HC Deb 22 June 1993 vol 227 cc158-9
5. Mr. John Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he has made any further review of Britain's defence commitments in the light of Britain's peacekeeping role in former Yugoslavia.

Mr. Rifkind

Britain's armed forces have a number of overseas commitments, which they are well placed to meet. We keep such commitments, and the forces required to meet them, under review.

Mr. Evans

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the excellent role played by Britain's superb forces in the former Yugoslavia shows that Britain's future military role will increasingly be as part of a United Nations peacekeeping or even peacemaking force? In view of that, is it not time that the Government recognised that, in future, there will be little demand from the United Nations peacekeepers for crippling expensive submarines and nuclear weapons?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman would be very unwise to believe that Britain's future military requirements will be limited to some form of gendarmerie role on behalf of the United Nations. Of course our contribution to that role is important, but we must retain the capacity for high-intensity conflict, because, as we have seen twice in the past 12 years, there could be attacks on British interests which require a response not only with manpower but with sophisticated equipment. Submarines have played a very viable role for the United Kingdom over the years.

Mr. Allason

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that, during the past two years, Britain's slefence commitments have increased, not decreased, and that there is a good argument for a general review of Britain's defence commitments around the world to ensure a direct match of commitments and resources?

Mr. Rifkind

I accept the principle that my hon. Friend has enunciated, but I do not accept his description of what has happened over the past three years. The single biggest change over that period has been the reduction of our forces in Germany from 60,000 to about 30,000. That is a far greater reduction in our commitment than any relatively modest contribution we have made in Bosnia, Cambodia and one or two other territories elsewhere.

Rev. Martin Smyth

In the light of our experience in Bosnia, is there not a case for puttinǵ the United Nations interventionist role on a formal footing, with financial backing, in properly established headquarters? If so, who would be prepared to pay, given that the major contributing nations are in an adverse financial position?

Mr. Rifkind

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to. proper military headquarters in New York to ensure that the United Nations can properly co-ordinate and plan the substantially increased number of military operations for which it is responsible, he makes an important point. The large increase in United Nations activities means that the small staff at present responsible for those matters find it almost impossible to carry out their responsibilities in a proper and coherent fashion.