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Commentary | 15 September 2014

NATO’s Wales Consensus – a view from the President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly

Image of Hugh Bayley

Hugh Bayley |Member of Parliament, President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly

Defence NATO Russia-West Relations Security Transatlantic relations Euro-Atlantic Security

On 4 and 5 September 2014, the 28 Heads of State and Government of NATO met in Newport at a pivotal moment in the Alliance’s 65 year history. Confronted with an attempt by Russia to redraw borders by force in the East, and mounting instability in the Middle East and Africa, Allied leaders faced the challenging tasks of defining NATO’s role and providing the means to fulfil it. Having had the privilege to represent the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Newport, I think the Summit succeeded in building a robust response to these challenges. It endorsed a Readiness Action Plan; reconciled NATO’s missions of collective defence and crisis management; brought Europe and North America closer together; connected NATO’s political and military dimensions; and obtained commitments from Allies spending less than 2% of their national income on defence to increase their defence budgets. NATO’s credibility now depends on these plans being implemented.


Reconciling collective defence and crisis management

The Allies’ first priority in Wales was to respond to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. The Summit also recognised that our security is directly affected by challenges to the South. It reaffirmed that NATO must continue to serve both as the indispensable guarantor of our collective defence, and as an essential tool for crisis management.

For 25 years, NATO gave Russia the benefit of the doubt and sought to build a partnership based on trust. Russia broke that trust by annexing Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine, and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly decided earlier this year to expel the Russian Parliament after it authorised the use of military force. In Wales, Allies recognised that NATO’s relationship with Russia has fundamentally changed, and demonstrated unity and resolve by stepping up NATO and individual Allies’ political, economic and military support for Ukraine, deploying more defensive assets in eastern Europe, and strengthening NATO’s rapid reaction capability and its ability to respond to what is now being termed “hybrid warfare”.

As well as these necessary and important measures, the Summit underlined NATO’s role in crisis management and took decisive steps to address instability on the Alliance’s southern borders, from the Sahel and Libya to Iraq and Syria. Agreed measures involve offering to help partners in the region – including Libya and Iraq – build greater capacity to address the security threats they face, affirming NATO’s readiness to coordinate humanitarian assistance to Iraq, and agreeing to intensify the sharing of information on foreign fighters returning from Syria or Iraq.

Allies also committed themselves to continuing to assist Afghanistan consolidate the security, political and humanitarian gains achieved at great cost over the last decade – not least the gains for women and children protected under UN Security Council Resolution 1325.


Transatlantic solidarity

A second key achievement of the Wales Summit was a reaffirmation of transatlantic solidarity, and of Allies’ determination to move towards a fairer sharing of the security burden.

After the Russia-Georgia war in 2008, our nations sent the wrong signals to Russia – and the Middle East – by cutting defence spending. Whereas, over the past 5 years, Russia increased its defence spending by 50%, Allies cut theirs by 10% on average, and in some cases 20%. We also put our own solidarity at risk by letting the spending and capability gaps widen between Europe and the United States and also among Europeans.

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly has argued that defence budget cuts should stop now, and Allies not meeting the 2% target should set a timetable for doing so. The commitment made by Allies at the Wales Summit to move towards this target is greatly welcome. We must now ensure that it is met with concrete action. Without additional resources, the new Readiness Action Plan will be an empty shell.

As importantly, we must streamline the political process for authorising use of NATO’s rapid reaction forces. ‘Rapid reaction’ requires ‘rapid approval’. Parliamentary oversight is essential to democracy and most Allies consult their Parliaments before taking military action. There could be circumstances when there is not enough time to consult parliaments before launching a counter-attack. However, pre-authorisation by governments, which would allow the new Rapid Reaction Force to be used in some circumstances without parliamentary approval, should not be given without the principle being debated and approved by parliaments.


Connecting NATO’s political and military dimensions

The third key outcome of the Wales Summit is a greater willingness to connect NATO’s political and military dimensions. NATO was always intended to be a political-military organisation, but Allied leaders have sometimes been wary of discussing emerging crises because of the misguided perception that any matter discussed at NATO, even informally, is necessarily a prelude for military action.

In Newport, Allies affirmed the Alliance’s unrivalled military might and committed to providing the resources needed to address today and tomorrow’s challenges; but they also pledge to use NATO as the unique and essential transatlantic forum for political consultation it was always intended to be. This is a welcome step. It is not about expanding NATO’s mandate but it recognises that none of us alone can address the whole range of today’s threats, and that we are stronger when we speak and act with one voice.

In my address to NATO Heads of State and Government, I stressed that their decisions would shape Europe’s security for the years to come. The Wales Summit turned a page in NATO’s history. Our challenge now is to explain to our citizens why the measures we agreed in Wales are needed, and how they improve their security. What makes our Alliance unique is our shared commitment to democracy; what will keep it strong is our citizens’ continued support. For this reason, our Assembly will continue to argue for greater transparency of NATO’s policies and finances in order to reassure the public that their money for defence is well spent.


The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.