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With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the NATO summit in Brussels last week.
Transatlantic unity has been fundamental to the protection and projection of our interests and values for generations. At a time when we are facing dangerous and unpredictable threats—from state and non-state actors, and from the use of chemical weapons, terrorism and cyber-attack—NATO remains as vital to our collective security as it has ever been. So the focus of this summit was on strengthening the alliance, including through greater burden sharing, stepping up our collective efforts to meet the threats of today, and enhancing NATO’s capability to meet the threats of tomorrow. The UK played an important role in securing progress on all three.
The UK is proud to have the second largest defence budget in NATO after the United States and the largest in Europe. We are increasing our defence spending in every year of this Parliament. We are meeting our NATO commitments to spend 2% of our GDP on defence, and 20% of that on equipment. We are investing heavily in modernising our armed forces, with plans to spend £180 billion on equipment and support over the next 10 years. This morning I announced the publication of the UK’s combat air strategy, confirming our commitment to maintaining our world-class air power capabilities. This is backed by our future combat air system technology initiative, which will deliver over £2 billion of investment over 10 years and lay the groundwork for the Typhoon successor programme. We are deploying the full spectrum of our capabilities in support of the NATO alliance.
In the week in which we marked the centenary of our extraordinary Royal Air Force, I was proud to be able to announce at the summit the additional deployment of UK fighter jets to NATO air policing missions. We are also leading standing NATO maritime groups, contributing our nuclear deterrent to the security of Europe as a whole, and continuing our commitment to NATO missions, including in Estonia where we lead NATO’s enhanced forward presence. But as the UK plays this leading role in the security of the whole continent, it is right that we work to even burden sharing across the alliance and that other allies step up and contribute more to our shared defence.
The summit included an additional session in response to the challenge posed by President Trump on exactly this point. Non-US allies are already doing more, with their spending increasing by $41 billion in 2017 alone, and by a total of $87 billion since the Wales defence investment pledge was adopted in 2014. These are the largest increases in non-US spending in a quarter of a century. Over the decade to 2024, we are expecting that spending to have increased by hundreds of billions, but NATO allies must go further in increasing their defence spending and capability. During the summit, leaders agreed that all were committed to fairer burden sharing and that they had a shared sense of urgency to do more. That is in all our interests.
Turning to specific threats, there was an extensive discussion on Russia. The appalling use of a nerve agent in Salisbury is another example of Russia’s growing disregard for the global norms and laws that keep us all safe, and a further example of a well-established pattern of behaviour to undermine western democracies and damage our interests around the world. In recent years, we have seen Russia stepping up its arms sales to Iran, shielding the Syrian regime’s barbaric use of chemical weapons, launching cyber-attacks that have caused economic damage, and spreading malicious and fake news stories on an industrial scale.
Our long-term objective remains a constructive relationship with Russia, so it is right that we keep engaging, both as individual nations and as a NATO alliance. I welcome the meeting between President Trump and President Putin in Helsinki today, but as I agreed with President Trump in our discussions last week, we must engage from a position of unity and strength. This means being clear and unwavering about where Russia needs to change its behaviour, and for as long as Russia persists in its efforts to undermine our interests and values, we must continue to deter and counter them. That is exactly what we will do. In that context, in a separate discussion during the summit, the alliance also reaffirmed our unwavering support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia and Ukraine. We continue to support both Georgia and Ukraine in their aspirations for full membership of the alliance. The alliance also extended an invitation to the Government of Skopje to start accession talks following their historic agreement with Athens. This builds further on the progress made earlier in the week in London at the western Balkans summit, which took important steps to strengthen the stability and prosperity of the region.
For part of the summit we were joined by President Ghani, who provided an update on the situation in Afghanistan. There are encouraging signs of progress towards a peace process, and allies were united in our strong support for his efforts, but the security situation remains challenging, and is compounded further by Daesh fighters who have fled out of Iraq and Syria. So, as my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary announced to the House last Wednesday, at this summit we increased our support for NATO’s mission Resolute Support with a further uplift of 440 UK troops for the UK-led Kabul security force. This will take our total troop commitment in Afghanistan to around 1,100.
Together with all allies, we also committed additional financial support for the sustainment of the Afghan national defence and security forces until 2024. As I discussed with President Trump at the summit, our commitment to Afghanistan began as NATO’s only use of article 5, acting in support of the United States following the attack on New York’s World Trade Centre. Our uplift will also enable the release of US personnel to conduct increased mentoring and counter-terrorism activity across Afghanistan. The summit also agreed to extend defence capacity building to Tunisia, Jordan and Iraq, and the UK’s contribution will play a vital role, particularly in increasing our support to the Iraqi Government in strengthening their security institutions and promoting stability for the longer term.
Facing today’s challenges is not enough. In the UK, our modernising defence programme will ensure that our capabilities remain as potent in meeting the threats of tomorrow as they are in keeping us safe today. NATO too must adapt to meet these challenges. This means delivering the reforms agreed at the Wales and Warsaw summits politically, militarily and institutionally. At this summit, allies agreed a stronger NATO command structure, including two new headquarters, and the UK is committing more than 100 new posts to that structure, taking our commitment to more than 1,000 UK service personnel. We also agreed to improve the readiness of our forces through NATO’s readiness initiative known as the “Four Thirties”. This is a commitment to have, by 2020, 30 mechanised battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 combat vessels, all ready to use within 30 days. The UK will play its full part in delivering this.
We also agreed further work to help to counter cyber and hybrid threats by enhancing the capabilities of the alliance to respond quickly and effectively to these new challenges. This includes a new cyber-operations centre and new support teams that will be able to assist allies who want help, either in preparing to respond, or responding, to an attack. Again the UK is at the forefront of these efforts. For example, we were the first country to offer our national offensive cyber-capabilities to the alliance, and we have also committed to host the NATO cyber-defence pledge conference in 2019.
As I have said many times, the UK is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security. That is why I have proposed a bold new security partnership between the UK and the EU for after we leave. But in a world where the threats to Europe’s security often emanate from beyond its borders, and where we face an array of profound challenges to the entire rules-based international order, the strength and endurance of our transatlantic alliance is vital in protecting our shared security and projecting our shared values. That is why a strong, united and modern NATO remains the cornerstone of our security, and why our commitment to it is ironclad. As we have done across generations, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with our closest allies to defend the rules-based order and the liberal values of democracy, human rights and justice that define our way of life. I commend this statement to the House.