Martin spoke in the Westminster Hall Debate on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and NATO Summit 2023 in Vilnius. Here is an extract of his speech transcribed via Hansard:
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP (SNP, West Dunbartonshire): As someone who spent a brief time on the NATO PA and longer on the Defence Committee, I am no stranger to these debates.
The issues of the High North and the north Atlantic were a constant litany from me when I was on the Committee, which I am sure the right hon. Members for North Durham (Mr Jones) and for Warley (John Spellar) were too aware of. One issue that I constantly raised was the north Atlantic command. It sadly did not come to the UK; it went to Norfolk in the United States, but it was welcome to see that gap being filled after some substantial time.
As ever in such debates, there is an unusual amount of agreement from all sides. I hope to continue in that spirit. Any illusion we had of living on a peaceful continent has been shattered. The conference itself is an ideal moment for us to reiterate the commitment to ensuring that Ukraine specifically has whatever economic and military aid it needs, not only to repel the Russian invasion but to restore its pre-2014 boundaries. We know that one calculation that President Putin made when proceeding with his disastrous strategy was that Europe and the western allies were too divided to really care about Ukraine and its people.
I am glad to say that he not only has been proven spectacularly wrong in that regard, but he has spurred such a precipitous move away from economic dependence on Russia that with each passing day he loses the ability to divide our societies in the way he once did. Just as it will be no surprise to all those here today who have heard me opine on Ukraine over the years, so it should be no surprise to those watching the debate from the Russian embassy that although there may be innumerable subjects on which this House does not unanimously agree, this is certainly not one of them.
One thing that we will be hoping to see at the summit— I hope that Members agree—is a move towards some sort of NATO membership action plan for Ukraine. Obviously, the same caveats apply as we might see elsewhere, but a direction of travel, I think, must be established. When talking about these scenarios, it is always, of course, article 5 that is given the most attention. I think that the right hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell mentioned it in his opening speech, but in Ukraine’s case we can clearly hope to proceed with aid and mutual assurance along the lines of articles 2 and 3. Article 2 refers to:
“the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions, by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions are founded, and by promoting conditions of stability and well-being.”
Article 3 states that:
“the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”
We are moving well along the track of article 3 without necessarily acknowledging it, but we will not achieve anything if we do not ensure that Ukrainian civil society and the country’s institutions receive just as much attention as the deliveries of Storm Shadow missiles. I hope, therefore, that last month’s conference here in this city will become an annual event even after Crimea is liberated from the clutches of Vladimir Putin.
Part of the strengthening of free institutions among our NATO allies is of course the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I am glad that it is getting the recognition that it deserves in the debate today. Multilateral institutions like NATO can often be disparaged; I think that the right hon. Member for Warley alluded to that. They can be disparaged as “parasitic or pointless”, to quote Anne Applebaum’s excellent profile of the Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, in the latest edition of The Atlantic magazine. What the Parliamentary Assembly does is bring the democracies that constitute the alliance, however messy and imperfect they may be, to the leading edge of what makes NATO important and of its strength. I think that, far from its democratic nature being a drag, events such as the invasion have demonstrated how, although autocracies may notionally be able to move quicker, NATO is, to quote Applebaum’s article again, one of the “force multipliers that function better than the autocracies run by strongmen.”
This is because when NATO and similar multilateral institutions make a decision, they tend to stick to it. The other democratic aspect of NATO that we often overlook is the fact that it is a consensus organisation: Iceland and the recent member, Montenegro, have as much say on the North Atlantic Council as the United States or, indeed, the UK.
Iceland and Montenegro have as much say in the North Atlantic Council as the United States or the UK—this is where I might disagree with some Members, because whenever I hear committed Brexiteers waxing lyrical about NATO membership, I am always tempted to ask if they would not prefer to have the qualified majority voting of the EU. The consensus approach makes the choice of a Secretary-General so fraught and unpredictable, which is why someone who has proven to be such a reliable leader of the alliance will continue to be the best choice going forward.
I am of course biased in favour of a social democratic politician from an unequivocally non-nuclear northern European state who can lead NATO with such understated authority. That is precisely the sort of multilateralism that my party and I like to see. We are not alone, however. The Secretary-General is expected to be confirmed in post for at least another year.
I will take a brief moment to break from the consensus, in particular on the recent speculation about the Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. and gallant Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), being put forward for the Secretary-General role—I have ensured that he knows I am naming him, albeit in a good fashion. Being someone who has come up against him and his predecessors at first hand, I can certainly say that the Secretary of State stands head and shoulders above them as a man who has not shrunk from the myriad challenges in his Department. Although I may not have always agreed with him, he has played mainly with a straight bat when dealing with Parliament and with No. 10, who I am sure do not consider him to be one of the nodding dogs that they prefer to fill the Cabinet with.
As we were reminded just last week, the Secretary of State is the most popular Cabinet Minister among the Tory rank and file, a man who had to fend off nominations to be Prime Minister. Anyone behind a campaign that had between zero and heehaw’s chance in succeeding deserves a court martial at the very least. That is not because the Secretary of State is unsuitable—not at all—but because this is a critical moment for the issue of NATO and the EU, and there is no chance that a UK candidate could hope to succeed at this time. That is important to the overall debate about the role of the Assembly.
I read the Telegraph’s so-called exclusive this week that the White House would prefer to have the President of the European Commission succeed Secretary-General Stoltenberg, but it was hardly the shock that some people think, especially given the current US presidential Administration. I therefore make one slightly discordant plea not to put us through this every year: states that cannot—some would say—unequivocally support the twin pillars of European-Atlantic security will never find consensus behind them.
Before I get accused of being simply a petty Scottish nationalist, I have to say that that is a fact that not only the UK, but France and Germany may have to get used to as well. In various ways, each of the largest European states has demonstrated that in different ways, but they cannot rely on the weight of the past, especially with both the EU and NATO having expanded so much. In this debate, we have inevitably focused on UK contributions to Ukraine, but often it has been the countries of central and eastern Europe that have done the heaviest lifting, not least Estonia, which has spent the largest amount of per capita GDP on bilateral aid. Let me declare a non-pecuniary interest as the co-chair of the all-party group on Estonia.
We in the Scottish National party believe—as do the Government of Ukraine—that the two pillars of European security are NATO and, for us at least, the EU. I am afraid that I am the only person who is able to be so unequivocal in my summing-up speech, although having to state that is pretty incredible. Let us wish, too, for tangible progress on the future of Ukrainian membership, along with a reiteration of the fact that our support for Ukraine will last longer than the Russian invasion with its heavy losses can—the Russians will continue to experience those until they leave Ukraine.
Watch the debate in full here.