Select Committee on Defence Seventh Report


The Defence Committee has agreed to the following Report:



The NATO Prague Summit in November will be one of the most significant moments in the Alliance's history since the end of the Cold War. It provides an opportunity for NATO to review and assess its role as a capable military alliance, and to set in train the reforms necessary to ensure it maintains the capacity to rise to the challenge of the new, post-11 September security context.

We assess NATO's role in the campaign against terrorism and conclude that, although dealing with terrorism largely involves non-military means, NATO has the potential to play a part in operations against state supporters of terrorism and safe havens.

The way in which the United States has responded to the terrorist attacks of 11 September has had, and will continue to have, a critical effect on NATO's own future role. We discuss the factors which will persuade the US to remain seriously engaged in NATO.

We believe that NATO continues to have important roles in peace-keeping missions, such as the ones which it has led in the Balkans since 1995, and in promoting interoperability and common standards among NATO members and partners.

Against this background, we have assessed whether NATO has a future. We believe very strongly that it does but that this depends crucially on it making robust decisions about reform at Prague on a number of issues. The Alliance has attempted to address the disparity in capabilities between its European members and US over many years: none of these initiatives has been very effective. We conclude that NATO must make real progress on capabilities at Prague—if it does not, the imbalance will continue to grow and the bonds of interoperabililty which hold together the US and its European Allies will be broken. We believe NATO must also confront the need for reform of its internal decision-making, administrative, military and command structures if it is to be a viable and vital organisation in the future.

The Prague Summit will assess the applications for membership of ten countries who were formerly members of the Soviet bloc, and invitations will be issued to those applicants which NATO believes meet the necessary criteria. We have been told that a substantial enlargement is likely. We support an enlargement of seven countries, with a number of caveats. The most important of these is that the countries invited should continue their reform programmes throughout the accession process and beyond, to ensure that NATO is not weakened militarily by an enlargement which we accept is likely to be based on primarily political decisions. We anticipate that progress will be made to meet this caveat.

We comment on recent developments in NATO's partnerships. We welcome the establishment of the NATO-Russia Council, which marks and is a product of the improvement in relations between Russia and the west, arising from Russia's support of the United States, following the 11 September attacks. Whether it will be more effective than the previous processes through which NATO and Russia have co-operated since the end of the Cold War remains to be seen, but we believe there are some positive signs.

We wish to see a new impetus in NATO's relationship with countries in the southern Mediterranean, given the strategic importance of the region, its current instability and its potential role in the campaign against terrorism.

The precise nature of NATO's relationship with the European Union, and in particular the issue of availability of NATO assets for EU-led Petersberg missions, has remained unresolved for too long and agreement should be reached as a matter of urgency.


1. We publish this report in advance of the summit meeting of Heads of State and Government of NATO member states in Prague in November. The summit comes at a time when many questions are posed about the future of NATO. Since the end of the Cold War it has evolved from an alliance whose primary role was collective defence to a much more multi-faceted organisation, whose recent tasks include a number of important and ongoing peace-keeping missions, and which has fought an offensive military campaign.

2. Expectations for the Prague Summit are high: it has been described to us as a defining point in NATO's history and as an opportunity for transformation. The MoD have told us that the Summit will focus on 'new capabilities, new members and new partners'.[1] This headline summary of the agenda was subsequently fleshed out as being expected to include—

NATO's response to the changed strategic setting, and in particular terrorism


relationships with Russia, the EU and other partners


reform of NATO structures and processes.[2]

If these issues are properly addressed, the Summit will provide an opportunity for one of the most significant statements of NATO's plans for the future. If, however, member states lack the political will to take decisions and make the necessary changes, there is at least the danger that NATO will become less relevant in global affairs, and may begin to lose its unique strength as a military alliance.

3. Our predecessors in the last Parliament also commented on significant developments in NATO. First, on the implications of decisions taken at the NATO Summit in Madrid in July 1997 to invite the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to become members of the Alliance.[3] This was followed by a broader assessment of the future of NATO, in advance of the Washington NATO Summit in April 1999, which celebrated the organisation's fiftieth anniversary, and where a new Strategic Concept for the Alliance was agreed.[4]

4. In this report we have considered the agenda items for the Prague Summit. We have focused, therefore, on NATO's future role in the changed strategic context; the ways in which it needs to change to meet new challenges; and the prospects for and implications of enlargement. The events of 11 September marked a radical change in perceptions of the threat to security, and represented a further evolution in the strategic context in the Euro-Atlantic area which had already been transformed by the end of the Cold War. In addition, we have looked at the United States's role in NATO, as we believe this is fundamental to the Alliance's future. The US response to the terrorist attacks, which relied on a coalition of the willing rather than on NATO structures, raised questions about whether NATO has a role in combating international terrorism. We assess the prospects for the United States's future engagement in NATO against this background.

5. In the course of our inquiry we visited seven of the countries which have submitted applications to join NATO.[5] We visited Moscow in June, shortly after the first meeting of the new NATO-Russia Council. We have held discussions at NATO Headquarters in Brussels twice this year, in January and early July, and have met NATO officials when they have been in London. We visited Washington in February. We took oral evidence from a number of academics and commentators, and from the Secretary of State for Defence and officials,[6] and have met visiting delegations from NATO applicant countries at Westminster. We are grateful to all who have contributed to our inquiry.

6. We would particularly like to thank the specialist advisers who have assisted with this inquiry: Professor Michael Clarke, Director, International Policy Institute, King's College London; Dr Jonathan Eyal, Director of Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI); and Dr Irina Isakova, Associate Fellow, RUSI.

1   Ev 32, paragraph 3 Back

2   Q 132; HC Deb, 11 June 2002, c 1162w Back

3   Third Report from the Defence Committee, Session 1997-98, NATO Enlargement, HC 469 Back

4   Third Report from the Defence Committee, Session 1998-99, The Future of NATO: The Washington Summit, HC 39 Back

5   Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia Back

6   See Ev 1-56 Back

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