HC Deb 28 February 1995 vol 255 cc826-7
4. Mr. Cohen

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what future role he envisages for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Mr. Rifkind

NATO will remain essential to the defence and security needs of nations on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mr. Cohen

Should there not be a de-emphasising of NATO and its military mentality and a concentration on improving political and economic co-operation with America and with the whole of Europe? Is it not the secret truth that NATO Ministers and generals still think in cold war terms and regard Russia as the enemy? Are we not missing the opportunity, presented by the ending of the cold war, to scrap nuclear weapons? This Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Should we not use that occasion to announce huge cuts in nuclear weapon stockpiles worldwide, including those in Britain?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman, in his usual engaging manner, shows that he totally misunderstands the relevance of NATO when he talks about reducing its military identity. NATO is a military defence alliance. That is its strength and that explains why it is the most successful defence alliance in the history of the world.

We believe that NATO continues to have a crucial role to play in a very unstable Europe. Many countries are seeking to join NATO, which suggests that they believe that it has continuing relevance for the well-being of Europe and the entire western world.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would help the defence of Europe immensely if France joined NATO's integrated military structure?

Mr. Rifkind

We are pleased that France has recently edged its way back towards fuller involvement in NATO. For example, the French Defence Minister attended last year's meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in Seville. That represented a small step for mankind, but a great step for France. The French Government and the French people must now determine how much further along that road they wish to go. We will welcome any further integration of France into NATO that they deem appropriate.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

May I ask the Secretary of State about NATO's current role, in particular in the former Yugoslavia? The United Nations has confirmed persistent reports of large transport aircraft operating in Bosnia. Are any of those aircraft from NATO countries and are any of them breaking the arms embargo?

Mr. Rifkind

We are aware of various reports that suggest that there might have been some breaches of the no-fly zone in Bosnia, but there is little hard evidence available of the kind to which the hon. and learned Gentleman refers. However, NATO continues to pay close attention to the matter and it will use the surveillance aircraft available to it to identify any breaches of the no-fly zone.