which had been formed just three years before. The UN had its first meeting in Church House just across the way here; the first meeting of the General Assembly was in 1946 in Methodist Central Hall. We sometimes think that NATO is trying to dilute the authority of the UN, but the treaty itself is very clear that it saw the peace and prosperity of peoples and Governments as being vested in the United Nations charter. It specifically said that it did not want in any way to diminish the lead role of the Security Council and the General Assembly in pursuing their tasks.

NATO had a very strong political remit. Today we tend to think of NATO as a purely military body. It is a formidable military power because, in the classic term, it was created to keep the Americans in and the Russians out. There was another part to that phrase, but it is no longer needed. To an extent, it has done that; NATO has succeeded in keeping the United States engaged in Europe, and that has helped immensely to guarantee our security. Of course it has not quite kept the Russians down, because now they are partners. In fact, I shall see President Medvedev turning up in Lisbon for the discussions there on the future of NATO as a partner. To see Russian observers at all meetings of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly—they have a right to attend—shows that the world has changed for the better, and NATO has been a very successful part of that.

Where does NATO go from here? On that, some of the thinking that has gone into the coalition’s strategic defence and security review can be helpful to us. The central argument in the helpful document that it produced, which is now our national security strategy, is that we need to move on from thinking that we can go around the world intervening—to move from intervention to prevention. There is a much greater emphasis on the prevention of conflict than on intervening in conflict. When you are a huge military power, there is the temptation that if you are a hammer you see every problem as a nail. Politics brings a subtlety to such matters. I am in politics because I abhor violence; I want peaceful solutions to all conflicts, peaceful transitions of power and the peaceful operation of societies.

The political dimension needs to step to the fore and take on the role of prevention. Prevention is very clear in the new security and defence policy. It says that we will move resources—this is a radical concept—of nearly £300 million away from the Ministry of Defence and put it into a pot which is about conflict prevention and resolution. That is a phenomenal leap. It recognises, as the national security policy says, that we must get better. Its top aim is to tackle the root cause of instability. Rather than intervening afterwards, we should intervene before. That is the whole thrust of where the national security policy is going.

That is a perfect role for NATO. It can use the fact that it keeps the United States in. It is crucial, in my view, that Turkey is also a member. NATO somehow transcends the European Union and adds something different. It could have a unique role in pursuing initiatives for peace and reconciliation within the world, intervening politically and in humanitarian ways rather than in a military way, which is always more costly. That fact was stated by the Prime Minister on his visit to Afghanistan recently.

As I come to the last minute of my time, I will chance my arm by raising an issue that I chose for a balloted debate recently. It is linked to the United Nations. Next year, there will be a United Nations resolution that proposes an Olympic Truce for the period of the Olympic Games in London 2012—from seven days before until seven days after. It will be passed by the United Nations General Assembly and all 193 member states of the United Nations will sign up to it. It will declare that they will pursue initiatives for peace and reconciliation during the period of the Olympic Games in the spirit of the ancient Games.

The problem is that if it is like any other of the previous resolutions, it will be completely ignored. If we are to go back to the almost defining point of NATO, where we recognise that if we are to have peace, prosperity and security in this world it will be through a broad-based international order and the United Nations will be at its heart, surely it behoves us to take United Nations resolutions seriously. There is no better resolution in my view to start with than to declare a truce during the London 2012 Olympic Games.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Addington on securing this debate and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Flight on his interesting military bridge-building between NATO and India in his fascinating and excellent maiden speech. We look forward to many contributions over the years.

Europe spends collectively €200 billion on defence. Few would argue that it gets value for money or bangs for bucks. Within that total, the United Kingdom and France are by far the largest contributors, with 50 per cent of the total spend and probably 65 per cent of the research spend. In today's debate, I intend to focus my remarks on the changing relations within NATO’s membership, on Anglo-French military co-operation, particularly the defence and security co-operation treaties, and the way forward.

I do not wish to dwell on the past: on French isolation under de Gaulle or the disappointing outcomes of the 1998 St Malo agreement. Today, we are in a whole new ballgame. President Sarkozy has brought France back within NATO's military structure and severe budgetary pressures in our two countries have made greater co-operation the obvious and inevitable way forward. We have seen a dramatic and genuine shift in French policy and our coalition Government have responded in an open and positive way. I freely acknowledge the efforts of the previous Government in building the foundations of this current new relationship. As Alain Juppé, the French Defence Secretary of State, said in the National Assembly late last year:

“The defence treaty signed with the United Kingdom introduces an unprecedented co-operation”.

He went on:

“Our first objective is to develop co-operation between our armed forces in order to create a joint capability with a concrete road map”.

Liam Fox, appearing before the Lords Foreign Affairs and Defence Sub-Committee last week, said that the personal chemistry was very good with Alain Juppé and acknowledged the focus as being on interoperability so that the UK and France could work together if necessary.

As we know, a number of specific areas of co-operation are being worked up. We have decided to install catapults and arresting gear to our future operational carrier. Thus UK and French aircraft can operate from both nations’ carriers. The intention by the early 2020s is to have the ability to deploy the UK-French integrated carrier strike group. On the A400M transport, the plan is to develop common support for our future fleets of transport aircraft and agree a single contract with Airbus Military, to be signed by the end of 2011. On submarine technologies and systems, the aim is jointly to develop some of the equipment and technologies for the next generation of nuclear submarines. On maritime countermeasures, a common project team will be established this year to agree specifications for a prototype mine countermeasure system. Other areas include co-operation on nuclear stockpile testing, satellite communications and unmanned aerial systems.

Both UK and French politicians have made it abundantly clear that the Anglo-French co-operation involves no loss of sovereignty, both countries being free to deploy their own forces as each sees fit. I do not demur from that, but the creation of a combined joint expeditionary force suitable for a wide range of scenarios up to and including high-intensity operations points the way ahead. I welcome the joint exercises involving all three services planned for later this year.

David Cameron observed at the November 2010 summit that the only times when British forces had been deployed alone in the past 30 years were in Sierra Leone and in the Falklands. One can compare those two occasions with the number of times when we have fought alongside allies, from the first Gulf War through Bosnia and currently in Afghanistan. There are those, perhaps the majority, who support the Anglo-French defence treaty but would not wish it to go further and like our Defence Secretary regard any loss of national security as being totally unacceptable. However, others like myself are rather more pragmatic; we see it as a beginning rather than an end. Of course, trust will take time to develop, and we have to build a new entente brick by brick. Looking back, perhaps closer dialogue and co-operation with France might have caused us to be more circumspect about the invasion of Iraq and the way in which we launched into Afghanistan.

We all know how our two countries went their separate ways on defence, but if we stand back and look at it objectively, does it really make sense for us to have our respective, separate submarine-borne strategic nuclear deterrents at considerable cost prowling the world’s oceans with no obvious targets or threats? Can we seriously imagine just one of us ever coming under nuclear attack and not the other? Surely our proximity would bring about mutual contamination in any case, let alone the risks of missile inaccuracy. With our conventional forces in time, I would like to see more integration and greater use of mutual training areas, our air fields and our ports.

Today we face a particular problem in this country. The loss of our Nimrod capability, which has been referred to in numerous recent defence debates and in Questions, leaves a gap that we cannot easily bridge. When my noble friend replies, will he say whether we have made any approaches to the French to help in this regard—for the use of their fairly substantial maritime patrol aircraft fleet?

In any discussion on Anglo-French co-operation, we clearly need to be cognisant of the reaction and possible concern of other NATO countries. Earlier this month our Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Peter Luff, said that while the United States and France remain the “two key providers” of defence equipment to the UK, other allies, including Italy and Germany, could become crucial equipment partners, citing Italy’s expertise in sensors for possible utilisation in the development of UK/French unmanned systems.

Finally, concerning the United States, clearly it remains our great superpower ally. However, as it increasingly looks to the east—to the Pacific rim, as my noble friend Lord Addington said earlier—it should surely welcome greater European co-operation and efficiency in defence, thus requiring a lesser call on itself.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for achieving this debate. I also rather share with him the question: what is the threat? Let me tell your Lordships that I moved jobs in Germany as the wall came down. I went from being the corps commander to being the commander-in-chief. The first thing I did was to go and see the intelligence brigadier. I asked, “What is the threat?” He said, “Commander-in-chief, it’s multidirectional and multifaceted, which means I haven’t a clue where it’s coming from”.

In a funny sort of way, that emphasises to me that, because the UK would not be able to operate in some of the military situations that we face on our own, we need to be part of an alliance—and a key nation, because only one nation has a real military capability that it can sustain over a prolonged period. That is the United States, so its importance in any military relationship that we have is critical. Whether that should be NATO or another alliance, I do not know, but I cannot stress how strongly I believe in the critical importance of that.

NATO is, of course, now involved in Afghanistan. I had some reservations about going into Afghanistan, but the facts are there, and again only one nation can sustain the sort of military effort that is required: the United States. Unless some other form of that can be devised, that will remain hugely important. When you explain to people the difficulty of sustaining complex, dangerous military operations over a prolonged period and the assets needed to sustain them, only the United States and one or two European nations can provide those.

In Afghanistan, we are now facing NATO’s greatest military challenge, operationally. I have been disappointed by the contribution made by some NATO nations to that campaign. I believe that this could, in time, lead to the US having doubts about the value of NATO. That would be a grave disadvantage to this country and to our security, not least because Europe, although it has some high-tech military capabilities, has a very limited ability to sustain the sort of prolonged military operations that I referred to earlier.

My immediate concern is Afghanistan, which is a major challenge. We have to ask ourselves whether we have the force levels right in Afghanistan at the moment. I am talking about us, not the Americans, and I know that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, will address that point later. Also, can we sustain that operation over a prolonged period? If Europe really is to have a credible military capability, it has to ask itself whether it is prepared to spend the money that it requires to provide it. At the moment, I see no sign of Europe being prepared to make that effort. Until that happens, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that NATO and the United States link remain critically important, both politically and militarily, for this country.

My Lords, it is with some reluctance that I speak today. On seeing that I was to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, and after hearing the kind remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, that reluctance has grown to simply fearsome proportions. I am still new to your Lordships’ House and very much in the process of learning the ropes. That has certainly been expedited and made much less difficult by all the support that I have received from the wonderful staff here—before my introduction, on the day itself and subsequently—and by the warm reception that I have had from your Lordships. I am most grateful for all this.

I had fully intended to take a little time to find my feet before getting up on them, but the noble Lord, Lord Addington, has introduced this important subject today. As I have spent the better part of the last five years on NATO’s military committee and participated in the alliance’s deliberations over that period, you will understand why I feel under some obligation to speak.

This is an important debate because NATO is important. It is perhaps the most successful military alliance in history but, as we all know, it faces significant challenges today. The fundamental issue remains the same as that which confronted the alliance two decades ago after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union—can an organisation created to deal with a specific threat in a particular set of circumstances remain relevant let alone thrive when that threat and those circumstances have changed so dramatically? We now have the experience of the past 20 years to help answer that question. My involvement over the last five years has led me to a couple of key conclusions which I will lay before your Lordships this afternoon.

First is the basic question of what NATO is for. Is it essentially an alliance to defend against physical threats to the territorial integrity of its member nations? In other words, should NATO concern itself with Article 5 of the treaty and little else, or should it seek to deal with more complex security issues further afield, as it is doing today in Afghanistan? This has been the subject of considerable debate among the member nations, and their views on this point have varied considerably. For my part, the answer seems clear; it has to be yes to both propositions. I am in no doubt that Article 5 must remain the bedrock of the alliance. Without it, NATO would soon cease to exist. Even those who see no immediate or near-term physical threat to their territorial integrity—as some member nations do—cannot be sure that none will arise in the future.

On the other hand, if NATO is of little relevance to the current security concerns of its members, they will be tempted to neglect it in favour of arrangements that meet what they see as their most urgent and pressing needs. In these circumstances, there is a real risk that, should NATO at some stage in the future face a threat under the provisions of Article 5, it will no longer have a credible and coherent military capability with which to respond. NATO’s continued vitality, and perhaps viability, depends on it providing at least some response to the problems with which its members are grappling today.

As we know, these problems are complex and often far removed from the alliance’s boundaries. As this is a north Atlantic alliance, not just a European one, it must be relevant to the security concerns of the United States of America and Canada, and not just to those of Europe. This is not about trying to be all things to all men; it is simply the alliance having to do what so many of the individual nations within it, including the United Kingdom, are having to do—deal with the problems of today while guarding against and preparing for those that may arise tomorrow and the day after.

Secondly, on the effective functioning of NATO, the alliance works on the principle of political consensus—or, as some would have it, fails to work because of that principle. They have a point. Consensus was hard enough to achieve in an organisation of 16 nations facing a monolithic threat across the inner German border. With 28 nations seeking to deal with the kinds of complex security issues that I have suggested must be confronted, consensus might seem a vain hope, so some argue that we should abandon the principle. I understand their frustration, but seeking to abandon the need for consensus would threaten NATO’s very existence, and in practical terms I see no realistic prospect of such a change being agreed. On the other hand, to subject every decision at whatever level to this requirement simply leads to deadlock and stagnation, so we need to be much more nuanced about what consensus actually means.

This may seem rather a technical point, but I have seen situations in which the ponderous decision-making process that results from the need for consensus at many levels has affected our military personnel deployed on operations. I am afraid that the tempo of bureaucracy in Brussels is ill matched to the tempo required by the people the alliance puts in harm’s way. This has to change. NATO has made some progress in this regard, but it needs to do much more. Not all nations yet share that view, but many do. The urgency of operations in Afghanistan gives us both the spur and the leverage to make much needed progress.

I have touched on the key issues of purpose and effectiveness, but I started by saying that NATO is important. It is perhaps worth reflecting on why this is so. The United Kingdom long ago abandoned the concept of national defence in favour of collective security. Yes, we retained the capability to conduct certain limited operations on our own but, as is the case for all member nations, the physical security of these islands is underwritten by NATO. The renationalisation of defence within Europe seems to me an unattractive prospect in theory and probably unachievable in the light of financial reality, so we continue to need NATO, and therefore need to keep it fit for purpose. The corollary is that we must continue to invest in NATO to sustain both the alliance’s capability and our influence within it. Yes, NATO must become more responsive and more efficient. Certainly, in these straitened times, the organisation should reduce its overheads and streamline its structure, but we should guard against unilateral decisions that reduce and undermine our national voice in this crucial arena. Therefore, I urge the Minister to ensure that our investment in NATO—of high-calibre people as well as money—remains commensurate with the importance of the alliance to the future security of this country and its people.

My Lords, in rising to make a short and modest contribution to this debate, I start by congratulating the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, on his maiden speech. The noble and gallant Lord comes to your Lordships' House after a most distinguished career first in the Royal Air Force and then as Chief of the Defence Staff. Being Chief of the Defence Staff in very difficult times, as he was, and keeping the admiration and respect of your Ministers on the one hand and all those under your command on the other, is a very difficult act. The noble and gallant Lord achieved that act with distinction. He therefore brings his experience and wisdom to your Lordships' House at a crucial time for our defence, and we are most grateful for that.

I cannot but remember that the very last time I had the honour of speaking immediately following a maiden speech, it was that of Lord Fieldhouse, who served in this House for such a, sadly, short time. He, too, was a very distinguished Chief of the Defence Staff. I see three more distinguished Chiefs of the Defence Staff in their places this afternoon. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, is the honourable heir of a proud and famous tradition, and he is most welcome. We look forward to his many future speeches with keen anticipation.

Perhaps I may touch on two points, one of which—the obligations of NATO as a whole—was touched upon by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup. He referred to Article 5 of the treaty, which states that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. When the first nine members of NATO joined together back in 1949, that was a straightforward and understandable part of the treaty. The threat was obvious then. Nowadays, it is rather less obvious.

What is the threat? What constitutes an attack these days? Is it a phalanx of tanks rolling across the border? Yes, I presume that that would be an attack. Is it a great fleet of bombers coming to drop their bombs? Yes, that would surely be an attack. Or, more likely, is it an intercontinental missile? I remember the intermediate-range intercontinental missiles—the SS20s, I think they were called—which in my time at the Ministry of Defence were installed and pointed straight at us along the eastern border of the NATO countries.

The important question that I wish to put to my noble friend is this: what undertaking was given to the new, more recent, adherents to the NATO treaty? The previous two were Albania and Croatia, which joined just a couple of years ago. Did we say to them that an attack on them would be the same as an attack on us, and that we would respond accordingly? I do not know what we said. If we did say that, we should have said it with some care. I hope that my noble friend can clarify that. Going back a few years to 2004, another seven countries became members of NATO—Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Were they, too, given an undertaking that an attack on them was the same as an attack on us? I dare say that they are wondering who will be a more likely aggressor in their part of the world.

I asked earlier about the most likely form of attack. A phalanx of tanks coming across the border would represent just that, no doubt. Nowadays, of course, other things might constitute an attack—for example, would a cyberattack represent an attack that we would have to respond to in accordance with Article 5 of the NATO treaty? Perhaps my noble friend can clarify that point. Not so long ago, one of the NATO countries had its gas supply turned off by a neighbour. Some might have said—indeed, that country might have said—that that constituted an attack.

We have to take care. We have to decide, first, whether these essential principles continue to apply today in every respect and, secondly, what the nature of the attack is. These are worrying times because of the enormous pressures that we are suffering, mostly of a financial nature. I hope that my noble friend can clarify some of the issues that I have drawn to your Lordships’ attention.

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Addington for securing this debate and for introducing it in such a thoughtful way. NATO has always been of interest to your Lordships’ House, not least since three Secretaries-General of NATO have been Members of this House—most recently the noble Lord, Lord Robertson.

We have heard two distinguished maiden speeches, from the noble Lord, Lord Flight, and from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, both of whom talked about important areas outside NATO’s territory; however, it seems to me that the challenges for NATO are fundamentally, not just a little, different from the purposes for which it was founded. First, at that time, it was clear who the enemy was. I remember, when the IRA had a ceasefire in Northern Ireland, one of the Northern Ireland politicians famously said that it was the most destabilising thing that had happened in his lifetime. In a sense, he was right, because when you know who the enemy is and where to point the guns, that is simple and straightforward. NATO’s purpose was, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said, very clear: to keep our American colleagues with us in protecting us from the Soviet Union.

The situation is by no means so clear now, as has been said by other noble Lords. As the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has just said, it was clear then what an attack was and that it would be a relatively conventional attack; even a non-conventional attack was seen in terms of weapons of mass effect. However, what now constitutes an attack is far less clear. He mentioned one cyberattack—I declare an interest as president of ARTIS Europe, a research and risk analysis company that looks at some of these matters—but, of course, not only has a small country in the alliance, Estonia, had a denial-of-service attack, there are attacks every day on the United States Department of Defense, not to mention our own defence establishments. It is not as though there is a day on which an attack starts; they go on constantly and it is by no means easy to be clear about precisely where some of the attacks come from. It appears that the attack on Estonia came at some point from Russian territory but, because many of these areas are remote, one does not know exactly what that means.

The difficulty, too, has come from the very success of NATO. As NATO has become more successful, so its extent has grown. As a strong supporter of the European Union, I remember becoming increasingly concerned about whether it was possible to widen and deepen the European Union at the same time and at some speed. I expressed substantial doubt to my colleagues about whether that was possible, and I maintain that view. I think that the faster one extends, the more difficult it is to deepen, and so with NATO. It seems to me that the more we have extended, the less clear NATO’s purpose has become. Where a defined territorial integrity might be under attack, it is clear what the purpose and role of NATO will be. Its very name— the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation—identifies its geographical extent. However, once one starts to look at substantially different territories, one encounters problems in two ways.

The first of those problems is in being clear about where an attack response is justified. Here, we come to the question of Afghanistan and, in a sense, to the link between the two maiden speeches—one referring to Afghanistan and the other to India. If we find ourselves responding to an attack on our own geographical territory, we know what to do—we discuss it among ourselves, as we are all to some extent under attack. However, responding to an attack in Afghanistan is a different matter. When discussing Afghanistan a year or so ago with Indian military commanders, I was shocked and dismayed to learn that, despite their being an ally and having a million men under arms, and despite their historic relationship with Afghanistan, there had been little or no consultation with India in advance of any response in Afghanistan. Subsequently, when India offered assistance, there was remarkably little acceptance of that assistance. If we have to move outside the territorial integrity of our own area, we have to find a different way of operating with those whom we can regard as allies; otherwise, we will fall over ourselves, not knowing what we are dealing with and not having to hand all the allies who would be prepared to help us.

However, it then becomes difficult to hold the alliance together. Let us take as an example Turkey, which has been such a stout and important member of NATO. The situation in Turkey has changed because, as NATO has advanced and developed and other countries have wanted to be part of it, so Turkey has begun to change. When Turkey was a secular country with a very strong military command that had control of everything, it was easy to see how it might relate to us within NATO. However, things have changed. Turkey is now a more democratic country, but the democratic forces and the military establishment do not necessarily see things in quite the same way. The democratic establishment now wants to look to a more significant Turkish regional role, with different kinds of relationships within its own region and territory and different political attitudes compared to many of the leading countries and partners in NATO. It is not at all clear, particularly since the European Union has been unwise enough not to embrace Turkey more energetically, how that important component of the alliance will develop over the next number of years. That will have implications in the wider Middle East.

Like other noble Lords—it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton I have seen senior officials in NATO developing strategy. At Lisbon, my very good friend the former Liberal Prime Minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, produced the new strategic document, Active Engagement, Modern Defence. From reading through that document, it seems to me that although useful thinking is taking place and the new threats and problems externally are being identified, such as the cyber threat, there is very little in the document about the stresses and strains within NATO itself and about its whole purpose.

In particular, a fundamental problem for a military alliance in dealing with the developing threats is this: a military operation, certainly an official one, is hierarchical in its structure and bureaucratic in its control relationship with politics and politicians and Governments, whereas many of the threats that we experience, whether they are terrorist threats or cyber threats from terrorists, hackers or even from other countries, operate in a network fashion and not in a hierarchical fashion. If we do not look to the very structures of the way our military and military alliances function, we will find that they are always trying to address what has happened in the recent past rather than what is happening and what we are facing currently. That is a very real dilemma for us.

It seems to me that NATO and its whole way of working must address these threats as they are, and that may require changes of structure and function. If NATO becomes a network, rather than a structured, hierarchical military alliance, that will have all sorts of implications for matters like the consensus of decision-making when it comes to action and whether that results in more operations by those who feel themselves most at threat. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, asked the question: when the new countries came in, did that really mean that all of us were prepared to go to war on any kind of attack? Whatever was said to those countries, I simply do not believe that that is actually the case. If we are not to be disingenuous, and then find ourselves in a huge dilemma when the matter arises, we must look at how we actually structure and function as an alliance.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Flight, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, on their excellent maiden speeches. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Addington on securing this important debate. I was particularly pleased that he mentioned the Cold War. I suppose for many of my generation the period of their childhood through to middle age was dominated by that non-conflict. Today, I hear politicians say that we live in dangerous times and that we face some of the biggest and most dangerous challenges that there have been in the world for a long time, but I reject that. Are people's memories so short that we do not remember that we lived through several decades when we woke up in the morning and were not sure that the world would exist in four minutes' time, let alone by the time the sun rose again the next day? That has perhaps been the success of NATO, an organisation which I think, as many noble Lords have said, is vital to the western world and to the defence of this country, but one where the needs have now started to change.

I want to address two areas. One is EU-NATO relations and the other is the UK-French defence treaties. It is in the area of EU-NATO that some of the important challenges for NATO lie. Returning to the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, if NATO is to be relevant to some of its European nations, it is important that we resolve the EU-NATO relationship.

Of course, not everything there is negative, although there are many challenges. The European Union agreed its Petersberg tasks. Although that was not in agreement with NATO, it defined the two roles: the EU was to take charge of humanitarian issues, peacekeeping and, in some circumstances, peacemaking; but it was clear that territorial protection was for NATO.

In 2003, we had the Berlin Plus agreement, where areas were agreed between NATO and the EU—where the EU could operate and under what conditions. One of those operations is still going on in Bosnia, Operation Althea, which works very well in information sharing and all the areas covered by the Berlin Plus agreement. As I hear so often, since I have the privilege to chair this House’s EU Sub-Committee on foreign affairs and defence, there are a number of areas in which it does not work, which has specific important consequences.

One of those, although it has not been not fundamental, is where the EU has operated with India in Operation Atalanta, where there has been a great deal of co-operation between NATO fleets, the EU Operation Atalanta, the Indians, the Chinese and other maritime nations that have worked together in counterpiracy. During that operation, certainly in its early stages, there were significant limits on the information and intelligence that was swapped between those organisations. The outcome is that there was a less efficient use of important military assets, which are scarce when they are being used elsewhere in the world.

A recent inquiry into the European police operation in Afghanistan found that, again, we have a lack of formal agreement between NATO and the European Union. We heard evidence from Brussels that, in extremis, that would threaten the protection of EU citizens, including United Kingdom citizens, serving in that European police operation. That is unacceptable and needs to be solved. That has been going on for many years, and the difficulty, as we all know, concerns relations between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus. Although the technical reason is the fact that Malta and Cyprus are not members of NATO, as EU members, that is used as a means by which not to reach agreement.

I strongly believe that the lack of agreement to work between those organisations has a negative effect externally, outside Europe and the North Atlantic, and stops what could be a very effective operation between them, particularly when there is a combination of state building—civilian operations for which the EU is strong and useful—and military applications, which should be fulfilled by NATO. Where are the Government in terms of this complex problem which still needs to be solved? A solution has taken some time. Should we start approaching this more robustly with our partners instead of maintaining the softly-softly approach which seems not to have worked? Of the 27 members of the European Union, 21 are members of NATO.

I have been privileged to be involved in the Anglo-French treaties from a parliamentary point of view. The French Government more or less insisted on a parliamentary dimension to these treaties so, from your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and I have been involved in the process with Members from the other place, including the right honourable James Arbuthnot and other members of the Defence Committee there. I very much welcome these treaties, which France’s return to the operational side of NATO makes possible. They also enable us to extend in very practical ways the co-operation and collective security that we have in NATO to that bilateral relationship.

As my noble friend Lord Lee pointed out, France and the United Kingdom provide 50 per cent of total EU defence expenditure, slightly more than that in assets and, I think, up to 75 per cent of the total in terms of research. When the Secretary of State, Dr Liam Fox, came before our committee last week we were very concerned that the British Government perhaps wanted to make this agreement for financial reasons, and we wanted to know whether it would be sustainable. He convinced us that this treaty is intended for the long term and that it will be effective. The strategy of building confidence through a small number of measures—rather than through what the French ambassador described as “hyperbolic” means of co-operation—is exactly the right way to build that relationship. This year we will have Flanders II, Southern Mistral and a maritime operation as well. I congratulate the Government on that agreement. It is not a substitute for a European common security and defence policy, but it adds to it. I very much hope that it will be a stimulus to ensuring that other European nations pull their weight more than they do at present.

I was in Japan last year when there was an incident between a Chinese fishing vessel and the Japanese coast guard. It caused a furore, which I do not think we understand here, within the populace of both Japan and China. That was of course followed by the incident of North Korea shelling a South Korean island. In defence, the United States has inevitably turned its face towards the Pacific, where it sees an increased defence need. This trend has been short term but I believe that it will also be a longer-term one that we in Europe need to be aware of in keeping the United States involved here. Ironically, Russia too will have increasingly to look west, because in the east—in sparse and open Siberia, which, in the very long term, it will find difficult to defend—it will see other powers as a growing threat.

My Lords, this debate, coming as it does at a time when NATO is facing the greatest challenge to its future credibility and solidarity in Afghanistan, could not be more opportune. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, has therefore done us all a service in making this debate possible. It has also, of course, provided the occasion for two wonderfully eclectic and different maiden speeches. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Flight, who is looking for some co-operation between India and this country, that there is UN peacekeeping. The Indians are the biggest provider of UN peacekeepers. This country, alas, for reasons that do not need to be dwelt on at the moment, is about the smallest, but there is plenty of opportunity for co-operation there. I thought my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup did us a great service by taking us back to some really fundamental questions about what NATO is there for and what it should be doing.

I shall say a little bit about Afghanistan and then address two other important and often overlooked issues, the NATO/EU relationship, to which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has just referred, and the alliance’s nuclear posture and attitude towards the reduction or withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, to which the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, referred.

NATO’s major involvement in Afghanistan is sometimes criticised and sometimes regretted, even by those who now support it. I am not among their number. I really do not see how NATO could have refused to get involved after an attack from Afghan territory had led to the triggering of Article 5. The rather gratuitous initial cold-shouldering by the Bush Administration, in particular by the then US Secretary of Defense, of that act of solidarity was a major political error, but it was not a justification for turning our backs when the US asked for help. In any case, that is now all water under the bridge. We cannot go back to that earlier moment of choice. What is needed now is determination to stay the course and, at the same time, an imaginative strategy for bringing the need for an outside military intervention in Afghanistan to an end. I doubt whether setting artificial deadlines for initial reductions in troop presence, such as President Obama’s summer 2011 undertaking or our end-2014 date for ending combat involvement, are at all wise or helpful if they are not in any way linked to conditions on the ground. They are far too likely to encourage the Taliban to sit it out and wait for us to go.

As for the strategy to end the need for NATO’s combat presence in Afghanistan, which should be our objective, it surely needs a much stronger regional dimension in which we work for a commitment by Afghanistan and all its neighbours to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states in the region, to non-interference, to confidence-building measures and to a programme of economic co-operation. That strengthened regional approach requires, I would suggest, more than just occasional, informal meetings of the Governments of the region, which is what has taken place so far. It requires more than just warm words and short follow-up. It needs firm, binding long-term commitments of the sort the two sides in the Cold War in Europe endorsed at Helsinki in 1975, including commitments to respect each other’s borders. That, of course, has to include the Durand line, the frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Secondly, in Afghanistan I would suggest that we need a more subtle approach to reconciling the Pashtun tribes with the central Government in Kabul, possibly revolving around some international, perhaps UN-hatted, go-between to shuttle between elements of these Pashtun tribes and President Karzai. I doubt very much whether direct contacts managed either by President Karzai or by the US or NATO military are the best way to set about achieving that reconciliation, and I would be grateful if the Minister would respond to these two points on Afghanistan.

The present state of NATO/EU co-operation, or rather the lack of it, to which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred, is frankly pretty deplorable and it is damaging to both parties, as we have seen in the examples that he gave in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It leads to duplication, dangerous security gaps and to unnecessary misunderstandings. We all know why it has happened and who is responsible—Cyprus on the EU side and Turkey on the NATO side. Each has taken the organisation to which it belongs hostage and hostage-taking is a nasty habit.

It was good that last November’s NATO summit recognised that something needed to be done to remedy this state of affairs. If a definitive solution cannot be worked out by the time of NATO’s spring ministerial meeting, which is now only a few weeks away, surely the Secretary-General of NATO and the EU’s high representative have enough delegated authority to work out pragmatic arrangements for day-to-day co-operation in Brussels and wherever the two organisations are operating in the field to work together properly. Here, I very much echo what my noble and gallant friend said about finding ways to break out of the trap of consensus or at least to work a way around it in some limited manner.

Surely, the other members of the two organisations have enough influence with their partners who are preventing this to stop them meddling with or trying to block any pragmatic arrangements agreed between the Secretary-General and the high representatives. Perhaps the Minister could say what we are hoping to achieve in this matter in the next couple of months.

Thirdly, on the alliance’s nuclear posture, I very much regret that the opportunity was missed at last November’s NATO summit to adjust the alliance’s nuclear posture and to bring it into conformity with the negative security assurances given now by the US and the UK separately to non-nuclear states which are in full conformity with their non-proliferation treaty obligations; namely, that we would neither use nor threaten to use nuclear weapons against them.

What on earth is one to make of the fact that NATO does not have the same position? Are the US and the UK bound by their assurances when it acts unilaterally but not if they act as part of the alliance? It is surely desirable to clear up this ambiguity at the earliest opportunity. Similarly, it is surely equally desirable to make it clear to the Russians that the alliance is ready to work with them for the mutual reduction of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and to do so as a matter of practical urgency now that the US and Russia have ratified, and last weekend in Munich brought into effect, the new START treaty on strategic weapons.

This subject, along with ballistic missile defence and the scope for co-operation with the Russians over that too, are matters which need to be carried forward purposefully if opportunities are not to be missed. I very much hope that the Minister will say what sort of input we are making into the follow-up work to the agreement at last November’s NATO summit to carry forward discussion of these issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, referred to cyber, which clearly is a threat to the NATO alliance, as it is to the EU. It is a threat in security terms to NATO, and in terms of cybercrime and a lot of other issues it is a threat to the European Union. Last weekend, I was present in Munich when the right honourable gentleman the Foreign Secretary made an excellent speech about the need to face up to the threats from cyber and about his intention to bring together a conference or gathering of relevant countries here in the latter part of this year. He took an excellent initiative and, from what I could gather, it was extremely well received.

In preparing that, I hope he will cast his net fairly wide and make sure that he brings within the scope of the considerations the work being done in NATO and in the European Union, and the need to talk to countries like India, China and Russia. Although they may be, and certainly are, part of the threat, they also have to be part of the way of handling the threat if we are not to move, as we did with nuclear weapons, through a phase of mutually assured destruction before we realise that that is not a frightfully clever direction in which to be moving.

The future of NATO remains a key focus for this country’s foreign policy. But it needs to be a NATO which is adapting to new challenges and which is learning lessons from past errors. International organisations which fail to adapt, like national institutions which fail to adapt, become extraordinarily vulnerable and much less useful. It is not in our interest that NATO should fall into that sort of category.

My Lords, I add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on securing this debate and with it the opportunity to discuss the future of NATO. I also add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Flight, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, on their eloquent, enjoyable and informative maiden speeches, which reflected their considerable knowledge and expertise on the issues on which they spoke.

The NATO Heads of State and Government Summit took place last November in Lisbon. A number of issues were on the agenda, including the launch of the alliance’s new strategic concept, with its renewed commitment to three key tasks; namely, collective defence, crisis management and co-operative security. The new strategic concept accepts that the threat of a conventional attack against NATO territory is currently low, but it identifies a number of potential threats to alliance security, including the proliferation of ballistic missile technologies, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction—not least in some of the world's most volatile regions—terrorism, cyberattacks, increasing dependence on energy supplies from outside NATO countries and the impact of issues such as climate change, scarcity of water supply and increasing energy need on security in areas of concern to NATO.

In the light of these considerations, the strategic concept made a number of recommendations for the alliance collectively, including sustaining the necessary levels of defence spending. Do the Government consider that current and projected levels of defence spending will enable this country to meet the objectives and spirit of NATO’s new strategic concept? We welcome the new strategic concept for NATO, which recognises the new threats that the world faces. However, do the Government believe that there is any validity in a view that has been expressed that there may be a mismatch between the wide-ranging objectives and goals of the alliance, as set out in the new strategic concept, and the reduction in resources that member nations are expected to allocate to defence as a result of the impact of the global recession?

In a speech last October the NATO Secretary-General said that he understood why allies were cutting into their defence budgets, but he then said that cuts could go too far and that we should avoid cutting so deep that Europe could not pull its weight when it came to security, which might lead the United States to look elsewhere for its security partner. In view of those concerns expressed by the Secretary-General, can the Minister say whether there has been any debate within NATO about the central funding requirements of the alliance and the projected levels of defence expenditure of its member states in the light of the wide ranging objectives and goals set out in the new strategic concept? Perhaps he can also say what decisions or actions the Government have taken, or started to take, in the light of the content of the new strategic concept since it was agreed at Lisbon last November, and what actions they envisage taking over the next 12 months.

The key challenge for NATO in Lisbon was to define its purpose in a 21st-century security landscape and outline how it will be as important in the future as it has been in the past. There have, however, been comments from some quarters that the consensus achieved at the Lisbon summit was fairly superficial and that differences of opinion existed between NATO allies on the key purposes of the alliance, including over its focus on the task of guaranteeing the security of Europe in relation to its activities in undertaking crisis management operations “out of area”. Can the Minister say whether the Government believe that there are differences of view between NATO allies on the purposes of the alliance, or whether the wide ranging nature of the objectives and roles of the alliance as set out in the new strategic concept means that there is a common, united accord on the point and purposes of NATO to which all subscribe around those wide ranging objectives and roles?

The development of military capabilities has been a regular item on the agenda for NATO allies. This now includes agreement on the enhancement of cyberdefence capabilities, and in particular on defence against a cyberattack aimed at systems of critical importance to the alliance. A NATO cyberdefence policy is to be drawn up by the middle of this year and an action plan for its implementation prepared. What role is the United Kingdom playing in drawing up the action plan, and is the target date of June this year likely to be achieved?

The Lisbon summit called also for reform of the institutional structures of the alliance. A final decision on a new NATO command structure is expected to be taken no later than June this year. Is that target date likely to be achieved? What do the Government want to see achieved by a new command structure that is not currently being realised—or is it simply a matter of seeking to reduce costs?

On the issue of Afghanistan, the Lisbon summit confirmed the process of transition to Afghan security responsibility, resulting in Afghan forces gradually assuming full responsibility for security across the whole of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. We strongly support Afghan forces taking the lead in 2014, but it is important that work is done to ensure that the date is achievable, which will mean increased efforts in political reconciliation and more inclusive Afghan security forces and local government. We welcome NATO's endorsement of the Afghan-led reconciliation programme. What progress has been made since the Lisbon summit in moving forward this programme as rapidly as possible?

NATO must set out detailed plans to train and develop Afghan security forces, as they will have responsibility for the country when we leave. Milestones should be set to track the progress of the transition plan. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that this will be done, and what those milestones will be. British troops will continue to play a training role in Afghanistan from 2015. It is important that these troops will have the right security conditions to do that job, as the safety of our forces must be paramount. I will not ask the Minister a question on this, because I am sure that he, too, holds that view.

The Lisbon summit also discussed the relationship between NATO and Russia. It is clearly right that we should seek to improve our relationship with Russia, and we welcome the new phase of co-operation. We welcome the joint work on the new missile defence system. This development shows how the world has changed since the Cold War because it involves co-operation with, rather than the isolation of, Russia. Only through such co-operation will progress towards the ambitious long-term aims set out by President Obama in 2009 of a world without nuclear weapons stand any chance of being achieved.

This country, under the post-war Labour Government, was a founder member of NATO. Our belief on this side of the House in the importance of multilateral co-operation and of working through NATO for British security and international peace and stability is now, if anything, even stronger. However, it is also clear from Afghanistan that in defending the 900 million citizens of NATO countries against the threats that we face today and will face in the decade ahead, our involvement with fragile states in order to prevent terrorism will mean that NATO must pursue its objectives on the basis that military means can be successful only alongside political, civilian and humanitarian development.

NATO has grown considerably and is quite different in its composition from the original 12 charter members. The nations making up today's NATO vary in their geography and history, in their outlook on such things as human rights, and in their views on national and collective defence. The alliance's members are also changing internally, not least as a result of demographic changes. However, NATO has adapted to change before, as it moved on from the Cold War alliance, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. NATO has been described as an essential source of stability in an uncertain world. It has been in the past, and there is no reason why it should not continue to be so in the very different world in which we live today, and the world in which we are likely to live in future.

My Lords, this has been a very expert and enjoyable debate. I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to it. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lord Addington for securing the debate and the two maiden speakers, who are fairly expert contributors themselves. I said to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, the other day that I must once have lectured to him. I was privileged to lecture to the Royal College of Defence Studies once a year for 21 years, which makes me just about old enough to have been there when he was there in the early 1990s.

We are discussing a subject that, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, rightly pointed out, is insufficiently debated in the national media and the national Parliament. I very much agree with everything he said about the need for a more informed debate. After all, NATO has achieved peace in Europe and tremendous success as an alliance. However, that task has been transformed since the Cold War crumbled away in 1989 and 1990. Europe is now at peace, although still with unresolved conflicts around its edges. Most of the former members of the Warsaw Pact are now members of both the EU and NATO. NATO has had to reinvent itself to serve usefully new purposes.

The Lisbon NATO summit last November approved a new strategic concept, which now needs to guide the process of NATO reform and of changing capabilities. NATO needs to reinvent itself every 10 years to remain an effective alliance that commands the full support of all its members. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, said, the continued effectiveness of NATO also depends on public support within the member states. The absence of strong political leadership within Europe to which he referred is thus a major threat to the continuation of the alliance.

I regret that we do not discuss defence and defence co-operation very often in either House of the British Parliament. I regret that we do not spend more time discussing these issues across national Parliaments and across national debates. All noble Lords who have been involved in discussing European security with our German partners, for example, will know that they start from a very different perspective from the British. The French are a great deal closer to us. Engaging in each other’s domestic debates is part of holding NATO together.

I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Bates, to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. We need to make sure that we plug such assemblies back into national Parliaments to ensure that it continues to have a useful function. If we do not, Defence Ministers agree and go back and Finance Ministers veto, leaving us stuck without the capabilities that we need.

I particularly welcome the emphasis of the noble Lord, Lord Lee, on the Franco-British treaty—one of the latest developments in British security policy. That is a new treaty that needs to be debated and explained, and for which we need to build public support as we carry it into practice.

I identified at least seven themes in this debate and I probably missed several more. There is the crucial link between the United States and the security of the European region, which NATO has been about since the start and in which it continues to be one of the key elements. There is the whole question of NATO command structure reform and NATO reform as a whole; the nuclear dimension; the NATO-Russia relationship; the implications of the Franco-British defence and security co-operation treaty; north Atlantic co-operation on out-of-area operations, on which several noble Lords discussed the key Afghan operation; and the development of a comprehensive approach to civil conflict.

On the question of the link with the United States, several noble Lords have said that it is true that the United States no longer sees European security as its key priority. We are, after all, blessed; Europe is now at peace. However, the link that an integrated alliance gives us to American intelligence and the American military is invaluable—it is part of what enables NATO, or at least willing members of it, to operate together in area or out of area whenever we need to. We see that in central Asia and of course in Afghanistan, and we might have to see it again in other areas.

On Afghanistan, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, will allow me to say that he raised a large number of questions that go rather wider than this debate. I pay tribute to the substantial number of British troops who have been committed to Afghanistan and will continue to be for some while yet. We feel that we are making good progress in a very difficult set of circumstances. We have learnt in Afghanistan, as from the Balkan experience, that our approach to security needs to be, as the strategic concept puts it, “comprehensive”—a mixture of civil and military capabilities. We are, we hope, learning from the awkward lessons that we are suffering in order to put those lessons into practice. That in turn means that relations between the more civilian power of the EU and the more military power of NATO become a more important part of our alliance as a whole.

On NATO reform, the NATO strategic concept commits NATO to,

“continuous reform towards a more effective, efficient and flexible Alliance”.

As noble Lords know, the Secretary-General has just made a speech at the Munich security conference in which he highlighted the need for NATO to reduce bureaucracy and slim down structures. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, referred to the bureaucratic tempo of NATO Brussels and the slow-moving—sometimes, not even moving—consensus through which we all struggle. Those of us who know the NATO headquarters, those extremely rickety temporary buildings from the 1960s, know that it is not just a question of saving money to knock them down and build an effective and smaller headquarters; it is also a matter of trying to build a more efficient apparatus that suits an entirely different set of threats from those that existed in the early 1960s when NATO first moved its headquarters from Paris to Brussels. It is not just to reduce costs. We are bringing down the number of headquarters and the number of agencies because the tasks that we face are very different.

One of the issues under consideration is whether the NATO maritime command HQ should remain at Northwood in the United Kingdom. Her Majesty’s Government strongly believe that it should on the grounds of its proven efficiency, effectiveness and low running costs; because it has the necessary infrastructure and communications to command surface and sub-surface maritime forces; and because it is the only NATO HQ that is co-located with a current EU operations HQ, as both NATO and EU counterpiracy operations are being run from the same location and interact closely. The UK has been driving resource reform, which includes the implementation of improved financial management, accountability and oversight, and we will continue to support the Secretary-General in his efforts.

The Lisbon summit set out a strategic direction in the new strategic concept. Of course, it does not command absolute agreement by all members of the alliance to every single item listed in it; we are a large alliance, operating by consensus, and, as in all forms of politics, we have to engage with each other in a constant process of persuasion to share and build common purposes. It is vital for alliances to retain this shared vision and to work together to implement it. The strategic concept and the plans to implement it are very much in line with the UK’s national security strategy and the outcome of our strategic defence and security review.

We welcome the emphasis on civil military planning and action throughout the conflict cycle and that is part of the comprehensive approach that we know we all have to develop. We look for closer EU-NATO co-operation. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, will know, we still stub our toes on the issue of Cyprus and Turkey, but we are managing to build still closer relations between the EU and NATO, and we see that as very much the way that we need to go. As set out in the SDSR, we believe that UK membership of the European Union is a key part of our broad security international engagement and a key means of promoting security and prosperity in the European neighbourhood. The common security interests of all EU member states, NATO members or not, are served when they use their collective weight in the world to promote their shared interests and values, including on major foreign policy security concerns.

Noble Lords asked about NATO's nuclear posture. At the moment, we are debating the whole question of the future of tactical nuclear weapons. The NATO members are rather more committed so far to drawing down the number of nuclear weapons than our Russian partners with whom we are in dialogue, but as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, will know, the question of the future of NATO’s remaining free-fall nuclear weapons is one that is currently under discussion.

I will say a little about the UK Franco-British treaty. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lee, that it is the Franco-British treaty and not the Anglo-French treaty. The Scots have been in military co-operation with the French rather longer than the English. Indeed, when Sir William Wallace was Guardian of Scotland, he was actively engaged in pursuing Scots-French military co-operation against the English—sadly, on that occasion without success, as the plaque commemorating his execution in Westminster Hall observes.

The historic treaty signed by the UK and France last November demonstrates our commitment to work together to address the challenges facing the alliance. It recognises that great defence and security co-operation will strengthen NATO as the foundation of our collective security and reaffirms the role that the European Union plays in strengthening international security. The return of France to the heart of NATO under the leadership of President Sarkozy is of course part of the context in which this new treaty has been signed. France and the UK will work together to help shape the new NATO strategic concept. But we are also working more closely together in implementing the concept. Closer co-operation makes great sense at a point where both countries face acute pressures on our defence budgets, where our approach to the deployment of troops abroad to the management of international conflict is very close and where, therefore, there is a great deal that we can share.

I cannot give the noble Lord, Lord Lee, a direct answer on co-operation with the French on maritime surveillance, but I can promise that I will write to him. Closer co-operation will make our forces more interoperable. As the SDSR highlighted, our default position is to operate as a partner wherever we can. If that allows our forces to operate alongside each other more effectively in the future, that is an enormous advantage. There are those in both Houses and the British media who see that as a tremendous threat to British sovereignty. It is possible to overstate the sovereignty issue. In 1917-18, my father along with several hundred thousand other British troops, served under effective French command. It was not seen as a tremendous block in British sovereignty then. ISAF has been under French, Turkish, Danish and various other commands. We co-operate with others when British interests are at stake. That is the way we have to work in the world today.

We see the Franco-British treaty as a basis on which we can build and sustain other forms of co-operation with other European countries. The oldest and closest form of military co-operation that we have in Europe is the UK-Dutch marine amphibious force, now nearly 30 years old. The Ministry of Defence has just launched a Nordic initiative on military and security grounds, and we look forward to working more closely with others and helping to challenge other states to come up to scratch in their contribution to European military capabilities for the EU and NATO.

On NATO and Russia, we are working hard to develop a strong partnership focused on common interests. We face many common challenges in Afghanistan, as well as in counterterrorism, piracy and counternarcotics. We agreed at the Lisbon summit to work together and enhance our practical co-operation. That can be seen in agreement on transit routes to and from Afghanistan and in closer agreement in countering the narcotics trade that comes across central Asia into Europe. Future collaboration, particularly on missile defence, has the potential to improve NATO and Russia's security as well as our overall security relationship. We are continuing to negotiate with the Russians to modernise the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, the CFE.

On co-operation out of area, Afghanistan has of course taken us way out of area and has helped to transform NATO. I believe that 48 states, many of them not NATO members, are contributing to the allied effort in Afghanistan. Off Somalia there are Indian and Chinese ships working with British, Dutch and German ships in the anti-piracy control and in MONUSCO in the DRC we have Indian troops as the largest contingent and a British major-general as the second in command.

NATO is reinventing itself, but we need to ensure that the people of Britain and leaders in other countries continue to be supportive of what NATO’s changing role should be. I suppose that I should admit that I have form here, as in 1990 I spoke at a conference on the future of NATO in Brussels, arguing that NATO was unlikely to exist in 2000. In 2000, I published an article in Survival entitled “What is NATO for?”, implying that it was not very easy to answer that question. One has to say here in 2011 that NATO has adapted remarkably well and has enlarged very successfully. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, that, yes, article 5 does apply to the new members. It was an astonishing achievement to provide security across central and eastern Europe to help to transform and integrate their armed forces, to give them the stability that underpinned their transition to democracy and prosperity. Enlargement will continue. The remaining countries in the western Balkans are moving at different paces towards membership. The question of Ukraine and Georgia is a long-term one, but the Bucharest summit in 2008 said that membership remained open to them.

The new strategic concept talks about the different sort of threats that we face. If there is a cyberattack on a NATO member as there was in Estonia, it is not entirely clear who was responsible—whether it was a state—and where it came from, so the response has to be much more complex. What we need, therefore, is more complex capabilities in return. I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the reduction in resources faces us with major challenges. NATO, however, remains central to UK security and to the security of the European region. It is a resource for all of us to call on in managing global threats.

I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate and hope that we will all continue to argue the case for European and Atlantic co-operation in security and argue it not only in London but in Berlin, Warsaw, Stockholm and many other capitals of Europe.

My Lords, all that remains for me to do is to thank all those who have taken part, particularly the two maiden speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, warned us that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, is an extremely good speaker and that we would all be doing very well to keep up with him. He was very right. The noble Lord, Lord Flight, pointed out to us in an aside the place that we did not mention until my noble friend proposed it—in global security terms, India will indeed be a player of considerable note.

We will probably have to return to this debate again, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said, because the situation will change. The general consensus is that NATO has survived from its original purpose to go on and to do something else. We must observe what that is while being aware that it will probably not be something which we are predicting at the moment. However, any organisation that brings together 28 states, some of which were formerly potential enemies, must have something going for it. With that thought, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion withdrawn.