NATO - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:36 pm on 2nd April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Patten Lord Patten Conservative 4:36 pm, 2nd April 2019

My Lords, there are two main foci to what I will say: the first is the pressure points facing NATO from both within and without; and the second is the need for all members to pull their financial weight and not shelter under the financial umbrella of those that do. Before addressing these matters, I should declare my interests, which—doubtless because of my lack of the martial spirit that shone through everything that the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, said in his very telling speech—do not include any service in the Armed Forces. However, I served for a decade and a half as an adviser and non-executive director of Lockheed Martin in the UK. That is, I suppose, an opinion-forming bit of wallpaper to my speech, and explains my continuing shareholding in that corporation, as listed in the register of your Lordships’ House.

I begin with the five pressure points within and without NATO. First, as everyone has said, Russia continues to be the threat that it was back in 1949, when it was the USSR. I will not use otiose words to repeat that, but I believe it to be so, and anyone who lives in Ukraine, for example, knows it first hand.

Secondly, the endless incursions over and under the Baltic present a grave threat. It is good that we in the UK, and other NATO countries, have defended the skies above the Baltic and the waters underneath it. We have sent our little battle group to support NATO’s enhanced forward presence in Estonia, supported NATO’s readiness initiative, and done much more.

Thirdly, NATO needs to keep a very close watch on dogs that have not recently barked in the night. We saw them suddenly barking in Crimea, which seemed to come out of the blue to most people, including many in NATO itself. I look with great concern at the potential situation in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. It is a small place, not much bigger than Wales, and it is a very long way from Russia—about 300 miles—but only 30 miles from the borders of Poland. There is growing pressure within Russia to make that its next target for creating nuisance; perhaps that will come from demands for a better land corridor to Kaliningrad. There are already complaints within Russia that non-Russians are promoting the Germanisation of the place—I promise noble Lords that that is a word; I have looked it up—encouraged by those trying to resuscitate its so-called Prussian past and German heritage. After all, it is where Emmanuel Kant is buried, and it was once very German indeed. I do not know, but watch this space for the next possible nuisance-causing by Russia.

Countries such as Ukraine are desperate to become European, as once was Turkey, just like the countries on its border, such as Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, which are now full NATO members. Ukraine—or many in it—wants to be the same. Geographers have had many substantial theological debates about where Europe ends—maybe NATO should end wherever it is decided Europe does—but the thought of Ukraine actually joining NATO would make the Russian annexation of Crimea look like a picnic compared to the Putinesque explosion that would surely follow any such suggestion. Set that bit of futurology against the current display of fiction fast becoming fact, with the likely election of Volodymyr Zelenskiy—the comic who played his predecessor on TV for many years actually taking the presidency. That could lead to more instability in Ukraine and to a continuation of a geopolitical tragi-comedy, with a long way to go. If that is what the ballot boxes decide in the final run off, I doubt that Ukraine’s outgoing President Poroshenko will take the decision lying down.

Equally, worrying issues are arising in a country which has been a long-standing and, in the past, most welcome part of NATO: Turkey. This very week we see incipient instability creeping in to a country that is armed to the teeth. Some commentators brand President Erdogan an elective dictator. I do not know whether or not that is the case, but I suspect that, like President Poroshenko in Ukraine, he will not take the results of elections in the three biggest Turkish cities, Ankara, Izmir and Istanbul, politically lying down after 16 years—a very long time—of unfettered power.

There is instability within NATO, as well as threats outside it. I do not know whether we have the mechanisms to reflect those and deal with them within NATO’s governance framework, which my noble friend Lord Jopling spoke about in his notable speech. However, a measured response to what might happen in Kaliningrad, what could happen in Ukraine, and what will probably happen in Turkey, will present challenges to NATO.

The second foci of my speech is that NATO will be an eternal part of the geopolitical landscape of Europe, and one which makes not just political and diplomatic demands but huge financial ones as well. Unlike many in your Lordships’ House, I do not intend to be diplomatic to a fault in this matter. We all benefit enormously from the shelter provided by the United States, under its kindly and dollar-decorated umbrella, under presidents of both political colours. It already more than meets NATO’s target of 2% of GDP spending, and always has done. As we know, only four of the 28 countries in NATO actually get near that. Two of them, Estonia and Latvia, are pretty small and have been threatened. To our credit, the UK has always done it; we honour our spending commitments on both NATO and foreign aid, which I strongly support. Other countries will soon be there: Poland will soon be pulling its weight, and we have to thank the coming generation of younger politicians in the Civic Platform Government who drove the expenditure to greater levels, such as Radek Sikorski, who was Defence Minister and then Foreign Minister. Happily, this has been carried on by the current PIS Government; Poland is, and will be, substantially pulling its weight.

However, other big countries consistently lag. It is terrible to say it, but the worst offender is one of the richest countries per capita on earth—Germany. We should not beat about the bush on this: shame on Germany for not pulling its weight in the NATO framework. I understand the country looks with concern over its shoulder at the past and is deeply concerned about possible incipient militarism and all the rest, but I only hope that when we get a new Chancellor in Germany, he or she will at long last persuade its people and their attitudes to mature out of these inhibitions based on the past and fully take on their responsibilities in the future. Should Germany spend more, I appreciate that it would take some years of transition before it fully develops its equipment, bought with additional money, but the signal this would send to Russia—and also to terrorists and cyberattackers, whom I have not mentioned—would be very powerful indeed. I very much look forward to the time when Germany takes its proper civilising share of defence spending in NATO, playing in future years, as it should, a much bigger role in Europe in this respect.