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UK Can Expect Enhanced NATO Role After Brexit, Top General Says

NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Sir James Everard, has spoken exclusively to Forces News.

The man who holds Britain’s most senior military position in NATO says the UK can expect an enhanced role in the Alliance after Brexit.

NATO's Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Sir James Everard, has spoken exclusively to Forces News.

'DSACEUR' is how the military refers to the position - first held by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.

Britain has held the Alliance’s number two military post for nearly 70 years.

Now, Brexit has prompted suggestions Britain should lose its prestigious 'DSACEUR' role.

It is an idea General Everard dismisses: "The area that people had talked about was the DSACEUR's responsibility for coordinating activity between NATO and the European Union and there were a number of countries in the EU that believed that this would be best done by someone who came from the European Union.

Brexit has prompted suggestions that Britain should lose its prestigious DSACEUR role.
Brexit has prompted suggestions that Britain should lose its prestigious DSACEUR role.

"Actually that debate has taken place very quickly and people have concluded that it's best done as it is done now, and I think when look you look beyond Brexit - if the UK leave - then about 60% of the combat power in NATO sits outside the European Union members of NATO.

"Even when we get to Brexit, I think one of the compensations will be the fact that the UK do more through NATO rather than less.

"So NATO, cornerstone of UK defence policy - here to stay and I think here to grow."

General Everard still uses Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's old desk.
General Everard still uses Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's old desk.

Britain, he says, will continue to be a leading nation in NATO, tackling two main concerns.

“NATO will talk about two strategic focuses for the alliance – one of those being Russia, and the other one being international terrorist groups.

"And people will say - well what about all these other problems in the world?

"Well you have to get agreement with 29 nations that these are problems – challenges you are going to face.

"At the moment we are addressing those two - Russia and international terrorist groups.

"Because we reckon, although this is not a world of confrontation, it is a world of competition and we need to work out how we best contest these challenges."

Brexit demonstration in London.
Brexit demonstration in London.

NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence is a response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Four multinational battlegroups have been sent to Poland and the Baltic States.

Britain leads around 1,000 troops in a battlegroup in Estonia.

But is that enough to reassure a population fearful of its Russian neighbour?

“If you go to the Baltic nations, if you go to Poland, has eFP [enhanced Forward Presence] had the effect we want it to have?

"Yes - people feel assured. They feel absolute faith in NATO's commitment to collective defence and Article 5 because you have physically demonstrated, through the deterrence these troops provide, your commitment to the alliance.

"People say they are only battlegroups but of course they might be battlegroups provided by member states to these countries, but they have become coherent parts of those nations' framework brigades and so they are more powerful than you might think.” 

NATO Tanks (Picture: ARRC).
NATO Tanks (Picture: ARRC).

The NATO alliance could find itself involved in another region.

Libya is in turmoil and NATO is making plans should it be asked for help.  

“Like all these countries where there are frictions, we watch, we observe and we plan the necessary contingency operations. 

"Of course, Libya's not a NATO nation.

"It has no NATO troops on the ground but there's a heavy UN presence there, and of course all NATO members are members of the UN and we have done, I think, sensible planning to allow us to actually support the United Nations if that was requested.

General Everard said NATO would be ready to respond if the UN gives the call.

Security forces patrol south of Libyan capital Tripoli (Picture: PA).
Security forces patrol south of Libyan capital Tripoli (Picture: PA).

NATO has also had to adapt to a US President who demands that other member countries pay more.

“Every question that President Trump asks, should be asked and should be answerable, and actually if you were to see the impact of the pressure he has applied on the Alliance, in large part it's been very positive with defence spending increasing across the board," General Everard says.

"I always think - don't necessarily look at the words, look at the deeds that underpin them, and I think the US are here to stay as the foundation stone of the Alliance." 

UK Apaches deploy to Estonia.
UK Apaches deploy to Estonia.

When asked if they are in Afghanistan to stay, given recent discussion over whether they may pull out troops, General Everard commented: "The line is that we will adapt together – that's the US and NATO – I think that's sensible.

"We came in together and the idea is that we will eventually leave together.

"I run force generation as I said meaning we will fill 97% of the statement of requirement for that operation this year.

"It's never been a better fill rate than that I think since the operation started and that shows that people are staying together. 

"Yes, are they waiting for the outcome of talks that are going on, Doha later this month?

"Of course they are, and may that shape their future decisions? Yes, of course, it may, but at the moment people are showing remarkable solidarity."

NATO exterior (Picture NATO TV).
NATO exterior (Picture NATO TV).

In its 70th anniversary year, NATO has been in reflective mood.

General Everard says he is optimistic about the future, but that in a turbulent world, his organisation is as important as ever:

"I am an optimist about the future.

"You could go through that catalogue of strategic shocks that we the West have faced even in this decade - 2001, 9/11, perhaps proving for the first time that our values weren’t as universal as we wanted them to be; the financial crash.

NATO HQ, Brussels (Picture: NATO TV).
NATO HQ, Brussels (Picture: NATO TV).

"This 'great moderation' was short-lived and you know, what people see as grave inequality between those that have and those that haven’t has led to anger with governments and a growth of populism both left and right wing.

"You mention the US retreat from the West - I think over-exaggerated but it's part of the narrative that worries people.

"You could go on and on, you know, I think the migrant crisis, there’s a whole catalogue of these things which has shaken people’s beliefs in the world order that they thought they understood, and we need our leaders to once again impress on people that that approach, that model is viable and productive to their daily lives."