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NATO Warsaw Summit

Volume 774: debated on Monday 11 July 2016


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence on the NATO Warsaw summit. The Statement is as follows.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the NATO summit held in Warsaw last Friday and Saturday. The 2015 strategic defence and security review reaffirmed NATO’s position at the heart of UK defence and security. The UK remains a leader within the alliance, with the second largest defence budget after the US and the largest in Europe. The range of challenges the alliance faces, including Daesh, migration and Russian belligerence, meant that this summit was of huge importance for Euro-Atlantic security. The overwhelming message from Warsaw was one of strength and unity. We believe the summit has delivered an alliance that is more capable and projects stability beyond our borders based on institutional adaptation and stronger partnerships, which collectively protect our citizens and defend Europe.

I will address each of these issues briefly. At the Wales summit in 2014, NATO agreed its Readiness Action Plan to ensure that the alliance can respond swiftly and strongly to new challenges. The UK is at the forefront of these efforts: our Typhoons are currently conducting Baltic air policing missions from Estonia; our ships are making a significant contribution to NATO’s naval forces; and we will lead NATO’s quick-reaction “spearhead force”, the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force in 2017, with 3,000 UK ground troops ready to deploy within days.

To demonstrate allies’ solidarity, determination, and the ability to act in response to any aggression, Warsaw builds on the Wales commitments by delivering enhanced forward presence in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, and I am proud that the UK is taking a leading role in this. Canada. Germany, the United States and the UK will each deliver a framework battalion. These will be defensive in nature but combat capable. The UK force will be located in Estonia with two UK companies, a headquarters element and equipment, including armoured vehicles, Javelin anti-tank guided missiles and mortars. Denmark and France have said they will provide troops to the UK battalion. In addition, we will also deploy a company group to Poland. These actions are in response to actions by Russia; NATO’s approach is based on balancing dialogue and strong defence. Dialogue is right where it is in our interests to deliver hard messages, promote transparency, and build understanding to reduce risks of miscalculation.

Credible alliance defence and deterrence depends on NATO’s ability to adapt to 21st-century threats through nuclear and conventional forces. The summit recognised the important contribution the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent makes to the overall security of the alliance, so I am pleased that the House will have the opportunity to vote to endorse its renewal next Monday. Initiatives on cyber and hybrid warfare, among others, will give the alliance the capabilities it needs to respond quickly and effectively. However, modern capabilities require appropriate funding, and here good progress has been made against the defence investment pledge—a key commitment from Wales. Following this Government’s decision to spend 2% of GDP on defence and increase the defence budget in each year of this Parliament, cuts to defence spending across the alliance have halted, with 20 allies now increasing defence spending, and eight committing in national plans to reaching the 2%.

Delivering the best for our country means maximising the talent in our Armed Forces. The Prime Minister has accepted the recommendation of the Chief of the General Staff to open up ground close combat roles to women. NATO’s role in preventing conflict and tackling problems at source has become ever more important, as threats to alliance security grow out of instability in fragile or weak states. NATO’s Defence Capacity Building Initiative, first announced in Wales, is a powerful tool in projecting stability and the UK continues to provide significant support to Georgia, Iraq, and Jordan. Building on this, allies agreed that NATO will conduct training and capacity-building inside Iraq. In Afghanistan, local forces are taking responsibility for providing security across their country. Our long-term commitment, as part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, is crucial; in 2017 we will increase our current troop contribution of 450 by 10%, to help build the capacity of the Afghan security institutions.

The summit also reiterated its support for our European partners, including Ukraine and Georgia. I was delighted that Montenegro attended the summit as an observer—a clear sign that NATO’s “open door policy” is helping to spread stability. However, the scale of Europe’s security challenges means NATO must work with a range of partners to counter them. This summit sent a strong message of NATO’s willingness to build strong relationships with other international institutions. I welcome the joint declaration by the NATO Secretary-General and the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission on NATO-EU co-operation. We continue to support a closer relationship between NATO and the EU to avoid unnecessary duplication.

Our strong message to our allies and partners was that the result of the referendum on EU membership will have no impact on any of the UK’s NATO commitments and it remains the cornerstone of our defence policy. The UK will be leaving the EU, but we are not reducing our commitment to European security; we are not turning our back on Europe or the rest of the world.

HMS “Mersey” will deploy to the Aegean from late July to continue our support to NATO’s efforts to counter illegal migration in the Aegean. We will also provide a second ship, RFA “Mounts Bay” to the EU’s Operation Sophia in the central Mediterranean. NATO has agreed in principle to provide surveillance and reconnaissance support to this operation. It is a UK priority for NATO to do more against Daesh. NATO AWACS will now support the counter-Daesh coalition. In addition to our own assistance to the GNA, we will consider what NATO can do in Libya; for example, through capacity-building of the Libyan coastguard.

It is our firm view that the Warsaw summit successfully demonstrated that the alliance has the capability, will and intent to respond to the range of threats and issues that it may face. It also showed that Britain is stepping up its leading role in the alliance by deploying more forces to NATO’s eastern borders, to NATO’s support to Afghanistan and in countering illegal migration. With that strong UK leadership, Warsaw will be remembered for the concrete steps that were taken to deliver a strong and unified alliance that remains the cornerstone of European defence and security. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement, but, as it made clear, Motions will be put to the House of Commons on Monday next week. I hope that it is helpful at this point for me to inform your Lordships that the usual channels have agreed to set aside time on Wednesday this week for a debate on a Take Note Motion so that the views of this House can inform the debate in another place on the nuclear deterrent. The speakers list for the debate has already been opened by the Government Whips’ Office.

I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement on a summit that was of considerable significance. Paragraph 40 of the summit communiqué makes it clear that NATO is determined to show its commitment to our partners in the Baltic states and Poland by establishing an enhanced forward presence to demonstrate unambiguously as part of our overall posture,

“allies’ solidarity, determination, and the ability to act”,

by triggering an immediate allied response to aggression.

I was at NATO headquarters at the end of May and found that our partner representatives from the Baltic states and Poland who met me and my colleagues wanted to be reassured of our support. Every desire was expressed by the people whom I met to maintain and encourage the friendliest relations with their neighbour Russia, but there was an underlying nervous tension following the annexation of Crimea and the incursions in Ukraine. They also expressed worries about the potential Russian build-up in and around the enclave of Kaliningrad.

The Warsaw summit agreed that British forces will from next year be part of an enhanced forward presence with 500 troops in Estonia and 150 in Poland. We are also committed to training 4,000 Ukrainian troops by March next year. There will be consequences as a result of NATO taking this decision and we must be prepared for that.

The summit took place in Warsaw where 25 years ago almost to the day the Warsaw Pact was officially dissolved. The Russians of course will clearly be sensitive, very sensitive indeed, about NATO’s decision. What assessment have the Government made of the expected Russian response? My NATO briefings highlighted the importance of the NATO-Russia Council which was established in 2002 in Rome. Following Russian military intervention in Ukraine, NATO suspended all practical co-operation with Russia and the council ceased to meet, although channels of communication were still maintained. It was agreed only in early April this year to convene a formal meeting of the council and that meeting, the first in two years, took place on 20 April. I understand that the council will meet again in two days’ time, on Wednesday. Can the Minister confirm that NATO’s decision will be discussed at that meeting?

As last weekend’s summit took place, we in Britain were digesting the Chilcot report on the Iraq war, which we will be debating tomorrow. Sir John Chilcot’s report makes much about the process of taking the decision to commit to war in Iraq; paragraph 410 of the Executive Summary states that,

“a cabinet committee or a more structured process might have identified some of the wider implications and risks associated with the deployment of military forces to Iraq”.

Can the noble Earl say whether that did in fact happen before Britain decided to commit troops to this NATO deployment? My noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon, in response to the Chilcot Statement last week, suggested the creation of an ad hoc Cabinet committee to consider matters in such circumstances in the future. Will the Government consider this idea?

Now that we are heading for exit from the European Union, will Britain continue to oppose an idea favoured by some in France and Germany of the creation of a European army? Will we use our leading role in NATO to resist this notion? There is concern in Germany, which I certainly found in my meetings with representatives of other NATO partners, about our decision to withdraw our troops from Germany. Do we still intend to press ahead with this? Can the Minister also say something about the programme of training activity planned for our forces deployed in Estonia and Poland? I am aware of concern at all levels that our deployed forces could be cooped up in a barracks deep in a forest with nothing much to do.

The Statement reaffirms that the Government are accepting advice from the Chief of the General Staff that women are capable of engaging in close combat roles, and we welcome that. NATO’s defence capacity-building role, first enunciated at the Wales summit, continues to provide significant support to Georgia, Iraq and Jordan. The deployment of HMS “Mersey” in July to the Aegean will underpin our support for NATO’s efforts to counter illegal migration. All these decisions are welcome and underline Britain’s continued commitment to NATO as the lasting bulwark of our defence. As the party which helped to create NATO when in government in 1949, we on these Benches are proud of an organisation which is a defender of our freedoms and way of life, and in an uncertain world a source of security for many around the globe.

My Lords, noble Lords on these Benches welcome the Statement and I echo some of the words of the noble Lord, Lord Touhig. We welcome the commitments made to the Baltic states and to Poland, but would ask the Government what thought has been given to the situation with Russia and its possible reactions. Clearly the commitment to NATO is welcome, especially at a time of such global and regional geopolitical uncertainties, and therefore the commitment to our colleagues in the Baltic states and Poland, as well as an increased role in countering illegal migration, are both important.

The Statement by the Prime Minister and the communiqué refer to the UK’s nuclear deterrent and the fact that the UK’s and France’s nuclear deterrents have a deterrent role of their own. I do not wish to pre-empt the debate we will have on Wednesday prior to the Motion to be debated next Monday in the other place, but can the noble Earl give us some reassurance regarding defence expenditure? Assuming a decision is taken to approve a successor on Monday, that will be a considerable defence commitment. Both the NATO summit and the Prime Minister’s Statement recommit us to spending 2% of GDP on defence, a commitment made at the Wales summit in 2014 and affirmed by the Government after the general election last year. However, if there is a recession, either as a result of the decision taken on 23 June to leave the European Union or the actual fact of Brexit, 2% of a smaller GDP would presumably mean less money going to defence. Has money been set aside and are there contingencies to ensure that, if there were a recession, we would still be able to meet our commitments on F35, the aircraft carriers and a successor, if that decision is taken?

Further to that, while it is clearly welcome that the Government do not envisage any reduction in the UK’s commitment to European security in the light of the decision to leave the European Union, how will that commitment be played out? Will it be solely through the multilateral framework of NATO or might the Government consider—I realise that the Minister may not be able to give us an answer pending Wednesday evening—continuing links with the common security and defence policy of the European Union? How far does the UK envisage ongoing links with the EU and how far does it envisage bilateral links, particularly with France but also with the Netherlands? Clearly, the ongoing British commitment to European security is important, but an indication of how we envisage that going forward would be welcome.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their comments and questions. They both asked about our approach towards Russia and the likely Russian reaction to the communiqué. Our objectives in respect of Russia are clearly to protect UK interests and those of our allies and partners; to uphold the rules-based international order in the face of Russian challenges; to engage with Russia on global security issues and key areas of shared interests; to promote our values, including the rule of law and human rights; and to build stronger links between the British and Russian people more widely. I commend the communiqué to noble Lords. It sets out very clearly why NATO has felt it necessary to commit to an enhanced forward presence. This is in the face of Russian actions over the past two or three years that fly in the face of the agreements and understandings that we have had with them and that obtain internationally. NATO collectively and the allies individually are clear that the alliance does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia—those are its words—but will not compromise on the principles on which NATO and security in Europe and north America rest.

The NATO-Russia council meeting this Wednesday will discuss a range of issues. Its timing was deliberately set post the summit to continue the dialogue from a position of strength, given the decisions taken at Warsaw.

The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, asked a number of questions in the wake of the Chilcot report, in particular, whether a Cabinet Committee had considered current and proposed NATO deployments. The National Security Council considered the UK’s approach to Warsaw and our ongoing commitment to NATO activities. Because the National Security Council is a sub-committee of the Cabinet, it is rather better than an ad hoc committee, because it is a permanent standing committee that, as I explained last week, meets every week and constantly reviews those issues which bear upon the UK’s security.

The noble Lord asked about the long-running issue of an EU army. I take this opportunity to emphasise that, while the UK remains a full member of the EU until such time as we leave it, UK forces will not be part of an EU army. In no circumstances could Brussels, in any case, direct deployment of UK forces without the specific agreement of the UK Government. That agreement will not be forthcoming. Defence is entirely a national competence and if an EU army were to be proposed, it would be subject to national veto.

The noble Lord also asked about draw-down of UK forces from Germany. I can confirm that it continues and will continue as planned.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about defence expenditure. She is right to say that the 2% commitment relates to the size of our GDP. Were that to diminish, it would have a bearing on our budget but I remind her that aligned with and joined to that 2% commitment was another commitment that the defence budget would increase year by year in real terms by 0.5%. We have committed to spend £178 billion on equipment over the next 10 years, and that commitment stands.

The noble Baroness also asked about the relationship between NATO and the EU in the defence arena. As she would expect, in the medium term we will maintain our existing commitments to common security and defence operations and missions, and consider further requests from the EU. We will continue to lead the EU battlegroup from July to December this year. Whatever happens, the Government remain firmly committed to leading the way in working with the international community to tackle the migration crisis. In fact, the Prime Minister recently announced the deployment of RFA “Mounts Bay” to the central Mediterranean to help stem the flow of weapons to terrorists, particularly Daesh, in Libya. This is in addition to HMS “Enterprise”, which is already on task. No one can be in any doubt that we are committed to EU operations or about the strength of that commitment.

I did not answer the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, on what exactly our troops will be doing. First, as regards the proposals for Estonia, our forces are expected to participate in a demanding training and exercise programme alongside Estonian regular reservists and other allied forces based in the region. The deployment will also provide new training opportunities in heavily wooded areas and colder climates. The battalion will be maintained at a high state of readiness so that it is able to react immediately to a crisis or incident. Far from our Armed Forces personnel being confined to barracks, I hope that gives a flavour of the action-oriented agenda facing them.

In Poland, where, as the noble Lord is well aware, building a strong relationship is very much a priority for us, the deployment of the company group will enable UK and Polish forces to train, fight alongside each other, foster a greater understanding of their respective capabilities of the UK and Poland’s and increase interoperability, which the noble Lord will recognise is important. We will also work alongside the forces of other NATO allies in Poland, including the United States, which will provide a NATO-enhanced forward presence framework battalion in Poland. This deployment will also provide capability enhancement opportunities under the UK-US German-led TACET initiative. Many advantages therefore flow from this announcement.

Does my noble friend accept that this evidence of renewed NATO determination is welcome indeed and has little or nothing to do with our relations under various EU treaties, and whether we are in or out of them? However, does he also accept that in the 21st century, in addition to armaments and deployment build-up, one needs to win not merely the battles but the narrative? In this case the narrative is very much to get home to the Russian people that they would do far better in co-operation with the democracies and global networks which are now shaping our future all over the world than in a constant state of hostility and pointless belligerence. Surely that is the message to get home. I very much welcome the additional comments that these positive points will be put strongly to the Russians in the NATO-Russia Council, and hope they will realise that they could have better leadership and a better life if they follow that latter course.

My noble friend is absolutely right. The meeting on 13 July this week is the continuation of political dialogue as agreed by NATO Heads of State and Government. At the same time, we are clear that there will be no return to business as usual until Russia again respects international law. Engagement through dialogue is important. It is right that we have that dialogue. It is in our interests to engage on subjects in a hard-headed, clear-sighted way, but that does not mean a return to the kind of co-operation that existed before Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea and the destabilising activity in which it has been engaged in Ukraine.

Given our responsibilities under the Budapest Memorandum, what advice did our representative at the summit give to President Poroshenko of Ukraine? Were there contacts with the Turkish Government in which it became possible to make clear that, despite the insults to Turkey which emerged in the referendum campaign, including from a Ministry of Defence Minister, we still regard it as an extremely valuable ally?

My Lords, on the latter point, we have most certainly taken every opportunity to reassure Turkey that it is a very valued member of the NATO alliance, and it is important that we continue to do that. NATO has been united in support for Ukraine throughout the crisis period. Meetings of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, most recently at Warsaw, provide political support. Capability and capacity support is delivered through Ukraine’s participation in NATO exercises and through dedicated NATO trust funds, and the UK is co-leading one of these trust funds. We like to think—and I believe it is right to claim—that we have a leading role. We have consistently argued for a strong response to Russia’s actions and continue to be fully supportive of the Normandy format process.

My Lords, this conference has been very good news, particularly the nuclear aspects, not least because of Putin’s doctrine of de-escalation—which, extraordinarily, in fact means using nuclear weapons. The Government are to be congratulated on, at long last, agreeing to have a vote in the other place on replacing the four Vanguard class submarines. My question is not to do with money, but I have to say that, although one talks the talk, there is insufficient money in defence. The House of Commons Defence Committee has spotted that. The desperate shortage of money is shown not least in the lack in the number of ships. Should there be an escalation for another reason, none of the ships we are deploying to the Med are capable of looking after themselves, because they are not those types of ships. However, that is not my question. My question relates to Ukraine. It is absolutely right that we are reinforcing the Baltics and Poland—they are part of NATO; that is the right sort of message—but we must not delude ourselves: the Russians are terrified of NATO. We know that they are wrong to be terrified, but that does not mean that that is not their perception. We have sent people into Ukraine. Was there discussion about NATO being involved in Ukraine? If there was, I believe that it would be very destabilising.

My Lords, there is no question of NATO ground troops being sent to Ukraine. On the other hand, the NATO Council was very clear that there is a role for NATO alliance members to support Ukraine in training in particular, and that is a major commitment of ours. Clearly, we would not wish to do anything that would serve to escalate the tensions that exist in Ukraine. We are encouraging both Ukraine and Russia to support the Minsk process and adhere to the commitments given at Minsk. Nothing that would escalate the violence that we have seen in eastern Ukraine should be contemplated.

My Lords, may I take the Minister back to the issue of withdrawal from Germany, raised earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig? The principle of forward deployment for practical and demonstrative purposes has been well illustrated by what is going to happen in Estonia and other areas of the Baltic. However, although I have been supportive for many years of withdrawing the Army from Germany, is there not a case for looking again at leaving one of our armoured infantry brigades in the well-found garrison of Paderborn and Sennelager, and saving ourselves the capital expenditure of building a third armoured infantry garrison around Salisbury Plain? This would also demonstrate, in the post-Brexit environment we find ourselves in, that we are willing to remain physically present in Germany with about 2,500 of our troops. I think it is worth looking at again, and I urge the Minister to take that thought back to the Ministry of Defence and think about it again.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I will gladly do that. In fact, I can tell him that these matters are under continual review, as he would expect. There is undoubtedly a value to the idea of British troops remaining in Germany to a certain level, able to train alongside our German partners. However, I am not in a position at the moment to give him definite news on that front. What I can say, though, is that the bulk of UK forces will be withdrawn as planned. We believe that that is the right thing to do at this juncture, but we do not rule out keeping a contingent in Germany for the kinds of purposes that the noble Lord suggests.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord West, remarked that our defence expenditure is extremely strapped for cash. In view of this, and the fact that the efforts we are putting into both Finland and Poland are a substantial aid to the economies and welfare of those countries, would it not be sensible that at least part of that expenditure should be debited against our overseas aid bill, which is now running at the enormous sum of 0.7% of GNP?

My noble friend makes a very creative suggestion about government accounting. I will ensure that his point is logged in the appropriate quarter.

My Lords, given the situation with Russia, is my noble friend aware whether relations between Greece and Russia were discussed, particularly given the reports—which I understand to be true—that Greece has recently signed an armaments deal with Russia whereby it will be making Kalashnikovs in one place or another?

I am afraid I am not aware of discussions specifically relating to the relationship between Greece and Russia. If I am able to find out particulars on that theme, I will gladly write to my noble friend.

My Lords, the Minister has announced a very important commitment to the Baltic states. Can he assure the House that the Governments of all three of these states are behaving entirely as we would wish in respect of their Russian-speaking citizens and people of Russian nationality living within those states? Can he be sure that they are not giving any justifiable cause or excuse to Mr Putin to act, and that they are behaving in a way that is completely consistent with the principles of the European Union?

My Lords, there is a delicate balance to be struck here. We do not wish to provoke Russia into responding inappropriately to these deployments. On the other hand, we do ourselves need to react to the actions of Russia, as was laid out at the 2014 Wales summit, which delivered an effective and united response to Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea and its actions in eastern Ukraine. The measures taken at the summit will, we believe, provide further reassurance and deter Russian aggression. They are proportionate and defensive in nature. In saying those things, I recognise my noble friend’s appropriate concern that we ensure that the Baltic states in particular are being measured and reasonable towards the Russian-speaking element of their populations. This move is not designed to provoke those people any more than it is to provoke Russia itself.