Hugh Bayley: Nato must be ready to act in a changed world

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THIS nATO summit will see the alliance enter a new phase in its history because it must address a step change in the strategic landscape. For the past 25 years, we have given Russia the benefit of the doubt and clung to efforts to build an enduring partnership. With Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine, President Putin has now torn that vision to pieces and trampled on the principles at the core of our partnership and of the post-Cold War order.

These actions must mark a turning point, both for our relations with Russia and for Nato itself. The battles taking place on Ukraine’s soil are not just about Ukraine, but also about the prospects for peace and security on our continent.

I see four essential priorities for the summit. First, we must recognise that our relationship with Russia has changed fundamentally; we can no longer pretend that Russia, under President Putin’s leadership, is a strategic partner. Until and unless Russia returns to legality, we must continue to oppose its actions in Ukraine, strengthen Nato’s rapid reaction capabilities and work with Parliament to agree rapid authorisation arrangements.

We must also deploy more defensive assets to central Europe, with contributions from all allies, reinforce economic sanctions and reduce our energy dependence on Russia.

Second, we must deliver on our pledge of a comprehensive assistance package for Ukraine.

Our nations – individually – should step up their material support for the country and make sure it has the military means to defend its territory.

We were too slow to read the warning signs of Russia’s rapid rearmament after the Georgian war in 2008, and by cutting defence spending as a result of the economic crisis and decreasing operational commitments, we sent the wrong signal both to Russia and to Islamist extremists in the Middle East. During the past five years, Russia increased its defence spending by 50 per cent, while Allies cut theirs by 10 per cent on average, and some by 20 per cent.

The summit is due to adopt a Readiness Action Plan, a fundamentally important initiative which aims to ensure that Nato is better prepared to defend its allies any time, anywhere.

The summit must therefore send a clear message that Nato allies are stopping defence cuts. Europe and Canada should commit themselves to increasing expenditure as national economies expand; and all Nato countries spending less than the benchmark of two per cent of GDP on defence should set a timetable for reaching the two per cent target. The USA, UK, Estonia and Greece, are already at or above two per cent. Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Turkey have set their timetables to do so, and every other ally should follow.

We must also make clear that, while Russia has shown its complete disregard for international law, we remain committed to our vision of a values-based global order. At the summit, our heads of state and government should reaffirm the common values upon which our alliance rests.

The Nato Parliamentary Assembly plays an important role in symbolising and promoting the alliance’s principles and values; in underlining the alliance’s fundamental political dimension; and in explaining the enduring value of this unique collective defence arrangement.

In seeking to maintain and build public support for the alliance, greater transparency of Nato’s policies and finances will go a long way in convincing our citizens that the money we invest in defence is both necessary and well spent.

The summit also has to deal with other important matters. In Afghanistan, our combat mission is about to end, but much still needs to be done to consolidate and build upon the gains of the past decade.

After 2015, Nato will not and should not have a combat role, but we will still have a direct interest in the security and stability of this region. We cannot walk away and turn our backs.

Nato and our partners must also respond to crises in the Middle East and Africa. Some of our citizens are Islamic State combatants, wreaking havoc in the Middle East and posing a threat to security in Europe on their return. We must do more to combat terrorism and extremism at home.

A key challenge for Nato’s leaders will be to decide what political support to provide to combat Isis, even if the question of direct military assistance is left for individual allies to determine for themselves.

The public would simply not understand it if Nato remained mute on a security issue which many of their own leaders tell them poses a direct threat. This summit will turn a page in Nato’s history. We expect our leaders to take bold, far-reaching decisions – to take some short-term pain to secure long-term gains.

Hugh Bayley is the MP for York Central and president of the Nato Parliamentary Assembly. This is an edited version of his address to the Nato summit in Newport today.