The UK cannot be complacent about the continuing existence of NATO: a world without the alliance would be even more fractious and less secure, while giving up on NATO would be “whimsical, reckless, self-harming and self-defeating”, argues a new Policy Exchange paper, Remaking the Case for NATO: Collective Security and the British National Interest ahead of this week’s crucial summit in Brussels.
As the NATO summit opens in Brussels and President Trump prepares to visit the UK, both the alliance and the UK’s role within it require urgent political attention. The importance of NATO to British national security cannot be overstated and government must show more confidence in Britain’s leading role within it.
There is no viable successor to NATO as the guarantor of European security or the foundation stone of transatlantic unity. The report recommends that:
- If the UK government takes the health and survival of NATO seriously, the absolute bare minimum it must do is to commit to a graduated increase in defence spending that breaks free from the 2% threshold, while also signalling a willingness to make further leaps towards 3% should the geopolitical situation demand it.
- This will enable the UK to lead the way to quell American concerns about the failure of European partners to commit more funds to their own national defence, both at the summit and during President Trump’s visit next weekend, to put the vital relationship with the United States on a firmer long-term footing.
- After Brexit, the UK’s commitment to the defence of Europe should continue through the NATO framework, and the UK should discourage any further attempts at against closer EU defence integration that duplicate or compete with the transatlantic alliance.
- The UK must also be a forceful advocate for a revived twenty-first century western alliance, given that the biggest threats to NATO’s cohesion currently come from within. Apathy, historical amnesia and wishful thinking are three enemies of NATO that need to be tackled head on by government and all political parties.
Former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and former NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson have written a Foreword to the report, in which they say:
“NATO is arguably more important to the UK today than at any time since 1949, as we seek to preserve our security and prosperity.
“For NATO to survive beyond its seventieth birthday next year, it is vital that it continues to constitute a credible deterrent. This cannot simply be measured by the numbers of boots on the ground or the quality of military hardware but on the basis of political will and the sense of unity that has kept the alliance together. It is essential that NATO members respond to the demands to commit more to collective defence.
“Our government and our political classes have a responsibility to remind people of NATO’s historical purpose and all the advantages it has brought to the West, in general, and the UK, in particular. Complacency, apathy and lazy criticism of the Alliance needs to be tackled head on. By banding together, NATO members have saved incalculable amounts in blood and treasure.
“Ultimately, NATO should not be seen as an unwelcome strain on the public purse – or an awkward relic of the Cold War era – but instead as the most enduring and fruitful multi-nation alliance in history, a triumph of British diplomatic ingenuity, and a guarantor of prosperity and security at a record low historical cost.”