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While listening to some of the fantastic speeches we have had so far I have been able to cross out whole swathes of my speech, because I do not intend to repeat what others have said. I would, however, just like to reiterate that we are here to celebrate 50 years of Britain’s continuous at-sea deterrent, which has maintained peace and security for those 50 years. Many will talk of the NATO alliance being a nuclear alliance. I can say that not one member of NATO has ever stood up in the parliamentary assembly and said, “Let’s get rid of it. We don’t need the alliance. We don’t need the British deterrent.” Quite the opposite.
The one thing I dedicated myself to doing during my presidency is to remind people what NATO is, what its role has been in keeping peace for the past 70 years, and why it is critical to the defence and security of the United Kingdom and the rest of the alliance. Sadly, we have forgotten to do that. I was in Croatia the week before last. Every year, it celebrates its membership of NATO. The Croatian people know what it means in terms of building a democracy and providing security. We need to do that more in this country. That is why I am so pleased that we have this debate today.
I do not want to go over the past. That has been ably done by those who have gone before me. I want to look at what the current threats are and why the CASD remains absolutely critical to the defence and security of the alliance and every member state within it. Today, as has been said, the tempo and the threat is changing. It is rising again. States are building and expanding their nuclear missile systems, threatening across the alliance. I therefore want to stress the importance of a hidden deterrent—not an airborne or land-based deterrent, mobile though they are. The absolute uniqueness of the at-sea deterrent is its capacity to hide: the lack of certainty about where it is and when it will be brought into commission.
I accept that the sea domain has been neglected. I think everyone in this House who knows anything about defence will know that certainly across the alliance but especially in the UK because we are a maritime nation, we have failed to maintain our capacity as a military capability. We have also not built the number of submarines that we need, so that NATO’s surface and sub-surface fleet is diminished. The SDSR has, however, stressed that we are in a position where revisionist states are building new threats and new tensions. It is on them that I want to focus today.
Revisionist states seek to use military power and threat to change and challenge the status quo to acquire more power by seizing territory, as we have seen in Ukraine and Georgia, and imposing a new form—their form—of government, not democracy, or by unilaterally and fundamentally rewriting the rules of the game. The best description I have had of what is happening in Russia in particular was by Norway’s defence attaché to the UK, Colonel Olsen, who said:
“Russia is introducing new classes of conventional and nuclear attack submarines and is modernising its Northern Fleet through the addition of long-range, high-precision missiles. The totality of its modernisation programme adds up to a step-change strengthening of Russian maritime capability in support of an anti-access strategy that could challenge NATO’s command of the high seas”— with potentially both Europe and North America being placed “at existential risk”. This is a strategy that we have not seen since the cold war.