Question for Short Debate
My Lords, my aim in putting down this Question for Short debate is to draw attention to the constructive co-operation in defence which the UK now pursues with its neighbours within the context of NATO and the European Union. I am conscious that much more co-operation is going on than is reported in the British media—or even reported to Parliament. The gap between the rhetoric of national sovereignty and the realities of international interdependence has been demonstrated by the admission that French maritime patrol aircraft have been searching for non-NATO submarines in the Irish Sea, protecting the access routes to the UK’s submarine base for us while we lack maritime surveillance aircraft of our own.
The British public, and indeed most Members of both Houses of Parliament, remain unaware of how far Franco-British defence collaboration has moved since the Lancaster House agreement of 2010. Several major exercises between the two countries have been conducted—well covered in the French press but scarcely noted in the British. Co-operation in nuclear research and facilities is moving forward. Co-operation in defence procurement has continued to prove more difficult, but joint work on drones and missiles continues. It is a matter of regret to both Governments that the construction of the new British aircraft carriers reached a point in 2010 beyond which it proved financially unjustifiable to install catapults to permit the flexible operation of aircraft between British and French carriers. I remember the efforts that Liam Fox made to achieve this, sadly without success.
Small British contingents are working with their French counterparts in the Sahel, and the two air forces,
“work closely together on operations in the Middle East and North Africa”.
“Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, which will be operational in 2016, will provide a potent combined reaction force of up to 10,000 personnel available to plan for and respond to crises, including beyond Europe”.
I am quoting from page 52 of the SDSR White Paper. I wonder whether the Government will wish to celebrate the achievement of this significant step forward through any public ceremony or joint parade, to catch the attention of the public, or whether they will leave awareness to the tiny number of us who actually get as far as page 52 of the SDSR paper, with Ministers hoping that the Daily Mail and the Telegraph will not notice and that the French Government will not complain that our Government appear to want to keep its existence as private as possible.
I am struck that the SDSR paper makes no mention of the oldest and most closely integrated joint force in which we share with a close partner: the British-Dutch marine Amphibious Force, through which Dutch troops train in the UK and are integrated for operational purposes into the UK marine brigade. This was, after all, established in 1973, although I know from its website that joint operations between British and Dutch marines stretch back to the joint operation that captured Gibraltar in 1704. British and Dutch troops served together in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991, and train together regularly in Arctic warfare. Yet I would guess that at most a dozen MPs are aware of the existence of this force, and I am not aware of any occasion on which the British Government have wished to publicise, let alone to celebrate, this pattern of shared defence that has been going on for more than 40 years.
The SDSR paper does mention,
“our partners in the Northern Group”.
However, it does not explain what the northern group is or how it operates. I have heard from Swedish and Baltic officials that the UK has played a very helpful and constructive part in assisting the development of integrated forces among the Nordic states, and in working with them to strengthen shared defence capabilities in the Baltic Sea, across the Baltic states and into the Arctic north. It is good to learn from others how much they appreciate the quiet work that British officers and men have undertaken over an extended period to assist states that are members of NATO and the EU, and some that are not formal members of one or the other of these two closely linked bodies. However, again, I regret that so few people in the UK have been told by our own Government what has been achieved.
Quietly, German tank forces and aircrew have trained in Britain over many years. The SDSR paper commits the Government to,
“intensify our security and defence relationship with Germany”.
That includes closer collaboration in procurement of equipment and common support facilities for common aircraft such as the Typhoon and the A400M transport. There is a passing reference to the withdrawal of the remaining British forces from Germany by 2020, and efforts that will be made to continue, nevertheless, joint training exercises with German forces. But there is no indication that our Government cherish the close collaboration that we have built up with the German armed forces in the 50 years since they were recreated, while a substantial proportion of the British Army and Air Force was stationed in Germany.
When in government, I argued that the withdrawal of British forces from their garrisons and bases across Germany, after 60 years and several generations of soldiers and airmen, with much interaction and some considerable intermarriage, should be marked by joint parades and ceremonies to celebrate the transformation of our relations and our commitment to future partnership. I was told by a Conservative Cabinet Minister that something like this was entirely unnecessary, that the Germans “are very transactional” and unemotional, and that in the circumstances a silent and unceremonious withdrawal was the best way to let sleeping dogs lie.
I welcome the slow but real progress that successive British Governments have made in developing closer co-operation with our European partners since Tony Blair first signed a bilateral treaty with the French in 1998. I actively supported the further moves forward made during the coalition Government between 2010 and 2015. I hope that these moves will go further: towards more common procurement, and the shared training and maintenance economies that go with it; towards more effective combined forces, both bilaterally and multilaterally constituted; and towards greater specialisation, rather than each European state struggling to hold on to smaller and smaller units in every military field. We all recognise the problems of sovereignty and command that follow such efforts, but they are not insuperable and not novel.
I recall meeting Liam Fox as I came out of an exchange in the Lords in which a Cross-Bencher had declared that it was unthinkable that British troops should serve under foreign command. His response was to list all the different NATO member states under whose rotating command British troops had served in Afghanistan, adding that some of our forces had also served under French command in the last year of the First World War, in 1917 to 1918.
I recall the French and German Governments building mutual confidence out of previous hostility through joint military parades and ceremonies, as well as through efforts at practical co-operation. The depth of German inhibitions over defence deployment has held that practical co-operation back until recently, although the recent German decision to deploy significant air, sea and land forces to the Middle East suggests that at last that inhibition is giving way.
Practical co-operation between the British and the Dutch has, as I have said, been close since the 1970s, and practical co-operation between British and French forces has developed with, I am told, growing mutual respect since contingents worked closely together under very difficult circumstances in Bosnia in the 1990s.
We all know why successive Governments—from Tony Blair in 1990-91 onwards—have shied away from spelling out to the British public the implications of unavoidable, mutually advantageous, defence co-operation with our neighbours. In 1990-91, the Daily Mail mounted a campaign against Franco-British and wider European co-operation, labelling it “the European Army”, and first Blair, and then those followed him, shied away. Eurosceptic myths have sunk into so many aspects of British public policy that it takes courage to disentangle reality from fantasy. Some in Brussels, and others in Berlin, have wanted to create fully integrated European forces with a common European command, but their national Parliaments would without doubt have refused to vote for their proposals, and issues of sovereignty and legitimacy would have blocked their overseas deployment.
Over the past 20 years or more, therefore, British Governments have found themselves in the uncomfortable position of pressing for closer practical military co-operation, spending more money on the defence of Europe than most of our partners and neighbours, while at the same time working desperately hard to downplay the significance of what they were doing for fear of domestic misrepresentation.
There are now, as the 2010 SDSR has already spelled out, no security threats to Britain that we do not share with our neighbours, so it makes sense to share our military response, as far as we can without abandoning the principles of national sovereignty and accountability, with our neighbours. It makes for more effective use of scarce resources and expensive weapons systems. Liberal Democrats have supported these efforts as they have slowly moved forward. However, our partners and neighbours read our newspapers, and some even watch our TV—the disadvantage of English as an international language is that it is easy for others to follow our domestic debate—and note the almost clandestine way in which our Government operate on defence co-operation, hiding its extent from Parliament and the public.
Having sat through innumerable interventions from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and others, insisting that NATO has nothing to do with the EU and the EU has nothing to do with defence and security, I was glad to see on page 53 of the SDSR White Paper some substantial paragraphs on the security dimension of the European Union, and the several EU operations in which British forces have played an active—sometimes even a leading—part. These included, most strikingly, the various operations around the Horn of Africa, such as Operation Atlanta, the anti-piracy force directed from the UK Joint Operations Centre at Northwood. That was another shared operation of which our Government should have been proud, but which they have made too little of.
If we are to move further along this path towards more effective co-operation, as the SDSR White Paper quietly recommends, we have to engage more widely with political elites in our partner countries to make sure that we build their support. It was, for example, a mistake for the FCO to cut its grant to the Franco-British Council by 80% in the latest spending review, when that council, among other activities, sponsors one of the most useful dialogues on defence and security between British and French parliamentarians and outside experts. The Government are right to wish to take European defence co-operation further—bilaterally and multilaterally—but wrong not to publicise it or celebrate it, which would help to build a broad base of public support both within the UK and within our partner countries.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, because it brings to an end a most interesting period I have had of some six months of sitting through presentation after presentation, as a member of the House of Lords defence group, from the various parts of our Armed Forces. Over the years I have seen these presentations, but I have never been so impressed as I have been in the past six months. I believe that we might possibly end up with the best Armed Forces in the world.
The question is: what do we do with them and what is the bureaucracy that keeps us at bay? We have 22 member states of the EU and 22 members of NATO. It is quite interesting, however, that members of NATO are also members of the EU, so there is an interrelationship that I find quite interesting. The position that we are facing now is that we are a global nation, and perhaps one of the most global in the world, without actually realising it. We have had historic co-operation with our neighbours, but not within the Armed Forces area until recently.
I would like to draw your Lordships’ attention to the interesting position in which we find ourselves under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The territorial land area belonging to the United Kingdom extends outwards to 200 nautical miles and is known as the economic exclusion zone—the EEZ—and this also applies to overseas territories. Just for fun, I looked at the world’s EEZs of some 45 million square kilometres, and found that 60% of this area, or 26 million square kilometres, is represented by the EEZs of the United Kingdom together with those of the Commonwealth and the British Overseas Territories. Some 16% of the EEZ area is represented by France and its overseas territories. Thus, together with France, we have an interesting control of the waters of the world. These zones account for the area almost from heaven above to hell beneath. On the other side, 15% of the EEZ area belongs to the United States, and a further 10% to NATO. In our future thinking on our Armed Forces, therefore, we must look at the maritime sector very closely. The world shipping fleet includes 21,000 Commonwealth vessels. That is about the same as those of Japan, Greece, Germany, China, USA, Russia, Norway and the Netherlands combined. We are therefore, to some extent, a very great maritime nation.
When we come to our trade, one of the fascinating issues when regarding it—and I was on the Trade Board for many years—is that we have always had a deficit on manufactures and a surplus on services that has made up for that. That is because we do not make as many things as we used to, and our raw materials, in general, are sourced from abroad. This deficit on manufactures, therefore, is supplemented by a surplus on services. It means that we have played, and should continue to play, a global role.
This makes me look at the situation with France—and I declare an interest because I am technically a French peasant farmer, as I grow a small amount of wine in France and have been attacked by wild boars, the biggest one of which weighed 300 kilos. There is therefore a certain sensitivity and I have worked closely with French companies over many years. The relationship between the United Kingdom and France is particularly good at this time, and there is much more co-operation and going together in various territories.
I turn, inevitably, to Africa—that vast continent that has many problems—and to the “pays francophone” in Africa, which were very substantial providers of raw materials for France. We cannot look at the defence of the world or of the realm without looking at the requirement to solve the problems in some of these territories, particularly Africa, where migration has occurred, production has fallen and raw materials have been left in the ground. Therefore, if you go back to the past and look at the scramble for Africa and such, there should be a new scramble for these areas, where we, with the protection of our Armed Forces, could help to regenerate much of the production of the past.
In looking at some of the recent migration figures, and trying to determine how accurate they might be—on who came from where to go where for what reason—it seems strange that much of the migration comes from countries that were originally colonised because of their raw materials and the capabilities that they had for produce and products that were required in the western world. That still applies. However dreamy it may be, it would be nice to think that a review of all the production areas of central Africa and others today might be undertaken, and consideration given as to how some of the mines might be reopened or the agricultural production put in place by those immigrants that we have here.
It is a very interesting time for us, and I am very proud of my belief that we have, man for man, the best Armed Forces in the world.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, on bringing this Motion forward, and he could not have found a more pertinent moment to have done so. We all need the Armed Forces, and we have had a reminder in horrifying terms just recently of how much we need them.
We do not just need Armed Forces; we need the best Armed Forces. That is to say that we need to select people very carefully, pay them decently, look after them properly and, above all, give them the best training and equipment that we possibly can. We cannot ever fight in this country, or in any democracy, labour-intensive warfare; it must be capital-intensive warfare. We must make sure that, to the greatest degree possible, human lives are protected and that we achieve maximum effect through the capitalisation of the equipment that we provide. That has been the principle on which we have based our defence policy and defence procurement policy for quite a long time, and it was certainly the principle we adopted when I was Defence Procurement Minister during the Iraq and Afghanistan engagements.
The trouble, of course, is that such a policy is extremely expensive. The defence cuts that we have had over the past five years have been egregious and quite disgracefully irresponsible—thoroughly irresponsible. Reference has already been made this evening to the problems raised in the maritime surveillance area. Of course, we always have constraints. We had financial constraints in our time, and there will always be financial constraints. At present, the RAF supposedly has eight squadrons of combat aircraft. That should mean 96 combat aircraft. What have we actually been fielding in theatre? For a long time, there have been eight Tornado jets and there may be two Typhoons as well—a tiny proportion of the aircraft that should be available. That shows how much our defences have been, sadly, run down. We cannot now sustain deployment of more than about 5,000 men—a brigade, really, with various supporting units. I am afraid that, as a result of the defence cuts, we are in a very thin situation.
Nevertheless, there will always be financial constraints and we have to think intelligently about how we can save money. Far and away the greatest potential for saving money in defence—and this has never been properly exploited—is international collaboration. That is a field of which I know something. When I was Defence Procurement Minister, I negotiated some substantial projects involving international collaboration in procurement. For example, I negotiated tranche 3 of the Typhoon programme, which has been a great success, and the renegotiation of the A400M programme, which had run into problems but is now doing very well and will be the greatest turboprop transport aircraft in the world for the next 30 or 40 years—replacing the Hercules in that important role. In my time, although I did not start it, I was also concerned with the F35 programme, which is a splendid piece of co-operation with the United States in which we provided, for the first time, $2 billion towards the R&D cost. That programme is also going well, although I am afraid to say that our uptake of the aircraft is much lower than it should be.
I had a particularly good relationship with my American counterpart, who was then Ash Carter, and with my French counterpart, Laurent Collet-Billon. Laurent and I managed to do together quite a lot of things in terms of common collaboration and providing various naval systems. As a result of that, I was the first Minister—probably the only British Minister—invited to go to Île Longue, the French SSBN base. Of course, I invited my counterparts to Faslane with the full knowledge and support of the Americans. We entered into a collaboration in that area, of course not involving anything to do with the weapons or the weapon delivery systems, which has been very promising. I also brought the French into the Mantis programme to develop an unmanned interceptor. We started to discuss with them something that has always been close to my heart, which is a theatre or tactical anti-ballistic missile capability. That project was completely buried when the new Government came to power in 2010, but I was delighted to see it revived and mentioned again in the SDSR the other day.
So a lot has been going on, but we have not really done more than scratch the surface in terms of getting those very valuable savings. The Typhoon programme, like all previous programmes, was based on a system known as “juste retour”, which meant that each participant in the programme expected to get back, in terms of the work on the project and the employment that flowed from that in his own country, exactly the proportion that corresponded to the money that he put up front to pay for the development of the particular system or platform concerned. That is a very inefficient system. It means that you deprive yourself at the outset of the benefits of competition and the economic pressures on suppliers that you can get through competition, so that is no good. We then set up a body called OCCAR, which is supposed to be an objective body based in Paris, which had some good civil servants from various EU countries seconded to it. It was supposed to act as an agent on behalf of procuring countries to deal directly with suppliers and solve their problems. The trouble was that countries had very little inclination to give major projects to OCCAR because they wanted to go back to the juste retour system.
This matter should be taken very seriously. Although I have never done a study of it myself, it is quite clear that savings to be made by intelligent joint and collaborative procurement run into the tens of millions. They are enormous and it is utterly irresponsible for us not to do what we can to try to secure them. Two things need to be done, and in the time that I have I will mention them. They are both very important and both politically extremely difficult. They are both obstacles in front of us, and we must find a way to surmount them.
One is that, in due time, we need to aim to remove the protection that exists in the treaty of Lisbon—in the Treaty on European Union—for defence procurement, which protects it from the principles of public procurement policy, which apply in every other sector. In other words, we should be prepared to lift all protection of our defence industry. Our defence industry is extremely capable, productive and innovative. Of course, there would be losers along the way, but, on balance, we would do very well from that. I do not know why we are so reluctant to go down that route. We should be championing such a move. It would have enormous economic benefits and dividends for us all.
The second very difficult thing that we need to do, which we must grasp in good time—I hope in my lifetime that we see some real progress towards it—is to go in for defence specialisation to make sure that we do not all have to have exactly the same parallel range of equipment. We can actually expect certain of our allies to deliver certain inputs. It is perfectly all right if we have that sort of relationship with the French for them to provide maritime surveillance aircraft, and we might be permanently out of the business. It would be very unsatisfactory to do that on a unilateral one-off basis, but as a general rule it could have been a practical possibility. We have so many helicopter systems, most of which I bought—I bought 22 Chinooks, and the new Government cancelled 10 of them. We have Pumas, which I got re-engined. We have the Wildcat, which I ordered. I think we still have some Sea Kings but we have got rid of the Lynx. We have Merlin—even I can hardly remember all the types of helicopter. It represents a fantastic logistical cost to keep all those different systems going and to keep men and women trained to operate them. It is very inefficient and something that should be spread over a much wider range of countries.
That is a very difficult thing to do politically, and initially everyone has 10,000 arguments why it cannot and should not be done, but it will be have to be done if we want to go on being able to defend our civilisation effectively, be able to make a success of our alliances and go on being able to respect that essential principle that our young men and women in uniform go into battle with the best possible support that money can buy.
My Lords, there were two crucial votes last week. There was the vote in the House of Commons to support air strikes against Daesh and there was the vote in the Bundestag to commit German forces in support. I was particularly pleased with the decision and position taken by my party, the Liberal Democrats, in the Commons. Had my party gone the other way, I would have had to very seriously consider my position.
I speak in this debate as a very committed European. Indeed, one of the prime reasons I left the Conservative Party was that in the 1990s that party became, very sadly, increasingly Eurosceptic. I think that going as far as having a European army is probably going too far, but I believe that we need much more multilateral integration of army units across Europe, as was referred to a little earlier. Similarly, there has to be a much greater rationalisation of procurement. We have far too many production facilities in Europe. Obviously, one is conscious of the sovereignty arguments. Until we have greater integration in military units and consolidation and rationalisation of defence companies, the problem of procurement excess will remain. It was very disappointing to me and to others when there was an immediate outcry when it was suggested, some years ago, that there might be a merger between EADS and BAE.
In my short time allocation this evening, I should like to focus on the UK-French relationship. I have to say that a failure to support France in Syria would have been a near disaster in relationship terms; indeed, in my view it would have been a national humiliation, so I repeat how pleased I was at the decision that was taken in the other House. The truth, of course—it was referred to by my noble friend a little earlier in his excellent opening contribution—is that co-operation between ourselves and France is far greater than is acknowledged and the public is aware of. We are conscious of what we did to help the French in Mali, in terms of heavy lift, and, more recently, the reciprocal help by France in maritime patrols, where we are currently sadly deficient.
I remember a very early briefing that the current Secretary of State gave to a number of us when he told us that the one thing that had really surprised him was the degree of co-operation that he found existed between our military and the French. He almost implied that he was speaking daily to his French opposite number, but there is a great reluctance by the Government to acknowledge just how much and how deep co-operation there really is, as my noble friend said.
I have a number of questions to put briefly to the noble Baroness arising from the SDSR. If she cannot answer the points tonight, perhaps she could write to me. Paragraph 450 says of the SDSR:
“We will … collaborate on complex weapons”.
Can she indicate what these complex weapons are?
Paragraphs 512 and 535 refer to the UK-France Combined Joint Expeditionary Force. Paragraph 535 says:
“Our Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, which will be operational in 2016, will provide a potent combined reaction force of up to 10,000 personnel”—
a crisis-responding force. We are nearly in 2016 now, so what is the latest situation with this force?
Finally, reference is made in paragraph 535 to “shared opportunities” when our new carriers enter service. In a number of briefings that I have been at over the years there have been very strong hints from the Navy that we will be looking to our allies—and, I suspect, particularly France—to provide escort support for our carriers, given the sadly inadequate number of escorts that we have. Can the noble Baroness give some indication of current thinking in this area?
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire for initiating this very timely and important debate. The European Council only had its first discussion on a common security and defence policy since the Lisbon treaty in December 2013—so only two years ago—but it had another fairly quickly, in June this year, when it vowed to keep security and defence policy regularly on its agenda. There are preparations under way to renew both the EU internal security strategy and the global strategy on foreign and security policy. It is clear that there is considerable overlap and convergence between those two: where does the fight against ISIS/Daesh as a terrorist organisation stop and that against it as a military threat start? European cyberdefence against organised criminal hacking networks shades into defence against cyberespionage and cyberwarfare conducted by states.
Indeed, the way that internal and external security are intertwined is shown by France invoking Article 47.2 of the Treaty on European Union on mutual assistance. It suffered a terrorist attack but the response is a mixture of intelligence policing and military capabilities. None of this means a European army, even if that aim has been supported fairly recently by the Commission President, Mr Juncker. Indeed, to quote Mrs Mogherini, the high representative, the convergence of internal and external security has,
“led to a renewed impetus in the EU-NATO relationship”.
She meets regularly with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
European states are facing common threats. Europe needs a common response through the pooling of resources and equipment, joint procurement and interoperability so that EU and NATO capabilities and operations are increasingly integrated. The European Defence Agency is getting into its stride with a number of effective pooling and sharing projects, including pilot training, satellite communications, medical capability and air-to-air refuelling. I think that there was a Conservative pledge, possibly in the 2010 manifesto, to review UK membership of the European Defence Agency. Can the Minister confirm that that has been quietly shelved?
As my colleagues have mentioned, there are informal examples of co-operation through the French maritime patrols off the coast of Scotland, and indeed the UK offer of the use of RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus to France. It was most welcome that the strategic defence and security review vowed to further strengthen the UK-France defence and security relationship, and was perhaps a little unexpected. The plans include, as my noble friend mentioned, a combined joint expeditionary force of up to 10,000 personnel, collaboration on equipment, including the procurement and development of missiles, the exploitation of shared opportunities with the new aircraft carriers, and stronger links between the Army’s 16 Air Assault Brigade and its French counterpart. Obviously the joint working in Iraq and Syria against ISIS, although the subject of a particular vote, is part of that trend.
Mention is also made in the SDSR of the relationship with Germany. That makes sense as Germany seems to be emerging from its chrysalis on defence. Germany and Poland should take on more of the role in NATO territorial defence, leaving the UK and France, which are more willing to deploy forces outside Europe, to continue to fulfil a wider range of responsibilities.
All this is taking place against a background of historic weaknesses in terms of waste and duplication, and a reluctance to co-procure and specialise. That is for a variety of well-known reasons: loss of strategic autonomy and sensitivity of the defence sector, along with a reluctance to give up the strategic industrial base which is seen as a matter of national prestige. Then there is nervousness about specialisation, including whether others are going to pull their weight in funding. I think that we need to look at the dangers of free-riding.
While there has been considerable bilateral co-operation, there is no invoking of the facility for permanent, structured co-operation under Article 46 of the Treaty on European Union to develop “differentiated integration”, to use the EU phrase, among member states. Can the Minister tell us if there is any prospect of invoking this structured permanent co-operation so as to streamline the variety of initiatives taking place?
Finally, I shall quote Professor Malcolm Chalmers, the director of RUSI:
“Most of all, the UK needs to work to maintain and strengthen the partnerships on which its security and prosperity depends. The grand strategy which it adopted in the 1940s, anchored on a community of fate between the countries of Europe and North America, remains the right one for the country today. Those who argue for a return to nationalism, and for a fragmentation of European institutions, remain on the fringes of politics”.
I hope that that remains the case. Can the Minister elaborate on an intriguing mention in the SDSR of the formation of a cross-Whitehall joint Euro-Atlantic security policy unit, apparently to bring together diplomatic and defence expertise and foster EU and NATO co-ordination and co-operation? I would be interested to know how this encouraging initiative will work and whether personnel from our allies will be somehow associated with this unit.
My Lords, I, too, want to thank the noble Lord for initiating this debate and for his introduction, which as usual was an excellent lesson in history. I welcome much of the new national security strategy, with chapter 5 setting out how the Government will use diplomats, development assistance, the Armed Forces, the security and intelligence agencies, law enforcement and soft power to protect and promote our interests and values. If we are to have the international security and stability that we seek, development, defence and diplomacy have to go together.
The SDSR needs to demonstrate a joined-up, whole-government approach. Of course, this is also recognised in the new policy statement, UK Aid: Tackling Global Challenges in the National Interest. My noble friend Lord McConnell referred to that statement in the debate last week, and welcomed the new £1 billion fund for conflict stability and security. However, as he remarked, the strategies for these new funds are far from clear. Although he failed to get an answer from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, I hope the Minister will respond today to my noble friend’s request that the Government consider allocating time in the new year for a debate on the strategies behind these two critical new commitments.
The Government’s commitment on defence spending and to the 0.7% for development spending is also welcome, but cutting back on diplomatic analysis and research strength may in the long run cost us more. Better understanding foreign societies at risk of instability and improving the UK’s ability to respond intelligently and appropriately to international crises are vital, as the Ukraine crisis taught us. The UK now spends less per head on diplomacy than the US, Germany, France, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
To multiply what we can achieve alone, the Government talk of investing more in our relationships with our traditional allies and partners and building stronger partnerships around the world. Since we joined the European Union many years ago, British foreign policy has had two key pillars. The first is exercising a leading role in Europe and the second is being the principal ally of the United States. As President Obama made clear, leaving the EU would have an impact on not just one but both of those pillars.
Unfortunately, the strategy section on the European Union is weak, failing to mention the potential of the External Action Service and the Development Commission to build stability in the world. One Eurosceptic myth often repeated is that we were never told when we joined the European Community that it had implications for foreign policy and that it was just a common market for trade. In the debates we have had on the EU Referendum Bill we have heard from the Eurosceptic side of the Conservative Party about the sort of future relationship they would like us to have with the European Union and its leading member states.
One model we heard about was, of course, Norway’s, although the Prime Minister now appears to have decided against that. Whatever model is considered, to turn away from our closest neighbours in the rest of Europe who share our democratic values hardly seems credible when determining what our place and role in the world should be. As the strategy points out, Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the destabilising activities in Ukraine directly challenge European security and the rules-based international order. In challenging Russia over Ukraine, the European members of NATO have worked closely together, imposing EU sanctions to parallel those NATO measures.
Of course, as the strategy states, we need to keep open the possibility of co-operation, seeking to engage with Russia on global security, including international efforts to tackle the ISIL threat and building on the successful co-operation that we shared in negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme. But one of the difficulties that we have in assessing the long-term sustainability of the review is that we have yet to conclude what future relationship we wish to have with our nearest neighbours. As recent tragic events have taught us, the threats—as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said—that we face as a nation today, such as international terrorism, migration and cross-border crime are all shared with our closest neighbours. Key to this debate is understanding that Britain shares values and interests with our European neighbours, and that any coherent British foreign and security strategy has to be founded on that European strategy.
My Lords, this has been a short—QSDs always are short—and wide-ranging debate. I am certainly grateful for the contributions of noble Lords. I shall seek to address some of the main issues raised tonight. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, in asking for time in the new year for two more debates put into context what we have had here tonight, which is a debate that has gone far wider than the subject put to us by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. Some of the questions about material, which the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, addressed, are absolutely key issues, but we will have to wait for that because they need to be considered across the whole issue of procurement. I hope to be able to answer one or two of the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, within the context of this debate.
It is clear that European security must respond to new and changing threats, from terrorist outrages such as those in Paris, to which noble Lords have referred, to state-based threats such as Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, referred to the importance of that. The Government’s strategic defence and security review builds on the unique strengths of the United Kingdom and it deepens our co-operation with our international partners. After all, we are the only nation to be at one and the same time a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a leading member of NATO, the EU, the Commonwealth, the G7, the G20, the OSCE, the OECD, the World Trade Organization, the IMF and the World Bank. Nobody can say we are not international in our co-operation.
We have the second largest defence budget in NATO and the largest in the EU. We are also the only country in the world committed to spending both 2% of our national income on defence and 0.7% on development assistance. This strength is vital in promoting peace overseas. However, as noble Lords have recognised tonight, the threats we face do not recognise borders. That is why we must indeed invest more in our alliances and make these relationships international by design—building our forces and capabilities in ways that complement and integrate with those of our allies. NATO is the bedrock of our national and collective defence. Last year’s summit in Wales saw new initiatives to tackle new threats and secured an unprecedented commitment from 28 Heads of State and Government to halt the decline in defence expenditure.
Under our commitments, the UK will invest more to counter cyberthreats. We will more than double our investment in our Special Forces and will contribute to NATO exercises, reassuring allies against the threat from Russia. In 2017, the UK will lead the very high readiness joint task force, again formed in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
We are working closely with allies to ensure that the Warsaw summit in July next year delivers an alliance that is transparent, accountable and capable of responding to any threat. We will also continue to encourage our other allies to meet the NATO 2% commitment, as we have done.
In addressing modern security threats, it is important, as noble Lords have stressed tonight, to build greater co-operation between NATO and the European Union. It is a high priority of the United Kingdom. Good work has already been done, but we will work with High Representative Mogherini and Secretary-General Stoltenberg of NATO, whom I met earlier this summer when I was at the Croatian forum, and other allies and member states—of course—to drive this agenda forward, particularly on hybrid, ensuring that both institutions’ strategies are consistent with a view to a joint exercise next year.
Cyber—the co-operation between the two organisations—was formalised through the enhanced NATO cyberpolicy agreed at the Wales summit last year, and we are pressing both sides to explore joint training and shared best practice—I hope that that will please the noble Lord, Lord Davies. Also we are building capacity in third states. Both organisations are developing capacity-building initiatives and have much to offer in security sector reform. We will encourage them to co-ordinate efforts where it makes sense to do so.
A secure and prosperous UK relies on a secure and prosperous Europe. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said, meaningful reform of the EU in the areas that he has already set out would benefit our economic and national security. That is why he believes that Britain’s best future lies within a reformed EU if necessary changes can be achieved.
As for the European Union’s own work on security, I would highlight in particular what it has called its comprehensive approach—to which noble Lords referred this evening—which combines military, civilian, diplomatic and development tools. I was asked what this cross-Whitehall body was and how it would work. I have to encourage the noble Baroness to be a little patient with us: the report only came out less than two weeks ago. However, it is a signal of our intent to work across Whitehall and to deliver that combination of military, civilian, diplomatic and development work. Because of the work I do on the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, I already see joint working with the MoD in ways I never thought possible before and I find its response absolutely encouraging. People are prepared to share their experiences and enable me to meet the Armed Forces overseas. This is a way forward which will bring great benefits.
This approach offers the UK an effective way to project stability in our neighbourhood and across the world. For example, the successful EU missions in the Horn of Africa, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in which the UK has played a leading role, have directly contributed to UK objectives. I am not backward in coming forward about praising co-operation with the EU. How could I be? Tonight I have the chance to put on the record my admiration for the work of EUFOR Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina. When I visited there this summer, they enabled me to spend much of the day with some their forces in a helicopter. I was able, thereby, to see the challenges they face and the success they have in carrying out their task of overseeing the military implementation of the Dayton agreement. Co-operation with the EU works, but it is not the only co-operation that works. EU sanctions on Russia have also been an important element in our response to the illegal annexation of Crimea.
We will continue to press for improvements to the effectiveness of the Common Security and Defence Policy, with a focus on making existing structures work better, rather than creating new ones. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, and other noble Lords mentioned some people being concerned about a European army. We are not, because it is not going to happen, but we do welcome closer co-operation between the armed forces of EU and NATO member states. However, that of course needs to be based on improving deployable defence capabilities across Europe, not creating new institutions. We have consistently made it clear that we would oppose any measures that would undermine member states’ competence for their own military forces or lead to competition and duplication with NATO.
I was also teased a little by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, about the European Defence Agency and whether we were silent on it. Silent no more: here we go. We welcome the reforms that the EDA has begun, in particular the addition of a three-year planning framework and the project management tool which is in development. This is encouraging progress which will support the agency in delivering greater transparency and enhanced stakeholder communication. We are encouraging the EDA to focus on the existing project areas of cyber, remotely piloted systems—commonly known as RPAS—air-to-air refuelling and government satellite communications, but not to embark on new projects unnecessarily. However we want to look at the budget involved. While we are making further reforms to meet our commitment to cut the budget deficit, and when the wider European economy is still recovering, it is not appropriate to increase UK taxpayer funding to the EDA. Subject to further reforms, we will review our position with a view to considering whether we support an increase to the budget in 2017.
Going further with regard to co-operation, the revised European global strategy, led by High Representative Mogherini, will be an important part of that goal. We welcome the strategy’s broad scope and believe that it should also form a basis for greater institutional co-ordination within the EU, particularly between the Commission itself and the EEAS, where there remains significant room for improvement. As I mentioned earlier, we will also use our influence as a leading member of the OSCE. Not only will we support the ongoing work of the special monitoring mission in Ukraine but we will work through implementation of the conventional arms control regime.
Bilateral engagement is, of course, crucial. It is important to note that the US remains our pre-eminent partner for security, defence, foreign policy and prosperity. We will strengthen co-operation on national security issues and improve interoperability between our Armed Forces, and we will deepen bilateral co-operation with European partners. Since 2010, we have built an exceptionally close relationship with France. Following the appalling attacks in Paris on 13 November, we have expressed solidarity and offered bilateral support, including personnel and logistical support. We are committed to strengthening this important defence and security relationship further. As agreed in the Lancaster House treaties, the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force of 10,000 personnel will be operational next year.
Germany was rightly mentioned. The action it has taken in parliament is so important. Its technical assistance will be crucial and shows the joint European effort against Daesh. We will further deepen our co-operation with Germany, too, in areas ranging from intelligence-sharing, cyber and procurement of equipment to energy security and military support for humanitarian work and deployment.
We are working further with our wider European partners, including Norway, the Netherlands and Denmark—the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, rightly mentioned the northern group. In almost every aspect of our national security and prosperity we must work with others, not because we cannot work alone but because the threats, opportunities and challenges are global. That is what underlines my response tonight. We work together because that is the only way we defeat evil opponents such as Daesh.