[Relevant documents: Fifty-Second Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Session 2021-22, Ministry of Defence Equipment Plan 2021-31, HC 1164; Third Report of the Defence Committee, Session 2021-22, “We’re going to need a bigger Navy”, HC 168; and the Government Response, Session 2021-22, HC 1160; Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 1 and
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered NATO and international security.
I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss NATO and international security today. The ongoing war in Ukraine underlines the fact that we are living in a dangerous new reality, where aggressor states such as Russia are ever more willing to take risks and violate our international rules-based order. But it also reinforces the ongoing value of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the most successful alliance in history.
Since NATO’s formation in 1949, it has been a beacon of freedom. Twelve founding members, of which the United Kingdom was one, came together to protect their common values and the precious freedoms so recently won in the second world war— freedoms that until recently many of us took for granted. Over the last 70 years, NATO has more than doubled in size to 30 members, but each is still bound by the common values of that founding treaty: freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Contrary to allegations that emanate from the Kremlin, people choose NATO; NATO does not choose them. Those founding principles have stood the test of time, while other authoritarian, oppressive regimes have been found wanting. Our principles have remained, but our military and diplomatic strategies have continued to evolve.
NATO’s strategic concept is the masterplan for the alliance. It reaffirms the alliance’s values and guides NATO’s future political and military development. It provides a collective assessment of the security environment and drives the adaptation of the alliance.
My right hon. Friend will have had sight of the 2022 Defence Committee report and its recommendations. Does he agree, without wishing to put him on the spot about higher defence spending, that it is wise for the west and this country to talk softly and to carry a big stick, and to resource those capabilities accordingly? We are more likely to be listened to when talking softly if we have the hard assets required to ensure that.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about resource. I have always said that, as the threat changes, we should obviously consider changing how we deliver and what we deliver in defence. One of the key planks of my tenure as Defence Secretary is for us to be a truly threat-led organisation—if the threat goes up or down, we should adjust accordingly—otherwise we will end up fighting yesterday’s battles, not tomorrow’s. That of course includes resource. It is also very important to make sure that the machineries of both NATO and our Department of State reflect that and move quickly to deliver it.
Having served as a Member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I am glad that both the Government and Her Majesty’s Opposition are of the firm opinion that NATO must be a cornerstone of our defence policy. What exactly is the Secretary of State doing to assuage the concerns of Turkey to make sure that the likes of Finland and Sweden can acquire the NATO membership they desire?
Turkey is an incredibly important member of NATO, and indeed a strong contributor to it. We should always remember that NATO covers a very wide frontier, from the high north—the Arctic—in Norway all the way through to the Black sea and Turkey. Turkey is one of the oldest members of NATO, and it is very important that we understand, in this environment, what Turkey is concerned about and that we address that to make sure that the 30 nations come together to support and accept Finland and Sweden.
I will be speaking to my counterpart—I speak regularly to the Defence Minister anyhow—and I have listened to the worries of President Erdoğan about PKK terrorism groups and whether members are doing enough to deal with them. I think there is a way through and that we will get there in the end. It is very important that we listen to all members about their concerns in that process. We will certainly be listening to Turkey, and I was in touch with my counterpart over the weekend about exactly that.
The NATO strategic concept is updated every 10 years and, in the wake of Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine, it is critical that we make sure it is updated to reflect what is going on today. The 2010 strategic concept has served us well, but clearly needs modernising to reflect the new security reality we face. For example, in 2010, the concept stated that the Euro-Atlantic area was at peace. The next concept will reflect how NATO is accelerating its transformation for a more dangerous strategic reality, calibrating our collective defence to Russia’s unacceptable invasion of Ukraine and the new challenges posed by countries further afield, such as China.
While the new concept will reaffirm our commitment to freedom, openness and the rules-based order, it must also embed the UK-led work to ensure that the alliance is fit for future challenges in line with the NATO 2030 agenda. This includes modernising and adapting to advanced technologies, competing and integrating across domains using military and non-military tools, and improving national resilience. The UK has been at the forefront of the strategy’s development. We have full confidence that the 2022 strategic concept will reshape the alliance to ensure it is fit for purpose and for future challenges—in particular, by adapting its deterrence and defence posture on its eastern flank by expanding the alliance’s forward presence from a tripwire to a more credible and combat-effective model, which is grounded through effective, enabled and equipped in-place forces, and supported by persistent, rotational and rapidly scalable forces from elsewhere.
I again put on record my thanks to the Secretary of State for his leadership during the present crisis. One of the challenges facing NATO, which may seem quite boring to many people, is the issue of logistics and the resilience of transport and other networks across the NATO alliance. Does he see this being addressed at Madrid? Certainly from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly point of view, we talk about it, and it is one of those issues that comes up time and again.
NATO and many of its member countries are no different from the United Kingdom in that many of the unglamorous but key enablers have been disinvested in. That may be the bridge strengthening in eastern Europe that would allow heavy armour to get to the frontlines—that used to be a total norm in every design in the 1980s and at the time of the cold war—or it may be logistical hubs or transport to get people rapidly to the front. All of that has in effect been the Cinderella of defence spending for too long across the alliance countries, including the United Kingdom. One of the ways through that is NATO common funding, and Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary-General, has an ambition for a significant increase in that funding. We will look sympathetically at that request, obviously balancing our own budget requirements, but also making sure that it is going to be used for those purposes.
It is here that places such as the EU can complement NATO. The EU has recently published what I think it calls its strategic compass, and I was very keen to make sure that the EU complemented NATO and did not compete with it. What can the EU do well? It can co-ordinate in sub-threshold areas such as cyber, transnational crime, transnational migration and disinformation, and also in infrastructure-readiness across its member states. I am incredibly supportive of the EU doing more in that space, which would complement the NATO response and make it even more effective.
I completely agree with everything that the Secretary of State has just said, but does it not make the case for the UK to have a defence and security treaty with the European Union?
We have a defence and security treaty with the 30 members of NATO, nearly every one of which is in the EU. I do not think that we need to replicate treaties, but we should recognise that where we can encourage the EU not to compete but to complement NATO, we should be full supporters of that. If necessary, we should join the EU in things such as the PESCO—permanent structured co-operation—mobility study. The United States has joined it as well, and we should be open to joining.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State missed that opportunity to ask what the SNP policy actually is on NATO, or which one it is on today. On logistics and transport, was it not a strategic mistake to pull the Army out of Germany? How far advanced are we in reinstating ourselves in bases that are far more accessible to where a theatre of operations may be?
I was one of the soldiers in north-west Germany at the time and there was always a desire after the cold war that we would bring forces back; the Dutch and everyone did that. With the unification of Germany and the accession of the Baltic states, Germany is a long way from any frontline. It is a different world now. It was a few minutes’ drive to the iron curtain in my day; it is now a long way to any frontline.
If there were any desire to reinvest in mainland Europe near what are in effect the new frontlines, we would look openly at that. What we are looking for from NATO in this next phase is long-term planning for how it will contain Russia post Ukraine and provide resilience and reassurance to countries that cannot do that on their own. That could be permanent basing or it could be rapid readiness—being able to deploy quickly, instead of being stuck in a big base in one place. That is all up for development, which I think is incredibly important.
The year 2014 was a wake-up call. With Russia annexing Crimea, NATO began steadily transforming itself in relation to the increased danger. Thanks to the leadership of the United Kingdom, it enhanced the NATO response force, created the enhanced forward presence and launched the framework nation concept. Since 2019, it has developed a new NATO military strategy and a new deterrence and defence concept for the Euro-Atlantic area—the DDA. It has recognised space and cyber as operational domains, and we have agreed strategies on artificial intelligence and emerging and disruptive technologies.
Reflecting the themes of our own integrated review, we want to ensure that NATO is flexible and agile and has a resilient multi-domain force architecture with the right forces in the right place at the right time. In particular, the UK has been pushing to instil a culture of readiness in the alliance. The combat forces that deliver the NATO readiness initiative include 30 major naval combatants, 30 heavy or medium-manoeuvre battalions and 30 kinetic air squadrons—which, in English, is fighter planes. You never know what a kinetic air squadron is—only in the Ministry of Defence. [Laughter.] They are being organised and trained as larger combat formations for reinforcements and high-intensity war fighting or for rapid military crisis intervention.
I am proud that the UK has made the largest offer of any ally to the NATO readiness initiative by allocating our carrier strike group, squadrons of F-35Bs and Typhoons, and an armoured infantry brigade. I am also proud of our role in developing two significant UK-inspired military concepts, the DDA and the war fighting concept, which will further strengthen the alliance’s ability to deter and defend against any potential adversary and maintain and develop our military advantage now and in the future. We will continue to play a leading role in the implementation of those concepts.
The recent war in Ukraine has helped to recover NATO’s original sense of purpose. In the wake of President Putin’s senseless invasion, he imagined that he would find NATO weak and divided. Instead, he has found only strength and solidarity. From the outset, the alliance made it clear that any attack by Russia on its neighbours—including NATO’s enhanced opportunity partners, which is what Ukraine was—would result in the imposition of significant economic, political and diplomatic costs, and so it has proved. NATO allies, supported by further friends from across the globe, have imposed unprecedented costs on Russia, starving the Kremlin’s war machine of resources. In a matter of weeks, President Putin has destroyed decades of economic progress for the Russian people. Allies are providing substantial financial and humanitarian aid, including by hosting millions of refugees across Europe.
I am proud again that the UK has been at the forefront of those efforts. We were the first European country to provide lethal aid to Ukraine. To date, the United Kingdom has sent more than 6,900 anti-tank missiles, including next generation light anti-tank weapons and Javelins; eight air defence systems, including Starstreak anti-air missiles; 1,360 anti-structure munitions; 4.5 tonnes of plastic explosives; thousands of tonnes of non-military aid and humanitarian aid; and military aid such as helmets and body armour. The Stormer armoured vehicles will be deployed soon, once training is complete.
Not only has the Ukraine crisis tested NATO’s ability to support a neighbour, but it has rightly led to a re-evaluation of our collective security. As I have said to the House before, the greatest irony of the conflict is that President Putin has secured a larger NATO presence on his borders, the polar opposite of what he claimed he wanted to achieve. For the first time, we have deployed the NATO response force for defensive purposes. More than 40,000 troops are now under direct NATO command. We are setting up four new multinational battle groups in Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, doubling NATO’s presence in the region.
As part of that effort, the UK has increased its readiness to respond to all contingencies. That includes sending four additional Typhoons to Cyprus and Romania to patrol the south-eastern European skies, in addition to the four Typhoons already conducting NATO air policing from Romania. It also includes sending ships to the eastern Mediterranean and the Baltic sea and temporarily doubling our military presence in Estonia to 1,700 personnel.
Article 5 is perhaps the most well-known article in the 1949 NATO founding treaty. It is the centre pillar of collective defence—the principle that an attack against one ally is an attack against us all—and it binds NATO’s members together in a spirit of solidarity, committing them to protect one another. Contrary to popular belief, however, article 5 is not automatic; a member invoking it still requires the consensus of all allies. It is important to note that once there has been a vote, article 5 gives member states a range of options, including but not limited to military responses.
Article 5 has been invoked only once in NATO history: by the United States, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In contrast, the less well-known article 4 of NATO’s founding treaty has been invoked on seven occasions since 1949. An ally or group of allies can invoke article 4 if they perceive a threat to their security, territorial integrity or political independence. On
Our ability to honour treaties comes at a significant cost, but in that area, too, the UK is leading. We currently have the largest defence budget in Europe. Not only is Putin discovering more NATO presence, but his belligerence has paradoxically ensured more investment in the alliance. At the end of 2020, the UK, anticipating the resurgence of Russia, increased its defence budget by £24 billion over four years. Since the outbreak of war, other NATO nations have begun following suit. Denmark has established a defence diplomacy fund of €1 billion for 2022-23. France has indicated that it will increase its defence spending beyond the substantial increases already planned for the next few years. Poland has announced that it will increase its defence spending to 3% of GDP from 2023, while roughly doubling the size of its military. Most notably, Germany has dramatically reversed its historical position on defence and has announced legal changes to ensure that it will meet the 2% spending pledge alongside €100 billion for the Bundeswehr, which in effect doubles its defence budget.
What we spend our money on matters as much as its sum total. That is why NATO is putting the onus on spending more on research and development to develop the disruptive capability that we need to defeat our adversaries. As part of our settlement for defence, the UK has ringfenced more than £6 billion for R&D, so I am delighted that NATO recently selected the United Kingdom, alongside Estonia, as the joint host of the European NATO headquarters of DIANA, the defence innovation accelerator of the north Atlantic.
Sweden and Finland have both taken the bold step of seeking NATO membership. The UK will be strong in its support for them in that process. If Sweden and Finland are successful, all 10 nations of the Joint Expeditionary Force, from Iceland to the Baltics, will be in NATO. That 10-nation alliance will be well suited to training, exercising and operating together within the NATO alliance, with Britain as a framework nation.
I totally agree. When Britain says that we want to support them, we want them to succeed. We will help them to succeed, and I believe they will succeed. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that they must succeed. We need to demonstrate that nations such as Sweden and Finland, having applied, are welcome in the alliance. As I said, people choose NATO, but NATO also recognises the values that those two countries stand for and the professionalism of their armed forces, with which Britain already integrates very strongly. Only a couple of weeks ago, I went to see British heavy tanks in Finland. I think that that is the first time in history that they have been deployed there.
There remain a lot of challenges. We have seen encouraging signs of countries rising to the spending challenge, but as of 2021 less than a third meet the pledge to spend 2% of GDP on defence. The Russian Government’s invasion of Ukraine has, of course, presented new challenges to NATO members, which is why in March I asked NATO to produce a long-term plan on containing Russia, providing reassurance to its members and contributing to improving the resilience of countries on the frontline. I am pleased to say that earlier this week, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Tod Wolters, provided his initial thoughts on the long-term posture. Members will be discussing it between now and Madrid.
Events in Ukraine have reminded many people of the importance of NATO as a guardian of European security. There are many in this House who have been consistent supporters of our membership. Putin’s strategic miscalculations have been so great that he has even now recruited new supporters to NATO’s cause: not only are Sweden and Finland applying, but the Scottish National party has now come out in full support, which we welcome on the Government Benches.
Yes, maybe it was. But let us not forget that NATO is a nuclear alliance. There is a danger that the people of Scotland will pick up the slight contradiction that the SNP, which campaigned to rid Scotland of the deterrent that has kept the whole United Kingdom safe for more than 50 years, is campaigning to join a nuclear alliance. In that nuclear alliance, it is Britain’s deterrent that is effectively allocated to NATO. If the SNP got its way, it would be ironic if its wholehearted support for NATO meant that it was reliant on an English nuclear deterrent.
I welcome the close working and clear support from the Labour party on Ukraine and NATO over the past few months. I noticed the article in The Times today by the shadow Defence Secretary, John Healey, arguing for the Opposition to have a greater involvement in the process of refining the strategic concept for the next 10 years.
You know as well as anyone, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I am always keen to be inclusive and above partisan politics. I am happy to discuss with Opposition Front Benchers the strategic concept as it develops over the next few weeks and months. I will, however, add that NATO has mechanisms to contribute to such decisions, not least the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, on which a number of hon. Members serve—there are six Labour Members on it. In both the Opposition and the Government, we do not pay enough attention to our Members who serve on committees abroad. The assembly is often an afterthought, when in fact it should be embraced wholly. It can work both ways, and we can learn what people are thinking in NATO—for example, when it comes to solving the Turkish issue, we should be using the members of the assembly as much as ministerial contacts.
It is not always the case that Opposition parties are so supportive of NATO. Only a few years ago, the previous leader of the Opposition was a man whose aim was to disband NATO. There is also an individual on the Labour Front Bench who recently said that he hoped Russia would successfully hack the nuclear deterrent in the United Kingdom. I know that the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne does not share those motives or views, but we should remind ourselves that not everybody, all of the time, agrees with our positions. Every party is free to change its position on alliances such as NATO, as have the SNP and others, although a certain Member for Islington is, I think, still on a different track.
NATO’s upcoming summit in Madrid, from 28 to
For more than seven decades NATO has protected our way of life and the democracy, justice and freedom that go to the heart of who we are. But peace must be defended in every generation, and as we confront a dangerous new reality in which those values and the international system that underpins them come under sustained assault, it is vital that the alliance is stronger and more united than ever before. I know that that desire is shared by Members on both sides of the House, and they should rest assured that Britain will do all in its power to make sure that NATO keeps delivering by upgrading its defence and deterrence, and will help it adapt to face the 21st-century threat, making sure it remains, as it has for nearly three quarters of a century, the greatest bastion of our security and the greatest guarantor of our peace.
May I start by paying tribute to the men and women in Britain’s armed forces, who are deployed across the NATO alliance as part of their policing operations, multinational battlegroups and maritime deployments? We play the leading role in some of NATO’s most important missions, both on the frontline and in strategic command, as is the case at the British-led but multinational NATO maritime command, which I was privileged to visit last month in north London.
The steps the Government have taken to reinforce NATO allies since Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine have therefore had, and will continue to have, Labour’s full support. In Labour we are proud that Britain is NATO’s leading European nation. We do not want to see that status damaged or deflected by the Prime Minister’s trumpeting of the Indo-Pacific tilt. The first priority for Britain’s armed forces must be where the threats are greatest, not where the business opportunities may lie, and that is in the NATO area—Europe, the north Atlantic and the Arctic.
The shadow Minister mentioned the Indo-Pacific tilt, which we have been looking at in the Defence Committee. There has been a miscalculation, which has allowed Putin to get away with too much for too long. We cannot make the same mistake again. Does the shadow Minister agree that, although we have to focus on the current threat, we also have to focus on future threats, and that is why the Indo-Pacific tilt is relevant and important?
Of course the hon. Gentleman is right, but the first and most acute threat, underlined by the brutal invasion that Putin has undertaken in Ukraine, is where our first duty lies. It is where our neighbourhood lies, and it is our primary obligation to our closest allies. That forces us to confront the fact that we can no longer take peace and security in Europe for granted, as we have done since the end of the cold war. We must now face a future of persistent confrontation with Russia.
Ministers have said to me and to the House in recent weeks that it is perhaps too early to learn lessons from Ukraine, but one lesson I take is that, despite the gung-ho, go-it-alone promotion of global Britain, almost no nation can do anything alone and Britain is a bigger force for good in the world when we act with allies.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I do not disagree with the fundamental point that he makes, but does he accept that, way back in 2007, in Munich Putin told us what he was and almost what he was going to do? The point is not that we have a confrontation with Russia now but that we had a confrontation with Russia when it went into Georgia and when it occupied Crimea. We simply did not do enough about it at the time.
No one on our Front Bench or in the House would disagree with that analysis. Our response was too little, and it was regarded as too weak. It was certainly too little and too weak to deter Putin’s belief that he could take the sort of steps that we have seen in the past three months in Ukraine.
I agree. We took our eye off the ball. But I will not have lectures from Dr Fox, who was the one who withdrew our troops down in Germany in the rushed defence review. I remember he made a great statement at the time that we would never see tanks rolling across the east German plains again. We are actually back there, ruing the decision that was taken then.
My right hon. Friend is right. I really do not want to make these sorts of points this afternoon, but the Prime Minister declared in recent months, before the Ukraine invasion, that the period of tank battles in Europe was over and justified the Indo-Pacific tilt and the deployment of defence priorities to areas outside the NATO area.
The point that I want to make is in part to recognise the role that the Defence Secretary has played. We in Britain are a bigger force for good not when we act alone but when we act with allies. I take this example from the Ukraine experience. Britain’s supply of anti-tank and anti-air missiles to Ukraine is a fraction of the total weapons provided by the west, but we have helped a great deal more by calling donor conferences, co-ordinating the logistics of delivery and reinforcing the will of other countries to help. So Labour’s full backing for the Government in providing military assistance to Ukraine will continue as we shift from crisis management of the current conflict in Donbas to delivering the medium-term NATO standard military support that Ukraine will need for Putin’s next offensive.
Before I give way, may I in parenthesis say to the Secretary of State that the House is still looking forward to the figures that he promised to lay in the Library on
I will just, out of courtesy, give the hon. Gentleman an update. The delay is simply the other countries’ willingness to verify their information. As soon as we have the other countries’ sign-off about what they want to announce publicly, we will give an update. That is the only reason for the delay.
I thank my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Defence. I am glad that he is making the point about closer co-operation. Having undertaken a visit to Norway recently with the excellent armed forces parliamentary scheme, I saw some of the amazing work undertaken by our Marine commandos out in Norway. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need closer co-operation, especially with those Scandinavian nations, in view of the increased Russian threat?
I do indeed, and I am sure that my hon. Friend also discussed Norway’s contribution to the joint expeditionary force set up in 2015 and led by Britain, which the Secretary of State mentioned. The accession of Finland and Sweden means that there are now a full 10 NATO nations in the force, and that it can become even more flexible as a potential operational first responder in the Baltics and in the Nordic areas.
The right hon. Gentleman is being very generous, and I will be brief. He mentioned weapons systems. Is not one of the lessons from Ukraine so far the speed with which one gets through the systems that are being delivered? It reminds us of the need for deep stockpiles of such weapons and ammunition—and, indeed, security of supply lines—at times like this, which we should not underestimate when we factor in defence spending.
The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. One of the most useful and effective weapons for the Ukrainians has proved to be the British-supplied Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon missile, but we rapidly ran out of our UK stocks. We have been very slow in getting fresh production under way, and we have had to raid the stockpiles and the production supplies set for other countries in order to continue to supply, as we must, the military assistance that Ukraine needs. I think that the question of procurement—I will say more about this later—is one of stockpiles, sourcing, and speed. Those three “Ss” are a part of the failures of the present military procurement system, which really does now require deep reform.
My right hon. Friend has touched on what seems to be the key lesson of the recent procurement issue, namely the maintenance of productive capacity, not just in the main equipment suppliers but right down through tiers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Does that not require a steady flow of orders, and should not the Ministry of Defence focus in particular on procurement from domestic industry to maintain that productive capacity, which can then be ramped up?
I think that it does. It requires a steady flow of orders, it requires a stronger commitment to design and make in Britain, and it requires a long-term strategy so that defence industrial producers and their workforces are not faced with a stop-go of uncertain contracts and, very often in the recent past, a competition that may put them at a disadvantage with overseas suppliers.
I am looking around the Chamber momentarily before I proceed, and I will proceed now.
The bravery of the Ukrainians, civil and military alike, has been extraordinary, and we pay tribute to them in the House again today. Beyond his misjudgment of Russia’s military competence and capabilities, Putin has made two fundamental miscalculations, first of the fierce determination of Ukrainians to defend their country, and secondly of western unity. I believe that the two are linked. Just as Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the Donbas region in 2014 strengthened Ukraine’s national unity and resolve to resist Russia, this full-scale invasion of sovereign Ukraine has strengthened NATO’s international unity and resolve to resist Russia.
NATO is becoming stronger. President Biden has doubled down on the United States’ commitment to
“defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power.”
Led by Germany, a dozen European countries have already rebooted defence plans and defence spending, while Finland and Sweden have overturned decades of non-alignment, with their centre-left Governments now bidding for NATO membership, a move that we, as the official Opposition, fully support. Putin is right to say that this Nordic NATO expansion does not pose a direct threat to Russia—NATO is a defensive alliance—but the man who is waging war in Europe is certainly in no position to demand conditions on countries seeking NATO’s collective security.
This afternoon the Secretary of State described NATO as the most successful alliance in history, and he was right. It is the most successful alliance in history because of the strength of both its military and its values. It pools military capacity, capability and cash, with a collective budget of more than $1 trillion, to protect 1 billion people. Alongside the solemn commitment to collective defence, the values of democracy, individual freedom and the rule of law are also enshrined in its founding treaties.
I am proud that the UK’s post-war Labour Government played the leading role in NATO’s foundation, and Labour’s commitment to the alliance remains unshakeable. The Secretary of State, having said that he did not play party politics, then did exactly that. I gently say to him that the position of Labour’s leadership on its unshakeable commitment to NATO and its commitment to the UK nuclear deterrent has been a settled position from Kinnock to Corbyn and from Blair, Brown and Miliband in between.
Would my right hon. Friend agree that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, originally conceived in 1968 under the Government of Harold Wilson, was an enormous step forward and is universally supported by most non-nuclear powers around the world, and that Britain could make a very positive contribution to the NPT review conference in August this year? Would he also agree that it would be helpful if the Government did that, so that we could start down the road of ridding the world of nuclear weapons and signing up to a ban on nuclear weapons?
My right hon. Friend is right in many respects. Some of the most significant arms reduction and arms control treaties have been negotiated and signed by this country under Labour Governments. That was true under Wilson, whom he cites, and it was also true under Blair. He is also right to remind the House that part of our unshakeable commitment to NATO and to the deterrent has been a commitment to leading multinational arms control, reduction and disarmament talks. We may have lost sight of those in recent years—they have certainly commanded little attention over the last decade from the Conservatives—but they are part and parcel of pursuing the fundamental values of NATO, of this country and certainly of the party on this side of the House.
I concur with what my right hon. Friend has said, but is it not the case that we now need to be making the case for deterrence, so that when Putin is providing maps and threats of nuclear destruction for western Europe, we can say very clearly what the response would be? It is that deterrent stance that has kept the peace since the second world war, and we need to keep reminding him, when he makes those threats, of the reason that we retain a nuclear deterrent.
My right hon. Friend is right. Clear and consistent communication is part of having an effective deterrent in place. It is not simply about the weaponry at hand.
Would the right hon. Gentleman dare to go a little further and acknowledge the truth, which is that it is the responsible possession of nuclear weapons by responsible democracies that has kept the peace, and that it would be a mistake ever to get rid of nuclear weapons entirely as that would increase the likelihood of the major state- on-state warfare that we saw before nuclear weapons existed?
I would agree with the contention that possession has helped to hold the peace, but as my right hon. Friend Mr Jones has just pointed out, possession is a necessary but insufficient component of effective deterrence. The communication that my right hon. Friend has just talked about is part of a picture of effective deterrence, alongside political leadership of countries and alliances.
If the House will allow me, I shall move on to the strategic concept and the weeks ahead. Next month, as the Secretary of State has said, member nations will set NATO’s strategy for the next decade, with all democracies now facing new threats to their security. NATO’s last strategic concept was agreed in 2010. It declared:
“Today, the Euro-Atlantic area is at peace”.
It sought a strategic partnership with Russia, it had limited reference to terrorism and it made no mention at all of China. The proximity and severity of the security threat in Europe now demand a clear break with the principles-based platitudes that have been the hallmark of NATO’s previous public strategic concept. The nature of the threat is both clear and urgent. Russia has attacked Ukraine, overridden the NATO-Russia Founding Act, breached the Geneva conventions, buried the Helsinki Final Act, made unilateral threats of nuclear attack against NATO and stands accused of crimes against humanity and genocide.
“Regardless of when, how, the war in Ukraine ends, the war has already had long-term consequences for our security. NATO needs to adapt to that new reality.”
Most importantly, NATO has to adapt its primary task of collective defence.
When the Labour leader and I visited Estonia in February to thank our British troops, they told us about NATO’s tripwire deterrent, which the Secretary of State mentioned, with forward forces giving ground when attacked before retaking it later with reinforcements. The horrific Russian destruction of Ukrainian cities and the brutal shelling of civilians makes it clear that such a strategy of deterrence by reinforcement is no longer conscionable. NATO must instead aim for deterrence by denial, which is the operational consequence of NATO leaders’ commitment to defending every inch of NATO territory.
I am not sure whether that is covered by the combat effectiveness the Defence Secretary spoke about, but it implies a very serious strengthening of military capability, with more advanced systems, more permanent basing, higher force readiness and more intense exercises.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will excuse me for not being here at the beginning of his speech but, when I saw him on the screen, I rushed to hear what he has to say.
Does not this reappraisal, which is the consequence of recent events, need to recognise that, contrary to predictions until very recently that all future warfare would be high tech and entirely different from what we knew before, we now see that much of what is happening in Ukraine is very conventional and rather old-fashioned in some ways? The horror of street-to-street and trench-to-trench fighting requires a reappraisal that might mean we need just as many, or more, troops on the ground, more tanks and more of the things that we were told, not very long ago, are redundant.
I might say the same of security more widely, particularly terrorism. Tragically and awfully, terrorism has adapted to use very ordinary, everyday things. We see cars used as weapons, for example. The recent terrorist attacks have been rather low tech, rather than high tech.
I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman means to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker, but he makes several important points. His last point, on low tech, is right. In many ways, high tech can sometimes become low-tech weaponry. It is easy to conceive that, in the wrong hands, an unmanned aerial vehicle or drone could almost be a flying car bomb.
It is important that we continue to invest in and develop high-tech systems, which give us the edge and some of the deterrent effect we require. Like the right hon. Gentleman, one of the lessons I take from Ukraine is that, in the reality of battle, conflict and confrontation, we need “now tech” and not just high tech. That is one of the flaws in the procurement system, as Mr Baron said in his intervention.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we all have to deal with the difficulty of the Russians’ apparent willingness, in certain circumstances, to use theatre nuclear weapons?
Indeed, there is certainly a willingness to threaten to use such weapons. The escalation of President Putin’s rhetoric at times in this conflict has been reckless. That requires responsible leaders in the western alliance to be careful, measured and consistent about the rhetoric we use. That has not always been what we have seen from some of our Ministers. It also requires us to be implacably clear that any use of such weaponry would be met with a strong, special response and that the universal opprobrium that would befall Russia must make a contemplation of this, even by those in the Kremlin, even in circumstances in which they may feel they are losing ground and losing the conflict, unthinkable.
I am going to press on, because many other Members much more expert than I want to contribute to this debate. Whatever the points the Secretary of State has made and I have made so far, NATO’s new strategic concept has to be a major diplomatic agreement on geostrategic goals first and a plan for force generation, doctrine deployment and procurement second. The NATO 2030 plan must spell out how we are going to contain Putin, what forces we will generate, what new technologies we will accelerate and how we will strengthen our homeland societies. It must set out also a strategy for our open democratic societies to deal with China, which the 2030 reflection group now rightly described as
“a full-spectrum systemic rival, rather than a purely economic player or an only Asia-focused security actor.”
As the reflection group prepared NATO for these decisions, it said:
“The line between civilians and combatants is being blurred”.
So we want the alliance to set democratic resilience as a new core task for NATO when its member nations meet in Madrid next month.
We cannot go far online without finding someone to tell us that western democracies are just as bad or even worse than Moscow or Beijing. Putin spends billions a year trying to divide and degrade our democracies. We have seen that in things ranging from meddling in elections to misinformation about covid and to criminal corruption. The waning belief in our own values has perhaps become the west’s Achilles heel. Just as we defend against attacks from beyond our borders, so we must respond to attacks within them, too. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s recommendations for this new strategic concept stress also the central importance of resilience in our democracies and our societies. It is the way in which we can both counter hybrid warfare and shore up support for our defence commitments.
Within days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Chancellor Scholz declared it
“a watershed in the history of our continent.”
He overturned decades-long German defence policy and boosted defence spending by €100 billion. This is now day 85 and the Government have taken no action to reboot our own UK defence plans. Instead, we are told by Defence Ministers that
“the invasion of Ukraine has proved the integrated review right.”—[Official Report,
Well, the integrated review was billed as a “threats-led” strategy. It has a prominent section on the Indo-Pacific, yet no section on Europe. It confirms that threats to Britain are increasing, yet it cuts the Army by a further 10,000 troops. It makes no mention of a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan or a Russian invasion of Ukraine. I say to the Defence Secretary that all democracies must respond to the newly realised threats to national and European security. That is why we are arguing that he and the Government must rewrite the flaws in the integrated review, review defence spending, reform defence procurement, rethink those Army cuts and reinvigorate UK leadership in NATO.
In the run-up to Madrid, 30 or—I hope—32 democracies and their civil societies will rightly demand a say in the priorities that are set for NATO for the next decade. As the Opposition party that intends to govern Britain in the near future, so do we—yet it is a closed process, confined to Governments. It is closed to the public and closed to non-governing parties, despite the fact that national elections are due within two years in 19 out of the 30 NATO countries. That is why I ask the Government to open up the UK process to create a common British vision for NATO. I welcome the Secretary of State’s offer, in response, to discuss the strategic concept with us as it develops, but I urge him to go further and to lay out for the public, in this House, the UK’s view of NATO’s strategic goals and military priorities, as well as the contribution that Britain will make to our collective defence. I want the UK to drive the debates as NATO gives a greater focus to defence, alongside deterrence and diplomacy. I want UK leadership in NATO to anticipate areas of future Russian aggression, to respond as the Arctic opens up, to settle the alliance’s relationship with the EU and to challenge and compete with China.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the remark he just made about future diplomacy. Does he not think that this moment, when defence expenditure is rising so rapidly all around the world, presents a big problem, and that we should also look at the role that the United Nations could and should play and regret the long delay between the start of the awful Russian invasion of Ukraine and any kind of diplomatic initiative by the UN? There has to be a world of peace and basically that has to come through agreements via the United Nations.
I see it not as a big problem but as a necessary response. The right hon. Gentleman is right about the paralysis of the United Nations; that is because Russia is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Any UN action to try to deal with the conflict in and Russian invasion of Ukraine is therefore stymied before it starts.
I want the UK to have a unified commitment to NATO. I want our commitment to be bipartisan. I do not want it to be a conversation simply for current Ministers behind closed doors. Let me use NATO’s reflection group to underline the point. It said that political cohesion is the basis of effective deterrence and that political consultation remains the most important means by which NATO can reinforce political cohesion. Bipartisan support has strengthened Britain’s action to help Ukraine and confront Russia; it will also strengthen Britain as the leading European nation in NATO.
Order. As the House can see, a number of Members wish to participate in this relatively short debate. I will not put a time limit on the Chair of the Select Committee, but I know he will show enormous self-restraint in the time he takes, because we have only a little more than an hour before the wind-ups begin.
Thank you very much for calling me to speak so early, Mr Deputy Speaker. When one has discussed these sorts of subjects for a very long time, it becomes rather difficult to avoid simply saying the same things over and over again. On the principle of trying to say at least one new thing that I have not contributed to a previous debate, I wish to refer to the role of formerly neutral states in the formation of NATO.
It comes as something of a shock to me to realise that it was in 1975—substantially before the admirable defence spokesman for the Scottish National party, Stewart Malcolm McDonald, was even born—that I had a conversation with the late, great strategic historian Professor Sir Michael Howard on the proposed subject of my doctoral studies, which was how the British empire, as it still was at the time, prepared to adopt a strategy for after the defeat of Germany and Japan, and how the possible revival of German and Japanese threats gave way to a confrontation with our erstwhile allies, the Russians. What I was surprised to find was that the first thinking about this went back to the end of 1941: Trygve Lie, the Foreign Minister-in-exile of the Norwegian Government, made an approach to the British Foreign Office and was soon joined by the Foreign Ministers in exile of Belgium and the Netherlands. What did Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway all have in common? It was that in 1940 they had all been neutral, and in 1940 they had all been invaded and occupied nevertheless.
The proposal that those three Foreign Ministers put forward, which in the fullness of time led to the Brussels treaty and eventually the formation of NATO, was that Britain should be offered strategic bases in their countries once they had been liberated, and once the war was over, so that they could never again be occupied, despite their pacific intentions, by another European power.
Therefore, there is a certain appropriateness in the decision now of two countries—Finland and Sweden—with a tremendous history of neutrality, albeit strongly armed neutrality for purposes of self-protection, to apply now to NATO in order to prevent themselves being exposed and suffering the fate that Ukraine looked as if it was going to suffer, and which Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands had suffered in 1940.
That leads me to the only other point that I will make in this short contribution, which I have said before and will continue to say. Despite many years of thinking about these matters, all I can come up with in the end are three concepts summarised in half a dozen words. The three concepts are: deterrence, which is carried out by nuclear weapons primarily; containment, which is carried out by conventional weapons primarily until such time as the potential enemy has had a chance to evolve or implode, but either way until it can no longer cause a threat; and, finally, the unpredictability of future conflicts—the unpredictability of when or if they will arise, and the unpredictability of what will happen when they do arise.
My mind goes back to
I end by saying, as I have said so many times before, that as recently as the mid-1980s we used to spend 4.5% to 5.1% of our gross domestic product on defence. Several years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we were still spending 3.5% of GDP on defence. Successive Defence Committees have now called—even before the present crisis arose—that we should raise our target not from the minimum of 2% of GDP, but to at least 3% of GDP. It is a matter of priority. What has happened to Ukraine shows where our priorities must lie.
It is always a pleasure to follow Dr Lewis, but I am afraid that, at the beginning of his speech, he somewhat misled hon. Members. He said that he would not say things that he had said before, but by the end of his speech, I was pretty certain that he had made those points previously—in fact, he tends to make them whenever I follow him. However, as always, he was worth listening to.
I commend the way in which the Secretary of State opened the debate. Despite his attempts to tease Labour Front Benchers and me—more of that to come, I am sure—he opened it in a suitable fashion. One might even think that he had in mind a future position in Brussels that might come up at NATO at some point later this year. He is far too popular for the Prime Minister, so he may not be Secretary of State for too much longer. [Interruption.] I am sure he would be most welcome in the Scottish Parliament.
I will try to be brief because I am conscious of time. NATO is clearly one of the two main pillars of Euro-Atlantic security. The Secretary of State himself identified the European Union as a strong player in some of the non-hard military capabilities that are required to underpin peace on the continent of Europe. It is undoubtedly correct that NATO is at the forefront of providing hard military defence and security to its member states, but Europe leads in other areas outwith that. The Secretary of State mentioned some—for example, cyber—but we should also look at energy, trade, resilience and crisis management. He is right that the two institutions should not compete but complement one another.
Britain is in a slightly different role in that it has recently left the European Union but remains a member of NATO, so it taps into only one of those two pillars of Euro-Atlantic security. I repeat what I said earlier, that we should seriously consider a comprehensive defence and security treaty with the European Union. I suspect we will end up in that position at some point, although perhaps not under this Government.
The Secretary of State went through some of the history of the alliance, not least its doubling in size over the past 70 years. We now have two applicants in Sweden and Finland. I suspect that the Secretary of State is right that they will join, despite the noises from Turkey. Undoubtedly, both countries will be positive, contributing members of the alliance, producing strong defence, resilience and security. The Scottish National party absolutely supports their application.
I want to consider the Strategic Concept. As the Secretary of State mentioned, we have had the strategic compass from the European Union—I think there is still a bit to come. The Strategic Concept is second in importance only to the Washington treaty and is undoubtedly a major turning point in the ongoing Euro-Atlantic security debate. The shadow Secretary of State is right that it is a shame that it is open only to Governments to participate, but I accept the Secretary of State’s generous offer to have a discussion with him and his officials before the concept is published next month in Madrid.
I am slightly worried about some of the noises from the Foreign Secretary, and I understand, if the media are to be believed, that so are some Members on the Government Benches. The concept, which she has repeated without any detail, that we need a global NATO causes me concern. The Strategic Concept should underline that NATO’s primary focus is the Euro-Atlantic area. We do not need NATO to gallivant around the world. I know that the Government have an obsession with the Indo-Pacific tilt that they want to try to implement, but surely
On Monday and Tuesday, I had a long conversation with Ukrainian politicians on the border. They stressed to me how vital it is that the United States stays deeply committed to Europe and NATO, and that that is the lesson of what has happened since
I do not disagree with any of that. I am not sure whether perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the point that I was making, but I do not disagree at all. The United States is clearly very important to NATO, but NATO’s primary area of focus and operation, on the map, is the Euro-Atlantic area, and my concern is that the Foreign Secretary seems to want to take that further, with talk of a global NATO. Given that we do not know what she actually means by that, perhaps I have already given too much time to it, but it does cause me concern.
As the shadow Secretary of State said, we need to try to open things up with future strategic concepts. No multilateral international organisation, however important, has a right to exist; it always requires work to get the consent of the public. Undoubtedly NATO has that—it has proved this year alone just how useful it is—but it does need to democratise, and the processes for future strategic concepts need to be opened up not just to political parties, but to non-governmental organisations and others. We want to see coming out of the strategic concept a focus on resilience, on emerging disruptive technologies and on ensuring that the eastern flank of NATO is enhanced, as the Prime Minister of Estonia—the new Iron Lady, as she is being called—has been calling for. We would support that.
The Secretary of State knows that we have supported the Government in every move that they have taken to support Ukraine militarily, economically and in many other fields. Our only criticism, a deep and profound one, is how incredibly slowly we are helping Ukrainian refugees, but that is perhaps not for this debate. However, I am interested to tease out of the Secretary of State or the Minister where we are with planning to help to rebuild Ukraine.
Dr Lewis was correct to say that no one expected that Ukraine would fight so valiantly and last so long against Russia, or that Russia would crumble. No one saw that coming. Getting on to a debate about rebuilding Ukraine is therefore hugely important, and clearly the Ministry of Defence has an important role to play. Members on both sides of the House need to start engaging in this, not least because Ukraine is hoping next year to host the Eurovision song contest, which, as the Secretary of State said, will take place, one way or another, on the territory of a free Ukraine.
The Scottish National party supports Sweden and Finland in their accession to NATO. We are analysing that process very closely, as Members might well understand. We support the Government in going into the strategic concept if they are serious about democratising it and addressing the challenges that we face in the Euro-Atlantic area.
Given the assault on the international order by Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, its continuing fraying and testing in other parts of the world, and the technologies that are used to deepen and hasten that, we need to work together, irrespective of the differing political and constitutional views of hon. Members present. We need to work together because we share values, and those values do not deserve to exist just because we think so; we always need to make the case for them robustly even where there are disagreements. I wish the Secretary of State well for the upcoming strategic concept and look forward to discussing it with him before he heads to Madrid next month.
Order. The wind-ups will begin no later than 4.40 pm. Six Members want to participate, so I am looking towards seven to eight minutes each to give everybody a fair whack, beginning with Sir Bernard Jenkin.
I will be as quick as I can. It is a pleasure to follow Stewart Malcolm McDonald, who made an articulate and thoughtful speech, but I wonder why he said nothing about the SNP’s attitude towards nuclear weapons, because it is now beyond any credibility and devalues everything that he contributed to this debate. By far the greatest contribution that Scotland makes to the defence of Europe is hosting the nuclear deterrent at Faslane. The idea that this would be uprooted by an independent Scotland, and that Scotland would then present itself as a good member of NATO, is utterly ridiculous. What is more, we now know from Iain Macwhirter’s article in The Herald yesterday that this opinion is completely out of step with Scottish public opinion: some 58% of Scots want to retain the nuclear deterrent and only 20% want to get rid of it. When will his party change its policy and adopt the nuclear deterrent as its policy?
I will be brief, as I have just given a long speech. When we put this matter to Scottish people in elections, they always return a majority of Members, not just from my party but from the Scottish Labour party, who oppose hosting the deterrent in Scotland. On the deterrent being in Scotland and the independence of NATO, is the hon. Gentleman really suggesting that the entirety of the UK’s nuclear capability should be exclusively hosted in a sovereign foreign country, no matter how friendly and neighbouring that country is? It would be unprecedented in world history, and I suspect he does not support it himself.
The answer is that it is one of the policies that encourages Scots to vote to remain in the United Kingdom, which was the outcome of the referendum held on Scottish independence.
I will concentrate my remarks on a background debate that has been going on, which is whether this 85-day crisis that we are now in is evidence that somehow NATO has failed. I wish to contest that idea. It became axiomatic for decade after decade that war between major powers was unthinkable. It became our ingrained expectation. I was born 21 years after the end of the second world war, and it is now 77 years after the end of the second world war. Generations in this House and in our country have no folk or family memory of one of the defining moments, if not the defining moment, of our national history. Western Europe and the free world has to that extent become a victim of the success of NATO—success being peace in Europe and beyond Europe for decade after decade.
That success was based on two fundamental foundations: nuclear deterrence and NATO. That is not just because it provided collective security in Europe, but because it was binding—and still is binding—the US and Canadian security guarantees into the European security guarantees. It is the joining of transatlantic security that has made NATO so effective. Incidentally, one of the tragedies of the European Union is that it has gone down the path of trying to create a separate autonomous defence alliance outside NATO, which has corroded that automatic assumption that the United States and Europe will always act together.
Some still say that NATO has failed because of Ukraine, but NATO never declared that it would defend Ukraine. NATO is hardly to be accused of failing to deter Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when it never specifically said that it would seek to deter that. There have been political failures by the Governments of NATO members in recent years, individually and collectively, but as the former Defence Secretary, my right hon. Friend Dr Fox, said earlier, it was all laid out at the Munich security conference in 2007 by President Putin. Then we had the invasion of Georgia, the cyber-attacks, the Litvinenko murder, the violation of the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty—incidentally, that was unilateral rearmament by the Russians, rather than disarmament—the invasion of Crimea, the Salisbury poisonings, hybrid warfare, the weaponisation of gas, and the destabilisation of the Balkans. We ignored all those signals—the clearest possible signals—but the failure of the UK, the United States, the German Government and the French Government is a failure of our national strategies, not a failure of NATO.
Moreover, we can now say that NATO conventional forces are rather less inferior to Russian armed forces than we might have feared. The Russian forces, which are much larger and more extensively equipped than ours, have proved catastrophically incapable of delivering their intended effects. They are riven with corruption and have poorly maintained and poorly designed equipment. They are poorly led and incapable of conducting air superiority operations over a neighbouring country with meagre air defence of its own. They cannot defend their ships or run their logistics effectively.
In addition, we are finding that Russia has not dared to attack NATO countries even when they are actively supporting the resistance with arms to Ukraine. The first important lesson to take from the conflict is that we started out feeling much too timid about provoking Russian escalation. Perhaps the timing has been perfect, but I think we could have moved quicker and faster. I am delighted by the scale of the United States’ response to the crisis now, and I wish it had come earlier.
Still, we must be ready to respond to Russian escalation, the possible use of chemical weapons and even the possibility of a tactical nuclear strike in Ukraine. That risk would rise significantly if Russia declared that captured Ukraine territory was now sovereign Russian territory, because that would trigger a whole set of defence doctrines in Russian military doctrine that would legitimise in Russian minds the use of tactical nuclear weapons. I do not expect the Government to comment on this point, but I have every confidence that NATO’s SHAPE—Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe —in Belgium will be war-gaming escalation scenarios and will not be ruling out a vigorous response, as even the shadow Defence Secretary adverted to, involving co-ordinated retaliation to make sure that that escalation would be met with sufficient deterrence.
The second key lesson is that it is evident, if it was not obvious already, that the world is watching this conflict. The global implications of the outcome in Ukraine are profound. President Putin must not be seen to have gained from his illegal aggression, because of all the consequences for every other autocratic regime that is eyeing the neighbouring territory of another sovereign state. If we want to deter China, North Korea and any number of despotic regimes from thinking that they can behave in that way, we have to think in the same way that John Major and President Bush thought about the invasion of Kuwait, and that Margaret Thatcher insisted we had to think about the Falklands. The outcome of the conflict will be not just a watershed moment in European history, but a turning point in the history of the world. We must succeed and ensure that the Ukrainians win their war.
I begin by thanking the members of our armed forces—the men and women who work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to keep us safe. I also put on the record my thanks to our NATO partners and the men and women of their armed forces. Today, however, our thoughts have to be with the people of Ukraine and the brave members of their armed forces, who are fighting Russian aggression in their homeland.
We are at a dangerous and pivotal point in Europe’s history since the second world war. The attack going on in Ukraine is not just about contesting territory; it is about—more dangerously—undermining the rules-based order that we live with and have come to accept. It came out of the dark days and destruction of the second world war, and Russia is making a fundamental attack on that rules-based order, on the values of democratic governance, the rule of law and freedom of speech—things that we all take for granted.
Occasionally, we should all take a step back to think about the privileges that we have in this country. I sometimes get concerned that some populist agendas these days attack alternative opinions because they do not agree with them. That is the beauty of democracy, that we can have that disagreement. It does not make those people wrong; it makes the point that we are allowed to have those different opinions in our democracy. Do not shout people down, but listen and argue. We do not want to reach the point where we have just one narrative, as there is in Russia, which is state controlled.
There has been a lot of talk about increases in defence expenditure, but one of the downsides of the invasion has been the lovely armies of armchair generals—including some on my own Defence Committee—coming up with instant solutions for what should be done. I accept the point about increased defence expenditure, although I would not argue for it yet; we need a sombre look at the lessons of Ukraine. The integrated review was right in its analysis, but the Government will have to admit that they need to update it at some point, and that will have to be done in a thoughtful and fact-based way.
I am sorry that the relevant Minister is not in his place, but I want to make the point that we must ensure that the Treasury pays for our support for the Ukrainian armed forces. It should not come out of the defence budget, which would limit what we can do. That message should be given loud and clear from across the House to the Treasury: the money has to come out of the special reserve and not out of the defence budget.
The Defence Secretary mentioned the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I have the privilege of being the deputy leader of our delegation to NATO. Last week, along with Stuart Anderson and the leader of the delegation, Alec Shelbrooke, we visited Latvia and Estonia. If one clear message is coming from there, it is that they now consider themselves to be on the frontline. They are small former Soviet republics, which have been referred to as the “canary in the coalmine” given the hybrid attacks that have taken place over the past few years. Clear in their minds, however, is the threat of invasion from Russia.
That leads to some questions for NATO’s Madrid summit. The Latvians have always been supporters of the enhanced forward presence—since 2016—and we had the honour of visiting the EFP group in Latvia. I give credit to all those nine nations, as well as to our forces in Estonia, but I think that the tripwire idea and its reinforcement need to be revisited because of the events in Ukraine. Looking across at events in Bucha and other Ukrainian cities it is unthinkable for the Latvians and Estonians that they should be invaded. Clearly, as the Latvian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister said to us, there is no space in geopolitics but enemies will occupy it. We had a similar message from the secretary-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Estonia when he said:
“Estonians don’t want to be liberated.”
I think we need to take that on board.
What needs to happen in Madrid, certainly if we get Finland and Sweden applying to join NATO—and I welcome that—is that we come up with a new Baltic security pact. We are playing a very important role in Estonia, but we need to think about how that happens. We will need to have a permanent presence not just in the Baltic states, but across the eastern flank of NATO. I think the idea of rotating troops through is one that has served us well until now, but it certainly does not do so now, after the invasion of Ukraine.
One key thing that came out of our visit last week is that NATO needs to be united in our response to Putin’s aggression. That is not just through the help and support that we are providing for the people and armed forces in Ukraine; we must be united against destabilisation, cyber, the refugee crisis—the weaponisation of refugees—and the disinformation that takes place. That is not going to be done without investment and, I have to say, a certain amount of pain—this is certainly not going to be free. That will put pressure on all NATO nations, and not just on defence budgets and how we refocus them; it will put pressure on our populations. I give credit to both Latvia and Estonia, which have stepped up to the mark in supporting the efforts in Ukraine.
I will finish with a quote, which struck me, from Kristi Raik, the director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute, who said that “freedom is priceless”. Latvia and Estonia are countries on the border with Russia, and those words from Kristi Raik mean to me that those of us in countries that have the geographical advantage of being further away need to ensure that we fight for the core values we are defending against Russia in Ukraine—freedom, democracy, freedom of speech and the rules-based order that we all live by. They are worth fighting for; they are priceless, and we must defend them. That is what we have to continue to do.
It is an honour to follow Mr Jones, from whom I have learned a lot when sitting with him on different Committees, including on the Armed Forces Bill, and the Parliamentary Assembly. He raises the very good point that we can have different views and not always agree, but we can do so in a respectful way, and ultimately the people here are looking to see that we have the best armed forces we can possibly have.
There is nothing I am going to say about the formation of NATO that has not already been said or will be said, but I want to get across my personal experience with NATO, both past and present. Looking back to when I was a young, fresh-faced soldier many years ago, I served on operations under NATO in both Bosnia and Kosovo, and I got to see the front end of what that looks like. Now, over 20 years later, I am in Parliament, and I sit on the Defence Committee and I am hugely honoured to sit on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
I thank the Secretary of State for what he said about the Parliamentary Assembly, because some of the information we get and the access we have to other MPs from NATO members is priceless. Last week, when we were in Latvia, I had an MP from Latvia telling me that, yes, Latvians take this seriously because he does not know if he is going to be fighting on his streets, defending his family and his country. That is how really seriously they take it. He said that all the words we say have such an implication for what happens over there, so we must choose our words carefully.
I have talked about some of the recent experiences we have had in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and I have had the fortunate experience to look, on the Russian border from Norway down further south and on the Ukrainian border, at the build-up of troops. In 1999, I witnessed the build-up of NATO in Kosovo, and it was a strange experience to see the might of a mass military organisation taking over normal towns and villages to set that up. We lived in derelict buildings or old factories as there were no bases at that time. In 2003, I witnessed that on a bigger scale in Baghdad when the might of the US military and many other NATO members was around. That was on a different level—they were even setting up Burger Kings—and in that I saw how the military moves forward.
On what we are now calling the eastern flank, I have witnessed a build-up of multiple NATO member states across not one country as we saw in Bosnia or Iraq but multiple countries. We need to get our heads around that and understand it, because that has not been seen since the second world war. I have experienced how they are working in unison and pulling together for a common goal that they take seriously.
I am proud to represent the UK and the House when I go overseas. I hold my head up high, and we are always met with great respect because of the UK’s leadership in the response to Ukraine. I thank the Secretary of State, Defence Ministers and the whole team, who have got it right every step of the way. We are told that very clearly when we are overseas with other MPs. They hold us in such high regard and look to us to see what we are doing. I have not wavered in my belief that we have the most professional armed forces in the world—now and looking forward.
I have a couple of key points to put to the MOD for discussion. We always hear about numbers and percentages, and I take nothing away from people with those viewpoints. I was only elected in 2019, so this is really the first time that I have had the chance to analyse an integrated review—before that, I did not go into much detail; I just carried out the requirements or changes—and I probably look at it quite differently from a lot of people. I see it as a quite revolutionary change in mindset and way of thinking, and I believe that, in 10 years, we will look back and think, “That was a pivotal time in the defence of our nation.” It focuses on how we will be preparing warfare with our NATO allies and what we will look at.
I understand the points about the Indo-Pacific tilt and everything else, and I do not want to mistake threat and risk. The threat, which was identified as acute, still remains, and there is still a long-term threat from China that we must keep one eye on instead of miscalculating as we did long ago by giving Putin a free rein. I respect what Members say about the clear and present danger on the Russian border and about how we have got to identify that. We need to look at the integrated review, but not necessarily for lessons learned because there is evolution in warfare and we cannot take what is happening in Ukraine as a blueprint for the next battle that we will face. We need to look at evolution and short-term lessons to learn, but I believe that the concept of the integrated review is bang-on. The arguments around numbers and things like that must not come at the cost of lethality and agility.
One question raised on the enhanced forward presence in Estonia is about putting a division there. Do we want to put a division in such a confined space? There is a whole strategic argument around different areas for that, but the one thing that we must look at is what is now called permanent presence. Five months of pre-deployment training and six months over there is almost a year for the troops, once we have put in the rest and recuperation. The Secretary of State and I both served in Germany, and we could look to permanent deployment like that with a shift in mindset in line with the integrated review to set us up better. With the numbers that we have got, we could use our deployment around the world cleverly to create that agility and lethality. It is not an open and shut discussion. There are debates about how we move on that. I would always ask for more money and more troops, but not at the cost of agility and lethality, looking at the real world and where we are today.
I have been delighted to speak on this matter and to watch the evolution, from a young soldier to a politician being able to contribute.
Yesterday afternoon, I had the privilege to chair a fascinating discussion with Members of both Houses through the auspices of the British group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. We also had with us the British ambassadors to Poland and Ukraine. A number of things came across very clearly in that discussion.
First, it was pretty clear to the participants that the war in Ukraine will not be over quickly. That has already been said by my right hon. Friend Mr Jones. The fundamental challenge from Vladimir Putin is not just to Ukraine, but to the entire rules-based international order and its significance cannot be underestimated. People are unclear what Putin’s objectives may be, but it seems highly likely that his objective really is to defeat Ukraine and to occupy, by hook or by crook, in whatever timescale is necessary, the entire country. The implications of that are very serious and they are implications for us all.
Of immediate concern is what may be happening in the south of Ukraine, with Russia’s slow but steady advance towards Odesa and then a possible link up with Transnistria, which has made a kind of unilateral declaration of independence at the behest of the Russians. Destabilisation would follow for Moldova as a whole, with implications for NATO and the European Union. These are big issues that we have to consider carefully and soberly, and—let us be honest—over a significant period of time.
It is also very clear that it is not too early for us to learn some lessons about what has happened and what is happening as we speak. The lessons have already been learned in Finland and Sweden. They have put forward their applications for membership of NATO. I am sure, despite the reservations expressed by Turkey, that they will be accepted—something we all must welcome.
A number of countries are rebooting their financial commitments to defence. In particular, Germany, as we have heard, is reorientating the whole scope of its economic development away from dependence on Russian energy to more self-sufficiency and a greater inclination towards the west rather than the east. Significantly—this is a pretty profound change for Germany—it has committed to a €100 billion increase to its defence budget, in the current financial situation in Germany. It has also committed itself to increasing its defence budget from 2022 to 2% of GDP. What is also significant is not just those pretty bold and emphatic statements, but the fact that there is in Germany cross-party consensus to a large extent about the need to do that. That underlines that we, too, accept that a fundamental realignment of foreign policy is taking place, which we must engage in, and we must be fully aware of its implications.
For the United Kingdom, too, there are very important issues that we must get to grips with very soon. One of the most important is that the cuts to our armed forces, in particular the Army, have to be reversed. Quite frankly, it is indefensible that the Government are still entertaining the idea of reducing the size of the British Army by 10,000; in the present context, such a reduction is ridiculous. As the Defence Committee has been saying consistently for some time, there also needs to be a consistent, strategic increase in the moneys we allocate to defence, and I believe that 3% should be the absolute minimum for our future commitments.
We also need to set in train a fundamental sorting out of our defence procurement process. Okay, it has been a problem for a long time, and fingers can be pointed in a whole host of directions, but given the importance of defence procurement it really does need to be sorted out once and for all. A cornerstone of any new strategy must be the development of sovereign capability; we must have a proper, well-thought-out, well-structured and strategic industrial strategy for developing the defence capability of this country, and that must be based on our indigenous entrepreneurship, workforce and talents.
A number of Members have referred to the integrated review, and it is clearly important. The tilt to the east, which has been referred to by many Members, is all well and good, and I understand that we must not turn a blind eye to what is happening with China—of course we should not; that is a long-term, possibly real threat. However, we must recognise that the priority here and now is what is being imposed by Russia, and our alliance with our allies in Europe must be reinforced and deepened. That requires going beyond the debates about Brexit and so on; let us put that on one side, because it has happened—we all accept that. We really need to co-operate with our European partners, who take a like-minded view on defence matters and foreign affairs generally, so that we speak and act with our allies in the United States with one concerted, determined voice.
We need to do something else as well, although my list is by no means exhaustive. It is of critical importance long term that we make a real effort to engage with the population of this country. All too often it has been easy for people to see defence as being in one place and the population’s priorities as being somewhere else. We must find a way to ensure consistently and over a long period—as they have in the Scandinavian countries and in Sweden in particular—that everybody understands that the country as a whole has a stake in its own defence. We need to have a discussion on that—cross-party if necessary—to make sure that that begins to happen in the United Kingdom. In other words, we need to develop national unity of purpose and the events in Ukraine make that an absolute necessity.
“we shall act as custodians of peace and as determined opponents of aggression”—[Official Report,
That was absolutely true in 1949, but it must be true also in 2022.
The ongoing terrible events in Ukraine remind us that we need to make sure that we not only maintain our defence expenditure, but invest wisely in capability that will ensure that we remain a credible NATO ally. We have seen recently in Ukraine how good equipment can blunt the attacks of the most aggressive invader. Op Orbital, which began in 2015 in response to Russian aggression in the Donbas and Crimea, has been a successful training mission to equip Ukrainian forces and is paying huge dividends now as Ukraine’s army has risen magnificently to the challenge. This is the best possible example of the value of investing in training and equipment.
The history of the last century shows us what happens when countries seek to appease dictators and are willing to trade other people’s freedoms for their own security. It is for this reason that the Washington treaty signed in 1949 bound the founding members of the Atlantic alliance together with a pledge enshrined in article 5 that an attack on one member was an attack on all. Since then, the Atlantic alliance, the most successful military alliance in history, has helped to ensure the freedom of this country and western Europe, especially during the cold war, in the face of an aggressive Soviet Union. A mark of its success is that the original group of 12 founding nations has expanded to 30 today. It is no coincidence that, as soon as they were able to escape the yoke of Soviet tyranny, our neighbours in central and eastern Europe sought to join NATO. The fact that now both Finland and Sweden—long bywords for neutrality—have taken the first steps to join the NATO alliance shows the attraction of it as well as its reputation.
This country has always placed NATO at the heart of its defence policy, and the Ministry of Defence characterises the UK’s armed forces as “Allied by design”. Unlike Russia, this country has allies and partners around the world, and our NATO allies know that the UK will stand with them. We train together on a regular basis—something which should never be sacrificed on the altar of savings by the Treasury. We must increase our defence expenditure.
As a former British Defence Secretary, Denis Healey—another gunner—who was the military beach commander at Anzio said in 1969:
“Once we cut defence expenditure to the extent where our security is imperilled, we have no houses, we have no hospitals, we have no schools. We have a heap of cinders.” —[Official Report,
Or, as we are seeing in the Ukraine, piles of rubble.
The invasion of Crimea by Russia in 2014 was a much-needed wake-up call for the Atlantic alliance, but it was not an easy matter to stir up all of its members. In 2016 President Obama spoke of “European free riders” who relied far too much on the United States for their security under the nuclear umbrella. In 2019 President Macron accused the alliance of being brain dead.
Since 2014 the UK has contributed elements in the air policing mission in the Baltic on five occasions, as well as on the ground in Estonia, in the NATO battlegroup, since it was established in 2017. One of my sons, Michael, a fourth generation gunner, a Bombardier with 1 Royal Horse Artillery, has served in Estonia with his regiment and has just returned from a major exercise in Germany. I am pleased to see that we now have a brigade headquarters in Estonia.
If Putin thinks that he can unsettle the NATO alliance by his casual reference to Russia’s “massive nuclear” forces, he is very much mistaken. Predictably, that has led to calls from some in this House, namely the Scottish National party, that we should rid ourselves of the nuclear deterrent. To those who say that we can never use it, I gently remind them that we are deploying it and relying on it every single day. Talk of the use of tactical nuclear weapons by Russia must also be dealt with by leaders being firm in their resolve to maintain the alliance’s undertaking that an attack on one is an attack on all.
Events in Ukraine have given the international community a shock, but Russia’s actions remind us all that rogue nation states still retain the capacity to act violently when they think they can get away with it. We were beginning to get used to the idea of counter-insurgency, grey zone and cyber warfare, believing that this was the pattern for future conflicts. Putin may have been encouraged by the weak western response to the situation in Syria and the weak response to his initial aggression in Georgia and Crimea. It is worth reminding ourselves that the mission in Afghanistan was a NATO one. It was begun as an article 5 mission—the only time article 5 has been invoked so far after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, so the shambolic abandonment of Afghanistan created a very dangerous perception of weakness of the west and NATO among our enemies around the world.
Russia is attempting to weaponise its gas supplies. This has long been foretold by those of us who warned of the dangers posed by the Nordstream gas pipeline. So alongside deterrence, we must relearn the need for resilience, in our supply chains as well as our food and energy security. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to reinforcing our sovereign defence manufacturing capability.
While we congratulate ourselves on our united stance against Putin’s aggression, some members of the NATO alliance were initially reluctant to commit to it. In the Ministry of Defence Command Paper, the Government announced the creation of the Ranger Regiment. This, and the sort of training missions that we have seen in Operation Orbital, will boost the ability of our NATO allies to defend themselves.
The message from the House to our allies must be that for as long as the UK remains a leading member of NATO, we will invest in our security to ensure our freedom, and we recommend that all our NATO allies do the same.
Let me start by commending the Secretary of State and his Front-Bench team for their leadership on Ukraine. I also commend those on both Front Benches for their contributions to the debate. Indeed, I commend all the contributions. This is important, because if we are to move the dial on this issue when it comes to defence spending, it will require collaboration on a cross-party basis. We should not underestimate the importance of that if we are to convince the country that we need to spend more on defence. As we all know, the defence of the realm is the first duty of Government. We need our leadership—our respective party leaders—to wake up to that.
Having myself served in the 1980s in Germany, including Berlin, in Northern Ireland and with the United Nations elsewhere, I think we are all very much in agreement in wanting to commend the men and women serving in our armed forces—now and in the past—who have been prepared, and are prepared, to put their lives on the line and make the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of the liberties that we enjoy in this country today.
As some colleagues have already mentioned, the invasion of Ukraine is a wake-up call. It has, perhaps, given NATO a fresh purpose, and it has certainly reminded NATO of its original purpose. I would contend that for too long the west has been complacent. At the end of the cold war, we believed that the very concept of democracy would sweep the field. Everything was right about it: who could argue against it? However, democracy is a fragile concept; we need only look at what happened on Capitol Hill in the United States a few years ago to be reminded of that fact. Democracy needs nurturing; it needs encouraging; it needs defending. That was brought into sharp contrast by the recent vote in the United Nations when more than half the world’s population, as represented by their Governments, failed to condemn the invasion of Ukraine. It is a stark lesson that perhaps, with the coming of the new cold war, we need to resource properly —and, I would argue, spend more on—both our hard and soft power capabilities in order to win the argument.
A number of us in this place, on both sides of the House—for this is not a party political issue—have been warning of the dangers of potentially hostile states, including Russia, for some time. I know that many would disagree, but I would humbly suggest that this country became distracted, as did the west generally, by a number of what I would term foolish interventions, starting with Iraq in 2003. That is now history, but we need to remember that Russia still occupies roughly a fifth of Georgia, which it invaded in 2008. These are very real dangers now, and it is the present with which we have to deal.
Against that backdrop, I was appointed chair of the 1922 defence committee, and was tasked with soliciting the views of Conservative Back Benchers on what our defence priorities should be. Our report was released last week, and is now with the Government. We had a good discussion with the Defence Secretary on Monday, and I look forward to continuing that discussion with the policy unit at No. 10 and, indeed, with the Prime Minister.
In the few minutes that are left to me, it may be helpful if I give a brief summary of the main themes that emerged from the report. There was a wide consensus that the integrated review—and perhaps more importantly, the associated documents that followed it, such as the Defence Command Paper—required revisiting. The integrated review was predicated on peacetime conditions, which frankly no longer exist. It does not need to be torn up and rewritten from scratch, but it does need updating, with an examination carried out as to what equipment and manpower Britain needs to protect its own and its allies’ security. We suggest in the report that there should be a moratorium on any defence cuts until that exercise is complete. There is little point in shedding personnel, weapons, tanks, aircraft or whatever and then finding out that we might need them.
Conservative Back Benchers are adamant that Defence spending should be meaningfully and substantially increased. Instead of targeting a certain percentage of GDP, which is affected by the ebb and flow of the economy, Britain should, in the light of this review exercise, work out which specific capabilities it requires in manpower and matériel, and bid to achieve those. In addition, the report suggests that the cost of military and MOD civilian pensions should not come out of the Defence budget. Neither should the costs of the nuclear deterrent come out of the Defence budget. It is after all a strategic asset; it should be completely separate. The games that have been played in the past by including the nuclear deterrent cost in the Defence budget to ensure that we hit a certain percentage should, frankly, be left in the playground. We are dealing with the defence of the realm and we need to attach to this debate the severity and sincerity that is required to ensure that we do what is right. We should not be playing politics with figures.
The report made a number of other recommendations. It concluded that the Government should take steps to expand homegrown talent and skills in our defence industry. That would boost the defence sector as well as our sovereign defence capabilities. It also makes the point that we should adopt a more strategic view when deciding whether to allow foreign bids for defence companies. On procurement, it recognises that reform is being introduced to the MOD’s procurement system, which does not have the best reputation, as we know. The committee also concluded that the MOD should give greater thought to buying off-the-shelf equipment rather than going down the bespoke route. A weapons system that is 80% perfect and available at speed and scale is sometimes preferable to a system that is 100% perfect but unavailable. We talked about having a deep stockpile of advanced weapons and ammunition. Ukraine has shown just how quickly we can get through our stockpiles. We have run out of serious weaponry in this country, and we need to ensure that we learn the lessons from that. At the bare minimum, we need to ensure that a rock-solid supply chain is in existence so that these weapons can be produced even in wartime conditions.
We suggested that consideration should be given to improving pay and accommodation, because this is not just about weaponry; it is very much about personnel, and we should never forget those on the frontline. Improving pay and accommodation is of great importance, as is ensuring that greater support is available to support soldiers’ mental health. We also suggested—like everyone else in this place who has served, I have a vested interest, and I declare it—that recruitment should be taken back in-house and associated with the county associations that made the regimental system so strong and a major source of endurance on the regimental front. Outsourcing has not been a success.
We stand at a pivotal point. Given how fragile the concept of democracy is, we need a rounded, all-encompassing approach incorporating both hard and soft power assets—which require additional funding—to ensure that we do indeed talk softly but carry a big stick. If we do not embrace the concept of ensuring that we have a full range of capabilities relative to our assessment of the risks—risks that have increased since Ukraine—while always pursuing diplomacy, conflict will become more likely. I sincerely hope, as we all do, that the lesson of Ukraine will be the wake-up call that it is.
Labour’s commitment to NATO is unshakable. Eighty-five days ago, when Russia illegally invaded Ukraine, we faced a choice as a Parliament, a country and an alliance—to let Putin divide us or to stand strong with our allies in Ukraine—and we chose well. Eighty-five days later, NATO is more united than ever before, with historic bids from Finland and Sweden and with member state after member state rebooting its defence plans. Let us say very clearly that Putin’s gamble to fracture us has backfired.
Labour is proud to be part of this united front, as we have heard today, just as we are proud of the men and women in Britain’s armed forces who are deployed across the NATO alliance and further afield. We are also proud that NATO and the principle of collective security are stitched into the history of the Labour party, thanks to the Attlee Government playing such a pivotal role in bringing the alliance into being in 1949.
Just as we look to the history of NATO, we must look to its future, too. There are some big questions. How do we best support our Ukrainian friends through the new phases of this conflict? How should we approach NATO 2030, the new Strategic Concept for the alliance? How do we keep Britain a leader in international security and truly a force for good? As my right hon. Friend Mr Jones said, how do we protect the rules-based order? As my hon. Friend Wayne David and Mr Baron said, how do we make sure that there is renewed cross-party unity of purpose to make this case, free from the party political distractions that do the debate no service?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay for his speech. I am interested in reading the 1922 defence committee’s report, but he may have summarised it so effectively that he does not need to leak a copy to the Opposition. He will find that, on both sides of the House, an awful lot of people were nodding during his speech, and I hope the Ministers heard what he said loud and clear.
Yesterday I attended the unveiling of the memorial to lost submariners. Since the Submarine Service came into existence, the United Kingdom has lost 5,960 submariners. The unveiling of the memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire shows just how important their sacrifice has been, and it sits alongside memorials to fallen comrades in every single service, representing people from across our country and, indeed, across the world who made the sacrifice in support of the freedoms we enjoy today. It is worth remembering those who came before us and those who served.
On the challenge before us, let us be in no doubt that NATO is the best way for western democracies to stand united and together in the face of renewed Russian aggression and an uncertain future. As Stuart Anderson and the Secretary of State both said, agility and flexibility are important to our alliance, but we now need to think carefully about how we shift from crisis management in the early stages of this war to medium-term military support.
That means the UK Government, NATO and our allies continuing to reinforce our Ukrainian friends with weapons and ammunition while also setting up the conditions for economic recovery and providing hope and determination to deliver the brighter future of a free, democratic and peaceful Ukraine, with Russian forces, defeated and withdrawn, unable to threaten that country and its people ever again. It means supplying more next-generation light anti-tank weaponry, loitering munitions, armour and artillery pieces, alongside defence equipment and medical packs—that is something we must do across the alliance—but it also means renewing our own strategic approach, as mentioned by Members on both sides of the House. I think it has been done without a partisan spirit, and in the best interests of our country and our collective defence.
Mr Deputy Speaker, you and I will have had one thing in common: watching the TV last Saturday, because we are both fans of Eurovision. I echo the congratulations of Stewart Malcolm McDonald to the Kalush Orchestra on Ukraine’s winning entry. I am not certain that President Putin is a fan of Eurovision or whether he was watching on Saturday, but if he was, he would have seen a great evening of costumes, song and solidarity. Uniting NATO against his criminal invasion is quite an achievement for the Russian President, but uniting Europe and Australia on Eurovision is an achievement equally worthy of song. I like the Secretary of State’s words, “One way or another, it will take place in Ukraine.” I look forward to watching it from Ukraine with him next year.
Turning to events closer to home, the NATO conference in Madrid next month will mark a crucial juncture in international security, establishing NATO’s vision for the next decade or so. As the shadow Defence Secretary says, it is important that the doors are not closed to civil society or to Opposition parties, because this is the moment to bring more players together in the solidarity and common endeavour that Members on both sides of the House have spoken about today. I would be grateful if the Minister for the Armed Forces set out how the Government plan to approach that conference, what the strategic concept will do and how it will fit with the integrated review, especially if it is such a departure from NATO’s current operating procedures.
Britain must also put democratic resilience on the agenda in Madrid. Liberal democracies must be better attuned to non-conventional threats, from election meddling to the spreading of misinformation online. There is a new home front in our defence against hostile actors: it is a digital home front, and we must not ignore it. We also need strong UK leadership in NATO to pre-empt Putin’s next steps, including in the Baltic, the Balkans, Kaliningrad and the high north. A new strategic concept must also have a plan for the Arctic, as the climate means that new shipping routes are opened there and new threats exist.
Britain must champion co-ordination and interoperability among NATO friends and allies, because as NATO members rightly raise their defence spending and invest in their inventory, there is a risk that that new investment will be nation-specific and will not have the interoperability that we are seeing across the alliance. That must mean weaponry, bullets, vehicles and communication. For instance, the US is moving its bullet calibre from a NATO standard to a new US standard. We need to be aware that this is already happening. How will that interoperability work in the next decade? We need to ensure that we all stand together.
Labour places the highest priority on security in Europe, the north Atlantic and the Arctic. Before we tilt to the Indo-Pacific, we must first secure our own backyard. The illegal invasion of Ukraine reinforces NATO as our primary UK security obligation. We want Britain to be NATO’s leading European nation, but our place at the front of the pack is not automatic or guaranteed and we should not be complacent. As our allies reboot defence spending, the question must be why the UK Government have not done so and why the flaws in the integrated review are not being fixed. Ministers should rewrite defence plans, review defence spending, rethink cuts to the Army, reform defence procurement and renew our international friendships.
Finally, let us not forget what NATO represents. It is about peace over war, democracy over tyranny, collective security over individual vulnerability, and hope over fear. We derive our strength from those principles and values. As President Obama once said, it is not might that makes right. Quite the reverse: right makes might. NATO is Britain’s best option for defence. It is our best option for international security. It is our best option for collective defence. It is our best option for upholding our values. For those reasons, Labour’s commitment to NATO will remain unshakeable.
I thank all colleagues for their contributions to the debate. As ever over the past four or five months, it has been defined by gentle disagreement politely put by well-informed contributors to the debate around defence and security in the Euro-Atlantic.
NATO is inescapably the foundation on which Euro-Atlantic security is based. It is, always was and has proven itself over the past three months still to be the most enormous deterrent, even against Putin at his most belligerent. Other multinational fora, many of which have been mentioned today—the UN, the European Union, the G7, the coalition of donors that sit outside NATO and the coalition of those who have imposed sanctions on Russia—have all been able confidently to make interventions to try to resolve the conflict, safe in the knowledge that NATO’s overwhelming firepower keeps the conflict contained within Ukraine. That has enabled many international fora to take measures to impose cost on Russia and try to persuade it to change course.
Not only does NATO have an enormous technological and numerical advantage but, as my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis and my hon. Friend Mr Baron made clear, the nuclear deterrent is inescapably important to the deterrence that NATO provides. That is why the SNP’s positions on nuclear and on NATO are so contradictory. Scotland’s geography is the gatepost on the southern side of the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap. That is the most strategic gateway to the north Atlantic and is essential to all NATO’s plans. Right now, at the very tip of Scotland, some of the most advanced anti-submarine warfare capabilities are based at RAF Lossiemouth. They are there because one of Europe’s best-funded and biggest air forces is able to have those capabilities alongside the fast air that polices threats in the Norwegian and northern seas and beyond.
Of course, Scotland hosts the nuclear deterrent on which so many countries around NATO depend, because it is the only nuclear deterrent that is assigned to NATO. It therefore seems to me more than a little contradictory that a party that wants to expel the UK’s nuclear deterrent from Scotland wants to apply to join an alliance that is ultimately underpinned by that very same deterrent.
I am trying hard to follow the question. The answer is either that it belongs to the United Kingdom and the Scottish Government would insist on its removal—
Yet the hon. Gentleman’s position and that of his party is that he would want to join an alliance whose deterrence is underpinned by that deterrent. It feels inconsistent. To NATO countries around the alliance, the idea that that pivotal geography on the southern end of the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap should wish to break away from one of the world’s biggest, best-resourced and best-trained armed forces seems like absolute nonsense.
I agree. The argument is clear: NATO is a nuclear alliance. SNP Members always refer to other countries in NATO that do not have nuclear weapons, but those countries have a commitment not only to receive nuclear weapons but, in some cases, to have aircraft that deliver them. Would a future Scottish air force have to deliver the nuclear deterrent?
That is an interesting point. It seems to me that NATO is one of the most powerful arguments for the Union, because if one supports NATO, surely one continues to support the Union.
Many colleagues have discussed the Madrid conference and shown particular interest in the strategic concept. Fundamentally, the strategic concept has three key elements for which we should be looking out and in which the UK has particular interests.
The first key element of the strategic concept relates to the resilience of member states and the wider alliance, and to the interweaving of national security plans, reinforced by a wider NATO mass at appropriately high readiness, with robust enablers and industrial bases to get NATO into the fight and sustain it once it is there.
The second element is adapting and modernising around advanced technologies. Inescapably, the battle space is changing. Everyone harks back to the armour-on-armour conflict of the past, and, of course, as we have seen in Ukraine, there is still a place for it, but, inescapably, there are technological advances that cannot be avoided and that the alliance must embrace. Missile technology is in the ascendancy. Cyber and space remain pivotal, even if their role in Ukraine has not been as great as we expected, and the alliance must embrace them.
The third element is competing and integrating across domains using both military and non-military tools. Far too often in discussion, NATO is viewed through a military lens when the nature of competition is now more than just military mass on mass; it is the ability to bring to bear the full effects of the state, and all states within the alliance, to impose cost on the adversary.
It is a selective retelling of history if the UK’s own increase in defence spending is ignored. I would argue that the UK led the way in encouraging people to increase defence spending in anticipation of the way the world was developing. Many countries have now followed, which is enormously welcome. That has changed the Euro-Atlantic security situation beyond recognition. In particular, Germany’s spending as a large continental power in the middle of Europe has massively changed things. It gives the UK and others a lot to reflect on around the capabilities that we should seek, given the mass that Germany and Poland will have in the centre of Europe.
It is not just the cash spent on military mass that has changed; there has been a huge geo-strategic shift. As Members across the House have remarked, the fact that Finland and Sweden have abandoned decades of neutrality to join the alliance is a quite remarkable development—perhaps the most vivid example of just how badly Putin has miscalculated in his strategic aims for this conflict.
I do not accept the Opposition’s charge that the integrated review has been overtaken by events. The IR was fundamentally about a return to systemic competition. I have an awful lot of time for the shadow Secretary of State, as he knows, but when he said that there was a section on the Indo-Pacific but not on Russia, I had a quick flick through the IR and the defence Command Papers since the IR. I found that almost every paragraph mentions NATO, Russia or the Euro-Atlantic. The one part that does not is the section on the Indo-Pacific to which he refers.
In any case, the argument that the UK can focus only on the Euro-Atlantic is just not sound. The reality—this feels rather like watching my son’s football team play the Cheddar under-10s, where they all run around following the ball—is that there is lots to distract us in Europe right now, but there is a world beyond that is increasingly unstable and insecure. It is struggling with high food and fuel prices, which brings instability, as we saw in the Arab spring. The UK needs to keep an eye on that beyond Europe and remain engaged with it, because Iran, China, Russia and violent extremist organisations are all looking to use the west being distracted as an opportunity to stake their claim.
If my hon. Friend does not mind, I will push on because I have only a minute and a half to go.
I pay tribute to our armed forces deployed right now across the entire eastern flank of NATO, in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, in the sea as well as in the air. Thousands of them are deployed, and they are enjoying their service alongside their NATO allies. They are coming to understand exactly what it is to be a part of NATO, believing in the collective defence of countries on the other side of Europe and being willing to give their lives in their defence, as the NATO treaty requires.
We will continue lethal aid to Ukraine for as long as it is required. We are sending in a great deal of our own stuff, but we are also bringing influence to bear to encourage others around the world to send theirs. Then there is the race for Ukraine to rearm more quickly than a sanction-ridden Russia. We are working hard with the Ukrainians to understand what their requirements will be, work out how to get them the platforms and deliver the training that they will need to operate them. Of course, colleagues in the rest of Government are working to rebuild Ukraine when the conflict finishes. We must not get carried away by any of the successes for Ukraine in recent weeks. A great deal of hard fighting remains. There is no celebration when Russia fails, but Russia is failing far too often. We will continue to do everything we can to support Ukraine. NATO will continue to reinforce its eastern flank to reassure our allies there, and the UK will continue to do all we can to ensure that Putin fails.
It has been my honour to chair this debate.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered NATO and international security.