Speech

NATO: coming home?

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

Michael Fallon, Secretary of State for Defence.

NATO: coming home?

NATO for its first 65 years has been the cornerstone of our defence.

When NATO was established back in 1949, it was with a clear purpose…expressed by the first NATO Secretary General, Lord Ismay, in rather less diplomatic terms than the current Secretary General would use. He described its purpose as to:

keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.

Not language we would use today.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War at the last NATO summit in this country in 1990, it might have been legitimate to have questioned NATO’s future.

But, in fact, since the last summit was held here in 1990 NATO has adapted and NATO has grown.

Its membership has expanded.

From those 12 founding members in 1949 there are now 28 members accounting, by the way, for over 60 per cent of world defence spending.

And NATO’s recent focus has been in taking on more “operational’ roles, with missions in the Balkans, where as the former Secretary General Lord Roberts has noted it operated first of all, primarily to save the lives of Bosnian Muslims.

It operated in Iraq… and, most recently, of course, in Afghanistan…

Where our troops have helped to establish a 350,000 strong idegenous Afghan security force from scratch… have improved life for ordinary Afghans…and have stopped terrorists using the country as a launch pad for attacks on our streets.

So let me pay tribute, not simply to that commitment, but to the sacrifice of all those who’ve been injured, lost lives or loved ones in the service of our countries.

As we bring down the curtain this year on ISAF’s combat operations the question for us is:

Does Russian aggression in the Ukraine and its illegal annexation of the Crimea…

…coupled with increasing violence on NATO’s Eastern and Southern borders

…does that mean … that NATO is finally coming home?

Now it’s tempting, I think, and we should discuss this, to answer yes.

Recent events have reminded us that we can’t take security on our doorstep for granted.

We’re determined here in the United Kingdom that NATO remains strong and resolute in facing down those immediate close by threats.

After the US, the UK has made the most significant and comprehensive offer of Immediate Assurance Measures to the NATO Secretary General.

We’ve supplied four RAF Typhoon fighters to police Baltic airspace….and, at the summit, we will see a fly past of the forces that have been closely involved in that operation.

We’ve also augmented major military exercises in Eastern Europe. This week British troops are acting alongside 16 other NATO countries in an exercise in Poland.

Later this year I have authorised a full battle group of 1,350 troops and over 300 armoured tanks and vehicles to part in Exercise Black Eagle also in Poland, the largest commitment by Britain to the region since 2008.

Remaining alive to threats far from our shores

But despite certain similarities to the Cold War, it is obvious now that we do live in a very different era.

The world is more interconnected than it’s ever been.

The threats that have evolved since NATO last focussed on collective defence.

We are now almost daily witnessing atrocities unfold across the Middle East.

Yesterday, as you know, ISIL fanatics appeared to add the sickening killing of Steven Sotloff to their long litany of barbaric acts that have been committed.

The Prime Minister has said of the rise of nihilistic fanatics in Syria and Iraq:

If we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain.

And these threats aren’t simply coming from Iraq and Syria but from West Africa, Somalia and elsewhere.

My very first act as Defence Secretary, was to send HMS Enterprise to help British citizens leave Libya in the face of increasing violence there.

Alongside the rise of Islamic terrorists we are dealing with other geo-political threats too.

When Margaret Thatcher spoke to the last NATO summit to be hosted here in 1990, the internet was in its infancy.

Now we’re seeing the birth of cyber warfare while also contending with the fallout from rogue and failed states. Each of these developments has the potential to cause incalculable damage to our interests abroad and our interests and security here at home.

Just as each serves to underline again the importance of Article V.

And we should never forget that the Allies’ collective decision on when to invoke Article V remains a strategic strength and not a weakness.

So NATO has never been more relevant.

And the challenge I think we have to address this morning and at the summit at Newport tomorrow and on Friday is not simply how to continue protecting our backyard …important though that is…but how to deter and repel unpredictable global threats at the same time…including the modern application of hybrid warfare and the options we need to counter it.

And to do so at a time when defence budgets have been shrinking…

…and at a time when the US, despite remaining heavily involved in NATO both to the north and south, is also, naturally looking to, towards the Asia Pacific region

…and quite reasonably beginning to challenge those Allies who welcome US defence investment without making similar commitments.

NATO must modernise

One thing is very clear to me .

We have to modernise NATO

We all have a responsibility to help NATO modernise.

And I believe this summit offers us a golden opportunity to galvanise and transform the Alliance.

And I think success here hinges on three things.

The need for speed

First, the need for speed.

We have to sharpen NATO’s decision making processes as well as its ability to deploy immediately.

We have, of course, response forces, which contain high-readiness forces, allocated by Member States.

But Russian aggression has underlined the need for a faster response to any threat against any member of the alliance and to help reassure those Allies on our borders who fear for their own security.

So, as part of our readiness action plan, we want to provide a blueprint able to deploy a force in an even shorter timeframe.

We’ve already been engaged with the Secretary General of NATO and other allies and I have been pressing this particular need in our bilateral discussions since my appointment.

It is time for NATO to have genuinely enhanced readiness and responsiveness capability to counter threats and security challenges.

And we hope to see major progress following discussions in Newport in the next two days..

Existing capability

Secondly, we have to strengthen our existing capability.

Once NATO has made a swift decision then the need for rapid deployment of agile forces means we also have to get better, much better, at using the capability at our disposal.

That means reinvigorating the existing Standing Naval Forces so they can act as a much more effective Initial Response Force.

And we would like to see a ‘Maritime Contingency Force’ act as a more coherent follow on force.

When budgets are tight this is all about making the most of what we’ve got already.

And I think we need to build on the model of co-operation and interoperability that we gained as part of the ISAF force in Afghanistan.

Where we saw fifty nations, working hand in glove with the Afghans, to strengthen and secure their country.

That’s why we have developed the Framework Nation Concept which will be formally agreed at the Summit.

The idea here is simple.

By grouping together in clusters, Allies can enshrine the valuable gains made through working together on deployments and they can exploit the benefit of even closer co-operation in capability development.

As part of that effort, we are leading the way on establishing the Joint Expeditionary Force with Estonia, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Norway – to restore our contingent capability as a scaleable Joint Force.

And we plan to sign a letter of intent with our partners for the Joint Expeditionary Force at the Summit tomorrow.

I also welcome the establishment of the German-led Framework Nation grouping, which is focussed more on capability development.

Far from competing with other military groupings, all these clusters are designed to complement each other and to provide NATO with valuable capability.

Increasing investment

And thirdly, we need our NATO allies to increase investment in national defence.

Not only is there a real risk now of equipment obsolescence amongst our European Allies, but, of course, investment underpins that vital transatlantic bond that underpins that Alliance.

NATO was formed on the basis that Europe would pay her way.

Like any insurance policy, defence only pays out when you pay in.

We can’t expect US taxpayers to go on picking up the check to prioritise social welfare spending when the threats are on our doorstep.

So this summit is a real opportunity to arrest and to reverse the decline in defence spending amongst our allies.

We’re committed as a government to spending 2 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product on defence and we’ll continue to do so for the rest of this Parliament and through l the next Spending Review period.

Decisions on government spending beyond then are obviously to be taken in next year’s SDSR and Spending Review.

As a result of our defence reforms and budgetary discipline, we’re now able to invest. To invest in £160 billion in state-of-the-art equipment and support for our personnel. Some of that will be on display in Wales including Terrier, the Army’s remote controlled armoured engineering vehicle; and HMS Duncan – the newest T-45 destroyer, berthed alongside Cardiff Bay.

But defence offers us more than just a comprehensive insurance policy.

Of course, it brings jobs and exports with it.

Our defence industry employs more than 160,000 people, with a turnover of £22 billion, and exports last year worth nearly 10..

Today we have awarded a £3.5 billion contract for the highly advanced Scout armoured vehicle which will boost our capability and sustain 1,300 jobs across the UK supply chain.

The biggest Army Armoured Vehicle order in a generation.

People often think of defence spending in terms of such vehicles, or aircraft or ships. But there is a wider dynamic impact for long term economic performance.

Defence helps incubates the innovation that has ensured our economy remains amongst the strongest in the world.

Since NATO was formed, UK defence has helped to deliver the first computers, thermal imaging, Liquid Crystal displays…

Today we learnt medical breakthroughs learnt from operations in Afghanistan, such as blood stemming dressings, have been introduced across the NHS . And technologies designed to protect soldiers’ clothing from chemical attack are providing splash proof technology for tens of millions of devices, everything from smartphones to hearing aids.

Investment in defence drives a strong economy and a strong economy provides confidence to invest in strong defence.

A truly virtuous circle.

NATO pledge on defence investment

But NATO’s credibility rests on all countries investing so we have the resources that show we’re serious about countering the growing threats we face.

That is why the UK wants to work with our NATO allies this week to make a robust and public pledge on defence sending.

A pledge that will send a powerful message that NATO means business.

This will be the first time that a public agreement on defence investment has been made.

Now, of course the decline in defence expenditure won’t be reversed overnight but to be credible it needs a firm timeframe to put on those increased defence investment promises.

To make sure that the pledge is taken seriously, we believe, there should be review mechanisms and reviews annually

And when we talk about spending it is quality as well as quantity counts.

As well as aiming for 2 per cent, we’re also urging all Allies to spend 20 per cent of their defence budget on new equipment, research and development of capabilities.

Going further, if NATO is serious about full spectrum defence, then it must also be serious about having a ‘full spectrum arsenal’. That means specifically targeting those areas in each of the Allies’ National defence budget where the defence planning process has identified a shortfall. One such area is cyber.

And we intend to establish a NATO industry cyber partnership through which Industry and government will come together to counter cyber attack.

Conclusion: tougher together

So, in conclusion, as we enter the post-Afghanistan age, we must look now to increase NATO’s collective firepower and its collective spending power.

And we won’t achieve either of those without having collective willpower.

So at the largest NATO gathering ever hosted in this country we have a very clear and stark choice this week:

We can gradually enfeeble NATO by letting investment dry up and capabilities decline so that our credibility diminishes to vanishing point.

The alternative is to revive NATO’s spirit, to meet the challenge that Margaret Thatcher set 24 years ago at that London summit of sending a signal, and I quote, of

resolve and unity in defence.

So let me be very clear about the United Kingdom’s position..

It’s time now to toughen up so that NATO can deal with the aggression and the threats that we face. That means rapid reaction forces that are worthy of the name, that means better sharing of capability, and it means the first ever public commitment to increase defence spending.

This will demonstrate to all those who threaten us that the state of our transatlantic bond is strong.

I believe that the unpredictable and uncertain threats of today and tomorrow demand nothing less than that.

Published 3 September 2014