Armed Forces — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:49 pm on 7th April 2014.

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Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Liberal Democrat 8:49 pm, 7th April 2014

My Lords, I also welcome this debate, called by the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt. For four years, I was privileged to chair the EU sub-committee dealing with foreign affairs and defence and it was a pleasure to have my noble friend Lord Selkirk as a member of that group. I want to pursue some of the themes that came out of some work that we did on European defence. A handful of things have changed quite substantially over the last couple of years. First of all, there was the American pivot to Asia which sent out all sorts of messages, the consequences of some of which we may have seen over the last month. There was also the move by Russia, and we now have the first threat to territorial integrity in Europe for 24 years. There are also a number of smaller internal and ethnic conflicts, particularly within north Africa. I just want to take one or two points from each of those.

I do not think there is any dispute that the United States was going to pivot towards Asia, and it also has a defence treaty with Australia. Over the last six months, we have seen very dangerous issues within the East China Sea, the South China Sea and the Korean peninsula which show that we need to pay great attention to that area and that there needs to be very strong American presence, rhetoric and ability to act there. It was inevitable that the USA would move to look less at Africa and Europe, and that is not going to change. In 2011, we saw America leading from the back in the Libya operation and Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, has said that if NATO did not get its act together, its future would be dim and dismal. Perhaps this is what it has been shown to be over the last year—hopefully, that will change.

As the noble Lord, Lord Soley, has said, I am sure that we need to show more than economic reaction to the situation in Ukraine. This should not be military action at present, but NATO and the European states need to show strength and resolution. We must show that we are serious and that what I call the Medvedev doctrine—looking after Russian citizens outside Russia—is not acceptable to nation states west of Russia. About two years ago, when we took evidence on European defence, we were very struck at how the Balkan states and Poland said very strongly that they did not see peace in Europe as inevitable and that they feared the Russian Federation. How right they have been.

NATO expenditure has moved down from some 2.7% of GDP in the 1990s to some 1.6%. I welcome the major change in that direction, but there is always a time when that must start to reverse, and if there is a time when it needs to reverse, it is now. This is not just about expenditure as a proportion of GDP. Europe has 1.6 or 1.7 million people in uniform but very little ability to actually deploy them, certainly not without the help of the United States. We need to start moving forward with our European allies to change this.

The Central African Republic is the other area which is very relevant today. The European Union is now sending a force there, postponed by three months, but the situation there is absolutely critical. This is telling, given that it is 20 years since the Rwandan situation. I was very pleased to see a press release from DfID saying that we were supporting security there, but we were doing it by giving £2 million to UNHCR. Quite frankly, what is needed is for us, either with the European Union force or with France bilaterally, to send real military support to stop the potential genocide between Muslims and Christians there.

President Obama said at the EU-American summit earlier this month that freedom is not free. That may be a cliché and it may sound trite, but I believe at this time that it is absolutely true.