Defence Committee

Session 2007-08, 20 March 2008

Publication of Report - Conclusions

Publication of Report - Conclusions


NATO is an “indispensable Alliance” and must remain at the heart of UK and European defence policy, but it faces severe threats to its credibility and cohesion, most notably from a lack of political will to support it in its member countries, according to a report published today by the House of Commons Defence Committee (Ninth Report of Session 2007-08, The future of NATO and European defence, HC 111). The MPs say:

• A lack of public understanding about the role and purpose of NATO in the context of today’s security environment poses a real threat to the long-term future of the Alliance. If people do not understand what NATO is for or why it remains important, their support will inevitably decline. NATO needs to define its role and purpose far more clearly and should agree a new Strategic Concept explaining that role as a matter of priority;

• Succeeding in Afghanistan must remain at the top of NATO’s agenda. The Alliance is facing real difficulties in generating sufficient forces and national caveats continue to hamper the ISAF mission. The burden in Afghanistan is not shared equitably and other nations should contribute more. The future of the Alliance does not depend on the outcome of Afghanistan but failure there would deal a severe blow to the unity and cohesion of NATO;

• NATO’s commitment to improving European military capabilities for operations like Afghanistan is essential but it risks being undermined by the huge gap in defence spending which persists between the United States and its European allies. Only 6 of the 24 European members of NATO meet the Alliance’s target of 2% GDP on defence spending. If the European members of NATO want to be taken seriously they must commit the necessary resources. Unless the gap in spending is bridged, there is a danger the Alliance may not prove sustainable in the long term;

• A stronger, expanded and more cooperative relationship between NATO and the EU is essential. At present, the relationship is plagued by mistrust and unhealthy competition. The Lisbon Treaty has the potential to enhance the EU’s role in defence, but it is also essential that it does nothing to undermine NATO.

Commenting on the report, Committee Chairman Rt Hon James Arbuthnot MP said:

“NATO has served us well for almost 60 years. It remains fundamental to our security and it plays a central role in our defence. But the threats we face today are very different from when the Alliance was created. NATO needs to adapt fully to the new threats we face or it risks becoming irrelevant. Because those threats are now global in nature, NATO must be capable of acting globally to counter them. There is no alternative to NATO fulfilling a global role.

NATO also needs to become a more capable and flexible Alliance, but it faces a number of crucial shortfalls in its military capabilities. These cannot be addressed fully until the European members of NATO start spending more on defence. At present, they are spending nowhere near enough and this is a very real problem for NATO.

Success in Afghanistan is essential. Failure would be a huge blow to the Alliance’s credibility. NATO allies need to commit more troops to Afghanistan, remove restrictive caveats, and come together to deliver the Comprehensive Approach - delivering the security necessary for reconstruction and development to take place.

Next month NATO Heads of State meet in Bucharest to discuss many of the issues we address in our report, not least Afghanistan. But how much will be achieved is unclear and the Government’s stated priorities are unambitious and disappointingly vague. Given that the last summit at Riga was such a disappointment, much more needs to be achieved at Bucharest if NATO is to improve its performance in Afghanistan as well as to explain to the public in Europe and North America why the Alliance itself remains relevant.”


The Committee was nominated on 13 July 2005. The Defence Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration, and policy of the Ministry of Defence and its associated public bodies.


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