I’m delighted to follow Dr Von der Leyen and I echo many of the things she has said.
There is no question we’re living in uncertain and unpredictable times.
We’re seeing diverse threats; ISIL in the Middle East, Boko Haram in Africa and, uppermost in our minds, a resurgent Russia acting illegally in Crimea and using hybrid warfare in Ukraine.
These are threats that pose an unprecedented challenge to our international rules based system, to sovereign states, and to democratic values.
Importance of NATO
They also underline the importance of NATO’s role in upholding and promoting our collective defence.
Let’s begin by reminding ourselves that NATO is one of the most successful alliances. But it is vital for NATO to present a united front.
We did that at the NATO Summit with agreements on a Readiness Action Plan, which paved the way for the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force and a comprehensive programme of Assurance Measures.
This sent a powerful signal to our eastern allies and a strong message of deterrence to Russia.
But for NATO to maintain its credibility it must deliver on the commitments that it made in Wales.
I’m delighted that yesterday’s announcement by Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Poland to act as framework nations for the VJTF marked a very important step forward.
I am proud that the UK is one of those framework nations.
We have agreed to contribute manpower to 2 new regional headquarters in Poland and Romania and to each of the 6 Forward Integration Units in the 3 Baltic States as well as Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.
We’re also looking at what else we can do outside of our framework nation commitment including further participation in large scale exercises and the Baltic Air Policing mission.
Now the challenge, for all of us, is to propel the VJTF from concept to capability.
And that will require three things:
First, political will.
NATO can’t deliver without the support and commitment of its Allies.
We have to make sure we have our framework nations on board not only must we ensure other nations step up in other ways to generate the remaining elements of the force but we must also be able to make the big decisions quickly.
There is no point in having a force with high readiness capable of deploying quickly to the territory of a threatened ally if they are slowed down by an inability to reach agreement among its 28 strong membership.
So we need efficient, effective and rapid political decision making.
And we need to make sure SACEUR has authority to get a force out of the barracks and ready to move, while also ensuring the North Atlantic Council takes the final decision on its use.
Secondly, operational support.
As we develop and deploy our very high readiness forces, we need to make sure they are underpinned by robust intelligence.
That means developing better indicators and timely warnings of action by any aggressor. We shouldn’t be surprised by exercises including those near Kaliningrad before Christmas.
We need to be far clearer about the different types of activity that can threaten a nation, from traditional military aggression, through to cyber attack, and Russia’s “Hybrid model”.
That includes strategic communications. There’s a famous saying that a lie can be halfway round the world before truth gets its boots on.
We must also be clear about what we would do in response and be able to act with all the tools at our disposal if an ally is threatened.
Work to develop such operational support is now well underway.
My third point is that high readiness forces require high end capability.
In Wales we didn’t just commit to rapid reaction and reversing the decline in defence spending. We also committed to allocating 20% of our individual defence budget to developing new capabilities.
There is a very risk of equipment obsolescence amongst NATO’s European allies is real.
At the same time we’re seeing an exponential increase in technological capabilities, and a rise in weapons proliferation, we simply can’t afford to fall behind those developments.
Nor can Europe keep relying on US capabilities and the goodwill of US taxpayers to keep picking up the tab for those equipment advances.
The US too is under fiscal pressure we are wrestling with in Europe. We’ve already seen the US consolidating its basing in Europe.
So the message is clear but all the more urgent: Europe must do more to help itself.
Several months ago the NATO Secretary General called our rapid reaction plan the “biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War.”
Strong words must be translated into strong action.
The VJTF is not an imposition; see it is an opportunity to demonstrate our collective will, to reinvigorate our capability, and arrest decline in our spending.
Allowing NATO to face the future with confidence, whatever the threats.