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NATO Allies

Volume 671: debated on Tuesday 4 February 2020

Does my right hon. Friend agree that NATO is the cornerstone of UK and Euro-Atlantic security? Will he support all efforts to increase burden sharing across the alliance?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Non-US defence investment has increased by £130 billion between 2016 and 2020. It is expected to rise further, by £400 billion, by 2024, and that is progress, but allies need to increase their defence spending in the way that he described. Of course, the UK is one of nine NATO allies meeting its 2% commitment, including a 20% increase in investment in new capabilities.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that NATO is the cornerstone not only of UK security, but of Euro-Atlantic security? Will he prioritise it—I ask on behalf of Montgomeryshire constituents who have been asking me—to strengthen that alliance, to deal with the malign Russian threat?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to use NATO, and it will require reform to adapt to meet new threats. The way to do that is to strengthen and reinforce NATO, so that it can deal with state actors, including Russia, cyber, and all the modern threats. We are absolutely committed to doing that, and bringing our European and north American allies together.

With the American primary season upon us, political tensions both within and between our NATO allies seem to be higher than ever. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that means we have a greater responsibility than ever, here in the UK, to promote diplomacy between our allies, and to speak judiciously when commenting on their internal politics?

My hon. Friend is right. He knows, from the last NATO leaders’ meeting, which the Prime Minister hosted and chaired, that we take that very seriously. We contribute to every NATO mission. We are the top defence spender in Europe, the second-largest in NATO as a whole, and the leading contributor to the NATO readiness initiative.

During the recent NATO summit, there was a concerted effort by President Erdoğan of Turkey to block progress unless fellow NATO members agreed to label our Kurdish heroes in northern Syria as terrorists. After my last visit to Syria, the Secretary of State dismissed me and my concerns to try and reach out on that point. So maybe, if he refused to take advice from me and other members of the Opposition—and his two colleagues who came with me on that trip—he might take a lead from the Belgian court case that said that the Kurds were not a terrorist force; or the French, who objected publicly at the NATO council, as did Poland, the Baltic states, and even Donald Trump. I ask the Foreign Secretary: why did our own Prime Minister say nothing to defend the British interest and our Kurdish allies?

The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. We have raised our concerns in relation to Turkey’s incursion into Syria, which obviously has affected some of our Kurdish partners in the region. We had a very successful NATO summit, precisely because the Prime Minister and the UK Government are focused on making NATO work, bringing all our allies together and making sure that our foes cannot exploit weaknesses or divisions between us.

Turkey’s relationship with its NATO allies is becoming ever more strained. Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria, which we have just heard about, and increasingly close relationship with Russia are two clear examples of how tension is being created within the alliance by Turkey. As we are a leading member of NATO, how do the Government think NATO should respond to the situation?

As with all strong partnerships within NATO, if we have issues we raise them candidly and clearly, and the relationship has the depth and the maturity to enable us to do so. We have expressed our disappointment, for example, that Turkey chose to acquire Russian S-400 air defence systems. None the less, Turkey remains a valued NATO ally, on the frontline of some of our most difficult security challenges, and I raised with the Turkish Foreign Minister on 5 January the positives and our concerns.

The Minister rightly speaks of the success of NATO as an international peacekeeping force. Does he agree that part of the problem is that it does not get the international recognition for being that successful alliance? What more can we do to ensure that that is the case?

The hon. Gentleman is right: a lot of the solid, steady work that NATO is doing, and the work in bringing our allies together, goes unnoticed, as is often the case in security. The most important thing the UK can do is continue to lead by example. We contribute to every NATO mission. This includes leading the enhanced forward presence battle group in Estonia; contributing to the US battle group in Poland; and working with our NATO allies on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we will continue to do all those things.

17. We learned this week that the Foreign Secretary has instructed British ambassadors around the globe that when they attend international meetings they are no longer allowed to sit near our European allies, so that we can project the image of a “confident independent country”. Of course many of our NATO allies are EU members. Does he honestly believe that behaving like a moody teenager will help to strengthen our alliances within NATO? (900602)

Following the protocol at international meetings to make sure that the UK is asserting its voice confidently, and in tandem with but independently of our allies, is absolutely the right thing. That is what the referendum required and that is what we are doing.