Select Committee on Defence Ninth Report


NATO's achievements over the past sixty years in ensuring the stability and prosperity of Europe are remarkable. But the NATO Summit at Bucharest in April 2008 takes place at a time when the Alliance's reputation and credibility are being questioned in relation to Afghanistan. NATO's command of the multinational International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) mission has become a key test of the Alliance's capacity to adjust to the demands of today's security environment. Bringing stability to Afghanistan, and creating the conditions in which reconstruction and development can occur, is, and must remain, at the top of NATO's agenda. It requires a sustained long-term military and financial commitment by all members of the Alliance. While failure in Afghanistan would not herald the demise of NATO, it would deal a severe blow to allied unity and prompt the United States to question the Alliance's continuing utility. NATO must succeed in Afghanistan, but it faces major challenges in generating sufficient numbers of forces without restrictions upon their use. Reaching new agreements on a more equitable sharing of the burden of operations, along with a clearer definition of success in Afghanistan, will be key tests of the Bucharest Summit.

Afghanistan, however, must not be allowed to dominate the Bucharest agenda. NATO faces far broader questions about its role and relevance in the 21st century, the answers to which will, ultimately, decide the future of the Alliance. If the public in Europe and North America do not understand what NATO is for, their support for the Alliance will inevitably decline. NATO should launch a far-reaching review of its Strategic Concept at Bucharest, defining its future role and purpose. This should be adopted at its 60th anniversary summit next year.

Given the global nature of the threats facing the Allies, there is no alternative to NATO playing a global role. Its willingness to act to counter threats to its members wherever they arise is fundamental to the Alliance's continuing relevance. If NATO limits itself to a regional role, it risks becoming marginalised. NATO's willingness to fulfil a global role is critical to the continued support of the United States. Without US support, NATO has no future. But US support depends on NATO becoming more capable, deployable and flexible, and on the European allies contributing more.

Achieving new commitments to deliver improvements in capabilities will be another key test of the success of the Bucharest Summit. NATO has shortfalls across a range of specific military capabilities. These compromise its ability to mount and sustain the expeditionary operations which underpin the Alliance's new role. This issue must be tackled as a matter of the highest priority. On this, it is important that Bucharest delivers meaningful agreement.

The creation of the NATO Response Force (NRF) represents a significant achievement and promises to enhance the Alliance's capabilities. But its funding mechanism is inadequate and acts as a disincentive for the deployment of the Force. The "costs lie where they fall" arrangement for funding the NRF should be abandoned and the Force should be financed out of NATO Common Funding. The contribution of Allied Command Transformation (ACT) to improving Alliance capabilities is unclear. Reports that ACT has been diverted from long-term capability planning by the operational demands of Afghanistan are a matter of concern.

The biggest shortfall in NATO's capabilities, however, is a lack of political will. This is most manifest in the large and growing gap in defence spending between the United States and the European members of NATO. Europe does not spend anywhere near enough on defence. NATO's informal defence expenditure target of 2% GDP by each member of the Alliance has proved a failure and there is no detectable appetite in Europe for increasing spending on defence. In addition to the 2% target the Alliance should establish detailed capability targets and timeframes. We are concerned that an Alliance containing such large disparities in defence spending will prove unsustainable in the long-term.

The Bucharest Summit is an opportunity to welcome new members to the Alliance. The Summit will be a key test of NATO's commitment to maintain its open door policy on enlargement. NATO should continue to remain open to accepting new members to the Alliance. If a country meets NATO's performance-based entry criteria, it should be permitted to join. However, new members should bring with them the capacity to add to NATO's capabilities and a willingness to do so. They cannot only be consumers of security; they must also contribute to the common defence. Nor must NATO membership be treated as a means of gaining entry to the European Union.

The relationship between NATO and the EU is plagued by mistrust and characterised by unhealthy competition, and remains hostage to the damaging dispute between Cyprus and Turkey. Improving communication and coordination between NATO and the EU is essential. At Bucharest, NATO should make firm commitments to expand the strategic dialogue with the EU and identify a series of small-scale and pragmatic initiatives which can foster greater cooperation and trust. Above all, NATO and the EU must avoid duplication of efforts and resources. The Lisbon Treaty has the capacity to enhance the EU's role in defence but it is vital it does nothing to undermine NATO's role as the cornerstone of European defence.

We regard NATO as an indispensable Alliance. It has served us well for over half a century and still does. At the Bucharest Summit, the NATO allies have an opportunity to demonstrate powerfully the relevance of the Alliance in the 21st century; it is essential they do so. This effort must start with a renewed commitment to success in Afghanistan.

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Prepared 20 March 2008