HC Deb 24 July 1984 vol 64 cc813-4
12. Mr. Ashdown

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on relative North Atlantic Treaty Organisation — Warsaw pact conventional strengths in Europe in the light of the recent North Atlantic Treaty Organisation document "The Conventional Balance in Europe."

Mr. Stanley

I assume that the hon. Member is referring to the NATO document "NATO and the Warsaw Pact: Force Comparisons". The relative conventional strengths portrayed in that publication confirm the extent of the Soviet threat and the need to maintain a strong commitment to NATO.

Mr. Ashdown

Does the Minister agree that that document reveals that there are 58 fewer front-line divisions in the Warsaw pact than NATO originally estimated? As the NATO figure does not include the French or Spanish forces, will he confirm that we are significantly closer than the Government have so far admitted to possessing adequate conventional forces to countervail a Russian attack in central Europe?

Mr. Stanley

I agree that the balance is constructed on a different basis from that which has applied in the defence Estimates. I believe that it is reasonable to include the French forces in the overall balance. I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but I do not think that we can conclude that the conventional balance is entirely satisfactory. As a result of spending undertaken by this Government some progress has been made towards redressing the conventional balance, but I draw attention to the fact that in the foreword to the report the secretary-general draws attention to the need for continuing efforts to maintain our security.

Mr. Dickens

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the NATO Alliance formed in 1947 has provided a very good protective shield around Europe? Does he further agree that we should endeavour to be not just a strong member but the strongest member of that Alliance?

Mr. Stanley

I do not know whether my hon. Friend suggests that we should devote resources to defence in excess of those devoted by our American friends, but we make a stronger contribution to NATO than our fellow members in Europe. That is one of the excellent results of the Government's defence policy.