On the day that we record the seventy-fifth anniversary of Britain declaring war on Germany, we may be entitled to question whether the world is a safer place today than it was back then. I fear that the answer would be that it is not.
Conflict in Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan and elsewhere reminds us of the need to be vigilant to constant threats to our security. Our sovereignty may not be being directly threatened but the sovereignty of others who we see as allies is being constantly challenged. This reminds us, I hope, of the importance of NATO. As I wrote earlier this week, the NATO Alliance needs to be a potent and relevant force; which I for one believe that it is.
Moreover it reminds us, I hope, of what Article 5 of the NATO treaty states (that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations will assist the party or parties so attacked by taking forthwith individually or in concert with other parties, such action as it deems necessary including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area). This remains at the very heart of this vitally important alliance of nations.
When we are forced to witness acts of murder and outrageous atrocities on the scale that we have witnessed in very recently in Northern Iraq, and in Syria over the past few months and years, we need to ensure that our response is both measured and considered. We must always remember that NATO is a collective responsibility. Today the threat that we face in the Northern Iraq region is ISIL. In Ukraine it is the combination of Russian subversion, incursion and intervention; and in Afghanistan, it is a combination of politics and potential election fraud. I suspect these three issues will, in terms of geo-political events and conflict potential, dominate discussion at the NATO summit this week.
US foreign policy strategy in challenging the ISIL threat has been severely tested with the beheading of two journalists, James Foley and now, Steven Sotloff. ISIL militants have now threatened to kill a British hostage. Calls have been heard for the UK government to join the US air attacks on ISIL stronghold, leading to a further meeting of the COBRA meeting chaired by the Prime Minister this morning. In response, the Foreign Secretary has said that every possible option to protect the unnamed British hostage will be looked at. Although I do not believe that this should be perceived as including military based action.
Fragile as the situation in Northern Iraq clearly is, the desire for a political as opposed to a military response will in my view be uppermost in the minds of NATO delegates. The UK response to the various atrocities is at it should be – considered, measured and recognising that it is far better to support the Kurds in providing reconnaissance, humanitarian aid and support through dropping military supplies than it would be to provide air strikes. Moreover, there needs to be and will at the upcoming NATO summit be a collective response that sends a more dynamic message to ISIL militants – that NATO is speaking with one voice and a single determination to meet the threats that it faces.
The UK will undoubtedly continue to provide all the support that it can to both the Kurds and provide other assistance such as reconnaissance to its US and other NATO allies such Poland and the Baltic States. Let no one say that Britain fails to take on what its NATO mandate requires. But as a direct response to the atrocities witnessed in recent days the UK Government is right in my view to continue to rule out a direct military response.
Iraq, Ukraine and Afghanistan will dominate the NATO summit that begins in Wales on Thursday. Much of course has already been discussed and agreed behind the scenes. But the opportunity for leaders of the 28 member states along with leaders from I believe another thirty one observing member states will be crucial to determining the collective policy that NATO requires.
NATO remains on its guard and one of the most important issues to be discussed, and I hope agreed, will be to reverse the long trend of declining readiness. If achieved, this will be hugely important and it will signal to our adversaries that NATO remains a potent and relevant force. Note also the very different attitude that has emerged from Germany and Angela Merkel in recent weeks, particularly in how Germany is more intent to stand up to Russia. German attitude toward use of its military is also changing.
The atrocities that have occurred in Northern Iraq and the subversive Russian incursion and direct intervention in the affairs of a sovereign state – Ukraine – are also a timely reminder, if it was needed, that NATO member states need to recognise the importance of maintaining adequate levels of spend on defence. I’m sure that in the discussions on Ukraine there will be consensus amongst NATO members neither to go to war nor indeed, to allow Ukraine to join the NATO Alliance. That is the correct way to approach the issue but that does not mean that NATO will ignore its Eastern allies. I suspect we will see far greater commitment amongst the 28 NATO members to extend the amount of support that they are already providing to Poland and the Baltic States; including the potential for planned military exercises in the area.
This morning the UK Ministry of Defence announced it has signed a £3.5bn deal with Scout Specialist Vehicles to acquire 589 of the General Dynamics designed Scout SV family of tracked armoured vehicles. It is an important statement from the UK government of its intention to ensure the UK retains adequate levels of defence equipment in order to meet potential and existing threats. Coming as it does on the eve of the NATO Summit in Wales, this order sends an important message to other NATO member states that they need to spend more as opposed to less on defence.
That aspect and the need to ensure that each member state spends a minimum of 2% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defence will be an important aspect of discussion at the NATO Summit this week. Such is the importance of reversing the decline in defence expenditure by NATO member states. I am in little doubt that all 28 member states will sign up to a statement of intent to move toward a 2% of GDP defence expenditure over a period of time. It is crucially important that this should be done and led by Britain and the other handful of nations that already spend 2% GDP on defence. The other factor will likely be agreement that 20% of total defence spending should be on equipment capability alone.
While I do not expect any other significant defence procurement announcements at the NATO summit, being the host nation I am pleased that the UK Government has chosen to announce a large and important order for equipment ahead of the event. The Scout SV will replace the British Army’s existing force of Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) vehicles, which have been in use for over 40 years. Delivery of the Scout vehicles are planned to start in 2017 and, following a period of conversion and training, to be deployment ready by 2020. Built in six variants, Scout SV will include ground based surveillance and joint fire control specialist capability through a 40mm cannon. Other variants will be fitted out for equipment support repair, recovery, command and control which will include mobile battlefield headquarters, protected mobility reconnaissance and various types of engineering support vehicles. The new Scout vehicles will be built in Oakdale, South Wales and the statement from the MOD was keen to point out that some 1,300 jobs across the UK will be secured. There will be a large supply chain on a contract such as this, and will include firms such as Lockheed Martin UK, amongst others.
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Tel: 07710 779785