Oral statement to Parliament

NATO statement

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

Prime Minister David Cameron has delivered a statement to the House of Commons about the NATO Summit in Lisbon.

A statement by Prime Minister David Cameron to the House of Commons on 22 November 2010 about the NATO Summit in Lisbon.

Read the statement

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the NATO Summit in Lisbon.

No-one can doubt that NATO has played a critical role in preserving peace in Europe since it was founded in 1949. But the test for NATO now is whether it can meet the challenges of the present and future. And that means real change.

Not just signing communiques about change but showing real political will to bring those changes about.

Mr Speaker, I believe NATO can be just as relevant for protecting our security in the future as it has been in the past.

And my interventions were focused on that future.

There were effectively three Summits: a meeting of all the coalition countries involved in Afghanistan; a summit on the planned reform of NATO; and a NATO-Russia Council.

Let me take each in turn.

First, Afghanistan.

The Summit, with President Karzai, the UN Secretary General and countries from across the world, is a powerful visual reminder that Britain is part of an international coalition of 48 nations in Afghanistan.

We are there because the Afghans are not yet capable of securing their own country from terrorists; and these terrorists threaten the whole world. So it is for our own national security that we help them.

At the NATO summit, each and every one of the 48 nations in the coalition reaffirmed its “enduring commitment” to the mission in Afghanistan.

Britain is the second largest contributor to that mission, with over 10,000 troops risking their lives in the most dangerous parts of the country.

The arrival of additional ISAF troops in the South has allowed us to transfer Musa Qaleh and Sangin to the US Marines.

That in turn has allowed us to focus our forces in Central Helmand, sharing the burden more sensibly and removing the overstretch our forces have suffered since 2006.

Working alongside Afghan forces, this has helped us to drive the insurgents out of population centres in central Helmand.

We want to transfer security responsibility for districts and provinces to Afghan control as soon as the Afghan Security Forces are ready.

The Summit reached important conclusions about the timetable for this transition.

It will begin in early 2011 and meet President Karzai’s objective for the Afghan National Security Forces to lead and conduct security operations in all provinces by the end of 2014.

This commitment on transition is entirely consistent with the deadline we have set for the end of British combat operations in Afghanistan by 2015.

By 2015 Britain will have played a huge role in the international coalition and made massive sacrifices for a better, safer and stronger Afghanistan.

We will have been in Helmand, by some way the toughest part of Afghanistan, for nine years, a period almost as long as the First and Second World Wars combined.

Last week, we lost the 100th member of our armed forces in Afghanistan this year.

This is the second year running that we have reached such a tragic milestone.

Mr Speaker, the bravery and sacrifice of our forces is making this country safe.

But having taken such a huge share of the burden and having performed so magnificently since 2001, the country needs to know that there is an endpoint to all this.

So from 2015 there will not be troops in anything like the numbers there are now and crucially, they will not be in a combat role.

Mr Speaker, that is a firm commitment and a firm deadline which we will meet.

The NATO Summit also committed to a long term relationship with the Government of Afghanistan.

And Britain will be at the forefront of this commitment.

Beyond the end of combat operations in 2015, we will go on having a relationship with Afghanistan based on aid, development, diplomacy, trade and, if necessary, military training and support.

Mr Speaker, on the reform of NATO, we agreed a new Strategic Concept to equip NATO for the security challenges of the 21st century.

Just as in our new National Security Strategy, NATO will shift its focus and resources still further from the old, Cold Wars of the past to the new unconventional threats of the future, including counter-terrorism, cyber-security, failing states and the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Crucially, NATO agreed to develop a new ballistic missile defence system for Europe.

This will help protect the UK and our other European allies from the growing threat from countries like Iran who are developing ballistic missiles.

It will be in place by the end of the decade, paid for within NATO’s existing resources.

And just as Britain’s Strategic Defence and Security Review set out plans to make the Ministry of Defence much more commercially hard headed in future and to adopt a much more aggressive drive for efficiencies so this summit has agreed significant efficiencies for NATO.

These include:

  • cutting the number of Command posts from 13,000 to less than 9,000…
  • reducing the number of NATO agencies from 14 to 3;
  • and ensuring that all decisions taken at this Summit are funded from within NATO’s existing resource plans.

These changes will save Britain tens of millions of pounds and will allow NATO to focus its efforts on the frontline.

There was also discussion at the Summit on co-operation between the EU and NATO.

It is crazy that because of procedural wrangling the only security issue these two organisations can discuss when they meet together is Bosnia.

Everyone wants a solution to the Cyprus problem but we simply should not allow it to go on holding up practical co-operation between the EU and NATO.

Mr Speaker, it was a very powerful sight to see countries which came together to protect themselves from the Soviet Union, now sitting down and discussing sensible co-operation with Russia.

And while the Soviet Union broke up years ago, relations between NATO and Russia had been strained in recent years.

Two years ago, missile defence for Europe caused a major split in relations with Russia.

Now, it is an issue on which we are working together.

The NATO-Russia Council also agreed practical cooperation on Afghanistan, enabling NATO to use routes through Russia to support our forces on the ground and working together to develop and sustain improved helicopter capabilities for the Afghan Security Forces.

Mr Speaker, there will remain challenges in working with Russia. President Obama and I both raised Georgia. Two years after that conflict started, it is time for Russia to abide by the ceasefire agreement and withdraw its troops from Georgian territory.

But I judge it right we do not let this and other bi-lateral concerns prevent us from working together where it is in our interests to do so.

So we will work with Russia on countering drug trafficking, on tackling Islamic extremism, on countering proliferation and in the G8 and G20.

The Summit also praised the courage that President Obama and President Medvedev have shown in agreeing a new START Treaty and agreed that early ratification would be in all our interests.

Mr Speaker, in 1949 the alliance first said that “an attack against one is an attack against all”.

Today, the threats that we face are different, and the world is more uncertain but NATO remains the bedrock of our collective defence.

The future of this alliance is vital for our own National Security.

This Summit was focused on that future on securing an Afghanistan able to look after its own security, reforming NATO for the 21st century and establishing co-operation with Russia on our vital security interests.

Above all, this Summit has shown that our alliance remains rock solid, and that Britain’s commitment to it is as strong as ever.

And I commend this Statement to the House.