NATO was today urged to ramp up its defences against mounting Russian aggression.
“Smart, speedy, collective action and deterrence” is needed to confront Kremlin threats, the western military alliance was warned.
A policy paper called on the organisation to “ensure it has the necessary resources to counter Russian aggression in the form of cyber attacks, biological weapons and disinformation campaigns”.
The alert comes two years after Russian agents were accused over the Novichok poisoning of former MI6 double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, Wilts, and amid increasing fears over Moscow-backed interference in foreign elections.
NATO was also told to draw up plans for “conflict avoidance and de-escalation” with China, after Beijing imposed a strict new security law on Hong Kong and bids to spread its power and influence across the West.
The calls came in a paper by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, written by a host of respected senior figures.
They include former Defence Secretary and ex-NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, and Britain’s former ambassador to NATO Lord Peter Ricketts, the UK’s first national security adviser.
Lord Robertson said: “Since it was established in 1949, NATO has played a vital role in preserving a way of life based on freedom and liberal values.
“As new threats emerge from an increasingly aggressive China and Russia, the alliance must step up to meet them and demonstrate its enduring importance in a more uncertain world.
“Failure to do so risks imperilling global security and undermining the prosperity and stability that NATO has helped to create for more than 70 years.”
Russia has been the alliance’s traditional “enemy” since NATO was formed in 1949.
But the rise of Beijing and its increasing military might has triggered new concerns in the 21st Century.
“China’s military spending has increased this year by 6.6%,” says the paper.
“It is clear President Xi Jinping remains committed to the modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army by 2035 and its transformation into a ‘world-class’ military by 2049.
“Recent events demonstrate the determination China has to bring Hong Kong under its firm grip, raising grave concerns for its future as well as that of Taiwan.
“China’s argument with India, and ongoing disputes with Japan, demonstrate preparedness to press territorial claims from the Himalayas to the South China Seas.”
The authors, who also included former Lib Dem leader Lord Menzies Campbell, the EU’s ex-high representative for foreign affairs, Baroness Cathy Ashton Policy, and policy Institute research director Benedict Wilkinson urged NATO to trigger a “frank debate” about freedom, democracy and human rights – principles they say the alliance was founded on.
Critics have accused some members of drifting from the ideals – and the paper suggests some countries could even be kicked out.
“We are deeply concerned that the policies of a number of NATO governments are moving away from these fundamental values,” says the six-page paper, ‘The future strategic direction of NATO’.
“If this is allowed to continue without consequences, it will weaken the solidarity between allies.
“NATO leaders should hold a frank debate on this issue at their next meeting and should be willing to consider suspension of a member state as an ultimate step.”
They also urged the 30 countries that make-up the organisation not to cut defence funding – despite budgets coming under pressure during the coronavirus pandemic.