HC Deb 17 July 1968 vol 768 cc1398-400
4. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the Brussels conference with particular reference to the strength of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces on the continent of Europe.

51. Mr. Cronin

asked the the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the Brussels conference and on the consideration given at that conference to the future strength of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces in Europe.

Mr. Healey

I assume that the questions refer to the Ministerial Meetings on 10th May, 1968. N.A.T.O. Defence Ministers reaffirmed the need for the Alliance to maintain an effective military capability and to assure the balance of forces between N.A.T.O. and the Warsaw Pact in Europe and elsewhere. They adopted a series of force goals for the period 1969–73; these mark a further stage in the adaptation of N.A.T.O.'s force structure to the strategic concept of a balanced range of appropriate responses. Welcoming the fact that studies were now proceeding within N.A.T.O. on the subject of possible balanced force reductions, they agreed that the overall military capability of N.A.T.O. should not be reduced except as part of a pattern of mutual force reductions balanced in scope and timing. On other problems, N.A.T.O. Defence Ministers adopted a concept for external reinforcement of the flanks to supplement local national forces in an emergency, and agreed that present circumstances did not justify the deployment of an anti-ballistic missile system in Europe.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Long Answers mean fewer Questions.

Mr. Allaun

But, at a time when America and Russia are beginning to talk sense and N.A.T.O. and Warsaw Pact troop reductions are at least being discussed, is it not crazy for Britain unilaterally to increase her commitment to N.A.T.O?

Mr. Healey

No, Sir, that is not the case at all. There are certain gaps in N.A.T.O.'s existing capability. If we want to negotiate effectively on force reductions, we must be certain that we are starting from a firm, secure base; one of the purposes of the increased force commitments made by Britain is to fill those gaps to provide a basis from which negotiations can sensibly begin.

Mr. Cronin

While I entirely approve in principle of my right hon. Friend's statement about our increased commitment to N.A.T.O. in Brussels, at the same time, would he make it clear that such increased commitment is not used as a reason in future years for reductions in United States commitments to N.A.T.O., which would have the effect of transferring the defence burden from the United States to our own unhappy shoulders?

Mr. Healey

Yes, Sir. The American Administration has always made it clear that one of the problems which they face in the Congress is the feeling of many American Parliamentarians that Europe is not pulling its weight in defence. The fact that Britain is now carrying a slightly larger share of the allied burden is helping the American Administration to resist pressure for unreasonable cuts in its own commitments, but I have made it clear to the Ministers in Brussels, and have said publicly, that our readiness to continue this form of commitment will depend on other members of the Alliance carrying their fair share of the burden.

Mr. Maudling

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of Mr. McNamara's thesis that there is now a rough balance in conventional forces between N.A.T.O. and the Warsaw Pact powers. As this appears to call in question the whole of the present N.A.T.O. strategy, will the Government give us a definitive explanation of their assessment of Mr. McNamara's assessment?

Mr. Healey

Mr. McNamara's assessment is not shared by any of the other N.A.T.O. members, nor by the military advisers in N.A.T.O., including the Commander-in-Chief, but we are, of course, in touch within the Alliance about some of the factors which Mr. McNamara has raised on this matter. We shall hope to reach an agreed view of the relative force capabilities on both sides in the near future.

Mr. Maudling

In view of the eminence of Mr. McNamara, and his information, will the Secretary of State explain to the House why and in what way the Government differ from his assessment?

Mr. Healey

To give a very simple example, simply to compare the total number of effectives on both sides is one way of assessing capability. Another is to find out what number of effectives on each side are actually fighting units and what their fire power is. Mr. McNamara's assessment does not, for example, allow for the very great superiority in tanks in the forces of the Warsaw Pact.