House of Lords debates NATO’s Deterrence and Defence Posture Review

Nato — Question for Short Debate

29 May 2012

Lord Browne of Ladyton (Labour)
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the outcome of the NATO Deterrence and Defence Posture Review and the implications of clarifying NATO’s deterrence posture for European security and the relationship with Russia.

Lord Browne of Ladyton (Labour)
My Lords, I am pleased to have been granted the privilege of initiating this debate today. At the outset, I draw the attention of your Lordships’ House to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests, particularly my association with a number of organisations involved in arms control and disarmament.

Our Prime Minister, David Cameron, has now attended two NATO summits: in Lisbon in November 2010 and in Chicago two weeks ago. After Lisbon, in his Statement to Parliament, he said:

“the test for NATO now is whether it can meet the challenges of the present and future. That means real change-not just signing communiqués about change but showing real political will to bring those changes about”.

Then he promised that the alliance would,

“shift its focus and resources still further from the old, Cold Wars of the past to the new unconventional threats of the future”.-[Hansard, 22/11/10; col. 979-80.]

With respect, I must say that that is the correct analysis and the proper test to be applied to NATO’s transformation in the 21st century.

As part of the necessary “real change”, NATO spent the year before Lisbon rewriting the alliance’s main doctrine-the strategic concept-but it did not finish the job in time for Lisbon. The alliance managed to agree that,

“aslong as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance”.

The apparent clarity of that statement masked an inability of member states to agree on key issues about NATO’s nuclear deterrence. At the same time, NATO agreed to,

“develop the capability to defend our populations and territories against ballistic missile attack as a core element of our collective defence”.

However, that, too, hid significant differences about the role of ballistic missile defence in the alliance’s future mix of capabilities.

The Lisbon summit solved this continuing disagreement by a procedural device and tasked the NATO council to continue to review,

“NATO’s overall posture in deterring and defending against the full range of threats to the Alliance”.

This process, the Defence and Deterrence Posture Review-DDPR-set out to consider the appropriate mix of nuclear, conventional and missile defence forces for NATO, and reported to the NATO summit in Chicago. Last week the Prime Minister reported the outcome of Chicago in a Statement to Parliament. Unfortunately, however, the Statement did not mention the DDPR.

For completeness, I asked the Library to research any parliamentary material or references relating to the DDPR. Yesterday it reported that, apart from an obscure reference in the Prime Minister’s Statement following Lisbon, all it could find were Questions that I had put down and which were answered last week.

Today’s debate, therefore, represents a unique opportunity to discuss whether the DDPR achieved the best possible outcome and whether the mixed capabilities mentioned in the outcome are indeed appropriate for the international security environment in the years ahead.

What were the realistic expectations of the DDPR? I and more than 40 other senior European political figures outlined in a statement issued prior to Chicago what we hoped the review and the Chicago summit might achieve. Together, we requested our leaders in Chicago to pave the way for a world without nuclear weapons and to live up to President Obama’s vision in Prague, which they all say they support. We stressed the opportunity to outline a clear NATO nuclear declaratory policy: that our nuclear weapons will be used for deterrence purposes only, aligning NATO’s policy with the declaratory policies of the UK and the US.

We would have welcomed the announcement of an immediate reduction of US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe with the prospect of an eventual consolidation of all those weapons within the next five years. All tactical weapons in Europe not only pose a risk to this continent’s safety and security, they lack any credibility to deter 21st century threats. They have no practical military value for the alliance any longer, and one cannot find anyone in uniform who says that they do. In addition, the review created the opportunity to provide greater transparency on the importance of NATO’s missile defence project and on the costs involved for European allies. One would have thought that in times of austerity, European leaders would grasp the opportunity with both hands.

On the issue of missile defence, the review was always going to have an impact on relations with Russia, whether NATO intended it or not. As missile defence is a dividing issue, more transparency would certainly have enhanced deteriorating relations between the United States, the alliance and Russia.

Finally, the review should have spelt out further co-operation with Russia, especially on increasing warning and decision times for political and military leaders so that no nation fears a short-warning nuclear or conventional attack. Unfortunately, the outcome has not lived up to my or my European colleagues’ expectation. In fact, it is a rather indecisive document. In the words of my United States colleague, Sam Nunn, a US senator for 24 years and former chairman of the powerful US Senate Armed Services Committee:

“The Deterrence and Defence Posture Review (DDPR) has made little progress in defining a clear strategy for changing the nuclear status quo and deserves, at best, a grade of ‘incomplete'”.

The DDPR avoided the challenge of resolving differences among the allies on the future role of nuclear weapons in NATO and instead opted for the maintenance of the status quo. Apart from acknowledging the,

“importance of the independent and unilateral negative security assurances offered by the United States, the United Kingdom and”,

to some extent, France, the DDPR broke little new ground on NATO’s nuclear posture. As the allies could not agree on a unified policy on the basic purpose of nuclear weapons, NATO will continue to be governed by different nuclear doctrines, depending upon the state that owns the arsenals and without any input from non-nuclear NATO members.

More disappointingly, no tangible progress was made on the US non-strategic nuclear weapons stationed in Europe. On the contrary, NATO will maintain and upgrade these weapons in Europe, and in doing so is likely to worsen the relationship with Russia. In contradiction, the DDPR states:

“The review has shown that the Alliance’s nuclear force posture currently meets the criteria for an effective deterrence and defence posture”.

At the same time, the US is planning to modernise its tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. The B61 Life Extension Program, which reportedly is a national decision by the United States, was inexplicably conducted independently of the question of implementation of nuclear sharing within NATO. It comes at a significant financial cost to many European allies in a time of financial austerity and in the absence of a demonstrated commitment by those allies to carry their share of the financial burden of existing commitments. It does not explain how this apparent contradiction is to be resolved. More worryingly, this move will prove to be a welcome excuse for Russia to continue investing in the upkeep of its own tactical nuclear arsenal, playing directly into the hands of hardliners in the Russian Federation who refuse to discuss reductions in Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons unless the US withdraws its own arsenal from Europe.

The DDPR has not delivered for disarmament. It is worth remembering that in Lisbon in 2010, NATO leaders committed themselves to the goal of creating the conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons. No longer can our leaders simply make this sort of statement and then ignore it when making their own nuclear policy. The alliance has a responsibility to be the change it wants to see in the world, not just to advocate for that change on the part of others. The only hope those who share our Prime Minister’s vision for NATO are left with is the promise of the DDPR to,

“consider further reducing its requirement for non-strategic nuclear weapons assigned to the Alliance in the context of reciprocal steps by Russia”.

Set against the test set by the Prime Minister for NATO, are the Government content with the outcome of the DDPR?

The DDPR was a major opportunity to make a comprehensive, coherent and balanced assessment of the mix of capabilities required in the years ahead and, importantly, it was an opportunity to spell out the potential contribution that arms control and disarmament can make to reducing nuclear risks in Europe. The issues covered by the DDPR and the decisions made will shape the alliance’s defence and deterrence posture for a decade or more. These decisions have major implications for Euro-Atlantic security and create the environment that will determine our relationship with Russia. If we do not get them right, we are at risk of sleepwalking back into the Cold War. I believe that NATO has missed this crucial opportunity for change, for overcoming Cold War thinking, for a new beginning as a security organisation of the 21st century, and for enhancing overall European security. Perhaps it is no surprise that, in his post-Chicago summit parliamentary Statement, the Prime Minister neglected to mention the DDPR again. For the sustainable security of the Euro-Atlantic area, let us hope that the opportunity we have grasped today is the first but not the only debate that this Parliament will have on NATO’s defence and security posture.

Lord King of Bridgwater (Conservative)
My Lords, I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to follow the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and to start by paying tribute to the leadership he has shown in the creation of what I think is a remarkable group of people, excluding my own membership. One can look across Europe at the number of people who have come together, echoing the leadership given by Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn and George Schultz in the United States, to consider this issue. I hope and believe that it is a group that increasingly should be listened to.

The difficulty with nuclear weapons is now clear. When one considers the frequent changes of ministerial office, it is an almost impossible issue for a new Secretary of State to deal with, so it is important to draw in those with a background in and experience of these issues. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, referred to Cold War attitudes and the risk of those perhaps reappearing, with some concern about President Putin’s current approach in certain areas. I was Secretary of State at the time when the Warsaw Pact collapsed, the Soviet Union collapsed, the Berlin Wall came down and Germany was reunified. I do not think I could have believed at the time that since then, in a very real way, we have hardly moved on in the nuclear situation. The threat against which we perceived the need to maintain an effective deterrent was the Warsaw Pact and the threats coming out at the time, such as that the Soviet Union would bury us. All that belonged very much to the Cold War period. Surely the situation is now different and it needs to be addressed.

I certainly echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, when he said the DDPR report and the Chicago summit did not live up to expectations, but sadly I think it is what we expected would happen. It is disappointing that this has not been taken further forward. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, was too modest to say it, but the letter for which he corralled so many signatures should be compulsory reading for all noble Lords. If anyone has come to this debate not having done so, they ought to be ashamed of themselves. I say that in passing because I hope it reflects quite a broad spectrum. Yes, there is a desire to move to a world free of nuclear weapons, but there are different attitudes within the group about the speed at which it can be done and how realistic it is. But there is certainly a major opportunity for a significant step forward.

When one looks at the situation and the current threats, and the need to assess what our capabilities in defence for the security of our nation should be, one cannot leave out the question of money. Surely that is the great change in the world recently. Suddenly a lot of countries, including our own, are very much poorer than they used to be, and the ability, opportunity and options for spending money need to be much more carefully considered.

I was reading the CND pamphlet that came out quite recently-I do not know if the figures are right, and I do not expect that my noble friend the Minister will necessarily want to comment on this-which claims that if Trident goes forward, with the possible future development of a new missile and new warheads, the figure over the lifetime of that is possibly £100 billion. When one looks at the expenditure options one has against the threats one faces-the economic situation in the western world and in Europe, as was suggested with slightly dramatic force by the Home Secretary only a week ago, a possible collapse of national economies, perhaps with people coming out of the euro, and the risk of extreme poverty, extreme hardship and mass migration-nuclear weapons have got nothing to do with how one might seek to tackle those sorts of challenges.

I am not advocating in any way abolishing our deterrent but I believe that there has always been-and is still-a case for a greater, progressive reduction. I recognise the changes that have been made, the reduction in the numbers of missiles and warheads. But we ought to go further. The United States and Russia certainly ought to go further. Starting from our position in Europe, the key to this has to be an enhanced effort with Russia, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said. Russia cannot afford it either. Given the state of its economy, Russia is spending a ludicrous amount of money on its own strategic and tactical deterrents.

Whatever the difficulties with President Putin, he is undoubtedly a strong president, having now achieved his ambition of reattaining the presidency. I am delighted that the Foreign Secretary was in Moscow so recently. I hope that there will be really determined effort to build much more confidence and trust between ourselves and Russia, which is in our mutual interest and could be the most important single step forward to seeing an improvement in this area. We might then be able to manage a deterrent-moving step by step, but those are steps that definitely need to be made.

We were disappointed that more was not done in Chicago. I hope that we can return to the subject and keep it firmly on the agenda.

Lord Addington (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, first, I apologise for being one of those people who has not read the letter, but never mind.

I find myself in agreement with the main thrust of what was said by the noble Lords who have just spoken. Indeed, in a debate not so long ago in this House, I drew attention to the fact that NATO’s major problem with Russia is that Russia is probably very frightened of NATO. The Russian successor state has found itself in a declining sphere of interest, with its own borders being pushed back and what it regards as its justifiable interest being constricted at all times. We must also remember that Russia is an incredibly important and powerful state to this day. The importance of Russia in the current situation in Syria probably clarifies how we must speak to Russia and try to get it to at least communicate in language that we understand, so that we can reduce conflict throughout the entire world, if not just in Europe and the closer parts of Asia and Africa.

Of course, everybody sane agrees that there should be fewer nuclear weapons. They then disagree violently about what that actually means to the state at the time. If we are worrying about Russia’s position, we should worry about the position of members of NATO and NATO’s allies. If you are a Pole, Czech or Latvian, just how much more secure do you feel having those low-level nuclear weapons around? It may be an illusory security blanket-one that will mean that you simply die of radiation poisoning slightly later on-but it is there. Unless we can bring that into our discussion more fully, we are always going to struggle.

What do we do with the non-nuclear capacity within NATO? It is not difficult to find somebody in uniform who will tell you, “Don’t spend money on nuclear weapons; spend it on other things”. Aircraft carriers and battle tanks are usually the first call, rapidly followed by the latest whizz-bang fighter jet or bomber. But does that increase tension as well? Does it increase tension within the organisations that you are dealing with and with your potential enemies, who are also your potential allies? How we handle that situation-that ongoing relationship-is going to be incredibly difficult. Getting a holistic approach is also going to be very difficult.

There is also the flipside that we if expand our conventional weapons, how do we deal with the peacekeeping and conflict resolution capacity of NATO, which has had its successes and failures but has been a new area of activity? As long as we are worrying about the nuclear stockpile, we also need to consider how to make better use of our defence spending. As my noble friend Lord King pointed out, the eternal question is: what do you spend money on in terms of preparing military force? It has always been a case of blood and gold being spent together. Preparing to spend blood and gold is how you define your defence capacity. That has always been the case, going back to when people first decided to spend a little bit more money going from bronze to iron weapons.

How to make better use of our defence spending is something that we must bear in mind. If we have this hugely expensive nuclear stockpile, which leads to a great deal of justifiable fear even if it just sits in its bunker and decays, there will always be greater stress on our conventional forces if they are in the same budget. It would be quite honest of the Government-or indeed any Government-to separate out those two budgets. That might be a starting point.

If we are going to encourage things such as missile defence-and the Chicago summit tried to make it clear that it is not aimed at Russia, it is aimed at someone else; the subtext is Iran-it will only work against nations that can fire a limited capacity of missiles. The way to deal with this defence system is to swamp it, as has always been the case. You simply launch more missiles; you take out missiles individually and then some will get through. As Tom Lehrer put it,

“Oh, we will all fry together when we fry”.

If you fry once or fry 100 times, you are still fried. The idea of guaranteed mass destruction worked in the past.

The noble Lord is quite right that without some sort of coherent idea about how to approach making a reduction that reassures Russia, we are never going to progress as quickly as we should towards reducing nuclear weapons to the bare minimum or getting rid of them altogether. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will give us an idea about progress. That is what we are talking about here: are we encouraging coherent progress, at least among our allies?

Lord Harries of Pentregarth (Crossbench)
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, for the opportunity to debate this rather neglected but extremely important subject. I want to touch briefly on three very different areas.

First, I want to emphasise what lay behind the setting up of the review in the first place, namely the crucial importance of NATO having a clear and consistent understanding of deterrence and defence-one which, granted that there are real differences of emphasis and approach between the nations that make up NATO, is as harmonised as is humanly possible in the cause of collective security.

As I am sure we are all aware, the success of a deterrence policy depends on it being both clear and clearly understood by any potential enemy. Mixed and confused, let alone contradictory, messages tempt potential aggressors to chance their arm. We saw this with the Falklands, and we saw it with the total failure of European nations to agree on how to respond to the break-up of former Yugoslavia. Both the review and the statement from Chicago show that this area still needs a huge amount of work, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, emphasised. In particular, more work needs to be done on the relationship between missile defence and deterrence. Does the Minister really think that missile defence will enhance deterrence for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, emphasised? As for tactical nuclear weapons, is it not high time for these to be withdrawn from European soil, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, emphasised?

The only justification for a deterrence posture that relies in part on nuclear weapons is a belief that it will indeed deter and that it will be more successful than any other in averting war. Its success depends in significant measure on potential aggressors perceiving that it is rooted in a clear and unified resolve. Despite what was said in Chicago, this area requires continuing close attention.

Secondly, we should constantly remind ourselves that the possession of nuclear weapons remains morally problematic. During the Cold War, I was, with spiritual fear and moral trembling, a supporter of nuclear deterrence. The reason why we should remain troubled is not the weapons in themselves but the difficulty of seeing how they can be used in a way which is both discriminate and proportionate. For deterrence to work, the threat has to be believed, and that means that there must be possible uses that are not either intrinsically immoral, by directly attacking civilians, or immoral as a consequence of their side-effects being disproportionate. I accept that targeting must be kept secret-I am not a great believer in declaratory policies-but we should not have a debate such as this without reminding those in the Ministry of Defence who are responsible for targeting policy that this is an area of crucial moral concern. This brings to mind once again how much we still miss the late Sir Michael Quinlan, the architect of British nuclear policy both in its strategic and ethical dimension-which he never forgot. Nuclear weapons remain morally problematic and we need to keep the ethical as well as the strategic dimension alive; indeed, they are inseparable.

My third and final point is rather different. As I am going to Georgia tomorrow to take part in its European week, I cannot forget that Russian forces are still on its soil and refusing either to leave or to loosen their grip on Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord King, that we want to do all we can to maintain good relationships with Russia, but we cannot rest content with the situation that prevails in Georgia and we need to continue to use every diplomatic means, both ourselves and with our European partners, to recover Georgia’s territorial integrity. Georgia wants to be fully integrated into NATO, a policy which causes Russia to be extremely alarmed and hostile towards it. Perhaps the Minister will feel able to say something about Georgia in relation to NATO policy within our overall attitude towards Russia.

Lord Jopling (Conservative)
My Lords, we are all most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for instigating this debate. I was struck particularly by his comment about the danger of sliding back into the Cold War. I say that because I returned last night from Estonia, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, and the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who graces us today on the Woolsack. The noble Lord was there to give up his committee responsibilities and to take up his new ones, which we all welcome.

At the NATO Parliamentary Assembly meeting, there was much talk about Russia. I am the chairman of the committee on the civilian aspects of security. I commend to the House and those who have time to see it a comprehensive paper on Russia written by the Italian Member of Parliament Lucio Malan, which we debated in my committee. It is on the internet and is well worth reading.

When I think about the changes that have taken place in Russia in recent years, I recall particularly the first meeting between Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev at Chequers in December 1984, at which I was present. That meeting and the subsequent events led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the drastic decline of Communism. It heralded the dawn of a new Russia and the introduction of perestroika and glasnost. However, the development of new Russia over the years since then has been one of stuttering progress. We seem to have been living in a switchback which has gone from warm to tepid to chilling. As my noble friend Lord King said, we have always made it clear that we want a closer and more understanding relationship with Russia. It seems frequently to prefer the tensions and confrontations of former years. I become alarmed at the way in which things are moving backwards towards the Cold War, which the noble Lord, Lord Browne, rightly talked about. For instance, a Freedom House survey of the scale of press freedom in Russia-where 100 is the worst level of press freedom-shows that in 1994 it stood at 40, that in 2002 it was 60, and that in 2011 it had gone up to 81. Russia seems also to be going back to some of the old malpractices in electoral arrangements. In recent elections in some of the north Caucasus republics, the voter turnouts, as well as votes for Mr Putin, were around 99%.

Only yesterday, those of us who were in Tallinn heard the President of Estonia refer to Mr Putin’s speech on the Monday before the recent elections as anti-Europe, anti-United States and anti-Baltic. Using a horrific phrase, he described it as a,

“throwback to the pre-perestroika period”.

We heard also from the Deputy Secretary-General of NATO, who told us that it was felt at Chicago not worth having a meeting with the Russians, as has been arranged in the past, because of the misunderstandings. He cited a lack of trust and transparency. He referred, as did the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, to the stand-off in Georgia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia and to the difficulties over missile defence. The Deputy Secretary-General accused Russia of misrepresenting NATO systems. He recommended that politicians in Russia listen to the impressive views of some of their scientists and former military leaders, who agree that the NATO/US missile defence system, even at phases 3 or 4 of its development, does not affect Russia’s strategic deterrent. He pressed again for Russia to join in and develop a joint defence system, to the benefit of all of us as we face developing challenges from the Middle East.

Let us continue to use our good will, as my noble friend Lord King said, to try to build a relationship of trust and mutual benefit with Russia. At the same time, we must not let ourselves be bullied or manoeuvred into positions which are against our best interests.

Lord Rosser (Labour)
My Lords, I add my thanks to those already expressed to my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton for securing this short but important debate on the outcome of the NATO deterrence and defence posture review, which was approved at the recent NATO summit in Chicago and which had been called for at the previous summit in Lisbon in 2010. The deterrence and defence posture review is of course only one of a number of issues which NATO has been addressing, and needs to continue to address, but it is the one that we are considering in this debate. At the previous Lisbon summit, NATO Heads of Government approved a new strategic concept that confirmed collective defence as the first of the Alliance’s “three … core tasks” and contained the statements:

“Deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element of our overall strategy”,

and,

“As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance”.

However, as my noble friend has already said, the strategic concept did not resolve all outstanding issues within the alliance, not least in relation to nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence.

One of the purposes in calling for the review to be undertaken appears to have been the need to try to resolve key issues on the future role and basic purpose of nuclear weapons in NATO policy, bearing in mind the differing views held within the alliance’s 28 member states, which range from calling for complete disarmament and withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe to retaining such weapons for the purposes of reassurance to more vulnerable states. The state of the relationship between NATO and Russia both now and in the future, which is referred to in the title of this debate, is of considerable significance, particularly to the latter point about reassurance.

The mandate of the review was,

“to continue to review NATO’s overall posture in deterring and defending against the full range of threats to the Alliance, taking into account changes in the evolving international security environment”.

Meanwhile,

“Essential elements of the review would include the range of NATO’s strategic capabilities required, including NATO’s nuclear posture, and missile defence and other means of strategic deterrence and defence”.

The review ended up confirming that the alliance was,

“committed to maintaining … defence capabilities necessary to ensure its security in an unpredictable world … NATO has determined that, in the current circumstances, the existing mix of capabilities and the plans for their development are sound”.

NATO will thus continue to be a nuclear alliance as long as potential adversaries possess nuclear weapons.

In the period since the 2010 Lisbon summit, however, there appears to have been no word from the Government to Parliament about their position on the deterrence and defence posture review. Neither does it appear that the House of Commons Defence Select Committee has done work on this issue. My noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton said that in Lisbon in 2010, NATO leaders committed themselves to the goal of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. It would be helpful if the Minister could say how the Government consider that the deterrence and defence posture review has contributed towards meeting that goal, what the Government’s policy contribution was to that review and what representations they made.

What do the Government believe has been achieved by the deterrence and defence posture review? Can the Minister confirm that, to all intents and purposes, the review does not break any significant new ground on seeking to reduce levels of nuclear weapons and decreasing the number of nations that host nuclear weapons? In his speech, my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton argued that NATO should be seeking to reduce nuclear weapons and risks while seeking to enhance and improve the current difficult relationship with Russia. Is this what the Government believe NATO should be seeking to achieve, and if so do they believe that the deterrence and defence posture review and the Chicago summit have brought these goals any closer, particularly in the light of my noble friend’s view that by maintaining and upgrading US non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe, NATO will do nothing to improve the relationship with Russia and may result in Russia investing further in its own nuclear arsenal?

Finally, the deterrence and defence posture review said very little about what happens next on the issues that it covered, beyond a reference to being,

“prepared to consider further reducing its requirement for non-strategic nuclear weapons assigned to the Alliance in the context of reciprocal steps by Russia”.

What courses of action will the Government now be pressing for in the light of the review and the issues it covered, or do they take the view that the review, which broadly confirms the status quo, addresses the “real change” for NATO, which my noble friend referred to, and which the Prime Minister referred to as being necessary in the Statement that he made to Parliament following the 2010 Lisbon summit?

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
My Lords, let me begin by joining in the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, on promoting this short debate and on his work with his colleagues in the so-called top-level group, which tackles these issues. The profundity of his questioning is a very good way of promoting the debate in a context that is not replicated anywhere else. The only sadness I have to note is that although much wisdom has been put into one hour’s debate, the media coverage is unlikely to be dramatic because they have a shallower and shorter range interest beyond these vital and profound issues. However, this is a valuable moment. I shall not, of course, be able to satisfy completely the aspirations of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and his colleagues for the longer term, or those of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, because that is not the posture that the deterrence and defence posture review took up. However, there are some very important questions, which are in a stage of evolution and development and which I would like to comment and respond on as clearly as I can.

We know that the review was agreed at the last NATO summit in November 2010. It was commissioned to examine the multiple and complex threats that the alliance faced in the 21st century-so it was a forward-looking intention-and to ensure that NATO’s range of capabilities are fully appropriate to the political and security context in which we live today, here and now, and in which we are likely to live in future. The review was agreed and published by alliance Heads of State at the Chicago summit last week. It is not too long, so for those who have not read it is not too time-consuming a read. It sets out the role that NATO’s defensive capabilities play in collective deterrence, burden sharing and reassurance.

The review concludes that NATO’s “existing mix” of nuclear and conventional capabilities is appropriate to meet the threats of today and tomorrow. In that sense, it can be asserted that it confirms and consolidates the status quo, but, as I shall try and show, it also has an evolutionary and ongoing element that is realistic in that we have to meet the here and now but think about tomorrow. It lays the ground for future work in NATO on its nuclear posture and on supporting non-proliferation, disarmament and arms control. The British Government were closely involved in the development and negotiation of the review, together with our 27 allies in NATO, so it is fairly obvious that I will not say anything but that we endorse the conclusions, approach and thrust of the review.

First, let me address the points that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, makes, with some tone of disappointment in his voice, about a perceived lack of progress in reducing NATO’s short-range nuclear weapons. It is worth noting that, since 1991, NATO has reduced the types and numbers of its short-range nuclear forces by over 8%. There is a strong long-term record on disarmament in the alliance, which cannot be completely brushed aside.

However, let me also make it clear why 28 allies have agreed in this review on the maintenance of NATO’s short-range nuclear forces. I will make four points on this. First, the presence of US nuclear forces based in Europe provides an essential political and military link between the European and North American members of the alliance. Secondly, the B-61 nuclear weapon forms an important element of those nuclear forces and the national US life-extension programme for the ageing bombers, which incidentally is paid for entirely by the United States, will ensure that it continues to be a safe, secure and credible nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing. That is an important benefit, or condition, of the LEP.

Thirdly, at the same time, the participation of non-nuclear countries demonstrates alliance solidarity, a commitment to maintaining collective security and the widespread sharing of burdens and risks. Most of your Lordships, and many outside, would agree that we need to encourage a burden of sharing as much as possible. Fourthly, as the review makes quite clear, future decisions must also take into account the far greater Russian stockpiles of short-range nuclear weapons stationed in the Euro-Atlantic area. It would not be right for NATO unilaterally to disarm, nor to disarm by, as it were, default-in other words, by not modernising the essential equipment. Future steps must be taken in the context of reciprocal steps by Russia. NATO as an alliance, and individual allies, will continue to work towards this common and worthwhile goal. I will say a little more about Russia in a moment, in the light of the comments of my noble friend Lord Jopling and others.

As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, noted, the review reiterates its long-standing principle that to face the ultimate threats to our collective defence, however remote the contemplation of nuclear weapons, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance for as long as nuclear weapons exist. It also reiterates that the alliance is resolved to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. The alliance’s nuclear posture must evolve-this is the point that I made in my opening remarks-to meet current and anticipated threats and wider geopolitical developments, as it always has done and must continue to do.

In this context, it is worth noting that the review sets out what NATO can do to help create the conditions in which further reductions are possible, in line with our shared long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons. While it is legitimate to say that the review stands on the status quo at the moment, it opens up the creation of the conditions in which further reductions are possible. That is important. It underlines the alliance’s role in supporting wider international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation efforts, and announces the establishment of a new committee to focus the alliance’s contribution in this important work. In that sense, it is part of the evolving process, as it has been and must continue to be.

These efforts have been an inseparable part of NATO’s contribution to security and stability since the late 1960s. The review takes this further, not least in setting out for the first time in an alliance context the declaratory policies of its member states. Of course, my noble friend Lord King was absolutely right in his wise contribution that the US and Russia in particular, with their still enormous arsenals, must go considerably further.

The missile defence issue was mentioned by several of your Lordships. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, mentioned it. He also raised a point about Georgia, which I just have time to comment on. NATO partners agreed in Bucharest in 2008 that Georgia will one day become a member of NATO. Georgia’s path to NATO is a matter for agreement between NATO and Georgia, and no other country has a veto on this. We welcome the progress that Georgia has been making, and point out that NATO’s ongoing enlargement process poses no threat to any country. It is aimed at promoting stability and co-operation, and building a Europe whole and free and united in peace, democracy and common values.

On missile defence, the alliance and the UK remain committed to a positive NATO-Russian relationship. Although this obviously has its challenges, good practical co-operation is in fact taking place on a range of mutual security issues, including Afghanistan, counter- terrorism and theatre missile defence. The review considered how co-operation, transparency and, I emphasise, reciprocity with Russia can help Euro-Atlantic security.

NATO will continue to develop its partnership with Russia. We are committed to continuing our dialogue on missile defence. The United States in particular has been clear with Russia that NATO missile defence is neither intended nor designed to undermine, nor is capable of undermining, the Russian strategic deterrent. The best way of allaying Russia’s concerns is for it to work with NATO through dialogue and practical co-operation in the context of the need for the defence of Europe as a whole. This sort of co-operation also requires a functioning conventional arms-control regime, in which Russia must play a full part in offering transparency and political will. It means reciprocity and confidence-building measures as we look to future reductions in short-range nuclear weapons.

In response to, and as a reinforcement of, the points made by my noble friend Lord Jopling, I should say that all sorts of reassurances have been offered to Russia. Those reassurances are not about the legal requirements that the ambassador is writing about in today’s newspaper-that is not possible for the obvious reason that it would never get through Congress in the United States-but are all sorts of other reassurances of a detailed kind, and we are now entitled to look for a response from Russia: that is, a commitment to joint defence, as my noble friend Lord Jopling put it. This is something that we should press for and try to create the atmosphere for by elucidation, illumination and constructive dialogue rather than by some of the more negative and rigid response that have emerged.

The threats that we must be ready to counter come from many different directions and in many different forms. The capabilities available to us have certainly broadened. The DDPR has presented a timely opportunity to reassess NATO’s defence and deterrence capabilities to ensure that they are able to respond to the modern, multipolar world. That means not only where they have come from and where we are now, which is the realistic moment that we live in, but the future as well.

Publishing the review at the NATO summit in Chicago demonstrated to the world the alliance’s commitment to the collective defence of all alliance members through a mix of nuclear, conventional and missile defence; to sharing the responsibilities and risks of delivering those capabilities; and to addressing new threats together. This outward-facing resolve and renewed demonstration of alliance solidarity remains critical to NATO’s effectiveness and unity, which has been one of the underlying drivers in the whole of this operation.

The Government fully share with your Lordships and a much wider audience a desire to make progress on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. However, in doing so we must be clear about the reality of the evolving security environment of the 21st century and the wider political context, both of which are full of dangers, some of which are outside the immediate security area but often have major potential security repercussions. NATO needs to provide strong defence and deterrence in challenging times, while being open to ways in which we can reduce both the risks and challenges that we face together as an alliance.

I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate and the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for raising some challenging questions. I hope that the challenges will continue. I have stated the Government’s view in response to these challenges, but it is an open-minded response that allows for continuing debate and examination as the uncertain future unfolds before us.