Select Committee on Defence Ninth Report

1  Introduction

The NATO Summit at Bucharest

1. In 2009, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) will celebrate its sixtieth anniversary. Its achievements over the past sixty years in ensuring the stability and prosperity of Europe are remarkable. Since the end of the Cold War the Alliance has undergone a dramatic transformation, from a largely reactive organisation concerned with contingency planning for the territorial defence of Western Europe to an operational Alliance, expanded to incorporate former Warsaw Pact Eastern European nations, which seeks to project stability on its periphery and beyond. The mission in Afghanistan is a manifestation of the new Alliance that NATO has become, but it also highlights the difficulties the new agenda has brought.

2. We began our inquiry into the future of NATO and European defence in December 2006 in the aftermath of the NATO Summit at Riga. Our intention in holding this inquiry is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the Atlantic Alliance. Although we publish it in advance of the NATO Summit at Bucharest, our report addresses issues of wider significance. The NATO Summit at Bucharest in April 2008, however, takes place against a backdrop of an increasingly acrimonious debate about Alliance burden-sharing in Afghanistan. On the one hand, the perceived unwillingness of some NATO nations to participate in that mission, or to send combat troops to the more unstable South of the country, is said both to undermine the coherence of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission and to risk splitting the Alliance. On the other hand, there is real unease in many parts of Europe about what is seen as the aggressive and militaristic approach of NATO to problems which will not be resolved without the support of the Afghan people.

3. With NATO having staked its reputation on stabilising Afghanistan, failure could have significant consequences not only for the people of Afghanistan but for the future of the Alliance itself. NATO's mission in Afghanistan is likely, therefore, to dominate the agenda at the forthcoming Bucharest Summit. The Alliance, however, faces a range of additional challenges: how to improve force generation within the Alliance more broadly; how to improve the military capabilities of NATO, particularly amongst the Alliance's European members; how to take forward the transformation agenda and embed the Alliance's new expeditionary role; how to approach the further enlargement of NATO; and how to improve relations between NATO and the European Union. There is also the question of what to do about the Alliance's Strategic Concept—last updated almost a decade ago in 1999—and now in need of revision. Underlying this are the larger questions about where the Alliance is heading, whether it remains relevant, whether the public understand what NATO is for, and whether an Alliance with such large disparities in defence expenditure between America and Europe can survive in the long term.

4. There can be little doubt that NATO is a highly successful military alliance. However, that does not mean it must naturally endure. The presumption that NATO remains relevant should not be taken for granted. At Bucharest, the members of NATO have an opportunity to demonstrate powerfully the Alliance's continuing relevance. Commitments to greater burden-sharing in Afghanistan, improving the Alliance's military capabilities, and shouldering a more equitable burden of the common defence will reveal much about the commitment of NATO's members to the future of the Alliance.

5. NATO's evolution from an Alliance concerned with the territorial defence of Western Europe to one which projects stability beyond its borders has taken place alongside the evolution of the role of the European Union (EU) in defence matters. Over the past decade the EU has developed a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and, through this, a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). Like NATO, the EU is engaged in an effort to improve European military capabilities and is also involved in peace support operations beyond its borders—in Bosnia, Kosovo, Congo and Darfur, as well as, more recently, in Afghanistan. Further developments in the EU's role are proposed in the Lisbon Treaty, which was signed by EU Heads of State and Government in December 2007.

6. The implications for NATO of the EU's growing role in defence and security are hotly debated. Some contend that a growing role for the EU in defence matters will damage the Alliance, lead to inefficiencies through the duplication of capabilities, and dilute further the already meagre defence budgets of European states. Others suggest that it will strengthen the Alliance, enhance capabilities, and encourage greater defence expenditure by European nations. How the ESDP evolves will necessarily impact upon NATO, and vice versa. Although NATO alone cannot solve the myriad difficulties in the NATO-EU relationship at the Bucharest Summit, it can make a start; it is essential that it does so.

7. How effective the Bucharest Summit will be in addressing the many questions facing the Alliance is unclear. In light of the modest achievements of the previous NATO Summit at Riga in November 2006, expectations of Bucharest are perhaps more limited. The importance of the Bucharest Summit, however, should not be in doubt; the Alliance is at a critical juncture, particularly in its mission in Afghanistan, and the results of the Bucharest Summit will go a long way towards shaping not only the nature of the Alliance, but, crucially, its place in UK, European and US defence thinking for the years to come.


8. Returning from the last NATO Summit, at Riga in November 2006, the Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt Hon Des Browne, told the House of Commons that Riga had been a success. The UK had identified three priorities for the Riga Summit: ensuring success in NATO's operations in Afghanistan; improving NATO's expeditionary capability; and improving NATO's ability to work more closely with civilian partner organisations and other international organisations. The Secretary of State maintained that "despite the complexity of some of those issues, and some genuine and legitimate differences of approach between member countries, real progress was achieved in all three areas".[1] The "primary focus" of the Summit had been the Alliance's current operations, particularly Afghanistan. Mr Browne reported that, at Riga, there had been "a shared recognition that success in Afghanistan is crucial not just for the Afghan people and regional and global security, but for NATO itself…everyone at Riga agreed the mission in Afghanistan had to succeed".[2] The Secretary of State argued that it was important not to underestimate the significance of all member countries coming together to express their support for the mission, their common determination to achieve success, and their commitment to deliver the Comprehensive Approach—bringing together security, governance, rule of law, and reconstruction and development in a coherent and effective manner.[3]

9. In addition to Afghanistan, the Secretary of State told the House there had also been progress at Riga in taking forward the agenda of NATO transformation—of improving NATO capabilities and streamlining its command structure to meet the challenges of a changing world. In this, the declaration that the NATO Response Force (NRF), a 25,000 strong rapid reaction force, had been declared fully operational had been "a key development".[4] Although recognising the fact that "NATO is not perfect" and that it needed to prepare itself for future challenges and adapt to today's operational needs, Mr Browne stated:

    Many commentators feared the summit in Riga would be a waste of time and at worst a failure. Those fears were unfounded. The summit reaffirmed the strength of purpose within the Alliance and its commitment to remain a force for good in the 21st Century.[5]

The Secretary of State regarded the agreement on the comprehensive approach in Afghanistan and on the Comprehensive Political Guidance as significant achievements of the Riga Summit.

10. In other respects, however, many commentators suggested that the Summit had been disappointing. Despite its significance as the first NATO summit held on the territory of a former Soviet bloc state, Riga was the first summit since the end of the Cold War to issue no new invitations to former communist countries to join the Alliance. Only modest progress had been achieved in improving capabilities. The NRF might have been declared fully operational at Riga, but difficulties in filling the force and capability requirements still remained. Moreover, the Summit made no progress, and indeed barely addressed, the difficult relationship between NATO and the EU; no new agreements were achieved at Riga for improving co-ordination or communication between the two organisations. Even on Afghanistan, the achievements were said to be modest. The Summit failed to produce significant commitments of additional forces by NATO nations to Afghanistan, nor did it succeed in removing many of the restrictions placed on the deployment of allied forces in theatre. In addition, the Allies failed to address adequately questions about the role and purpose of the Alliance in today's changed strategic environment. The Comprehensive Political Guidance issued at Riga was regarded as no more than a stop gap for the eventual revision of NATO's Strategic Concept. We do not share the Secretary of State's confidence that the last NATO Summit at Riga was a success. We recognise that some important progress was achieved, particularly in endorsing the comprehensive approach in Afghanistan and in agreeing the Comprehensive Political Guidance. Nevertheless, we believe that, overall, Riga was a disappointment and that the forthcoming Summit at Bucharest needs to set a clear path to achieving far more.


11. We asked the Secretary of State for Defence what he expected to be achieved at the forthcoming NATO Summit at Bucharest and what would constitute a success for the UK. Mr Browne argued that:

12. In a subsequent memorandum to our inquiry, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) told us that the Government's priorities for the Summit are:

  • to reaffirm Allied solidarity and purpose in current operations;
  • to give NATO the tools to work more effectively as part of a Comprehensive Approach to security challenges and in operations;
  • to agree to press forward in modernising NATO's structures and procedures to manage complex expeditionary operations and orchestrate the development of Allies' capabilities;
  • to invite countries currently engaged in the Membership Action Plan (MAP) to join the Alliance, if they are judged to have met the required standards following the completion of the MAP cycle next month [March 2008]; and
  • to achieve a commitment to deliver NATO's most pressing military requirements for operations, notably trainers/mentors and helicopters.[7]

13. The Government's stated priorities for the Bucharest Summit, and the criteria by which its success will be judged, are unambitious and disappointingly vague. They do not provide Parliament with a sufficiently detailed breakdown of the UK's aspirations which limits our ability to measure the success of the summit.

14. We are also concerned that the Government fails to list seeking improvements in the relationship between NATO and the EU as one of its key priorities for the summit. We believe that improving that relationship is essential for the future effectiveness of both NATO and the EU.

15. We call upon the Government, in its response to this report, to provide us with a comprehensive, detailed and frank assessment of the successes and shortcomings of the Bucharest Summit.

Our inquiry

16. In this report, we seek to offer a comprehensive analysis of the Atlantic Alliance, its role, purpose and prospects. We consider what role NATO should play in the future of UK and European defence and whether the Alliance has a viable, long-term future. We examine the way in which NATO manages its operations and consider whether the Alliance is militarily configured and financially resourced to handle situations like Afghanistan, and the lessons of NATO's operational deployments. We consider the impact of NATO's performance in Afghanistan on the future of the Alliance and analyse the progress made to date in improving NATO's military capabilities. We highlight the capability gaps which remain and consider how these can best be addressed. We consider the existing division of risk within the Alliance and the issue of national caveats and address the challenges of Alliance burden-sharing and defence spending. Also considered is the issue of NATO enlargement, the challenges that have confronted new members and the prospects for, and implications of, further enlargement. NATO's relationship with the European Union is examined alongside the respective roles of NATO and the EU. We analyse the role of, and prospects for, the European Security and Defence Policy and will consider what implications a growing role for the European Union in defence and security might have for the long-term future of NATO. Finally, we examine the implications of the Lisbon Treaty for NATO and European defence.

17. Our report focuses primarily on NATO and examines the development of the ESDP largely in the context of discussing the NATO-EU relationship. Although we offer some observations about the impact of the Lisbon Treaty on the ESDP and NATO, our report should not be taken as a report on the Treaty itself. Other Select Committees of the House of Commons have conducted such inquiries. The Foreign Affairs Committee published a report on the Foreign Policy Aspects of the Lisbon Treaty on 20 January 2007 and the European Scrutiny Committee published a report on The European Union Intergovernmental Conference on 27 November 2007.[8] The House of Lords European Union Committee is also conducting an in-depth analysis of the foreign policy and defence aspects of the Lisbon Treaty.

18. Our predecessor Committee held an inquiry into The Future of NATO in 2002. Its report examined the key developments in NATO in the build-up to the NATO Summit at Prague in November of that year which dealt in particular with the issues of NATO enlargement and partnerships. The report also considered the implications of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 for the future role of the Alliance and American attitudes towards NATO. Our report does not seek to duplicate this work. Significantly, our predecessor's report, published in July 2002, predated NATO's decision to take command of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan in August 2003. This decision has important implications for the future of the Alliance. Our current report devotes considerable attention to what NATO's command of ISAF might mean for the future of the Alliance.

19. As part of our inquiry we visited NATO Headquarters and European Union institutions in Brussels, in March 2007, and held discussions with the NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and International Staff, and senior NATO and EU military officers and diplomats. We also visited the United States and Canada, in May 2007, to hold discussions with our Congressional and parliamentary counterparts, senior government ministers and officials, and representatives of defence and foreign policy think tanks. In October 2007, we visited Georgia, a prospective member of the Alliance, and Turkey, a longstanding Alliance member but not a member of the EU, to hold discussions about their respective aspirations and concerns about NATO. In smaller groups, between February and May 2007, we also visited Berlin, Copenhagen, The Hague, Paris, Prague, Madrid, Rome, and Warsaw to meet ministers, other parliamentarians, military officers and officials, as well as defence and foreign policy opinion-formers, to elicit their opinions about the future of NATO and European defence. We believe our visits have greatly informed our inquiry. A complete list of the visits undertaken as part of this inquiry is set out at Annex B.

20. On 19 June 2007 we took oral evidence from Martin Wolf, Senior Columnist for the Financial Times; Sir Paul Lever, Chairman of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Council and former HM Ambassador to Germany; Charles Grant, Director of the Centre for European Reform; and Dr Rob Dover, Lecturer in Defence Studies at King's College London. On 9 October 2007 we held an evidence session with Dr Dana Allin, Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Affairs at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS); Professor Michael Cox, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics (LSE); Dr Jonathan Eyal, Director of International Security Studies at RUSI; Dr Robin Niblett, Director of Chatham House; and Dr Mark Webber, Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Loughborough.[9] On 20 November 2007 we took evidence from General Sir Jack Deverell (Rtd), former Commander-in-Chief, Allied Forces North (AFNORTH), NATO; Lieutenant General Sir Rob Fry (Rtd), former Director of Operations at the MoD; Daniel Keohane, Research Fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies; and Colonel Christopher Langton, Senior Research Fellow at the IISS. Finally, on 8 January 2008, we took evidence from Rt Hon Des Browne MP, Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Andrew Mathewson, Director of Policy for International Organisations at the MoD, and Mr Hugh Powell, Head of Security Policy Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). We received a wide range of written submissions, details of which can be found on page 120. We are grateful to all those who participated in our inquiry.

1   HC Deb, 30 November 2006, Col 1239 Back

2   Ibid Back

3   HC Deb, 30 November 2006, Col 1240 Back

4   Ibid Back

5   Ibid, Col 1241 Back

6   Q 217 Back

7   Ev 161 Back

8   Foreign Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2007-08, Foreign Policy Aspects of the Lisbon Treaty, HC 120 Back

9   Dr Webber is now Professor of International Politics at the University of Loughborough Back

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