Our commitment to NATO is unwavering. We have strengthened our force posture in Estonia, stationed a light cavalry squadron in Poland, provided the NATO mission in Kosovo with personnel, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, and provided specialist personnel to the NATO mission in Iraq. The national flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, sailed over the weekend, and will shortly fly the NATO flag as the NATO flagship while on operations in the Euro-Atlantic. We contribute to every NATO mission, declare our nuclear deterrent to NATO, and consistently spend at least 2% of gross domestic product on defence. We will maintain our leading position in NATO over the decades ahead.
I place on record my condolences to the current Defence Secretary, and my thanks to the former Defence Secretary, whom we wish well in whatever he undertakes to do.
I thank the Minister for his full response. He will know that NATO’s obligations are to work with partners, so can he say what discussions he has had with his counterparts in NATO about working with the African Union to ensure stability and security in that region?
Colleagues have rightly offered their condolences to the new Secretary of State, and remarked on the anniversary of 9/11, but the thing that has maybe fallen through the cracks is for us to send our regards to the former Secretary of State, with whom I had the great pleasure of working for three and a half years. His effort and contribution to defence was quite extraordinary, and I think he will be remembered in history as one of the great Secretaries of State. He should be very proud of everything he achieved.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right that NATO’s southern flank, Africa, is of enormous importance to Europe and the security of the Euro-Atlantic. It will not surprise her to know that, in the wake of the coups over the summer in both Niger and Gabon, conversations among European Defence Ministers and NATO Defence Ministers have been regular and urgent as people seek to understand what the response could be. It does not look like it is one in which NATO would be to the fore, but it is clearly in NATO’s interests that a European response in Africa to these coups is forthcoming.
I send my condolences to the Secretary of State.
As my right hon. Friend knows, membership of NATO requires an expenditure of 2% of GDP. This is an arbitrary and paltry figure bearing in mind the threats that we all face. What discussions is he having with other NATO partners, many of which are not even spending the 2%, to increase their spending on defence?
I steer my hon. Friend to the communiqué from the Vilnius summit, which was very clear that NATO countries that are not yet spending 2% need urgently to increase their spending to do so. Our Prime Minister has gone further and indicated his willingness to spend 2.5% on defence once the economic circumstances allow. I think that that is the right order, because we cannot have physical security without economic security.
After 13 years of Tory Army cuts, serious and senior military figures are now questioning the UK’s ability to deliver our NATO obligations. While NATO is boosting the size of its high-readiness forces from 40,000 to 300,000 following Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, UK Ministers plan to cut the Army further to the smallest since the Napoleonic era. The last Conservative Defence Secretary told this House that the Government had “hollowed out and underfunded” our armed forces. Is that still the position of the Ministry of Defence, and will the Tory Army cuts still be forced through by this latest set of Ministers?
The former Secretary of State’s comment, which the shadow Minister conveniently quotes in a limited way, was that successive Governments had failed to invest in the enablers that underpinned our war-fighting capability. It is to the credit of this Prime Minister and the two Conservative Prime Ministers who went before him that commitments have been made to grow our defence budgets, including under Prime Minister Johnson a £19 billion increase to the defence budget and under this Prime Minister another £5 billion in the last year or so. The shadow Minister also ignores this: when he says that NATO is increasing its rapid reaction force, that does not mean that in NATO armies are growing; it just means that the armies in NATO are committing ever more of the forces they have to NATO’s high-readiness formations. The British Army is to the fore in that.