I beg to move,
That this House
has considered NATO.
Let me begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for granting us time for this afternoon’s debate. I thank colleagues, particularly fellow members of the UK delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, for joining me in requesting this debate. We used to have three or four defence debates a year in this House in Government time, but when the Government allocated time to the Backbench Business Committee they gave up, among other things, those general defence debates. I am therefore grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for giving those of us with an interest in defence and security some of that time back. I hope that when members of the Committee read the report of the debate they will feel that it was worth while and that if we make applications in the future we might get similar debates, perhaps twice a year after the two annual sessions of the Assembly.
As delegates to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly—I see in the Chamber many colleagues on both sides of the House who are part of the delegation—we have a responsibility to report back to colleagues on the work of our Assembly and of NATO. On my way into the House today, an hon. Member who had seen the agenda for this afternoon simply said to me, “You are having this debate, but why do we need NATO?” It is a question that those of us who believe that there is still a need for collective security and joint action with our allies must answer convincingly, not just for fellow Members of the House who do not share our view, but for members of the public who are often sceptical about the defence and security missions with which our country is involved and increasingly want a say in defence and foreign policy matters.
NATO, in a attempt to address that question, recently adopted a new strategic concept to define its role and mission. I do not believe, however, that we can any longer be satisfied that Ministers, ambassadors and generals understand what NATO is for. We need to explain to the public—and, clearly, from this morning’s conversation with a colleague, to other Members of Parliament—why it is still relevant and necessary.
I commend the hon. Gentleman and others for securing today’s debate. Will he confirm to other Members that his dealings with delegates from other NATO member states, particularly those from northern Europe, including Norway, Denmark and Iceland, show that they believe that the challenge of the Arctic and high north—in our backyard—should be taken seriously? Does it concern him that the Arctic and high north did not feature once in the last strategic defence and security review published by the Ministry of Defence and that the UK has declined to take part in NATO air policing operations operating from Keflavik in Iceland?
I certainly agree that that is an extremely important issue in security, trade and environmental terms. The Arctic Council is one of the forums in which
NATO member countries—the United States, Denmark and Canada—meet and discuss matters with Russia and other Scandinavian countries that border the Arctic. I do not think they would want the United Kingdom to join the Arctic Council as a full member, but we most certainly need to co-operate on these issues.
I will, because I know that my hon. Friend has taken a particularly strong interest in this matter within the Assembly.
Let me reassure Members that NATO takes the high north seriously. I have been fortunate enough twice to go as a delegate to the high north and a NATO conference was held in Tromsø two years ago to consider the issues of climate change and the defence risks to our back door, which is largely vulnerable and undefended by NATO.
If we go back to the time of the cold war, we can see why it was relatively easy to explain why we needed collective security.
I do not wish to delay my hon. Friend, but I thought it important to intervene following the remarks made by my hon. Friend Mrs Moon to point out that one of the sub-committees of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly will visit Greenland in September, which shows NATO’s interest. British Members of this House, including me, will participate in that visit.
I am glad that my hon. Friend will be on that visit, discussing the matter with colleagues from other NATO countries. I look forward to hearing from him when he reports back.
During the cold war, it was fairly easy to explain why we had NATO and why we needed to work jointly with allies to defend ourselves. Europe was divided by an iron curtain. We in democratic states to the west wanted to preserve our freedom, our human rights, trade union rights, property rights, freedom of speech and freedom to protest while the states in the east—the USSR and its fellow travellers in satellite states—did not share those values. The Soviet Union was well armed with conventional and nuclear weapons and demonstrated that it was prepared to use those military assets to crush the Hungarian uprising in 1956, to blockade Berlin, to invade Czecho- slovakia in 1968 and to try to destroy the Solidarity movement in Poland. It was quite clear to most of the public why we needed military assets to protect ourselves and why we needed to co-operate with other countries to do so.
That was long ago. We still have foreign policy differences with Russia—for instance, over Syria.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and putting NATO in its historical context. Does he not think that with some hindsight the 1990s, when the Warsaw pact collapsed, was a time when we should have promoted European security and co-operation rather than developing NATO as a stronger, bigger military force, and that that could have brought about a level of disarmament rather than rearmament?
There has been considerable disarmament and a big peace dividend on both sides of the former iron curtain since the collapse of the Berlin wall. An attempt was made to rebuild a different relationship in Europe in which the Assembly played a large part, working with the emerging democratic movements in central Europe and in the eastern European countries to help them establish the institutions that enabled them in the fullness of time to join both NATO and the European Union. The door remains open—to countries such as Georgia, for instance. Indeed, I have had heard Russian delegates—they attend the Assembly as a confidence-building measure and because we have a joint NATO-Russia parliamentary committee—ask whether if, at some future date, Russia were to want to form an association with or to join the alliance, it would be possible for it to do so. It is important not to build new barriers between parties in Europe or between Europe and other parts of the world but to seek to build co-operation where we can.
In connection with the intervention from my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn, does not my hon. Friend Hugh Bayley think that it is a bit peculiar that Croatia, a former Soviet bloc country, entered the European Union a few days ago whereas Turkey, which has been a staunch ally of European countries for many years and is a member of NATO, still finds considerable opposition to its membership of the EU from within the EU?
I must say I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, but I do not want to turn the NATO debate into a debate about the future of the EU. Turkey plays and has played an important role ever since it joined the alliance in helping to defend our freedoms in Europe, and that ought to guide the views of other EU member states when decisions are made about Turkey’s accession to the EU.
I mentioned the history, but only to show that things have moved on. Despite our foreign policy differences with Russia on certain matters, such as Syria, we co-operate on many matters. Russia provides the land bridge to convey NATO’s non-military assets to Afghanistan and will help us remove many of our assets from Afghanistan as we bring our troops home.
The question that we must answer for Members of this House who do not share our views and for the public is, “If the cold war is history, why isn’t NATO?” It is not history because we still need international co-operation and solidarity with our allies and shared and permanent structures to plan to deal with the security risks we face, to deter those risks and, when things go wrong, to manage military action.
No single NATO state, with the possible exception of the United States, has sufficient military assets to protect itself from today’s risks without the help of colleagues. Actually, I do not think the United States should be excepted, because it needs and gains international legitimacy at the UN and elsewhere when it engages in military action that is supported by its allies.
Since the end of the cold war, we have needed NATO to end conflict in the heart of Europe—in Bosnia, for example; to respond to the threat of global terrorism, which had devastating effects on the streets of New York, London, Madrid and a number of cities in east Africa and elsewhere; and to protect human rights and stop ethnic cleansing, as in Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya. We needed NATO to provide humanitarian assistance during the 2005 floods in Pakistan and, indeed, following Hurricane Katrina in the United States, when other NATO states sent humanitarian assets. We have needed NATO to counter the threat of piracy off the horn of Africa: the losses suffered at the hands of pirates now cost insurers and shipping companies many hundreds of millions of pounds less than they used to, thanks to NATO and EU coastal patrols. We also need to work collectively with our allies to deal with new and emerging threats—cyber-attack, transnational crime, people trafficking or the drugs trade. All are threats that affect the United Kingdom, but none is a threat to which we can successfully respond and against which we can protect ourselves against on our own.
What does the NATO Parliamentary Assembly bring to the table? Where is our added value? After fall of the Berlin wall, as I said in response to my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn, the Assembly sought to build bridges with democrats in the former Warsaw pact countries that wanted to move closer to the west. Indeed, the Assembly moved faster than NATO itself or the Governments of many member states to open a dialogue with those democrats.
At the end of last week, General Nick Carter, the UK soldier and deputy commander of the international security assistance force, said that peace and reconciliation talks with the Taliban should have started a decade ago, and he is right. There were people engaging with moderate leaders in the insurgency in the mid-2000s, and I met them during some of my visits to Afghanistan; but there were disputes at the time about who should do this—whether it should be the Government of Afghanistan, or perhaps the United States. I remember when two people who had been involved in talks with elements within the insurgency were expelled from Afghanistan.
Last week, lead responsibility for security passed from ISAF to the Afghan national security forces in every part of Afghanistan. As our role changes so that we no longer provide the security lead in that country, we need to learn lessons from NATO’s biggest, longest and costliest military operation. Our Parliamentary Assembly has visited Afghanistan 11 times in the past eight years, and when preparing for this debate I looked back at our reports.
In 2004, we argued that NATO, which at that time had a role in Kabul but not throughout the country, should expand its presence throughout Afghanistan. In reports in 2004, 2005 and 2006, we called for a unified command, encompassing both ISAF, the NATO mission, and the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom. Between 2005 and 2008, we published reports calling for better burden sharing between NATO member states and for caveats imposed by some of the national contributions to NATO to be lifted. As early as 2004—nine years ago—we highlighted the need to accelerate the build-up and strengthen the training of Afghan national security forces; we stressed that particularly strongly from 2006 onward.
Even in 2002—more than a decade ago—we were stressing the link between security and development assistance; and from 2006, in reports and resolutions we called for what is now described as the comprehensive approach: diplomacy, defence and development co-operation. Again as early as 2004, we identified that much aid was used inefficiently because it was not channelled through Afghan institutions, and now even 50% of US aid is channelled through the World Bank’s trust fund and the Government of Afghanistan. Interestingly, in 2006—seven years ago—we called for reconciliation talks with moderate elements in the insurgency. Since 2006, we have stressed the need to challenge the safe havens in Pakistan and we have been involving Pakistani MPs in meetings of our Assembly. I have visited Afghanistan five or six times during the period our forces have been in the country, and I have to say that many of the prescient ideas reflected in reports of our Assembly came from British commanders, British diplomats, DFID staff or British aid workers.
The Assembly is an effective forum for sharing good ideas and good practice and, where we identify good practice adopted by one country, we try to persuade others in the alliance to support similar approaches. Often, it is easier for legislators who do not have executive responsibilities to reach conclusions on these matters than it is for members of a Government. We are still, even now, debating defence budgets, following the reports we produced some years ago on burden sharing. As we know, Robert Gates, the former US Defence Secretary, in his outgoing statement, called on Europe to step up to the mark on defence spending, and it is clear to our Assembly that most countries in Europe do not spend enough on defence. Indeed, only two—Britain and Greece—spend the 2% of GDP that NATO recommends.
When I put that point to our Secretary of State, as I have a number of times, he says that, with the economic situation so fragile, now is not the right time to press Governments of other countries to increase their defence expenditure, but I believe it is necessary for security reasons, and that the way to get through the difficulty is to seek commitments that, as the economic situation improves and Governments receive a taxation dividend from growth, they will devote a proportion of it to greater defence expenditures. I do not think we have public opinion on our side for that proposition at the moment, which is another reason we need to do more to explain why we have the security structures we have in NATO and why it is necessary to maintain them and finance them properly. Both the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and NATO itself need to do more to get their case into the public domain, and I congratulate the Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen—
Order. May I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that he has been speaking for 20 minutes, and it was to be 10 to 15 minutes? I am sure that he is nearing the end now.
I simply want to say this: we have a responsibility to make the case for defence spending in our constituencies and through debates such as this.
We need to stress also—this is the final point that I shall make—the importance of maintaining the trans-Atlantic relationship, which underpins NATO as an alliance. We share much with the United States and Canada in terms of our culture, history, family links from not just the United Kingdom but many European families, and trade links. The United States and Canada exported more to the European Union last year—$304 billion worth of goods and services—than they did to Japan, China and Korea combined, to which they exported $266 billion. EU exports in the opposite direction are more than $400 billion to the United States and Canada and $300 billion to east Asia.
We need to stress these things that we have in common. Of course the United States should focus on security concerns that it faces in the Pacific, but it should not forget the common interests it has with us in Europe, on which we need to work together.
I congratulate Hugh Bayley on securing this debate and I have agreed with all he said—with one exception, which I will come to —particularly about the need for NATO. The one exception was that I think there is a bit of work to be done on the need for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I was once a Member of what was then the North Atlantic Assembly for six months. Then I realised that for two years I had been a Defence Minister and had been completely unaware of the existence of the North Atlantic Assembly. Therefore I suggest that the NATO Parliamentary Assembly needs to do some work in order to build its profile.
It is a great pleasure to see the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend Mr Swire in his place, ready, willing and able to answer this debate. It is also a bit of a surprise, as some of us in our ignorance might have thought that NATO was a matter for defence, but there we are.
My great-great-great-great-grandfather, Captain George Duff of HMS Mars, who was committed to the deep, along with 28 of his crew, off the coast of Cadiz at the end of the battle of Trafalgar, and whose memorial is next to Nelson’s tomb in St Paul’s cathedral, would have been proud to find the French, the Spanish and the British working as closely together now as NATO allows us to do. Interestingly, at the battle of Trafalgar there were a lot of French and Spanish sailors in the British fleet, just as there were quite a number of British sailors in the French and Spanish fleets. That was not a matter of treachery—more a matter of expediency. In those days, when a ship was taken by the enemy, its sailors were given the not very difficult choice of joining the enemy crew or sleeping with the fishes. I do not want to describe Trafalgar as the beginnings of NATO, but it could be described as an early example of exchange postings.
Allied Maritime Command is the central command of all NATO maritime forces and the commander of MARCOM is the prime maritime adviser to the alliance. While the Allied Land Command is held by a US general, and the Allied Air Command by a US general— although at the moment the acting commander is French because the last US commander became chief of staff of the US air force—the Allied Maritime Command is not only based in the UK at Northwood, but is commanded by a British vice-admiral, Peter Hudson. We have an important and respected role to play in NATO.
And we play it to the full, with our crucial role in ISAF, our joint leadership in Libya, our contribution to Mali and the Balkans, and our operations in Sierra Leone and elsewhere. Some of those were not, of course, NATO operations, but even when NATO itself did not deploy, as the hon. Member for York Central said, the command structure, the training, the equipment convergence and the sheer competence of NATO were fundamental to our own command structure, training, equipment and competence. NATO is a vital resource and a valuable pool from which coalitions of the willing can be drawn.
The Defence Committee has been told that the United Kingdom is still regarded by its NATO allies as a leader, and so it should be. Unfortunately, the last strategic defence and security review spoke of “no strategic shrinkage” while shrinking the means available. That led to a perception that there is a gap between the United Kingdom’s stated policy and its delivery. The Defence Committee recently heard from Professor Lindley-French, who told us:
“The German-Netherlands Corps, which I know well, had several British officers in. About a week after we had made the statement in SDSR 2010 that we were going to reinvest in the alliance as a key element in our national influence policy, somebody in the MOD decided that they had to pull those British officers out of the German-Netherlands Corps headquarters. The Dutch and the Germans said, ‘Right, we will pull the Dutch and German officers out of the ARRC.’”— that is, the allied rapid reaction corps—
“In a sense, what is happening is that we are declaring policy at one level, and somebody lower down the food chain is taking a spreadsheet action at another level, so we are sending conflicting signals.”
Not only the UK but NATO itself is facing unprecedented challenges. The fundamental one, as the hon. Member for York Central said, is how to maintain a strong alliance without a war, whether it is a cold or a hot war. The withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan will throw this matter into even starker relief than did the events of 1989. This will be exacerbated by the economic woes of the western world. How do you spend money on defence if your people are in financial pain, cannot see an external threat and are at the very best ambivalent about the use to which we have put our armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman and our Chairman of the Defence Committee. Is not part of the vital role of NATO in these straitened times to enable key competences to be maintained by allowing capacity sharing and allowing officers and service personnel to train, particularly in relation to platforms that have been cut in various countries?
I agree. Capacity sharing is essential and there is a lot that we can do together. NATO at its highest levels keeps talking about pooling and sharing, but there is not much that can be pooled and shared if member countries are constantly cutting their defence capabilities, so that is a real worry and it is all caused by the financial concerns that we have.
The economic downturn has meant that the defence expenditure of most countries has declined, with the exception of countries that are definitely not in NATO, such as Russia and China, whose expenditure is increasing. Perhaps we in Europe know something about world stability that the rest of the world does not know, but in Europe, the United Kingdom is, as the hon. Member for York Central said, almost the only country which meets the NATO target of 2% of gross domestic product spent on defence. Greece does, but for increasingly irrelevant reasons of its own.
I believe that the 2% target has considerable importance which is not only symbolic. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Defence confirmed in answer to a parliamentary question last week that the UK will continue to meet this 2% target until 2015-16. I believe it is very important that it is met after that as well.
In February this year, in Oslo, the Deputy Secretary-General of NATO, General Verschbow, suggested that the 2% target might be replaced by an aspiration that no single ally needs to provide more than 50% of certain critical capabilities. I am always suspicious about aspirations, but what would the consequence of this be? In my view it would reduce the last remaining pressure on our European NATO allies to maintain their defence spending at respectable levels. It would be a negative aspiration rather than a positive one—it would say what countries did not need to do rather than what they did need to do. Sadly, our European NATO allies have no difficulty in agreeing what they do not need to do.
The only clear practical difference it would make would be that the United States would not need to commit so many of its forces to NATO. That would, at a stroke, weaken the alliance and result in reduced ambition overall. It is my clear view that it would be the wrong road to go down. I think we should stick with the 2% target and that we in the United Kingdom should find innovative ways of encouraging our allies to meet it.
The United States historically has provided the lion’s share of NATO expenditure. That country is now in the grip of sequestration over and above the originally agreed defence spending cuts. Nevertheless, our US interlocutors assured us that despite the rebalancing it is currently going through, the US still attaches importance to NATO and, within NATO, its relationship with the United Kingdom. The US looks on its allies for niche capabilities and says that it needs its friends more than ever, but when the Defence Committee visited the US a couple of months ago it made it clear that it expects other NATO nations to provide a larger share of their own defence, and well it might. The Libyan operation demonstrated that the US intention of taking a back seat whenever possible shines a stark light on the poor capabilities of its European allies in NATO. Air Marshal Harper told the Defence Committee:
“There is no question but that this operation throws into stark relief the capability gaps that exist between the non-US members of NATO and the United States.”
That is hardly surprising, because the US still spends more on defence than the whole of the rest of the world put together.
I have a dream, and it has tinges of nightmare about it. I foresee that the economy of the west will gradually get stronger, and that we shall therefore eventually be in a position to spend more on our own defence. However, before Europe decides to do that, and to create the defences that the instability of the world requires, we shall have to go through a major—perhaps catastrophic—incident that reminds our people that without strong defences we have no schools, hospitals, welfare payments or economy. Then, and perhaps only then, we shall painfully learn our lesson. Let us try to do it without having to go through too much pain.
It is a great pleasure to follow Mr Arbuthnot, some of whose relatives died in unique and novel ways. It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Hugh Bayley, who has brought to the United Kingdom the great honour of his election as president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. It is one thing to garner the votes of one’s constituents, but quite another to garner the votes of 28 NATO member countries for the presidency of their body.
Unlike the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire, I value being a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I think it provides an opportunity to look at defence from the wider European point of view and to discuss and reflect on issues in the wider world in a way that the at times UK-centric Westminster bubble does not allow us to do.
I am pleased to take part in this debate on a subject that, as the previous two speakers have said, requires greater attention. Public awareness of NATO is low and I would suggest that that is influenced by the fact that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not maintain a specific budget for NATO-related diplomacy campaigns. I am aware that an FCO meeting will be held in about two weeks and I look forward to seeing whether that will represent the beginning of a new way of highlighting the importance of NATO.
I think that NATO helps us consider the challenges we face today and how to address them. Like the other speakers, I start by pointing out the need for a dose of reality. The UK has rarely, if ever, gone to war on its own. In all the major conflicts of the past, we have nearly always acted in concert with others—including our Commonwealth partners—and we have drawn on support, equipment and people from other nations. It is a fantasy to think that the UK will ever again act unilaterally in deploying its armed forces. All future military operations will be conducted as part of a coalition. We no longer have the range of platforms, personnel or financial resources to go it alone. We also face an increasingly complex set of challenges, many of which do not respect international borders or the traditional rules of engagement. We need the greater thinking power of those 28 countries in NATO.
NATO is under pressure from a number of different sources, all of which make its long-term survival very important. Getting every member of NATO to make an equal contribution will never be easy—it will probably never even be possible—and debates on burden-sharing are not new, but cuts made to defence budgets across the European partnership, coupled with the budgetary pressures in the United States, pose a real threat. The dose of reality that everyone in NATO needs to take is that we can no longer rely on a 70% contribution from the US to our defence.
“If current trends in the decline of European defence capabilities are not halted and reversed, future US political leaders—those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me—may not consider the return on America’s investment in Nato worth the cost.”
Those words should hang above the desk of every Secretary of State for Defence in NATO.
Most recently, General Odierno, a senior American commander, said:
“As the British Army continues to reduce in size we’ve had several conversations about keeping them integrated in what we’re trying to do…In a lot of ways they’re depending on us, especially in our ground capabilities into the future.”
Finally, at NATO’s 2012 Chicago summit, Dr Andrew Dorman said:
“There is a very real danger that as individual nations make cuts to their armed forces they will increasingly assume that some capabilities will be provided by others without necessarily communicating this assumption. Such a policy of risk-sharing can only really work if there is some degree of central management of the attendant risks to ensure that capability gaps do not appear across the alliance.”
A quick survey, however, shows that we failed to take that into consideration. Norway has one maritime patrol aircraft, while Belgium and Holland have none. During a recent NATO Parliamentary Assembly visit to the Netherlands, I asked its chief of defence whether he regretted cutting their maritime patrol capability and selling it off, and he replied that he regretted it deeply. Ireland has two long-range MPAs, primarily to protect fishing. We are all, therefore, reliant on the French fleet of about 24 aircraft. We have little or nothing to protect our vital sea lanes. Pooling and sharing works only if there actually is something to pool and share.
On defence, it is constantly said that strategic thinking is not being done, that it has been left wanting in the race to cut budgets and that there is a real danger that the one forum we have to facilitate joint operations is being undermined by our failure to realise its worth. I do not think that we can rely on the much-anticipated peace dividend after our withdrawal from Afghanistan. It will cost significant sums to get troops and equipment home.
As European members of NATO wake up to the budgetary pressures in the US, we also have to face the fact that the US is pivoting towards Asia. Ministers have made it clear that they see that as presenting no threat to the US’s commitment to NATO, but it does pose such a threat. Hillary Clinton noted in the Foreign Policy journal:
“The future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action.”
“As we end today’s wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia-Pacific a top priority. As a result, reductions in US defence spending will not—I repeat, will not—come at the expense of the Asia-Pacific.”
They will, however, come at the expense of Europe. By 2020, 60% of US naval assets will be in the Asia-Pacific region.
The US is responding to reality and we must do the same. The recent “Balance of Trade” study concluded that defence budgets in Asia will have increased by 35% to £325 billion by 2021, eventually overtaking the US. China has increased its defence spending by 7.8%. Russia has increased its defence spending by 16%. The UK will not launch a military operation alone again. The change of focus in the US puts pressure on NATO, making it essential that we take a central role in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and in the forum of NATO.
New threats emerge all the time and it seems that old threats are reappearing. Russia is reasserting itself. China is developing its armed forces and its capability at great speed. The collapse of Syria has implications for the wider region. There are threats to our cyber-security. The growing militarisation of south-east Asia, with the potential for disputes in the South China sea, is underlined by the clamour to augment submarine fleets across the region. Most countries, including China, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia, have submarines and are looking to expand their numbers. Thailand is seeking to procure its first submarines.
Meanwhile, the Asia-Pacific highway to Europe is opening up. The high north will make it possible for Russia, China, Japan and the south Pacific nations to reach our back door much faster, and we will not have the ability to monitor it and see that they are coming. The high north has 22% of the world’s undiscovered oil. With the opening up of those sea routes, we will have a growing area of vulnerability. That is heightened—I am sorry to keep going on about it—by our lack of maritime patrol capability. Those issues can be dealt with only if we work together as NATO.
I am interested in what my hon. Friend is saying about the high north and the Arctic. Does she not think that it would be better if there were serious negotiations about a nuclear weapons-free Arctic, which would have to include Russia, Canada, the USA and all the European countries, as a way of bringing about some peace, rather than accelerating our expenditure?
My hon. Friend hopes against reality. Norway has taken 40 years patiently and persistently to negotiate a treaty with Russia on joint responsibilities in the Arctic circle. I think that it would take slightly longer than 40 years to get all countries across the globe to agree to nuclear non-proliferation.
The hon. Lady is making an extremely interesting and well-informed speech. Should she not also say in response to Jeremy Corbyn that if there is an aggressor in the high north, it is Russia, which is aggressively arming and renewing its vast nuclear weapons stockpile in an attempt to dominate the high north? The idea that we should lie down meekly and let it do that unchallenged suggests that the hon. Gentleman starts from a rather naive standpoint. Russia’s fuelling of the conflict in Syria and the way in which it just walked into Georgia show how prone it is to reasonable negotiation.
I do not want to be as personal as that in response to my colleague. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the opening up of the high north makes it imperative that we maintain a continuous at-sea deterrent. Perhaps Russia is rearming, but we must also be aware that China is moving in our direction. It has sent through an ice-enabled ship on at least two occasions recently and is agreeing mineral trading rights with Iceland, which will facilitate regular voyages into our backyard. We need to be aware of that. I am not necessarily saying that it poses a threat, but we must not ignore it and must prepare for any risk that comes our way as a result.
I want to comment briefly on the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, which has been essential in building post-conflict capability. Capabilities of different levels are available across the NATO alliance. It is important that we recognise that the end of the cold war brought back allies from the eastern European bloc that have expertise in building capacity and creating democratic capabilities that we should utilise more.
I am aware that a number of Members want to speak, but I want to comment briefly on the Government-owned contractor-operated model. I recently asked a Minister what capacity the GoCo would have to facilitate bilateral and trilateral procurement with our NATO allies. The response was a bit pathetic, because I was told that nothing would change.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly gives us the opportunity to test such ideas with our allies face to face. We can hear their assessment of what we are doing and their understanding of why we are doing it. I look forward next week to asking the French how they would feel about negotiating the joint procurement of equipment with an agency that could potentially be owned by a third power on our behalf. Next week, along with some of my NATO Parliamentary Assembly colleagues, I will travel to the US and attend briefings at the Department for Defence, the State Department and Capitol Hill. I will raise all the issues that I have raised today at those meetings.
In conclusion, NATO provides the opportunity to share our understanding of the world, its problems, its risks and conflicts, and to build a shared understanding and response. On a personal level, having the opportunity to meet people and share our thoughts and views on defence issues is invaluable. Long may it continue. Long may NATO provide Europe with the peace and security that it is dedicated to defending jointly among its 28 members, and which it has succeeded in providing for a long time.
I, too, thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting time for a debate on NATO in the main Chamber.
My first real awareness of NATO came when I was interviewed to join the Royal Air Force in the 1980s. I was asked how many countries were in NATO and who was the Secretary-General. Of course, all Members will know that there were 16 member countries at that time and that the noble Lord Carrington was Secretary-General. NATO has now grown to 28 member nations, with former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as Secretary-General. Like previous speakers, I now serve on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which brings together parliamentarians from the Atlantic alliance and contains 257 delegates from the 28 nations. I serve on one of the five committees, the defence and security committee. I am proud that a UK member, Hugh Bayley, is the current president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and is well into the first year of his two-year term. Congratulations, el Presidente.
NATO’s essential core tasks and principles are summed up in the strategic concept, and I will run through them. The cornerstone of the alliance, of course, is collective defence. NATO members will always assist each other against attack in accordance with article 5 of the Washington treaty. That commitment remains firm and binding.
My hon. and gallant Friend makes a good point. There are a number of anomalies, such as the situation of the dependency of the Falklands Islands and the tensions between Greece and Turkey, which of course are both member nations, in Cyprus. There are certain cases, of which he gave a prime example, in which article 5 perhaps has a little leeway.
Crisis management is another core task of NATO, and it has a unique and robust set of political and military capabilities to address the full spectrum of crises before, during and after conflicts. Of course, my hon. and gallant Friend was involved in one such conflict in Bosnia.
Another task is co-operative security. The alliance engages actively to enhance international security, through partnerships and by contributing actively to arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament. Other recently added facets of NATO’s work are cyber-security, which has been much in the news in the past fortnight, energy security and the threat posed by climate change.
NATO has been at the heart, and at the head, of command and control for current and recent western military interventions and operations. In many ways, it now delivers the military aspects of the United Nations’ work. I will highlight three examples. First, as we have heard, there is the international security assistance force, the NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan that the UN Security Council established in December 2001 under resolution 1386. Secondly, there was Operation Unified Protector, the NATO operation enforcing UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973, concerning the Libyan civil war. Those resolutions imposed sanctions on key members of the Gaddafi Government and authorised NATO to implement an arms embargo and a no-fly zone and to use all necessary means, short of foreign occupation, to protect Libyan civilians and civilian-populated areas.
Thirdly, there is Operation Ocean Shield, which was referred to earlier. It is NATO’s contribution to the anti-piracy campaign off the coast of the horn of Africa, following the earlier Operation Allied Protector. Naval operations began early in 2009, having been approved by the North Atlantic Council, and primarily involve warships from the UK and the United States, although vessels from many other nations are also included.
That brings me to some of the challenges facing NATO, a big one of which is duplication. The operation against Somali piracy is a good example. I have been with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly to Djibouti, which is strategically placed on the horn of Africa, and there are clear signs of overlap and mission repeat. We have not only the NATO-led mission but an EU-led operation called Operation Atalanta, also known as European Union Naval Force Somalia. There is also an independent French air base, a US army camp and a Japanese air base. Time and time again, I ask the commanding officers how much liaison there is between the different operations, and I have never got a satisfactory answer.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that at Northwood, in this country, there is close co-operation between the NATO and EU activities, and there is also UN discussion about anti-piracy activity. I do not think we should be quite as pessimistic as he implies.
I guess that the hon. Gentleman is a bit more pro-EU than I am. That is probably what is behind his comments. I will give another example of what duplication does. It can confuse command and control, and further evidence of that is the EU force headquarters being set up in Belgium, in a similar location to NATO’s headquarters on the outskirts of Brussels. That is more costly duplication of command and control.
The hon. Gentleman should be celebrating the success of the anti-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia. I will mention unnecessary duplication in my speech, but the activities that he has mentioned are complementary, as are those of the Chinese and a number of other Asian countries. They are all operating together successfully to achieve a common goal. It is a success, not a problem as he is trying to make out.
I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. He will be well aware how confusing it can be to answer to two leaders—for example, the leader of one’s party and a union. As a serviceman myself, I believe it is important to have a clear command and control structure and for people to know whom they answer to.
The hon. Gentleman will remember that I was also a member of the delegation to Djibouti. I specifically remember the response that we received to our questions, which was that people found it helpful to move between the two different organisations, largely because of the different rules of engagement. They said that the European rules of engagement gave greater flexibility. We should bear that in mind.
And of course, as the hon. Lady will remember, another interesting aspect was the Japanese air base, which I think is the only place in the world where Japanese forces are operating militarily outside their own sovereign area.
Expansion is another area of concern. Ever more former Warsaw pact countries are joining. Poland, Romania, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have already done so, and many more are waiting to join and are already acting as observers. It is sometimes asked whether even Russia will join NATO at some point. It already has observer status at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and I have chatted to the leader of the Russian Communist party in the Duma while on a NATO briefing. Having been a serviceman in the late 1980s and ’90s, I found that very strange indeed.
What would happen if Scotland were to go independent? How long would it have to wait in the long queue to join NATO? By the way, our NATO assets, including our Trident submarines, which I have visited on the Clyde, would have to be relocated.
My final area of concern is budgets, to which many Members have referred. There is an increasing balance of capabilities within NATO. Eighteen member nations are spending less on defence from their current budgets than they were four years ago, and as others have said, only three allies have spent the target of 2% of more of GDP on defence in the past couple of years—the United Kingdom, the United States and Greece. We have already heard about the situation in Greece because of its GDP. Would an independent Scotland be able to commit 2% of its GDP to defence spending? There is pressure on the United States, which now provides 77% of allied defence spending within NATO. Just a decade ago, it was 63%. The United States’ commitment to European defence as it shifts its focus to Asia is one of the biggest uncertainties.
NATO is at the heart of western defence and overseas operations. It is changing and adapting, and it has many challenges, but we on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly will continue to scrutinise the Atlantic alliance, support it, celebrate its achievements and remember what is was set up for—keeping the peace in Europe.
I thank my hon. Friend Hugh Bayley for introducing the debate and describing the work of the Assembly, and for dipping into the history of NATO. That is a good starting point.
At the end of the second world war there was a triumph and a tragedy. The triumph was the end of the war, the defeat of Nazism, the foundation of the United Nations and the universal declaration of human rights and the UN charter. The tragedy was the descent into the cold war, the foundation of the Warsaw pact and NATO, and the decades-long nuclear arms race with costs borne by both sides and the economic problems that ensued as a result. Then there was the election of Gorbachev as President of the USSR, and his proposals for disarmament. The Reykjavik summit was unfortunately neutralised by Reagan’s proposals, and Gorbachev’s proposals for a common European home and promotion of European security and co-operation were not responded to effectively by the USA or NATO. Gorbachev eventually went and the Warsaw pact collapsed. Surely the 1990s were a time for reassessment and looking at an alternative. Why did NATO continue at that point when its cold war raison d’être had gone?
The Library briefing contains a helpful statement by J. L. Granatstein, a distinguished research fellow from the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. In the National Post on
“Perhaps it might have been better if NATO had wound itself up at the end of the Cold War. The alliance instead sought for a new role, a new strategic purpose, and it found it outside the boundaries of the alliance.”
He goes on to mention Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and later the Libyan adventures of NATO.
I think we should seriously consider the whole purpose of NATO. It was founded as part of the cold war and had a specific area of responsibility—the north Atlantic. It successively increased its operations out of area, and with the Lisbon treaty it does two things. First, it vastly expands its area of operation to include Afghanistan, which by no stretch of the imagination can be anything to do with the north Atlantic, any more than can the seas off Somalia or North Korea, South Korea and south Asia.
Does my hon. Friend accept that in a more communicated and linked-up world, threats to our security from other parts of the world can have a significant impact on our security at home? Piracy off the coast of Somalia is a real threat to trade lanes between western Europe and east Asia. Those are massive trade lanes for the continuing prosperity of the world. Is that a threat to our security, and should we respond to it?
Of course piracy off the coast of Somalia is not a good thing. Instability in Somalia is very bad, but surely one solves that problem by political support for changes in Somalia—to some extent that is happening and considerable changes are taking place. I sometimes get the feeling that NATO spent the 1990s and early 2000s looking for something to do, and that it was more than pleased to get involved in Afghanistan and present itself as the armed wing of the United Nations. It may be that the UN should have its own force, and that is a matter for consideration and debate. However, when NATO calls itself the arm of the UN, what does that say to countries that are not in or aligned to NATO, or indeed are deeply suspicious of NATO and its activities? Members who talk about NATO as being the effective arm of the UN should think carefully about the implications of what they are saying.
The costs of NATO membership are considerable—probably far greater than those of membership of the European Union, which seems to excite massive debate on the Government Benches. NATO requires 2% of our gross national product to be spent on defence, and Members complain that other countries do not meet those demands. Presumably, NATO membership requires a level of expenditure that many countries simply cannot afford, yet they are required to make that expenditure and, for the most part, to buy those arms from the
United States or approved suppliers that produce NATO-issue equipment. We must think far more seriously about why we are in NATO and what it is achieving.
Let us consider Afghanistan from 2001 onwards. Yes, 9/11 was a dreadful event and an act of murder against civilians, but was it an appropriate response to invade Afghanistan? Twelve years later, 400 British soldiers, a larger number of American soldiers, and a very much larger number of Afghan civilians, and others, are dead. Drone aircraft are operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and there is a real threat to the civil liberties of everyone in the world from Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition and anti-terror legislation. That has not made the world a safer or more secure place.
Does my hon. Friend accept that in 2001, an estimated 10,000 terrorists came out of training camps in Afghanistan from areas that the state had effectively handed over for al-Qaeda to operate in? Was there not a need to protect communities around the world by removing those terrorist bases from Afghanistan?
I question the figure of 10,000 and I would take my Friend back a little further. In 1979, Soviet support for the then Afghan Government provoked a massive US response and arming of the mujaheddin in Afghanistan. Massive amounts of US money went into Afghanistan from 1979 onwards and—hey presto!—the Taliban were formed with US weapons. Al-Qaeda was founded by US trainers. What goes around comes around and we should think more carefully about instant information and instant sending of vast amounts of weapons to opposition groups. The same may happen if we decide to send arms to one group in Syria. Where will those arms end up? A little bit of historical analysis might be helpful.
My hon. Friend is right to say that what comes around could go around. Does he also accept that some of the conflict in Afghanistan perhaps also led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, bringing freedom and democracy to swathes of people across Europe? Some of those countries are now members of NATO, having recognised the importance of joint defence in securing independence and democracy.
Of course the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan was a mistake; it was just as disastrous as previous British interventions and the current NATO intervention in Afghanistan have been. It did irreparable damage to the leadership of the Soviet Union through its cost and loss of life. It was a disaster and a contributory factor—not the only one—to the break-up of the Soviet Union. Is NATO the answer to the problem? Should we not have a more assertive policy of peace and disarmament around the world, rather than the NATO policy of rearmament above what any country can realistically afford, which in turn encourages more rearmament?
I was alarmed by the whole discussion about the Arctic and the so-called threat from the north. A whole new scenario seems to be being built up, namely that China will somehow occupy the Arctic and invade us from the Arctic ocean, and therefore we must develop a new missile shield—as we already have aimed against Russia—to protect ourselves. The USA is moving more into the Asia-Pacific region. Should we be thinking more about regional peace and security measures? That has been achieved to a large extent in Africa, Latin America, and parts of central Asia. Should that not be our direction of travel, rather than one that involves large levels of armaments?
The other point I want to raise—this will not be popular with many, if any, Members in the Chamber today—concerns NATO’s preference for being the nuclear umbrella, and the holding and potential use of nuclear weapons. These are the ultimate weapons of mass destruction. There is no “limited use” of nuclear weapons. There is no limited availability of them. You either use them or you do not. If you do, it brings about the death of very large numbers of people, a nuclear winter and the destruction of the lives of millions of people. Those who argue that NATO should hold nuclear weapons must in reality be saying that they would be prepared to use them, with all the consequences that that would bring about.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a lot of time. On this issue, however, I disagree. Does he agree that nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented and that it is in the interests of global security that the democracies of the world join together in a common nuclear defence rather than unilateral nuclear disarmament, which would only hand greater power to countries and forces in the world that do not wish to see democracy prosper?
Of course the technology of nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented; indeed, Einstein in his later years said that if he had his time again, he would have been a clockmaker rather than making the discovery he did. He did not make it with the intention of starting nuclear war, but that was a danger that came from it. Obviously nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented, but it is possible to give them up. South Africa did so, as did Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. There are nuclear weapons-free zones around the world. The prize surely would be a nuclear weapons-free middle east, which would require the nuclear non-proliferation treaty conference that was envisaged to include Iran and Israel to actually be held rather than endlessly procrastinated on. It will not be easy; of course not. But if we do not start somewhere, more people will get off the nuclear non-proliferation treaty trail and go elsewhere. Egypt has already left the NPT because of inaction by the nuclear powers over the middle east nuclear-free zone. Should not we be doing the same in terms of an Arctic nuclear weapons-free zone as a step towards a nuclear-free world? Everybody says they want a nuclear-free world, but at the same time are rearming, rather than going forward on it.
We are spending £34 billion a year of our money on defence and we are bound to spend at least 2 per cent. of GDP as long as we remain members of NATO, as all other countries must do. Those countries that are in the EU and NATO obviously accept both treaties. Those that are in the EU but not in NATO have a problem because of the close relationship between the EU and NATO. One can hardly say that the traditional neutral foreign policies of, for example, Sweden and Ireland can be maintained while the EU maintains this close relationship.
My plea is simply this. We live in a world where a quarter of the world’s population are hungry, if not starving. We live in a world where the environmental consequences of what we are doing are catastrophic for future generations. Yet we are spending a vast amount of money on armaments, which, in turn, encourages others to spend vast amounts of money on armaments. We have a growing arms race between NATO and Russia, despite the apparently cosy chats between members of the Russian Communist party and delegates to the NATO Assembly. I absolutely welcome those and wish they could be videoed and portrayed to the whole world. The same applies to China.
If we are to live in a world of peace in the future, it will not be achieved by spending more and more on weapons. It will be achieved by spending less on weapons and more on dealing with the problems of human misery and human insecurity. I hope that instead of developing a nuclear shield or the missile shield along the eastern flank of NATO, we will instead move towards much better relations with all the power blocs as a way of bringing about a more peaceful world.
I do not believe in the continuation of defence alliances that have within them a built-in accelerator of cost and of danger, as well as massive pressures from the arms and other industries to sell more of their goods, when the needs of the world are health, education, food and housing. Those are the issues that we should prioritise, not weapons of mass destruction. I realise that this is a minority position in the Chamber today but I am not actually alone among the wider public in holding those views.
Of course Jeremy Corbyn has outlined a minority perspective, but that shows the value of this Chamber in allowing those perspectives to be aired.
I disagreed fundamentally with the hon. Gentleman on a number of points. First, he said that NATO was looking for a role in the early 1990s and was therefore keen to latch on to Bosnia and Kosovo, whereas at the time NATO commanders were very reluctant to get involved in those conflicts. It was the international community, through institutions that I am sure the hon. Gentleman supports, that was looking for a mechanism to deliver its collective will on the ground. The only mechanism available to the international community at the time was NATO.
May I just confirm what my hon. Friend is saying? At the time, I was the chief of policy at Supreme Allied Commander Europe’s headquarters. It was my job to try to avoid getting involved in Bosnia and places like it, but I was given political instructions that we had to start thinking about it. What my hon. Friend says is absolutely accurate; Jeremy Corbyn is wrong.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I am pleased that he has been more successful in some of his more recent endeavours than he was in getting NATO to stay out of the Balkans. It was the international community looking for a vehicle to deliver its will on the ground that led to the NATO involvement in south-east
Europe, which shows the benefits of an alliance that brings together collective action in support of common values.
I do not entirely share the view of the hon. Member for Islington North on Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of people are now going to school there in a way that they did not before. There is now a freedom for women that has not been felt recently. There is also the beginning of self-determination. NATO has helped to bring an end to a religious dictatorship there and my hope is that, as the negotiations go forward, it will continue to protect the newly won rights for people there.
I would like to pay tribute to Hugh Bayley and to my hon. Friend Jason McCartney for securing this very important debate. My hon. Friend talked about the danger of unnecessary duplication—we may see that in some of the remarks today—but that in itself pays tribute to the work of the Parliamentary Assembly and to its British delegation, which works on a cross-party basis, putting the British national security interest first. The delegation is able to come back to this House and to the country and share a fairly coherent and joined-up criticism of NATO where there are criticisms to be made. We also play a key role in advocating the benefits of the alliance for everybody.
We all recognise that the world has changed. NATO was born into a Europe that was divided, and it formed the bedrock of our security for 60 years. The world was split between two diametrically opposed systems of government that were forged out of the second world war, the largest conflict in history. For much of its existence, NATO has been preoccupied, rightly, with conflicts between states, but as hon. Members on both sides have said, that has now shifted. It is no longer simply about interstate warfare. In Bosnia and in Kosovo, NATO has involved itself with civilians as well as states and this new role has been cemented in Afghanistan and, more recently, under the right to protect mandate delivered by the UN in Libya. That latter conflict displayed a strong example of how NATO, in accordance with international will and international agreement, was able to deliver effective military capabilities to prevent, I believe, the escalation of that conflict and to hasten the end of hostilities.
Humanitarian-led intervention is only one part of the changing landscape. There has been a paradigm shift towards focusing on international terrorism and piracy, as we have heard, and UK forces are highly active alongside NATO and EU allies in these regards. Cyber-security is also a new frontier for NATO. The unrelenting computerisation of our society and our reliance on the internet bring many opportunities for NATO Governments and citizens, but it brings significant dangers too. The scale of such infrastructure is something that no state could have anticipated in 1949. It requires a completely different approach that, through common endeavour, is better delivered within the alliance.
The power structures of the world have shifted far more rapidly than many predicted. We now live in a world where China is the world’s second largest economy, and it looks set to overtake the United States this century. This, coupled with the relative demise of the Russian economy and the break-up of the Soviet Union, has seen the attention of the United States shift firmly to the Pacific. That poses fundamental questions for NATO, an organisation that remains embedded in the regional geopolitics of Europe and the Atlantic.
The US remains by far the largest contributor of money and matériel for NATO. In 2011, the US spent 4.8% of its GDP on defence. Germany, Italy and France failed to contribute even 2% of their respective GDP. Like many hon. Members, I think it is deeply unfair that our European NATO allies expect the US and the UK to bankroll European defence. It is right to expect our allies in NATO to contribute fairly to the upkeep of NATO forces, and I call on Ministers not to be shy in their discourse with our European counterparts. Calling for member states to contribute fairly is one part of ensuring that the organisation remains effective. For NATO to be effective, we do not just need a willingness to deploy military force when necessary, but for our European allies to be willing to fund that resource, so we have the ability to deploy when the time is right.
On procurement, we can and should do things differently. There are many ways to work more closely with our European allies. We must ensure that the sum total of a country’s specific specialised contribution exceeds its individual parts. By procuring equipment and weapon systems together, we can create the flexibility essential to meeting the array of challenges in the 21st century. For example, it is wasteful to buy planes that cannot land on another country’s aircraft carriers, to have to supply different types of bullets for different countries, or to have radio systems that cannot be integrated or talk to each other. We must ensure that our armed forces can operate as effectively as possible with troops from other countries. That underscores the point made by Mrs Moon about how unlikely it is for this country to go to war by itself. The more likely scenario is that we will always be acting as part of a coalition, so it is important to make that coalition effective—very basic stuff that NATO continues to get wrong.
Let us be clear: Britain should always be able to retain control over the deployment of its forces. We must do so wisely and with appreciation of the consequences of engaging our men and women in armed conflict. However, the EU can play a role in developing institutions and structures that allow humanitarian access and peacekeeping missions in partnership with NATO where possible. As I and other hon. Members have said, the gaze of the United States is now firmly on the Pacific. Having EU structures, where appropriate and necessary, to help plug the gaps left by the Americans, who are now more concerned with Beijing than Berlin, will be in the UK’s national interest. Deeper EU defence co-operation makes economic sense for the same reasons that it does within NATO. We are stronger together, and if we are smart, it will not be an additional burden to the taxpayer.
Will my hon. Friend explain why it is necessary for the EU to duplicate what European nations can already do on a military and politically co-operative basis through NATO? Does he agree that it is essential not to waste resources by duplicating NATO structures that already exist?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. It is clear that we need to reduce duplication both within the EU and between the EU and NATO. There will, however, be certain fundamental operational ways in which a resource on a European basis can best plug a gap that NATO does not move into. I suggest that these things are best looked at on a case-by-case basis.
No, I will not.
It is my view, and that of the Liberal Democrats, that NATO should remain the bedrock of our international defence obligations. It should be properly and fairly funded, but it must adapt for the 21st century.
During the Whit recess, I went with a NATO Parliamentary Assembly delegation to Serbia and Kosovo. We went by road from Belgrade through north Mitrovica and south Mitrovica down to Pristina. We visited a Serbian orthodox monastery in Kosovo, which is now in an area overwhelmingly populated by Kosovo Albanians, rather than Kosovo Serbs. One interesting development is that in Belgrade, Mitrovica and Pristina everybody unanimously praised the work of KFOR, the NATO-led force doing the vital job of providing stability and protection to the minority Serbian communities and religious places in Kosovo, as well as acting to prevent conflict in north Mitrovica.
KFOR divided Kosovo into five areas of operations, and its commanding officer is German. The most difficult area covers north Mitrovica, in which approximately 80,000 Serbs live. Many do not accept that they live in Kosovo—they still identify with Belgrade. Significantly, the KFOR commander for this area does not come from a NATO country—he is from the neutral country of Switzerland. Through its structure, infrastructure and continuity, NATO enables partner countries and others to participate and play important roles in NATO structures.
There is a similar situation in Afghanistan, with an alliance of 28 countries—or 43 countries, I am not sure what the actual figure is now—that participate in international operations. NATO has played an essential part in providing the framework for that to happen. Similarly, EU co-operation is happening in different places. Wearing my Foreign Affairs Committee hat, I was in Mali last month. I was pleased to meet and talk to the EU’s training mission, led by French officers who are doing a fantastic job, which includes 46 British forces personnel. Interestingly, for the first time British officers will be in charge of Irish soldiers, from the Royal Irish Regiment. The two flags will be working together for the first time since the 1930s. That is a symbol of international co-operation. That work is done under an EU initiative, so that Ireland, Sweden and other EU countries that are not in NATO can nevertheless contribute and work with NATO countries. Often, the assets and resources of NATO are used in that way to enhance our European defence and security.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the new military co-operation between Britain and the Irish Republic. When I was in Mali, just a week or two before him, I saw a training unit led by a British major and, from the Irish Republic, an Irish captain. However, my hon. Friend made a slip of the tongue: he referred to the Royal Irish Regiment, but of course those forces were from the Republic of Ireland.
I am grateful for that intervention.
Let me turn to some of the other issues that have been raised. An important point was made about the internet and cyber-warfare. NATO has a facility in Estonia—I have visited it with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and I know that the NATO Parliamentary Assembly has also visited it—to bring together best practice for dealing with cyber-warfare. As we have seen from the media headlines in the last few days, we will face significant challenges, not just from states but, I suspect, over the coming decades from private interests and private companies spying and stealing data and commercially sensitive material. We also know of reports—I am not in a position to say whether they are true—that the Iranian nuclear weapons programme was seriously set back because of the activities of some countries and the so-called Stuxnet, and there are other areas where these matters are also of great importance.
International security is enhanced by co-operation, not just in hardware and personnel but in intelligence and security sharing. We need to be honest: these are not issues that can be dealt with by simplistic headlines in The Guardian or any other newspaper. They have to be looked at seriously. There needs to be international co-operation to deal with threats to our security, which might come not from terrorist bombs but from somebody sabotaging a banking system or undermining the supply of electricity or water to our major cities by making a minor change to a software programme, albeit one with potentially disastrous consequences. We need to look at those issues. I believe that NATO has a role in that respect.
My final point relates to the United States, which has already been referred to several times. We have heard about the so-called pivot towards Asia, President Obama’s strategy of leading from behind and all the other concerns that we have as Europeans. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly provides one of the few forums for members of the US House of Representatives and the Canadian Parliament to come to meetings at which we can have regular discussions with them. Sadly, given the nature of the insane political system in the United States and two-year elections to the House of Representatives, it is difficult for its members to get abroad very often, because they have to spend all their time raising election campaign money or fighting re-elections, normally in their primaries.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is important, because it means that there is a group of Americans from the Republicans and the Democrats who have had contact with and learnt about European politics. In the same way, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly provides a way for people from European countries to understand the politics of other countries better. The current President of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, was a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly for many years. I am sure that that was important, given that he comes from the AK party, which comes out of an Islamist tradition. He has clearly learnt a great deal and built confidence and understanding with other European parliamentarians and those from across the Atlantic.
The forum that is provided, the specialist committees and the reports that the NATO Parliamentary Assembly publishes provide members of Parliaments in different countries with vital information that they would not always get from their own Ministries of Defence—I am glad that the Minister is in his place to hear this. In the more than 10 years that I have been attending meetings of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I have found that the access we get to high-level meetings and the information we get in those meetings is often far superior to the level of information I used to get as a member of the Select Committee on Defence or the Foreign Affairs Committee. That is not something to be proud of.
Without straying too far from what I was going to say, I can say that the NATO Parliamentary Assembly produces reports which are published online and are published in draft form before final versions are produced. Every year the NATO Secretary-General produces a response to the points made. It is a bit like the relationship between Select Committees and the Government. Recommendations are made, reports are published and then the NATO bureaucracy—the Secretary-General, on behalf of NATO as an institution—responds to the assembly’s recommendations. The Secretary-General and other senior NATO figures come before our meetings. We hold them to account, whether at the February session in Brussels or the autumn meeting, which rotates among different countries.
There is therefore a level of connection and accountability, although NATO is not a democratic parliamentary structure. It works through a consensus arrangement between the different member Governments. In a sense, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly is far less democratic than other bodies—there is no qualifying majority voting, like in the European Union—while the European Parliament has a lot more powers. Nevertheless, the work we do as parliamentarians, representing our national Parliaments but also understanding and working in co-operation with others, is vital. Under my hon. Friend Hugh Bayley, the president of the assembly, I believe we will have a much higher profile in future.
I, too, congratulate Hugh Bayley on securing this debate. He has fulfilled his responsibilities as president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in an exemplary manner, to the credit of Members in all parts of this House.
All three of the major military contributors to NATO have in the last few weeks made a significant policy change on the supply of equipment to Syria. All three have said that they are now ready to supply lethal military equipment to Syria. I want to bring before the House what I believe is a critically important case study before those countries, and possibly other NATO countries, decide in specific detail whether they will supply military equipment to Syria and, if so, what types.
Over the last few days, I have been analysing what was supplied to Gaddafi’s Libya in the five years prior to the outbreak of the Arab spring. The UK was one of the NATO suppliers, and was far from the only one. Non-NATO countries were supplying arms as well, and contributing to the substantial Libya-Gaddafi arms stockpiles. That five-year period ran from the beginning of 2006 until the end of 2010, which was of course the eve of the Arab spring.
I shall give the House a brief snapshot of the arms export licences that were approved by the previous Government here. They covered items including components for assault rifles, armoured personnel carriers, command and control vehicles, military utility vehicles, military communications equipment, cryptographic equipment, electronic warfare equipment, artillery computers, and components for surface-to-air missile launching equipment. The decision to issue an export licence for that last item— components for surface-to-air missile launching equipment—was made here in London, in blissful but understandable ignorance of the fact that within a few months NATO aircraft, including those from this country, would be overflying Libya to establish the no-fly zone.
Then came the change of Government in May 2010. In the subsequent seven months leading up to the outbreak of the Arab spring in 2011, the present coalition Government continued the policy of the previous Government. Indeed, I believe that they somewhat enlarged it. The export licences that were granted to Libya’s Gaddafi regime covered items including small arms ammunition, semi-automatic pistols, sniper rifles, assault rifles, machine guns, military communications equipment, cryptographic equipment, military cargo vehicles and, once again, components for surface-to-air missile launching equipment.
I raise this case study because the key issue for NATO in relation to supplying arms to Syria is to determine what has happened to the Libya-Gaddafi arms stockpile. To help us to answer that question, we are indebted to one key public source: the report presented to the United Nations Security Council by the panel of experts charged with reporting to the Security Council on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1973. I believe that that report should be made compulsory reading for all Ministers considering whether NATO countries should supply weapons to Syria and, if so, what weapons they should be.
I wish to place before the House a few key sentences from that recently published report. The panel of experts states that
“the proliferation of weapons from Libya has continued at a worrying rate and has spread into new territory: West Africa, the Levant and, potentially, even the Horn of Africa. Since the uprising and the resulting collapse of the security apparatus, including the loss of national control over weapons stockpiles and the absence of any border controls, Libya has over the past two years become a significant and attractive source of weaponry in the region. Illicit flows from the country are fuelling existing conflicts in Africa and the Levant and enriching the arsenals of a range of non-State actors, including terrorist groups.”
I compliment the right hon. Gentleman on his excellent speech. Does he agree that, once those weapons have leeched out of Libya, there is no way of retrieving or controlling them, and no way of knowing where they will end up? This happened in Afghanistan in the past, and it could well happen in Syria.
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to learn that he has anticipated a point I am about to raise.
I raised the future of the Libya-Gaddafi arms stockpile with the director-general of the Royal United Services Institute, Professor Michael Clarke, when he gave oral evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee last week. His answers were extremely illuminating. In reply to my first question to him, he said:
“The arsenals that existed in Libya, as we all know, were extensive, and there has been almost no control over those weapons stocks. The new Government has proved virtually incapable of preventing those weapons stocks draining away.”
He went on to make this key point:
“Weapons never go out of commission; they just go somewhere else. Almost all weapons find a new home once a war is over.”
On Syria, he said:
“There is a lot of evidence that Libyan weapons are now circulating pretty freely in the Levant, and that seems to be where they will have the most destabilising effect.”
The huge geographical dispersal of the Libyan stockpile is happening not only because of the breakdown of security in Libya following the end of the Gaddafi regime but because, in the middle east and in north Africa, all through Saharan Africa and down to west Africa, arms are seen in a different way than they are in NATO countries. In NATO countries, the value of weapons relates to their military capabilities. We ask how capable a weapon is, how much firepower it has, how accurate it is, and so on. In that part of the world, however, there is a different approach to weapons. It is not merely a matter of their military utility. They are tradeable items.
I put that point to Professor Clarke:
“Would you conclude from that, as some people have, that the very act of supplying weapons in those circumstances means that you are basically supplying weapons into a commercial market? The moment the weapons leave your possession—whether it is weapons or ammunition—they become commodities to be sold at the highest price.”
“I would agree with that. There is no such thing as an end-user guarantee on anything other than the most sophisticated of weaponry. Everything below the level of major aerial, maritime and ground-based combat systems—the really high-tech stuff that we produce—that is classed as small arms, light weaponry or even medium-range weaponry, is on the market once it is sold to anybody.”
A key question for NATO is whether our decision takers will take account of the very different way in which arms are seen in that part of the world. Arms are seen not merely as weapons but as money-making opportunities. Arms are bazaar items; they are there to be bought and sold at a profit if at all possible.
In conclusion, I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and, most particularly, to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister: before deciding whether to supply particular lethal weapons and equipment to Syria, take note of what happened to the Libyan stockpile. They should ask themselves the questions, “Where are the British weapons that went into that stockpile; which countries are they now in; and in whose hands are they now in?” Most of all, they should ask themselves, “If Britain is going to supply military equipment to Syria, what is the risk of putting petrol on the fire?”
If I may say so, it is a privilege to follow such a powerful speech about the spread of weapons. The whole House respects my hon. Friend’s extraordinary devotion to his work on arms control for the Quadripartite Committee. He approaches his subject with a passion and knowledge that is probably unrivalled in either House of Parliament.
If I may, however, I would like to respond, perhaps impertinently, to my hon. Friend’s implied rebuke to the Government for their helping to persuade the European Union to lift the arms embargo on the supply of weapons to the Syrian National Council—the least unrespectable part, if I may put it that way, of the Syrian opposition, which we would want to be properly represented in the peace negotiation or peace settlement that we are all striving to achieve. I support the Government in seeking to redress the extraordinary imbalance affecting the more reasonable forces involved in this extraordinarily bloody and complex conflict.
NATO should be agonising over this whole issue because it will have to pick up the pieces of a spreading war and conflagration that almost inevitably will occur unless the United States, Russia and the other major powers in the region—including, perhaps, even Iran—start to sit around a table and work out how to contain the conflict.
We were right to question whether there might be a case for sending arms into Syria to try to redress the imbalance, because the regime is already using a massive stockpile of weapons. Russian-trained pilots are flying Russian aircraft, dropping Russian munitions and firing Russian shells out of Russian guns at civilians all over Syria. I find it very difficult to tolerate the idea that the Russians should be able to do whatever they want in their bloody way in that country, while the west sits idly by doing nothing. It is not just the Russians, as extremist Sunni factions, too, are being armed by Qatari and Saudi interests, which are pouring weapons into the Syrian conflagration.
The danger is not that our sitting back and doing nothing will mean that nothing happens or that the pre-2010 stasis will reassert itself as Assad reasserts his power. The danger is that this conflagration will grow and grow and grow. I therefore think the Government are right to try to redress the political balance and to tempt the Americans into entering this crisis—otherwise, NATO will finish up having to pick up the pieces in a very much more active and perhaps unfortunate way than we would wish.
That brings us back to our subject, Madam Deputy Speaker—I hear you heaving a sigh of relief—which is the question, “What is NATO in our modern age?” I thought that my right hon. Friend Mr Arbuthnot, the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, was right when he said that NATO has become a coalition of the willing—an organisation or a military alliance from which a coalition of the willing can be drawn. I do not rebuke the Minister for representing the Government at this debate because NATO is a political alliance that represents the foreign policy of this country, albeit backed by national military capability, pledged in co-operation to support the objectives of that political alliance.
Why is NATO still needed? I hope that I have just exposed one possible reason—to prevent war and to contain conflict. The reason NATO seems to be redundant and out of date to so many of our citizens today is that it has been so successful—the most successful military alliance in modern history—at containing, deterring and preventing conflict so that our continent feels perhaps deceptively safe from foreign conflict. NATO not only won the cold war, but keeps the peace. People should not forget the adage “If you want peace, prepare for war”, as that is what NATO is about.
Deterrence is the watchword—preventing wars rather than fighting them. That is why we spend money on defence—not to use the military capability in hot conflict, but so that we do not have to use the capability at all. Its use is pacific. That is one of the reasons the nuclear deterrent lies at the heart of NATO military doctrine. It is the relationship between the future of NATO and the continuation of our own nuclear deterrent that I shall explore briefly this afternoon.
There are three NATO nuclear powers: France, Britain and the United States. What threatens the future of NATO today is not just apathy or the parsimony of its member Governments’ defence budgets, and neither is it ignorance about its vital role. NATO is not going to be abolished suddenly. Nobody is going to make a decision at some NATO summit that NATO has had its day and will be wound up. The great danger is that NATO withers. I put it to the House that, with the war fatigue following Iraq and Afghanistan and the lack of appetite for NATO to play its deterrent peacekeeping and stabilisation role across the world, NATO is already withering. The collapse of key components of NATO is another danger, as is the uncertainty and the question mark that still exists over the continuation of our own nuclear deterrent. In fact, that is a threat to the continuation of NATO.
With the greatest respect to those who advocate European Union alternatives or supplements to NATO, I say that without NATO European defence is sunk. NATO has been doing European defence and security and it is doing European defence and security: there no substitute or alternative to NATO.
We have left a question mark about the vital part of NATO’s capability. Our nuclear deterrent is pledged to the defence of NATO and our NATO allies. The Government have conducted a study into possible alternatives to the Trident nuclear deterrent. Now is not the time to go into great detail about that, except to say that we understand that it has exposed the truth: that there is no viable or cheaper alternative to our nuclear deterrent. Trident is the only viable nuclear deterrent on offer to the United Kingdom.
Can the hon. Gentleman—who is probably better informed than Opposition Front Benchers on this—give us any idea of when he expects the outcome of the study to be published so that we can have that informed debate?
I am ahead of the right hon. Gentleman, and ahead of the official Opposition. I have tabled a question to the Prime Minister, and I am waiting for his written reply. I cannot tell the House any more than that, although my hon. Friend the Minister might be able to do so.
We know that there is no alternative to Trident, because we have been briefed to that effect, so why does this uncertainty still hang over our deterrent? The answer is that there is now talk of our no longer needing continuous at-sea deterrence. It is being said that we could have, or could risk having, a part-time deterrent by having fewer than the four submarines that are essential to the guaranteeing of continuous at-sea deterrence.
I need hardly explain to the House why that idea simply does not bear scrutiny. At a time of crisis, putting a nuclear submarine to sea to stand guard over our country is a very public act, because submarines go to sea on the surface. The submarine would be exposed to possible enemy pre-emptive attack, and our foreign policy would be exposed to accusations of escalation and inflammatory acts at a time when sensitive international negotiations were taking place. A continuous at-sea deterrent that is not at sea 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, is not a viable deterrent. It would be vulnerable to attack and vulnerable to misinterpretation, and at a moment of crisis we would hardly ever dare to put it to sea. I cannot imagine why it takes intelligent people so long to work out that if we are not going to order four submarines, we might as well not order any.
I regret to say that that uncertainty is being sustained by our Liberal Democrat coalition partners. The implication must be that they want the issue to be a bargaining chip in the negotiations of a future coalition. As my hon. Friend Dr Lewis has repeatedly pointed out, if they have a choice between coalition partners at the next general election and one of the parties offers unilateral nuclear disarmament—which is what this amounts to—that is the party that they will choose.
Stephen Gilbert is shaking his head. If I am wrong and the Liberal Democrats are now committed to the renewal of the Trident deterrent with four submarines, I invite the hon. Gentleman to put me right.
I do, indeed, eagerly await the report’s publication. I wonder what the delay can be.
I do not think that the report turned out to be quite what the Liberal Democrats wanted, although many of us had been saying that submarine-launched Cruise missiles, land-based systems or new air-launched weapons would be not only impossibly expensive, but probably illegal under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. However, I am glad that they have learnt that much. Perhaps they will now learn something else.
Because that uncertainty rests over our deterrent, it rests over the whole of Europe’s deterrence system. We should not imagine for a moment that it would be easy for a French Government, equally afflicted by austerity and public pressures, to sustain their deterrent if we were going to wind ours down. We should not believe for a second that the United States would remain as committed to NATO and the transatlantic alliance if it became apparent that the European powers were no longer prepared to shoulder their burden of nuclear responsibility in the defence of our own continent. We should not think for a minute that the United Kingdom’s relationship with the United States could stay the same if we threw the gift of the Trident nuclear deterrent back in its face after the US had gone to such lengths to share the costs, development and risks of the system that we both deploy.
Mrs Moon rightly referred to the importance of continued co-operation between our conventional forces. It is true that we engage in extensive military co-operation. The airborne forces based in the constituency of my hon. Friend Sir Bob Russell need to be integrated with the American military command when necessary, so that we have a role in supplementing American forces. The Americans can do so much less unless they have international support, and we are always their first port of call in that regard. It is our influence over American policy that gives us our leverage. That is why, when there is a really big international crisis, the American President does not call the French, the Germans, the Japanese, the Indians or the Chinese. It is always the British Prime Minister whom the American President calls first.
Many people are aware of the importance of the intelligence-sharing relationship between the Americans and GCHQ, which demonstrates an extraordinary degree of trust, but it is not widely known how integrated our nuclear forces are. We send our submarines to the United States, and the Americans subject them to readiness-at-sea trials. The Americans train our crews for NATO operations, and, indeed, we train theirs. We certify their crews for readiness at sea. The relationship between our two nuclear submarine fleets is deeply symbiotic. It is burden-sharing in the real sense of the term. If we were not to maintain continuous at-sea deterrence, we would deliver a mortal blow to the US-UK relationship, to our ability to contribute to global security, and to NATO.
Let me make two more points, which will serve as a coda. Last week the Public Administration Committee published a report, “Engaging the public in National Strategy”, which explains how “deliberative” polling can be used more effectively to help us to understand what motivates our voters, what aspirations they have, and what sort of country the British people want ours to be. Members of the public were asked a number of questions, one of which concerned nuclear forces. It became clear that most people in the United Kingdom would order the four submarines: 57% said that they would rather do that than give up our nuclear weapons altogether, which is what the alternative amounts to.
Let me say finally that the great danger—the wild card—is Scotland. The Scottish people must make their own decision about their independence, but even if they vote for it, if they want Scotland to continue to be a member of NATO, they had better accept that the
British nuclear deterrent will remain at Faslane. It would be impossibly expensive to move it, and were they to insist on scrapping it, they would deliver a fatal blow to the affordability of our nuclear deterrent. If it were brought down to some other part of the United Kingdom over a short period and stationed there—if a deep-water port were found where all the weapons systems and weapons storage and protection facilities would be welcome—not only would Scotland be giving up the largest employer on its own the west coast, but it would be wrecking NATO. The fact that Scotland has taken a stronger anti-nuclear stance than any other NATO member—refusing, unlike any other NATO member, not just to admit visiting nuclear forces but to allow any nuclear forces to be stationed on its soil, even in a crisis—means that it would never be allowed to join NATO.
I am going to return to the theme that the vice-president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly started us on: why NATO? By the end of next year, we will be out of combat in Afghanistan. Clearly, there will be a period of readjustment for western armed forces. The British Army is being reduced by 20%. The other armed forces—the Air Force and the Navy—are being reduced by a similar amount. The Americans are already declaring that sequestration will take $50 billion a year out of their $550 billion budget, which is a lot. Therefore, fundamentally, there will be big changes.
When NATO started in 1949, General Lord Ismay said that its purpose was
“to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”
Obviously, the situation has changed a lot. The Warsaw pact was formed in 1955 as a reaction to NATO. We could not have had NATO without German rearmament.
I and other members in the House spent most of our military careers preparing for what we loosely called the third world war, hoping it would not happen. Thank goodness it did not happen on the north German plain. When the Berlin wall fell, everything changed and NATO had to change. As I have explained to the House on previous occasions, after I came back from Bosnia, in my last two years in the Army, I was a member of the planning team at Supreme Allied Commander Europe. We most definitely were not seeking a new role outside Europe; it was largely thrust upon us. Therefore, doubts remain about NATO and its solidarity. I agree that we must keep banging on about NATO’s target of spending 2% of GDP on defence. We must keep it. The problem is that some people, particularly in France, suggest that the alliance is
“an alliance of the unable and unwilling”.
A French academic said that. I put it to the House that NATO has a good future.
Twenty years ago, who would have thought that Russia would be resurgent? Russian military spending is now increasing by three quarters of a billion dollars; it will have increased by 53% by 2015. Russia still possesses more than 1 million troops and it has 20 million in the reserve. However, the Russians have big problems. Russian military prosecutors recently said that about a fifth of the budget had been embezzled, so they are trying to sort that out. However, look at the Russian navy. We have talked about the high north. That navy has been transformed in the last eight years: 45% of the ships in the Russian navy will be replaced by 2015. By 2007, Russia was building as many ships every year as the Soviets did at the height of their power.
My hon. Friend Mr Jenkin made an excellent speech on the nuclear deterrent. The Russians certainly think in terms of flexible response. They envisage using tactical nuclear weapons in their exercises; a recent exercise that they undertook in the Baltic states suggested exactly that. Part of their war-fighting ability is to use nuclear weapons. That is one of the reasons that we must retain our nuclear deterrent.
Not only do the Russians exercise that capability, but they talk about it, have not renounced first use and have said that they would use their nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict against their neighbours.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He puts it better than I could write it.
In China, Xi Jinping has consolidated his power. He talks of fighting to win wars. There has been a 10.7% increase in the Chinese military budget. The strategic forces of China now have 3,000 miles of tunnels. They have 850 nuclear warheads ready to launch. They are almost at strategic parity with the United States. They are also building globally deployable forces, which are now edging into the Mediterranean, as we have heard, and coming through the high Arctic. They are challenging western strategic military superiority.
Something else is new, and we have touched on it in the debate: cyber-warfare. The Defence Committee has just completed a report on that. It is a new form of war. It is invidious and evolving at unimaginable speed, with serious consequences. Cyber-space is an aspect of asymmetric warfare. It is very difficult to identify sometimes where these attacks are coming from. State actors such as China, North Korea, Iran and Syria are devoting resources to it. Hacking can be more deadly than the gun. The targets are government, industry and the military. There is great concern in the west about how disruptive cyber-attacks can be. For example, on
The United States is changing some of the focus of its direction. Its strategy now, as the Defence Committee heard when we were in the US, is to concentrate on trying to avoid war much more. The Americans do not want any war that is not short term. They are looking at Asia. Sequestration will cost an enormous amount in military terms. The Americans consider that Russia is not a great threat at the moment—although its military spending is increasing, as I have mentioned—but that China is and it is growing in power. However, as one American academic put it to the Committee, “Going to war with China would be like going to war with your bank if you are an American.” Thankfully, since 2001, there have been huge improvements in US intervention power: there has been a two thirds increase in its intervention power capability.
The lesson of European, and world, history is that surprise is normal. The unexpected should always be expected, so we should expect to be surprised. Therefore, whatever we do within NATO, we must try to work in such a way that our armed forces can deal with as many envisaged eventualities as possible while also expecting that we will still be surprised. NATO gives us more combat power, by collaboration with others.
I am about to conclude Mr Deputy Speaker—I think you might be looking at your watch. The problem is that our potential enemies remain our potential enemies. Symmetric warfare between states is not dead. We may think it is. We have not had a war for 70 years, when Europe historically had six or seven each century, and thus the public ask, “Why do we have to spend money on defence?” The problem is that that has not gone away and we may well be surprised.
Defence is an insurance policy, therefore. We want to deter the possibility of war. We do not want to use nuclear weapons. The point of possessing nuclear weapons is to avoid using them by avoiding threats. The aim is to help our country be left alone and not be attacked, and, in NATO terms, the aim is to avoid all NATO countries being attacked.
I believe very strongly that we must remain part of NATO as I believe it has a big future. I disagree with those who say its purpose, in Lord Ismay’s definition, is gone. No, NATO is required because it helps us, as a medium-sized nation, to combine with other nations—the French, the Germans, the Spanish and other nations that are not members of NATO—and form a coalition of the willing to deal with problems in the world.
We must have the resilience to adapt, to deter and to deal with the unexpected, and we should try to do that as cheaply as possible of course. The days of huge military budgets are over; they are long gone. The best way is for us to collaborate and work with like-minded states, and NATO is most certainly the best means to that end.
I congratulate the hon. Members who have secured this debate, especially my hon. Friend Hugh Bayley, a long-standing colleague and the president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. May I also say, Mr Deputy Speaker, how pleased I am to be participating once again in a defence debate, although, like Mr Arbuthnot, I am slightly puzzled as to why the Minister for the Armed Forces is not responding? Sometimes the working of the minds of Government business managers baffles even me.
The debate also takes me back to the first defence team of the incoming Labour Government, with Lord Robertson, Lord Reid and our late and much-missed friend and defence stalwart who died recently, Lord Gilbert. I am proud to have been part of such a formidable team.
I was very pleased and encouraged by the nature of the debate, which demonstrated the bipartisan support for Britain’s defence in NATO and our own armed forces. It is right, therefore, to stress the bipartisan support for NATO by all Governments of both political parties since the war, which has also reflected the solid support of the British people. Members on both sides of the House have spoken in that spirit in the main, recognising, I am sure, that it was Attlee and Bevin whose foresight founded NATO and also, incidentally, commissioned Britain’s first nuclear weapons programme.
NATO was originally a political grouping and then became military after the Berlin blockade, and particularly after the Korean war. The right hon. Gentleman is right to mention that the Labour Foreign Secretary of 1948 prepared the basis for the Western European Union, however. It has now gone, but it was an important part of the history of political and military co-operation in Europe.
The hon. Gentleman will also find that the North Atlantic treaty, including article 5, was signed in 1948 and that Ernie Bevin was the prime instigator of that. The hon. Gentleman is right that there were a limited number of countries and that other countries came in later, but that demonstrates the foresight of that Government, who saw the nature of the threat and recognised Britain’s responsibility to play our part in addressing it—and, as I have said, who saw the need to commission Britain’s first nuclear weapons programme.
We should also recognise and celebrate the fact that NATO has been one of the most successful military alliances in history, if not the most successful, especially if judged by the attainment of the objectives in restraining and containing an aggressive and virulent Soviet threat until the ultimate, and, in George Kennan’s prediction, inevitable—even if it was rather protracted—implosion of that empire. NATO protected the free world and western Europe, and also provided a beacon of hope for the liberation, with minimal bloodshed ultimately, of eastern Europe.
That does not mean that we should unthinkingly continue an organisation that has served us well in the past, but we must give serious consideration to adapting such an effective organisation to deal with emerging challenges and threats. I was very much taken by the point made by my hon. Friend Mrs Moon about the ability, through NATO, to undertake strategic thinking. The success of that policy of NATO inevitably and legitimately raised questions about the role of defence and collective security through NATO at the end of the cold war. My hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn touched on that period during his contribution. I have to say, and I think that there would be some agreement on this among some Government Members, that the then Conservative Government, under their policy programme “Options for Change”, too readily reached for the so-called peace dividend, cut too far and too fast, and badly undermined our capability. They did not comprehend the stark warning from Senator Pat Moynihan that the world was still a dangerous place and that the end of the cold war represented perhaps less threat but also less peace.
The Labour defence team I mentioned recognised fully how the impact of the cuts the Conservative Government had put through under “Options for Change” had caused huge problems, particularly on the manning side. Huge disruption was caused to manning levels, recruitment and training.
Would the right hon. Gentleman say that that created more of a problem or less of a problem than the £35 billion black hole that his Government left this Government to sort out?
Interestingly, Government Members have got back to their default answer to every question being the so-called black hole, as these days Unite and Len McCluskey are normally the cause of all the problems. This is a ridiculous way for Government Members to continue, because many Conservative Members at the time of “Options for Change”—those who were involved very much on the military side—were concerned at the cuts that were taking place. They did recognise that they were not planned, that the Treasury was taking too much out of defence and that that was to the detriment of defence.
Unfortunately, the current Administration seem to be repeating that error with their policy of drastic retrenchment in our military capability. That is damaging not only in itself—we will have a debate on that—but in the message it sends to Washington, because there is a proper debate in Washington about the balance of military expenditure and its deployment. We need to get that into perspective, because it is undoubtedly true that, as President Obama says, America is still the indispensible power. We should recognise that US defence spending is twice as much as that of the other NATO countries combined, including Canada and Turkey. Furthermore, as we all know, the US spends its money, particularly in the equipment programme, more efficiently.
There have been exaggerated concerns about a US pivot towards the Pacific, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend mentioned. The move from an estimated 60% focus on the Atlantic and 40% focus on the Pacific to a 50:50 balance is a shift, but 50% of the US defence budget is still more than that of the rest of NATO put together; the US is still a formidably effective and overwhelming presence. Our real concern should therefore be voices on Capitol Hill, as people there may become weary of what they would see as carping criticisms from Europe. They may question whether, after the end of the cold war, the US still has that obligation to show such a commitment to European defence unless European countries, including ourselves, show a similar level of commitment.
Hon. Members have mentioned Secretary Gates’s comments about the need for Europe to pull its weight in NATO. Otherwise, he said, NATO will have little future. He has called for the European nations to step up to the bar.
We are either all in this together, committed to playing our full parts, or we are not an alliance that will last. We should also recognise that our public are becoming wary and weary and that there is public reticence about international military expedition. Mixed and impatient European public opinion on Libya demonstrated that, and I would say to Sir John Stanley that if he looks in Hansard he will see that at the time of the Libya situation, I was raising questions in this House about the fate of surface-to-air missiles—an issue that had been raised with me at a very senior level by concerned officials in the Russian administration; they had sold them to Libya in the first place, but they were concerned about their location.
We need to recognise that there is a danger that multilateralist proactive action will be hampered by public scepticism and reserve arising from the experience of recent conflicts and that that will be a problem in all our countries. I recognise that the percentage of GDP spent on defence by the UK is greater than that of other European nations whose defence spending, as a number of Members have mentioned, is at a level that is unsustainable if we are to continue to have an effective European component in the alliance. Those are significant issues with which Ministers and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly will have to continue to deal.
I say to Jason McCartney, regarding his remarks about Somalia, that I think it is unfortunate for us to start to pose NATO against the EU in that context. Somalia is a particularly bad example to pick. There is no uncertainty in the mind of a serving rating or officer about the chain of command—the person who is giving him the orders is above him in the chain of command. In fact, Somalia has been enormously effective in dealing with piracy—not one ship has been captured by the pirates this year and there has been a dramatic drop in piracy and in the number of people being held—and in integrating the international efforts of countries with different traditions, and perhaps even different objectives, but with a combined objective of trying to keep the sea lanes open and to protect seafarers, vessels and cargos. Those operations have been well synchronised between the various parties. It shows that where there is a properly organised European component that can play a useful part and is an encouragement to countries of the EU to step up their contribution to defence within that framework, rather than a cause for criticism.
Would the right hon. Gentleman be happy to know that there is an EU mission staffed with 80 people in Djibouti, duplicating the effort provided by our embassy, the French embassy and the German embassy? Or is he happy yet again to spend yet more money on more bureaucracy?
Again, the answer to everything is Europe. If efficiencies are needed, that is worth considering—and they would be welcome—but I notice that the hon. Gentleman in no way denied that this was an effective operation. There might be some surplus people, and let us have a look at that, but the integration of the NATO operation and Operation Atalanta has been very successful. We should be celebrating that, because other piracy problems are emerging in other parts of the world that will need to be dealt with and the United States will be neither able nor willing to participate in all of them. Issues might well arise in west Africa partly because of terrorism but partly because of the serious rise in the influence of organised crime.
Of course it is a successful mission in Somalial; there are so many people there doing so many things. Another example of the overlap came when we went to Northwood for a briefing: we had a briefing from the NATO admiral—a three-star—and had to have exactly the same briefing an hour later from an EU admiral. Too many three-stars and top brass—come on!
No doubt in the second world war, the hon. Gentleman would have complained if he had to meet both Montgomery and Eisenhower. [Interruption.]
Daniel Kawczynski has only just walked into the Chamber, but he seems to have a lot to say.
Order. I think I know when people came in, but not to worry about that. I am more concerned about the fact that you have been speaking for 15 minutes and only have a minute left, Mr Spellar.
Giving way does not extend the debate, and we have given a lot of extensions. There are 15 minutes for each Front Bencher. I am very lenient and can allow a minute or two, but not much more.
For Britain, more than for any other alliance country, our relationship with NATO is intrinsically bound up with our defence and security relationship with the United States. That is clear to those who serve in the Parliamentary Assembly and other right hon. and hon. Members who take defence and security matters seriously. Our relationship with the United States is unique and indispensable, not only in the hard power defence of our liberties and interests, but in the developing struggle against international terrorism and organised crime—especially the trafficking of people, narcotics and weapons, as my hon. Friend the Member for York Central said—and in the sphere of cyberspace, through our security services and GCHQ.
Unfortunately, albeit for understandable reasons, success against those threats cannot be widely publicised, but the pooling of technology resources and intellectual analytical capacity, and indeed the courage of individuals who often have to operate in very dangerous environments, is a joint endeavour. We owe a great debt to all those involved in that work and should acknowledge it more widely, and I am pleased to do so here today.
Military and security cohesion is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the ongoing health of the alliance. Other elements of the transatlantic relationship also need to be refreshed, which is why the talks on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership are so encouraging. As ever, there will be a host of complications and vested interests to overcome, but if the participants can keep their eye on the main prize, it will be considerable. Achieving greater integration of the north Atlantic market, with five of the G8 countries and approaching half the world’s GDP, would not only provide a vital economic boost, but further consolidate our political and security relationships.
NATO, founded by the great post-war Government of Attlee and Bevan, has served this country and the free world well. It faces challenges, and we should be prepared to meet them. We should remember that some of those who argue NATO’s irrelevance today are those who, at the height of the cold war, were most opposed to NATO. Collective defence and collective security have served us well throughout my lifetime. May they continue to do so into the future.
I thank Hugh Bayley and my hon. and gallant Friend Jason McCartney for requesting this debate, which has highlighted NATO’s continued importance to the UK’s interests. I pay tribute to their work and that of other right hon. and hon. Members who serve in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly—an institution that, as we have heard today, provides an important link between NATO and the public in its member countries.
I join all those who have congratulated the hon. Member for York Central on being elected president of the Parliamentary Assembly by parliamentarians from NATO parliamentary delegations in November. He has visited Afghanistan more than half a dozen times, so I also pay tribute to his unwavering support for our armed forces.
Since it was established in 1949, NATO has been fundamental to transformations in regional security: consolidating the post-war transatlantic link; preventing the re-emergence of conflicts that had dogged Europe for the preceding 50 years; contributing to the fall of communism and the gradual democratisation of the former Soviet bloc; and leading operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Libya. Purely through its existence, NATO serves as a potent deterrent to those who would wish us harm. It remains the best tool we have for tackling certain threats to our national security further afield.
NATO is at a crucial juncture. The end of combat operations in Afghanistan will change the nature of daily life for the alliance. The continued pressure on defence budgets and the US rebalance towards Asia further change the strategic context in which NATO operates. Yet the threats and challenges that face us in the 21st century make NATO more, not less, important: continued instability in the middle east, north Africa and the Sahel; the growing risk of nuclear proliferation; and increased threats from failed and failing states, from both state and non-state actors. Against this complex backdrop, it is all the more important that NATO is fit for purpose in political and military terms.
Despite concern over the US’s rebalance towards Asia, the United States has been clear that it remains committed to transatlantic defence, but we need to ensure that Europe is seen to be carrying its fair share of the burden of that defence. Stephen Gilbert and others raised the issue of the Government pressing our European allies to meet the target of 2% of GDP defence spending. As my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary said at his most recent meeting with NATO colleagues, we will continue to press them to do that, while doing what we can to protect defence investment and maximise its impact in the shorter term. I agree with the hon. Member for York Central that we need to explain to allies and our own public why this spending is important.
We will also continue to press to make the NATO defence planning process as robust, transparent and rigorous as possible, and for all Europeans to organise our collective capabilities in a more cohesive, coherent and prioritised way. Small multinational frameworks such as that which we have achieved with France through the Lancaster House treaties may be the best way of doing this.
The United Kingdom remains committed to filling 100% of our allocated slots in the NATO command structure. At the organisational level, we need to ensure that NATO remains open to change and able to build on its experience, that it is reform-minded and continuously reforming, that it is fully accountable and that its activities and procedures are transparent and fully in line with best practice, which will underpin its future credibility. The UK has been leading efforts to ensure that NATO remains lean and effective, evolving as the security environment changes so that it stays relevant and responsive, and we will continue to do so with energy.
Afghanistan will remain an important focus for the alliance after the end of combat operations. ISAF’s transfer of security responsibility to the Afghans is on track for completion by the end of 2014. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, we can be proud of what we have done in Afghanistan, but along with other members of the international community, our work is far from over. Post-2014, the UK will take the coalition lead at the new Afghan national army officer academy and look to operate in NATO’s train, advise and assist mission, Resolute Support. This is in addition to the £70 million that the UK has committed to funding the Afghan national security forces.
It will be crucial to the alliance’s future credibility that it is able to maintain an open door to those European democracies which meet the standard and wish to join. The United Kingdom remains firmly committed to the prospective membership of Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro, once they are ready to join. Mike Gapes asked about Kosovo. KFOR continues to maintain freedom of movement and a safe and secure environment in Kosovo, in line with United Nations Security Council resolution 1244. As he will know, the UK fully supports the continued NATO presence in Kosovo as long as conditions require. Supreme Allied Commander Europe has advised that strategic patience is the order of the day and we share that view.
NATO’s ability to work with partners will be crucial. A number of right hon. and hon. Members touched on this during the debate. Partners considerably augment NATO’s capabilities—for example, providing 10% of the air campaign in Operation Unified Protector in Libya in 2011. Partnerships also boost NATO’s political weight: partners see mutual benefit in working with the alliance and it is an incentive to do defence better. The UK will continue to lead the way in giving focus and momentum to NATO’s partnerships.
Considerable attention has been drawn to NATO’s relationship with one partner in particular—Russia. I fully agree with those who have highlighted concern over Russia’s political direction in recent months and years, but it is vital that we continue to engage with Russia. It is already a key security partner in areas such as counter-terrorism and maritime security. We should continue to look for common ground where it exists in order that we can more constructively discuss the issues on which we do not agree. That is the approach we will continue to take, both bilaterally and within NATO.
The middle east is a region of obvious strategic importance, as demonstrated by current developments in Egypt. It is absolutely right that NATO continues to monitor and discuss developments in the region, including considering their impact on the alliance and whether it can contribute to security there. That is why we support the current careful deliberations in NATO on whether it might provide some assistance to the Libyan Government. It is also why we believe it is right for the North Atlantic Council to discuss the situation in Syria, including with NATO’s partners in the region, such as Jordan and Morocco.
Various Members, including Angus Robertson, who is no longer in his place, Mrs Moon, who serves on the Defence Committee, and the hon. Member for Ilford South, who serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee, asked a number of questions about the high north. The Arctic is not currently a region of high tension and the Arctic Council has proved to be successful at maintaining inclusivity in the region. Although some regional actors may look to NATO to deter selected activities and act as a guarantor of security, the Secretary-General recently stated that NATO currently has no intention of raising its presence and activities in the high north.
Members will have noted with interest the strong support given by the hon. Member for Bridgend and my hon. Friend Mr Jenkin for maintaining a continuous at-sea deterrent. Deliberations are underway and we will just have to wait and see the results of the review. I was interested by the statistic that 57% of those consulted in a recent poll would rather order four more Trident submarines.
The high north is not neglected by the Government. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend Dr Murrison, visited the headquarters in Bodo in May, where he met senior military personnel and discussed threats and challenges in the high north, not least those resulting from climate change.
I was just about to address the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. He mentioned the peace dividend following the collapse of the Soviet bloc. As he knows, NATO is a collective security alliance and deterrence remains one the alliance’s fundamental security tasks. The fundamental purpose of the nuclear forces of the allies is political—to preserve peace and prevent coercion and any kind of war. He will know that NATO has reduced the types and numbers of its sub-strategic nuclear forces by more than 85%. Moreover, the alliance has declared its reduced reliance on nuclear weapons and has ruled out their use except in the most extreme cases of self-defence. The circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated by allies are extremely remote.
The hon. Member for York Central asked about the state of NATO-Russia relations. NATO and Russia have been co-operating through the NATO-Russia Council for 10 years. The alliance, including the UK, remains committed to the NATO-Russia relationship. We have seen much in the way of good, practical co-operation on a number of mutual security challenges, including Afghanistan, counter-narcotics, transit routes and helicopter maintenance, as well as work against piracy.
My right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Defence Committee gave us a little vignette of his ancestor ending up in Davy Jones’s locker and described how one of the first multinational taskforces was at the battle of Trafalgar. He went on to describe NATO as a vital resource from which a coalition of the willing could be formed. That probably encapsulates this debate as well as anything else should any headlines emanate from it.
My right hon. Friend also discussed value for money, which is incredibly important. The United Kingdom emphasises the importance of resource management and rigorous prioritisation of military requirements. Our national position is that NATO budgets should operate within the framework of zero nominal growth, but approved budgets will require the consensus of all 28 member nations. Within agreed common funding ceilings, NATO prioritises all military requirements. As my right hon. Friend will know, there is an ongoing debate within NATO regarding the limited use of common funding as an enabler for NATO forces in 2020. The United Kingdom consistently urges realism and applies a rigorous standard to all NATO expenditure.
The hon. Member for Bridgend and other Members talked about the implications of the US pivot. The US has been clear that the rebalancing towards Asia should not be seen as a threat to the transatlantic relationship. Security threats and challenges evolve; so should the response. The US is increasingly a security partner to Europe, rather than the provider of security for Europe. The unbreakable bond between north America and Europe remains the bedrock of our security. The US has demonstrated its commitment to NATO, including through practical investments, such as the bases for NATO’s ballistic missile defence. It is worth repeating that even after the withdrawal of US army personnel from Europe, their numbers remain higher in Europe than anywhere else outside America. There are about 70,000 US personnel in Europe.
The question of whether Scotland would remain a member of NATO were it to vote to leave the United Kingdom next year has been raised. The SNP Minister for Transport and Veterans, Keith Brown, this week admitted for the first time ever, before the Defence Committee, that Scotland’s membership of the defence alliance would not be “automatic”. It most certainly would not, and nor would its membership of the EU, the UN Security Council, the OECD and almost every other international forum that it enjoys being a member of through being part of the United Kingdom.
My right hon. Friend Sir John Stanley made a very good speech about Syria, which my hon. Friend Mr Jenkin also referred to. I say clearly again that the United Kingdom has made no decision to arm the Syrian opposition. Our priority remains finding a political solution and establishing a transitional Government. We are providing advice, non-lethal equipment and technical assistance to the moderate opposition, whom we recognise as the sole legitimate representatives of the Syrian people.
In closing, I come back to my earlier argument. The uncertainties of the 21st century make an alliance such as NATO more, not less, important. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex said, NATO remains the world’s most successful military alliance, based on a shared set of democratic values. The Government fully intend to maintain that success and to build on it.
I cannot respond to all the wonderful, well-informed, thoughtful and powerful contributions that colleagues have made to this debate.
I will respond briefly to the exchange between the hon. Members for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) and for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) about NATO’s initial reluctance to get involved in the former Yugoslavia. In the early ’90s, before I was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly, I was part of a cross-party delegation to NATO along with Max Madden, who would have been close politically to my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn, and the late Michael Colvin, who was a mainstream Conservative. We went to ask how practical it would be in military terms to intervene. Everybody at NATO said that it was utterly out of the question, until we got to meet the chairman of the military committee, Sir Richard Vincent. He said that it would have to be done sooner or later, and the longer we waited, the more difficult the military options would be.
I welcome the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North. He is very much in a minority in the Chamber, but he speaks for many people in the general public whom we have to convince. The Chairman of the Defence Committee, who made an extremely good speech, said that he disagreed with me on one point. He said that the NATO Parliamentary Assembly is not doing enough to make the case for the Assembly or for NATO itself. I would agree with him about that. Perhaps we have made a start today in this debate.
This has been an exceptionally good debate. It is my intention to go back to the Backbench Business Committee and request debates twice a year after the spring and autumn plenary sessions of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. If they are as good as this debate, they will be worth while and will help to explain why we are a member of the alliance and what the Parliamentary Assembly does.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered NATO.