NATO - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:17 pm on 2nd April 2019.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 6:17 pm, 2nd April 2019

My Lords, this has been a fascinating, wide-ranging and constructive debate, and I have been very firmly struck by the support which our great NATO alliance commands in your Lordships’ House in its 70th year. I feel sure I will not be alone in finding that enormous and enduring fund of good will both heartening and reassuring. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken for sharing their knowledge and experience of defence and security policy, and of NATO in particular. In expressing support for the alliance, it is perhaps unsurprising that a number of contributors chose to home in on the theme of resources and defence spending among NATO allies. The noble Lords, Lord Robertson and Lord West, spoke of the need for allies to channel those budgets wisely to deliver effective military capability.

Allies have committed to spend 2% of GDP on defence by 2024: that commitment was repeated at last July’s NATO summit. The UK has made it clear that the 2% commitment should be seen as a floor, not a ceiling, but equally I do not believe we should fixate on percentages. As the noble Lords, Lord Robertson and Lord Judd, said, it is about looking at what the threats are and then at how we have the capabilities to deal with them, making sure that those capabilities are properly financed and supported. I understand the call from my noble friend Lord Sterling that we in this country should spend more on defence. In the UK, we spend a minimum of 2% of GDP on defence; we also meet the target of spending 20% of our defence budget on new equipment and associated R&D. We are forecast to increase the proportion of our GDP spent on defence in 2018-19 and 2019-20, after the October 2018 Budget announcement. We should appreciate that the resultant figure will remain considerably above the 2% benchmark.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, criticised some of the areas of spending we count under the defence heading. I am sure she will know, but will not mind my repeating, that it is NATO that determines the definitions for categorising defence spending, not the UK. Like other NATO allies, the UK regularly updates its approach to ensure it is categorising defence spending fully in accordance with the NATO guidelines. We did this during the SDSR following machinery-of-government changes, as well as to reflect the changing nature of defence spending over time.

The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and my noble friend Lord Patten, among other speakers, emphasised the importance of fairer burden sharing between allies. We can reasonably argue that this is a case of a glass nearly half full. Allies are making significant progress on burden sharing. The Secretary-General has calculated that non-US allies will spend an additional $100 billion between 2016 and 2020, increasing to over $350 billion by 2024, and eight allies will be spending 2% this year. We welcome the growing number of allies that have made commitments to meeting the 2% target by 2024, but there is more to be done. We cannot ignore the fact that some allies are spending less than 1.5% of GDP on defence, and three of these are spending less than 1%. I assure the House that we will continue to work with allies to ensure that defence investment is prioritised and sustained.

This is not, however, spending for the sake of spending. It must be considered with the other aspects of alliance burden sharing. That includes cash; capabilities, or what capabilities allies assign to the alliance; and commitments, in other words the NATO operations and missions that allies contribute to. That is why the pledge also includes agreement that:

“Increased investments should be directed towards meeting”,

NATO “capability priorities”, and that allies should,

“display the political will to provide required capabilities and … forces when they are needed”.

The noble Lord, Lord West, referred to the need to maintain complementarity between NATO and the EU in a defence context, a theme echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. The UK’s vision is of every European nation stepping up to modern security challenges, taking responsibility, sharing the burden and investing in our shared security. We must have a united, modernised and fully resourced NATO, able to fulfil its crucial collective defence role and taking a comprehensive approach to Euro-Atlantic defence and security. We need deep security and defence partnerships between like-minded and capable nations, strengthening co-ordination and interoperability and underpinning our work in multilateral organisations. We also need a globally competitive and outward-facing European defence industrial and technological base, driving innovation and delivering the capabilities that Europe needs for its security.

There is frequent discussion on the theme of EU strategic autonomy. We agree that Europe needs to do more to improve its own security and that the EU can play a valuable supporting role, whether using its political weight and economic levers or supporting member states in countering hybrid tactics, building resilience and developing vital defence capabilities and interoperability.