We must not walk away from NATO, but lead the way in reforming it

As the North Atlantic Alliance gathers in London this week, it is important to remember what it has achieved. Over seven decades, NATO members have enjoyed peace and prosperity – breaking from a past that witnessed the two world wars claim over a hundred million lives. That process of working together towards peace should never be taken for granted.

NATO provides stability in a rapidly changing world and the UK’s membership matters. To secure our vital interests, maintain a permanent place on the UN Security Council, and to effectively respond to threats, we must be prepared to work with our neighbours. 

That is true even with the fifth largest economy in the world, the fifth largest defence budget and the second largest overseas aid budget. Those partnerships come not just from the UN, the EU or future trade deals, but also through the shared values and common interests formalised through NATO.

NATO has challenges to overcome. Yet far from belonging to the era of the Cold War, it is already adapting to meet the threats of the future. 

The world is too big and too complex for unilateralism, and time is too short to form a coalition each time we need to respond. Crises will develop at speed and our response times will need to match.

It will be from within existing organisations such as NATO and the UN that the speed and scope we need will come. NATO must become quicker, more adaptable and more effective. 

The UK should help lead those reforms, rather than walk away from the very structures that will enable our effective response. Investments in cyber, intelligence, special forces and unmanned vehicles from across the Alliance are already part of preparing for that future.

Our party, the Labour Party, is an internationalist party. That internationalism has always been at the heart of a desire to change our world for the better. It was the Labour Party that played a key role in creating the post war order; first through the 1948 Brussels pact for collective defence, and then a year later with the formation of NATO. We remain rightly proud of the leadership shown by Ernest Bevin and Clement Attlee. 

Now, at a time of great global uncertainty – when threats emanate from every corner and old alliances hang precariously in the balance – the UK, and the Labour Party, must lead the way in reforming it and making it ready for the challenges of the 21st century.

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