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Defence and Security Issues Discussed in the 21st Century
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The Defence and Security Forum was founded by Lady Olga Maitland in 1983. It was originally a campaigning organisation known as Families for Defence launched to challenge the anti-nuclear protest movements such as CND. Families for Defence’s remit was to promote the NATO case for multilateral nuclear disarmament. In the course of doing so the purpose was to focus on the importance of a proper provision for the defence of the United Kingdom.
Major General Patrick Cordingley, our Chairman Our Keynote Topics

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  • Defence and Security

NATO: 20TH Century Relic or Credible 21st Century Strategic Actor?
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Sir David Logan, KCMG, Former UK Ambassador to Turkey

We were asked whether NATO is a relic or a strategic actor for the 21st century.  I don’t think it is either of these. But NATO has been around for more than seventy years.

Back then:

-The Soviet Union had taken control of Eastern Europe and, we believed, threatened to turn the world communist.

-The United States regarded the defence of Europe as a vital national interest. This led to the establishment of NATO and to extended US deterrence for Western Europe.

-The world was bipolar.

-NATO had twelve members.

Now:

-Russia is no longer a primary threat (more on this later).

-A stable and prosperous Europe is still an American interest, but deterring communism is not. Today’s challenge for the United States is not the security of Europe, but lies primarily in the Asia Pacific region, in particular from China, and also from terrorists.

-The world is no longer bipolar and the era of American hegemony has also gone.

-NATO has thirty members whose interests differ greatly. With the passing of the Soviet threat, would the invocation of Article V prompt a united military response? President Trump asked ‘Why should American die in defence of Montenegro?

-James Everard has rightly said that NATO is a unique institution for cooperative discussion. But as it has enlarged, that function has overshadowed it’s role as a defensive alliance. Is the threat perception the same in Tirana as in London?  How can a Russian invasion of Lithuania be militarily deterred?

Contemporary state actors

I’d like to take a look at some of the contemporary state actors.

First, the United States. It may be controversial to say that it is in decline.  Perhaps it is a case of others levelling up rather than United States levelling down. But toxic racialism and the enduring gap between the elite and the non-metropolitan dispossessed are serious. Together with declining economic competitiveness, these factors lead inevitably to narrower attention to the outside world.  US militarily power remains huge, but there have been other Empires where military power has been sustained at the cost of economic failure.

As for Russia, Putin has shown extraordinary skill in disrupting Western interests with military assets which are in fact limited. He will continue to do this, but he will not risk war with the West. Russia’s primitive economy depends almost entirely on its energy resources, the price of which is inherently volatile and demand for which will decline in the future. The Russian economy would be devastated by war. It would destroy the global energy market on which Russia depends.

 China is clearly different. It has challenges of its own, but no-one underestimates its growing global dominance in many spheres, its regional ambitions or its military strength. There has been a recent report of the testing of a world-girdling hypersonic nuclear-capable cruise missile which has shocked US intelligence. Every four years, the Chinese navy increases in numbers by the size of the entire Royal Navy.

As James Everard said,  we need to regard China as both a  challenge and as a partner. But when it comes to deterrence, it’s hard to see what contribution the European members of NATO could make or, therefore, the relevance of NATO to the deterrence of the most potent state actor of the day.

But that’s not the case for the United States or for other regional powers like Japan, Korea and Australia. They recognise the challenge and are responding to it. Japan and Korea have the fifth and sixth most powerful armed forces in the world. Australia’s defence spending will rise by 4.4% next year and by $270 billion over the  next ten years. The recent announcement of AUKUS should be seen in the same context.

Combatting terrorists

NATO certainly has a role in combatting terrorists. But it’s unusual for terrorists to take control of territory which can then be held at risk by conventional forces such as NATO’s. ISIS won’t make that mistake again. So NATO may not be the best means for confronting the kind of asymmetrical threat which groups such as ISIS present. In any case, the use of force can only be a small part of the solution to a terrorist threat.

The nature of warfare has also changed in ways which complicate deterrence and raises questions about the relevance of the forces which NATO has at its disposal. We have seen attempts to manipulate elections on both sides of the Atlantic; external interference in the Brexit referendum; a major attack on the Estonian financial system; and cyber-attacks of extraordinary variety and sophistication on numerous Western political and financial institutions.  NATO certainly has a role in cyber and hybrid warfare, but this evolution in the threat to the West is another reason why we need to look beyond our traditional tools of deterrence.

For the future, therefore, NATO’s role as sole provider of defence for the United States and Europe will be negatively affected by a range of factors, including the changing nature of the threat; the decline in American commitment and capabilities in the global North; and divergences in the interests of the alliance’s European members.

European solution

The Western Europeans increasingly look for a European solution to this problem. There is nothing new about European defence.  The Western European Union predates NATO. Big strides were made in the development of European defence in the NATO framework at the end of the Cold War. British/French defence cooperation, particularly in the nuclear field, has a long history.

Until recently however, European defence has amounted to not much more than a string of acronyms. But the Europeans increasingly recognise that, important though NATO remains, there is a need to make it a reality because of the changes in the security environment which I have described.

This does not mean abandoning NATO. Development of European capabilities must be undertaken in a which continues to contribute to transatlantic security through  NATO. In other words, it must be a hedge against foreseeable change and not a wedge between Europe and United States.

What about the UK in this situation? 

The effect of Brexit means the departure from the EU of a member state which accounts for 40% of the Union’s defence industry and 25% of its armed forces.  The UK for its part loses its important role in defence industrial development, its influence on the development European defence policy and capabilities and, of course, the multiplier effect of EU membership in this along with all other fields.

Both the EU and the UK will want to limit this damage. In the longer term, the geostrategic trends I have described should make the continued isolation of a European state with nuclear forces,  the highest defence budget in the continent and 40% of the defence industry appear absurd to both sides. That will lead to reintegration.  Meanwhile, however, Brexit will damage both British and European defence capabilities for years to come. This at a time when, for the reasons I have described, these will be more important than ever.




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A DSF speaker. Lady Olga Maitland talking to delegates. A DSF speaker
Delegates enjoying the debate. Lady Olga Maitland chatting to a delegate. Cordingley







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