UK Defence (5) – NATO Remains Potent and Relevant

The meeting of NATO member states being held in Wales on Thursday and Friday of this week is the first time that Britain has hosted a summit, and is probably the most important meeting since the ‘cold-war’ theoretically ended. NATO’s role at the heart of western defence remains as relevant today as it did when the organisation was founded in 1949. Back then the security threat was very different from that which we see today, but ironically fear caused by such threats remains. NATO remains as relevant for the west today as it ever was. Let me repeat what the North Atlantic Treaty, signed in Washington D.C. on the 4th of April 1949, laid out:

‘The parties to this treaty reaffirm their faith in the purpose and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments. They are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and rule of law. They seek to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area. They are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defence and for the preservation of peace and security. They therefore agree to this North Atlantic Treaty’.

Let me also summarize here the fourteen original articles signed by the twelve founding members of the alliance that on completion of the ratification process came into force 65 years ago on 24th August 1949: The Parties undertake to settle any international dispute by peaceful means, to contribute toward further development of peaceful and friendly international relations, to use their collective capacity to resist armed attack and to provide self-help and mutual aid, to consult when territorial integrity and political independence or security of any member is threatened, that an armed attack on one member should be considered an armed attack against all members (within a defined area but on forces, vessels and aircraft no matter where they are situated) not to interfere with the rights of and work done by the United Nations and the Security Council who shall have precedence for the maintenance of international peace and security, that all member states agree not to enter into any international engagement in conflict with the treaty, the establishment of a Council on which all members will be represented, the parties may by unanimous agreement invite any other European State to join and to share in the principles of the Treaty, that the Treaty should be ratified and carried out in accordance with their respective constitutional processes, that the treaty process should be reviewed, that there should be an opt out process of membership and that the Treaty itself should be in both French and English.

As UN Charter 51 properly defines and accords, each nation state has a right to defend itself. NATO does not conflict with the UN Charter and as the organisation has evolved and expanded it has sought to work hand in hand with the work of the UN and the Security Council. Without unity the NATO alliance is impaired but in its history this has thankfully rarely been the case. That NATO has not always had the right answers or responded fast enough is unarguable but I do believe that today is not only very relevant but more than fit for purpose. That does not hide from problems the organisation has and particularly that of inequality in the levels of capability offered in support of the NATO alliance. The US, UK, France, Netherlands, Norway and Denmark along with Italy and Spain can hardly be criticized in the levels of support that they provide. Others perhaps can.

This week as NATO members meet in Wales, unity of the alliance will be at the forefront as the various heads of State including President Obama and Francois Hollande, and chaired by British Prime Minister, David Cameron discuss issues ranging from the worsening situation in Ukraine and Iraq to the need for NATO members to recognise that it is time to reverse the culture of defence cuts to one of defence expansion. Thirteen years since nine-eleven the world is no more at peace with itself today than it was then. In terms of peaceful coexistence we have moved further apart rather than closer together. The geo-political world is fraught as it is tense and we have over the past few years allowed defence diplomacy to be weakened at a time when its hand should be strengthened.


In terms of conflict and geo-political events Ukraine and Iraq will dominate the proceedings in Wales this week. Outgoing NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen believes that the summit would overcome disagreements within the 28 NATO nation member states to establish opportunities to deploy troops and equipment near to the Russian border. The process under what is being called by the NATO Secretary General as a readiness plan is built around the need for NATO to act quickly in terms of deployment of equipment and troops if and when required. Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have each sought reassurance form NATO and to that end NATO aircraft including four Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4 aircraft are already protecting the airspace of the Baltic States. NATO Airborne Early Warning (AWACS) aircraft including from 8 Squadron based at RAF Waddington and which is the heart of the UK’s Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) mission are also providing high levels of support above Poland and Romania. In addition, four Polish Air Force MiG-29s, four Dassault Rafale plus four Danish Air Force Lockheed Martin F-16’s are all engaged in supporting the NATO led support mission along with Boeing F/A-18 aircraft from the Canadian Air and Airbus tanker/transports.

By pre-positioning supplies of military equipment and readying the infrastructure requirement NATO is saying to the member states that border Russia that it will not stand-by and see them manipulated or threatened by events taking place in Ukraine. My current understanding is that while the US and the UK support the NATO plan to provide a troop and equipment build-up in Eastern Europe while France, Spain and Italy oppose the plan and Germany, content to avoid further provocation with Russia on whom it is dependent for energy supplies, remains undecided. No doubt the issue of future potential NATO membership of Ukraine will, while being discussed behind closed doors, quietly be put to one side. Further provocation of Russia is not what is intended in the NATO summit this week but what is intended is that Russia should see a NATO that is united in its determination to protect the sovereign status of all member states.


Iraq is the other huge issue that will receive considerable attention by NATO in its deliberations this week. Once again the UK has risen to the challenge of the worsening situation in Northern Iraq by deploying Panavia Tornado GR4 aircraft equipped with Litening reconnaissance and targeting pods have been operating missions from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus over Northern Iraq. They have been joined in recent weeks by the first of three RC-135W Rivet joint signals intelligence aircraft ordered for the Royal Air Force and that is operated by 51 Squadron. This was the first actual operational deployment of the RC-135W by the Royal Air Force and its use to support operations over Iraq has been very well received.


One issue that I doubt will be discussed is potential membership of an independent Scotland should that become an issue post the referendum vote later this month. Whether or not press reports claiming that NATO chiefs have actually said that an independent Scotland would most probably not be admitted to the defence alliance are correct or not, it is surely a no-brainer that unless an independent Scotland was to drop its anti-nuclear stance NATO membership would in the interests of the partners need to be refused.

I note that Sunday Mail quoted former NATO secretary-general, Lord Robertson yesterday as saying that “NATO is getting clearer and clearer that an anti-nuclear Scottish state expelling the UK nuclear deterrent (which is what the SNP nationalists have said that they wish to do) would have the door slammed in its face”. Quite right too. Just as he has had the Euro and Sterling currency door slammed in his face Mr Salmond needs to remember that to succeed membership applications for NATO membership need the agreement of every member state and also, the full resolution of all neighbouring disputes. The expulsion of Trident would be a real block for potential membership of NATO by an independent Scotland and it is a message that should be brought home to the population of Scotland. Criticism of the SNP’s defence plans by General Sir Richard Shirreff is also being more widely discussed of late with one newspaper reporting General Shirreff describing the SNP’s blueprint for defence [of Scotland]  as both ‘amateurish’ and ‘dangerous’.


Industry has been active sponsors in supporting this weeks’ NATO summit, a fact that should not be ignored by the UK government amongst others. BAE Systems, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Airbus will all have equipment on display including full size replicas of Eurofighter Typhoon and an F-35B Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. Following the previous NATO Summit in Chicago in 2012 Northrop Grumman received a contract to build five Global Hawk Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) Systems  which, based in Sicily, are expected to begin flight testing next year with a planned full operational capability for 2017. This is a great example of NATO working together for the benefit of all 28 member states. It is worth noting too that NATO has recently awarded Boeing a $250m contract to upgrade the fleet of seventeen NATO E-3A airborne early warning aircraft systems. Northrop Grumman will also be engaged in this work too.

Another matter that can be expected to be discussed is the Airbus plan to make available spare tanker refuelling and transport capacity provided by in the fleet of Voyager aircraft for the Royal Air Force and that are based at RAF Brize Norton.

New order announcements at the NATO summit are unlikely although it is possible that the UK could formally confirm an intention to acquire a first batch of 14 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. What can definitely be anticipated in my view is a very strong commitment by the UK Government to enhance defence capability and to comply with a long held promise to spend 2% of GDP on defence. I live in hope also that other NATO member nations will also realise that levels of western based defence capability fall far short of what we need to adequately defend ourselves and to meet our overriding NATO defence commitments and that recognising we are living in a world of increasing uncertainty they also follow suit in signalling an end, indeed a complete reversal, to the era defence cuts.

CHW – London – 1 September 2014

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Tel: 07710 779785

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