HC Deb 02 June 1992 vol 208 cc696-7
9. Mr. McAllion

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he next intends to meet other NATO Defence Ministers to discuss NATO defence policy.

Mr. Rifkind

I met my NATO colleagues last week at meetings of the Eurogroup, the Defence Planning Committee and the Nuclear Planning Group in Brussels. We discussed a range of current alliance business and reaffirmed NATO's fundamental importance to the security of Europe. Copies of the communiqués issued following the meetings have been placed in the Library.

Mr. McAllion

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact, is it not time to reassess with our NATO allies our strategic defence policies, including a full review of our so-called independent nuclear deterrent? Should not that review begin by calling into question the relevance of keeping one Polaris at sea at all times when, according to press reports today, safety problems caused by that policy are endangering the lives of submariners and the public by increasing the likelihood of a nuclear accident?

Mr. Rifkind

The reports to which the hon. Gentleman refers have already been repudiated as baseless. The hon. Gentleman should be aware that no submarine goes to sea unless all safety requirements have been fully complied with. On the general strategic situation, the hon. Gentleman must be aware not only that Russia remains a major nuclear super-power but that massive reductions in the nuclear potential of both the alliance and the former Soviet Union are already taking place. The United Kingdom has indicated its intention to withdraw certain tactical and other nuclear missiles as a contribution towards that welcome process.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure at his next meeting with his counterparts in other NATO countries that the naval forces of the alliance will be available if necessary to enforce the United Nations blockade imposed against Serbia? It must be made effective. Could those naval forces also be a deterrent against the indiscriminate use of force by the Yugoslav navy against helpless civilians in Dubrovnik and other Croatian towns?

Mr. Rifkind

The decisions taken so far have been to impose economic sanctions against the Yugoslav republic. No decision has been taken by the United Nations in favour of a naval blockade. If any proposal is made, we shall have to consider it, but there is no such proposal before the international community at present.

Dr. Godman

Is not it inevitable that Europe—through the Western European Union rather than NATO—will have to take a much greater responsibility for its security and defence? Is not it also likely that future American presidents will come under enormous pressure from the United States Congress and the American people to reduce their commitment to the defence of Europe? When will the Government face up to the realities surrounding the security and defence of Europe?

Mr. Rifkind

There might be pressures of the kind to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but I remind him that the Atlantic alliance has been uniquely successful in ensuring the peace of Europe for the past 40 to 50 years. I and the Government believe that the alliance has a continuing relevance to the well-being of Europe. It is interesting that the newer, emerging democracies in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary emphasise the desirability of NATO continuing, and that that is also the view of the majority of people in the United States.

Sir Michael Marshall

Would my right hon. and learned Friend care to expand the answer that he has just given by rejecting what the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) has just urged him to do? Surely, when one considers Yugoslavia or the world scene at present, the link with NATO, within the United Nations, is likely to be the more fruitful in dealing with many worldwide problems. We must all play our part. Does he agree that the idea of Franco-German or other European initiatives is premature and ineffective?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is correct. The NATO alliance represents an area of stability in a continent which has unfortunately become turbulent, and it is appropriate for us to consider—as is being done within NATO—whether NATO can make additional contributions towards peacekeeping or other requirements. Those matters still have to be discussed and conclusions have to be reached. However, I am sure that NATO continues to have an enormous contribution to make to the security and well-being of the countries that make up the alliance and of Europe.

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