HC Deb 20 April 1993 vol 223 cc174-5
10. Mr. Jim Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence which units of the British armed forces are available for operations undertaken by the Western European Union.

Mr. Rikfind

In principle, all the United Kingdom's conventional armed forces are available for military operations conducted under the auspices of the Western European Union. Military units for WEU operations would be drawn on a case-by-case basis from forces with national and NATO roles—in the latter case, after consultation with our NATO allies.

Mr. Marshall

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is a serious possibility that our resources may be overstretched in the light of our existing commitments to NATO, the United Nations, Northern Ireland and now the enhanced Western European Union? In the specific case of the Western European Union, can he give a guarantee that if the new planning cell in Brussels provides new commitments, they will be made publicly known so that the House will be able to judge whether we have sufficient resources to meet any new commitments?

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, of course, any new commitments for our armed forces must become publicly known. The new arrangements involving the Western European Union do not imply additional commitments: they simply suggest that in certain circumstances it may be more appropriate for the WEU, rather than NATO, to sponsor certain operations. That would largely depend on whether the United States and Canada were likely to be involved in a specific matter, so that is the sort of circumstance which we envisage as potentially arising.

Sir Dudley Smith

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be unwise for western nations to become involved in a civil war unless that specific civil war posed a threat to the integrity of one of the union's number?

Mr. Rifkind

That is indeed the case. At present, the WEU is making a useful contribution with regard to the monitoring of shipping in the Adriatic. It is also suggested that the WEU might have a contribution to make in monitoring sanctions-breaking on the Danube. Clearly, those are the sorts of roles in which the WEU could be usefully employed as part of a wider international operation.

Mr. Macdonald

Will the Secretary of State confirm that if the full capacity of the Western European Union together with NATO, acting under the auspices of the United Nations, were deployed in Bosnia, an effective ceasefire could be imposed within a relatively short period? It is not a question of capacity that deters the Secretary of State; it is a calculation that the effort would not be worth the saving of the civilian population in Bosnia.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is labouring under a misunderstanding. The WEU has no assets of its own. Any assets that might be made available to the WEU are assets which would otherwise be available to NATO. The hon. Gentleman should not try to add one on top of the other and imply that there is some massive force available only if requested.