Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from Medact

MEDACT is a UK charity of health professionals concerned with the health effects of nuclear and other weapons, conflict, poverty and the environment. It is the UK affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW: Nobel Peace Prize 1985)

  1.  Medact welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee on the future of NATO and European defence. As health professionals, we advocate policies which prevent injury, illness and death, and in the present context would emphasise that NATO came into being during the Cold War as a potential war-fighting organisation, equipped to oppose the perceived risk of Warsaw Pact forces invading western Europe. We suggest that the debate on the future of NATO and European defence should be part of the wider debate on whether UK defence forces in the future should continue to be equipped for war-fighting or whether their out-of-Europe role should be restricted to UN-Security Council-approved peacekeeping activities. The Prime Minister, for instance in his Devonport speech of 12 January 2007, favours a continued war-fighting capability, although he will soon be unable to take a lead on future possibilities. On the other hand, some military experts, including leading soldiers such as Gen Sir Rupert Smith, [1]believe that the era of formal war-fighting is past. He does not of course mean an end to conflict, but that this has been replaced by what he calls "war among the peoples". We suggest that NATO was not designed for such a process, and the attempts of Western powers, particularly the US, and NATO to substitute what Professor Paul Rogers has called "asymmetric warfare"[2] has been less than successful (see below).

  2.  The attitude of other W European countries, both in and out of NATO, varies greatly in these respects, and the size and equipment of their military and their defence budgets vary accordingly. The UK defence budget is about 3% of GDP, some other European countries less than 2% of GDP. The Trident replacement system which the House is about to vote on will cost some £25 billion for procurement and another £50 billion in running costs, and the two giant aircraft carriers proposed as part of any continued war-fighting capability will together cost billions more. Yet even Mr Blair admits that such systems are irrelevant to the problems of countering terrorism.

  3.  Three recent major war-fighting operations illustrate the failure of war-fighting operations to produce stable solutions to putative military threats.

    (i)  In Kosovo, OSCE monitors had to be withdrawn for their own safely when the decision for NATO to bomb former Yugoslavia was taken. Most of the ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians by Slavs took place after the onset of bombing, and there were many Slav refugees after the end of active hostilities. Several years later, there is little prospect of a stable settlement, and indeed fear of renewed violence.

    (ii)  The 2003 attack on Iraq was not a NATO action nor authorized by the Security Council; four years later the country is virtually in a state of civil war. The occupying forces could well be withdrawn in the not too distant future.

    (iii)  The 2001 attack on Afghanistan, following 9/11, was a NATO action authorised by the UN. Over five years later, violence is increasing and the country is producing more opium for the drugs trade than ever. Civilian deaths due to the actions of NATO forces are increasing resentment. Apart from the US and the UK, other NATO members are refusing to allow their forces to be used for war-fighting activities. This operation too may end in failure.

    (iv)  We can never know what the outcome would have been if much more serious and prolonged efforts at a diplomatic settlement of these three disputes, had been made. At the very least, however, they raise serious questions about the usefulness of NATO-style operations and, with the end of the Cold War, whether NATO has any useful role in the future.

  4.  At the time of writing, the possibility of armed attack on Iran is causing concern. Such an attack could be carried out by the US (independently of NATO) or Israel (not a member of NATO); Mr Blair's denials of the possibility of UK involvement do not sound entirely convincing. Germany, a NATO member, is joining with France and the UK to work for a negotiated settlement; given its attitude to the conflict in Afghanistan it seems inconceivable that it would consent to NATO involvement, and hard to think of other NATO members that would participate. NATO is surely becoming insignificant if individual members make war unilaterally, as the US seems to think it has a right to do. A US attack on Iran would not be authorised by the UN and, as such, illegal, [3]and a major human, environmental and regional disaster. [4]From the point of view of restraining Iran from nuclear weapons capability it might indeed be counter-productive.[5].

  5.  NATO has nuclear-weapons capability, and has never renounced "no-first-use" of its nuclear weapons. The US still keeps some 400 free-fall nuclear bombs in six NATO countries; it is hard to imagine any situation where they might be used, or what they now "deter".

  6.  We believe that a more closely integrated European defence programme provides an alternative. Whatever else the EU may or may not have achieved, it has made war between its member states less likely than at any time for the last 2000 years, yet each of the 27 EU member states still has its own standing army with a roll-call of over two million men (and some women) and a combined budget of around 200 billion Euros. Whatever the outcome of the current debate on a possible European constitution it should surely be possible to greatly reduce both manpower and cost. The resulting organisation would have responsibility for basic home defence (excluding counter-terrorism which is a matter for policing), provide logistic support for the OSCE, and be available for UN Security Council-backed peacekeeping. Such an organisation would be non-nuclear-weapon-capable and would not require high-tech battle-tanks and war planes. Substantial financial and human resources would be freed for more constructive purposes.

  7.  The use of fewer tanks and warplanes in training, let alone in war-fighting, would also make a real contribution towards the EU's welcome new targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Such a contribution to reducing the severity of climate change would in itself be a positive step towards improved global security.

  8.   The Responsibility to Protect[6] must be an essential responsibility of leading Western states. This can be exercised largely by promoting economic and environmental progress, by preventive diplomacy in zones of potential conflict, by peacekeeping, but only occasionally and as a last resort by pre-emptive armed intervention, and then only when authorized by the UNSC under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. We propose that European defence should be restructured along these lines, but within the EU rather than through NATO.

7 March 2007

1   Rupert Smith. The Utility of Force. Penguin, 2006. Back

2   Paul Rogers. Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century. Pluto Press, 2006. Back

3   Oxford Research Group and others. Time to Talk: the Case for Diplomatic Solutions on Iran 2007. Available from Crisis Action, The Grayston Centre, 28 Charles Square, London N1 6HT. Back

4   Paul Rogers. Iran: Consequences of a War. Oxford Research Group, 2006. Back

5   Frank Barnaby. Would Air Strikes Work? Oxford Research Group, 2007. Back

6   International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. The Responsibility to Protect. International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, 2001. Back

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