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“…defence expenditure has to be increased. There can be no ifs or buts about that. … Europe has been freeloading on the United States, as far as NATO is concerned, for long enough. Britain, coming out of the EU, has to demonstrate to the Americans that we are committed to NATO’s defence.

Lord Owen, speaking in the House of Lords Debate on UK Defence Forces, 23 November 2017.

Download the speech here: HLDefenceDebate23.11.17 

My Lords, the issue before us all is that defence expenditure has to be increased. There can be no ifs or buts about that. For the next five years, the National Security Council will have to find an increase from 2% to 2.5% as the bare minimum. That body is looking at cyber, development, defence and foreign policy. It is the right body to give a remit to this new review that it will be funded to this extent. Without that, frankly, it will not be serious.

Europe has been freeloading on the United States, as far as NATO is concerned, for long enough. Britain, coming out of the EU, has to demonstrate to the Americans that we are committed to NATO’s defence. Without that, we will not maintain the support of the American people for their commitment to NATO. Everything that we see indicates that that is vital. Why?

President Putin has admitted that he considered putting Russian nuclear forces on full alert at the time of maximum tension over Crimea, which shows how unwise it is to assume that Russian nuclear strategies are anywhere near the same as ours in NATO. It is also true that President Putin has threatened to base nuclear forces in Crimea and that he has deployed missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave in the Baltic Sea which neighbours Poland and Lithuania. I do not wish to exaggerate—Russian Federation military power is far less than that of the old USSR. The relevant concern we have is the growth in the belief among informed NATO military opinion that Russian conventional forces are now able to punch a hole in NATO’s conventional defences, particularly in the Baltic region. This is the rational case for increased NATO defence spending. Not to allow it is, in my view, to put NATO’s whole deterrent strategy at risk.

It is also vital that in this review we look at the role of the aircraft carrier. Aircraft carriers are huge and hugely expensive, so we have to find a way of making a contribution worldwide through a rapid reaction force committed not only to NATO but, more importantly, to the UN. It should operate worldwide from Oman, and be part of a global British strategy for the next decade that will be beneficial to us in achieving greater prosperity and a global profile. In that context, we must look at the amphibious forces. What is envisaged for the Royal Marines, and for the ships that are necessary, raises very serious questions. How many of us were pleased about the intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000? Without that amphibious capability, our capacity to intervene would have been negligible—in fact, the intervention would have been so dangerous that we could not have undertaken it.

There are big tasks ahead. We now have an integrated structure that looks at our overall international policy. If that means we have to take more from the overseas budget, I would, extremely reluctantly, accept it. There are ways of achieving it within the normal rules, provided that they are changed. For instance, the HMS “Ocean” mission to the British Virgin Islands during the emergency was not a defence expenditure and should be met out of the foreign aid budget. It is ridiculous to be told that OECD rules imply that we cannot use our foreign aid budget because this country was previously considered to be a medium-sized economy. A lot of those OECD rules are out of date and if they cannot be changed, we have to change them unilaterally. The foreign aid budget is potentially extremely important, but day after day we hear how it is grotesquely badly used. The British public will not go on accepting that. It may be that the House of Commons does not have the willpower to change the present resolution, but we in this House have a responsibility to remind Commons Members of their responsibility to the defence of Europe and not to allow this burden to be borne only by the American people.

Download the speech here: HLDefenceDebate23.11.17

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We are on the threshold of another war in the Middle East involving Lebanon and the surrounding countries. It is imperative that Russia and the US start a process to help stabilise the region

Lord Owen’s speech to the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, delivered Thursday 16 November 2017.

Download the full text hereLordOwenMoscowSpeech

In the speech, Lord Owen argues “We are on the threshold of another war in the Middle East involving Lebanon and the surrounding countries. It is imperative that Russia and the US start a process to help stabilise the region using the P5 +1 mechanism with others – a mechanism that has worked in the past over Iran.”

Lord Owen will say “Russia will, in my view, only play the constructive role that it could in its new position, with a military airfield close to Lebanon, if we in the other four nations in 5+1 – Germany, France, US and the UK – offer to enter into a constructive dialogue in the area, above all, which is of immediate concern for Russia, namely east Ukraine and Crimea. A readiness to establish formal 5+1 negotiations for the settlement of not only these boundary disputes but also involving those near Moldova, namely Transnistria. Also Georgia, Nagorno Karabakh and even perhaps Kosovo, could be a way of unblocking the present stand off in negotiating directly with Ukraine and sets the dialogue in terms of other boundary changes.”

“Patiently, persuasively and persistently in the P5+1 on Eastern Europe and on the Middle East, deals can be made that, balanced across these two separate regions, could help to rebuild the relationship between Russia and the US and involve Iran in the context of Russian help in stabilising the Middle East.”

“We need Presidents Putin and Trump to authorise this process and the sooner the better and start to develop a measure of regard for each other’s domestic arrangements. They will not repair all the strains and stresses quickly, but a civilized dialogue can and must be restored.”

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The International Community and Iran: “Putin… has more to gain for Russia from becoming an overall peace negotiator with the US and to help the Middle East as a region… 

Lord Owen speaking to a Conference on ‘The Iranian Challenge in Multiple Areas’, Tel Aviv University, 6 November 2017.

“There will be no peace in the Middle East if Russia sides with the Iran-Alawite-Hezbollah axis alone. Yet Putin, at the moment, has every reason to continue to focus attention on them but he has more to gain for Russia from becoming an overall peace negotiator with the US and to help the Middle East as a region build its own strategic consensus.”

Read the full text here: Tel Aviv speech

 

 

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BBC Radio 4 Today interview: reflecting on the last 60 years

Lord Owen was interviewed by John Humphrys on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on 11 October 2017, reflecting on the last 60 years.  Listen to the full length unedited interview here: BBC Radio 4 Today interview

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Lord Owen argues the need for a Brexit Default Position.

Speaking at The Times Forum Meeting at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, Sunday 8 October 2017.

8.10.17PRESS RELEASE

It is now clear that the German and French governments have vetoed moving into discussions on the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence. We will lose at least two months of negotiating time. We are witnessing the classic Brussels rolling out of delaying tactics compounded by the UK Government’s dithering. It is all creating political uncertainty.

If there is not greater clarity by the turn of the year, it will really start to hurt: investment projects can’t be held on hold indefinitely, and there will probably be the first material cancellations in the first quarter if this continues.

Since it looks as if the EU will keep stringing things out, my own strong preference now is for a UK unilateral declaration (as quickly as possible) of how the UK intends to operate in the absence of the EU being prepared to discuss the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence. This should be our Default Position for leaving the EU under Article 20 at the end of March 2019 involving a transition period of two years prior to operating under WTO in 2021.

Firstly, the UK should stay in the EEA for two years and seek to make arrangements with Norway and others under the Non-EU governance pillar arrangements to do that. We should operate that agreement ‘as is’. The UK would not give the one year’s notice of our intention to leave the EEA agreement in March 2018 (ie. in six months’ time.)

If the EU challenge our position as a Non-EU contracting party to the EEAA, we should go to international dispute resolution using the Vienna Convention. (If the EU wish to open themselves up to legal action by any business that is adversely affected by their lack of cooperation with an established procedure for international agreement that is an EU responsibility).

The UK should start as a Non-EU contracting party to introduce, after the fullest negotiations, our own UK management measures in our own UK fishing waters and our own agricultural policies again after fullest negotiation with all 31 other Contracting parties to the EEA Agreement. Consultations will start to introduce EEAA-compliant limitations on free movement of workers in 2019.

The UK should continue to operate the common external tariff for two years and run things exactly as now. Eg. French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Bulgarian wine, etc. can come in tariff free and on the current arrangements provided only that they reciprocate. If they don’t, the UK should follow the time honoured practice of tit-for-tat, up to WTO levels.

Within the two year period, the UK should start to negotiate international FTAs while giving a priority to the EU. If there is no readiness on behalf of the EU to negotiate a FTA seriously, other FTAs might become operative before March 2021.

The UK can collect customs duties as now, but not (as now) pay the great bulk of that revenue to the EU. Rather we will take a slice from it to cover the Financial Mechanism payments entailed by the EEAA, which are paid by the UK direct to the beneficiaries (Poland, the Baltics, Romania, etc, etc.) The beneficiaries will appreciate that since they need it. We would pay the rest of the customs duties into the general budget for the two year period, provided other EEA states reciprocate on the other aspects. If they don’t, we should keep that revenue.

The UK should settle our pension obligations soon and separately. It shouldn’t be much when assets are netted off. This is what the EU have always said they wanted.

This Default Position which would not involve the ECJ but the EFTA Court is a reasonable and fair way to proceed. Is it too much to hope that the House of Commons on a cross party basis could come together on such a basis if the EU stand-off continues after October?

 

END

NOTE TO EDITORS

The Financial Mechanism section of the Agreement provides for the only mandatory payments of non-EU states. It is basically a compulsory regional policy. The EFTA website describes it as follows.

First, the EEA EFTA States contribute towards reducing economic and social disparities in the EEA through the EEA Grants. Currently the beneficiary states include Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. In addition to the EEA Grants, Norway has funded a parallel scheme since 2004 – the Norway Grants. The funding period covering 2014-2021 has a total financial envelope of approximately EUR 400 million per year. These contributions are not managed by the EU, but by the EFTA Financial Mechanism Office in collaboration with the beneficiary countries.

Over 40% of the Norwegian payment (the Norway Grants) is voluntary, instituted when oil prices were high, so we could avoid that. A better estimate of the mandatory amount for Norway is probably around EUR 225 million per annum. Since our GDP is a little over seven times higher, the implied figure for the UK might be around £1.6 billion per year.

8.10.17PRESS RELEASE

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Lord Owen reacts to the Prime Minister’s speech In Florence, 22 September 2017.

“I believe the whole country can and should now rally to support this negotiating position.

“We are in the midst of the most difficult international negotiation we have ever faced. Disunity weakens our negotiating hand.

“Brexit is the people’s choice. If politicians play games with this issue they imperil the country.

“Brexit does not belong to the Conservative Party. We need cross-party input into refining and buttressing the all important detail of this new UK position.

“The European Commission will hopefully now start the second stage, building up towards agreement by October 2018.”

 

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“Brexit: we cannot buck the will of the people… but the Government must take more account of its own MPs and… those favourable to Brexit who want some accommodation on democratic choices.”

Lord Owen interviewed by CNN on “the Road to Brexit”

http://www.snappytv.com/tc/5745274

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The world faces a very grave situation over what to do to contain the North Korea dictator.

Lord Owen in the Daily Mirror 5 September 2017

View the article here: DropMOABifDiplomacyFails

The world faces a very grave situation over what to do to contain the Korean dictatorship of Kim Jong-un after the sixth and most powerful nuclear test in defiance of international law and progressively tougher UN resolutions passed unanimously with the support of China and Russia.

This comes after a series of Korean missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads were launched demonstrating to Japan and South Korea that they can be hit and promising the same would be done to the island of Guam in the Pacific.

Guam is an unincorporated US territory whose inhabitants are automatically US citizens and it has been a critical place for US defence ever since the war against Japan in 1941.

The closest comparable threat to the US was during the night of the 26 October 1962 when Soviet troops in Cuba, ignoring President Kennedy’s earlier public demand for the removal of all Soviet missiles, moved three FKR missiles with 14 kiloton nuclear warheads, to within 15 miles of the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

For that one night the Russians, without reference back to Moscow, had orders to fire if the US invaded the island.

The UK will not be asked in advance to approve any US action against North Korea but the UK was part of a UN force that the Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, agreed should fight in defence of South Korea in June 1950.

The Korean War was brought to an end in July 1953 after President Eisenhower had used the Indian Prime Minister Nehru to warn the Chinese leader Zhou Enlai in May

that the US would use atomic bombs north of the Yalu river in North Korea unless peace talks in Panmunjom between North and South Korea made rapid progress.

In 2006 the deteriorating situation in North Korea was part of an “uncertain world too big a risk for our defence” that convinced another Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to renew our UK nuclear deterrent. More recently some 170 Labour MPs supported that decision in Parliament, later confirmed in Labour’s manifesto in the recent 2017 General Election.

So Britain cannot wash its hands of the dilemma the US faces and disown any decision President Trump might make particularly if it emerges it had the support of the Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis.

President Trump has talked directly to the Chinese President Xi in person and by other means many times. If Chinese diplomacy cannot change the mind of the Korean leader what will short of force? Perhaps initially using the Massive Ordnance Air Blast bombs on all nuclear sites will suffice, leaving nuclear bombs as a last resort only if South Korea is attacked.

These MOAB bombs (also known as Mother of All Bombs) were used for the first time ever in April against an ISIS tunnel and cave complex in Afghanistan. It is an horrendous choice the US is facing.

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