HC Deb 12 April 1994 vol 241 cc12-3
13. Mr. Mandelson

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make proposals for greater burden sharing of military expenditure among European members of NATO and the Western European Union.

Mr. Rifkind

The recent NATO summit agreed that European allies should take a greater responsibility for common security and defence. This will be achieved through the development of a European security and defence identity, expressed through the WEU, which will in turn strengthen the European pillar of the alliance.

Mr. Mandelson

In view of the further development of pooled European defence arrangements which, as the Secretary of State has said, were agreed at the NATO summit and were foreshadowed by the Maastricht treaty,does he agree that common European defence policies require common thresholds of military spending by member states? Will the Government therefore give much greater impetus to devising new approaches to European defence spending in the run up to the intergovernmental conference in 1996?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman should not get too obsessed with percentages when he compares the defence expenditures of various European countries. It is perhaps significant that the United Kingdom, France and Germany spend much the same sums of money on defence because in each case they have substantial commitments to the NATO alliance and to their other responsibilities. The three countries—which are, of course, the three senior European members of NATO—have comparable levels of defence expenditure, and that is no coincidence.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House when, as a result of those splendid arrangements, we can expect to see the Wehmacht committed to operations such as those in Bosnia and elsewhere which have a direct reflection on NATO and on western security?

Mr. Rifkind

I think that my hon. Friend is perhaps referring to the Bundeswehr, and not to the Wehmacht. I do not think that even my hon. Friend would be anxious to see the Wehmacht carrying out the responsibilities which he suggested. The Federal Government of Germany have indicated their desire to see the Bundeswehr carry out such responsibilities as soon as the German constitution permits such a task.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Does the Secretary of State agree that if some of our European allies continue to reduce their defence expenditure at the current rate there will be a real possibility that the concept of the WEU as a European pillar of NATO will fast become a joke? [Interruption.]

Mr. Rifkind

I agree that, at a time of general instability in Europe when NATO is being called upon to carry out new tasks, it is important that all member states of the alliance—including the smaller states—should continue to make a credible contribution to the defence needs of the alliance. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. I would be much obliged if the House would settle down. It is very noisy this afternoon, and even the Secretary of State has difficulty in hearing the supplementary questions—let alone me.

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