Commons debate Ministry of Defence - Defence and Security Review (NATO)

Array ( [0] => HoC Oral Answers to Questions ) HoC Oral Answers to Questions, Defence and Security Review (NATO), 2 March 2015, Column 734

[Relevant Documents: Third Report from the Defence Committee, Towards the next Defence and Security Review: Part Two–NATO, HC 358, and the Government response, HC 755.]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the year ending with 31 March 2015, for expenditure by the Ministry of Defence:

(1) the resources authorised for use for current purposes be reduced by £618,573,000 as set out in HC 1019, and

(2) further resources, not exceeding £426,760,000 be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and

(3) a further sum, not exceeding £426,834,000 be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the

Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Mel Stride.)

6.46 pm

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I should like to begin by talking about the House of Commons Defence Committee’s report. The key element in the report, and in what I hope will be my relatively brief remarks, is that Russia poses a significant and substantial threat to Europe. That argument has been made in great detail by the Defence Committee and, in the months since the report was published, it has become increasingly evident that it is correct.

I remind the House that, while we were working on the report, we had a statement from the Foreign Secretary that he had been assured by Lavrov that Russia would not invade Crimea. Four days later, Russia invaded Crimea. We then heard a number of specialists and analysts say that Russia would not go into eastern Ukraine, but it then did so. We also heard people say, after the Malaysian airliner was shot down, that that would be the moment at which Russia would back off because it was embarrassed by what it had done. Russia did not back off. People then made it clear that Russia would not extend its activities to Mariupol or Odessa, but as we can now see, separatists with Russian support are moving towards those two cities.

What does this mean for the United Kingdom, the Ministry of Defence, NATO and defence spending? The House of Commons Defence Committee’s report focuses on two things: the conventional threat posed by Russia, and the threat that we describe as next generation warfare, ambiguous warfare or the asymmetric threat posed by Russia. Although those two things are related, it is worth analysing them separately.

On the conventional threat posed by Russia, the report argues that, through its Zapad exercise in 2013, Russia showed its ability to deploy almost 70,000 troops at 72 hours’ notice. The current estimate is that it would take NATO almost six months to deploy that number of troops. Russia has also displayed its ability to fly nuclear bombers to Venezuela and to exercise for a full amphibious assault on a Baltic state. It has upgraded its nuclear arsenal and it is committed to spending $100 billion a year on defence. All of that is taking place in the context of a decline in NATO defence spending.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I thank the Chairman of the Committee for giving way so early in his speech. One of the reasons that he has had to  

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consider only two aspects—namely, conventional and unconventional warfare—is that our strategic nuclear deterrent is still in place, and if either the Opposition or the Conservative party has anything to do with it, that will remain the case. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be madness to think about disposing of our deterrent and ending our continuous at-sea deterrence? Is it not strange that there is not a single Member present who represents the party that proposes that we should abandon that continuous at-sea deterrence—namely, the Liberal Democrat party?

[Interruption.]

Oh, the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) has just appeared. I hope that he disagrees with his party on that matter.

Rory Stewart: That is an invitation to go into exactly this theme: in terms of responses to the Russian conventional threat, we have planned, for 20 years, for fighting enemies in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. We have planned on the basis of such expeditionary warfare. The planning assumptions at the base of Future Force 2020 or the strategic defence and security review were about being able to put 6,600 people—or 10,000, in the past—into the field and maintain them there for enduring stability operations. We have not really thought about taking on an enemy such as Russia. In the national security strategy, the threat of what we have seen done by