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NATO Spending Target

Volume 623: debated on Monday 13 March 2017

6. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on NATO’s 2% GDP spending target. (909191)

Ministers have regular discussions with international counterparts on NATO’s 2% of GDP spending target. It is important that all NATO allies meet the 2% commitment they made at the Wales summit in 2014.

Will the Minister name which NATO allies do not currently spend 2% of GDP on defence? What reasons or excuses have they given for that?

Listing the 23 that do not spend 2% would take too long, but I reassure my hon. Friend that the five that do meet the target are the United States, the UK, Poland, Greece and Estonia. I am sure he can deduce from that the absentees.

23. Germany currently spends 1.23% of GDP—€36 billion —on defence and to spend 2% it would need almost to double that, to €60 billion. Does the Minister appreciate that a rearmed Germany would give concern not only to some of its neighbours, but to Russia, thus potentially increasing the difficulties we face with tensions on the Russian border? (909208)

With the greatest respect, we think it is incredibly important that all NATO members, who share joint responsibility for the defence of the alliance, committed at the NATO conference in Wales in 2014 to spend 2% of GDP. We welcome the fact that eight further countries are now on a clear trajectory to meet that target, and Ministers from across all Departments continue to have discussions to encourage them to reach it.

25. I dissociate myself from the remarks made by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon); that was an extraordinary statement about Germany.Since you have been here, Mr Speaker, how many Ministers have come to the Dispatch Box to say exactly the same thing—that we are encouraging other NATO members to meet the target? Some of our European partners take the whole thing for granted in the knowledge that we and the Americans pick up the bill. What are we actually going to do about it to get them to pay what they should pay? (909210)

I reassure my hon. Friend that there has been progress. Five countries now meet the 2% target, up from three in 2014; 10 countries now meet the 20% pledge on major equipment and research; and the cuts to defence spending overall have been halted. I am sure, though, that everyone would agree with the sentiment he expressed: we cannot reiterate too often that we hope everyone will reach the 2% pledge soon.

Last month, the International Institute for Strategic Studies concluded that the Government have in fact missed the 2% NATO defence spending target, and that they would have missed it by even more had they not included budgetary headings such as pensions, which do not contribute to our defence capabilities and were not included when Labour was in government. Is it not time that we went back to the criteria used for defence spending when the Labour party was in power so that we may give our armed forces the resources they need?

Well, honestly, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has read the Defence Committee’s report, which

“commends the UK Government’s commitment to UK defence and finds that its accounting criteria fall firmly within existing NATO guidelines”—

as does NATO itself. It would be worrying if we were to follow his party leader, who wants to see cuts to defence spending, the abandonment of our NATO allies and the scrapping of the nuclear deterrent.

May I helpfully suggest to the Minister that one way she could avoid these arguments about whether we have or have not scraped over the 2% line is to recognise that the last time we faced threats like those we face today was the 1980s, when we used to spend between 4.5% and 5% of GDP on defence? Let us settle for 3% so that we can avoid this sort of argument.

I appreciate my right hon. Friend’s campaign. We are proud of the fact that we are spending substantially more than the 2% target; that we have a growing defence budget for the first time in many years; and that we are on track to have a £178 billion equipment plan over the next decade.