House of Lords debates the future of NATO

11 February 2011

Lord Flight and Lord Stirrup (pictured) made their maiden speeches in the House of Lords on Thursday 10 February in a debate on the future of NATO and changing relations within its membership

The balloted debate was opened by Lord Addington. 

Lord Flight

Focusing his remarks on India, Lord Flight said he hoped the country would become a ‘a key ally’ of the UK as it became a major power and economy in the world. ‘India has 1 million well trained men at arms. In thinking about future defence needs, one should think about her role as she takes her place in the world.’ There was ‘at least a potential peacekeeping role that would be appropriate,’ he said.

There were close ties between the two countries. During a trip to India a tour guide had said "We have a democratic system over here in India. What system do you have in England?", Lord Flight recalled. This was ‘evidence of the extent to which India has, above all, completely absorbed the concept of democracy,’ he said. ‘Indians regard democracy as just as much their own as we regard it as our own.’

There were also very close economic factors: ‘We have similar institutions of commerce and the same laws. There are very close cultural factors. As time goes by and India takes its place in the world as one of the main powers and economies, I look forward to closer relations between us and India.’ That would be ‘natural and based on affinities that go back an extremely long way. Reverting to the start, it would be strange if that did not involve some military element,’ Lord Flight said. 

Lord Stirrup

NATO was, perhaps, the most successful military alliance in history but was facing significant challenges, Lord Stirrup said. At issue was whether ‘an organisation created to deal with a specific threat in a particular set of circumstances’ remains relevant and thrives ‘when that threat and those circumstances have changed so dramatically’

Lord Stirrup said it was NATO’s role to ‘defend against physical threats to the territorial integrity of its member nations’ – concerning itself with Article 5 of the treaty, and to deal with ‘more complex security issues’ – such as in Afghanistan. ‘Article 5 must remain the bedrock of the alliance. Without it, NATO would soon cease to exist.’ However, members of NATO would be ‘tempted to neglect’ the alliance in favour of ‘arrangements that meet what they see as their most urgent and pressing needs’ if it has little relevant to their current security concerns, he added. Its continued vitality and viability depended on providing ‘at least some response to the problems with which its members are grappling today.’

The political consensus necessary for NATO to function successfully was ‘hard enough to achieve in an organisation of 16 nations facing a monolithic threat across the inner German border,’ he said. To achieve consensus among 28 nations seeking to deal with complex security issues NATO needed to be ‘much more nuanced about what consensus actually means.’ The urgency of operations in Afghanistan gives us both the spur and the leverage to make much needed progress.

The alliance remained important: ‘We continue to need NATO, and therefore need to keep it fit for purpose,’ Lord Stirrup said. ‘We must continue to invest in NATO to sustain both the alliance's capability and our influence within it’ and ‘ensure that our investment in NATO – of high-calibre people as well as money – remains commensurate with the importance of the alliance to the future security of this country and its people.’

Lord Wallace of Saltaire responded on behalf of the government.

Further information

Balloted debates

Five hours are set aside on one Thursday in each month for two balloted debates in the House of Lords. A balloted debate provides a forum to discuss a subject rather than decide on it.

This type of debate takes its name from how the subject for discussion is chosen – by randomly selecting from the topics proposed by Members of the Lords. The Clerk of the Parliaments carries this out.

Only Members on the back benches and cross benches can propose a topic for debate – known as tabling a motion.

Because the time limit for a balloted debate, the subject for debate must be narrow enough to discuss in that time. There are limits to speaking time for Members taking part. A schedule of speakers is usually available in advance.

Maiden speeches

The term ‘maiden speech’ refers to the first time a new Member gives a speech in the House of the Lords. A maiden speech usually takes place during a general debate and is uncontroversial.

Image: Parliamentary copyright

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