4.The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is a political and military alliance of 29 countries, the basis of which is the Washington Treaty, originally signed in 1949 by the Attlee-Bevin Government. Article 5 of the Treaty states that:
an armed attack against one or more of them [the parties in the Treaty] in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.
5.Over the past decade, our predecessor Committees have produced several reports setting out both an increase in threats to NATO members and the need for member states to ensure that NATO is able to counter them. NATO is the primary tool for the collective defence of Europe but it also engages in out-of-area stabilisation operations such as its missions in Afghanistan (where NATO currently leads a “train, advise and assist” mission, working with the Afghan security forces and institutions) and in Iraq (where NATO launched training and capacity-building efforts in 2016, at the request of the Iraqi government).
6.During the first evidence session of this inquiry, in the 2015–2017 Parliament, Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King’s College London, argued that NATO was both important and unique:
There is a big issue in explaining NATO, because the great thing about NATO is just that it exists. If there was not that sort of alliance structure in Europe, imagine what it would look like at the moment if we were trying to create it. Alliance formation is a pre-war activity. I think it would add enormous instability if we did not have it. The great thing about NATO is that it sorts that issue out. Everyone is part of an alliance, they have learned to work together, and they are not organising against each other… There is a problem with NATO in that a lot of its benefits come from the mere fact of its existence, whereas people feel that if it is not actually doing something, it is obsolete. … The bedrock of it is that it sorts out the most dangerous risks in European security just by having everybody sitting around the table.
7.For Professor Phillips O’Brien, Professor of Strategic Studies at the University of St Andrews, the importance of NATO had increased in recent years:
The last few years have shown the success of NATO, in why the Russians had to act in Ukraine before it joined. They haven’t acted in the Baltics when they could have easily tried to foment some of their own things, because the Baltics are within NATO. The Russians were scared of the prospect of Ukraine in NATO. That is why they went in. It shows the success of the alliance and the effectiveness it has had that Russia has acted in that way.
Sir Adam Thomson, former UK Permanent Representative to NATO, agreed that Russian actions in Ukraine had demonstrated the importance of the Alliance to those whom it protects—particularly in reassuring its members in Eastern Europe. The Secretary of State for Defence told us that the significance of NATO for the UK was increasing, both because of our departure from the European Union but also because of the increasing threat the UK is facing. He suggested that the UK should “be looking to do more” in NATO.
8.NATO has been the cornerstone of the security policy of Europe and the UK for nearly 70 years. It is one of the longest-lasting and most successful military alliances in history, primarily because it has anchored the military weight of the United States in Europe, and has therefore removed any prospect of smaller member states being isolated and overrun by aggressive neighbours.
9.On 11–12 July this year, the leaders of NATO member states will attend a summit in Brussels to discuss future priorities for NATO. The key themes for the 2018 summit were set out by the Secretary General in a speech to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in May 2018:
10.In his evidence to us, the Secretary of State for Defence outlined UK priorities for the summit as ensuring that NATO had the proper Command Structure and resourcing to deal with the increasing level of threat. He stressed the importance of persuading our allies to meet the NATO guideline of 2% of GDP on defence, in order to demonstrate their commitment to collective security.
11.When Angus Lapsley, the Director of the Defence, International Security and Southeast Europe Office at the FCO, gave evidence to the House of Lords International Relations Committee in April, he went into more detail about the UK’s priorities for the summit. First, he argued that UK national priorities were very close to overall NATO priorities, which he felt reflected the importance of our role in shaping NATO policy. He believed that NATO had undergone a process of reform and adaptation since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, and noted that the UK was keen to send strong messages about the need for continued military, political, and institutional adaptation and modernisation. The ‘military adaptation pillar’ consisted of improving reinforcement and mobility of forces in Europe, as well as new strategies on cyber and maritime defence. The ‘political adaptation and modernisation pillar’ included ensuring that NATO decision-making was faster and more responsive to the sorts of crises which the UK might face today, sending strong messages about the importance of nuclear deterrence, alliance solidarity, and assistance in the Mediterranean to its southern members, as well as in theatres such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The ‘institutional pillar’ covered the importance of burden-sharing and support for the Secretary General in his desire to change the way that management decisions were taken within NATO. Mr Lapsley also felt that:
it is quite an important moment to reaffirm the UK’s message that we are absolutely still at the heart of NATO and remain deeply committed to its objectives, but we are still absolutely at the heart of European security, and leaving the European Union does not mean that we are any less interested, engaged or involved in Europe security. As the Committee will know, as it happens the summit comes the day after the western Balkans summit we are hosting here in London, so it will be a good moment to demonstrate to our European partners that we are not going anywhere as far as European security is concerned.
12.When we visited Washington D.C. earlier this year, US Administration officials told us that the US priorities for the summit were:
13.The NATO summit priorities of the UK, US and NATO all broadly overlap to address areas where the Alliance needs to improve, in order to deter attacks on its members and to defend against them. A number of these have been raised repeatedly throughout our inquiry.
14.The importance of readiness and military mobility is based on concerns that there are not enough deployable forces in Europe, and that their movement across the continent is hampered by legal barriers, insufficient numbers of transport options and lack of suitable infrastructure. Dr Martin Zapfe, head of the Global Security Team at the Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), told us that recent analysis had suggested that the UK, France and Germany would take “a pretty long time” to field one brigade. Elisabeth Braw, non-resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center, and Sir Adam Thomson set out the issue in further detail. They suggested that if one of the Baltic member states were attacked:
The NATO Secretary General has also raised concerns that the peacetime legal framework would inhibit the movement of troops from acting as a deterrent.
15.This potential delay is further compounded by the fact that Europe would look to the United States for reinforcements, with heavy equipment being transported by sea across the North Atlantic. According to Elisabeth Braw, one way of addressing the situation would be to increase exercising, in order to improve mobilisation and preparation. She suggested that NATO needed to augment the number of exercises that it carries out, since in the last three years, Russia had exercised three times as often as NATO. Dr Heather Conley, senior vice-president for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic and director of the Europe Program at CSIS, agreed on the importance of such exercises but pointed out that the difficulties affecting mobilisation also affected exercises.
16.UK readiness is discussed in paragraphs 39–45 below.
18.Interoperability is the ability of the Armed Forces of different NATO members to work alongside each other. Congressman Michael Turner, former President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, told us that NATO interoperability was hampered by the wide variation in systems used by NATO members. Elisabeth Braw explained that this was an issue intensified by the modernisation of NATO armed forces which resulted in a large number of NATO missions involving smaller groups from member states, all requiring their own equipment to be moved alongside their personnel, rather than “the large chunks that essentially operated on a parallel plane during the cold war”. She told us that interoperability issues tended to be identified when forces exercised regularly together, citing two recent examples:
In the latter case, the problem was solved through the procurement of adapters which allowed US fuel transporters to re-fuel the Polish vehicles; but, had the problem been discovered during a conflict, there would not have been time to solve it. This illustrates that compatibility is not just about state of the art technology but also basic specifications, design and practice which should be managed through regular practice and attention to detail.
19.NATO interoperability will also have been improved as a result of the regular exercises undertaken by the Enhanced Forward Presence battlegroups deployed to its Eastern flank. Following the 2016 Warsaw NATO summit, our predecessor Committee took evidence from the Ministry of Defence on its outcomes. In discussing the UK commitment to lead one of the Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroups, the Vice-Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Gordon Messenger, told us that the UK was able to benefit from the deployments because they improved interoperability between UK forces and allies.
20.Concerns were also expressed by witnesses over a growing technology gap between the United States and its NATO allies. Sir Adam Thomson told us that the scale of the US spend on R&D, alongside its overall defence spending, risked them developing technology far beyond that which other NATO allies could afford and deliver. However, both he and Elisabeth Braw thought that US commitment to the Alliance meant that the US was trying hard to mitigate the challenge posed by their employment of superior technology.
21.Interoperability is a force multiplier. There is no easy solution to the problems presented by the wide range of systems in use by NATO allies; but ensuring that different national forces can work together is vital in a crisis or conflict. Regular NATO exercising helps to identify and solve such issues and we expect to see UK Government support for an increased programme of exercises with all allies.
22.At the February meeting of NATO Defence Ministers, the decision was taken to proceed with proposed command structure reform. Ministers agreed to:
Following that meeting, the UK Government announced that, in response to the reform of NATO Command Structures, it would increase the number of UK personnel sent to NATO by about 100. At the June Defence Ministers meeting, it was confirmed that the US would host the Atlantic Command and Germany would host the Logistics Command. The new command structures are expected to increase the size of the NATO command structure by 1,200.
23.The Secretary of State for Defence told us that command structure reform was one of the UK’s priorities for the summit, as there had been a significant shrinkage in the NATO Command Structure over the past 20 years. He suggested that the changes proposed would improve NATO’s ability to adapt and to deal with increasing threats. This was echoed by the Secretary General in his speech to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in May 2018, in which he noted that, at the end of the Cold War, NATO had 20,000 personnel in 33 headquarters, whereas today it had fewer than 7,000 in seven headquarters. He added that, as well as the two new proposed structures, other changes in the NATO command structure had been suggested by strategic commanders. These were considered necessary, as NATO was facing a more challenging security environment whilst attempting to ensure the collective defence of Europe and to promote stability outside its borders.
24.When we asked the Secretary of State whether the UK had offered to host the Atlantic Command, we were told that the UK already hosted two NATO commands and would be unlikely to be offered a third.
25.We welcome UK support for the proposed new command structure and hope that this support will be demonstrated through rapidly assigning staff to the new commands. We deeply regret that the contraction in the size of the Royal Navy made it more difficult for the UK Government to bid to host the new Atlantic Command.
26.Decision-making is another area in which NATO needs to improve its adaptability and flexibility. The Honorable Franklin Kramer, a member of the Atlantic Council Board of Directors and its Strategic Advisors Group, told us that the way that NATO was used to planning for operations was no longer fit for purpose, as:
the way that NATO had gone at its operations was through force generation conferences, lots of discussion, et cetera. There was plenty of time.
He suggested that an attack on a NATO state now would not leave time for such measured discussions, and argued that one option would be for the North Atlantic Council to approve in advance the steps that the Secretary General and Supreme Allied Commander could take in such an event.
27.Sir Adam Thomson was also concerned by the time NATO might take to determine its response to a developing situation:
It is not difficult to imagine a crisis situation where NATO does not know exactly what it is dealing with but is alarmed, and yet it is reluctant, for political reasons and for consensus, to declare that it is in an article 5 emergency.
28.In Washington D.C., we were told by US Administration officials that decision-making adaptation and flexibility were vital as deployment of personnel to an area which looked vulnerable to attack constituted a tool of deterrence for the Alliance. Written evidence from the Asia-Pacific Foundation suggested that reforms in decision-making were also important in dealing with terrorist threats. James Appathurai, Deputy Assistant Secretary General of NATO, told the House of Lords International Relations Select Committee in April that accelerating decision-making in NATO was necessary if NATO wanted to take decisions “at the speed of relevance”. He noted that two points would be discussed at the NATO summit in July: first, procedures NATO follows to take decisions and ways of improving those procedures; secondly, the possibility of delegating authority to the Supreme Allied Commander. Operational commanders had had the authority to move forces and pre-position them, but it had been taken away from them after the end of the Cold War. Both the Ministry of Defence, in written evidence to this inquiry, and Angus Lapsley of the FCO, when appearing in front of the House of Lords International Relations Select Committee, supported the reform of NATO decision-making in order to make NATO more responsive to current threats.
30.Burden-sharing (described by the Secretary General as contributions, capabilities and cash) is one of the more politically charged areas under discussion at the NATO summit. Burden-sharing in terms of capability shortfalls was widely discussed by witnesses. Both James Black, analyst on RAND Europe’s Defence and Security Team, and Sir Adam Thomson highlighted that European NATO allies had known capability shortfalls in a number of areas, including:
Sir Adam Thomson told us of research findings that, in eight out of the 21 NATO capability shortfalls, Europe was heavily dependent on the United States to fill the gaps. This was despite NATO’s rough rule-of-thumb that the United States should be expected to produce only 50% of any given capability. However, he also noted that NATO force planners often took the view that if the US was happy to provide a capability, it did not make sense for other allies to invest in that area rather than making up other shortfalls.
31.Burden-sharing is most often defined by Governments in terms of defence spending. The Defence Investment Pledge, which commits allies to increase defence spending towards a minimum of 2% of their GDP, and to allocate 20% of their defence spending to major equipment provision by 2024, was agreed at the NATO summit in Wales in 2014. It is frequently cited by both the US and the UK governments. Professor John Bew, Professor in History and Foreign Policy at King’s College London, and head of Policy Exchange’s Britain in the World Project, emphasised that US concerns about burden-sharing had been voiced by previous US Administrations, a point supported by both Dr Nicholas Kitchen, Assistant Professorial Research Fellow in the United States Centre at the London School of Economics, and Dr Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation, who noted that the George W. Bush and Obama Administrations had been heavily critical of NATO allies’ level of defence spending. Dr Dana Allin, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, also felt that it was a common US refrain, although he noted that, whereas criticism had been previously directed mainly at Germany, it was now being used to criticise the UK as well. He suggested that this was as a result of a general view amongst US defence experts that UK capabilities had “slipped”.
32.Peter Watkins, Director General, Strategy and International, Ministry of Defence, told us that eight of the 29 NATO Allies were on course to spend 2% or more of their GDP on defence this year and that that figure was expected to rise to fifteen by 2024 (the deadline set by the Defence Investment Pledge). James Black, Dr Martin Zapfe and Elisabeth Braw all questioned the usefulness of 2% as an input metric, suggesting that readiness, capabilities, forces deployment and interoperability were more useful in measuring a member state’s commitment to NATO. However, Professor Patrick Porter, Professor of International Security and Strategy, University of Birmingham, and Dr David Blagden, Lecturer in International Security and Strategy at the Strategic Studies Institute, University of Exeter, felt that it was an important starting point. Professor Porter argued that both the mass and sustainability required to deploy at scale depended upon financial commitment. If the 2% pledge were dropped, he thought it would be difficult to hold member states accountable for their contributions to the Alliance. Dr Blagden was concerned that replacing the input metric by an output metric could lead to capabilities-targeting, rather than ensuring a flexible and responsive alliance with full-spectrum capability. Sir Adam Thomson said that, whilst there were a number of different metrics (although some were classified, such as the number of assets available to NATO), he believed that the 2% metric was probably the most effective single measure available.
33.We accept the argument that percentage of GDP is not a perfect index of commitment to NATO and recognise that there is validity in additional measures, such as gauging capability, in providing an evidence-based approach to resourcing and investment. But we strongly believe there to be no other unclassified measure that is as easy to assess, to understand or to use as the basis for making comparisons. We support the Government’s commitment to exhort and encourage our allies to improve their capabilities and increase their defence spending; but we note that such exhortations would carry more weight if the UK led by example and invested more in Defence.
34.One of the reasons for the proposed new Atlantic Joint Force Command is the significant increase in Russian submarine activity in the North Atlantic. Securing the North Atlantic is important, both for supplying troops and heavy equipment from North America, and for protecting sea lines of communication. The issue has been raised throughout this inquiry, including in our discussions in Washington D.C., and was further considered in the separate session that we held with the UK National Security Adviser. The Oxford Research Group told us that “the decline of British anti-submarine capabilities and the ability (a core role within NATO) to patrol the North Atlantic” needed to be redressed given the Russian Navy’s comparative advantage in submarine construction and warfare.
35.This is an area where there is seen to be both an increasing threat (in February, the Secretary of State for Defence told us that there had been a tenfold increase in Russian submarine activity in the North Atlantic) and a need for British leadership. Franklin Miller KBE, Principal at The Scowcroft Group, told us that the UK needed to undertake missions in the North Atlantic on behalf of “common defence”; Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman thought that the North Atlantic was always “pretty to the fore in British thinking”; and Dr Heather Conley suggested that the North Atlantic was “homeland defence” for the UK. The Secretary of State for Defence also remarked that the UK “has a long history of dealing with the submarine threat in the North Atlantic”. One way in which the UK is continuing this tradition will be the forthcoming deployment of four RAF Typhoons to the Icelandic Air Policing Group in 2019. Iceland is an important northern outpost in NATO, allowing the Alliance to monitor Russian naval and submarine activity.
36.The Secretary of State told us that the UK is investing in its anti-submarine warfare capability through its procurement of eight Type 26 Frigates and nine P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), as well as the upgrading of Merlin helicopters. However, these eight Type 26 frigates will replace 13 of the Royal Navy’s existing Type 23 anti-submarine warfare frigates—thereby reducing the amount of coverage the Royal Navy will have. The nine Poseidon MPA are filling an existing capability gap (replacement of the nine MRA4 Nimrods which were due to be delivered in 2010). The fleet of 30 Merlin Mk2 helicopters are not being upgraded in order to make them suitable for anti-submarine warfare, but for airborne early warning as part of the CrowsNest system for the Carrier Strike Group. Although it is anticipated that a maximum of 10 Merlin helicopters will be used for CrowsNest, and that all 10 could be rapidly re-roled for anti-submarine warfare if necessary, the overall picture represents a reduction in capacity. The Secretary of State suggested that the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers would provide additional anti-submarine warfare capacity and that more could be incorporated into the yet-to-be-commissioned Type 31e general purpose frigates. However, he admitted that such capabilities would be in addition to the stated specifications, and that any decision to add them would be taken as part of the Modernising Defence Programme. In written evidence following the session with the Secretary of State, the Ministry of Defence confirmed that adding an anti-submarine warfare capability would therefore constitute a cost increase to the unit price of £250 million per ship. No such increase has been included in the provisional budget line for the Type 31e programme, suggesting that this is not something for which the Ministry of Defence is budgeting.
37.Following the decision to leave the European Union, the Government has consistently reiterated its desire to increase its commitment to NATO. In the North Atlantic, the UK could demonstrate both leadership and commitment. However, this requires an increase in capacity. We do not yet know what the outcomes of the Modernising Defence Programme (MDP) will be, but if the UK’s anti-submarine warfare capacity remains unchanged—or is even diminished further—then the UK will be failing both its citizens and its allies.
39.Boosting allied readiness was identified by the US as a priority at the February 2018 meeting of NATO Defence Ministers. At their June meeting, NATO Defence Ministers agreed upon a NATO Readiness Initiative, referred to as the ‘Four Thirties’. This aims to increase the readiness of the forces NATO nations already have, by committing to 30 mechanised battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 combat vessels, ready for use within 30 days (or fewer) by 2020. When we asked the Defence Secretary about UK readiness, he told us that a high-readiness force (consisting of 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade) of up to 10,000 could be deployed within 2–10 days. When we questioned how long it would take to deploy an armoured or a mechanised brigade, we were told that the MoD is currently working towards deploying a mechanised brigade within 20 days. We were also told that a division would take 90 days to deploy. When our predecessors raised concerns about the lack of detail on how the MoD could regenerate a warfighting division or reconstitute a greater force in the face of significant strategic challenges, the Ministry of Defence told the Committee that the British Army was “conducting detailed analysis of how it can most efficiently generate forces to deploy in larger numbers”.
40.UK readiness was raised repeatedly with us during our visit to Washington D.C., and Peter Watkins has confirmed there to be a general desire across the Alliance to enhance readiness. Sir Adam Thomson, noted that the drawdown from Germany would have an impact on readiness and suggested that the UK ought to be considering what could be kept in Germany. In further written evidence, the MoD told us that:
In the context of countering the increased state-based threat in Europe, readiness is something that we are discussing with Allies in the run up to the NATO summit and considering within MDP. We have not reached any conclusions at this stage, but there is an aspiration to enhance the readiness and speed of deployment of our warfighting division, including the brigades within it. That readiness will be constructed from many components, including training, the preparedness of personnel, and logistic enablers. The speed of deployment would also be dependent on the nature of the threat, capabilities required and distance of deployment. While it remains our intention to move all of our major units back to the UK from Germany by 2020, as a part of the MDP we are actively examining how we might forward deploy resources in the future.
41.When we visited Washington D.C., ‘mothballing’ or creating a war reserve of equipment (a practice long employed by the US) was raised by us in discussion with US Administration officials. We were told that, although such equipment was not currently readily available, it could be refurbished and made available reasonably quickly. In the United States, the Armed Forces train on mothballed equipment once a year. Peter Watkins, however, suggested that the pace of technological change might make older equipment obsolete. He also thought there would be difficulties with personnel learning to operate such equipment. The Secretary of State for Defence believed that the UK Services tended to prefer new equipment to the retention in reserve of existing equipment. However, he also accepted that assets had been disposed of which could have been repurposed to improve UK capacity. He believed having flexibility within the Armed Forces brought considerable value and creating a war equipment reserve was an option he was happy to consider.
42.Given the speed of modern warfare, 20 days to deploy a mechanised brigade and 90 days to deploy a division risk making the UK militarily irrelevant. We ask the Government for an update on the Army’s work on how to generate a follow-on division; and we request a time-line of the steps required to reconstitute such a force in the event of an emergency.
43.We are encouraged by the fact that the Government is looking at readiness in the Modernising Defence Programme (MDP). However, withdrawal from Germany will not improve readiness—rather the reverse—and accordingly the Government should reconsider its decision to withdraw from Germany. In any event, we expect the MDP to address in detail the issues of basing some forces and pre-positioning some equipment in Germany.
44.We are pleased that the Secretary of State is willing to look at options to establish a war reserve of equipment, and its likely impact upon UK readiness. The Government should set out its initial findings in its response to this Report.
46.Our predecessors took evidence from General Sir Richard Shirreff when he retired from his post as NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in July 2014. He suggested that “the UK was quite a long way down the league in manning its posts in NATO”. We are aware that since that evidence was taken the number of UK staff at NATO has increased. However, we heard, both in formal evidence and in informal discussions in Washington D.C., that there are significant personnel shortages in NATO in areas such as military planning and targeting, in both of which the UK has much useful expertise. The Secretary of State told us that the UK could do more in NATO and should “be looking at future opportunities to use our influence and capabilities in a more significant role as part of NATO”. He noted that the UK number of Service personnel committed to NATO would be increased, in order to ensure that NATO has sufficient flexibility and resources. Given the forthcoming change in NATO command structures, we are pleased that the Government has already made a commitment to provide about one hundred additional personnel.
47.The UK Government should demonstrate leadership in NATO by ensuring that all of its allocated posts, including those within the new command structures, are filled within an appropriate amount of time. Furthermore, it should consider whether we could provide additional UK personnel to NATO in areas where shortfalls currently exist.
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21 Session 2017–19, HC 387
22 Session 2017–19, HC 387
23 Session 2017–19, HC 387
24 Session 2017–19, HC 387
25 Session 2017–19, HC 387
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44 Session 2017–19, HC 387
45 Written evidence from the Ministry of Defence ()
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49 , Session 2017–19, HC 387
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Published: 26 June 2018