New Forest East



Sir Julian Lewis: It is a matter of great satisfaction that we have American visitors present today to witness the absolute unity of outlook on both sides of this Chamber. It can never be stressed too often that three concepts lie at the heart of defence and security: deterrence, containment and the unpredictability of future conflicts. To give an example of the last, one has only to look at the exchange between the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and myself on the day of the invasion. I asked him:

“If, as appears likely, Ukraine gets overwhelmed, will we offer to give sanctuary to a Government in exile, pending Ukraine’s future freedom?”

The then Prime Minister replied, quite sensibly:

“One of the points I made to President Zelensky this morning was that it might be necessary for him to find a safe place for him and his Cabinet to go.” – [Official Report, 24 February 2022; Vol. 709, c. 570.]

I was quite sensible in asking that question, and my right hon. Friend was quite sensible in giving that answer because, let us be frank, not many people – at least, not many outside the Cabinet and Government of Ukraine – thought that Ukraine had much chance of resisting what appeared to be, and indeed was, a massive, albeit ill-conceived, onslaught against numerically far smaller forces. I said there are three concepts, and that is an example of the unpredictability of future warfare.

I remind amateur strategists, such as myself, in all parties, that just as we were not prepared for the successful resistance of Ukraine, we should not now become too complacent that Ukraine cannot possibly be defeated. We could wake up tomorrow to find that there has been some terrific, unexpected Russian breakthrough and the whole strategic situation has changed completely. That is why the appeals being made so strongly from both sides of the House are that we must, to coin someone coining someone else coining a phrase, “give them the tools to finish the job”.

It can be argued that deterrence failed, but why did deterrence fail in terms of Russia invading Ukraine? I am sorry to share this with friends from across the Atlantic, but one reason deterrence failed in this context was that the invasion of Ukraine by Russia came almost six months to the day from the catastrophic and bungled exit from Afghanistan by NATO. I am not saying that that planted the seed in Putin’s mind to do what he did, but it certainly may have affected the timing of him doing something that he had almost certainly wanted to do for a long time. We have to bear in mind what sort of signals we were sending. The answer is that we were sending signals of weakness, and when signals of weakness are sent to an authoritarian – that is the rather mild term used these days for what most of us from another era would call the totalitarian – type of government, we ought to know what to expect their behaviour to be.

I have talked about unpredictability and the limitations of deterrence. There is one element of deterrence – nuclear deterrence – where the results are more certain, should one dare put it to the test; but it nevertheless has to be considered in every scenario, no matter what sort of terrible fighting and atrocious behaviour may go on below the level of the nuclear threshold.

Let us talk a little bit about containment. Containment is what one has to do when faced with a deeply hostile opponent. It is no good talking about battling for “mutual understanding”. The trouble is, we can have mutual understanding where one person understands that the other person is a democrat and the democrat understands that the other person is a totalitarian dictator. That is not a recipe for peace; it is actually a sound portrayal of a situation where, unless the democrat shows the dictator that he cannot get his own way by force of arms, the dictator will try to get his own way by force of arms.

I have two other topics I shall touch on briefly in this contribution. One is to draw attention to an important analysis that appeared on the website “Desk Russie” on 30 December 2021, just two months before the invasion. It was by an old friend of mine whom I have known for the best part of 40 years. She is a brilliant French historian and former Sovietologist called Dr Françoise Thom. She drew attention to the texts of two draft treaties that were unveiled by the Russian Foreign Ministry on 17 December 2021. One was a draft treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation on security guarantees, and the other was a draft agreement on measures to ensure the security of the Russian Federation and the member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It was made absolutely clear that these were take it or leave it offers. They were encapsulated by the deputy Foreign Minister Grushko, who said:

“The Europeans must also think about whether they want to avoid making their continent the scene of a military confrontation. They have a choice. Either they take seriously what is put on the table, or they face a military-technical alternative” –

that is war to the rest of us. This is a deputy Foreign Minister stating in terms that unless European states do what Russia wants, they can expect to be embroiled in armed conflict.

A former deputy Minister of Defence, Andrey Kartapolov, of the Duma Defence Committee, said as follows: 

“Our partners” 

– meaning our partners in the west – 

“must understand that the longer they drag out the examination of our proposals and the adoption of real measures to create these guarantees, the greater the likelihood that they will suffer a pre-emptive strike.”

What was in those draft treaties? I will give the Chamber one example. Article 4 states, in part, that

“the Russian Federation and all participants which were, as of 27 May 1997, member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, shall not deploy their armed forces and armaments on the territory of any other European state in addition to the forces stationed on that territory as of 27 May 1997.”

What is the significance of 1997? Well it is this, Madam Deputy Speaker: it was only after 1997 that 14 of the present 30 members of NATO joined the alliance. Starting in 1999, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined, and then almost a dozen more followed.

What the Russians were basically saying was that, unless America agrees to withdraw its support from all those newly freed democracies, and unless all NATO countries agree to withdraw their armed forces from all those NATO member countries, they can expect to find themselves in an armed conflict with Russia. The trouble is, statements of that sort do not get reported in the west as clearly as they should be – if they do at all. They are generally kept in, as it were, the specialised centres and the highly learned brains of people like Dr Françoise Thom.

I am basically saying that there are three outcomes when we get into a situation such as this. The first is that we can capitulate. The second is open warfare. The third is containment, otherwise known in the old days as cold war. I really resent it when people say, “Oh, you don’t want to go back to the cold war.” If the alternatives are capitulation or open warfare, then cold war is the very best we can do in staring down an aggressor.

I end where I began when intervening earlier to draw attention to the state of the UK’s defence budget, notwithstanding the considerable injection of cash that was made under the previous Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip. Even that only brought our percentage of defence expenditure up from about 2.1% of GDP to 2.3%.

A few years earlier, in 2015-16, there was a change in the accounting methods for calculating what our expenditure on defence was as a proportion of GDP. That was not an illegitimate change; it just led to us including certain items which NATO counts towards defence expenditure that we had not previously counted. If it had not been for that change in accounting, our expenditure on defence would not have been at 2.1%, which was what it was before the cash injection given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip; it would have been at 1.8%. My right hon. Friend’s cash injection would have taken it up to 2.1%.

Under the old system of accounting, in the mid-1990s, we were still spending 3% of GDP on defence. At the height of the cold war, in the mid-1980s, as I have said time and again to this House, we regularly and consistently spent – under the old system of accounting – between 4.5% and 5% of GDP on defence. We hear talk of arguments between the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury on whether some extra billions will be made available. We all recognise that if Ukraine succeeds in defeating this aggression, while they will be doing it for their own benefit, they will benefit the whole of the western world. It will mean that the odds of us ever having to engage in that sort of fighting ourselves, against a regime of the sort there is in Russia, will be massively reduced.

Ask yourself, Madam Deputy Speaker, what we would do if we found ourselves against our will forced into a conflict of that sort. Immediately, the amount we had to spend on defence would shoot up, not to 3% but probably to something like 10% or 15%. It would take every single scrap of effort, financially, economically and industrially, that this country could possibly generate. That is what always happens if we find ourselves in a war – not to mention all the costs in human life, treasure and misery. Therefore, this should be seen as an investment. If we increase our defence budget, we are investing in the freedom of Ukraine, and we are investing in the freedom and peace of the whole of the western world.