Contributions from Sir Gerald Howarth MP in Debate on Ukraine, Middle East, North Africa and Security

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): This has been a fascinating and informative debate. I am sorry only that the amount of time that we have to discuss these significant and important matters has been curtailed. I suppose that it is rather telling that—with great respect to those who are in the press gallery—the press gallery is virtually empty. I do not expect to read anything about this debate in the newspapers tomorrow because it will not be exciting or controversial. Perhaps the British people would be better informed if they knew that their Parliament was taking these things seriously.

As Members across the House have been saying, since 2010, we have been in a period of extraordinary turmoil. Since we completed our strategic security and defence review in 2010, fundamental changes have taken place across north Africa, the middle east and Ukraine. Nothing calls more for a really serious new strategic defence and security review than the state of affairs at the moment. I hope that the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and other Government Departments will put time and effort into producing a strategy. We were unable to do that in 2010 because we were up against the time scale of the comprehensive spending review.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), who has been banging on repeatedly about the need for strategic thinking. So much has changed since the fall of the Berlin wall. All the certainties with which I grew up, including the balance of terror, have all gone, and we have inherited a very turbulent world. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) made a compelling speech. He said that we need to invest more money in intelligence and in the Foreign Office; it is absurd that we invest so little in the Foreign Office and I hope that that will change.

Like the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), I wish to refer to matters in Ukraine, as they are very serious and much closer to our borders than the important issues in Syria and Iraq. Personally, I want good relations with Russia-

Nadhim Zahawi: At the NATO summit an agreement was reached under which all member countries have to get their investment in defence up to 2% of GDP over the next 10 years. Does my hon. Friend think that that is adequate?

Sir Gerald Howarth: I would like member countries to get up to 2%. At least they will be fulfilling the commitments to which they have signed up. Clearly, the international situation is so demanding that we all need to review whether that is the correct level of expenditure. At the moment, NATO depends heavily on the contribution of the United States. The people of Britain and Europe must understand that American taxpayers have made a big contribution to our overall defence.

On the question of Ukraine and Russia, it is instructive to remind ourselves that, at the NATO-Russia Council meeting in 2002, Vladimir Putin said

“Russia is prepared to act in accordance with international law, international rules in the course of a civilised dialogue for the achieving of common and joint ends.”

Indeed, in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear arsenal—the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world—the Budapest agreement, which was signed by his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, said:

“The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine…to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.”

Those three nations reaffirmed their obligation

“to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.”

We have seen a flagrant breach of that agreement, which was signed by Boris Yeltsin, Bill Clinton and John Major. If Putin can simply renege on the agreements he has signed, what does that 2002 speech mean?

Russia now believes in the extraordinary and dangerous doctrine that it can intervene in other sovereign countries if it believes there is any threat to those who have Russian connections or who speak Russian. That is chilling. We should remind ourselves that, inThe Daily Telegraph, the Russian ambassador wrote:

“With the rights of national minorities violated and the interests of regions disregarded, the people of Crimea found it necessary to determine their own political future by means of a referendum—and to do it fast.”

We know that it was Russian military intervention that took Ukraine. We need to be clear that there is no land link between Russia and Crimea at the moment. All that is going on in eastern Ukraine is designed to soften it up so that, at some point, Putin will come in, possibly link up with Odessa and Transnistria, and render the rump of Ukraine a landlocked country. They are very serious matters. We must make it clear to Russia that the Baltic states are subject to article 5. There can be absolutely no doubt about it. It is irrefutable that article 5 stands.

I am sorry that we have not had enough time to debate these matters. The Scottish referendum will take place next Thursday. With Russia penetrating our airspace and following our sea lanes, the idea that we should surrender a part of the United Kingdom and render it a foreign country and therefore not part of NATO.