Lords Debate on NATO – 10 February 2011

Moved by Lord Addington, To call attention to the future of NATO and changing relations within its membership; and to move for papers.

Read the full debate here.

Lord Browne of Ladyton (Labour)

…The task which Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the summit have set the alliance is far from easy, but it is vital, and nowhere is it more needed than in the area of NATO nuclear policy. For months now-indeed, for about a year-a debate on the future of US theatre nuclear weapons stationed in Europe has been occurring around, but outside, formal NATO review processes. Stationed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey as part of the US nuclear umbrella which has extended over Europe, these weapons originally had a specific military purpose. With a short, “tactical” range and the majority unable to reach beyond mainland Europe, they were deployed to deter a physical invasion of western Europe by the then numerically superior conventional forces possessed by the Soviet Union at the time of the Cold War. Now, however, the weapons have declined to the point where I cannot find a military commander who says that they have any military utility. Moreover, the future costs associated with replacing the ageing aircraft that would deliver them are unlikely to be met by Europe’s Governments, who are all in some financial difficulty.

More must be done to promote multilateral nuclear disarmament, and this is an opportunity to do that. Others in the alliance are worried that if one or two countries renounce nuclear weapons unilaterally, not only will the principle of nuclear burden-sharing between the US and Europe be compromised, but so too will the transatlantic link and the overall quality of collective defence commitments within NATO. This is an opportunity for NATO to do exactly what the noble Lord suggested: to have a debate among its members on the utility and purpose of nuclear weapons, and to come to a conclusion that will make a significant difference to the collective security not just of Europe but of the world, by contributing to disarmament and reducing the role of nuclear weapons in it.

Lord Lee of Trafford (Liberal Democrat)

… As we know, a number of specific areas of co-operation are being worked up. We have decided to install catapults and arresting gear to our future operational carrier. Thus UK and French aircraft can operate from both nations’ carriers. The intention by the early 2020s is to have the ability to deploy the UK-French integrated carrier strike group. On the A400M transport, the plan is to develop common support for our future fleets of transport aircraft and agree a single contract with Airbus Military, to be signed by the end of 2011. On submarine technologies and systems, the aim is jointly to develop some of the equipment and technologies for the next generation of nuclear submarines. On maritime countermeasures, a common project team will be established this year to agree specifications for a prototype mine countermeasure system. Other areas include co-operation on nuclear stockpile testing, satellite communications and unmanned aerial systems.

Both UK and French politicians have made it abundantly clear that the Anglo-French co-operation involves no loss of sovereignty, both countries being free to deploy their own forces as each sees fit. I do not demur from that, but the creation of a combined joint expeditionary force suitable for a wide range of scenarios up to and including high intensity operations points the way ahead. I welcome the joint exercises involving all three services planned for later this year.

…We all know how our two countries went their separate ways on defence, but if we stand back and look at it objectively, does it really make sense for us to have our respective, separate submarine-borne strategic nuclear deterrents at considerable cost prowling the world’s oceans with no obvious targets or threats. Can we seriously imagine just one of us ever coming under nuclear attack and not the other? Surely our proximity would bring about mutual contamination in any case, let alone the risks of missile inaccuracy. With our conventional forces in time, I would like to see more integration and greater use of mutual training areas, our air fields and our ports.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick (Crossbench)

… on the alliance’s nuclear posture, I very much regret that the opportunity was missed at last November’s NATO summit to adjust the alliance’s nuclear posture and to bring it into conformity with the negative security assurances given now by the US and the UK separately to non-nuclear states which are in full conformity with their non-proliferation treaty obligations; namely, that we would neither use nor threaten to use nuclear weapons against them.

What on earth is one to make of the fact that NATO does not have the same position? Are the US and the UK bound by its assurances when it acts unilaterally but not if it acts as part of the alliance? It is surely desirable to clear up this ambiguity at the earliest opportunity. Similarly, it is surely equally desirable to make it clear to the Russians that the alliance is ready to work with them for the mutual reduction of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and to do so as a matter of practical urgency now that the US and Russia have ratified, and last weekend in Munich brought into effect, the new START treaty on strategic weapons.

Lord Rosser (Labour)

… The Lisbon summit also discussed the relationship between NATO and Russia. It is clearly right that we should seek to improve our relationship with Russia, and we welcome the new phase of co-operation. We welcome the joint work on the new missile defence system. This development shows how the world has changed since the Cold War because it involves co-operation with, rather than the isolation of, Russia. Only through such co-operation will progress towards the ambitious long-term aims set out by President Obama in 2009 of a world without nuclear weapons stand any chance of being achieved.