Kevan Jones – 2022 Speech on NATO and International Security

The speech made by Kevan Jones, the Labour MP for North Durham, in the House of Commons on 19 May 2022.

I begin by thanking the members of our armed forces—the men and women who work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to keep us safe. I also put on the record my thanks to our NATO partners and the men and women of their armed forces. Today, however, our thoughts have to be with the people of Ukraine and the brave members of their armed forces, who are fighting Russian aggression in their homeland.

We are at a dangerous and pivotal point in Europe’s history since the second world war. The attack going on in Ukraine is not just about contesting territory; it is about—more dangerously—undermining the rules-based order that we live with and have come to accept. It came out of the dark days and destruction of the second world war, and Russia is making a fundamental attack on that rules-based order, on the values of democratic governance, the rule of law and freedom of speech—things that we all take for granted.

Occasionally, we should all take a step back to think about the privileges that we have in this country. I sometimes get concerned that some populist agendas these days attack alternative opinions because they do not agree with them. That is the beauty of democracy, that we can have that disagreement. It does not make those people wrong; it makes the point that we are allowed to have those different opinions in our democracy. Do not shout people down, but listen and argue. We do not want to reach the point where we have just one narrative, as there is in Russia, which is state controlled.

There has been a lot of talk about increases in defence expenditure, but one of the downsides of the invasion has been the lovely armies of armchair generals—including some on my own Defence Committee—coming up with instant solutions for what should be done. I accept the point about increased defence expenditure, although I would not argue for it yet; we need a sombre look at the lessons of Ukraine. The integrated review was right in its analysis, but the Government will have to admit that they need to update it at some point, and that will have to be done in a thoughtful and fact-based way.

I am sorry that the relevant Minister is not in his place, but I want to make the point that we must ensure that the Treasury pays for our support for the Ukrainian armed forces. It should not come out of the defence budget, which would limit what we can do. That message should be given loud and clear from across the House to the Treasury: the money has to come out of the special reserve and not out of the defence budget.

The Defence Secretary mentioned the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I have the privilege of being the deputy leader of our delegation to NATO. Last week, along with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Stuart Anderson) and the leader of the delegation, the right hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), we visited Latvia and Estonia. If one clear message is coming from there, it is that they now consider themselves to be on the frontline. They are small former Soviet republics, which have been referred to as the “canary in the coalmine” given the hybrid attacks that have taken place over the past few years. Clear in their minds, however, is the threat of invasion from Russia.

That leads to some questions for NATO’s Madrid summit. The Latvians have always been supporters of the enhanced forward presence—since 2016—and we had the honour of visiting the EFP group in Latvia. I give credit to all those nine nations, as well as to our forces in Estonia, but I think that the tripwire idea and its reinforcement need to be revisited because of the events in Ukraine. Looking across at events in Bucha and other Ukrainian cities it is unthinkable for the Latvians and Estonians that they should be invaded. Clearly, as the Latvian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister said to us, there is no space in geopolitics but enemies will occupy it. We had a similar message from the secretary-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Estonia when he said:

“Estonians don’t want to be liberated.”

I think we need to take that on board.

What needs to happen in Madrid, certainly if we get Finland and Sweden applying to join NATO—and I welcome that—is that we come up with a new Baltic security pact. We are playing a very important role in Estonia, but we need to think about how that happens. We will need to have a permanent presence not just in the Baltic states, but across the eastern flank of NATO. I think the idea of rotating troops through is one that has served us well until now, but it certainly does not do so now, after the invasion of Ukraine.

One key thing that came out of our visit last week is that NATO needs to be united in our response to Putin’s aggression. That is not just through the help and support that we are providing for the people and armed forces in Ukraine; we must be united against destabilisation, cyber, the refugee crisis—the weaponisation of refugees—and the disinformation that takes place. That is not going to be done without investment and, I have to say, a certain amount of pain—this is certainly not going to be free. That will put pressure on all NATO nations, and not just on defence budgets and how we refocus them; it will put pressure on our populations. I give credit to both Latvia and Estonia, which have stepped up to the mark in supporting the efforts in Ukraine.

I will finish with a quote, which struck me, from Kristi Raik, the director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute, who said that “freedom is priceless”. Latvia and Estonia are countries on the border with Russia, and those words from Kristi Raik mean to me that those of us in countries that have the geographical advantage of being further away need to ensure that we fight for the core values we are defending against Russia in Ukraine—freedom, democracy, freedom of speech and the rules-based order that we all live by. They are worth fighting for; they are priceless, and we must defend them. That is what we have to continue to do.