Motion to Take Note
My Lords, let me start by paying just a moment of tribute to Lord Lyell, who died yesterday. He was the secretary of the All-Party Defence Group and a formidable and energetic supporter of Britain’s Armed Forces. He will be greatly missed by the House and by many of those whom he met.
This is a very timely debate—never more so to those of us who watched yesterday’s press conference in New York. On a distinguished panel last year, I was asked what I believed was the greatest threat to the safety and security of our country. I considered some of the immediate and looming challenges and threats, some of which are pretty formidable: the migration flows that have suddenly ended up on our shores; the spread of religious experience extremism and jihadi violence plumbing new depths of savagery; a restive and resurgent Russia; a rising China; and the disruption by North Korea. Add to that fragile and failed states spreading mayhem across borders, international conflicts, climate change, cyber warfare and the global proliferation of lethal technology and weapons. On top of all that, there is the rise and dominance of organised crime, population growth, pandemics and financial instability.
That is a pretty formidable cocktail of trouble for us to face. However, my answer to the question of what was the greatest threat is actually different: it is ourselves. We are our own worst enemies. We are short-sighted, penny-pinching, naively optimistic, complacent and ostrich-like to the way in which the world has become interconnected and more fragile, unpredictable and incendiary. We are grossly unprepared and underresourced to meet the challenges of the coming years. These threats are potent and deadly, and some of them are very urgent.
At the end of the Cold War, I made a speech at Chatham House in which I coined what was to be a much-quoted phrase when I said that there had been a “bonfire of the certainties”. The fall of the Berlin Wall had unleashed a flood of optimism that had made Kremlinologists redundant overnight and robbed us of the albeit dangerous manageability of the Soviet/West confrontation. Some were even rash enough to say that it was the “end of history”. All of us took a substantial peace dividend and defence budgets were cut radically over the next five years. I believe we are now seeing another bonfire, this time of the post-Cold War certainties. In doing so, we have left ourselves vulnerable and, in many ways, unready. If we look at the way in which we have responded to this new world of regional conflicts, violent civil wars and other violent manifestations of the turmoil that I have already listed, we see that it hardly measures up to the scale of what faces us.
If anyone doubts my contention that we are our own worst enemy, just let them look at the debate in both Houses of this Parliament on 29 August 2013. The President of the United States had drawn a red line on President Assad using chemical weapons on his own people in a conflict that was already tearing his country apart and spreading to every part of the Middle East and beyond. Consequently, when the sarin gas attacks on civilians were confirmed, President Obama rightly decided that a military attack should be mounted to degrade President Assad’s war machine. Our Prime Minister at the time agreed, said he wanted to join this wholly justified action and recalled Parliament in order to put it to the House of Commons. The Commons, with my own party playing an opportunistic and disgraceful part, refused to give permission for the UK to join the response to the hideous chemical attacks on civilians.
The Prime Minister, having been defeated on an issue of grave military consequence, not only did not resign, which you would have thought in all honour he should have done, but instead swiftly closed off the possibility of even reconsidering the decision. It did not need John Kerry, the outgoing US Secretary of State, to remind us of this last week and lay the blame for President Obama’s retreat from his red lines on the British House of Commons on that August day. We all already knew it and we must all share the responsibility, even those of us who supported the government position, for the carnage that followed. Tears for Aleppo will never be enough. I love my country. I care about its future and the safety of our people in a very troubled world. That is why I am ashamed that that night this Parliament, where I have served for 38 years, did what it did. As events have spiralled into horror since then, with a line coming directly from that vote, my shame turns to anger.
Now, in eight days’ time, we will have President Donald Trump as the leader of the western world—the Donald, with his Mexican wall, with new protectionism and isolationism, with his serious questioning of NATO solidarity, with a belief in torture and with Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn as his key security adviser. Perhaps we do not actually need more enemies in the world today.
We in this country have Brexit. Going against the grain of history, our country is about to embark on a tortuous journey, with no known destination, that will absorb people, time and talent and will suck the energy out of our political system just as the challenges to Europe come crashing in on us. Our influence on our European neighbours will dramatically and inevitably diminish. Although they will still need our military, as Europe finds Trump’s America turning away we will find it difficult to take the lead that we usually claim. Reports this week that Britain’s claim to the Deputy SACEUR position has been challenged by France are just the latest evidence of that slipping influence. Our Foreign Office, the soft-power arm of government, at the same time as bearing the burden of maintaining our influence in the rest of the world, will be eclipsed by the Brexit vortex as its budget, already smaller than the budget for the US Embassy in Baghdad, will come under renewed pressure.
In our crazy complacency we seem quite oblivious to the fact that the relative peacefulness of the world today, as we look over a new precipice, has been achieved by our nuclear deterrent and by our institutions and processes, which require diplomacy, intelligence, involvement and, crucially—when it is required and at the end of the line—decisive interventions. Where will the space be left for all that as we paddle through the treacle of dismantling 40 years of integration?
What confirms again that we are our own worst enemy is the attitude to spending on defence and security. Yes, I agree with and welcome the fact that we are spending the NATO target of 2%; we are right in many ways to crow that we are among the few who do. That is good so far as it goes, but we should wait for a moment. After all, have we stretched the definition of 2% to get there? Are we not confusing percentages with capabilities? Who can doubt, as well, that the Brexit devaluation of the pound will now have a serious effect on the defence budget? I hope that the noble Earl the Minister will tell us how much it is estimated that blow will cost his department.
In 1997-98, as Secretary of State for Defence, I led the strategic defence review with, among others, my noble friend Lord Reid. It radically remodelled and modernised our post-Cold War forces. In the preface to the review, I said that post-Cold War problems,
“pose a real threat to our security, whether in the Balkans, the Middle East or in some trouble spot yet to ignite. If we are to discharge our international responsibilities in such areas, we must retain the power to act. Our Armed Forces are Britain’s insurance against a huge variety of risks”.
That is as true today as it was when I wrote it. The question is whether we in this country have properly retained that power to act. Some doubt will be cast on that by the distinguished speakers who will speak after me in this debate.
The Minister will undoubtedly tell us at the end of the debate that there is formidable hardware in the pipeline, from Trident to the carriers that were the centrepiece of my 1998 review. The question remains, though: is it enough to meet the challenges we are facing when so many of them are urgent and so potent?
My worry is that we are sleepwalking into a potential calamity. My depressing catalogue of threats, after all, does not even take account of what I said in 1998 of trouble spots yet to ignite. As I wrote those words, we could not have foreseen the conflict the very next year in Kosovo, the attacks of 9/11, the implosion of Syria, the whole of the Arab spring and, indeed, the rise of Daesh/ISIS. We have today a crisis of optimism—hoping for the best and failing to prepare for the worst.
You might legitimately ask, having heard my gloomy assessment and warning, what we should be doing. Here are just a few of my thoughts. First, we must retain and protect our own defence industrial base. That alone gives us some real control in the UK. At the same time, we must encourage and participate in joint projects with our European NATO allies. European contributions to NATO are not just limited by financial shortcomings but by wasteful duplication, and we must continue to press our NATO allies to boost spending and capabilities. If they—and we—did that, we might help expand the growth in our economies.
Secondly, we must continue to promote our values and principles on the world stage. We must defend NATO as the cornerstone of our national and collective defence and tell the people of this country, and indeed the wider world, how essential the alliance remains. Article 5, where an attack on one is an attack on all, is not a choice; it is a solemn obligation. Anybody who questions it questions the whole basis of collective security. Our communication policy on this whole issue is, frankly, pathetic.
Thirdly, we must be aware of and act on the dangers inherent in the present confrontation between Russia and the West. Without the tripwires and warning arrangements of the Cold War, we are in grave danger of making a mistake or a miscalculation with potentially catastrophic results.
Our much-reduced military is still among the very best in the world. Our diplomats have few peers internationally. Our intelligence services are relied on by most of the free world. It is now time for our Government to recognise the dangers to Britain and to live up to their high standards. Never in my lifetime was bold and courageous leadership more necessary and more urgent.
My Lords, before we hear from my noble friend Lord King, I remind the House that this is a time-limited date with Back-Bench speeches limited to four minutes. Timing is particularly tight, so I entreat Peers to wind up immediately when the clock displays four minutes.
My Lords, I think I can say to my noble friend Lord Younger that no Member of this House taking part in this debate is unaware of the restriction he has just put on it. They deeply regret it as well. It is very disappointing that the House has not had an opportunity for more time on this debate on such an important issue very commendably launched by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson. We say this House should draw on its wisdom and experience. I see in the Chamber at present four former Defence Secretaries and three former Chiefs of the Defence Staff, all of whom—expect for the noble Lord, Lord Robertson—will be limited to four minutes for their contributions. I have probably lost a minute already by this intervention.
I broadly support a lot of what the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, has said. The House of Commons Defence Committee in its report said:
“The world today is at its most dangerous and unstable since the end of the Cold War”.
I recognise that the Government face severely limited resources and an extremely difficult situation, inheriting what I think is a pretty unbalanced procurement programme. As a result, we have some impressive capabilities coming forward and, as long as nobody attacks us before 2025 or 2030, we will be in good shape to meet them. I do not want to be too cynical about this, but there is a real imbalance in the resources and the capabilities we have at present.
Julian Lewis, the chairman of the Defence Committee, said that the last time we faced a combination of a threatening Russia and a growing terrorist threat was in the 1980s. I notice the proportion of GDP we spent on defence was about 5% then. While we pat ourselves on the back and say we must stick to 2% and make sure we do not go below it, it is important to draw that illustration. I was much criticised when I conducted “Options for Change” for daring to reduce our Armed Forces to 350,000 men in uniform. As I look at the 144,000 that are now indicated as our present strength, you will understand that I have great concerns.
I also have great concerns about the present programme. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, already mentioned the problems of the Brexit exit—the effect on the currency and what that might mean on the cost of £12 billion of overseas procurement. I also look, as all Defence Secretaries have, at “efficiency savings” and wonder how they are actually always going to be achieved.
President Putin’s reassertion of Russian interests in many parts of the world and what seems to be a pretty dangerous undercover media operation at the moment, which may be seeking to destabilise some of the Russian minorities in the Baltic countries, illustrate a major problem there. Some noble Lords may have heard a Polish Minister on the “Today” programme this morning welcoming the 10,000 American troops who have just moved into Poland. On their very border there are 100,000 Russian troops exercising in a fairly provocative manner at present.
I want to make a few final points. I hope sincerely that President Putin and his colleagues realise how easily accidents can happen with mobilisations and provocations and how easily conflict can start. We do not have to have the memories of the First World War and our memories of the Second World War where war started by accident involving the wrong people at the wrong time that was not meant to happen. I take that factor very seriously.
I have two further points. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, mentioned what has added to the Russian reassertion of its interests: the problems of ISIS and the total destabilisation of the Middle East. Added to that now we have Brexit and the new President Trump. On Brexit, I hope that there is no question that the sensible co-operative arrangements that currently exist, such as on anti-piracy off the coast of Somalia, will continue. It is in our national interest and in the interests of our European friends and partners because they need some of our capabilities. I hope those undertakings and operations will go ahead, Brexit or not, without interruption and without too much legal argument about whether they should now be permitted.
The key point I want to make, which was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, is that the key to our defence is NATO. While we were concerned about certain comments from President-elect Trump, I am encouraged by the further remarks he has made in his conversations with our Prime Minister. I also hope that the appointment of General Mattis may reinforce support for NATO. That is the core of our defence and, if I have one thing to say today in the lavish time allotted to me by the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, it is that we must ensure that, through all these instabilities, the importance of NATO and support for it are fully maintained at the present dangerous time.
My Lords, Russia, a superpower in nuclear terms, is massively investing in military capability, yet with the financial clout of Italy. Its economy is on a war footing: something has to give. There are its actions in Crimea and Ukraine, and now threats to the Baltic states and cyberattacks in Estonia, France, Turkey, Ukraine and the USA. There is aggressive intrusion into NATO air space and near misses. Russian nuclear submarines are threatening our SSBNs. Why is Russia doing all this? Putin is a revisionist, believes in spheres of influence and understands hard power. His loose talk of the use of nuclear weapons is a particular concern. We must strain every sinew to understand him and keep open a dialogue.
There is instability in the Middle East. It is difficult to identify a country that is not in turmoil—Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya—and countries such as Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt are under severe strain. The flexing of muscles by Iran and Turkey, as regional powers; the Sunni/Shia divide; Russia’s recent success as a key power broker—where will this all go?
The threat of terrorism, grown as a result of events in the Middle East, is not at present existential, but should terrorists ever get hold of improvised nuclear devices or a lethal virus, all that changes. Afghanistan is still at risk of collapse. Stability in nuclear-armed Pakistan is still a cause for concern. In Korea, will the US allow Kim Jong-un to develop a functioning ballistic nuclear-tipped missile able to strike the US? I doubt it very much. What then?
China is threatening freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, there is the Senkaku Islands stand-off with Japan and the re-emergence of the Taiwan issue. That is all made more worrying by the stalling of China’s economy. As the largest European investor in that region, with responsibility for global shipping, can we ignore it?
Then there is cyber. The growing reliance of our society and military on the internet entails lots of vulnerabilities that were not foreseen. The Russian takedown of a French television station, had it been a bomb, would have been an act of war, but nations do not know how to respond as there are no international agreements. All I would say is that some rather naive politicians in the Treasury think this means that we can save money on defence; it actually means that we will have to spend more.
In the face of these threats—and there are others—what have the Government done? They have shown staggering complacency and self-delusion, when it is quite clear to experts and lay men that defence needs more resources. When in coalition, they reduced our military capability by 30%, and our forces remain underfunded. There is minimal new money. It is in theory being produced by efficiencies. The HCDC has pointed out the creative accounting in the 2% of GDP spent on defence, the figure that the Government gave. Spending on pensions does not win wars, and the 2% of GDP is not the target but the very minimum that any NATO nation should spend. Our nation should spend more.
Having robust defence forces makes a war involving our nation less likely. If a small conflagration in a distant part of the world developed into a war that threatened our national survival, the best welfare provision, National Health Service, education and foreign aid programmes in the world would be as nothing. Preventing war, and defending our nation and people if it happens, are more important than any other government spending priorities. If Ministers get defence wrong, the nation will never forgive them. The costs in blood and treasure are enormous. The Government have a choice of whether we spend what is required to ensure the safety of our nation, dependencies and people or not. At present, I believe they are getting the choice wrong.
The US military and, to a lesser extent, ours, have together ensured that there has been no world war for more than 70 years. The US now expects us and others to step up; it is right that we do so. It is no use the Government pretending otherwise. There is not enough money in defence. In particular, notwithstanding the Defence Secretary calling this the year of the Navy, the Navy has too few ships to do what the nation expects. Our great nation has effectively only 11 escorts fully capable of operations, which is a national disgrace. Delays in ordering the Type 26 frigate have led to the ordering of extra, highly overpriced offshore patrol vessels to fill the Clyde yard with work, because there is an agreement that we will subsidise the yard whether ships are being made at all or not.
However, I congratulate the Government on their commitment to the deterrent successor programme, but I and many others believe that the capital cost of the programme should be met from the central contingency fund. Does the noble Earl agree?
The really good news in defence is the new aircraft carriers, welcomed and eagerly awaited by the US and our other allies. The Government must purchase enough Sea Lightnings to have the squadrons on board. I was very surprised to see articles in the papers recently about mothballing the second carrier and the date for the “Queen Elizabeth” slipping. I end by asking the noble Earl to confirm that the “Prince of Wales” will be completed and operated concurrently with the “Queen Elizabeth”, and that HMS “Queen Elizabeth”, will sail in March for sea trials and enter Portsmouth for the first time before the summer, as previously stated by the Defence Secretary?
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow such well-informed speeches as the three that have launched the debate. In particular, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, on introducing the debate. He spoke with great sincerity and sometimes considerable passion.
As I remember, Phileas Fogg had 80 days to go around the world; four minutes will not allow me any kind of tour d’horizon, so I will confine myself to a number of propositions that underpin my views on defence. Some have already been hinted at in the debate
First, Russian ambition will be emboldened by the military, political and diplomatic success it has enjoyed in Syria. Some months ago, the noble Earl who will respond to the debate expressed reservations when I described some behaviour and achievement on the part of Mr Putin as being game and first set. I hope he will excuse me if I say that it is not that any more: it is game, set and match in Syria.
The transatlantic alliance is essential for the security of Europe and for the United Kingdom, whether we are inside or out of the European Union. Every effort must be made to convey to the new Administration in the United States that it is not just Europe’s interest that is served by that relationship but that of the United States as well. I believe that the United States would be more likely to be persuaded in the way I suggested if every European member of NATO were urgently to achieve the minimum—as has been pointed out—target of 2% of GDP per annum on defence spending.
In the face of Russian ambition, Europeans can no longer get defence on the cheap. It is an interesting reflection that whereas the term “burden-sharing” used to be used when one went to Washington, the assessment of Europe’s contribution is now expressed in—shall we say—more trenchant and less suitable terms for this debate.
Proposals for a European army in the circumstances are not credible, because they would inevitably create duplication and divert necessary expenditure from the main thrust of NATO. If European members want to increase their contribution to NATO, they can best do so—again, this was hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson—by adopting the principles of force specialisation, interoperability and common procurement. Remember, it is not how much you spend, it is how you spend it. It is necessary that NATO—and Europe, given some of the remarks that have come out of the United States—is able to provide a full spectrum of capability.
Two developments ought to attract our attention most particularly. The first is the deployment by Russia of nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad. The second is the report that Russian generals have now endorsed the use of battlefield nuclear weapons—eerie echoes, one might think of the Cold War. These developments, in my judgment, underline beyond question the conclusion that deterrence is best provided by both conventional and nuclear means, all as set out in NATO’s strategic concept.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the independent-minded noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem. The Royal Air Force that I had the privilege to lead in the mid-1980s was close to 100,000 personnel and more than 30 combat squadrons. Today’s Chief of the Air Staff has a force of less than a third of that in personnel, and a quarter in squadrons. Yes, airframes and perhaps even people are more capable than their predecessors, but with such small numbers, they lack a key fighting quality: resilience in combat against other than a very poorly equipped or incapable foe.
The Army and the Royal Navy have faced similar reductions in the past 30 years in their musclepower. What, then, should the Armed Forces be expected to do? Rule out unforeseen operations of the scale or intensity fielded in 1982 to recover the Falklands, or in 1991 to throw the Iraqis out of Kuwait? Indeed, enduring operations on the scale of those in Iraq and Afghanistan are no longer feasible without strong Allied involvement. Even the more limited scale of offensive operations now in hand, mainly by the RAF, is stretching the human side of this activity.
Brexit adds a new dimension for the Armed Forces. We must surely maintain the many excellent military-to-military contacts we enjoy with forces in Europe and North America. The increasing vision of trade with Commonwealth and overseas partners should be matched by greater contact with their military units.
A good start was the recent visit by RAF Typhoon aircraft to Malaysia, Japan and South Korea, and by the successful Red Arrows displays in the Middle East and China. These deployments demonstrated operational reach and logistic support over thousands of miles. They made many new contacts and were widely noted and appreciated.
What is the bottom line? We lack strength in numbers. We are not well placed to deal with an inevitable unforeseen, least of all against a capable foe. The more independently minded we become, the more capability we need in a dangerous world. Surely the two must go together.
The first choice in threat resolution has to be soft power, whether by diplomatic, economic or other non-military means. But success in such endeavour will surely be strengthened if it is backed by well-found hard power. We do it for the ultimately adverse scenario with the nuclear deterrent. We need more conventional hard power for the rest.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Robertson for bringing forward this debate today and to my noble friend and colleague Lord West for his machine-gun delivery of detailed points crammed into four minutes. I would prefer to lob the odd artillery shell—I will reduce the number to four—in order to speak more slowly.
The first is the situation in which we find ourselves in the world. My noble friend Lord Robertson admirably outlined it: a revanchist Russia asserting itself politically and diplomatically as well as militarily; the Middle East partially undergoing radical transformation and partially in war and turmoil; in the Far East, China flexing its muscles; a complete sea change in the battlefield through international terrorism—asymmetric warfare has already occurred; and cyberwarfare and hybrid warfare, updated versions of PSYCH-OPS on a global scale, which are being deployed by Russia in particular but also by others. That is the situation.
I am not one of those who believe that we can respond to all of that merely by military means or by arms—of course not—but they are an essential component of any comprehensive response. Yet, as has been said, we are now below critical mass in numbers, power and range of capabilities. The Army is at its smallest since the Napoleonic era, and even targets for the number of trained personnel are not being met. I was surprised that the Government’s response was not to increase the numbers but to redefine what was meant by “trained”—which rather begs the question about the capability behind it.
In the Navy, our surface fleet has halved, even in the period since my noble friend Lord Robertson and I were at the Ministry of Defence. A very unfair comparison is sometimes made in the form of the old cliché that we have more admirals than we have ships. It is unfair because the service produced by our admirals goes well beyond the number of our surface fleets, but it illustrates where we are now. We have 19 in our surface fleet, possibly 11 at any given time in operational terms, and 35 admirals. Arithmetically, that is not quite double the number of ships, but then of course admirals do not have to be regularly refitted—at least most of them do not. So we effectively have half the number in our surface fleet as we have admirals. Similarly in the RAF, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, pointed out, we have between five and seven operational squadrons, compared to 30 to 35 only 20 to 30 years ago.
Thirdly, at the bottom of this is finance. Let us leave aside whether the efficiency savings quite properly pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord King, can ever be achieved, and let us leave aside even the £700 million cost of the fall in the value of the pound. The truth is that our spending, including our contribution to NATO, has been subject to what I can only kindly call “creative accountancy”—cooking the books. We are now including in the 2% a substantial amount of wages and pensions. I recall that when a Belgian official was explaining to Andrew Neil, the well-known commentator, how 80% of their budget went on pensions, he said, “What you have to understand is that we really don’t have an Armed Forces; we have a very well-defended pension scheme”. I abhor the prospect of that thin end of the wedge being used. I am not suggesting that our expenditure on wages and pensions is anything like that of Belgium, but it is very worrying indeed—and the leadership after Brexit must come into question.
My final point is unashamedly political. It would be easy and very tempting for the Minister in response to point to the shambles of the Labour Party leadership on defence. But I know that he is too big a man to do that—I say that hopefully. I hope that he will be wise enough not to do it for this reason: one can accept that while accepting that almost everyone who will speak here from every side of this House has a long-standing commitment to sound defence and the defence of this country. So first, I ask the Minister with a political P to bear that in mind.
Secondly, I understand that there will always be the normal robust exchanges with the Treasury, but there have been occasions in our history—I was part of one of them with my noble friend Lord Robertson—when our whole defence team was so concerned about the situation that we said to the Treasury, “Thus far and no further—because otherwise you will have to do it without any of the Defence Ministers”. I congratulate the Minister on what he has done so far and hope that he will bear those last two points in mind when it comes to future discussions with his colleagues.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the discussion opened by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson. In my meagre four minutes, I will address merely one issue that has come to the fore recently: the notion of a European army—a European military capability, because of course it would have to have the other sorts of capabilities.
Brussels has made no secret of its wish to set up its own joint headquarters, which would oversee, and presumably in due course command, the shared military assets provided by member states. Details about the wider development of that force are few, but the argument is that it would enable the Union to be taken more seriously as an international force.
Rather more worryingly, it has also been suggested that our agreeing to support the setting up of such a capability could be the price we pay for access to the single market in our Brexit negotiations. Britain’s contribution to any European force is seen as essential for such a capability to be convincing. Apart from the French, we all know that the other EU member states simply do not have the resources or capabilities necessary. I know that the Government are currently opposed to the notion of a European army and I very much hope that they will continue so to be.
First, the development of the force is unclear, but the EU has a track record of getting increasing jurisdiction over its instruments and it is highly probable that, ultimately, Brussels would control the military assets of member states, rather than member states retaining the authority to decide whether they wish to involve themselves in a particular EU security initiative. As a nation, we must retain absolute control over all our Armed Forces. Such powers should never be ceded to anyone. That does not mean that we cannot take part—there have been some very successful examples, including EUFOR in the Balkans and security operations tackling people-smuggling gangs in the Mediterranean and piracy in Somalia. Those are entirely satisfactory.
Secondly, as has already been discussed, we are seeing the not unexpected re-emergence of Russia as a formidable military neighbour of the European Union. But if Europe were to rely solely on the contribution of European member states to defend their interests, it is unlikely they would be able to summon the resources necessary to deter President Putin, who makes no secret of his ambitions for greater influence in the Baltics and eastern Europe. Moreover, the very establishment of a so-called European army could well be perceived in Moscow as a threat to Russian security interests and a sign of a more aggressive European posture. This is the last thing that we need in the coming decade.
Thirdly, the establishment of a fully fledged joint operational headquarters would consume considerable resources. Senior officers would have to be contributed by member states, with all the necessary and expensive infrastructure to support them and their families. In 2008 the EU as a whole spent more than €200 billion on defence. By 2013 the sum had dwindled to €170 billion and all analysts reckon that it will soon shrink to about €150 billion. In the face of such declining resources, creating yet another major EU structure simply does not make sense. To imagine that European nations would be more prepared to increase their defence expenditure for a European military capability when they have shown a collective reluctance to meet the 2% target for their NATO capabilities seems wildly optimistic. But, of course, unless they did so there is no way that that the Union could be taken more seriously as an international force.
Fourthly, and most fundamentally, by establishing its own command structure, the EU would be setting itself in direct competition with NATO, with the duplication of a structure that works well already and has shown itself to be adaptable. Why on earth would we want to replicate it? We have a situation—others will no doubt talk about it well—in which we are suffering from inadequate military capabilities, inadequate financial resources, inefficient use of defence expenditure and limited defence industrial capabilities. Surely we do not want to compound the problem by going to Europe. I ask the Minister to ensure that we stick very firmly by our non-support for the European army and that any suggestion that it could be a bargaining tool in our Brexit negotiations is killed dead.
My Lords, realising the need for brevity, I must begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, for his admirable speech. I will make just one point. I endorse the initiative by NATO to move battalion-size battle groups into each of the three Baltic states and Poland. It is a sign that NATO has, to a limited extent, roused itself in posting around 1,000 personnel in those four countries. I certainly welcome today’s movement of United States troops into Poland, where they will take the lead, with Romania, in one of those four battle groups.
I am concerned that the deployment in the Baltic states will not come earlier than the spring. Is it not possible to hurry up that deployment, particularly of the United Kingdom-led force—with France and Denmark—in Estonia? This is urgent. There is a period ahead of us when the United States Administration, under the new President, will take—as the custom is—until the spring before the political appointments are made. Therefore, there will be a period of uncertainty.
We are all concerned—many noble Lords have spoken about this—at the continued aggressive attitude of Russia, which threatens the NATO powers. Following its outrageous behaviour in Georgia, the Crimea and Ukraine, it has relentlessly threatened the eastern border of NATO. It was, I think, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, who referred to the large number of Russian troops along the border, the continued illegal overflight and incursions and the build-up of military resources, particularly nuclear weapons, in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
Mr Putin will no doubt use his usual posturing to claim that the NATO four-nation battle groups are threatening Russia. He is, as we know, a master of disinformation, but I cannot understand how he might argue that this purely defensive move—which it is—can be construed as threatening Russia. Certainly 1,000 troops in each of the Baltic countries and Poland could hardly be suggested to be an invasion force. What the four battle groups will be is a warning trigger that any incursions by the Russian military, or even their “little green men”, will clearly trigger the Article 5 arrangements and all the consequences of that. I believe that Mr Putin must realise that any repetition of his Ukraine adventures in the territories of NATO members will lead to an immediate, full-hearted response. Surely this admittedly small but very important disposition of troops will cause Mr Putin to hesitate. He would fail to do so at his peril.
My Lords, I am very conscious that I am speaking after a number of people who have much more knowledge of the defence of this country and of defence internationally than I have. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Robertson for what was an excellent start to this debate. The only area to which I wish to address my remarks at the moment is cyberwarfare. However, before I come on to that, in relation to the conventional defence industries, we are awaiting an industrial strategy from the Government. It is critical that we take into account, within that strategy, the very significant effect of the defence industries in the economy of this country. It is something people frequently forget, particularly when they criticise expenditure on defence.
I was very much aware of the reference by my noble friend Lord West of Spithead to the fact that cyber is not the cheap option for defence—indeed, an increased investment in cyberwarfare will probably mean an increase in the defence budget—but I echo my noble friend Lord Robertson in saying that we are in danger of sleepwalking to calamity. That is particularly true of cyberwarfare. Just a few feet along the corridor, in the House of Commons, during the Second World War, democracy was threatened when bombs were dropped on the Houses of Parliament. Indeed—let us be honest about it—the allied bombings in mainland Europe were aimed at critical infrastructure.
The critical infrastructure of this country is so vulnerable that within minutes this Parliament could be brought to an end and this country to a complete halt, because our world is now so interconnected, so networked—from our heating systems to our communications, hospitals and transport. A clever cyberbrain could bring all of them to an end immediately. It is critical to understand that, particularly in the light of the very powerful words of my noble friend Lord Robertson about the situation in Syria. We have seen what has happened to Aleppo: brought to its knees—decimated—by bombing, over a period of months and years. The same consequences could follow the use of cyberwarfare.
My fear is that we are not investing enough in our cyber capabilities. Our enemies undoubtedly are, and there is evidence of their interest in cyber. We need to raise our game. We need to address skill shortages in certain areas. Many commercial cyber businesses can throw huge amounts of money at attracting the most talented, skilled people in cyber. They are expensive. We must make sure that they are part of the defence of our nation.
We have talked today about the decline in the numbers of our Armed Forces. I am not suggesting that we replace the troops on the ground with cyber capability: they must be complementary. How much better could we do, however, in our defence capabilities in the south Atlantic, for example, if we had a more sophisticated cyber capability alongside the garrison? Would we need a garrison in the south Atlantic if we had a more advanced cyber capability?
This country has ethics and morals around the operation of our defensive, and offensive, capabilities. There are ethical issues around the use of cyber as a tool of war or defence. You can cause chaos in a city by cutting off the power supply to hospitals and air traffic control—to any aspects of modern life. We need to ensure that we have that ethical debate as well as the concrete debate about how we fund our cyber capabilities. I hope that in doing so we get ahead of the game. We have heard about the decline in numbers in our defence forces. We see the threat to NATO and from Brexit. This is another threat, but because it does not involve great vessels, aeroplanes or anything that we can touch, and because it is complicated, we tend to forget about it. We cannot afford to do so.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my entries in the register of interests. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, on securing this debate and his excellent speech, and many other noble Lords on their speeches, including the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell of Coatdyke.
The threat to world peace has been vividly described, and we have far too little invested in defence. I was surprised to read in the Times of 6 January 2017 an article by Deborah Haynes with the headline, “Navy battling to save £500 million after bungled deal for ships”. I would describe the article as authoritative because it included much detail and quoted a former First Sea Lord. There was speculation that one option was to cut the size of the Royal Marines. The noble Earl, along with the Secretary of State, are political members of the Defence Board. Both of them know that recruiting and retention for the Royal Marines, despite the high standards required, is excellent. They know that the Royal Marines need core manpower strength to fulfil many of the specialist roles with which they are tasked. They also know the uniquely high proportion of badged members of UK Special Forces that is drawn from the Royal Marines and the uniquely high proportion of marines who pass the arduous selection process.
My noble friend Lord Slim, a great man, who knows more than most about these things, has often reminded the House that if you require Special Forces troops you need a sufficient pool of talent to recruit them from. The same is true of the other specialist troops drawn from the corps, not least the mountain and arctic warfare specialists. As the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell of Coatdyke would be interested to know, we also have our own cyberforce, drawn from highly intelligent members of our corps.
There is insufficient time to list the other vital tasks performed by the Royal Marines, other than the main one: manning the 3rd Commando Brigade. I very much hope that the noble Earl, and the Secretary of State, will not permit any cuts to the corps. It would be deeply destructive to punish success and destabilise the morale of one of the few fully manned formations of the highest quality in UK defence—and, for that matter, elsewhere.
I have little time left but I ask the noble Earl to confirm that if there are barracks closures—and that is likely—new state-of-the-art barracks will be built in suitable locations with all the necessary communications, computer, fitness and other important facilities, and with proximity to challenging training areas. Will there be wide consultation with the chain of command before any final decisions are taken?
Finally, I understand that the new aircraft carriers will be able to take a commando unit with all attached ranks, weapons and helicopters. I understand that they will have all the necessary command communications and control systems that are crucial for amphibious operations. Is there currently a plan to replace the landing craft capability of the assault ships—the landing platform docks? That role is currently provided by HMS “Bulwark” and HMS “Albion”. If we as a country desire expeditionary capability, we must have the specialist and best troops to do the job.
My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, on his admirable introduction and thank him for tabling this important debate. Inevitably with such a predictably large number of speakers and the four-minute time limit, there is little that is new or unknown that anyone can add, but I hope that the aggregation of some common concerns will have impressed itself on government.
Quite apart from being an old soldier, I must declare an interest as a member of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, and I would like to begin my contribution from that viewpoint.
Like many other members of the Joint Committee, I had hoped that government would have learned its lesson from the disastrous 2010 SDSR, which contained so many imponderables and loopholes. Naively perhaps, we hoped that hints that the 2015 SDSR would follow and be based on a national security strategy would result in just that, because in logic other requirements, such as the comprehensive spending review, could have been based on the national security strategy as well. But no, they were published simultaneously, and I submit that 23 June 2016 rendered both out of date.
Many factors have to be taken into account when planning the defence of the United Kingdom, on which the capabilities of our Armed Forces must be based—not least partnership arrangements with neighbouring countries. Until 23 June, these were with fellow members of the European Union, but now bilateral arrangements will have to be made with each. It is true that some are members of NATO, but its continued existence, in its current US-reliant form, must be in doubt after 20 January, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and others have pointed out. It is also true that all are members of the OSCE, but since the early 1990s in former Yugoslavia this has not featured on the military horizon.
In thinking about the current inadequacies in each of our Armed Forces, which other noble Lords have spelled out in some detail, I could not help casting my mind back to the options for change exercise in 1991, to which my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig referred. As Adjutant-General, I was responsible for implementing the reduction in the size of the Army by a third over three years, from 156,000 to 104,000. Our key worries about implementing the requirement can be encapsulated in two words—uncertainty and sustainability. Uncertainty coloured our thinking about force structure, in the context of the lessons of the first Gulf War, which included the inadequate size of infantry battalions, not having been assimilated, and the emerging requirement to provide contingencies to peacekeeping operations and post-conflict reconstruction.
Sustainability coloured our thinking about the ratio between cuts to teeth or tail. Noble Lords will therefore appreciate that we wondered whether we were being required to make a jump too far, in isolation of consideration of the current international situation. To jump to today, plans to cut the Army yet further, to 82,000, were made before 23 June, and I submit that that needs to be rethought in the light of the changed international situation.
Of course resources are the key, and we all know that there is unlikely to be any more money. I have mentioned before in this House that Field-Marshal Carver, whose military assistant I was once privileged to be, had two definitions of the word “affordability”—can you afford it, and can you afford to give up what you have to give up in order to afford it? One of my main reasons for calling for a review of both the national security strategy and SDSR 2015 is to enable an affordability test to be carried out on the capabilities of the United Kingdom Armed Forces planned before 23 June 2016 to determine whether they are appropriate in current and future international situations.
My Lords, I draw the attention of your Lordships’ House to the interests I have declared in the register. I act as an adviser and consultant to Lockheed Martin here in the United Kingdom. I start by associating myself with the words of my noble friends Lord Robertson, Lord West and Lord Reid, and those of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, all of whom I agree very strongly with.
I believe that the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review is a more coherent and impressive strategy and framework than the 2010 document, which, as we all know, was largely designed to make painful and difficult cuts in the capability, capacity and strength of the UK Armed Forces. The most important element in the 2015 strategy is the Government’s very welcome and positive commitment to ensuring that the United Kingdom and our Armed Forces are able to contribute large-scale expeditionary and amphibious war-fighting capabilities against a technologically equivalent power. That is a very important commitment and aspiration. But, as we all know, herein lies the rub: even though that capacity and capability are vital for Britain’s long-term strategic goals, after several years of cuts to our defence forces we are trying to deploy and maintain that capability with pitifully few platforms and too few trained and deployable personnel.
If one looks at the strategy that the Government have set out—consciously and deliberately limiting salary increases to our Armed Forces—at a stroke, it made the work of the pay review body superfluous. They are restricting the important elements that will attract and recruit the people we want at a time when wage growth is significant and employment is high, so there is a very serious problem here. We have too few platforms and too few people who are readily deployable and trained.
In the time I have, I will make two or three points. Some have been made by noble Lords but it is worth dwelling on them. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, was the first to mention the importance of attrition. As far as I can see, no allowance at all is made in the strategy for any attrition of our key weapons and platforms. In times of peace that may be fantastic, but at times of war it is not such a clever strategy—particularly if, heaven forbid, we found ourselves pitted against a technologically equivalent power; that is not an impossibility.
Of the three armed services, my real concern today is the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy is under the greatest pressure of all the three services and has been cut disastrously to below a sustainable level, both in platforms and in people. I do not dispute for a second that the Type 45 destroyers and the Type 26 frigates will be much more capable platforms, delivering much more kinetic power. But there is one problem: they can only be in one place at a time, and we simply do not have enough platforms, particularly if we have to prepare for the possibility of the carrier battle groups. The Queen Elizabeth class ships would have to be defended entirely by Royal Navy assets. I think we are going to struggle to do that, and it is critical that the Government address that point.
The RAF is already operating flat out on its existing missions. The air police work in the Baltics, in Syria and in Iraq, and provide quick-reaction aircraft in the Falklands. Those are all fairly modest operations, and I do not see any spare capacity there at all. Although I strongly welcome General Carter’s new focus on deploying the Army at divisional strength with new strike brigades, no provision at all seems to be made in SDSR 2015 regarding where the air defence role is going to come from. Our Rapier forces are fully committed to defending the Falklands. Pulling them out of there would send a very unfortunate signal.
There is more work to be done. I do not think the strategy is complete. Of course, Ministers will have to make a very difficult set of decisions about resources. But the bottom line is simply this: these are the most dangerous times since the end of the Cold War. We are taking more risks with the defence of the United Kingdom than we reasonably ought to be taking.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, for introducing so ably this important debate today. I speak with some trepidation as, like the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, I do not have the level of experience in defence of many others who are taking part in this debate.
I begin by paying tribute to the many outstandingly brave men and women who serve in our Armed Forces. Through visits with the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, I have had the privilege of seeing the extraordinary level of service they provide for our country.
It is important to acknowledge the commitment that this Government have made to spend 2% of GDP annually on defence—one of only five NATO countries to do so last year. The significant new investment in defence equipment is also to be welcomed, as is the pledge not to reduce the overall size of the regular Armed Forces. However, I also understand that there is some concern over what exactly should be included in defence spending and whether there are enough resources for the spending commitments that have been made, and I worry whether any shortfall will lead to further cuts.
We live in a dangerous and unstable world today with conflict in many countries, as we have already heard from other noble Lords. A consequence of this turmoil has been the refugee crisis; the UN estimates that there are approximately 65 million refugees across the world today, more than at any time since World War II, with thousands trying to come to Europe. It is hard to know exactly how wars will be fought in the years to come. As we have already heard, Russia again seems to be a threatening presence, and several hundred of our troops will join the NATO exercise in Estonia—our largest long-term deployment to a Russian neighbour since the end of the Cold War—to ensure our preparedness for a conventional war. Meanwhile, terrorism and cyberwarfare are two of the biggest threats we now face.
The year 2015 saw the formation of the 77th Brigade, as the MOD realised that,
“the actions of others in a modern battlefield can be affected in ways that are not necessarily violent”.
When one looks at how effectively Daesh has utilised social media, the importance of this specialist work cannot be overestimated. Our forces need to have all the tools to counter complex threats. Perhaps now more than ever, our Armed Forces must ensure a good understanding of other cultures. They are already deployed in more than 40 countries across the world in a range of roles, including building relationships and detecting early vibrations in order to help prevent conflict. Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have taught us lessons about the dangers of failing to understand how our interventions will impact on a country.
It is the people in the Armed Forces who are so important. Thus it is imperative that we recruit and retain the right people. That can be challenging. The previous cuts to the Armed Forces created insecurity, and in today’s competitive world, industry can pay much higher salaries for those with technology skills and the engineers that we so crucially need. Are we able to recruit the people we need? Should more be done to attract reservists and support their employers? Most importantly, we need to keep the best. We must ensure that we look after those who serve, and their families, well. We rightly have a duty of care towards them.
I and other noble Lords debated the Armed Forces covenant in your Lordships’ House earlier this week. Perhaps we should do more to recognise the strain that military life places on families. It is with the support of their families that our military are able to do their jobs, and we in turn need to do all we can to support them and make their lives easier. Tomorrow’s future warfare is hard to predict in such a fast-changing and interconnected world. We must ensure that defences are in place to protect the UK, through adequate resources, a flexible approach to warfare and personal support for those who serve and their families.
My Lords, I join with others in thanking my noble friend Lord Robertson for this debate today and for introducing such wide-ranging coverage of the issues that we face. I was not at all surprised that he included personnel in that. As the very new chairman of the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body, I was called in by the first Defence Secretary of the new Labour Government to be told that the staging of the pay award by the Tory Government that had caused so much demoralisation in the Armed Forces for several years was going to stop. Whatever the review body recommended, our Armed Forces would get—and the Labour Government honoured that agreement right the way through.
On the personnel that we have and the capability of our Armed Forces, we can have the best policies in the world, get a real 2% defence budget, make the changes and invest, but unless we have the continuation of professional Armed Forces personnel, backed and supported by their families, we will not succeed. Part of the worldwide reputation our Armed Forces have for their professionalism, talent and whatever they bring wherever they go is because we have this concordat.
The Armed Forces have their covenant, which is welcome and has been improved over the past few years, and they have the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body, which is independent. There is a report due out shortly but I looked at its report from last year and it makes worrying reading. I looked at the previous three as well and they make incrementally worrying reading.
What do Armed Forces personnel and their families see? They—and I—see a Prime Minister who has been in office for nearly a year and has not made one major speech on international security or defence. How are they supposed to feel about that when so much of our security as a nation depends on them and their ability? Many of them see the 2% as smoke and mirrors. They do not understand why pensions should be included in defence spending. An accountant may be able to argue that but you will never convince our people, or many of us in the Chamber today, that that is spending on defence equipment and personnel. They saw last year the announcement by the Government that from 2016, for four years, the maximum pay award they will get year on year will be 1%. Our Armed Forces people are not slow off the mark; they know what is going on and in evidence to the review body they asked why that should be imposed on them when the very people who are imposing it—MPs—are getting more than 1%. Yet we expect our Armed Forces to continue to give the commitment that they have given.
The review body is independent. It has been respected by Governments across the piece. Yet in 2010, and again last year, the Treasury quite arbitrarily, without reference to the review body, cut the commitment bonuses—the commitment to go and do the job. It is in the report. It makes worrying reading indeed. Just 14% of our Armed Forces think that morale is high. If that were a company, it would be looking at itself and at what it could do to improve it. Just 36% were satisfied with their lifestyle and remuneration package. Just under half of them were dissatisfied with the impact on their partner’s career. Many partners have to put their career in abeyance when their Armed Forces partner is serving.
Paragraph 2.14 of the report was one of the most worrying aspects. The review body said:
“One of the most powerful messages … was that personnel were losing trust in their employer”—
the MoD, the Government. So I ask the Minister: do the Government intend to maintain the 1% for the next four years? If they do, do they not agree that that will affect recruitment and retention? Will the impact that the drop in the value of the pound—£1.50 the night of Brexit; £1.20 last night—will have on the MoD budget have to be met out of the MoD budget?
My Lords, we all know that this issue has huge significance for the UK as we approach a new US Administration. As a layman, I am as concerned as anyone that NATO itself may be reconfigured under a new US President. The litmus test may well be in countries such as Ukraine. Even outside the EU, I believe we should remain true to the doctrine of EU enlargement and maintain the closest possible links with eastern Europe, Georgia and the Baltic states.
The prevention of war, our security and even the containment of migration are just as important for our Armed Forces as the ability to engage directly in conflict. I would like to make the case for the UK’s increasing involvement in peacekeeping, specifically in the UN and EU missions in conflict states. The 2015 SDSR vision describes a United Kingdom with “global reach and influence”, and it is right that we see the wider context of our defence policy. The strongest argument for increasing the UK’s role in UN and EU peacekeeping is the need to strengthen the international protection of civilians in civil war. A pressing example of this is in South Sudan, where we have committed up to 370 personnel to UNMISS. Training in the protection of civilians and in combatting sexual violence is now the priority following massacres and rapes that have prompted investigations and have caused aid agencies such as Christian Aid and Oxfam considerable concern.
Peacekeeping activity has one material advantage over the deployment of conventional forces. In certain areas such as the CSSF, the new version of the joint Conflict Pool, it can draw on the international aid budget. That indeed is one justification for keeping that budget above 0.7% of GNI.
Our security already depends on global co-operation, but is security taking over from conflict prevention? There are signs that Downing Street is taking a greater interest in the uses of the CSSF for reasons of security. I mentioned the containment of migration. The EU’s Khartoum process in north Africa is one diplomatic response to migration currently favoured by the FCO. This programme cultivates closer relations with Sudan and even tighter border controls along some of the continent’s longest frontiers. I am not sure that the programme will work, for all sorts of reasons—although the UK is currently chairing the process.
What about the EU CSDP missions in the Mediterranean, the sub-Sahara and the Horn of Africa? In the past 10 years, we have taken part in 11 EU missions, including Operation Sophia and Operation Atalanta, which were notable achievements. These are programmes to which we subscribed troops, personnel and resources successfully. Will the Minister confirm that our participation will continue, at least on a voluntary basis?
The commitment to South Sudan doubles the number of personnel assigned to UN-mandated operations, but this must be seen in context. The numbers are well below the thousands committed under John Major’s premiership in the 1990s. After the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan, our Armed Forces, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, said, are already developing a more subtle approach to defence policy through the use of smaller, irregular, specialised detachments that might be used in peacekeeping.
Finally, I hope that we shall stand by our friends in the Balkans, whatever our relations with the EU. Will the Minister confirm that our commitments to the programmes in Kosovo and Ukraine and to the monitoring mission in Georgia will continue? In defence, as in trade, we should not neglect our current partnerships in the search for new horizons.
My Lords, agree with it or not, Brexit was a decision to determine our own path. This debate requires us to consider critically whether we have the capacity to determine our own strategic path in the realm of defence and security. The extent of our global reach must reflect our economic and strategic interests as well as our security and military concerns in these changing times, which now make these considerations, as one analyst has put it, “supercharged”.
My anxiety is that there is a gap, if not sometimes a gulf, between rhetoric about our concerns and ambitions on the one hand and our constrained capability on the other. For example, not long ago the Foreign Secretary declared that we are “back east of Suez”. It is true that the Gulf and Asia are regions of growing global importance, and this country has new defence centres in Dubai and Singapore. We have some Army presence in Oman and joint training with Singapore after 70 years of this co-operation with only the US. A naval support facility has opened in Bahrain and the new aircraft carriers will have what is called “a presence” in the Pacific.
We may welcome and applaud the strategic intent but our capacity to sustain and resource effective presence and capacity remains limited. Our only garrison in Asia, in Brunei, is funded by the Sultan. We have small quantities of advanced, expensive equipment, of which the new carriers are the most obvious example, but sparse support capacity. In a navy of 19 surface vessels, an effective carrier group needs most of the deployable capacity. My spellchecker has substituted “deplorable capacity” for my intended words “deployable capacity”. The iPad technology seems to know a thing or two. We are talking not only about defence and security capacity. Intelligence, influence, diplomacy and trade considerations are part of our strategic reach and so affected by financial limitations.
This is surely the time to recognise the opportunities open to us, as well as the threats, and with realism to reconsider our ability to resource needs and ambitions. I, with others, including my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, who regrets the necessity for his late withdrawal from the debate, have already suggested a new SDSR that addresses a global situation so changed in a short time. Peace in Europe and US commitment to NATO are no longer reliable bases for our policy. We must surely conclude that, as we see a more assertive Russia to the east and a new American President questioning the orthodoxy we have long accepted.
I am not proposing a crude attempt at empire restoration, but rather a recognition of opportunity and the need for us to resource new partnership and leadership roles. I need hardly add, too, that increased defence spending would move us beyond the mere preservation of an industrial base by stimulating innovation, employment, morale and prosperity in regions that have suffered most from deindustrialisation. Our words, aspirations and actions must be much more consistent.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, for introducing his debate. I remind the House that I might still technically have an interest.
I return to just one issue that I raised at our last defence debate about the need for a large-scale overseas deployment exercise. That is where a division with at least two brigades is moved along a land line of communication of at least 500 kilometres and then the two brigades are manoeuvred around the area of operations. In other words, how do we know that our aspiration to be able to deploy at divisional level against a peer opponent is realistic? Computer-simulated or assisted exercises are no substitute. The British Army’s deployment on Exercise Saif Sareea in 2001 significantly improved the outcome of Operation Telic 1. Vital lessons were learned about equipment capability and hygiene in desert conditions.
We still have a fabulous officer corps and we should be proud of them. However, while they may be experienced in very difficult and complex operations, they are not experienced in large-scale deployments, moving brigades around the area of operations. That is a serious weakness.
Unlike many Armed Forces, we maintain a comprehensive capability and can deal with most threats. Most importantly, our capabilities are balanced—a strength that many overlook or are unaware of. But, to be a bit Rumsfeldian, there are known weaknesses, of which the staff are aware and are taking a known, calculated risk. The maritime patrol aircraft would be a good example. The risk has now become so unacceptable that something has been done about it. But there are also unknown, or at least unacknowledged, weaknesses. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I forget about the sexy G3 stuff and produce a boring and, I hope, fictitious G4 example. I do not know whether my illustrative example is real, but neither does the Minister.
Take, for instance, a rough-terrain container handling truck. This equipment is absolutely mission-critical to the logistic operation. It is very low population, especially in theatre, it is expensive and it requires specialist equipment to move it around because it is rather large and awkward, but it is not immune to breakdown or operational attrition. How can we be sure that we have enough of this equipment and other types of specialist equipment, especially if we have not tested its capability in realistic conditions on exercise? It may well be that an SO1 somewhere is well aware that we have too few, but perhaps, given that there are two spare ones in the depot, no one really listens to the problem. It is unfortunate to experience serious logistic problems on a deployment exercise, but an absolute disaster on an operation. How can we be sure that our logistics work if we do not test them realistically?
Yes, such exercises cost money, but not very much compared to the positive effect and benefits. If we do not demonstrate the capability to deploy at large or even medium scale, we still have the cost of having that capability but without our opponents being deterred by our conventional capability or our friends feeling that they need our capability. We do not necessarily need to deploy in strength in, say, the Baltic states if we can demonstrate that we are able to deploy a potent capability. Therefore I hope my noble friend will tell me that I am ill informed if I believe that the forthcoming Exercise Saif Sareea in the Middle East is to be a pathetic battle group rather than a proper medium-scale deployment.
My Lords, when the military capacity of a nation or an alliance of nations becomes demonstrably inadequate, then it serves not as a means of defence but as an encouragement to the ambitions of its potential adversaries. Britain’s military capacity is utterly inadequate to meet the threats that are posed to us and our European allies by an expansionist Russia. We have allowed our Armed Forces to decline because for many years following the demise of the Soviet Union we failed to perceive any major threats to our security and that of our allies.
Nowadays, Vladimir Putin’s expansionist policies are posing a threat to the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Such expansionist policies were pursued by Russia at the end of the Napoleonic era, when it annexed what are now Ukraine, Finland, Belarus, Poland and Lithuania. However, on Russia’s withdrawal from participation in the First World War, the Bolsheviks, who were eager for peace, signed away these possessions to Germany and its allies in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. A main agenda of post-revolutionary Soviet Russia was to regain these lost territories. By the end of the Second World War, it had achieved most of this and made further acquisitions in eastern Europe. Most of these gains were ceded at the end of the Soviet era.
I am recounting this history because it explains the desires and intentions of Putin’s regime, which aims at regaining lost territories and re-establishing Russian imperial hegemony. A factor that affects the Baltic states is the presence of large numbers of ethnic Russians. There is preponderance of ethnic Russians in the northern part of Estonia, close to the Russian border. Notwithstanding their allegiance to Estonia, these people could provide a ready pretext for a Russian annexation.
Wedged between Poland and Lithuania is the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, previously known as Königsberg and once part of East Prussia, which nowadays has an exclusively Russian population. The Baltic Germans of East Prussia, who were the pre-war population, were expelled en masse at the end of the war. Kaliningrad is now a heavily fortified Russian base containing nuclear-capable Russian missiles and probably much else besides of which we should be fearful.
NATO is committed to defending the sovereignty of the Baltic states. Britain has contributed 500 combat troops to the region, to which it has also consigned four Typhoon jets for periods of four months in the year. At any one time, only two of these jets are operational. This provision, together with the lesser contributions of our NATO allies, does not constitute a realistic deterrent.
If the US were to disengage from NATO, as Donald Trump proposes that it should, then Britain would be expected to become a natural leader of the alliance. We are ill-equipped for such a role. The leader of the Labour party has proposed that, rather than sending troops to defend the borders of the Baltic States, we should aim at mutual demilitarisation. There could be no greater encouragement to Russia to pursue its territorial ambitions.
My Lords, not one member of the UK Armed Forces was killed in operations in 2016, thankfully. It was the first time since 1968 that no one had died, although sadly there were deaths on exercises. And yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, said with crystal clarity in his brilliant opening speech—and I thank him for leading this debate—the challenges that we face globally are, in his words, a “bonfire of certainties”.
The head of the Defence Select Committee, Julian Lewis, said that the last time this country faced a threatening Russia as well as a major terrorist campaign, the UK invested between 4.3% and 5.1% of GDP in defence. A measure of just how low our expectations have fallen is that here we are celebrating the minimum of 2%, and there are debates about how this 2% is measured. He suggests that 3% would be a much better level of spending. Does the Minister agree?
General Sir Richard Barrons, retired head of the UK’s Joint Forces Command, said that we are “dangerously squeezed” in manpower. Can the Minister confirm that there is a shortfall of 22% in our Maritime Reserves and 12% in the Army Reserves? As far as the Defence Medical Services are concerned, we no longer have military hospitals and what exists now is within the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham—attached to the University of Birmingham medical school, where I am proud to be chancellor of the university. There is a shortage of medical doctors being recruited, retained and motivated. Such undermanning has led to a reliance on Reserve Forces, which are also underrecruited. Can the Minister confirm this? This negatively impacts our capability.
Sir Richard Barrons also said in 2016 that the UK and its NATO allies had,
“no effective plan for defending Europe from a Russian attack because of splits in the alliance”.
He said that, while Russia could,
“deploy tens of thousands of troops into NATO territory within 48 hours, backed by warplanes and ships”,
NATO would take “months” to do that.
Professor Malcolm Chalmers of RUSI has said that the overall capability in defence and diplomacy has been severely restricted after Brexit. As we have heard before, RUSI also said that the position we have held as number 2 in NATO for more than 60 years could be transferred to another EU member to retain links to the EU. Can the Minister give his view on that?
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, spoke about the EU army. We have had the best of both worlds being part of the European Union. We are not in Schengen, we are not in the euro, and we are not into any further integration. There is no way we would have been into an EU army; it would have been a bridge far too far. And yet, we have to acknowledge that the peace for the last 70 years has not been because of NATO alone; it has been because of the existence of the European Union and NATO.
We are the fifth largest economy in the world—we were the fifth largest economy in the world, but because of the uncertainty the world sees before we leave the EU and the devaluation of the pound, we are no longer fifth. India has overtaken the UK as the fifth largest economy in the world and will soon overtake the UK as the fifth largest defence spender as well.
Can the Minister say whether we are doing enough in furthering defence collaboration with universities, particularly with regard to innovation and research? At Birmingham we have a defence club. The noble Lord, Lord West, has spoken there and the CGS General Sir Nick Carter will be speaking there next week. Collaboration would help with our strategic thinking and with our defence manufacturing base. Manufacturing is still 10% of our GDP; we must not lose that. The 2010 SDSR was negligent—thankfully, the 2015 one was much better—as 2010 was all about means before ends.
I conclude on the covenant. We have had a debate on the covenant. The covenant is wonderful; it is the promise that we make as a people to our Armed Forces for the service and sacrifice that they make. But are we doing enough to publicise the covenant within the Army family, within the troops, within the families, within the veterans and, most importantly, with the public so that we never take the Armed Forced for granted?
Finally, we are a strong soft power. We have oodles of soft power, but that soft power is no good without the hard power. The combination of those two makes Britain not a superpower, but definitely a global power, and we must never lose that.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Robertson for his excellent introduction to this debate. I also take another opportunity to thank him for his particularly distinguished and longstanding service to this country and the international community in the roles he has fulfilled. If we are paying tributes, it is also right to take the opportunity of this debate to put on record, without qualification, our appreciation and gratitude to all our service men and women and their families.
I have never been persuaded that percentages are a good estimate of what is necessary and how things ought to be done. It seems to me that we have to analyse very toughly what the real threats and dangers are in the uncertain future ahead, and then ask ourselves what we must do for ourselves in that situation and for the collective effort—the UN, NATO and the rest. That analysis is the starting point. What are the real threats, dangers and issues we face and what is necessary to meet them? We then have to face up to the issue of cost. Of course, a stable, secure and inclusive society in Britain is very much part of our longstanding defence.
I suppose I have to declare an interest in that, way back in the 1970s, I was Minister for the Navy, and I take a particular interest in it. I am totally persuaded that in the uncertain future ahead, the ability to deploy widely across the world with independent operating platforms is essential. Such platforms need the equipment and personnel to operate from them. What is perhaps a challenge is that the immense costs of our two carriers as currently planned could end up as a trap, because we could become so inflexible that we are not able to respond quickly and adequately to the real issues that confront us. Hence, the saga with the Type 45 destroyers is absolutely deplorable, because of course they are essential to the defence effort.
I will just say this as well. We have been talking about the essential availability of personnel and equipment, and it is irresponsible and wicked to send our service men and women into action unless we are confident about the ability to provide the necessary quantity of personnel and equipment. We also have a special duty of care and responsibility to look to the young people we recruit. We know that a disproportionate number of the young people going into the armed services are going into the infantry and that the attrition level in the infantry is higher than in any other part of the services. We must take that point very seriously indeed. We have spent hours in this House debating the care of children and our responsibility to them, and these people are very often little more than children. We have a duty of care and a responsibility to them, just as great as to anyone in society as a whole.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, for his brilliant speech. A key factor that he commented on is that percentages are meaningless. I am fed up hearing about this famous 2%—it is the capabilities that really matter. We had such a debate on 8 December. I re-read the whole of the debate, which I had the honour to lead. Much of it has been reiterated today. The noble Lord, Lord King, brought up an issue that we spoke about before, and I checked it out. Given that the key factor of government following the Prime Minister’s kissing the Queen’s hand is defence of the realm, it is absolutely ludicrous that we have only had two hours of debate on this issue. I checked with the Library and there has not been an open debate in government time on this subject, with no time limit, in anybody’s living memory. That is ridiculous and I ask the Minister for that to be considered. Leaving myself to one side, we have here so much experience and knowledge, and in these dangerous times it is ludicrous that we do not have such a debate.
This is a wealthy country. On the idea that somehow we have not got the moneys and we ought to cut back, it depends how we want to allocate it, which has been talked about. In practice, of course, it could be allocated. The Treasury does not have the last word about what does or does not happen, any more than a finance director does in a company. Following noble Lords’ comments earlier, if we get it wrong, the public will never forgive us. I would put it more strongly than that. If we get it wrong and the leadership gets it wrong, that would be criminal, to use a strong word—the idea that we cannot possibly have that sort of support. Having said that, with courageous leadership—and it is up to No. 10 and others to take note of what we have talked about today—it can certainly be done. We have said before that we need more moneys. Unquestionably, the real figures are such that to meet even the present programme we need at least another £2 billion a year. Could it be found? Of course it could, if, as I said before, it was said to the chiefs, “I want us to go on to a war footing tomorrow morning”. Of course, they would do a marvellous job, as I have said before, but we would be putting them in a pretty difficult position.
I ask the Minister whether we can have a major debate in due course. I will not go on; I have said it all before and many noble Lords have said it today. There should be a major debate on these subjects, in the interests of the realm.
My Lords, I congratulate and pay tribute to my noble friend, Lord Robertson, on a masterly introduction to and analysis of the current situation. It was a fitting beginning to a very interesting debate. The noble Lord, Lord Sterling, and I were both founding members of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. A few months ago that Committee reported and said that the Armed Forces,
“will not be able to fulfil the wide-ranging tasks described in the NSS & SDSR 2015 … with the capabilities, manpower and funding”,
allocated. Doubtless, in half an hour’s time, the Minister will tell this House that the Government spend so much money that we are the fifth largest defence spender on the planet and that we are one of only five NATO members that spend at least 2% of GDP on defence. Both of course are true; but a number of Members of this House, over the last hour, have indicated that the 2% figure is not really what it seems. As we know, it includes £820 million on war pensions, £400 million on our United Nations peacekeeping missions and £200 million for pensions for retired Ministry of Defence civilian staff. For the very first time, it includes spending on the single intelligence account and on one-off items that cannot be counted towards the 2% in years to come.
On top of that, it should be seen in the context of so-called efficiency savings, which the noble Lords, Lord King and Lord Reid, both referred to earlier, which are the most nebulous things in government accounting. It is not surprising to me that the Defence Committee of the House of Commons said that this was “shifting the goalposts”, my honourable friend Nia Griffith, the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, called it a “sleight of hand” and my noble friend Lord Reid today has called it “creative accountancy”. It is fiddling the figures a little, I suppose, and I would be interested in the Minister’s response on those points.
The 2% figure should not be a target: it should be a minimum. That is the importance of it. In The House magazine back in the autumn, this was written: “It was a Labour Government who committed to the 2%, and a Labour Government who were a founding member of NATO—every time Labour have been in government, they have taken a responsible view of defence”. Those words were written by the current Conservative Secretary of State for Defence. He was of course right and, despite the rather daft musings of people in my leader’s office, I am sure that my noble friend Lord Touhig will also confirm that this responsible view of defence is the view of the Labour Party.
My Lords, speaking as I do towards the end of a long list of wise and knowledgeable contributors to this debate, I run the risk of having little new to add and merely repeating what has already been said with such eloquence by others. But there is one important point that bears additional emphasis because it is all too often forgotten—or, if remembered, it is usually paid only lip service. Throughout the history of warfare, surprise has been one of the most critical factors in achieving success. This may seem a statement of the obvious, but we should bear in mind that our opponents and potential enemies also recognise the importance of this dictum and, not unnaturally, they will usually seek to surprise us. They will also, if they are sensible, try to attack us where we are weakest. We should therefore not expect to be able to predict the location, timing or nature of any future conflict.
Most past wars have surprised us to some degree, and we have found ourselves inadequately prepared for the demands that they make on us. This is not, or at least not entirely, because of a lack of planning or foresight. The future is to a degree not only unknown but unknowable, and no amount of horizon scanning or scenario planning can make up for that. I am not suggesting that such activities are unnecessary; there are after all many facets of future conflict that can and should be subjected to careful analysis and for which we should prepare. One such example is the increasing importance of the cyber domain, to which several speakers have already referred, and on which I will merely say I entirely agree with them.
However, we run the risk of persuading ourselves that because we have new challenges we can forget about old ones. Just because the cyber domain is such a promising field for our enemies does not mean that we will never again face a violent attack in the physical world. It does not mean that our use of airspace above the battlefield will never again be contested or that antisubmarine warfare is a thing of the past. None of these, or similar, propositions is safe. We must prepare for the future as best we can, but we must also prepare to be surprised.
There is, however, an answer to this conundrum. The most important capabilities that we will need in our Armed Forces in the years ahead are the ones that have served us so well in the past: agility and adaptability. In this context, agility is our ability to use existing systems in new and innovative ways, and adaptability refers to the process of altering those systems quickly in order to meet the unexpected and unforeseen.
The design and production lead times for weapon platforms are long, and we have to do our best to match them with future needs. At the same time, we must recognise that something will come along that will surprise us, and make allowances for this. We therefore need a broad spectrum of capabilities that can be adapted rapidly to meet new challenges as they arise and as they are recognised, and the agility of mind, of doctrine and of training to employ our capabilities as the situation demands, not just as we have done in the past.
Finally, and as has been said frequently during this debate, all of this requires investment—in equipment, in research and development, in industries on which we rely for our adaptability, and in our people. We are currently doing a little better in this regard, but still not well enough; there are danger signs on the horizon. The noble Earl the Minister will no doubt point rightly to the quality of our forces. Quality is indeed more important than quantity, provided that we have lots of it. In this uncertain and dangerous world there can be no greater priority for the Government than matching our defence investment to the high level of risk that we face.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, for the opportunity to engage in this discussion about the future. I also acknowledge the work that our Armed Forces carry out on our behalf, away from home and here in the UK, day in and day out, with little or no complaint or question. We also need to thank their families who are their rock and their support. As a team, they are the best.
The picture is not particularly rosy. The current international situation is becoming less stable and predictable. The post-Cold War global order may be at risk. Institutions such as NATO and the EU are weaker and global threats to the UK are increasing. Russia has re-emerged as a conventional and strategic antagonist. Right now all eyes are on the US, but the President-elect needs to be our ally and we should be his.
Unconventional terrorist threats continue, requiring international co-operation. In addition, climate change and mass migration are growing issues, which may effectively be tackled only multilaterally. Within this context, our Armed Forces do not currently have the capability to address the range of threats. Spending is down across NATO and the UK conventional Armed Forces are the smallest in the P5—and, of course, there is the Brexit factor to consider, which reduces our buying power.
Technologically and in terms of equipment, we do not necessarily hold an advantage. To ensure that the UK is able to insure itself in an unstable world, while promoting stability, trade and liberal values overseas, we must do everything possible to preserve and build our alliances and international institutions, while re-evaluating current defence policy in light of fast-changing global circumstances. New strategies should be developed to stay ahead of adversaries, not a commitment to fighting yesterday’s war.
In a globalised world, the UK Armed Forces will need the ability to deploy rapidly and take quick and parallel action across the globe. There is also a need to have sufficient conventional capabilities to be able to respond to any situation without having to resort to nuclear deterrence—short of course of the threat of nuclear attack.
The rise of hybrid warfare, cyberattacks on western interests and large-scale online assaults on allied nations’ systems mean that cyberspace should be considered an additional, non-kinetic strategic space. Informational systems and institutions must develop resilience against cyberattacks and the effects of anti-satellite warfare. Lawfare—the strategy of using law rather than traditional means to achieve an operational objective—is likely to be used more prominently.
On a more specific level, the UK must retain the ability to respond to any Russian attempt to test NATO’s commitment to Article 5 defence of the Baltics and other allied countries and interests in a resolute but proportionate way. To preserve the domestic and global economy, the UK must have the ability to ensure safe and open trading routes across the global commons, especially in the South China Sea and the Arabian Gulf.
The challenges faced by the UK are global, and require close co-operation with allies. These include the ongoing threat of foreign-initiated and foreign-inspired domestic terrorism, global terrorism, the migrant and refugee crises, climate change, and countering piracy. UK deployments of the early 21st century have largely been asymmetrical conflicts, with elements of peacekeeping, counterterror and nation building. UK defence policy may have focused on specialising in this operational environment at the expense of other capabilities. It should be reassessed in the light of future conflicts and not only in the light of counterterror operations.
In 2015, our defence spending was equivalent to about £46.5 billion, or 2.05% of GDP. In 2015-16, 56,860 UK Armed Forces members were deployed around the world. In April 2016, the number of regulars was 151,000, with 84,000 reserves—the smallest force of the UNSC P5. This was a reduction on the previous year.
Just before Christmas, General Sir Richard Barrons produced a private memorandum for the Secretary of State for Defence criticising the state of UK defence policy. Some of the key criticisms were that the MoD was working to “preserve the shop window” while critical technical and logistical capabilities had been “iteratively stripped out”. Sir Richard said that there was no military plan to defend the UK in a conventional conflict. He wrote:
“Counter-terrorism is the limit of up-to-date plans and preparations to secure UK airspace, waters and territory … There is no top to bottom command and control mechanism, preparation or training in place for the UK armed forces”,
to defend home territory. I would add that recruitment is sluggish at best, in particular in specialists and engineers, both regulars and reserves. I would expect the MoD to be defensive about the letter, but I am sure that many will see a grain or two of truth in it.
So what might the future look like? We should by then have cemented our defence relationships with key EU states, for security as much as defence. The challenges faced by the UK are global and require close co-operation with allies. These include the ongoing threat of foreign-initiated and foreign-inspired domestic terrorism, global terrorism and, as I mentioned, the migrant and refugee crises and countering piracy. More specifically, the UK must retain the ability to respond to any attempt to test NATO’s commitment to Article 5 defence of the Baltics or other Allied countries.
When the 2020 SDSR team sits down to start its planning, it will need to look at our defence policy in the light of possible future conflicts—which I have highlighted—and not only in the light of counterterror operations. With a clearer idea of our economy in the post-EU world, there may be a need to review our expenditure commitments in 2015 against the pressure to spend more.
What could be done to mitigate some of these issues? Investment in research and development. Falling behind adversaries in terms of numbers or spending may be fine if the UK is ahead technologically but will be a disaster if it is outnumbered and outgunned. The US invests a huge amount of money in its defence research programmes. We need to increase our work in conjunction with both universities and the private sector. The defence industry should become a sizeable part of the soon-to-be-published industrial strategy.
Perhaps we should consider less future spending on enormously expensive pieces of equipment. Our adversaries have only to knock out one, with comparatively cheap munitions, to hurt us enormously. We should spend more on equipment and forces prepared for a range of scenarios up to and including large-scale mobile warfare. Alliances for intelligence need to be secured. We need to review and increase cyber defences and technologies. This will help to deter our opponents and ensure that military forces can be deployed with maximum effect and efficiency. We still need more efficient procurement. The UK has smaller physical capabilities than comparable countries but spends more money on defence.
We were top of the soft power league both in 2010 and 2015. This position was deserved and in our current situation is no bad thing, but we need to use our diplomatic and soft power wisely to ensure that our allies take defence seriously. Collective self-defence is cheaper and more secure than all the alternatives.
My Lords, like others, I must commend my noble friend Lord Robertson of Port Ellen for securing this debate and for the manner in which he introduced it.
The title of the debate is most apt and highly relevant in today’s world. Change is sweeping the globe. People’s long-held views are changing, populism is in the ascendency and many political predictions have turned out to be false. However, in defence terms, we have always to be ready for any eventuality. We may be drawn into a conflict tomorrow and need to question whether we are prepared. I would like to spend a few minutes painting a picture of our defence capability as I see it.
My noble friend Lord Reid pointed out that we now have an Army smaller than the one we put in the field against Napoleon. The Navy has just 19 escorts, six of which have propulsion problems. We have no aircraft carriers and will have none until early 2020s. There are currently only seven RAF fighter squadrons, but two of those exist only by extending the life of the Typhoon until 2040. More, in an Answer to a Question from my noble friend Lord Moonie, the Government revealed that a third of our Typhoon and Tornado aircraft are in long-term maintenance and unable to fly. We have no marine patrol aircraft while the Russians increase their submarine activity around our seas. There is an overdependence on recruiting reservists and, despite millions being spent on recruitment, targets for all three services have been missed. Morale is poor. Fifty-four per cent of service personnel are dissatisfied with service life. This is made worse for the Army. A report by the National Audit Office on accommodation stated that poor housing was affecting morale, recruitment and retention.
The failings that I have identified are not the responsibility of our Armed Forces but rather the consequences of the Government’s policy of cuts, mismanagement and poor forecasting. I am sure that the Minister will dispute this, but the concerns and criticisms expressed across the House cannot be ignored and will not go away.
One thing that we can all agree on in this House it is that the service men and women in our Armed Forces are committed professionals and the best in the world. They are the best trained, the most highly motivated and very effective at what they do. But we have to make sure they remain so. That means that we have to make sure that our Armed Forces are adequately funded.
Two challenges face us: more investment and better use of current resources. Without that investment, we will not meet the challenges posed to NATO, the challenges posed by Russia—which has invested millions in modernising her weaponry—and the challenges posed by the growing sea power of China, not to mention the terrorist threat.
NATO remains the bedrock of our defence and is essential for ensuring the security of Britain and our allies at a time of increased global instability. Notwithstanding spin doctors, that is the official policy of the Labour Party. So I welcome the Government’s commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence. However, I have to stress that that is a minimum spend. During the 13 years of the previous Labour Government, we averaged a spend of 2.3% of GDP on defence.
The second challenge is better management of our resources. HMS “Ocean”, essential to providing amphibious capability, had a £65 million refit completed in 2014 only for the Government to announce one year later that she would be decommissioned in 2018. We will now spend £60 million adapting one of our new carriers to perform its tasks. RFA “Diligence” is our only at-sea repair ship. Between 2007 and 2015, the Government spent £44 million on refits only to put the vessel up for sale last year. This is an appalling waste of scarce defence resources. We have to find more money for our Armed Forces, but we certainly have to manage better the resources that we already have.
Since this Government took office in 2010, defence has faced severe cuts. On these Benches, we think that that is enough. From the Labour Party’s point of view, my colleague, the shadow Defence Secretary, Nia Griffith, has announced a major review of defence spending. My noble friend Lord Murphy spoke about the 2% spending on defence, referring to the comments recently made by Nia Griffith. I share her concern that the present spending of 2% includes £825 million of war pensions, £400 million on UN peacekeeping and an estimated £200 million on pensions paid to retired civil servants. She said:
“Pensions are very important but they in no way contribute to … defence capabilities”.
Faced with a potential aggressor, how will the Government use pensions to defend Britain? Perhaps, like some latter-day Ethelred the Unready, they could use the pensions to buy off the threat.
I conclude my remarks by raising one major concern, which others around the House have also raised: the threat posed by a resurgent Russia—a Russia skilled in the use of cyberwarfare, because warfare is what it is, and a Russia that has one big and possibly critical advantage, as pointed out in a Times article on 22 December, written by Edward Lucas, in its President, Vladimir Putin. He wrote:
“Putin is decisive; we are not. He is willing to accept economic pain; we are not. He is willing to break the rules; we are not. He is willing to use force; we are not”.
I share Lucas’s concern that we may not be able to rely on the United States to help defend us in the future. President-elect Trump unsettles many of us—as he reassures some who are not our friends—with his pronouncements about Russia, NATO and the defence of Europe. In the past few years we have seen the Russian willingness to create problems and conflicts even on its own borders. The Russians then suggest mediation to mitigate and divert attention from the cause of the problem—Russian aggression in the first place. When they propose mediation, we in the West get excited because Russia appears to be co-operating in providing a solution—a solution to a problem that it created. We cannot secure world peace and security by pretending that an aggressor is not an aggressor and hoping that sanctions alone will be enough to prevent further incursions.
We in Britain, NATO and the West have to make it clear that the cost of aggression is a price too much to bear because, like it or not, in order to deter we have to be able to threaten. We are an island people with a proud history of defending freedoms. We are an international trading nation relying on keeping open the shipping lanes of the world to our commerce. We are on the verge of a major shift in our relations with our nearest neighbours in Europe. We face major threats from terrorists who will commit acts of war against our own people here in Britain. And we face state-sponsored cyberattacks. The phrase “We face an uncertain future” may be overused but, my God, it is most relevant today.
I readily confess to making some party political points in today’s debate because that is the right thing to do when we have such clear differences between the Government and Opposition, but I passionately believe that there is one issue that unites us all in this House: we want to continue to enjoy our freedoms and our British way of life. But to do that we have to be prepared to invest more in our defence.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, for tabling this Motion, and appreciate the obvious wisdom that he brought to it. I also warmly thank all noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords who have contributed to this important debate so powerfully.
It has been said repeatedly in this House in recent times, and it is undoubtedly true, that the world is a more dangerous and uncertain place today than it has been for many years. Despite encouraging advances, the threat from Daesh remains substantial. Russia, as noble Lords have said, continues to show its force through both conventional and novel means. New theatres of conflict, most notably cyber, demand new and complex capability. The transition to a new US Administration has been seen by some as an opportunity to question, perhaps even attempt to undermine, the role of the rules-based international order.
In the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review, we wrote:
“The world is changing rapidly and fundamentally”.
We cannot claim to have foreseen the seismic political events of the past 12 months, but we recognised the uncertainty and volatility characterising our current era and we conducted our analysis and reached our conclusions accordingly. I align myself with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, in this area: no Government can predict the future, but we can prepare for the unpredictable. The SDSR presents a clear plan for doing precisely that.
I remind the House of the four most pressing challenges to UK defence and security, as identified in 2015: first, the increasing threat posed by terrorism, extremism and instability; secondly, the resurgence of state-based threats and intensifying wider state competition; thirdly, the impact of technology, especially cyber threats; and finally, the erosion of the rules-based international order, making it harder to build consensus and tackle global threats. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, rightly warned us against complacency. We cannot be complacent about recent developments in our strategic context, but I am confident that this list of challenges is as accurate today as it was just over a year ago, and that the plan we have constructed to respond to them stands up to scrutiny.
In the context of enduring change and uncertainty, two principles must be central to our response. First, we must plan to be adaptable: the threats we face are varied and diffuse, and we must be ready to respond rapidly and effectively however and wherever they become manifest. Secondly, we must strengthen and deepen our international partnerships and alliances: now more than ever we must place an international approach at the heart of all of our defence and security plans. I will address both of these in turn.
Noble Lords will by now be familiar with the vision set out in the SDSR for Joint Force 2025. We start from the firm foundation of already world-leading Armed Forces. In 2010, however, the Government rightly optimised our forces around the ability to conduct a single, medium-sized, enduring operation, of the sort we were familiar with from Iraq and Afghanistan. Today we face a wider range of more complex tasks and more sophisticated potential adversaries. Joint Force 2025 has therefore set us on a path towards Armed Forces that are more agile, versatile and deployable than ever before.
We cannot plan with certainty for a discrete type and size of operation, so we must plan for flexibility. Joint Force 2025 will have the capability and skill mix required to conduct a wide range of complex operations concurrently, from deployments on the scale of the current counter-Daesh mission to more specialist operations, support for humanitarian assistance, and training and capacity-building with international partners. Furthermore, at the heart of Joint Force 2025 is the ability to deploy a highly capable expeditionary force of around 50,000. That is a step change in our ambition from the “best effort” deployment of 30,000 planned for in the 2010 SDSR. It will fully prepare us for the most substantial challenges to our national security, including a call to war fighting under NATO Article 5.
Increased agility and versatility increases our security. It sends a powerful message of deterrence to our adversaries, and lets our allies and partners know that we are willing and able to tackle our shared problems side by side. This point cannot be over-emphasised in the wake of last year’s referendum. We may be exiting the European Union, but—as I made clear in our defence debate before Christmas—we are neither withdrawing from Europe nor turning our back on the world. On the contrary, I assure my noble friend Lord King, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, that NATO will continue to be at the heart of UK defence policy, and we will remain a strong and influential European voice on the world stage.
That leads me to our second strategic imperative: the need to strengthen and deepen our international partnerships and alliances. In the SDSR, we wrote that our defence policy and plans will be “international by design”. Our interests are inextricably linked to global security and prosperity, and we will continue to play a leading role in protecting global stability. We cannot, and do not, hope to do this alone. It is not just a policy choice but a necessity that we become more deliberate in our international approach across all defence activity. We will build an international dimension into defence planning from the outset.
In practice, that means strong, strategic bilateral and multilateral relationships. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, was right. This begins with our closest allies—the United States, France and Germany. The US remains our pre-eminent partner for defence and security, and interoperability is at the heart of our relationship. Building on the Lancaster House treaty, we will further deepen our collaboration with France on capability, operations, science and technology, and counterterrorism. Germany shares our aspiration to expand our partnership on defence and security, and we will do so across all areas of defence.
But that is not where it ends. The UK will work to strengthen bilateral and multilateral relationships across the globe. We will build and sustain alliances and partnerships through a more comprehensive approach to defence engagement, which is now a funded core task for the Ministry of Defence. We will build and strengthen combined international military formations, whether with NATO or with partners and allies further afield.
I mentioned interoperability. That is being developed all the time. NATO remains the key vehicle for maintaining an integrated and interoperable military force, and we will work with alliance members to train and exercise together, and to share doctrine, tactics and procedures. We will also continue to develop collaborative capabilities with our key allies wherever there is an opportunity to share expertise and cost in the development of new defence technology. Taken together, and supported by the Government’s global defence and diplomatic network, this will allow us to build coalitions throughout the world in the pursuit of shared interests and in support of the rules-based international order.
Strengthening our Armed Forces and employing a comprehensive international approach to defence is the plan set out in SDSR 2015, and the Government stand by it. However, a plan is nothing without action, so I shall just outline briefly the significant progress that has been made. First, the ambitious plans for Joint Force 2025 are in train. The innovative 77th Brigade has reached initial operating capability; work has now begun on the first Dreadnought-class submarine; the first of our new aircraft carriers, HMS “Queen Elizabeth”, will begin sea trials this year; design and manufacture will begin on Crowsnest, the early-warning system for the helicopters that will protect the new carriers; RFA “Tidespring” will arrive in the UK in the spring for customisation; the contract has been signed to purchase nine P8 maritime patrol aircraft; and July 2016 saw the delivery of the RAF’s 14th and final Voyager aircraft for air tanking and transport. We are already delivering.
Internationally, we have also done a lot to demonstrate our commitment to working with allies and partners. My noble friend Lord King referred to the vulnerability of the Baltic states, as did my noble friend Lord Jopling and the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. That is exactly why we have agreed to deploy a battalion to Estonia in the spring and an infantry company to Poland in support of the United States, strengthening NATO’s enhanced forward presence. We are also deploying UK fighter aircraft to contribute to the NATO southern air policing task in Romania.
I understand my noble friend Lord Jopling proposing that we should try to hasten the deployment of UK forces to the Baltics. I was at the ARRC headquarters at Innsworth yesterday and can reassure him that plans for the deployment are well advanced. A careful judgment has been made and it is felt to be well worth ensuring that our forces are comprehensively trained and equipped prior to deployment. I am sure that my noble friend would agree with that.
It is not surprising that defence spending has formed a major theme of this debate. A number of noble Lords referred to the Government’s commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence in every year of this Parliament. We should not downplay that; nor should we draw what appear to be very easy comparisons. Comparing like with like is, I suggest, flawed reasoning because the nature of defence spending inevitably changes over time. In the past, we have reported significantly more operational spend, such as during operations in Afghanistan. That has changed. New threats also require new spending. We have not historically included any spend on cyber. Therefore, it is right that, from time to time, like all NATO allies, we ensure that we are capturing all appropriate spend, and I emphasise that all adjustments are fully in accordance with NATO guidelines.
The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, warned that we should not confuse percentages with capability—and he is absolutely right. He asked the right question: have we retained the power to act? The SDSR laid out a clear and affordable strategy for delivering one of the most capable armed forces in the world, including an expeditionary force, as I have said, of 50,000 by 2025; £1.9 billion in cyber investment; new capabilities for special forces; and a commitment to spending more than £178 billion on equipment and equipment support—more than in previous plans.
I do not accept the accusation of creative accounting. I will just say to the noble Lord, Lord West, that defence spending is going up. When defence spending will increase by £5 billion over this Parliament, it is nonsense for anyone to suggest that there is no new funding. I hope that my noble friend Lord Sterling, the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, and others will be at least somewhat reassured to be reminded of that figure.
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, and other noble Lords spoke about manpower, particularly that of the Army. It is true that ensuring efficiency was a driver in force design in 2010, as it was in 2015. However, strategic rationale was the primary basis for the figure of 82,000 regular Army personnel. The figure was based on an assessment of the type, frequency and concurrency of tasks that the Army will be required to conduct. Future Force 2020 described a move away from enduring stabilisation and towards a more adaptable posture. Joint Force 2025 builds on that principle, increasing the adaptability of all the services, including the Army.
The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, rightly emphasised the threat from Russia. We are not complacent about Russian behaviour or capabilities. We remain fully committed to NATO, as I have emphasised, and to our European partners, with whom we will deter threats across a wide spectrum in order to protect our people. NATO has developed a readiness action plan that gives it the tools needed to respond to short-notice or no-notice incidents in order to protect and defend alliance territory.
I understand the call by the noble Lords, Lord West and Lord Hutton, for more platforms for the Royal Navy. The Government share that desire. Not only is our fleet set to grow for the first time since World War II, but its high-end technological capabilities will allow it to provide a better contribution and to retain a first-class navy up to 2040 and beyond. We will maintain a destroyer and frigate fleet of at least 19 ships and look to increase that number by the 2030s, as has been mentioned; and I am sure that we can all take pride in the fact that the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers will be coming into service.
The fleet will also be supported by a very capable and renewed tanker fleet. A fleet of up to six offshore patrol vessels will support our destroyers and frigates in delivering routine tasks and will enhance our contribution to maritime security and fisheries protection. I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord West, that the in-service date of the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier has not slipped, and nor are there any plans for the Prince of Wales, the second carrier, to be mothballed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, criticised my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and questioned her interest in defence. I respectfully reject that criticism. The Prime Minister has a close and abiding interest in defence. Indeed, one of the visits she made as Prime Minister was to the MoD headquarters to speak with the service chiefs. She has also visited our service personnel around the world, including recently on board HMS Ocean in the Gulf.
My right honourable friend is also well aware of the need to invest in security across the piece. That brings me to the subject of cyber, which was rightly emphasised by the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, among others. Cybersecurity is vital to defence. As she said, our adversaries present a real and rapidly developing threat to our networks, systems and platforms. We are enhancing our cyber defence capabilities through the development of the Cyber Security Operations Centre. As I also mentioned, £1.9 billion will be invested in cyber across government over five years. We are ensuring that our Armed Forces are able to project power in cyberspace, are ready to assist in the event of a significant cyber incident and can respond to a cyberattack as they would to any other attack using whichever capability is most appropriate. We are building a dedicated capability to counterattack in cyberspace as part of our full-spectrum capability. Defence is delivering this capability in partnership with GCHQ through the national offensive cyber programme.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, rightly criticised the concept of an EU army. I hope that I can reassure him by saying that no one is seriously proposing that idea. Despite the rhetoric and speculation that we have all read, we have seen nothing to suggest that any major European country wants an EU army. The joint letter published by the ministries of defence of Germany, France, Italy and Spain explicitly ruled that out, and we will continue to resist any EU initiative that risks undermining or duplicating NATO’s central role in European defence.
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, called for greater collaboration with universities. I understand and agree with his point. Our innovation initiative has included the horizon-scanning unit known as IRIS, which will forge close ties with the academic community.
My noble friend Lord Attlee asked about the robustness and resilience of our logistics systems, the importance of which he rightly stressed. I can reassure him that we have the strategic base and associated enablers to underpin SDSR 25 and its wide capabilities. I will write him with an answer to his question on exercise Saif Sareea.
The noble Lord, Lord Burnett, raised several issues relating to the Royal Navy. In terms of investment and manpower, the Royal Navy attracted significant investment as a result of the SDSR, as he well knows. With regard to new assault ships, we currently have no plans to commission any. On the matter of our use of landing craft, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark provide the capability needed to deploy and sustain the lead commando group ashore, by air and sea. They will remain in service until the end of the next decade.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, raised issues of conflict prevention and peacekeeping. I have mentioned the Government’s intention to be international by design. That is in no small part motivated by the principle of conflict prevention: by working more closely with allies and partners we strengthen our shared ability to prevent conflict and ensure our own security. I can tell the noble Earl that we are increasing our contribution to UN peacekeeping operations in South Sudan, Somalia and Kosovo, we are continuing to support CSDP missions, and we are fully committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
My time is up. I shall write to those noble Lords whose questions I have not addressed. I hope that it is clear that the Government fully recognise the breadth and severity of threats that face our country today. We know that in this era of uncertainty we can take nothing for granted. The approach that we have taken in the SDSR is the right one for strengthening our defence and security, and it is the one to which this Government are fully committed.
It is difficult to mount any form of attack on the noble Earl who is so gentle and so apparently reasonable that we are all disarmed at the end. But there is a long-standing belief that no plan survives the first engagement with the enemy. Since the SDSR was published last year, we have had the Brexit referendum, with profound implications for the direction of British defence policy.
Secondly, Donald Trump has been elected as President of the United States of America, with all the statements that he has made about NATO undermining, in many ways, a lot of the solidarity that is there. So there is a genuine reason for looking at SDSR 2015, if only to look at the activities of President Putin now that he is a major player in the Middle East.
I asked a question in the middle of my speech which the noble Earl may have missed. What will be the cost of the devaluation on the defence budget? Perhaps he could write to me.