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

I very much agree. We find the concept of EU or European strategic autonomy problematic if, as it appears to be, it drives an EU-exclusive or enclosed, institutionalised approach to security and defence that shuts out key strategic partners and could duplicate or undermine NATO. We see that exclusive approach prevailing in EU defence initiatives such as the European Defence Fund and PESCO, which otherwise have the potential to boost, in a coherent way, much-needed investment and support to capability development. That is exactly why we will continue to argue in favour of an open and flexible approach, to ensure that European security benefits from the capabilities and resources that the EU’s closest strategic partners can bring to bear.

My noble friend Lord Patten and the noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Touhig, all spoke powerfully and with authority about Russia, undoubtedly NATO’s most significant long-term challenge. I listened with great respect too to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, on this topic. The November incident in the Black Sea has shown vividly how serious the Russia challenge has become and how robust we must be in response. Noble Lords will be well aware that NATO does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia, but recent Russian actions, including the Black Sea incident, have confirmed that NATO’s dual-track approach to Russia, of strengthened deterrence and defence backed up by hard-headed dialogue, is justified. We reaffirmed this approach at the Brussels summit last July, and will do so again at the foreign ministerial meeting in Washington this month.

As my noble friend said, Russia will continue to look for different ways to test NATO and its allies and partners. In both words and deeds, we need to be prepared to respond, and that is why NATO is already adapting its political and military posture. We are committed to driving forward efforts to modernise NATO, as I mentioned in my opening speech, enabling the alliance to respond to the threats it faces more effectively and with more agility. To test that agility and to enhance our contribution, as I am sure my noble friend Lord Attlee will have observed, the UK deployed some 3,300 personnel, as well as ships and planes, to Norway for NATO’s biggest exercise in 2018; exercise Trident Juncture had some 50,000 troops from 31 NATO and partner nations. This delivered undoubtedly a strong signal that allies can operate at an impressive scale and move across Europe in the event of a crisis. Again, my noble friend will be interested to know that, in spring and summer this year, we will demonstrate a robust posture in the Baltic region by our participation in the US-led BALTOPS exercise, Baltic Protector and a range of other military activities. We have also deployed 800 Royal Marines to Norway in 2019 to take part in cold-weather training. In March last year, a Royal Navy submarine took part in ICEX with the US Navy for the first time in 10 years, and the Navy will mount regular under-ice deployments in the years to come. There is much else that we are doing to up the tempo of our activity as a proportionate response to an assertive Russian posture.

We are also constantly looking at how we can build other structures that complement NATO as the bedrock of our defence. Last June, the Defence Secretary signed the comprehensive memorandum of understanding establishing the joint expeditionary force with our eight partners in that agreement. This year, the JEF signature activity will be the Baltic protector deployment, a large-scale maritime and amphibious exercise in the Baltic Sea, as I mentioned, between May and July 2019.

My noble friend Lord Cormack spoke with his customary sincerity about the need to ensure that we improve relations with Russia. On dialogue, NATO should continue to engage with Russia when it is appropriate and in our interests to do so, so that we can clearly communicate our positions. Periodic focused and meaningful dialogue through the NATO-Russia Council provides a means to avoid misunderstanding, miscalculation and unintended escalation, and to increase transparency and predictability.

In addition, to the NATO-Russia Council, we continue to use other fora, such as the OSCE and direct mil-mil links, to mitigate the risk of escalation and to voice concerns over Russian behaviour, including its failure to uphold treaty obligations. However, I have to tell my noble friend that, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, reminded us, there can be no return to business as usual until there is clear, constructive change in Russia’s actions that demonstrate compliance with international law and its international obligations.

A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend, Lord Cormack and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, mentioned China. It is instructive to remind ourselves of the words of the NATO Secretary-General in February this year:

“NATO and China have already worked together to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia. And our militaries are in regular contact. But China’s rise also presents a challenge. One example is of course the concern many Allies have expressed about China’s increasing investment in critical infrastructure, such as 5G. We have to better understand the size and the scale of China’s influence, what it means for our security. And we have to address it together”.

I would add that from the UK’s perspective China is an important economic partner. We do not expect to agree with the Chinese Government on everything, but we strongly support China’s greater integration into more of the world’s key institutions and organisations as its global role and responsibilities grow. We are committed to our relationship with China, which enables both countries to benefit and also allows us to be frank with one another on areas where we disagree.

The noble Lords, Lord Touhig and Lord Bilimoria, spoke of the current difficulties in the relationship between the United States and Turkey. We have repeatedly raised our concerns at ministerial and official level about the proposed Turkish purchase of S-400 missiles. Turkey is a valued NATO ally on the front line of some of the UK’s and the alliance’s most difficult security challenges, and we readily acknowledge that defence equipment procurement decisions are for individual nations. However, all NATO allies have committed to reducing their dependence on Russian-sourced legacy military equipment, and we believe that the proposed purchase would pose real challenges for the interoperability of NATO systems.

The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, spoke of the importance of ensuring that United States leadership in NATO is maintained and encouraged, and the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, expressed similar views. It is true to say that the White House in recent years has sometime proved unpredictable in its pronouncements, but my noble friend Lord Sterling was quite correct: President Trump has been clear about his commitment to NATO and Article 5. At January’s US missile defence review launch he confirmed that he was 100% behind the alliance. Those are not just words. We should recall that the United States continues to invest heavily in European security, spending $6.5 billion on the European defence initiative in 2018-19. The US also provides a huge proportion of NATO collective defence capabilities, including some which are unique to the alliance, such as strategic bombers, full-spectrum naval forces and strategic intelligence. Thanks to the EDI budget, there were in 2018 approximately 6,850 US troops in Eucom, and EDI is only one of a range of different pots available to fund approximately 80,000 US troops in Europe. Since 2015, there has been more than a sixfold increase in funding available through the EDI.

I was prepared to say a little bit about cyberdefence. I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, about that as I am reminded that time is short.