Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the seventieth anniversary of the founding of NATO and its continuing role in the United Kingdom’s defence and security.
My Lords, this week marks 70 years since 12 nations put their signatures to the North Atlantic Treaty and agreed that an attack on one was an attack on all. It is a privilege for me to open this debate celebrating the founding of that august institution, and I look forward to hearing the informed contributions of noble Lords who have had direct involvement in NATO, whether militarily, diplomatically or politically.
It is surely apt to use this moment to reflect on the achievements of what is rightly hailed as the most powerful defensive alliance the world has ever seen. During the Cold War, an age of unprecedented risk from atomic weapons and Soviet expansion, NATO provided the nuclear umbrella that is our ultimate deterrent, and a vital conventional shield against aggression. It is worth asking ourselves: but for NATO’s deterrence, would the Berlin Wall have fallen some 30 years ago? Would the values of the West have triumphed? Would millions in eastern Europe have been given the opportunity to live lives that are freer, more secure and more prosperous?
In signing the treaty seven decades ago, President Harry Truman was moved to express his belief that had NATO,
“existed in 1914 and 1939 … it would have prevented the acts of aggression which led to two world wars”.
It is of course impossible to test Truman’s hypothesis, but there is little doubt about the role NATO has played over the last seven decades in sparing us the terrible prospect of a third world war. Nor is there any doubt about the significance of the UK’s involvement in alliance successes. We were one of its 12 founder members; we were the providers of both of its first headquarters in London; and our great wartime general, Lord Hastings Ismay, was NATO’s first Secretary-General.
Today NATO is much more than the entity it was under Lord Ismay. For one thing, it has grown. Last month we marked the 20th anniversary of the accession of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, and the 15th of the accession of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Yesterday it was the turn of Albania and Croatia to celebrate their 10th anniversary as part of the alliance.
At the same time, as the threats have developed, so NATO has adapted. I remember some arguing, during my first stint as Defence Minister in the mid-1990s, that NATO was no longer all that relevant in a post-Cold War world. But in the modern era the alliance has repeatedly proven its worth, from ending conflicts in the western Balkans to supporting the United States after the atrocity of 9/11. On that occasion, the allies invoked Article 5 for the very first time, leading to the international response in Afghanistan designed to stop that country becoming a haven for terrorism. Significantly, NATO personnel remain there today, training local forces and creating the conditions for peace.
NATO has always stepped up, and I argue that today it is more relevant than ever. Consider the dangers we face. Russia is once more resurgent. Its pattern of aggression over the past decade—from illegal activity in Ukraine and Crimea to its interference in the sovereign affairs of other states and its deployment of nerve agents on the streets of Salisbury—undermines its claim to be a responsible international partner upholding the rules-based international system. At the same time, we are wrestling with a multitude of threats emanating from NATO’s southern periphery, including terrorism, instability and illegal migration. With Russia’s more challenging activity in the high north and the Atlantic, it can truly be said that NATO now has a 360-degree focus.
We often say that NATO represents the bedrock of European security. Equally, though, the commitment of the United Kingdom to that security remains as steadfast as ever. We have always been at the forefront of the alliance, benefiting as we do from Europe’s largest defence budget. As we mark 50 years of the UK’s continuous at-sea deterrent, it is also worth reflecting that we are the only ally to assign all our nuclear forces to NATO’s defence, which we have done since 1962. All member states benefit from our nuclear capability, which gives the alliance another centre of decision-making to complicate the calculations of our adversaries. Indeed, the Brussels summit declaration last year recognised that critical NATO contribution.
At the same time, we hold the posts of deputy supreme allied commander Europe and chairman of NATO’s Military Committee. We host HQ MARCOM at Northwood; the HQ of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) at Imjin Barracks, Innsworth; the NATO Intelligence Fusion Centre at RAF Molesworth; and the Joint Electronic Warfare Core Staff at RNAS Yeovilton.
Besides the nearly 1,000 British personnel serving in NATO’s command structure, we are contributing across alliance operations. As part of the Enhanced Forward Presence, we have forces on the ground commanding a battalion-size battle group in Estonia and a reconnaissance squadron in Poland. Our troops are also strengthening the security infrastructure of nations stretching from Iraq to Afghanistan. In the skies, our air force is policing the airspace above the Baltic and Iceland, and we have recently made a significant contribution to NATO’s Readiness Initiative, adding Apache attack and Wildcat reconnaissance helicopters to our Estonian presence. Significantly, the UK was also the first ally to offer offensive cyber capabilities to the instruments at NATO’s disposal.
The central proposition that I seek to advance today is that NATO’s importance is increasing. The world is becoming more complex and unpredictable. We have entered a new age of constant competition. It is an increasingly grey zone of proxy war, cyberattack and fake news. The boundaries between peace and war are blurring. We do not know what dangers lie down the line.
Since the Wales summit of 2014, the UK, alongside the US, has taken a leading role in making the alliance fit for purpose. Major strides have been made. The alliance is evolving rapidly. It has developed a stronger, larger command structure—influenced by senior British military officers in NATO—and has agreed to augment its current staff with more than 1,200 extra personnel. It has upped its spending. Non-US spending increased by $87 billion between 2014 and 2018. It has also widened its geographical focus to take a 360-degree approach to security, ensuring that the alliance is able to respond to threats and challenges from all directions. This includes contributing to NATO’s missions in Afghanistan and Iraq to build long-term stability, and anticipating growing competition in the Arctic.
However, given the pace of change and the persistence of our adversaries, the alliance cannot afford to rest on its laurels. Indeed, it must inject greater pace into its transformation. So in December the UK will host NATO heads of state and government. This will be an opportunity to do three things. First, we should remind parliaments and the public across the alliance of the need to show unity and resolve in the face of determined aggressors whose game plan is to divide and rule. In the short term that is about standing up to the Kremlin’s breaches of the INF Treaty and dealing with the threat of new Russian missiles. In the long term it is about continuing to show that adventurism has its cost. We should never forget that, as Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said:
“NATO is 29 allies … friends. Russia doesn't have that, China doesn't have that”.
Secondly, it will be about demonstrating that our words are matched by action. Central to this is NATO’s Readiness Initiative, which will enhance our deterrence by improving the alliance’s readiness and responsiveness, as well as its ability to reinforce. It will also be about getting to grips with NATO governance, which in the past has suffered from inefficiency and poor project management. It will be about reforming the headquarters function to speed decision-making processes and enable even faster reactions on the ground, and it will be about strengthening NATO-EU co-operation so that effort is complemented and not duplicated. Significantly, work is already under way to bolster a joint approach to hybrid warfare.
Above all, achieving such bold ambitions will require bolstering burden sharing. All allies have committed to spend 2% of GDP on defence and 20% of that on major equipment by 2024. This will be the most significant strengthening of NATO’s collective defence in a decade, but we must maintain our momentum if we are to adjust to new and evolving threats. Despite important progress, the US still accounts for approximately 50% of the allies’ combined GDP and more than 70% of their combined defence expenditure. Expecting US taxpayers to keep picking up the tab is unreasonable, especially when other allies are running up big surpluses.
This brings me to the third item on our December agenda. This is simply to recognise the pivotal role that the US continues to play in transatlantic defence. It is true that the security of Europe and the security of the United States are intimately bound together, united as they are by the common threads of democracy, liberty and the rule of law, and it is true that NATO is the living embodiment of our transatlantic bond—but it is also true that we take these links for granted at our peril. Any weakening of those bonds would make us all less secure.
Back in 1949, 12 allies gathered together and vowed never again to let conflict devastate the continent. As President Truman said in his historic speech:
“If there is anything inevitable, if there is anything unconquerable in the world today, it is the will of the people of all nations for freedom and peace”.
Since those days, NATO has proved the best guarantor of that peace and that freedom. It has been tried and tested; it has never failed. But in some senses, of course, I know that I am preaching to the converted. Most, if not all, Members of your Lordships’ House grew up in the chill of the Cold War. When the Soviet Union was casting its long shadow, we had abundant cause to be thankful for NATO’s defensive shield, yet in today’s very different world of more opaque dangers, a new generation does not have quite the same affinity for our treasured alliance, despite its self-evident importance.
So, in this anniversary year, we must seize the opportunity to remind both parliamentarians and the wider public at large about the value that the alliance brings. Indeed, we are already doing just that, not simply through debates such as today’s but through other means, for example a NATO 70 campaign run by our Armed Forces, our representation on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, whose current president represents Bridgend in the other place, and the leaders’ meeting in London in December. For seven decades NATO has safeguarded our people and our prosperity. By renewing our pledge to empower the alliance, we will ensure that it continues to protect us all for 70 years and more into the future. I beg to move.
My Lords, we should all be grateful to the Minister for arranging this welcome debate, even if the short notice given has deprived us of a number of wise contributors who might otherwise have wanted to join us.
Those in 1949 who contemplated or even wanted a North Atlantic Treaty that would be time-limited would have been stunned but hugely impressed, 70 years on, at this anniversary today. NATO is simply a remarkable and unique alliance of free nations. Originally forged in response to the European dominoes tumbling to Joseph Stalin, NATO was, without firing a shot in anger, to see off its main adversary, the USSR. We then saw it become the bridge between the post-Soviet world and the West in the Partnership for Peace. Then we saw it using its military and political power to stop the carnage in Bosnia and to end and reverse the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. After that, we saw it join up with the European Union to prevent a bloody civil war developing in what is now known as North Macedonia—a good new story to cheer us in the 70th year of NATO, with that new country coming into the alliance. After the trauma of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States and, as the Minister said, the invoking for the very first time of the treaty’s Article 5, the alliance took over organising the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. That has been a quite remarkable evolution: from the birth of NATO in Washington in 1949 to the security challenges of today and tomorrow. Those challenges are, in many ways, as difficult and complex as those in NATO’s successful past, but they are challenges that, frankly, only NATO can face. NATO is our most precious and unrivalled asset in our fractious, unstable and highly unpredictable world.
No defence alliance in the history of our planet has survived, or indeed thrived, as long as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and I believe that it has done so for three principal reasons. The first is because NATO has the capacity to evolve and transform to deal with changing security landscapes. The second is because NATO has maintained its military credibility and deterrence capacity. Thirdly, NATO has nurtured and protected that towering strength which is the value set of its constituent nations: the rule of law and an independent judiciary; free speech and a free press; sustainable democratic institutions; separation of church and state; and a tolerance of contrary views. These are the foundations of our free societies and are what give us our moral authority and political advantage in the world. However, as the Minister said, none of these reasons can be taken for granted and NATO will always be a work in progress. So long as the world keeps changing and new threats to our societies emerge and mutate, then NATO, too, has to change.
As the Minister told us, the first Secretary-General of NATO—like me and like Lord Carrington, who came after him, a former British Cabinet Minister—was Lord Hastings Ismay, one-time general and chief of staff to Churchill. In his final speech in Bonn before he stood down, he said that,
“a defensive shield has been built up which, though not yet as strong as might be wished, is an essential feature of the deterrent to aggression. Who would have believed that sovereign States would entrust their precious armed forces to the command of nationals other than their own in times of peace? But this is what has come to pass”.
It was indeed extraordinary then and it was true as well, and it is just as remarkable and true today.
What should NATO do now? And what should the United Kingdom—whether in or out of the European Union—do to pay more than lip service to what government Ministers constantly call the cornerstone of Britain’s defence? Priority number 1, in my view, is to maintain the military effectiveness and deterrent strength of the alliance. The bad news is that the 2% of GNP target is met by only five of the 29 members of NATO, with some countries lamentably behind the freely made commitments that they took on. I was in Slovenia the week before last and Prague the previous week making the point about their inadequate responses to the 2% target—doing it in person and in theatre. However, gross figures do not tell the whole story, as 2% spent on the wrong capabilities adds very little to effectiveness. Of course, the good news is that, since the Wales summit, there has been a growth in collective defence expenditure in Europe of $87 billion, with half the countries now spending over the target of 20% on equipment.
Priority number 2, in my view, is addressing our weaknesses—the soft underbelly of an alliance which, in spite of the burden-sharing debate, is still formidable and outspends any potential adversary. That is why these adversaries, whether in states or as individuals, have turned their tactics to interfering in democratic processes, exploiting splits among us, hijacking public debates, dominating the cyber world and subverting electronic communications. That is why, in NATO and in its nations, we need more investment in intelligence, in cyber professionalism and in information dissemination. That information campaign might start here in this country. Can the Minister tell us why, while the Russian embassy has sent out detailed briefings to MPs and Peers on the Russian position on the INF treaty, and while parliamentarians receive in their post China Daily on a daily basis, we get little or nothing on NATO positions from our own Government?
Indeed, I took the opportunity of looking at the section on NATO and the UK on the Foreign Office website today. It has only two items dated 2019, although we are now into April, and both were dated 21 January: one was connected to the statement on Salisbury and the other to the Prime Minister’s statement on Brexit—that was one of very many statements on Brexit but only one is on the website. The only item on the INF treaty, on which a hugely important debate is ongoing in Europe and the United States at the moment, was dated 4 December and was simply a restatement of the NATO Foreign Ministers’ statement. We are not doing anything like enough to disseminate information about what is happening in NATO.
My priority number three is maintaining the nuclear element of the alliance. The American, British and French nuclear forces, along with the other weapons on European soil, have been the backbone of a posture that has made conventional war unthinkable. They are as important today as they ever were,
My priority number four is Russia. The NATO-Russia Council, of which I was the first chairman, should still be a powerful venue for dialogue. Resuming the formality and depth of the NATO-Russia Council would not in any way be seen as a concession to wholly unacceptable Russian behaviour in Ukraine, Crimea and Salisbury; instead, it would be a recognition that, in a hair-trigger nuclear world, we need to talk about what we agree on as well as why we disagree on other matters. The Russians and plenty of others in the world need to be reminded that NATO is, and always will be, a defence alliance; it does not represent a danger to any country or group that does not attack, threaten or subvert us. That message is as powerful and true today as it was on that April day in Washington in 1949.
My final priority is a plea for a return to American leadership. One of the saddest features of the Trump Administration has been their abdication from a global leadership role. Even America’s critics would concede that you do not really miss American leadership until it has gone. NATO is America’s best security bargain in its history. Let us hope that President Trump will take that point on board when he comes to London in December, and I hope that he will take on board, too, the point made to him today when Secretary-General Stoltenberg meets him in the Oval Office.
NATO is a precious legacy, left to us from a previous generation to be ours today. It is therefore our solemn responsibility to reinvigorate and reinforce this remarkable, irreplaceable alliance for the challenges that will face the next generation. That has to be the enduring message of this 70th anniversary.
My Lords, it is as ever a pleasure to speak in your Lordships’ House, but today perhaps I feel the privilege especially. I cannot report that, 70 years ago, a Bishop contributed to this House’s debate on the founding of NATO. Without the personal, military, diplomatic or political experience to which the Minister alluded, I am grateful for the forbearance of your Lordships in listening to my contribution today.
I am sometimes all too aware that bishops—and indeed many members of the clergy—like to hold that their pronouncements are of a prophetic character. At its best, that means telling hard truths to those in power. The importance of holding to account, and of setting out the likely consequences of a course of action, will be familiar to all who value the work of this place. However, I admit that this also means that the voice crying in the wilderness can sound like the voice of one who neither knows nor appreciates the challenges and hard choices that power presents.
It is a particular pleasure, therefore, to congratulate the noble Earl on bringing this Motion before the House. This truly is an anniversary to celebrate. It is an occasion to honour all our NATO partners—from the dozen of 70 years’ standing, to Montenegro, the most recent addition—and to honour our own nation’s significant, indeed defining, contribution in establishing the alliance, and our continuing commitment to it.
The diocese I serve has its own particular close connection to the Armed Forces, and through them to the alliance itself. Less than a fortnight ago, we saw one example of that commitment as we said a temporary goodbye to one of our own: HMS “Westminster”, one of the Type 23 frigates based in Portsmouth, departed for NATO duties in the Baltic. It was a reminder of our commitment, in the form of people and often very expensive kit; a gigantic aircraft carrier conducting asymmetric warfare, or the ability to combat ever more insidious, subtle and damaging cyberattacks. We can be proud that our commitment is translated into cash and that we can count ourselves one of the NATO members to contribute the requisite proportion of our GDP to defence.
Equally, however, I am seized of the importance of that contribution manifesting itself in the capability required to face down, deter and tackle any potential adversary or threat. I confess that, though I accept that the letter of our expenditure commitment is honoured, I remain to be wholly convinced that we obey the spirit quite so properly.
We must not forget that NATO is not just a defensive military enterprise: it is nothing less than a community of values. That was a point made abundantly clear when the treaty was signed in 1949, not least by Dean Acheson, the American Secretary of State. He said that yes, the alliance was to deter bullies—those who used, as he put it, “power to dominate others”—but in it also lay,
“the affirmation of moral and spiritual values which govern the kind of life they propose to lead”.
It was and is democracy’s shield and guarantor.
I am of course not blind to the nature of organisations. NATO’s foundations will have been the fruit of all kinds of motives: often complex, sometimes contradictory, and even ignoble. None the less, those do not detract from its purpose. Moral and spiritual values were at the heart of NATO’s foundation; they must also be at its heart now. But perhaps those values represent something more. Perhaps they represent our recognition that we are best served when we act closely in concert with our friends—with those who share our values. Such multilateralism has enormous merits, although, goodness knows, it presents challenges; people and nations bring conflicting motives and aspirations to the table. However, we do the most good, and serve our own interests best, when we act in communion. Even when we disagree, it is always better to continue to jaw-jaw and to differ well. That is nothing more than good, sound, practical politics—and, I might add, sound theology too. It was also the ambition of our forebears in Parliament. Standing alongside Dean Acheson in 1949 was our own Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin. He said that,
“democracy is no longer a series of isolated units. It has become a cohesive organism, determined to fulfil its great purpose”.
That purpose would best be achieved through multilateralism.
I need hardly tell this House that we live in interesting times. That is true of the debates, divisions and dissensions in the other place—and sometimes here. It is also true of the interesting environment into which the fine young men and women on-board HMS “Westminster” are sailing. It is tempting to imagine these times solely in geopolitical terms: as a broad historical sweep of a big political canvas. I submit that we should—indeed must—think of them another way. I hope the House will forgive me for praying in aid Mr Bevin once again. In 1949, as the great men of affairs signed the treaty, he reminded them of the motive and force behind it:
“The common people (who only want to live in peace) have been unable to follow their peaceful pursuits or to sleep safely in their beds”.
Its work meant, and means, that ordinary people are able to follow their peaceful pursuits and sleep safely in their beds. I find it hard to imagine a better ambition for any public institution. These are words that might be engraved on all our hearts, especially at the present time.
My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest in that—except for a four-year break in the years after I came to your Lordships’ House from another place—I have served as a member of the United Kingdom delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly for 32 years, if noble Lords can believe that. I was recently vice-president of the assembly and I am currently a rapporteur to one of its committees.
The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, complained about the lack of information from the Government on the web. If he were to look up the website of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, he would find the report which I presented last November on Russian hybrid warfare which, I am glad to say, was adopted unanimously by the assembly.
The Minister referred to the current president, Madeleine Moon, who presides over the assembly with a great deal of distinction and to much admiration. That takes me back to my early days, when the president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly was Sir Thomas Dugdale, later the 1st Baron Crathorne and father of my noble friend Lord Crathorne, who inspired me, in my early days, to take up a political career. This debate completes the circle in many ways.
I am, and always have been, a great admirer of NATO. As the Minister said, it is perhaps the most successful defensive military alliance in history. Given the reborn posturing, outrages and mischief of Mr Putin’s Russia, I most strongly support the deployment of those four battlegroups in the Baltic and Poland, which cannot be seen, by any stretch of the imagination, to be offensive or regressive so far as Russia is concerned, but provide a vital tripwire.
However, I have a number of serious reservations about NATO’s forward thinking and housekeeping. The Minister referred to occasions when NATO is not as quick on its feet as it should be, and I very much agree on that. Frankly, the construction of the new headquarters in Brussels has been a joke. The decision to build it was taken in 1999 and plans were approved in 2003, with planned occupation 12 years later, in 2015. In fact, no real positive entry was made until last year, 2018.
Again, I am concerned to be told that the penny has dropped only recently about the major problems of moving heavy, bulky military equipment around Europe. The problems of low and unstable bridges or tunnels have caused all sorts of dilemmas. These are just two examples, which do not give the impression of an organisation which is flexible, decisive and quick on its feet.
This afternoon, my principal concerns regard NATO’s internal financial management and bookkeeping. This is all audited by the International Board of Auditors for NATO, known as IBAN. It has highlighted a number of serious shortcomings, which have appeared in its reports. I have drawn some of these reservations to the attention of the Secretary-General twice, in public. On both occasions, I was rudely brushed aside and the questions I asked were ignored. I conclude that either he did not know the answer, in which case he should have, or that he did not care, in which case I wonder if he ought to have the job at all.
To be fair, I got a letter from the Deputy Secretary-General on questions I put to her in November last year. I am glad to say I got a letter dated 13 March, just over two weeks ago. That followed another letter from her, dated 13 November last year, on questions I put in July.
I spoke in your Lordships’ House last June regarding IBAN’s published reservations about NATO’s accounting procedures. I will not repeat them now—they are on the record—but the problems persist. IBAN reports that there is progress, but no assurance that all NATO’s entities will improve their financial management reporting collectively and significantly, and there is a lack of unity and consistency in the systems and applications of financial reporting rules.
With regard to the 2018 audits, 39 opinions were issued by IBAN. Nineteen of those were unqualified, which is good. Twenty-three were qualified—which is not good. In two there was a denial of opinion by IBAN, and in one of those two IBAN had a problem—the impossibility of carrying out an audit due to the unreliability of the documents and figures submitted.
IBAN has repeated difficulty in dealing with the accounting representation of NATO’s tangible assets. This was one of the problems last year in terms of properties, plants and equipment. Again, IBAN tells us that there is no clear and consistent series of guidelines applicable by all to detect and deal with cases of fraud and corruption, which of course is so much a part of IBAN’s responsibility. Finally, IBAN is evidently concerned that no single responsible person in NATO seems to be charged with co-ordinating all these and other reservations. To sum up, there appears to be an unfortunate reluctance to respond and endorse too many of IBAN’s reservations and recommendations. I realise that the Minister may not be able to respond to all these comments today. I hope that he will write to me in the near future, and put a copy of his reply in the Library.
I will end by putting two questions which the Government might like to answer, and also to raise them with NATO itself. First, does NATO intend, effectively and sufficiently, to establish an internal audit capability in all NATO bodies—including ones concerning international staff? Also, regarding international staff, does NATO agree that an independent, professional internal audit force, compliant with the internal audit international standards, should report both to the Secretary-General directly and to the international staff audit committee?
Secondly, why has IBAN, which is made up of professional, experienced experts in public management and holds a broad understanding of NATO, not given advice in the international staff functional review? Noble Lords may feel that these are rather obscure issues, but a great deal of public money is involved in all NATO’s activities. However successful and admirable the alliance has been, it is very important that these sorts of questions do not give rise to the disquiet which they have done. They are worthy of answers.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for tabling this debate. I fear that issues of defence seem to have little traction in this place, in the body politic as a whole or, indeed, in the nation at large. This debate was tabled at very short notice, as my noble friend Lord Robertson has said. That is unfortunate because I think a number of people who would have liked to have spoken have been unable to because of prior commitments.
Sadly, it tends to take a war to change the political and national interest in defence. There is no doubt that insufficient investment, both in intellectual understanding of the world in which we live—its relationship to our national grand strategy—and necessary defence funding, make war more likely. A splendid example of this is that 37 years ago today, the Argentinians invaded the Falkland Islands. The fact that there was tension down there was well above the radar horizon, but we were not focused on it. We withdrew HMS “Endurance” for a saving of £16 million, in what in those days were called the long-term costings. What did that cost our nation in terms of getting defence wrong? It cost us £3.5 billion, and 300 men killed, so debates such as this are crucial.
I have to say that it is rather refreshing to have a debate not directly linked to Brexit, but as is the case with so many things, there are significant issues involving the EU and NATO, and thus the dreaded B word does raise its head. The Minister and my noble friend Lord Robertson have explained that membership of NATO is fundamental to the defence of our nation, and they are right. It is also crucial to the defence of Europe, and be in no doubt—a secure, safe Europe is critical to the safety of our island home. What has been a concern for many years, as stated, is that the continental nations of Europe in NATO have for decades been getting defence on the cheap. Most have not invested sufficiently in their armed forces, and have relied on the USA and to a lesser extent—until recently—the United Kingdom to foot the bill. Even worse, when spending money, they have spent on lavish headquarters and extra, often undeployable people, rather than fighting equipment and fully deployable forces.
This situation, as has been mentioned, is slowly improving with the NATO commitment for countries to spend 2% of GDP on defence and enhancing the amount spent on new equipment and procurement. Most of them are not there yet, I am afraid, but there are moves in the right direction. Sadly, I feel the pressures for an EU army and the European Defence Union are pulling in another direction. The establishment of more headquarters and command structures, often replicating those that NATO already has in a suboptimal way, is dangerous posturing. One cannot help wondering if the PESCO arrangements are primarily aimed at spending more on EU defence firms and excluding other nations, such as the UK, rather than getting the best and most equipment for the limited funds available.
What is clear is that, whatever the outcome of Brexit, NATO is our nation’s most important defence alliance, and although the security of Europe is critical to the security of these islands, the United States is our most important defence ally. Having said that, we must continue to work closely with our European neighbours, as we have done for decades. The military links between us and France, for example—a country that does bear its proper burden of defence spending— are closer than any time since World War II. It is pointless having a grand military alliance if there are no threats. As has been said, 73 years ago this month in Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill clearly articulated the geographical division of Europe:
“From Stettin in the Baltic, to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent”.
NATO was established on 4 April 1949 to counter the very real possibility of a Soviet invasion of Europe. We know, having seen all its documents following the collapse of the Soviet Union, that there was a very real intention to invade Europe and to take over the whole of that continent. Of course, NATO’s Article 5 was the solution that stopped the Iron Curtain moving westwards. We have had quotes from General Hastings Ismay; the one I rather like was when he said that the whole reason for NATO is,
“to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down”.
Much has changed since then, I hasten to add.
With the collapse of the Warsaw Pact in February 1991 and the Soviet Union disintegrating in December 1991, what was NATO for? I was made very aware of the problem when at the end of 1991, while serving as head of naval intelligence, I was tasked with going to NATO headquarters and leading the revision of MC 161, which is the NATO intelligence bible. That is extremely difficult when your enemy has suddenly disappeared but the world was full of risks and threats, which have increased over the last quarter of a century. The foundational concepts of the post-World War II belief in democracy and capitalism are challenged as never before, and the geographic dominance of—for want of better words—the West and its underlying precepts of justice, rule of law and human rights are at risk. Like-minded nations which believed in the world order established after World War II need to hold together. New and returning actors in Russia and the East do not accept the status quo; some wish the system to collapse and are demanding a rearrangement of the participants at the tables of power.
NATO has found itself involved in central Asia. As the Minister mentioned, its involvement in Afghanistan was a direct result of the only time in NATO’s history that Article 5 has been enacted. NATO was also involved in the Balkans, the Levant, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the north African littoral. However, now we are confronted by a re-emergent Russia that has expansionist ambitions. Indeed, it seems intent on disregarding the world order and destabilising nations around the world.
I mentioned earlier that for the past 70 years, the continental NATO nations have relied on the USA—and, to a lesser extent, the UK—to foot the bill for their security and defence. I added the proviso “until recently” because since 2010, that has no longer been the case. The UK has reduced its military capability to a level that is insufficient to ensure its own security, let alone that of other nations. Indeed, I doubt that we are any longer capable of meeting fully all of our commitments to NATO.
To take just one fighting environment, that of the maritime, at the end of the Cold War we were seen as the bedrock of NATO’s naval power in the eastern Atlantic. Our submarines—some 21 of them—were capable of countering forays by Soviet nuclear submarines trying to penetrate south of the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap. Hence they were able to protect US and UK ballistic missile submarines. They were also capable of penetrating the Soviet ballistic missile submarine bastions up in the Arctic, north of the Kola peninsula. They were supported by Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft—we had over 30 at that stage—that were probably the best in the world at that time. In addition, we had about 50 destroyers and frigates, a number of which were specialist anti-submarine platforms with towed array sonar.
The US striking fleet completely depended on us for anti-submarine warfare support. The UK ASW striking force consisted of an “Invincible” class carrier with ASW dunking sonar and sonar-buoy capable large helicopters, along with a mix of the assets I have talked about. We deployed Royal Marines annually: a full brigade was earmarked for war to north Norway to exercise with our allies and deter the Soviets from invasion. Holding north Norway would enable the US striking fleet to reach launch positions to decimate the Soviet military complexes in the Kola, which so threatened us.
What is the significance of the fact that we had that capability? Surely the Cold War is over. But the broad North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans are no longer safe and secure, and it is the Atlantic that links Europe to its most important ally. Russia has modernised her SSN fleet and is again deploying attack submarines south of the GIUK gap on a scale not seen since the end of the Cold War. Why? She is building a new class of submarine-launched ballistic missiles—not just a new class of submarines for them. She has used specialist submarines and surface ships to identify and interfere with the undersea cables that are so crucial to the global financial system. Why? Russia is making unsubstantiated claims of ownership to vast areas of the Arctic seabed. Norway feels herself under threat; her gas fields are crucial to our energy supply and economy.
NATO is, to an extent, waking up, seeing the need for a North Atlantic command. The UK has signed a memorandum of understanding with Iceland designed to enhance our capability for looking north. We have rejuvenated winter deployments to north Norway, although we now have only a commando group available for that. We have started looking north again, after focusing on south-west Asia for a very long time.
The United Kingdom is the most important maritime power in NATO Europe, but cuts to our Navy since 2010 mean that we can no longer ensure the security of the waters in which we live. Just in numerical terms, in comparison with the end of the Cold War we now have six versus 14 nuclear attack submarines, 19 versus 50 escorts, no MPA at all, 25 versus 77 heavy helicopters, and a commando group versus a commando brigade. Quality is important but numbers also matter.
It is right to celebrate NATO’s 70th birthday. It has been an amazing alliance—probably the most successful in history, and it has ensured our safety throughout its existence. We owe it to NATO, to Europe and to ourselves to reinvest in defence.
My Lords, there are two main foci to what I will say: the first is the pressure points facing NATO from both within and without; and the second is the need for all members to pull their financial weight and not shelter under the financial umbrella of those that do. Before addressing these matters, I should declare my interests, which—doubtless because of my lack of the martial spirit that shone through everything that the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, said in his very telling speech—do not include any service in the Armed Forces. However, I served for a decade and a half as an adviser and non-executive director of Lockheed Martin in the UK. That is, I suppose, an opinion-forming bit of wallpaper to my speech, and explains my continuing shareholding in that corporation, as listed in the register of your Lordships’ House.
I begin with the five pressure points within and without NATO. First, as everyone has said, Russia continues to be the threat that it was back in 1949, when it was the USSR. I will not use otiose words to repeat that, but I believe it to be so, and anyone who lives in Ukraine, for example, knows it first hand.
Secondly, the endless incursions over and under the Baltic present a grave threat. It is good that we in the UK, and other NATO countries, have defended the skies above the Baltic and the waters underneath it. We have sent our little battle group to support NATO’s enhanced forward presence in Estonia, supported NATO’s readiness initiative, and done much more.
Thirdly, NATO needs to keep a very close watch on dogs that have not recently barked in the night. We saw them suddenly barking in Crimea, which seemed to come out of the blue to most people, including many in NATO itself. I look with great concern at the potential situation in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. It is a small place, not much bigger than Wales, and it is a very long way from Russia—about 300 miles—but only 30 miles from the borders of Poland. There is growing pressure within Russia to make that its next target for creating nuisance; perhaps that will come from demands for a better land corridor to Kaliningrad. There are already complaints within Russia that non-Russians are promoting the Germanisation of the place—I promise noble Lords that that is a word; I have looked it up—encouraged by those trying to resuscitate its so-called Prussian past and German heritage. After all, it is where Emmanuel Kant is buried, and it was once very German indeed. I do not know, but watch this space for the next possible nuisance-causing by Russia.
Countries such as Ukraine are desperate to become European, as once was Turkey, just like the countries on its border, such as Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, which are now full NATO members. Ukraine—or many in it—wants to be the same. Geographers have had many substantial theological debates about where Europe ends—maybe NATO should end wherever it is decided Europe does—but the thought of Ukraine actually joining NATO would make the Russian annexation of Crimea look like a picnic compared to the Putinesque explosion that would surely follow any such suggestion. Set that bit of futurology against the current display of fiction fast becoming fact, with the likely election of Volodymyr Zelenskiy—the comic who played his predecessor on TV for many years actually taking the presidency. That could lead to more instability in Ukraine and to a continuation of a geopolitical tragi-comedy, with a long way to go. If that is what the ballot boxes decide in the final run off, I doubt that Ukraine’s outgoing President Poroshenko will take the decision lying down.
Equally, worrying issues are arising in a country which has been a long-standing and, in the past, most welcome part of NATO: Turkey. This very week we see incipient instability creeping in to a country that is armed to the teeth. Some commentators brand President Erdogan an elective dictator. I do not know whether or not that is the case, but I suspect that, like President Poroshenko in Ukraine, he will not take the results of elections in the three biggest Turkish cities, Ankara, Izmir and Istanbul, politically lying down after 16 years—a very long time—of unfettered power.
There is instability within NATO, as well as threats outside it. I do not know whether we have the mechanisms to reflect those and deal with them within NATO’s governance framework, which my noble friend Lord Jopling spoke about in his notable speech. However, a measured response to what might happen in Kaliningrad, what could happen in Ukraine, and what will probably happen in Turkey, will present challenges to NATO.
The second foci of my speech is that NATO will be an eternal part of the geopolitical landscape of Europe, and one which makes not just political and diplomatic demands but huge financial ones as well. Unlike many in your Lordships’ House, I do not intend to be diplomatic to a fault in this matter. We all benefit enormously from the shelter provided by the United States, under its kindly and dollar-decorated umbrella, under presidents of both political colours. It already more than meets NATO’s target of 2% of GDP spending, and always has done. As we know, only four of the 28 countries in NATO actually get near that. Two of them, Estonia and Latvia, are pretty small and have been threatened. To our credit, the UK has always done it; we honour our spending commitments on both NATO and foreign aid, which I strongly support. Other countries will soon be there: Poland will soon be pulling its weight, and we have to thank the coming generation of younger politicians in the Civic Platform Government who drove the expenditure to greater levels, such as Radek Sikorski, who was Defence Minister and then Foreign Minister. Happily, this has been carried on by the current PIS Government; Poland is, and will be, substantially pulling its weight.
However, other big countries consistently lag. It is terrible to say it, but the worst offender is one of the richest countries per capita on earth—Germany. We should not beat about the bush on this: shame on Germany for not pulling its weight in the NATO framework. I understand the country looks with concern over its shoulder at the past and is deeply concerned about possible incipient militarism and all the rest, but I only hope that when we get a new Chancellor in Germany, he or she will at long last persuade its people and their attitudes to mature out of these inhibitions based on the past and fully take on their responsibilities in the future. Should Germany spend more, I appreciate that it would take some years of transition before it fully develops its equipment, bought with additional money, but the signal this would send to Russia—and also to terrorists and cyberattackers, whom I have not mentioned—would be very powerful indeed. I very much look forward to the time when Germany takes its proper civilising share of defence spending in NATO, playing in future years, as it should, a much bigger role in Europe in this respect.
My Lords, 70 years ago the world was emerging afresh from the ashes of the Second World War, a conflict in which Britain and her allies suffered many great losses. Four years after the end of the conflict, it became clear that the free world needed to band together in military unity to fend off future threats. So it was that NATO was founded on 4 April 1949 to create an alliance in support of democracy and humanity—and, especially, to assure mutual protection from the Soviet threat.
At its core, there was no more ardent supporter of NATO than the Labour Government, with Prime Minister Clement Attlee chief among its European champions. He and Foreign Secretary Ernie Bevin took on the task of persuading the United States to back the creation of NATO. When I reflect on the task Bevin undertook to persuade the Americans of the value of creating NATO and think about the challenges that the present incumbent of the White House poses to it, I remember the first American President, George Washington, who, some 160 years before NATO was founded, said in the first State of the Union address:
“To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace”.
I hope that those words will be remembered at the NATO summit in London in December, because they have rung true: NATO has helped secure peace among the world’s great powers and Britain’s security for seven decades.
It is not NATO’s mere existence that allows peace to prosper, but the training, weaponry and tactics that the alliance provides. Ultimately, the alliance matters not without constant training and nations working closely together, as we are in Estonia, Poland and across the Baltic. A military force is strong in conflict only if it has it spent time training during peace. I would like to see NATO do far more training. The unexpected will occur, and a force whose training is just adequate will not be capable of either defensive or offensive action.
More widely, the unexpected has already occurred. NATO has internal problems in its relations with Turkey. Turkey’s willingness to purchase the S-400 missile defence system from Russia puts Ankara’s commitment to NATO’s mission in questionable territory. The summit in December will have to address this.
Here at home, as Britain faces an uncertain future, we must keep our defence spending under constant review. Yes, we spend around 2% of GDP on defence, but £l billion of that includes pensions for civil servants and others. This may be allowed under NATO rules, but we all recognise that it is wrong to count the payment of pensions as defence spending.
The last NATO summit ended badly, with disagreements on defence spending at the heart of the problem. Britain is hosting the December NATO summit, and we should take the lead and pledge to devote a genuine 2% of our GDP to defence. Moreover, we need a sharp focus on what we spend on. Spending without direction is a waste of both time and resources. My noble friend Lord Robertson of Port Ellen made a remarkable and powerful contribution when we opened this debate. Commenting on the 2% spend on defence some while ago, he stated that,
“the 2% only makes sense if it is spent on the right things—deployable troops, precision weapons, logistics and specialist people”.
My noble friend is so right. He speaks as a former Defence Secretary and Secretary-General of NATO and knows what he is talking about. For my part, I would now add cybersecurity to his list of the right things to spend on. We must make sure that our 2% is spent well, smartly and efficiently to guarantee that NATO maximises its utility.
It is easy to slip into party-political point scoring in debates such as this; I confess that I have done that myself in the past, but today I will resist. These past weeks have shown our country divided enough, without adding more division. I simply say to the noble Earl the Minister that, over 13 years of Labour Government, we recognised the role that NATO played in delivering global stability, helping to safeguard humanity and democracy worldwide. I believe that the Government in which he serves share that view: on that we are united. Labour spent an average of 2.5% of GDP on defence. I do not ask the Minister to commit to that today, but I suspect that he and I would both like to see that level of defence spending now. It is in the best interests of the United Kingdom to increase our defence budget, thus outwardly reaffirming our commitment to the alliance.
In the same vein, one of our strongest allies—previously our most dependable ally—has expressed doubt about the NATO mission. President Trump has made his view of the world, and his lack of understanding, abundantly clear over the past two years. Under Mr Trump, sadly, America is not as reliable as it once was. Whether in a barrage of tweets, rambling speeches or behind closed doors, the President has made his views known. He uses words that make him sound more like a mobster demanding protection money rather than the leader of the free world, and that is greatly troubling.
Across this House, there is a strong belief that NATO is as essential as ever before. We must reaffirm our commitment to it. Although there is no longer a Soviet threat, that is not to say we are without potential adversaries. The growth of Chinese naval power, as shown in increasing numbers of surface vessels and submarines and its attempt to own the South China Sea, is worrying. The instability produced by North Korea and the terrorist threat posed by ISIL—no matter that the caliphate is defeated—remain real.
Then there is Russia. Russia under Putin acts like a gangster state run by gangsters for the benefit of gangsters. The regime has extended its tendrils far across Europe, whether with the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal on British soil, the illegal annexation of Crimea or the meddling in foreign elections, as demonstrated in the 2016 US election and the Brexit campaign. Putin is a gambler, determined to reassert Russian power and influence. Edward Lucas, the distinguished writer, commentator and journalist, called Putin “Russia’s best asset” and added:
“Putin is decisive; we are not. He is willing to break the rules; we are not. He is willing to use force; we are not”.
Putin is never to be underestimated.
We must stand united and be decisive in our unwavering support for NATO. We must be decisive about using force if needed and never faltering in NATO’s mission to secure peace. NATO is an indispensable part of Europe’s freedom and the world’s security. On the 70th anniversary of its formation, we should unite with one another and once again affirm our commitment to this essential alliance.
My Lords, I am sure we all say amen to that. How refreshing it is to be debating an international subject and an international organisation in unity and in thankfulness at a time when our country is not, perhaps, distinguishing itself in the eyes of the world for its wonderful diplomacy, fine leadership and national unity.
I was brought up to regard the late Lord Attlee, grandfather of my noble friend sitting here today, and Ernest Bevin as two of the greatest Englishmen, and indeed they were. Without them, we might not have had NATO. Without them, the history of our nation and of the world might have been very different. They recognised danger and— even more important—how essential it was for allies to work together to ensure the safety of their people, individually and collectively, and to ensure that the world, which had within the previous half-century been plunged into the two most devastating wars in history, should not see that again. So of course we have very much to be thankful for. Touching on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, a moment or two ago, one of the things we have most to be thankful for is that the importance of NATO has always commanded the support of British Governments of both major political parties—and, indeed, of the coalition Government of a few years ago.
I agree with those who say that we should recognise in 2019 not only that old dangers have passed but that new ones have arisen. I recognise that there is a great deal of truth in what many colleagues in all parts of the House have said about Russia and about Mr Putin, but I regret infinitely that we have not handled Russia with a little more understanding and care over the last two decades. I regret very much indeed that there is not greater dialogue with and contact with Russia at the moment. In his splendid speech the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, referred to this when he urged more frequent meetings of the NATO-Russia Council. He was right to do so.
The first post of any sort I held in Parliament, way back in 1970 when I came in as a very young man, was as the first chairman of the campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry. We have to remember that in those days it was impossible to practise religious belief with impunity within the boundaries of the Soviet Union and that the only people who had a door marked “exit” were the Jews: they could get an exit visa and could get out of the Soviet Union. I was urged by a friend, a contemporary and colleague in the other place, Greville Janner, to form with him the campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry and we did precisely that. We were declared persona non grata in the Soviet Union. None of our members was allowed to go. We were even forbidden entry to the embassy and merely harangued on the doorstep.
When Mr Gorbachev came to power I was a member of a small international group, based in the Netherlands, that worked to try to bring together parliamentarians within the then Soviet Union and in the West. I was privileged to be present at a number of meetings in Moscow; to hand over a symbolic Bible—a million were being accepted—to Mr Gorbachev’s chef de cabinet; and to take part in Epiphany 1990, I think it was, in a hotel that had always been reserved for leaders of the Soviet bloc, in a Roman Catholic service led by Father Ted Hesburgh, who was Kennedy’s human rights chairman for a time, with Madame Giscard d’Estaing and Rosalynn Carter, wife of the former President of the United States, present. We all took part in this service, and as we looked out of the window we could see the Kremlin. This was an enormous change from the Russia that had forbidden me and fellow colleagues from the other place to enter in the early 1970s. I rejoiced in that; I am sure we all did. I rejoiced as the Berlin Wall was torn down. As someone said earlier, without NATO that probably would not have happened. I rejoiced when Mr Yeltsin leapt on the tank and denounced those mounting a coup against Gorbachev—mercifully, not a successful one.
When Putin came to power, I was one of those at the banquet in the Guildhall on his state visit and one of those who felt glad we were able to welcome him. Things have gone badly awry since then, and it is not all Putin’s fault. We have to remember that he is very popular in Russia and has given back the Russians their self-respect. We have to remember that Russia lives always with the memories of invasion—not just 1812 but 1941. We have to remember that it viewed with real alarm the prospect of Ukraine becoming a member of NATO or the European Union. I understand that; we all do. We also have to understand that we and the Russians have common foes in Islamic terrorism and other subversive forces.
Above all, we have to remember that the second half of this century will be dominated by the mighty power of China, which at the moment is getting closer to Russia. That ought to raise certain fears in our minds. We have to remember that China has already spread its tentacles throughout Africa, and even at the moment there is a wooing going on in Europe, with Italy and Portugal signing up great contracts. I am not suggesting that we should not be on good terms with China, of course, but to be totally suspicious of Russia and not to be suspicious of China is a bit blinkered and one-sided. It is important that we try to get closer cultural and personal relations with Russia. Whatever criticisms of Putin we might have, the Russian people are a great people and we can be very close to them. The world will be a safer place if we are on reasonable terms with Russia, and if we are on good terms with China that is good as well—but China has enormous ambitions. The Secretary of State for Defence, my successor as the Member of Parliament for South Staffordshire, was talking of sending aircraft carriers. I am not sure that is quite the best way of doing things, but I am sure we have to be vigilant and to recognise that a great country with the most ancient surviving civilisation in the world now has world designs—all the more reason for vigilance and for cohesion with our allies.
This 70th anniversary is a notable birthday for what is—as colleagues have said, and I think they are probably right—the most successful alliance in history. Seventy years—one man’s lifespan in biblical terms. Yes, it is right to celebrate it, right to build upon it, but also right to recognise that we should commemorate not a fossil but something that serves a continuing need and purpose. That was made very plain in the speeches by the noble Lords, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and Lord West of Spithead, and others. Let us also realise that simplistic notions of the goodies and the baddies are not always the right notions. I hope that over the next decade we can forge a better relationship with Russia, recognising that Mr Putin, who will not be there for ever, has some characteristics which give understandable cause for alarm, and that this emerging giant in the world should give us cause for sober concern.
My Lords, on 4 April we will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, so let us remember some of its history. President Eisenhower, its first supreme commander, hoped that NATO would not outlast the 1950s:
“If in ten years, all American troops stationed in Europe for national defence purposes have not been returned to the United States, then this whole project will have failed”.
He then said:
“We cannot be a modern Rome, guarding the frontiers with our legions”.
This was further reinforced by Paul Hoffman, the US administrator of the Marshall Plan, who said the aim was,
“to get Europe on its feet and off our backs”—
as the noble Lord, Lord West, I think, mentioned earlier. It all began with a treaty and not an alliance. We forget that it was the Korean War that was the trigger to make it into an alliance; in fact, it was Harriman who said that the Korean crisis put the “O” into NATO, turning it from a pact into a military alliance.
Then you have the whole European perspective, the idea of a European Defence Community. That was, as early as 1954, seen as a step too far. Does this not ring true now, when we have all this talk about an EU army? Of course, Lord Ismay, who has been referred to earlier, the first Secretary-General, again stated NATO’s objective as,
“to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”.
The 1950s debate on European integration was yes to Europe in terms of the European Community but no to a European Defence Community because that would not work, and that is exactly the debate we are having all these decades later. To this day, I do not think the EU has ever developed a seriously credible foreign or security policy.
Then of course we have the nuclear question, which has been at the heart of NATO as well. In February, Harvard University released a report that noted the failure of European allies to spend more on defence or pull their weight. That is, again, at the heart of this debate. The report goes on to reaffirm the value of collective security:
“On its own, the United States is a powerful nation. But America’s European and Canadian allies expand and amplify American power in ways that Russia and China—with few allies of their own—can never match … The United States is substantially stronger in NATO than it would be on its own”.
That is crucial yet—here is the contradiction—for the first time in NATO’s history, we have an American President who questions all sorts of international partnerships, including NATO. Then we have President Macron and Angela Merkel talking about a European army as a complement to NATO. This is never going to happen. The biggest challenge looking ahead for NATO in its eighth decade is possibly not about keeping the Russians out but keeping the Americans in, as David Reynolds said in a recent article.
For the 29 member countries, NATO’s mission is to,
“safeguard the freedom and security of all its members by political and military means”.
On the minimum spending level of 2%, the UK is one of five members—arguably, the latest figures show that it is one of seven members—to increase its spending to 2%. I will come to that later. The Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, has said that modern forms of warfare mean that, although the Cold War has finished, for NATO challenges remain. The challenges are Russia, international terrorism and cyberwarfare. Yet Donald Trump has described NATO as obsolete. He has continually criticised members—and rightly so—for not contributing enough to the budget.
I am sure the Minister will confirm that NATO is a cornerstone of our national security. NATO has 20,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq and the Mediterranean and in policing the airspace of eastern Europe following Crimea. Since 2017, there has been a NATO enhanced forward presence operation in the Baltic states surrounding Russia.
As has been referred to, the summit of last year was, quite frankly, a disaster. As one description put it,
“NATO’s European leaders were left reeling after one of the most divisive summits in the organisation’s 69-year history”.
There was a declaration about 2% spending and a response to the ever more unpredictable security environment.
This is why I continually say to our Government that, even if we are experiencing a period of peace, the uncertainty is always there. Things come out of the blue—no one predicted 9/11; it happened without any warning. That is why SDSR 2010 was a disaster, which wrecked our Armed Forces. Fortunately, we are now recovering from that. We are no longer a superpower and we do not have an Empire, but we are very much a global power and being at the heart of NATO gives us that strength to be a global power. It is estimated that the UK provided 12% to 14% of NATO’s total capability in 2017. That is not bad for a country that has just 1% of the world’s population. SDSR 2015, which was far better than SDSR 2010, confirmed that NATO is at the heart of our defence policy and our unconditional commitment to collective defence and security. That is the position we are in today.
On the other hand, the Labour Party has criticised this situation. The shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith said:
“The UK’s ability to play our role on the international stage has been completely undermined by eight years of Tory defence cuts. The Conservatives have slashed the defence budget by over £9bn in real terms since 2010 and they are cutting Armed Forces numbers year after year. Instead of simply engaging in yet more sabre-rattling, Gavin Williamson should get to grips with the crisis in defence funding that is happening on his watch”.
Will the Minister respond to that criticism?
Does the Minister also agree that SDSR 2010 was all about means before ends and we have suffered ever since? It is now a decade since we have had aircraft carrier capability. Our Nimrods were destroyed. We are now getting back our surveillance capabilities. Numbers were cut in all the services, and now that we have to recruit we are struggling to do so. We have shortages in all our services and we possibly need to recruit from Commonwealth countries. It is all very well spending the 2%, but we need to make sure that our Armed Forces are properly resourced.
An important point is that, of the 29 NATO members, 22 are EU members. NATO has said clearly that the EU is a “unique and essential partner”. The two organisations share strategic common interests and values. NATO has co-operated with the EU in its common security and defence policy; the EU’s Operation Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina is commanded by the NATO deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and NATO operations in the Mediterranean are conducted in collaboration with the EU’s Mediterranean anti-people smuggling mission Operation Sophia.
As usual, the noble Lord is making an interesting and challenging speech, to which I relate in many respects. Perhaps he could underline the point he made about the immediate situation, and how important it is to hear from the Minister in his reply, regarding the current doubt as to whether several of our battalions could fight effectively because of the lack of manpower.
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention and for reinforcing what I have been saying. I hope that the Minister will respond.
Mark Lancaster, Minister of State for the Armed Forces, has said:
“The Government’s objectives will be to underscore the position of NATO at the cornerstone of UK and Euro-Atlantic defence and security, and to support NATO’s continuing adaptation to meet the complicated and evolving threat environment”.
So there is no question that our commitment is there. London was the first seat for the NATO headquarters and a meeting is taking place here in December because of the worry about holding it in America now because of President Trump’s attitudes.
The Second World War led to NATO. Again, we must remember history. Harry Truman—his Truman doctrine —was to make US foreign policy more interventionist by providing political, military and economic assistance to countries under threat from authoritarian forces, in particular Russia. That doctrine led to what is now NATO and to the treaty’s most important article, Article 5, which is NATO’s commitment to collective defence among its signatories, whereby,
“an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all”.
It has been invoked only once, and that was after 9/11. What says it all is that the Warsaw Pact did not survive, whereas NATO has not just survived but is expanding—its 29 members will now go up to 30, with Macedonia becoming the 30th member.
The US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, threatened to cut back on intelligence sharing with some NATO allies if they bought equipment from China’s Huawei Technologies for new 5G telecom networks. The US says the equipment could be used by the Government in Beijing to spy on the West. That is another problem; the threat is from not just Russia but China. America is pushing to stiffen fellow members’ resolve in confronting one of its own, Turkey, which has committed to buying a Russian missile defence system. That situation is tricky, and I should be interested to hear the Minister’s response on how to deal with it. We have also heard from others about Germany only now committing to spending 1.5%—nowhere near the 2% target.
The bottom line is: has NATO worked? I would say, without a doubt, NATO has worked. Russia has never attacked a NATO member. The Crimea and Ukraine attacks have put NATO on guard and we are now there in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania because we feel threatened. Article 5 has never really been put to the test where Russia is concerned.
The NATO Secretary-General is continually trying to play down the differences with America and President Trump. He has said:
“The strength of NATO is that despite these differences we have always been able to unite around our core task … and defend each other”.
Let us not forget that, at the 50th anniversary, Bill Clinton cited Theodore Roosevelt saying that there was no doubt that the US would continue to play a,
“great part in the world … The only question is whether we will play it well or ill”.
So the challenge of America’s commitment and the question for the European countries that dominate NATO is the trans-Atlantic distancing and the decline in post-war military spending that has taken place for a while. It is not just Trump; in 2011, Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense in President Obama’s Administration, issued a warning about those who,
“enjoy the benefits of Nato membership … but don’t want to share the risks and the costs … apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets”.
There is an impression that people are not paying their way, and that is absolutely valid.
Finally, looking ahead, there are four challenges for NATO. The first is burden sharing, which I have spoken about; the second is Russia; the third is partnerships; and the fourth is the open door—does NATO keep expanding? It now has 30 members. Are we to continue to have more and more?
The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, asked whether our 2% spending is enough and whether it is spent on the right things. My view is that we should spend 3% of our GDP on defence. The suggestion of a European army was one of the biggest scare tactics during the referendum, and it was one that people fell for. People denied that the peace in Europe has existed not just because of NATO but because of NATO and the existence of the European Union. I would pay the £8 billion a year that we pay to the EU just for the peace alone.
As the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, said in his fabulous speech, NATO must do three things: it must evolve and transform; it must maintain its deterrence; and, most importantly, NATO is about values. As the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, said, the secret of NATO’s longevity is not just its military pact but the fact that it is an alliance of shared values, of which we should be proud.
My Lords, I have been involved with the Ministry of Defence since the Falklands War. Celebrating the 70th anniversary of NATO is more than justified. It has proved resilient because it has the strength and confidence that, as has just been said, are the embodiment of shared interests and values. NATO has worked because Europe and North America are strongly united by far more than what divides them. The UK is stronger and more confident because of our membership of NATO. As has already been stated, most military alliances do not last more than 15 years on average, and we should not agonise about or be surprised by pressure points or the occasional twist and turn.
Our Army and the Royal Air Force are key elements in NATO and unquestionably the Royal Navy is the pre-eminent maritime power. Our geography and capability give us a unique advantage to protect Europe’s maritime flank. Our competence at sea is greater than that of any other European nation and our leadership is accepted. The strength of the Royal Navy is not just our strength but NATO’s strength.
We have a responsibility to maintain that pillar of the alliance. That means that our nuclear deterrent is NATO’s nuclear deterrent and that our strike carriers and Royal Marine commandos will always be available, with the ability to strike from sea to land, together with our world-class mine counter capability. Our leadership is welcomed by most European countries. Indeed, I have always believed that, following our withdrawal from the European Union—not Europe, of course—our military capability will be of great importance, particularly for the smaller European countries, as they know that we will always be prepared to protect them in time of need. Sadly, such visionary leadership has been lacking in the withdrawal negotiations over the last three years.
A separate but key point is that we are the prominent trainer of several NATO navies. Because they do not have similar training facilities, this valuable capability leads to enabling interoperability.
As I said earlier, it is an anniversary to be highly celebrated, but now for the future. I am not sure that we would invent NATO today, and I am truly not sure whether at some time in the future it will cease to exist. Crimea was not enough to stir us into action and the French-German overtones suggest a different view of alliances today. You may well ask about the thinking behind the above observations. Relevance in this space is about real deterrence, and that costs. There will be new areas on which to spend money, but ultimate military force is about being the best on all fronts, especially when your adversary only truly respects such capabilities. Of course, we must recognise that we are no longer an empire, but we do have international responsibilities.
I turn now to geography. The clue is in the title “North Atlantic”, so other worldwide activities need other partners such as the USA, Australia and Japan. Most NATO countries have very little global footprint or outlook and so will not necessarily turn up. What then?
Money is key. In this day and age, real leadership requires serious funding. It is time we started to behave like the USA in this regard. For our present and future enlarged role, 2% of GDP is unquestionably too little, and it is essential that we move towards 3%—as has just been suggested—in the very near future. Our future military role is going to much greater than leading only in the European theatre of NATO. We have a strong moral responsibility to help any Commonwealth country that needs our aid. It is my opinion—shared by many—that at this moment in time we are still heavily hollowed out and certainly lack the necessary firepower to carry out our responsibilities. We should be a key framework nation. That means that others should contribute to the costs.
Many comments have been made about Trump—but I do not agree. In my experience of spending a lot of time with Americans and the American military over the last few months or so, they want this country to be their special ally. They trust us. If anybody truly believes that Trump and the Americans, if there ever was a problem in Europe, would not be there faster than anybody else, they need their brains tested. I will go further: it should be remembered that the Americans consider themselves as being on an island. On one side they have the Pacific and on the other side they have the Atlantic. This has dominated the way in which they have planned over the past couple of hundred years.
On the politics side, NATO is not as joined up and sophisticated as it may appear, as national politics over recent years has had an increasing influence on its decision-making capability. In my personal view—which I think is shared by others—the French seem to wish to undermine NATO to enable them to play a leading role, particularly in Europe and alongside America. Germany, apart from its constitution, is not prepared to increase its financial commitment. For the future, all three services—the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force—have still not recovered from the dire cuts of 2010. It has to be said that transformation and innovation have not been actively pursued until very recently.
Kodak—I am very interested in international businesses—was the greatest photographic company in the world until the early 2000s. It knew that it had an urgent need to lead in technology—in the development of smart phones—and to strongly accelerate both transformation and innovation. Nothing happened; it no longer exists. In my view, which is shared by forward-looking minds in all three armed services, it is vital that we rapidly embrace change or we will truly risk irrelevance. We want the finest of our young people—men and women—to be dedicated to the splendid ethos of our armed services, highly trained and equipped with the finest equipment money can buy.
Our strongest likely adversaries—I agree with my noble friend Lord Cormack that China is the longer-term danger—are arming themselves in all areas of conventional warfare, including, cyber, satellite and the capability of economic hacking. This is of great concern. Can we catch up? With the right leadership and financial firepower, unquestionably yes. I personally believe that the Secretary of State, the Chief of the Defence Staff and the newly appointed chiefs of all of our armed services are demonstrating that transformation and innovation are taking place as we speak, and at a rapid rate of knots.
In this modern world of ours, lethal—I repeat, lethal—military force is the best deterrent to aid political negotiation. We are very fortunate that my noble friend Lord Howe is leading this debate. He is one of the best versed in this subject in the House. I would like to reiterate the comments of my friend the noble Lord, Lord West, and of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, that holding this debate, in this House, is essential in these dangerous times. When I heard of the timing, within five working days, I tried my best to get the debate delayed to a more suitable date, but I did not succeed. But I say to my noble friend the Minister that we should have a full-blooded defence debate at an appropriate time—in government time—in the early autumn. So much will have happened by then that a full debate will be justified, and those who could not be here today will be able to attend.
The Minister knows me well. I will never lose an opportunity to say that, given the unquestionable economic strength of this country, the Government must strongly increase their support for the key role of government: the defence of the realm.
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Touhig, who made a particularly powerful speech today, I reflect it was Attlee and Bevin who, on behalf of Britain, played a crucial part in the creation of NATO. I am glad that, in Britain, there has been for a long time a broadly bipartisan approach to defence. While it was Attlee and Bevin who played a critical part, it was Churchill, in his characteristic way, who woke people up to the Iron Curtain descending across Europe.
I grew up in a politically and internationally active family. I was surrounded all the time by talk about current affairs. My parents were among those who, in the 1930s, had become deeply concerned about the rise of Hitler and Nazism, and were passionately committed to the concept of collective defence. In 1947, after the Second World War, they went to a conference in Prague about the UN. I was 12 at the time, but I remember their return and how deeply concerned and worried they were about what was threatening the future of Europe. My father had known Jan Masaryk a little. When Masaryk fell from that building, it did not really matter to them whether he committed suicide or whether he was pushed. What mattered was the significance, in personal terms and in political terms, of what had happened. There was a funereal and deeply disturbed atmosphere at home.
We must look forward and we must be prepared. That is where I want to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack; somebody with whom I normally find myself in agreement. Of course we should have deep friendship for the Russian people, and we must never forget what they suffered in the Second World War. However, I urge the noble Lord to balance his remarks, at least a little. We cannot overlook the realities of the newly emergent Russia under Putin.
Consider Ukraine and Crimea. For several years, I was a rapporteur to the Council of Europe on the conflict in Chechnya. I was one of the first politicians from outside the region to visit Grozny after that terrible bombardment at the end of the 1990s. I shall never forget that experience. It was as though the town had been nuked: the whole prospect was of shells of buildings, with just a few people crawling around in the rubble trying to make a future of it. The ruthlessness of the Russians in Chechnya was sickening. It was also politically daft, because it was totally counterproductive. There were different people in Chechnya; there were indeed ideological extremists, but there were very large numbers of people who just wanted their dignity and independence. The way the Russians handled themselves under Putin’s leadership drove people towards the extremists. I always regretted that the Labour Government of the time, and others since, never took seriously enough what the Russians were doing to that part of the world, and the consequences for world security as the radicalised people moved out as fighters across the world.
We also have to think of the assassination of journalists and the repression of opposition. We have to think of the town of Salisbury, here in our midst, and of London. This was not just a ruthless, cruel attempted assassination, but a trail of radioactive substances across our country and capital, putting our own people at risk. We are not dealing with a comfortable third nation when dealing with Russia under Putin. We have to be resolute and strong in facing up to that and to the dangers inherent in the situation. As I grew up in an internationally involved family, I inevitably brought that perspective to all I found myself doing. We must remember Hungary in the 1950s, and Czechoslovakia in the 1960s.
When we still had Service Ministers, I was privileged to be Minister for the Navy. I once had an interesting conversation with the head of naval intelligence; I liked him, and he came regularly to brief me. One day, he came in with a copy of Pravda, and said, “Minister, I thought you would like to see this”. Its centre pages were devoted to “Cold War Warrior Judd”. What had incensed the chief of the Russian Navy was that I was talking about the rate at which the Russians were launching submarines. I hope my noble friend Lord Cormack will remember that, in the new Russia, under its present leadership, we have people who were very much involved in that age.
To go back to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, we made one big strategic mistake in foreign policy. At the time when Soviet communism was collapsing and Gorbachev was trying to grapple with the situation, we should have thought then about a European security pact. Things might have been very different if we had moved in to support the reasonable people in Russia at that time in how they were going to move from being a totalitarian state to a live, democratic society with human rights. It was not going to happen automatically; it needed a tremendous amount of imagination and thought.
A debate of this kind can turn into a nostalgic experience. What matters is this great organisation NATO, which, when I was in the services and certainly later in life when I was a Defence Minister, was absolutely taken for granted. We were part of it and everything we were doing was in that context. We can turn this into a debate about the past, but what matters, as several noble Lords have said, is the future, and the challenges that lie ahead: how will NATO be relevant and play the part that it should?
One of those challenges is of course global terrorism. That reality plays into our own society and the insecurity within Britain itself. How we handle that without actually destroying a society that is worth protecting is a tremendous challenge to political leadership and vision: how do we get the balance right? Another challenge is Russia—I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned it—and China. These are the challenges, and NATO will prove itself by how it responds. I must say, to have a former Secretary-General of NATO—of whom I have always been an admirer—in our midst and participating in this debate is really rather telling.
I want to finish on this: I do not find myself convinced by the percentage argument. I remember that, when I was a Foreign Office Minister, the then Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, had been participating in a big Cabinet debate about percentages. We had not been fulfilling the percentage that had been targeted, and he and others in Cabinet had won a commitment that we were going to meet those targets. He came to me and said, “Frank, we won”. Then he looked at me and said, “Frank, you do not look terribly excited, but you are rather sound on defence. Why?” I said, “Because I can think immediately of all the people who will relax and say, ‘Ah, the pressure is off’”. I thought of the extravagances that would continue—and there were extravagances in the services—and the absence of the pressure to make sure we were prioritising what we needed to do and getting on with it. We have to spend a sufficient amount, or else we waste all the resources we spend by having an inefficient, ineffective defence structure. The first issue is to establish the challenge, what the task is, and to fire people with why we must commit to it—this is particularly vital in a democracy. Then we have to spend what is necessary to meet that challenge.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for so skilfully introducing today’s debate. He has painted a rosy picture, and in many respects, he is entitled to, because there is a good story to be told. As noble Lords have observed, the UK has a record to be proud of, and I am sure we will continue to be a stalwart supporter of NATO. I agree with everything that my noble friend has said—in particular, his assertion that the importance of NATO is increasing. The noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, touched on the risk of war. He contrasted our naval military situation at the end of the Cold War with our parlous situation now. Being ill prepared for the unexpected—the noble Lord, Lord Patten, referred to dogs that bark in the night—is a sure recipe for being confronted by unexpected conflict. I have said before that at some point, we will get our posterior kicked hard. If the noble Lord, Lord West, cannot succeed in getting the British public to understand that point, I have no chance.
I have some humble, direct experience of NATO. In the halcyon days of winter 1997-98, when the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, was Secretary of State for Defence, I was serving with Sixth Battalion, REME, on Operation Lodestar with SFOR. I can assure the House that my role was very junior indeed—however, it shows that we in this House have experience at all levels. During that operation from time to time, I would travel down from Šipovo to Split. Noble Lords should not underestimate how much pleasure it gave all of us to see yet another house with its roof back on each time we went along the main supply route. It was the security and stability that NATO provided that made this possible.
Not everything in the NATO garden is rosy. In his excellent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, suggested three or four reasons why NATO has endured. I would suggest another: economics. Each NATO state would have to expend far more on defence than now, only to achieve less in terms of deterrent and security.
I think we all agree that Trump has a valid point about some members not paying their club fees. The most obvious candidate for criticism in this respect is Germany, and I was grateful for the comments made by my noble friend the Minister on that point. Sadly, it is not Germany’s only disappointing policy; she has carefully surrounded herself with what many term as Article 5 buffer states, then gaily signs up to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which will leave other vulnerable countries horribly exposed to interruptions in energy supplies.
Like my noble friend Lord Patten, I am bound to say that Turkey is also a cause of concern on a number of fronts. I hope that we can succeed in keeping that country on the course of democracy. In this context, I remind the House of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, regarding the need for a free press. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, mentioned the air defence problems.
Some noble Lords have touched on Brexit in the context of NATO and I am sure that they are right to do so. However, while the EU will never have anything like the role of NATO, not least because it does not include the United States, it should not be underestimated how much work NATO does by means of its standardisation agreements—STANAGs. There are about 1,300 STANAGs in existence. When I was running an NGO in Rwanda in 1995, we conducted a joint logistic operation with the Canadian component of UNAMIR. One of my team asked me for a relevant telephone number and without looking up, I replied: “Last page of the operation order, look under the heading ‘Command and Signal’”. My team was very surprised at my understanding of the Canadian staff work until I explained that this was a standard NATO orders format—in other words, a STANAG.
The point is that you can have a military operation under EU political direction and control, but it will nevertheless be run under NATO technical standards and NATO standard operating procedures. There is nothing else, and it would be pointless to develop anything else when we have the NATO procedures. So I cannot see why, post Brexit, we could not contribute to an EU military operation if it was in the UK’s wider interests and if we had a say in developing the policy. I do not see that as much of a change because there never was an absolute obligation on the UK to contribute to any EU operation. It would be very odd if, in the event of a European crisis in which the US did not want to get involved, the EU did not involve or consult the UK. It is also hard to think of a potential EU military operation where the UK would not be able to provide some crucial capability, be it in carrier strike, nuclear submarines, combat air power or strategic airlift—I could go on.
Many noble Lords have touched on how we should handle Russia. I agree that we could have handled Russia better during the post-Cold War era, while we ought to understand that the map of the world in the Kremlin is very different to the map that we look at. Nevertheless, I heartily agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, about the characteristics of President Putin: he is leading his country to ruin by wasting its meagre economic resources on strategic adventures.
My noble friend the Minister will once again skilfully and convincingly trot out the statistics to show that we are doing very well in terms of defence effort and that a good measure is the percentage of GDP spent on defence. Of course, the weakness there is that it is not adjusted for the lower cost of running defence in a country such as India or China. However, the key point is that the fact that we are doing much better than most of our EU partners does not prove that we are doing anything like enough to meet or deter the threat.
What should we do? I make no apology for banging on about my next point, which builds on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig. If we cannot increase our defence capability, we should test and demonstrate that the capability we think we have really works. We can do that by means of medium- or even large-scale overseas deployment exercises. Yes, it would be expensive, but we would get a much greater effect than expenditure on a small increase in capability. In a crisis, our friends, allies and opponents would be in no doubt of our capability. On the other hand, if we have limited and untested capability, we surely have much less international clout and are less valuable to NATO.
My Lords, I am delighted from these Liberal Democrat Benches to join the bipartisan support for NATO that has been expressed this afternoon. As other noble Lords have pointed out, NATO has enjoyed cross-party support for decades. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem sends his apologies. He is a member of the bureau of the parliamentary assembly of NATO, and is therefore currently in Washington DC at the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of NATO. He would have spoken in this debate, and begs your Lordships’ understanding of why he is not here.
It is perhaps timely to mention something that I would not normally do. I looked down the list of speakers and noted that not only am I the only Liberal Democrat speaking, I am the only woman Peer. I find it somewhat surprising that, while when NATO was created 70 years ago all the founding fathers were been male, there has been so little interest among women Peers in participating today. That is markedly at odds with yesterday’s debate about Yemen, when so much of the discussion was led by women Peers, and people commented on the fact that women and children were the most vulnerable people in Yemen.
Although we have talked about NATO in quite abstract terms, a crucial thing to remember is the importance of the peace that has been secured. It matters not only to policymakers and politicians but to ordinary citizens, who for many generations have not had to think about this country going to war. Certainly, my father and his generation felt the importance of the ending of military service: he did not have to go through it, and peace seemed to have been secured. I suggest that that was secured through the twin tracks of NATO and the European Union.
It is a pleasure to participate in a debate where there is, in many ways, so much agreement. The disagreements have been on points of detail rather than substance, and, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth pointed out, this is an ideal opportunity to celebrate, because peace on our continent is so important: it should be valued and never taken complacently. I will come back to that point at the end.
As several noble Lords have pointed out, NATO is the most successful alliance in history. The noble Lords, Lord West of Spithead, Lord Judd and Lord Touhig, reminded us of the vital role of the United Kingdom in setting up this alliance—again, in marked contrast to the European project, where the United Kingdom always sat somewhat on the sidelines. With NATO we were at the forefront, urging its creation, very much led by a Labour Government, with Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin playing key roles. It is hugely important that the Labour Benches, as well as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, take the defence of our realm seriously. It is clear that the Labour Benches in this House take defence seriously, as does the shadow Secretary of State. I hope that the Leader of the Official Opposition also takes defence seriously.
The American dimension has always been crucial to NATO, even if it was the United Kingdom that had to persuade the Americans in the first place. During the Cold War, Josef Joffe referred to NATO as “Europe’s American pacifier”. As several noble Lords have said, Lord Ismay’s point about keeping the Americans in Europe was crucial. However, over decades we have heard that the Europeans do not contribute enough; they do not pay enough or pull their weight. It is very easy in 2019 to think that the criticisms are unusual, and that Donald Trump’s insistence that the Europeans need to stand up and be counted and double their expenditure comes from him because he is a bit of a maverick. But this is not the exception; it is what we have heard from American leaders at least since the late 1960s. In many ways there is a sense of déjà vu; essentially, the Europeans have been seen to be free-riding on American security.
In his article of 1994, Josef Joffe argued that, in the post-Vietnam world, liberals—an odd word in an American context—and the new right had begun to come together and,
“have unintentionally joined hands in a new-found resentment of Western Europe. Both believe that West European countries long ago acquired the resources to defend themselves. Both resent the West Europeans’ security parasitism”.
So Donald Trump is not entirely new in thinking that the Europeans do not step up to the plate.
During the Cold War, the idea of the United States leaving the continent of Europe was, of course, unthinkable. So every time the Americans said, “Please step up to the plate”, the Europeans said, “We will, as long as we can endeavour to have our own European security identity and autonomy”. That always drew the reaction of, “No, no, that’s not what we meant. We want you to pay more but we don’t want you to be autonomous”. On each occasion during the Cold War, it was clear that the American pacifier would remain.
With the end of the Cold War, the future of NATO and America’s ongoing presence in Europe looked to change. There was an expectation that there needed to be a fundamental reappraisal of the alliance. Yet that never fundamentally happened, so in 2019 we have a NATO that is still dominated by European member states, most of which do not yet pay their 2% of GDP towards defence expenditure.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I think we need to be a little bit careful about using percentages when thinking about defence expenditure. The Liberal Democrats, like the other parties, have committed to the NATO commitment of 2%. Yet we need to think about what is being spent. The House has already heard that some of the 2% goes on pensions, not just for military veterans but for retired civil servants as well. Should that really be part of the 2%? There is a question about what the 2% is formally allowed to be spent on, under the NATO rules, but we also need to think about what goes into it and look at procurement. We need to think about whether the 2% should be focused more on current commitments and less on pensions and about what our procurement procedures look like. Are they fit for purpose? Is Her Majesty’s Government getting value for money? I have asked the Minister this on various occasions, but I might just ask him again. Is our 2% well spent? We are delighted that it is being spent, but is it being spent correctly? As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked, what are we procuring for; what provisions are we making?
As other noble Lords asked, how far are we looking towards cyber as part of our NATO commitment? We clearly already have offensive cyber, but how far is that in our thinking? If, as the Prime Minister has suggested, the United Kingdom wants to play a leading role in NATO, how far are we going to lead on cyber? Do the Government already have an agenda for the leaders’ meeting that will take place in this country in December? It is all very well to say that the UK wants to play a leading role, but for decades we said the same about the European Union, and that never happened. Our record on NATO is much stronger, but there is nevertheless always the danger that rhetoric will not be met by reality.
NATO has clearly been a success. It is a community of values—democracy, human rights and the rule of law—as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, made clear. And yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, pointed out, there are question marks over some of its members. He identified Turkey, but there are also EU member states whose approach to human rights, press freedom, the rule of law and the role of judges might come into question. If we are, as Jens Stoltenberg put it, an “alliance of friends”, are we critical friends? Can we be critical friends? Are we doing enough to make sure that our alliance of 29 is working in the same direction? Can we persuade Turkey to look elsewhere when procuring equipment?
Finally, I fully concur with the Minister’s comment that it is vital to educate those who do not even remember the Cold War, far less the Second World War, who do not appreciate that peace cannot be taken for granted and who might be tempted to think that NATO does not matter. It is a source of great regret to me that those of us who are passionate advocates of European integration failed over the years to make people understand the importance of the integration process as a peace project. It would be catastrophic if, as a country, we became complacent about the peace that has been brought about by NATO. It is vital that we keep talking about NATO, that we keep contributing to it and that we make sure that future generations benefit from it as we all have done.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for introducing this debate and the many noble Lords who have participated in it. It has been wide-ranging, and it is therefore inevitable I will repeat some points.
I am honoured to take part in today’s debate on the 70th anniversary of the founding of NATO. Over the past 500 years, the average lifespan of a collective defence alliance has been 15 years. That is why NATO’s anniversary is so impressive, and why it has been described as one of the most successful defence treaties in history. Against the backdrop of the ongoing Brexit chaos, the alliance remains the cornerstone of the UK’s defence policy and our collective security, and will become even more important as we leave the European Union and face new threats in the years to come.
For the Labour Party, NATO’s 70th anniversary is an extra special celebration. It was the leadership of Clement Attlee, and his Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, that was so instrumental in setting up the alliance in 1949. When Bevin moved the Motion in the other place to approve the North Atlantic Treaty which established NATO, he called it,
“one of the greatest steps for peace”.
He went on:
“In co-operation with like-minded peoples, we shall act as custodians of peace and as determined opponents of aggression, and shall combine our great resources and great scientific and organisational ability, and use them to raise the standard of life for the masses of the people all over the world”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/5/1949; col. 2022.]
Bevin stressed that the purpose of this pact was to act as a deterrent. It sent a message to potential adversaries that NATO’s members were not,
“a number of weak, divided nations”,—[Official Report, Commons, 12/5/1949; col. 2017.]
but a united front, bound together in the common cause of collective self-defence. To this day, this common cause is sought through peaceful settlement and collective responsibility for action. Article 1 strongly articulates the need for peaceful resolution to disputes, while Article 5 underlines how an armed attack against one,
“shall be considered an attack against them all”.
Today, the original 12 NATO members have grown to 29. Along with its central role of ensuring the security of the North Atlantic area, NATO also supports global security by working with partners across the world. In non-combat missions in Afghanistan it provides advice and training to security forces, while Operation Active Endeavour seeks to deter terrorist activity in the Mediterranean. More than 800 members of the UK Armed Forces are also stationed in the Baltic states as part of a NATO mission to reassure allies and deter aggressors.
NATO allies are committed to spending a minimum of 2% of their GDP on defence, and it is right that we encourage all allies to meet the NATO guidelines, as the 2014 Wales summit communiqué made clear. However, the UK is barely scraping over the line when it comes to its own level of defence spending. In recent years, the UK’s defence expenditure to NATO has included several items that had not been included previously, such as the addition of pensions to the 2% target; Labour did not include them when we were in government.
We must recognise that years of government cuts have severely affected the UK’s military capability. Recruitment across the board is in free fall, with some front-line British Army battalions down by one-third. The 1st Battalion Scots Guards is 34% below its workforce requirement, while the 2nd Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment is 31% below its target strength. This is unsurprising since the National Audit Office found in December that Capita, which has managed recruitment for the Armed Forces since 2012, has consistently missed Army targets, with a shortfall ranging from 21% to 45% each year. The Government’s decision to outsource recruitment to the company has been a total failure. Morale across the Armed Forces has also declined during the past decade, dropping from 66% to 51% for Royal Marines officers, and the Ministry of Defence has said that its equipment plan faces an affordability gap of between £7 billion and £15 billion.
It is impossible to suggest that this lack of investment and care for our forces, as well as uncertainty about spending commitments, does not undermine the UK’s role in NATO. How can the UK be a key player in the alliance if questions about the long-term commitment to defence spending remain? If recruitment and morale are failing, and if the Ministry of Defence simply cannot afford the equipment it needs, I urge the Government to address these issues immediately.
As we look forward to the next 70 years for NATO, it is clear that it will need to adapt to new resurgent threats. Despite, at times, the isolationist and unpredictable actions of the US, the relationship between America and Europe remains incredibly important. It constitutes £3 billion a day in trade, and our countries share deep interests and values—especially a fundamental belief in democracy. This relationship provided vital protection for citizens in the face of the actions of the Soviet Union. It will continue to be important in the face of resurgent threats from Russia. In the last few years, Russia’s aggressive stance has repeatedly attacked our rule-based international system with abhorrent disregard and self-interest. This was shown through its disgraceful and illegal annexation of Crimea and Donbass in 2014, and in the reckless poisonings in Salisbury last year. These actions have led to a renewed focus on the immediate security of the alliance and the need to secure NATO’s eastern border.
In government, Labour would engage with NATO to see how it could maximise security and dialogue inside and outside the alliance area, as well as using membership to promote democracy and human rights. We would also want to examine how NATO and the UN could interact and operate together more effectively on conflict prevention and peace operations.
Technology is also opening up whole new dimensions for warfare. Cyber remains a huge task for the alliance, but it has taken some welcome steps. At the Brussels summit in 2018 the allies agreed to set up a new cyberspace operations centre, and cyberattack can now trigger an Article 5 response. As NATO also strengthens its co-operation with the EU on cyberdefence, it represents a key area where the UK must continue to co-ordinate action with our European partners after Brexit. We must not allow the UK leaving the EU to limit our security and defence co-operation with important allies, especially when it is in our interest.
AI will also be at the heart of most future cutting-edge technologies, in both the military and civilian worlds. Machine learning will enable new modes of warfare, including various forms of autonomous and semi-autonomous weaponry. The country that invests earliest and most aggressively may end up in a position of military supremacy. Camille Grand, NATO’s assistant secretary-general for defence investment, said that he viewed artificial intelligence in the broad context of new and disruptive technologies, adding:
“Nobody has fully assessed how much it’s going to change the way we do military operations. Is AI going to be a tool to assist in decisions, or is AI going to allow for more autonomous systems to operate?”
To answer these questions we must explore how NATO and the UN can work together to develop an international governance framework to provide oversight of the use of AI by the military, especially the ethical and moral implications of autonomous weapons. The stronger the position we take now, the more likely that AI will be used as a global public good.
On its 70th anniversary, NATO’s success is undisputed. Having seen it secure seven decades of peace and stability, Labour will ensure that it remains the cornerstone of the UK’s defence policy in the years to come, as it adapts to maximise security, pursue dialogue and promote human rights as warfare changes far beyond Attlee and Bevin’s comprehension.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating, wide-ranging and constructive debate, and I have been very firmly struck by the support which our great NATO alliance commands in your Lordships’ House in its 70th year. I feel sure I will not be alone in finding that enormous and enduring fund of good will both heartening and reassuring. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken for sharing their knowledge and experience of defence and security policy, and of NATO in particular. In expressing support for the alliance, it is perhaps unsurprising that a number of contributors chose to home in on the theme of resources and defence spending among NATO allies. The noble Lords, Lord Robertson and Lord West, spoke of the need for allies to channel those budgets wisely to deliver effective military capability.
Allies have committed to spend 2% of GDP on defence by 2024: that commitment was repeated at last July’s NATO summit. The UK has made it clear that the 2% commitment should be seen as a floor, not a ceiling, but equally I do not believe we should fixate on percentages. As the noble Lords, Lord Robertson and Lord Judd, said, it is about looking at what the threats are and then at how we have the capabilities to deal with them, making sure that those capabilities are properly financed and supported. I understand the call from my noble friend Lord Sterling that we in this country should spend more on defence. In the UK, we spend a minimum of 2% of GDP on defence; we also meet the target of spending 20% of our defence budget on new equipment and associated R&D. We are forecast to increase the proportion of our GDP spent on defence in 2018-19 and 2019-20, after the October 2018 Budget announcement. We should appreciate that the resultant figure will remain considerably above the 2% benchmark.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, criticised some of the areas of spending we count under the defence heading. I am sure she will know, but will not mind my repeating, that it is NATO that determines the definitions for categorising defence spending, not the UK. Like other NATO allies, the UK regularly updates its approach to ensure it is categorising defence spending fully in accordance with the NATO guidelines. We did this during the SDSR following machinery-of-government changes, as well as to reflect the changing nature of defence spending over time.
The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and my noble friend Lord Patten, among other speakers, emphasised the importance of fairer burden sharing between allies. We can reasonably argue that this is a case of a glass nearly half full. Allies are making significant progress on burden sharing. The Secretary-General has calculated that non-US allies will spend an additional $100 billion between 2016 and 2020, increasing to over $350 billion by 2024, and eight allies will be spending 2% this year. We welcome the growing number of allies that have made commitments to meeting the 2% target by 2024, but there is more to be done. We cannot ignore the fact that some allies are spending less than 1.5% of GDP on defence, and three of these are spending less than 1%. I assure the House that we will continue to work with allies to ensure that defence investment is prioritised and sustained.
This is not, however, spending for the sake of spending. It must be considered with the other aspects of alliance burden sharing. That includes cash; capabilities, or what capabilities allies assign to the alliance; and commitments, in other words the NATO operations and missions that allies contribute to. That is why the pledge also includes agreement that:
“Increased investments should be directed towards meeting”,
NATO “capability priorities”, and that allies should,
“display the political will to provide required capabilities and … forces when they are needed”.
The noble Lord, Lord West, referred to the need to maintain complementarity between NATO and the EU in a defence context, a theme echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. The UK’s vision is of every European nation stepping up to modern security challenges, taking responsibility, sharing the burden and investing in our shared security. We must have a united, modernised and fully resourced NATO, able to fulfil its crucial collective defence role and taking a comprehensive approach to Euro-Atlantic defence and security. We need deep security and defence partnerships between like-minded and capable nations, strengthening co-ordination and interoperability and underpinning our work in multilateral organisations. We also need a globally competitive and outward-facing European defence industrial and technological base, driving innovation and delivering the capabilities that Europe needs for its security.
There is frequent discussion on the theme of EU strategic autonomy. We agree that Europe needs to do more to improve its own security and that the EU can play a valuable supporting role, whether using its political weight and economic levers or supporting member states in countering hybrid tactics, building resilience and developing vital defence capabilities and interoperability.
Does the Minister not think there are real dangers in the route the EU is going down, with PESCO, the European Defence Fund and the fact that, in our negotiations with it, on a couple of occasions now we have been stonewalled when it comes to UK industry being involved in things—and one can think separately of Galileo? Is it doing the best for the defence of us all in a European or NATO context?
I very much agree. We find the concept of EU or European strategic autonomy problematic if, as it appears to be, it drives an EU-exclusive or enclosed, institutionalised approach to security and defence that shuts out key strategic partners and could duplicate or undermine NATO. We see that exclusive approach prevailing in EU defence initiatives such as the European Defence Fund and PESCO, which otherwise have the potential to boost, in a coherent way, much-needed investment and support to capability development. That is exactly why we will continue to argue in favour of an open and flexible approach, to ensure that European security benefits from the capabilities and resources that the EU’s closest strategic partners can bring to bear.
My noble friend Lord Patten and the noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Touhig, all spoke powerfully and with authority about Russia, undoubtedly NATO’s most significant long-term challenge. I listened with great respect too to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, on this topic. The November incident in the Black Sea has shown vividly how serious the Russia challenge has become and how robust we must be in response. Noble Lords will be well aware that NATO does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia, but recent Russian actions, including the Black Sea incident, have confirmed that NATO’s dual-track approach to Russia, of strengthened deterrence and defence backed up by hard-headed dialogue, is justified. We reaffirmed this approach at the Brussels summit last July, and will do so again at the foreign ministerial meeting in Washington this month.
As my noble friend said, Russia will continue to look for different ways to test NATO and its allies and partners. In both words and deeds, we need to be prepared to respond, and that is why NATO is already adapting its political and military posture. We are committed to driving forward efforts to modernise NATO, as I mentioned in my opening speech, enabling the alliance to respond to the threats it faces more effectively and with more agility. To test that agility and to enhance our contribution, as I am sure my noble friend Lord Attlee will have observed, the UK deployed some 3,300 personnel, as well as ships and planes, to Norway for NATO’s biggest exercise in 2018; exercise Trident Juncture had some 50,000 troops from 31 NATO and partner nations. This delivered undoubtedly a strong signal that allies can operate at an impressive scale and move across Europe in the event of a crisis. Again, my noble friend will be interested to know that, in spring and summer this year, we will demonstrate a robust posture in the Baltic region by our participation in the US-led BALTOPS exercise, Baltic Protector and a range of other military activities. We have also deployed 800 Royal Marines to Norway in 2019 to take part in cold-weather training. In March last year, a Royal Navy submarine took part in ICEX with the US Navy for the first time in 10 years, and the Navy will mount regular under-ice deployments in the years to come. There is much else that we are doing to up the tempo of our activity as a proportionate response to an assertive Russian posture.
We are also constantly looking at how we can build other structures that complement NATO as the bedrock of our defence. Last June, the Defence Secretary signed the comprehensive memorandum of understanding establishing the joint expeditionary force with our eight partners in that agreement. This year, the JEF signature activity will be the Baltic protector deployment, a large-scale maritime and amphibious exercise in the Baltic Sea, as I mentioned, between May and July 2019.
My noble friend Lord Cormack spoke with his customary sincerity about the need to ensure that we improve relations with Russia. On dialogue, NATO should continue to engage with Russia when it is appropriate and in our interests to do so, so that we can clearly communicate our positions. Periodic focused and meaningful dialogue through the NATO-Russia Council provides a means to avoid misunderstanding, miscalculation and unintended escalation, and to increase transparency and predictability.
In addition, to the NATO-Russia Council, we continue to use other fora, such as the OSCE and direct mil-mil links, to mitigate the risk of escalation and to voice concerns over Russian behaviour, including its failure to uphold treaty obligations. However, I have to tell my noble friend that, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, reminded us, there can be no return to business as usual until there is clear, constructive change in Russia’s actions that demonstrate compliance with international law and its international obligations.
A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend, Lord Cormack and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, mentioned China. It is instructive to remind ourselves of the words of the NATO Secretary-General in February this year:
“NATO and China have already worked together to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia. And our militaries are in regular contact. But China’s rise also presents a challenge. One example is of course the concern many Allies have expressed about China’s increasing investment in critical infrastructure, such as 5G. We have to better understand the size and the scale of China’s influence, what it means for our security. And we have to address it together”.
I would add that from the UK’s perspective China is an important economic partner. We do not expect to agree with the Chinese Government on everything, but we strongly support China’s greater integration into more of the world’s key institutions and organisations as its global role and responsibilities grow. We are committed to our relationship with China, which enables both countries to benefit and also allows us to be frank with one another on areas where we disagree.
The noble Lords, Lord Touhig and Lord Bilimoria, spoke of the current difficulties in the relationship between the United States and Turkey. We have repeatedly raised our concerns at ministerial and official level about the proposed Turkish purchase of S-400 missiles. Turkey is a valued NATO ally on the front line of some of the UK’s and the alliance’s most difficult security challenges, and we readily acknowledge that defence equipment procurement decisions are for individual nations. However, all NATO allies have committed to reducing their dependence on Russian-sourced legacy military equipment, and we believe that the proposed purchase would pose real challenges for the interoperability of NATO systems.
The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, spoke of the importance of ensuring that United States leadership in NATO is maintained and encouraged, and the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, expressed similar views. It is true to say that the White House in recent years has sometime proved unpredictable in its pronouncements, but my noble friend Lord Sterling was quite correct: President Trump has been clear about his commitment to NATO and Article 5. At January’s US missile defence review launch he confirmed that he was 100% behind the alliance. Those are not just words. We should recall that the United States continues to invest heavily in European security, spending $6.5 billion on the European defence initiative in 2018-19. The US also provides a huge proportion of NATO collective defence capabilities, including some which are unique to the alliance, such as strategic bombers, full-spectrum naval forces and strategic intelligence. Thanks to the EDI budget, there were in 2018 approximately 6,850 US troops in Eucom, and EDI is only one of a range of different pots available to fund approximately 80,000 US troops in Europe. Since 2015, there has been more than a sixfold increase in funding available through the EDI.
I was prepared to say a little bit about cyberdefence. I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, about that as I am reminded that time is short.
I know that the noble Earl will come to my somewhat critical comments about the lack of information on NATO from the Government, especially to parliamentarians, but I exempt him from some of that criticism because he is a shining example of what Ministers should be doing, given his early morning briefings of all-party groups of MPs. I should like to put that on the record but it does not exempt the rest of the Government from a frankly pathetic effort in getting over information about what is happening in terms of British-NATO relations.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments but am sure that no one listening to his speech will have overlooked a powerful point he made about government messaging in general. I had intended not to comment too much on that theme but rather to go away and report back to him on what we can and should do across government to address his powerful points.
I should like to cover the issues raised by my noble friend Lord Jopling on shortcomings in NATO’s internal financial management. NATO bodies have been strengthening the areas of internal control and risk management, as identified by IBAN audits as areas of weakness to address. The Secretary-General has taken the opportunity of the functional review to do the same at the HQ, and the nations agreed the additional resources for him to do so in December 2018. The UK expects an enhanced internal control and risk management team to be established by autumn this year. Unfortunately, there is currently no consensus among allies on the implementation of the IBAN’s financial performance audit recommendations, which makes progress slow. However, I understand that NATO is looking to create a resource executive function—more or less a chief financial officer role—and is due to submit a recommendation on this matter to the North Atlantic Council this summer.
In my opening contribution to this debate, I quoted NATO’s current Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg. I will finish with the words of one of his illustrious predecessors. Dirk Stikker served at a tumultuous time more than half a century ago, with the Cold War at its height and the Cuban missile crisis taking the world to the brink of nuclear confrontation. He was also a great friend to the UK, having previously served many years as Dutch ambassador. Long after he stood down, he reflected in his memoirs on why NATO continues to play so vital a role in world affairs. He concluded:
“However great a nation, it never has all the pieces on the checkerboard. The checkerboard is vast. And the game without end.”
NATO’s achievements over the past 70 years have been remarkable. It has forged its member nations’ individual strengths into an alliance sufficiently formidable to deter all adversaries—those then and now who would impose their own norms of intolerance and authoritarianism on the free world. NATO has made an enormous difference—whether helping to end the Cold War, stopping terror or bringing reassurance to the vulnerable across the globe from Bosnia to Operation Ocean Shield in the Gulf of Aden. Sometimes this has meant conspicuous heroism on the battlefield or in the conflict zone, and sometimes quiet but tenacious work behind the scenes or under the oceans. As the right reverend Prelate so eloquently put it, NATO is not only a military alliance but a community of values—values that endure. Whatever form it has taken, NATO, as my noble friend Lord Attlee witnessed at first hand, has always done its work supremely well. So today we take the opportunity to pay tribute to the alliance and, in particular, we say thank you to all those men and women over the past seven decades who have served NATO with fortitude and honour. We owe them much. We owe them our peace.
House adjourned at 6.39 pm.