Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:22 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 4:22, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the most reverend Primate’s thoughtful contribution. These are bewildering times. They are the most complex that I have ever known. The Government have innovated and adapted to be more effective, as my noble friend Lord Ahmad so eloquently described, and to be resilient in this menacing age. I commend the Government on the action they have taken and on recognising that in this age, relationships, partnerships and alliances are key.

What about global fora, where we have a joint interest but no singular control? I will focus on NATO and the United Nations. Two questions must be asked: are they still relevant and, if so, are they still fit for purpose? I will not dwell on the threats—we all know what they are—but I want first to look at NATO, which is 75 years old this year. It is a military defensive alliance of 31 states—about to be 32 with the accession of Sweden—bound by the collective obligation of Article 5. It has a proven record of effective military activity, honed and reinvigorated with the renewed sense of purpose in response to the illegal invasion of Ukraine by President Putin.

Is NATO still relevant? Yes, and I would argue even more so than in 1949. Is it still fit for purpose? Yes, but with two material caveats. The first is money. Defence spend of 2% of GDP is not enough. I am now going to be a liberated, uncorseted Back-Bencher. The UK must show leadership. The feast and famine approach does not work. Giving when we have the money and withholding when we do not is no basis on which to operate our defence capability. It is cloud-cuckoo-land.

We need to think outside the box and I suggest a new and hybrid approach. Defence is of such primary importance that I think it merits top-slicing from the budget to fund core need. Then, why do we not consider giving the public a stake? Issue “patriot bonds”—call them what you want—so that the public can invest directly in our security. If you want a defence capability, it needs consistent resourcing and you must take the public with you.

My second caveat is that the commitment of all member states to Article 5 must be unyielding and explicit. Ambiguity and loose talk by member states are irresponsible and fatal to the integrity and credibility of NATO as a defence alliance. I look to the United Kingdom to lead that charge. Having said that, thank goodness for NATO, and I praise the leadership of the Secretary-General and the professionalism of all the militaries that make it what it is.

I turn to the United Nations. Created in 1945 following the collapse of the League of Nations, the UN was very different—but then so was the global environment of nearly 80 years ago. It was built around the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and the then Republic of China—the five permanent members of the Security Council—and many positive developments have ensued. The UN is a pre-eminent global presence with a worthy record of achievement. It is the umbrella for important and effective subsidiary groups.

The real engine of the United Nations remains the Security Council. Paradoxically, two of the main perpetrators of global threat and instability, Russia and China, are still two of the permanent members. They regularly veto Security Council proposals. That is a self-perpetuating stasis right at the heart of the United Nations and it is not workable. Is the United Nations still relevant? Unhesitatingly, I say yes. Is it still fit for purpose? Reluctantly, I say, without reform, no.

Let me offer hope. As a Defence Minister I regularly represented the United Kingdom at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is headquartered in The Hague. It has 193 members and an annual Conference of the States Parties with equal voting rights. An executive council of 41 member states is appointed by the annual conference for a two-year term and a technical secretariat delivers the activities mandated by the executive council. There are no vetoes.

Since 2018, the OPCW has been led by an able and courageous director-general, Fernando Arias. The UK is an important and influential member, the support of the FCDO is excellent and the contribution of our own ambassador in The Hague and her staff is superb. But here is the important part—this potentially unwieldy organisation is focused, effective and delivers, notwithstanding the presence of a hostile and unco-operative Russia and Syria, at times supported by a minority of other states. What they do not do, because they cannot, is obstruct the work of the OPCW.

In conclusion, I ask my noble friend the Foreign Secretary: does he agree that defence spend is not a soft option but a hard fact of life and that we need a new approach? In relation to NATO, are the strongest diplomatic persuasions being exercised to support NATO’s critical unanimity of purpose under Article 5? In relation to the United Nations, is the visible and, I would say, fatal flaw which I have identified being recognised and the urgent need for reform being acknowledged? Are there lessons perhaps to be learned from the OPCW?