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NATO Brussels Summit 2018

Volume 792: debated on Monday 16 July 2018


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the NATO summit in Brussels last week. Transatlantic unity has been fundamental to the protection and projection of our interests and values for generations. At a time when we are facing dangerous and unpredictable threats from state and non-state actors—from the use of chemical weapons to terrorism to cyberattack—NATO remains as vital to our collective security as it has ever been. The focus of this summit was on strengthening the alliance, including through greater burden-sharing, stepping up our collective efforts to meet the threats of today, and enhancing NATO’s capability to meet the threats of tomorrow. The UK played an important role in securing progress on all three.

The UK is proud to have the second-largest defence budget in NATO after the US, and the largest in Europe. We are increasing our defence spending in every year of this Parliament. We are meeting our NATO commitments to spend 2% of our GDP on defence and 20% of that on equipment, investing heavily in modernising our Armed Forces with plans to spend £180 billion on equipment and support over the next 10 years.

This morning, I announced the publication of the UK’s combat air strategy, confirming our commitment to maintaining our world-class air power capabilities. This is backed by our future combat air system technology initiative, which will deliver over £2 billion of investment over 10 years and lay the groundwork for the Typhoon successor programme. We are deploying the full spectrum of our capabilities in support of the NATO alliance. In the week that we marked the centenary of our extraordinary Royal Air Force, I was proud to be able to announce at this summit the additional deployment of UK fighter jets to NATO air policing missions. We are also leading Standing NATO Maritime Groups, contributing our nuclear deterrent to the security of Europe as a whole, and continuing our commitment to NATO missions, including in Estonia where we lead NATO’s enhanced forward presence.

But as the UK plays this leading role in the security of the whole continent, so it is right that we work to even burden-sharing across the alliance and that other allies step up and contribute more to our shared defence. This summit included an additional session in response to the challenge posed by President Trump on exactly this point. Non-US allies are already doing more, with their spending increasing by $41 billion in 2017 alone and by a total of $87 billion since the Wales defence investment pledge was adopted in 2014. These are the largest increases in non-US spending in a quarter of a century and, over the decade to 2024, we expect this spending to have increased by hundreds of billions. NATO allies must go further in increasing their defence spending and capability. During the summit, leaders agreed that all were committed to fairer burden-sharing; they had a shared sense of urgency to do more. That is in all of our interests.

Turning to specific threats, there was an extensive discussion on Russia. The appalling use of a nerve agent in Salisbury is another example of Russia’s growing disregard for the global norms and laws that keep us all safe. It is a further example of a well-established pattern of behaviour to undermine western democracies and damage our interests around the world. In recent years, we have seen Russia stepping up its arms sales to Iran, shielding the Syrian regime’s barbaric use of chemical weapons, launching cyberattacks that have caused economic damage and spreading malicious and fake news stories on an industrial scale. Our long-term objective remains a constructive relationship with Russia, so it is right that we keep engaging both as individual nations and as a NATO alliance. I welcome the meeting between President Trump and President Putin in Helsinki today. But as I agreed with President Trump in our discussions last week, we must engage from a position of unity and strength. This means being clear and unwavering about where Russia needs to change its behaviour. For as long as Russia persists in its efforts to undermine our interests and values, we must continue to deter and counter it. That is exactly what we will do.

In this context, in a separate discussion during the summit, the alliance also reaffirmed our unwavering support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia and Ukraine. We continue to support both Georgia and Ukraine in their aspirations for full membership of the alliance. The alliance also extended an invitation to the Government of Skopje to start accession talks following their historic agreement with Athens. This builds further on the progress made at the Western Balkans Summit in London earlier in the week, which took important steps to strengthen the stability and prosperity of the region.

For part of the summit we were joined by President Ghani, who provided an update on the situation in Afghanistan. There are encouraging signs of progress towards a peace process. Allies were united in our strong support for his efforts, but the security situation remains challenging, compounded further by Daesh fighters who have fled Iraq and Syria. So, as my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary announced to the House last Wednesday, at this summit we increased our support for NATO’s mission Resolute Support with a further uplift of 440 UK troops for the UK-led Kabul Security Force. This will take our total troop commitment in Afghanistan to around 1,100. Together with all allies, we also committed additional financial support for sustaining the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces until 2024. As I discussed with President Trump at the summit, our commitment to Afghanistan began as NATO’s only use of Article 5, acting in support of the US following the attack on New York’s World Trade Centre. Our uplift will also enable the release of US personnel to conduct increased mentoring and counterterrorism activity across Afghanistan.

The summit also agreed to extend defence capacity building to Tunisia, Jordan and Iraq. The UK’s contribution will play a vital role—in particular, increasing our support to the Iraqi Government in strengthening their security institutions and promoting stability for the longer term.

Facing today’s challenges is not enough. In the UK, our modernising defence programme will ensure that our capabilities remain as potent in meeting the threats of tomorrow as they are in keeping us safe today. NATO too must adapt to meet these challenges. This means delivering the reforms agreed at the Wales and Warsaw summits, politically, militarily and institutionally. At this summit, allies agreed a stronger NATO command structure, including two new headquarters, and the UK is committing more than 100 new posts to that structure, taking our commitment to over 1,000 UK service personnel.

We also agreed to improve the readiness of our forces through NATO’s readiness initiative known as the “Four 30s”. This is a commitment by 2020 to have 30 mechanised battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 combat vessels, all ready to use within 30 days or less. The UK will play its full part in delivering this. We also agreed further work to help counter cyber and hybrid threats by enhancing the capabilities of the alliance to respond quickly and effectively to these new challenges. This includes a new cyber operations centre and new support teams that will be able to assist allies who want help either in preparing to respond or responding to an attack. Again, the UK is at the forefront of these efforts. For example, we were the first country to offer our national offensive cyber capabilities to the alliance, and we have also committed to host the NATO cyber defence pledge conference in 2019.

As I have said many times, the UK is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security. That is why I have proposed a bold new security partnership between the UK and the EU for after we leave. But in a world where the threats to Europe’s security often emanate from beyond its borders, and where we face an array of profound challenges to the entire rules-based international order, the strength and endurance of our transatlantic alliance is vital in protecting our shared security and projecting our shared values. That is why a strong, modern and united NATO remains the cornerstone of our security and why our commitment to it is iron-clad. As we have done across generations, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with our closest allies to defend the rules-based order and the liberal values of democracy, human rights and justice that define our way of life. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement, but while I appreciate the pressures that the Government are under it has been the norm that we would get early sight of a Statement before it is made. Today, we received it shortly before the Prime Minister started speaking in the other place at 3.24 pm.

If reports of the summit are accurate, this appears to be one of the most divisive summits NATO has had, despite common agreement on a number of key issues. We welcome indications that the NATO alliance is responding positively to changing warfare and future threats. The declaration from the summit concluded that countries can invoke Article 5 on collective defence response for hybrid warfare. That starts to open up what an Article 5 response might look like, ensuring that a wider range of potential options are available. It might not be military. It can also be, for example, diplomatic—perhaps not too dissimilar from what happened following the Skripal attack. This is a crucial issue, which could redefine a NATO Article 5 response. Were there any further discussions about what it might look like in the future, including the process of determining how it would be co-ordinated?

I note that the summit also highlighted the importance of working in tandem with other international organisations, including the UN and the EU. Was there any discussion about the role of both these organisations in co-ordinating an Article 5 response? Was there any discussion about promoting collaboration between NATO and the UN in conflict prevention and peacekeeping in terms of the wider security issues in the NATO alliance area?

As the noble Baroness and others in your Lordships’ House will know, the founding principle of NATO was about guaranteeing security across Europe and the North Atlantic. Bearing this in mind, and events in Salisbury, have the Government held any bilateral discussions with the US, including with President Trump at the summit before he left to meet President Putin, about our response to Russian aggression? The NATO summit declaration rightly condemned the illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea. This was in some doubt beforehand, because of comments made by President Trump. What steps are our Government taking to support the Government of Ukraine?

On NATO spending, I have been reading the statement from the summit, while at the same time looking at comments and tweets from President Trump. My understanding is that nothing has really changed in terms of the 2014 aim for all countries to reach 2% of GDP on defence spending by 2024. This has been quite a slow process, but it is ongoing and there is continual progress. On the UK’s commitment, does the noble Baroness consider it appropriate that the UK now includes spending on military MoD pensions as contributing towards the UK target, when it had not been included under previous Governments? What consideration has been given to the assessment by the International Institute for Strategic Studies that we have fallen short of meeting that 2%, even with pensions included? As well as the commitment for NATO to spend 2% on defence, what is the current thinking on the Government’s own modernising defence programme? Will that require additional funding over and above that 2%?

The noble Baroness and others may have seen the comments from President Trump on this issue. I do not know whether she has spoken to the Prime Minister yet as to whether the Prime Minister agrees with the description of the meeting as, “two days of mayhem”. It could be that after President Trump’s visit to the UK she has become inured to his extraordinary behaviour. Press reports, and the President’s Twitter account, indicate that the US President did not moderate his claims or his actions as he flew to Brussels, as we saw when he arrived in the UK.

On the issue of defence spending across NATO countries, the Prime Minister’s Statement says:

“This summit included an additional session in response to the challenge posed by President Trump”.

Does the noble Baroness know when that additional session was held? Can she comment on the accuracy of reports that the scheduled meeting on Thursday morning with Georgia and Afghanistan, two crucial issues that she mentioned in the Statement, had to be halted and the two countries asked to leave after President Trump arrived late and insisted on discussing NATO spending there and then, even though it was not on the agenda and had not been scheduled?

President Trump announced that the EU leaders had caved in to his demands, had agreed to meet the 2% target by next January—2019—and that they would then go further and had “upped their commitment”. That is not in the Statement, so is that the understanding of the UK Government, or is it, perhaps, fake news? President Trump also issued what some regarded as an ultimatum, suggesting that without these commitments the US could leave the NATO alliance. The expression was that America would “do its own thing”. That is not borne out by the decision of the US Senate last week, which, showing very strong bipartisanship, voted 97 to 2 in support of NATO.

It seems there is very little that is new from this summit, although the importance of the NATO alliance countries reaffirming shared commitments and values must be recognised, alongside our ongoing shared commitment to meet the challenges of the future. There is much to be gained by our working together, but it is clear that much more needs to be done to maintain and achieve commitments that have already been made.

My Lords, this NATO summit, despite an extraordinarily long communiqué, was essentially about only one thing: the future relationship of the US, and particularly its President, with Europe. President Trump says many worrying and extraordinary things, but when he describes the EU as one of America’s foes we are clearly in extremely challenging times. His statement is all the more remarkable because NATO faces more external threats—from Russia on the one hand and international terrorism on the other—than for several decades. At least President Trump’s performance in Brussels and subsequently in the UK has succeeded in one respect in which the Government have conspicuously failed—he has brought the country together, albeit in opposition to him and many of the policies he is now promoting. In these circumstances, it is vital that the UK speaks with a clear and firm voice and that it works ever more closely with its European allies.

There is only one reference in the Prime Minister’s Statement to the discussions that she held with President Trump on Russia. It says:

“But as I agreed with President Trump in our discussions last week, we must engage from a position of unity and strength”.

I think many are concerned that there is now no such unity with the US on relations with Russia. As the Prime Minister talks of unity, did she seek and gain an absolute assurance from President Trump that he would indeed continue to support the NATO policy of opposition to the Russian annexation of Crimea? Did she gain any assurances about continuing US presence in the vulnerable Baltic states? More generally, did she gain any assurance that the President continues to see NATO as the best mechanism for addressing the whole range of our shared security challenges?

On every issue on which President Trump has challenged mainstream thinking—climate change, Iran and trade, for example—the UK has found itself on the same side as our EU partners and not with him. We may find after today’s meeting in Helsinki that the same applies to some security issues. So was the Prime Minister able to have discussions with any of our European partners while she was in Brussels about the form of foreign policy and defence relationship which might exist were we to leave the EU? The White Paper on our future relationship with the EU says that we must ensure that,

“there is no drop off in mutual efforts to support European security”,

and that the proposed mechanism for achieving this is to include,

“provisions for discussion between EU27 leaders and the UK Prime Minister”.

Did the Prime Minister discuss what such provisions might look like with the principal military powers in the EU, particularly France? What response did she get?

The Prime Minister’s Statement ranges over a number of areas—for example, Afghanistan and cybersecurity—where it is clear that we can be secure only if we work in the closest co-operation with our allies. A combination of President Trump and Brexit is putting a strain on these relationships. It is vital that the Government, with their new Foreign Secretary, bring greater clarity to our strategic foreign policy priorities. It has been lacking for far too long.

I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments and I apologise for the late sight of the Statement. Obviously I will relay that message.

The noble Baroness asked about Salisbury. Yes, the Prime Minister certainly raised the severity of the issues around Salisbury and Amesbury during her conversations with President Trump, both at the NATO summit and during his visit. The noble Baroness also asked about triggering Article 50. She is right that NATO has decided that a cyberattack can trigger Article 50—sorry, Article 5. Oh God, that says it all, does it not? It is still on my mind. We regard a cyberattack as something that can cause considerable damage. I believe that discussions will continue, but perhaps I might write to the noble Baroness if I am able to provide any more information. I am afraid I do not have that at this point.

Cyberdefence is obviously part of the alliance’s core task of collective defence and allies agreed that cyber is a domain of operations in which NATO must operate as effectively as it does in the air, on land and at sea. That is why they made the pledge to enhance our cyberdefence as a matter of priority.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, both questioned whether the summit was constructive. It was; all allies, including President Trump, reiterated their belief in the importance of NATO. Indeed, he talked about that in his press conference afterwards. As the noble Baroness is aware, I was not at the summit, so I am afraid that I cannot go into detail about when discussions were had, but my understanding is that a session was stopped and that there was therefore further discussion on defence spending, in addition to those that were had earlier.

We agreed—all countries agreed—that it is right that NATO countries pull their weight to ensure our collective defence. All allies have pledged to aim to move towards spending 2% of GDP on defence by 2020. As the Statement made clear, NATO’s European allies are stepping up their spending and non-US defence spending has, as mentioned in the Statement, increased by $87 billion since 2014. We are committed to meeting the NATO guideline to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence in every year of this Parliament, with the defence budget increasing by at least 0.5% a year above inflation—and we fully comply with NATO’s definition of defence spending.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about EU relations. As the Prime Minister has said many times, we are leaving the EU but we are not stepping back from our unconditional commitment to the security of our continent and our leadership in NATO. Neither NATO nor the EU has the full suite of capabilities to tackle the range of threats we face; those can be tackled successfully only through closer co-operation between NATO, the EU and member states. We are taking forward the seven key strands of activity identified in the joint declaration announced in the Warsaw summit: in cyber, hybrid warfare, maritime, military mobility and exercises. We will of course discuss our future security relationship with the EU over the coming weeks, as part of our ongoing negotiations.

My Lords, following the Welsh summit, when all the nations in NATO gave a firm promise to increase spending to 2%, progress has been abysmally slow in very many cases—and in some cases it has gone backwards. Now we have renewed promises. How confident are the Government that those who met in Brussels last week will this time deliver on their promises? While it has always been thought rather bad form to name and shame nations that do not comply with their promises, would it not be a good idea if the Government could find a way of demonstrating each year the progress that all members of NATO are making to get towards the level to which they are all committed?

As the Statement made clear, there was and is a sense of urgency and renewed commitment to move towards spending 2% of GDP on defence by 2024. It is only fair to say that our European allies and Canada, for instance, added $41 billion to their defence spending in 2017 alone. That is a commitment and we are confident that countries have a sense of urgency. We will continue to meet our commitment and will encourage our allies to do the same.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. The Brussels declaration makes it clear that NATO’s posture on Russia continues to be defence and deterrence, on the one hand, and dialogue on the other. When the secretary-general was recently in London, he drew heavily on his own experience as Prime Minister of Norway and said something with which many of us agreed: namely, that defence and deterrence are insufficient alone and that dialogue is necessary. Indeed, the more difficult the relationship, the more dialogue there needs to be. So why do our Government seem content with their policy of having no high-level meetings with Russia? This leaves our NATO allies to conduct bilateral relations with Russia that involve, for example, Hungary, Italy, Greece or Turkey, where the Kremlin can count on a sympathetic ear and not, it appears, a robust voice, while the President of the United States said only today, quite clearly, that in his view the deterioration of US-Russia relations is a result of,

“many years of US foolishness and stupidity”.

All this undermines the integrity of the alliance and moves away from unity. Why do we not step up to the plate and engage in robust dialogue?

As the noble Lord knows, NATO’s practical co-operation with Russia remains suspended but channels such as the NATO-Russia Council are an important means to keep dialogue open. He is right that we have suspended all planned high-level bilateral contacts with Russia, but we continue to engage with it multilaterally when it is in our interests to do so. It is in our mutual interests to reduce the risk of misunderstanding, miscalculation and unintended escalation. The Prime Minister has always been clear that our approach to Russia is “Engage, but beware”.

My Lords, in future we probably all need to spend a lot more on defence and security in the wider sense, not just on military equipment. Has my noble friend noticed that, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, America spends $31 billion a year of its total defence budget of $680 billion—about 5%—on European defence? Has she also noticed that America pays into NATO’s direct expenses common funding budget about 22%? Does she agree that those figures are miles away from those of 70% and 90% that the President talked about in Brussels? He understands hard facts and believes in strong dealing. Will she make sure that he is in this case presented with the hard facts—in the friendliest possible way, of course?

I thank my noble friend for the clarification, and I hope that the President takes note as well. My noble friend is absolutely right. As I said in the Statement, NATO’s European allies are stepping up their defence spending. Non-US defence spending has increased by $87 billion since 2014. Progress is being made, as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, but there is more to do and we will keep up the pressure.

My Lords, anyone present in Brussels last week would regard the Statement as an inadequate account of the nature of the summit, not least because of President Trump’s divisive, disruptive and dismissive behaviour—particularly towards our Prime Minister. It is of great importance to bear in mind now the complete unpredictability of the person whom I suppose is the nominal and practical leader of the North Atlantic alliance. The Prime Minister says that she welcomes his visit to Helsinki to meet Mr Putin; perhaps we had better wait until we hear what he says about Mr Putin before we extend such a welcome. But there was one matter on which the Statement was right: we must increase our own defence spending, not just to satisfy Mr Trump but—given his unpredictable nature—to allow for the possibility that Europe may have to act on its own.

As the noble Lord knows, we are meeting the 2% target and 20% of our defence budget is spent on equipment. We will continue to increase the defence budget by 0.5% a year above inflation. We take our commitments in this area extremely seriously.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has a good point: I have said previously in this Chamber that we are no doubt deluding ourselves. We have a sense of complacency. Experts, lay men, the Back-Benchers of both Houses and the HCDC itself have all said that we are spending insufficient money on defence, and talking about the extra things that NATO can do and how it can help is nonsense if we cannot even pay enough money to support our own defence forces. However, my question does not relate to that; my question relates to what was said about defence and security agreements with the European allies as we move forward with Brexit. Is it true that, once we leave the European Union, in any operation such as Atalanta off the Horn of Africa, the most senior post that any British officer will be able to hold is that of lieutenant-colonel, whereas at the moment British officers command many of these operations? What are the implications of that?

My Lords, it was very noticeable that while the summit was taking place, Russia was enjoying an enormous propaganda coup. In support of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, perhaps I may put it to my noble friend that, bearing in mind the unpredictability of the leader of the western world, it really is crucial that we engage in dialogue. It is utterly farcical that our relations with Russia are worse than they were at the height of the Cold War. I ask my noble friend to convey that to the Prime Minister.

As I said in a previous answer, although we have suspended all planned high-level bilateral contacts, we continue to engage with Russia multilaterally.

My Lords, in her Statement the Prime Minister said:

“Transatlantic unity has been fundamental to the protection and projection of our interests and values for generations”.

However, to date transatlantic unity is undermined by the President of the United States. We never know what Mr Trump will say next—and, frankly, I suspect that nor does Mr Trump. The other important point in the Prime Minister’s Statement is that she has proposed a “bold new partnership” between the UK and our European allies post Brexit. When working with France in the difficulties that we have with the Americans, will the Government recognise that Britain and France will have to step up to the plate and that we will have to take the lead in NATO in defending Europe?

We are very clear that we have played a leading role in NATO and will continue to do so. We will obviously be looking to have a deep security partnership with Europe. We do many things bilaterally with the French and will continue to do so.

My Lords, in that specific context, the UK has always been a little stand-offish about EU defence co-operation, even though it is certainly set within NATO, and it has cold-shouldered Permanent Structured Cooperation, known as PESCO. However, I understand that a few weeks ago Defence Ministers agreed to support the European Intervention Initiative, or EII for short—there are a lot of acronyms—put forward by President Macron. I believe that the UK was one of the nine EU countries that signed up to this but I do not think we have heard a great deal about it. It is about joint European action in the event of emergencies and crises—a sort of coalition or club of the willing. Can the noble Baroness tell us a little more about it and will the Government advertise it? It is a good example of the UK’s willingness to take part in European defence co-operation, about which they are sometimes a little shy.

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. I cannot remember exactly when— I have repeated so many Statements recently—but I referred to it in a recent previous Statement, so there is some more information there. She is right that we were an initial signatory to the letter, along with, I think, eight other European countries. As I have explained to the House, I do not have the details with me today but I am happy to write to the noble Baroness. However, it is something that we discussed in response to a Statement a few weeks ago.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not recognise that there was an extraordinary divergence between the NATO communiqué, from which the Statement is heavily drawn and which said all the right things about increased spending and taking a robust attitude towards Russia, and what the President of the United States said at the sessions and to the press afterwards, when he said all the wrong things about pretty well everything? Does she not also recognise that the way in which President Trump links his not terribly well-informed concerns about trade with European countries and about the energy balance, when he got confused between Germany’s imports of gas and its overall energy supplies, is extraordinarily unhelpful? It undermines the whole doctrine of NATO deterrence, which is based not on transactional attitudes, such as those of President Trump, and not on conditionality about trade but on the unconditional support of all NATO members for each other? Surely it would be better if we faced up to the fact that there is this contradiction. What can the noble Baroness say about that?

The Brussels declaration was agreed by all allies, including President Trump, at the summit. As I said, he was clear about his commitment to NATO. The US has more than doubled its budget allocation for its European deterrence initiative and US forces are leading NATO’s enhanced forward presence in Poland, so we also need to look at the US’s actions and how they link into the support that the President reiterated following the summit.

My Lords, have the Germans given us an absolute assurance that they will bring forward the date by which they will reach the 2% contribution target?

There was general agreement that there was an urgent need to step up defence spending. All allies agreed to it. The 2% is by 2024.

My Lords, the 2% for NATO is well understood, but the United Kingdom aspires to much more than just operating in the NATO context. There is now talk of a global Britain post Brexit, with deployments to the Far East of maritime and air forces, and we have already seen some of that. Surely 2% is not enough to cover such commitments and more should be made available to defence.

Our modernising defence programme is obviously critical. We want to play a global role and we will continue to fund defence as we see fit to meet our global obligations.

My Lords, when we gave our commitment to 400 extra people for Afghanistan, did any other NATO nations say they would join in that commitment, bearing in mind that we will have people there for 23 years and possibly even longer into the future?

I do not have an answer to that question; I will have to get back to the noble Lord. We have an uplift of 440 troops. These men and women will be focused in the Kabul security force, where we will continue to work closely with our NATO partners and the Afghan security forces.