Mark Lancaster, Minister of State for the Armed Forces, has said:
“The Government’s objectives will be to underscore the position of NATO at the cornerstone of UK and Euro-Atlantic defence and security, and to support NATO’s continuing adaptation to meet the complicated and evolving threat environment”.
So there is no question that our commitment is there. London was the first seat for the NATO headquarters and a meeting is taking place here in December because of the worry about holding it in America now because of President Trump’s attitudes.
The Second World War led to NATO. Again, we must remember history. Harry Truman—his Truman doctrine —was to make US foreign policy more interventionist by providing political, military and economic assistance to countries under threat from authoritarian forces, in particular Russia. That doctrine led to what is now NATO and to the treaty’s most important article, Article 5, which is NATO’s commitment to collective defence among its signatories, whereby,
“an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all”.
It has been invoked only once, and that was after 9/11. What says it all is that the Warsaw Pact did not survive, whereas NATO has not just survived but is expanding—its 29 members will now go up to 30, with Macedonia becoming the 30th member.
The US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, threatened to cut back on intelligence sharing with some NATO allies if they bought equipment from China’s Huawei Technologies for new 5G telecom networks. The US says the equipment could be used by the Government in Beijing to spy on the West. That is another problem; the threat is from not just Russia but China. America is pushing to stiffen fellow members’ resolve in confronting one of its own, Turkey, which has committed to buying a Russian missile defence system. That situation is tricky, and I should be interested to hear the Minister’s response on how to deal with it. We have also heard from others about Germany only now committing to spending 1.5%—nowhere near the 2% target.
The bottom line is: has NATO worked? I would say, without a doubt, NATO has worked. Russia has never attacked a NATO member. The Crimea and Ukraine attacks have put NATO on guard and we are now there in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania because we feel threatened. Article 5 has never really been put to the test where Russia is concerned.
The NATO Secretary-General is continually trying to play down the differences with America and President Trump. He has said:
“The strength of NATO is that despite these differences we have always been able to unite around our core task … and defend each other”.
“great part in the world … The only question is whether we will play it well or ill”.
So the challenge of America’s commitment and the question for the European countries that dominate NATO is the trans-Atlantic distancing and the decline in post-war military spending that has taken place for a while. It is not just Trump; in 2011, Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense in President Obama’s Administration, issued a warning about those who,
“enjoy the benefits of Nato membership … but don’t want to share the risks and the costs … apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets”.
There is an impression that people are not paying their way, and that is absolutely valid.
Finally, looking ahead, there are four challenges for NATO. The first is burden sharing, which I have spoken about; the second is Russia; the third is partnerships; and the fourth is the open door—does NATO keep expanding? It now has 30 members. Are we to continue to have more and more?
The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, asked whether our 2% spending is enough and whether it is spent on the right things. My view is that we should spend 3% of our GDP on defence. The suggestion of a European army was one of the biggest scare tactics during the referendum, and it was one that people fell for. People denied that the peace in Europe has existed not just because of NATO but because of NATO and the existence of the European Union. I would pay the £8 billion a year that we pay to the EU just for the peace alone.
As the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, said in his fabulous speech, NATO must do three things: it must evolve and transform; it must maintain its deterrence; and, most importantly, NATO is about values. As the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, said, the secret of NATO’s longevity is not just its military pact but the fact that it is an alliance of shared values, of which we should be proud.