2011/06/29 - ‘Shaping NATO’s Reform Agenda’ Conference

Speech delivered by Minister for International Security Strategy at Cercle Gaulois, Brussels on Wednesday 29 June 2011.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Gerald Howarth

Thank you Giles [Merritt, SDA Director] for that kind introduction, and to you and Jaap [de Hoop Scheffer, former NATO Secretary General & SDA Co-President] - together with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung - for hosting this timely event.

The title of this session is ‘Equipping NATO for different threats and new tasks’. Recent developments around the world have once again shown the volatility of the world we live in, and the pace of change we need to manage and respond to. In just the last six months, bin Laden has been killed; Mladi? put on trial; the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt swept away by a tide of change which is washing across the Middle East.

And Afghanistan and Libya are proof, if ever we needed it, that the pursuit of our national and collective security cannot be confined to the Euro-Atlantic area.

Nor is the world just a geographic entity anymore - it is networked and virtual. Recent cyber attacks on diverse organisations like Lockheed Martin and the IMF are a foretaste of what is to come. And some threats are still with us - no-one can be certain that state-on-state conflict has been abolished, and nuclear proliferation remains a growing threat.

That we have a range of different threats and new tasks before us is not in question. Our challenge is how to tackle them.

As it has for over 60 years, NATO continues to be the bedrock of our security. The 28 NATO Allies set themselves an ambitious vision of NATO’s role in the world when they agreed the new Strategic Concept last year. But questions are being raised again about NATO’s funding, capability, and political will.

I was hugely impressed with Bob Gates’s forensic dissection of the challenges facing the Alliance earlier this month, and I congratulate the SDA on hosting that event. It was both a warning, and a clarion call for pressing on with NATO reform.

When the Soviet threat was at its height, there was roughly a 50:50 split in funding between the US and the rest of the Alliance - a reasonable share of risk and reward. Now, America contributes some 75% of the funding, while Europe’s percentage has roughly halved.

Even in times of plenty, this is a questionable imbalance. But Secretary Gates was clear that the gaze of US lawmakers is being held ever more tightly by the increasingly capable and global Armed Forces of emerging powers in Asia. And when the US, like many of us, faces the serious pressure of balancing budgets in a time of austerity, it can no longer justify producing security for those who merely consume it. It was a clear warning to Europeans to take this imbalance in NATO seriously.

And it’s not just about money. Not all members can contribute meaningful capability, and not all those who have such assets choose to do so. Events in Libya have underscored this starkly.
So unless the rest of NATO strengthens its finances, its capabilities, and its political will to commit to missions of collective security we all agreed in the Strategic Concept, the ‘dim and dismal future’ which Bob Gates spoke of will be upon us.

Rectifying these deficiencies in our Alliance is well within our means.

But will NATO cross its Rubicon?

I’d like to look at all three components today - finance, capability, and political will - and their influence on internal NATO reform.

We all know how tough the financial situation is. In Britain, we have had to make some difficult decisions to bring balance to our Defence budget because we inherited a massive national budget deficit which, unless addressed, would itself constitute a threat to our national security. We also believe that investment in security is insurance for future prosperity.

That’s why our recent Strategic Defence and Security Review reaffirmed that we will continue to meet the NATO 2% of GDP target throughout our current spending period. Yet, although our allies also reaffirmed their commitment to this target as recently as March, it is very depressing that 23 out of 28 allies currently fail to meet it.

So it is imperative that we find ways of sharing the burden of collective Defence more equitably. In some cases this will mean spending more, which we in Britain acknowledged by allocating an additional £650m to strengthen our understanding, our resilience, and our defences in cyber space. In some cases this will mean spending differently. For example, some European countries have punched well above their weight by focusing on deployability or on assets which are of greatest utility to the Alliance as well as their national defence.

And we are quite clear that talking up the EU as an alternative route does not address diminishing defence budgets. As our Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, has observed, “Double hatting doesn’t increase capacity or capability. It doesn’t create one more bullet, one more gun, one more plane.”

This places even greater emphasis on spending our scarce resources wisely by targeting our most pressing capability needs.

We need to identify and reduce areas of duplication among the Allies - and NATO’s Allied Command Transformation has an important role to play here in advising Allies to help deliver the Secretary General’s Smart Defence initiative and fill critical capability gaps.

The Anglo-French Defence Treaty is a model of how this could evolve. It will also make us stronger partners with our NATO and EU allies. Indeed, we hope that our example will encourage other partners to seek better value for money and improve capability through co-operation with each other. However, such arrangements would have to be pragmatic and have clear military utility at their core - like the future Combined Joint Expeditionary Force - or they are, at best, political symbolism. So we view our collaboration with France as a strategic imperative; as natural as it’s necessary. Indeed, the US has long argued that Europe as a whole needs more effective, operationally viable forces. I agree, though this has to come with improved access to US technology, and research and development.

But we need to be clear that while pooling and sharing, and collaborative working is an important tool for delivering better value for money, it is not a panacea. And it’s no good complaining, for example, about multiple shipyards or armoured vehicle manufacturers in Europe unless you are clear about the capability you are prepared to give up or collaborate on.

That brings me to the question of political will. NATO’s teeth, not its tail, have made it the most successful military alliance in history. But NATO’s success in securing more than 60 years of peace and ending the continent’s Cold War divisions means far less to younger generations than to those of us who lived through those years.

Media and public opposition to military intervention has increasingly tested the resolve of all European governments; in some cases they have been found wanting. Of course, politicians must be sensitive to the views of their electors, and we must be more adept at communicating the relevance of threats to the lives of our people.

But we cannot duck our responsibilities: Defence of the realm is the first duty of the British government and, I would trust, all Allied Governments. We must articulate the cost of inaction: threats don’t disappear because we choose not to confront them. On the contrary, history tells us that they grow when this happens. So we believe that countries should look forwards and outwards - not backwards or inwards. And while they should understand their history, they should not be governed by it. Ultimately, as a military alliance, if we agree on the need for force we must be willing to deploy force.

NATO’s Strategic Concept offers the blueprint for the future, and Liam Fox has set out three important reasons why full and speedy implementation is so important.

First - it reaffirms the centrality of Article 5 and the pledge to defend one another, whether large or small, old or new allies - it is the very foundation upon which the Alliance and Europe’s security is built.

But it also recognises - and this has been reinforced by Afghanistan and Libya, and is consistent with our own SDSR - that European security today means much more than sitting at home, hoping to be able to repel attacks, however unexpected and from whatever quarter.

Second, the emphasis on deployability for both Article 5 and non-Article 5 activities is central to the effectiveness of NATO in preserving our security in the future. That is why, for example, we place a priority on Force Generation and the delivery of deployable capability and force.

Third - as our experience in Afghanistan has shown and the Strategic Concept acknowledges, NATO needs better capabilities in linking civilian and military effect when undertaking these kinds of missions. That civilian capacity should predominantly come from NATO’s partners - the UN and the EU - and from the Allies themselves.

But NATO needs to be able to develop its own plans as it works with these partners and operate alongside them, so we need to get a civilian planning capability in NATO up and running.

I would add a fourth reason - public legitimacy. The Strategic Concept was right to address internal reform and transformation.
So I welcome the decision to streamline the Command Structure, and the recent agreement on where the Commands should be - in particular the Maritime Command in Northwood. The decision, when implemented, should deliver the effective, leaner, and affordable Command Structure which the NATO Secretary General has championed. We need to apply similar rigour to reform other parts of NATO: the Headquarters (including International and Military Staffs), and the Agencies.

NATO’s End to End Review of Capability Development highlights duplication taking place across numerous areas: we need to stop these wasteful, self-serving working practices and will be looking for concrete recommendations for Defence Ministers. Co-locating the Brussels Headquarters’ 1,600 civilian and military staff would also be a first step towards more effective ways of working. And we believe NATO’s Committee structures need to be re-examined and, where appropriate, outsourcing of support services should be considered.

Finally, although progress has been made, it strikes us as odd that the Secretary General does not have more control over the way his own HQ is run. For example - and Jaap, you may have some thoughts on this - the post remains extremely limited in how it can flex manpower to meet peaks and troughs in work.

Furthermore, when difficult decisions are being made across the alliance on the affordability of military capability, we should consider carefully whether the generous terms for NATO appointments - such as average tax-free salaries of 95,000 euros, substantial housing allowances, and paying for dependents’ education up to the age of 26 - real world requirements.

In these austere times, it is tempting to defer the cost, pass on the burden, and recoil from change. But Europe needs to reflect on the fact that it is in large measure the US taxpayer who has provided the shield which since 1945 has enabled the continent to recover its prosperity. It’s not simply a question of thanks. It’s not simply a question of money. It’s equally about deployability, and the political will to do so, which only the US and a few of the more capable and willing allies possess.

Let me end on a positive note. Writing in The Economist in 1996 about NATO’s future, Brian Beedham wrote that:

“The chief task of the new NATO will be to support western foreign policy in areas outside the Alliance’s own territory. Its purpose will be power projection.”

He excluded large parts of the world but concluded: “this still leaves to the new NATO’s zone of responsibility a huge stretch of territory -South-West Asia and much of Africa - which also happens to be the most unpredictably explosive part of today’s world… Out of this turbulent region could come, in the next 20 or 30 years, a dozen requirements for power projection. The Atlantic countries will need to preserve their access to the region’s oil…”

“Their conscience may insist that they act to stop the worst outbreaks of ethnic or dictatorial brutality. They may even, when they judge it can be done without too much difficulty, try to open the door to democracy for some of the area’s imprisoned peoples.”

Perceptive stuff indeed, but surely Afghanistan and Libya - and as your old friend George Robertson reminded me last night, Kosovo - have illustrated that NATO has matched up to the challenge foreseen 15 years ago. In particular, the speed with which NATO was able to offer its proven structures and systems to implement UNSCR 1973 is testament to NATO’s ability to generate and deliver capability, although we do need to remind ourselves that Libya is not a NATO operation but a NATO commanded operation, and as Secretary Gates rightly pointed out, a mission which does not involve ground troops under fire.

We want the world’s greatest military alliance to remain viable and powerful, but that requires reform - right here, right now. As former winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Rene Cassin, once remarked, “Building for the future is a very difficult thing to do; we cannot hope to complete the work in one generation; all the more reason to begin at once.”

Updates to this page

Published 29 June 2011