NATO - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:06 pm on 2nd April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 5:06 pm, 2nd April 2019

My Lords, on 4 April we will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, so let us remember some of its history. President Eisenhower, its first supreme commander, hoped that NATO would not outlast the 1950s:

“If in ten years, all American troops stationed in Europe for national defence purposes have not been returned to the United States, then this whole project will have failed”.

He then said:

“We cannot be a modern Rome, guarding the frontiers with our legions”.

This was further reinforced by Paul Hoffman, the US administrator of the Marshall Plan, who said the aim was,

“to get Europe on its feet and off our backs”— as the noble Lord, Lord West, I think, mentioned earlier. It all began with a treaty and not an alliance. We forget that it was the Korean War that was the trigger to make it into an alliance; in fact, it was Harriman who said that the Korean crisis put the “O” into NATO, turning it from a pact into a military alliance.

Then you have the whole European perspective, the idea of a European Defence Community. That was, as early as 1954, seen as a step too far. Does this not ring true now, when we have all this talk about an EU army? Of course, Lord Ismay, who has been referred to earlier, the first Secretary-General, again stated NATO’s objective as,

“to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”.

The 1950s debate on European integration was yes to Europe in terms of the European Community but no to a European Defence Community because that would not work, and that is exactly the debate we are having all these decades later. To this day, I do not think the EU has ever developed a seriously credible foreign or security policy.

Then of course we have the nuclear question, which has been at the heart of NATO as well. In February, Harvard University released a report that noted the failure of European allies to spend more on defence or pull their weight. That is, again, at the heart of this debate. The report goes on to reaffirm the value of collective security:

“On its own, the United States is a powerful nation. But America’s European and Canadian allies expand and amplify American power in ways that Russia and China—with few allies of their own—can never match … The United States is substantially stronger in NATO than it would be on its own”.

That is crucial yet—here is the contradiction—for the first time in NATO’s history, we have an American President who questions all sorts of international partnerships, including NATO. Then we have President Macron and Angela Merkel talking about a European army as a complement to NATO. This is never going to happen. The biggest challenge looking ahead for NATO in its eighth decade is possibly not about keeping the Russians out but keeping the Americans in, as David Reynolds said in a recent article.

For the 29 member countries, NATO’s mission is to,

“safeguard the freedom and security of all its members by political and military means”.

On the minimum spending level of 2%, the UK is one of five members—arguably, the latest figures show that it is one of seven members—to increase its spending to 2%. I will come to that later. The Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, has said that modern forms of warfare mean that, although the Cold War has finished, for NATO challenges remain. The challenges are Russia, international terrorism and cyberwarfare. Yet Donald Trump has described NATO as obsolete. He has continually criticised members—and rightly so—for not contributing enough to the budget.

I am sure the Minister will confirm that NATO is a cornerstone of our national security. NATO has 20,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq and the Mediterranean and in policing the airspace of eastern Europe following Crimea. Since 2017, there has been a NATO enhanced forward presence operation in the Baltic states surrounding Russia.

As has been referred to, the summit of last year was, quite frankly, a disaster. As one description put it,

“NATO’s European leaders were left reeling after one of the most divisive summits in the organisation’s 69-year history”.

There was a declaration about 2% spending and a response to the ever more unpredictable security environment.

This is why I continually say to our Government that, even if we are experiencing a period of peace, the uncertainty is always there. Things come out of the blue—no one predicted 9/11; it happened without any warning. That is why SDSR 2010 was a disaster, which wrecked our Armed Forces. Fortunately, we are now recovering from that. We are no longer a superpower and we do not have an Empire, but we are very much a global power and being at the heart of NATO gives us that strength to be a global power. It is estimated that the UK provided 12% to 14% of NATO’s total capability in 2017. That is not bad for a country that has just 1% of the world’s population. SDSR 2015, which was far better than SDSR 2010, confirmed that NATO is at the heart of our defence policy and our unconditional commitment to collective defence and security. That is the position we are in today.

On the other hand, the Labour Party has criticised this situation. The shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith said:

The UK’s ability to play our role on the international stage has been completely undermined by eight years of Tory defence cuts. The Conservatives have slashed the defence budget by over £9bn in real terms since 2010 and they are cutting Armed Forces numbers year after year. Instead of simply engaging in yet more sabre-rattling, Gavin Williamson should get to grips with the crisis in defence funding that is happening on his watch”.

Will the Minister respond to that criticism?

Does the Minister also agree that SDSR 2010 was all about means before ends and we have suffered ever since? It is now a decade since we have had aircraft carrier capability. Our Nimrods were destroyed. We are now getting back our surveillance capabilities. Numbers were cut in all the services, and now that we have to recruit we are struggling to do so. We have shortages in all our services and we possibly need to recruit from Commonwealth countries. It is all very well spending the 2%, but we need to make sure that our Armed Forces are properly resourced.

An important point is that, of the 29 NATO members, 22 are EU members. NATO has said clearly that the EU is a “unique and essential partner”. The two organisations share strategic common interests and values. NATO has co-operated with the EU in its common security and defence policy; the EU’s Operation Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina is commanded by the NATO deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and NATO operations in the Mediterranean are conducted in collaboration with the EU’s Mediterranean anti-people smuggling mission Operation Sophia.