The speech made by Jack Lopresti, the Conservative MP for Filton and Bradley Stoke, in the House of Commons on 19 May 2022.
The ongoing terrible events in Ukraine remind us that we need to make sure that we not only maintain our defence expenditure, but invest wisely in capability that will ensure that we remain a credible NATO ally. We have seen recently in Ukraine how good equipment can blunt the attacks of the most aggressive invader. Op Orbital, which began in 2015 in response to Russian aggression in the Donbas and Crimea, has been a successful training mission to equip Ukrainian forces and is paying huge dividends now as Ukraine’s army has risen magnificently to the challenge. This is the best possible example of the value of investing in training and equipment.
The history of the last century shows us what happens when countries seek to appease dictators and are willing to trade other people’s freedoms for their own security. It is for this reason that the Washington treaty signed in 1949 bound the founding members of the Atlantic alliance together with a pledge enshrined in article 5 that an attack on one member was an attack on all. Since then, the Atlantic alliance, the most successful military alliance in history, has helped to ensure the freedom of this country and western Europe, especially during the cold war, in the face of an aggressive Soviet Union. A mark of its success is that the original group of 12 founding nations has expanded to 30 today. It is no coincidence that, as soon as they were able to escape the yoke of Soviet tyranny, our neighbours in central and eastern Europe sought to join NATO. The fact that now both Finland and Sweden—long bywords for neutrality—have taken the first steps to join the NATO alliance shows the attraction of it as well as its reputation.
This country has always placed NATO at the heart of its defence policy, and the Ministry of Defence characterises the UK’s armed forces as “Allied by design”. Unlike Russia, this country has allies and partners around the world, and our NATO allies know that the UK will stand with them. We train together on a regular basis—something which should never be sacrificed on the altar of savings by the Treasury. We must increase our defence expenditure.
As a former British Defence Secretary, Denis Healey—another gunner—who was the military beach commander at Anzio said in 1969:
“Once we cut defence expenditure to the extent where our security is imperilled, we have no houses, we have no hospitals, we have no schools. We have a heap of cinders.” —[Official Report, 5 March 1969; Vol. 779, c. 551.]
Or, as we are seeing in the Ukraine, piles of rubble.
The invasion of Crimea by Russia in 2014 was a much-needed wake-up call for the Atlantic alliance, but it was not an easy matter to stir up all of its members. In 2016 President Obama spoke of “European free riders” who relied far too much on the United States for their security under the nuclear umbrella. In 2019 President Macron accused the alliance of being brain dead.
Since 2014 the UK has contributed elements in the air policing mission in the Baltic on five occasions, as well as on the ground in Estonia, in the NATO battlegroup, since it was established in 2017. One of my sons, Michael, a fourth generation gunner, a Bombardier with 1 Royal Horse Artillery, has served in Estonia with his regiment and has just returned from a major exercise in Germany. I am pleased to see that we now have a brigade headquarters in Estonia.
If Putin thinks that he can unsettle the NATO alliance by his casual reference to Russia’s “massive nuclear” forces, he is very much mistaken. Predictably, that has led to calls from some in this House, namely the Scottish National party, that we should rid ourselves of the nuclear deterrent. To those who say that we can never use it, I gently remind them that we are deploying it and relying on it every single day. Talk of the use of tactical nuclear weapons by Russia must also be dealt with by leaders being firm in their resolve to maintain the alliance’s undertaking that an attack on one is an attack on all.
Events in Ukraine have given the international community a shock, but Russia’s actions remind us all that rogue nation states still retain the capacity to act violently when they think they can get away with it. We were beginning to get used to the idea of counter-insurgency, grey zone and cyber warfare, believing that this was the pattern for future conflicts. Putin may have been encouraged by the weak western response to the situation in Syria and the weak response to his initial aggression in Georgia and Crimea. It is worth reminding ourselves that the mission in Afghanistan was a NATO one. It was begun as an article 5 mission—the only time article 5 has been invoked so far after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, so the shambolic abandonment of Afghanistan created a very dangerous perception of weakness of the west and NATO among our enemies around the world.
Russia is attempting to weaponise its gas supplies. This has long been foretold by those of us who warned of the dangers posed by the Nordstream gas pipeline. So alongside deterrence, we must relearn the need for resilience, in our supply chains as well as our food and energy security. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to reinforcing our sovereign defence manufacturing capability.
While we congratulate ourselves on our united stance against Putin’s aggression, some members of the NATO alliance were initially reluctant to commit to it. In the Ministry of Defence Command Paper, the Government announced the creation of the Ranger Regiment. This, and the sort of training missions that we have seen in Operation Orbital, will boost the ability of our NATO allies to defend themselves.
The message from the House to our allies must be that for as long as the UK remains a leading member of NATO, we will invest in our security to ensure our freedom, and we recommend that all our NATO allies do the same.