HC Deb 26 February 1997 vol 291 cc257-77

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. McLoughlin.]

9.34 am
Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside)

I welcome this opportunity to debate the expansion of NATO. Like others of my generation, I remember how the United States air force went home after the second world war had ended. I remember the Berlin blockade, how the Berlin airlift was initiated and how the US air force—God bless them—returned to the United Kingdom bases. I also remember how the north Atlantic treaty came into being, and I remember vividly Churchill's iron curtain speech.

I remember all those things because I was a young service man at the time. I look back on almost 50 years of successful NATO activity. I remember such things because my generation paid expensively for the mistakes that had been made in the 1920s and 1930s.

"This innocent" is how I was described in The Sunday Times by a fellow named Simon Sebag-Montefiore, who must be important with a name like that. If I am an innocent, many of my generation are also innocents, and we care deeply about the mistakes that were made in the 1920s and 1930s, especially the 1930s.

I cannot forget that NATO was the commitment made largely by the US Government to send hundreds of thousands of US service men to Europe. That is what gave NATO its deterrent capability and made the alliance meaningful. That credibility enhanced the security of all the member states. The Washington treaty declared that an armed attack on the territory of any member state would be regarded as an attack on all: to wage war on one was to declare war on all—article 5 left no doubt about that commitment.

In the beginning, only the United States was a nuclear power. Britain and France were also to become nuclear powers. Throughout its life, Britain's strategic nuclear deterrent capability, carried first by aircraft and later by submarines, has been committed to NATO. The same has been true of our theatre nuclear weapons. Thus, the British—but not the French—nuclear capability was committed to the defence of the territory of our NATO allies in Europe: the British nuclear umbrella offered protection to our NATO allies throughout Europe.

Anyone who has studied the structures of NATO will recognise that NATO operates in two fields—the political field, where the French have remained, and the military field, which the French left. I shall deal first with the military field, as I believe that NATO's success has been due mainly to its military credibility, which has been recognised by friends and foes alike. That credibility was brought about in part by the massive US presence in Europe. Without that presence, NATO would have been seen as a political alliance without teeth.

The presence of the US forces has been critical. The command and control structure has worked. Without it, NATO would not have been an effective military force. Without a heavy lift capability provided by the United States, NATO would have been unable to deploy its military assets successfully, where required. The United States' contribution to command and control—and, to a smaller but still important extent, that of Britain—is an important factor. The co-operation paid off first in the Gulf, where military operations were largely built upon NATO command and control activities, and later in Bosnia. Put simply, the United States has provided the military leaders, and Britain has provided the deputies. We must examine carefully anything that may threaten NATO military command and control or the US commitment to Europe. That is why I called for the debate this morning.

I am concerned about the expansion of NATO. Like everyone else, I wish to enjoy any dividend that may follow the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact military threat. You will notice, Madam Speaker, that I do not talk about the peace dividend. I believe that we have enjoyed the peace secured by a powerful and a credible NATO: peace over the years is the real dividend. The House should address the risks involved in NATO expansion. I accept that all change involves an element of risk, but we must assess the level of risk and decide whether it is acceptable. If it is not, we must think again.

There are five basic criteria for NATO membership: an established democracy, respect for human rights, a market-based economy, armed forces under full civilian control, and good relations with neighbouring states. I understand that 10 countries—Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia—have submitted discussion papers on membership.

We must ask: against whom is the bigger NATO directed? I believe that it is directed against no one, but those pushing for its expansion claim that it is necessary for the security of Europe. I cannot be the only one who believes that opening up trade opportunities is the most effective way of making the "Partnership for Peace" work. That is the real way to peace: it cannot be achieved through military alliances. A free trade area throughout Europe, including free trade with the former Warsaw pact countries, would do more to maintain peace than signing any military agreements. That is why it is important to recognise that NATO is in two parts: political and military. I am concerned that the political wing of NATO—which is a defence alliance—is confusing what should be urgent free trade discussions. That is putting at risk this most successful military alliance.

Does anyone seriously believe that a defence alliance around the perimeter of Russia, from the Balkans to Moldova and the Ukraine, will not have an impact in Moscow? I judge that it could create an atmosphere from which extreme politicians might emerge as the next leaders of Russia. I accept that Russia poses no threat at present, but I remind the House that no one had heard of Hitler in 1930. By 1940—in 10 short years—he had created the largest military machine seen at that time and occupied most of Europe. Who can say what the next 10 years may bring. History tells us that the actions of today sow the seeds of the harvest that we shall reap in the next 10 to 15 years. I also remind the House that Britain entered the second world war because we had a treaty with Poland. NATO expansion would recreate such treaties.

We should discuss the prospects of a free trade area covering the north Atlantic and embracing the United States, Canada, Mexico, the European Union and the former Warsaw pact countries. That is the road to peace. I oppose using NATO for a purpose for which it was not intended. NATO is a defence alliance, and I want it to remain intact. I also want the American presence in Germany to continue, as its removal would put NATO's military credibility at great risk.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, especially as I will not be able to stay for the whole debate because I must attend a meeting of the Defence Committee. I apologise to the House. I share my hon. Friend's concerns. Does he accept that there is a strong, and perhaps unstoppable, movement towards expanding NATO that has started in the United States—it may be fuelled by expatriate communities—and is supported by the countries of eastern and central Europe? Perhaps Russian fears could be assuaged by placing more emphasis on "Partnership for Peace" which, with the trade links that my hon. Friend has urged, is a way of keeping in touch with central and eastern European countries without expanding NATO.

Mr. Walker

My hon. Friend, whose experience and interest in this area spans many years, expresses the views of many. "Partnership for Peace" is not the same as a defence alliance, but it is a meaningful and positive way forward. I am concerned that forces within the United States—some of whom have never understood properly why it was necessary to maintain a huge American presence in Europe—are motivated by hopes of reducing military expenditure. That is always a problem during times of peace when there is no obvious threat. They want to see the so-called peace dividend, although I have never supported that idea.

I think that we are now entering a period similar to the 1930s: if we get it wrong, our grandchildren will have to put it right. All of my life, I have been determined that the mistakes made by my father's and my grandfather's generations would not be repeated while I was in public life. That is why I am in public life and, if I am an innocent, so be it, but my innocence is the result of military experience, where I learnt to my cost and that of many colleagues what happens when one is ill prepared and has the wrong weapons systems.

We should discuss the prospects of a free trade area covering the north Atlantic and embracing the United States, Canada, Mexico, the European Union and the former Warsaw pact countries. That makes sense for us now, because the expected growth of the Pacific rim countries, and future competition from that part of the world, will hit us hard. It makes sense for the old industrial nations of the west and the former Soviet Union to get together to decide how to address those challenges.

I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that the British should argue, whatever our friends in the United States say, that the matter be discussed in greater depth. We believe that NATO should remain as it is, with command and control and the US presence in Europe intact. The US heavy lift capability should remain intact and be committed unreservedly. Without that capability, we cannot deploy our military assets.

We should have meaningful discussions about collaboration, but we should also give deep and serious consideration to the risks and the practicalities of allowing former Warsaw pact countries to be members of a defence alliance. We know that their equipment will not fit in initially, and it will be many years before it is compatible. Does anyone seriously believe that those countries could provide meaningful contributions with their armed forces? We must think it through carefully and fully.

Problems may well result from bilateral negotiations that have taken place between Russia and the former Warsaw pact countries, and possibly with some members of NATO since the Berlin wall has come down. All of that has to be considered carefully before we sign up to bringing people into a defence alliance that has worked and which must continue if we are to continue to enjoy the real peace that comes from having the ability to deter. I remind the House that, if we accept former Warsaw pact countries as members of a defence alliance that makes an attack on one an attack on all, we are back to where we were in 1939.

9.50 am
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

I congratulate the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) on securing this very important debate, which should have taken place a long time ago. It is ironic that, rather than the Government initiating a free-standing debate on the enlargement of NATO at least two years ago, it has been left to a Back Bencher to secure a debate on a Wednesday morning.

From the number of articles that have appeared recently in various newspapers, it is clear that there is growing speculation and, in some cases, concern about the enlargement of NATO. When I visited NATO headquarters last year, during the all-party annual visit to NATO, which I always find very revealing—in fact, I get more answers from NATO than I do on the Floor of the House of Commons—it seemed as though enlargement was being accepted as a fait accompli. I am opposed to the enlargement of NATO, for many of the reasons that the hon. Member for North Tayside mentioned. I do not agree entirely with his analysis, but I agree with the main thrust of his argument.

I shall put some of the arguments against enlargement. I suggest that it is likely to antagonise Russia and jeopardise peaceful co-operation with the west, as is becoming clear. NATO's raison d'etre has always been the creation of a security alliance in opposition to Russia. Consequently, not only Russia's political elite, but the population at large, perceive expansion as a threat and are overwhelmingly opposed to it. As many of us who have monitored Russian elections and have been there know, there has been a significant rise in anti-democratic, anti-western forces and nationalist sentiments, which may be encouraged by NATO expansion, creating a Russia and a President with whom the west may not be able to negotiate. It is doubtful whether current efforts and proposals for co-operation will be sufficient to reassure those elements.

I maintain that expansion will remilitarise the Russian-western relationship. That relationship has, since 1989, been based on arms transparency. A change may encourage the development of an alternative Russian-centred security alliance to the east, thus creating again two blocs and a cold war Europe. Likewise, efforts to improve controls on nuclear weapons and the conventional forces in Europe agreement could be undermined as Russia becomes increasingly paranoid and unco-operative.

Since the end of the cold war, many of us have been concerned about the former Soviet Union and what will happen to the people who worked in its nuclear installations and secret cities. Their skills, possibly, may no longer be used in their own countries, but they may be required by countries that we would not like to develop a nuclear capability.

NATO is currently stronger than Russia militarily by three to one, but that will increase to four to one after expansion. There is no current security threat to central and eastern Europe, so why destabilise the existing relationships that appear to work? I maintain that expansion will weaken NATO, because it already takes a considerable time to mobilise and reach agreement among 16 members. It will be much harder with 19-plus members. Likewise, the new members will be weaker in their capacity and may prove to be a burden.

Expansion will prove costly to NATO, and carry dubious benefits. According to The Times, NATO expansion will cost $35 billion over the next 12 years. Figures from the US congressional office estimate the cost to be between $61 billion and $125 billion. The UK's current share of the NATO budget is 10 per cent., so expansion will have considerable cost implications for the United Kingdom.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

The hon. Lady quoted a figure of $35 billion, but the assumption is that military bases financed by NATO will not be placed in some of the countries that join. The $125 billion figure takes into account the serious problems of interoperability and the higher costs of trying to fuse all the different armies together. The cost, as has been pretty well agreed, will be at the lower end, and nuclear weapons and military bases will not be positioned in the new member countries. It is the lower end that we have to consider—$35 billion to $40 billion over 10 years.

Mrs. Clwyd

The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but the cost will be much greater than he suggests. The problem is that the House has never debated the cost of expansion. It is essential that we fully understand the implications. He says that the cost may be at the lower end, but I think that it will be closer to the higher end. None of us knows. That is why we should have a proper debate in the House.

I think that expansion will prove costly to new members, because they lack the financial resources, have limited skilled personnel and have poorer communications and logistical structures. One recent estimate suggested that military spending in those countries would increase by 60 to 80 per cent., placing a further strain on the budgets of countries that need the money for economic and social reforms. Ironically, expansion may undermine plans for economic reform and jeopardise the domestic stability that it is attempting to encourage.

Expansion would also increase the insecurity of states that are excluded. Ukraine in particular has expressed fears that it may be placed in a compromising position and face pressure from Russia to join an eastern security alliance. Ironically, expansion would not cover the main countries that need a security cloak, such as the Baltics, whereas those that do not need it are most likely to be included.

NATO expansion is merely an excuse for not proceeding at a speedier rate with European Union expansion. Some Conservative Members may have views on that. Unfortunately, what the region needs most is the economic and social benefits of EU membership, not the potential burden of a western security alliance. There was an interesting letter in the Financial Times a few days ago from James Eberle, former director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. He had just returned from Moscow and wrote: as a former Nato commander, I feel it is abundantly clear that, unless there is a substantial breakdown of the political and social order in central and eastern Europe, the principal threats to European security will not be in the military field. It is thus also clear where our priorities should lie. He went on to say: The initial Nato enlargement decision in January 1994 was made without proper preparation; and there is still no unifying vision among member countries as to its strategic purpose. There has been no public debate. Ratification of the entry of each new member will be required in due course by allied parliaments, and this will be a difficult process … it will not be easy to reach an agreement that will give Russia the status and participation that she is seeking, yet which does not surrender Nato's freedom of action to a Russian veto. People with considerable experience in international affairs have very real concerns.

The timetable and the process of enlargement have largely been set by the United States domestic agenda to deliver President Clinton's 1999 promise. That has been the driving force behind this undue haste. There has not been a rational consideration of the pros and cons.

There are other ways in which NATO could develop as an alliance. A recent edition of the Washington-based "Defense Monitor" suggested: The US should end its military domination of Europe and should exercise wise political leadership to facilitate Russia's inclusion among the states joining a transformed and renamed European military alliance. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe is another possibility. It is a natural security organisation that includes Russia and central and eastern Europe. Why not devote funds to boosting that arrangement instead of the present proposals?

Many analysts believe that the greatest threat to western security is the north-south divide. I have put that argument in the House many times in the past. Growing inequality, environmental disasters, mass disempowerment and poverty force the south to take ever more desperate measures to compel the west and the north of the world to notice. Economic inequalities will probably lead to increases in terrorism and sub-state terror, with which NATO is not equipped to deal.

Expansion of NATO will exacerbate the differences between the north and the south of the world. It will turn Europe into a fortress that views the rest of the world as a high-risk area, and attempts to cut itself off. NATO may not be well equipped or correctly focused to deal with those issues. Expansion will encourage instability, because of the increased availability of military hardware, when we should be moving towards demilitarisation.

10.3 am

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) on his choice of subject for this important debate. I compliment him on his excellent introductory speech, which set out many of the crucial issues. I should like to reassure him that he has many sterling qualities; honesty and bravery are two or them, but innocence does not spring to mind. Many of his hon. Friends know him better than the odd journalist in the odd diary column.

NATO has kept the peace. NATO is an outstanding alliance. It is NATO that has stood up for democracy. It is NATO that stands up for the self-determination of peoples. It is NATO that has kept the peace in which we in western Europe have been privileged to live since 1945. I want the alliance to maintain its strength. I want it to remain true to those central principles. I want it to have another 50 years of spectacular success to match the past 50 years, which we have enjoyed or read about.

I hope that the Minister will answer five crucial questions, which the Governments of the west must answer before embarking on the expansion of the NATO alliance. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside and the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) referred to the first question at some length: what will the Russian reaction be to our proposed expansion? Russia is militarily weak compared with NATO and the United States. Militarily, we could expand the borders of NATO a long way east, and we could achieve that without any untoward Russian reaction.

As my hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside and the hon. Member for Cynon Valley said, we must ask whether the expansion of NATO is worth it, or whether it would so sour relations with Russia that it would undermine our aim for that country, which is the establishment of a stable, peace-loving democracy committed to free enterprise and the mixed economy that it is now developing. The best prize of all for the west to win is the creation of conditions in which the Russian peoples become ever prouder and more confident of their democracy, and through that become ever keener on peaceful relations and prosperous trade and commerce with the west.

The second question that we should ask is whether the applicant countries have stable frontiers. There has been much diplomatic work recently to resolve actual or potential tensions and conflicts between many of the countries that would like to join NATO. Before pressing ahead with any applicant's membership, we must satisfy ourselves that it has stable frontiers with its neighbours, and that there is unlikely to be a resumption of the conflicts and tensions that disfigured our continent in the 1920s and 1930s, of which my hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside made such eloquent mention in his opening remarks.

I welcome the progress being made to settle the problem of the Sudetenland. I welcome the progress being made between Hungary and Romania on the presence of the Hungarian peoples beyond the borders of their country. I welcome the progress being made on Romania's borders further east, and I welcome the progress being made on the Polish border and the future of the Baltic republics. The big tensions in those areas before the second world war were snuffed out by the communist iron grip that took over in the post-war period. We need to ensure that those old tensions and conflicts have been resolved peacefully before we take on responsibility for those countries in our alliance.

The third question that we should ask is: what contribution will the new members make to our alliance? We will extend to them a most important security guarantee. I do not believe that countries can be half-members of the NATO alliance. If countries join, we are responsible for their frontiers and for the tensions and conflicts in which they may be involved. We must take care of them, just as we expect them to be responsive to our requirements. We must ask what military contribution they will make, given that they will extend the borders of NATO a considerable distance east, and that they will thereby add to the problems that the security guarantee presents. Were the world to change and were hostile powers to emerge to the east or south, we would be required to stand by that security guarantee.

The fourth question that we must ask arises from the previous question: can we defend each and every one of those applicant nations if we bring them into our alliance? That requires a clear military as well as a political assessment of any potential conflict or threat.

It is no good saying, "Today we are fortunate, because the countries bordering us are democratic and peace-loving; or, if they are not democratic, they are peace-loving; or, if they are neither democratic nor peace-loving, they do not have the military strength or capability to do us harm." I trust that all that is true, but we must ask ourselves what the position would look like in 20 or 30 years' time if things changed dramatically—if some of those countries developed more hostile intentions, if they rearmed in a way that could be more threatening, if they gained the capability to move troops, weapons or even nuclear explosives over long distances. Might we then need ever stronger defences to meet the guarantees, and provide the security that each of those countries wants?

The fifth question that we should ask is: what have we in mind for NATO's ultimate borders? The United States Secretary of State is talking in terms of inviting three of the countries that are currently geographically closest to NATO. I think that Russia will want to know whether we have it in mind to go right up to the Russian border, or to fall short of it. We should consider whether we intend to extend NATO membership ever more widely, so that we do reach the Russian border, or whether we think that consolidating our borders somewhere in central or eastern Europe is the right approach. I do not believe that the "salami" approach is a good one; I think that we need a strategic vision of how big NATO will eventually be, and that we should be prepared to speak now, whether or not we are going to invite all those countries in the first instance.

I am not entirely happy with the idea of a half-price NATO for the new members. I am not sure that a country can be a strong member of an alliance such as NATO if it does not deploy all the weapons that it might need, or that it has in reserve, throughout the NATO area. I am not sure that there should be parts of that area, particularly those on a country's eastern frontier, where it does not exercise its troops, or occasionally practise against the evil day when it might need to use them. We have to say that, if a country belongs to NATO, it must belong fully. It must protect the confidences and secrets of the club, and show us that it can do so. We, in turn, must be prepared to conduct joint exercises, and to put in place any weaponry that might be needed to back up the full guarantee that we shall be offering by way of security protection.

The United States Secretary of State recently made an important statement through the columns of The Economist, and I welcome much of what she said. I particularly welcome her statement that NATO is the means by which the United States is involved in the security of western Europe, and will remain so. American support is crucial to the freedom of western Europe, and I strongly welcome it. The Secretary of State also said, however, that an enlarged NATO would mean a bigger European contribution to the European end of that defence, and I do not think that is right.

Looking at the balance of risks and contributions from the applicants for membership, I think that, if anything, their immediate entry into the alliance would weaken rather than strengthen it. That is the issue that we must consider before rushing pell-mell into NATO expansion. The alliance is still most important to our security, and we must defend and protect that. We must keep the United States engaged in western European defence, but Britain must be the voice at the table that says that every new member brings risks and responsibilities as well as a contribution. It must insist that there is a balance between those risks and responsibilities and that contribution.

In that way, we could proceed to some enlargement of NATO; but we could also guarantee that NATO remains the pillar of our defences, and remains strong enough to do the job.

10.13 am
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) on bringing this matter to the House's attention. The Government should have done so. I have repeatedly asked the Leader of the House during business questions for a full-scale debate devoted exclusively to the issue of NATO's expansion, and I hope that—rather late in the day—he will accede to my request, because many hon. Members would like to speak about such an important matter.

I agree with some of what has been said this morning about the importance of trade and commerce. I hope that a number of applicants for NATO membership will also become members of the European Union: not only would that make sense in terms of trade and commerce and the cementing of those countries' market economies, but the countries joining the European Union—whether we like it or not—will as a consequence enjoy some security guarantees. Although there is no security element in the European Union's treaties, it is inconceivable that external aggression on one member state would not be deemed aggression on the whole European Union. Such aggression could not be tolerated.

All that will come in time. Meanwhile, we have the immediate lining up of countries that wish to be considered for NATO membership. Today, hon. Members have made the mistake of talking in general terms, as if all the states involved were equal in terms of size, geographical location, the contributions that they can make to NATO and the development of their democracies. Some states would, I think, be disqualified on the last count, because democracy has not developed and flourished in those states. I feel that we have an obligation to look at each application on its merits, and I want to concentrate on the countries that should logically be the first to join NATO—those whose case for membership is the most powerful and compelling, not only in their interests but in ours. I am thinking particularly of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovenia.

It is a matter of fact that those countries will be given membership first, and I welcome that. I do not accept that their membership will impose additional costs or burdens on the United Kingdom taxpayer which should disqualify them. I shall return to that point shortly. I am shocked and horrified that the House of Commons should contain Members of Parliament who ignore the moral obligation that we owe to the people of the central European states, particularly Poland.

The hon. Member for North Tayside referred to Winston Churchill's speech at Fulton, Missouri, 51 years ago. He said that he remembered it. I remember the words: "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across Europe behind which we must refer to it as the Soviet sphere." Churchill implied that, for the next half century, we would say to the people of central and eastern Europe, "Look over the wall. See how wonderful things are in the west: look at the wonderful market economy. Is it not a tantalising prospect?" Those who believed our propaganda must have thought that the sun always shone and the rain never fell in the west.

What happened? Communism collapsed, the wall came down, the barbed wire was wound up, and the former communist countries developed democracies. Now they are saying, "Please may we join?" and we reply, "Not so fast; hang on a moment." That came through in some of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). However, when he listed his criteria for membership—criteria with which, to a large extent, I did not disagree—he spoke of the principle of national self-determination, and of free peoples. Well, the people of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are free peoples, and they want to join a free association of democratic states. We will need pretty powerful and persuasive arguments to say that they should not join—bearing it in mind that Turkey, which I do not consider to be a democratic state, is also an existing member. The membership of those countries would guarantee their democracies, although they are already robust and flourishing and, indeed, we can learn from some of their modern parliamentary institutions. We must recognise that they have a powerful case.

Poland is a nation of nearly 40 million people, and has a large land mass. It has a thriving market economy and a robust democracy. Given that it is a former Warsaw pact country, it has some pretty sophisticated armed forces, which collaborated with the British Army in training last summer. It has much to contribute in defence and military terms. We must consider the question of interoperability. Enormous strides are being made in bringing Poland into line with the NATO technology and communications systems, for instance. That can and will be achieved in a relatively short time. Those arguments about interoperability were never raised when Spain joined. They are trotted out now to disguise the other objection, the overriding one, with which I disagree but nevertheless view as a legitimate point: what will be the impact on Russia if we expand NATO?

I return to Winston Churchill's speech in Fulton, Missouri, when he said that we must refer to the region behind the iron curtain as the Soviet sphere. Have we fought the cold war for half a century to see the defeat of the Soviet Union, only to concede a Russian sphere of influence and right of veto over free democratic peoples? I have not, and that is why I view it as a moral issue. We should recognise that these people are entitled to come in and to enjoy collective security.

The security guarantees are important. I do not wish to devalue the guarantees under article 5 of the NATO treaty. If we took in all the applicant countries at this stage, it would devalue NATO. I am not advocating that. I am saying that we should consider their entry on their individual merits. We can extend security guarantees to Poland. Even if the House cannot be persuaded about the moral issue of admitting Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, there are overriding selfish reasons why we should do so. Demonstrably, if there ever was a day when we were threatened from the east—although, to be candid, logically it is not likely; we just have to look at the map of Europe to see that—it makes sense to move the borders of our interests eastward.

I listened to the hon. Member for North Tayside and his recollection of history. I think that his argument was that it was because of a treaty that we had to go to war in 1939. Of course, that is a matter of fact, but is he saying that it would have been better if we had not had that treaty and that, without it, we would not have had to go to war with Hitler? The problem is that it was his predecessors on the Conservative Benches who brought a new word to the English language—appeasement. He is saying today that we should appease the threat of potential aggression.

Mr. Bill Walker

For the sake of the record, I served with Polish service men. I have a high regard for the Poles. During the second world war, the Polish armoured division was based in my constituency and many of the service men in that division who returned still live there. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that it is never difficult to sign treaties? What is difficult in life is to honour what we sign. It is important that we recognise the dangers, the risks, the hazards and the commitment. If another act of aggression takes place, his children and grandchildren will have to go to war, not the hon. Gentleman. That is what happened in 1930. That is the only point that I was making.

Mr. Mackinlay

The problem was that we did not tackle aggression. We did not have sufficient treaties in place. We allowed Hitler to move on and to take slices of Europe until such stage as we had to say, "Thus far, no further." I agree with the hon. Gentleman that treaties should not be entered into lightly or frivolously and we should not make commitments that we cannot fulfil, but I return to the thrust of my remarks on Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic and Slovenia, with its geographical position on the Adriatic. It makes military and defence sense for us to have them in NATO.

In his criteria, the right hon. Member for Wokingham mentioned the need for sensitivity with regard to borders. In relation to the states to which I have referred, that is old hat. Poland, for instance, is one of the countries in Europe that has the fewest minorities. It has fewer minority problems than the United Kingdom, if we regard the problems of Northern Ireland as a minority situation. It is a matter of fact that Poland's borders are agreed with the Federal Republic of Germany. There is, frankly, no problem there.

Notice that I do not say that Romania should be in the first wave—because it is deficient in terms of democracy, the market economy and so on—but Hungary has reached new agreements and accords with Romania, which are welcome. The Czech Republic identifies in terms of trade with the Federal Republic of Germany, looking westwards, and Slovenia has recently reached agreements and accommodation with its larger Italian neighbour, so great strides have been made. Those new treaties, new agreements and new arrangements make some of the problems that we have had and still have in western Europe look much worse. For instance, Spain has problems with the Basques and the Catalans and we have problems in Northern Ireland. In contrast, there are no problems now in those other states, and that should be acknowledged.

I hope therefore that Her Majesty's Government and the next Labour Government will robustly pursue the principle of expanding NATO, ensuring that the democracy criteria for membership are adhered to. That is very important. The countries to which I referred can contribute to collective security and enhance NATO. We should not find bogus reasons or appease anyone, because that is not in the interests of ourselves, the countries of central Europe to which I referred, or Russia. It is important that we are sensitive to Russia's involvement, but it would not be in Russia's interest if we gave it the right of veto over the development and fulfilment of free democratic peoples, who were subjugated for so long in central Europe.

10.25 am
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) on obtaining the debate, which has brought forward some thoughtful and useful contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. I invite the House to consider yet another proposition.

Western policy is now predicated on the assumption that there has been discontinuity in Russian long-term strategy, and on a naive willingness to believe that, with the resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1991, everything changed. In fact, nothing changed, other than the west's incredible abandonment of reasoned analysis and caution.

In the autumn of 1989, the Soviets launched their treaty offensive, as a result of which bilateral treaties were made between Russia and, first of all, Finland in October 1989; Canada; Czechoslovakia; France in February 1992, replacing a treaty signed by President Gorbachev in October 1990; Germany; and Greece in July 1991. Incidentally, the Greek treaty was accompanied by three parallel intergovernmental agreements, one of which covers the prevention of dangerous military activity", which probably explains the Greeks' refusal to allow NATO access to Greek airfields at the outset of the Bosnian campaign, notwithstanding the fact that Greece is a full member of NATO. There were bilateral treaties also with Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain, Norway in March 1992 and ourselves in June 1992.

I wish to make three points in relation to these bilateral treaties. First, the dates of the bilateral treaties demonstrate that there was no discontinuity of Soviet foreign policy following the resignation of Gorbachev and the supposed ending of the cold war. Secondly, the text of the treaties follows a similar pattern, which is hardly surprising given that they were all drafted in Moscow. Thirdly, they complete the entrapment of the countries involved in what can be described only as a collective.

It may surprise the House to know, for example, that article 3 of the treaty between the UK and the Russian Federation states: They— the contracting parties— affirm that relations between them will be governed in particular by their commitments under the documents of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, including the Helsinki Final Act, the Charter of Paris for a new Europe and the Helsinki Document of 1992. Time prevents me from attempting to explain the relevance of other treaties such as the Franco-German treaty of 1963, but, from what I have already said, it should be apparent that the Russians have created a veritable spider's web of treaty obligations, which, taken together with the proposed enlargement of NATO, effectively prevents individual nations, in deference to or by dint of the collective thus established, from acting in their own national interest. By definition, a collective can act only in its own interests, not in the interests of its component parts—a fact that is amply demonstrated by the difficulties and frustrations that are experienced as a result of our membership of that other collective, the European Union.

In making up its mind on this crucial issue, the House will want to consider to what extent the protagonists of NATO enlargement have understood, or misunderstood, the dialectic. Has there perhaps been a failure to recognise that the ending of confrontation that was the cold war—the thesis—has given way to the antithesis of apparent peace out of which the synthesis, that is, the collectivisation of western security, is now emerging, and that the synthesis represents everything that the Russians have striven for—the neutralisation of NATO, which is the most successful defence alliance of all time?

In a similar debate on 8 June 1995, I warned the House about the dangers of collectives. That warning is contained in column 367 of the Official Report of that date. I warn the House again and conclude by citing in support of my argument Sergei Rogov, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of the United States and Canada. He writes of advancing from confrontation to demilitarisation and on to collective security … to create a Euro Atlantic security area or, in other words, the comprehensive collective security system which has long been discussed in our country as the highest goal of our foreign and defence policy. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will say whether he entirely rejects the words of Mikhail Gorbachev, as reported by Sir William Stephenson, who was formerly Sir Winston Churchill's personal representative and director of British security co-ordination in the western hemisphere. Addressing the Politburo in November 1987, Gorbachev said: Gentlemen, comrades, do not be concerned about all you hear about glasnost and perestroika and democracy in the coming years. These are intended primarily for outward consumption. There will be no significant internal change within the Soviet Union, other than for cosmetic purposes. Our purpose is to disarm the Americans and let them fall asleep".

10.32 am
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

My hon. Friends are right to say that it is essential to discuss this important matter before the events that are likely to take place in a few months. We should heed the warnings of George Kennan of the United States, whose experience goes back to the last war and who perhaps understands the issues better than anyone.

In 1995 I was privileged to visit the Vladimir region of Russia. I saw prostitutes on the streets with babies, and workers sitting in factories not because they were on strike but because they had not been paid. I also met police officers who had not been paid for several months. The leader of the communist group on Vladimir regional council said to me, "Mr. Brazier, you panicked in the west 10 years ago because of one piffling explosion in a nuclear power station. Imagine what could happen to this country with 40,000 nuclear weapons."

The Russian people feel insecure. They have been invaded four times this century—by Japan, Germany and Poland, and then again by Germany. To the south they face the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and the Chinese are on their border. They are also concerned and confused about Russia itself. In the words of one of my hosts, "How can it be right that we are now asked to produce a passport to visit Aunt Nellie in the Ukraine?" Kiev was once a Russian capital. Indeed, the Cossacks come from there and today the Crimea is the home of the Black sea fleet.

People persist in the politically correct notion that democracy is a buttress against war, but it is wholly untrue. After his military coup, Napoleon was endorsed by the largest popular vote ever given to a French leader and he plunged Europe into war. The German conquest of Belgium in the first world war was overwhelmingly endorsed by the German Parliament and all of Germany's local governments. Hitler came to power through the precarious and unhappy democracy of the Weimar republic.

Three conditions need to be fulfilled to buttress peace. The first is prosperity and, above all, prosperity based on trade between the NATO powers. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) spoke about that. Secondly, there must be constitutional depth and stability, which is precisely what is missing from a country whose President had to order tanks to fire on his own Parliament within the past two and a half years. Thirdly, there must be armed strength in those countries which are stable and are currently members of NATO.

Time is short, so I shall not repeat the cogent arguments made by other hon. Members, but I should like to stress three final points. First, if we are not willing to go to war for the extra countries, we should not admit them. Secondly, if we are willing to do that, it means drawing a line to exclude those countries most likely to be the victims of a dictator, if one were to arise in Russia or eastern Europe. Thirdly, we must always remember Teddy Roosevelt's dictum: Speak softly and carry a big stick. Alas, we are in danger of doing the reverse.

Despite the Minister's close interest and the constructive meetings by the Secretary of State for Defence just before Christmas, the expansion of NATO is seen by the Russians as us shouting at them while at the same time throughout NATO, and especially among our European partners, we are steadily involved in whittling away the stick. The priority and the balance are wrong. We must think again—and the American whose words we should heed is George Kennan, not Madeleine Albright.

10.36 am
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

I shall continue where the. hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) left off by saying that if he is correct, it may be a shame that Madeleine Albright is the Secretary of State in President Clinton's Government because that is the Government with whom we have to deal and not nonagenarian commentators in the wings.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) on this timely debate. The comments about the need for a more protracted debate were well made and I hope that the Minister will confirm that the matter must return to the House. Certainly, an enlargement of NATO would need the assent of the House and that of legislatures throughout NATO.

Before I rose to speak, my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) said to me that in view of the alliances that have been forged this morning in the House, it might be possible for any kind of alliance to come into being in Europe. Hon. Members agree that over the 50 years since the last war, NATO has been the cornerstone of our defence system. Labour certainly sees NATO in that role. We support, with qualifications, the enlargement of NATO by the inclusion of some other countries. I concede that many of the fears that have been expressed in the debate are real, but they can be dealt with and they simplify the reality of our life in Europe.

None of us can predict the future of Russia or its internal security, but it is a historical fact that more people have died in Europe over the past five years than in the 45 years that preceded them. We must treat seriously the importance of providing a security framework which considers not just the possibility of conflict on the classical post-war scale, but the kind of conflict that broke out in the former Yugoslavia and which has cost not only those who were directly involved but the world so dearly.

Within that framework, it is almost extraordinary to say that we would cede a veto to Russia because of Russian fears of NATO enlargement. Such a veto would prevent us creating the future security architecture of which enlargement is a part. I endorse the words of the Defence Select Committee, which said in its report: We are determined to ensure that NATO is, if not enhanced, at least not weakened by enlargement: and that it remains manageable, decisive and coherent, with a minimum level of interoperability. Those comments are central to this debate. We must insist that NATO's future is, if not enhanced, at least not weakened by enlargement". That is a primary point.

Labour believes that we should also ensure that the enlargement process takes account of Russia's very real fears. Enlargement will be pointless if it is not conducted with the necessary sensitivity and in a manner that breaks down barriers and the sources of division. We should insist that enlargement does not create new barriers. As hon. Members on both sides the House have said, we should create not only a more widely embracing framework to promote peace and stability, but one which includes a clear role for Russia, not simply as a peripheral bolt-on extra but as a central player. We must ensure that Russia is included in the wider European security framework.

I should like to express a few observations on the wider security framework. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have correctly mentioned the need for economic engagement, but such engagement of itself will not be sufficient. All the heady talk of half a dozen years ago about the ability to reconstruct former eastern bloc economies, particularly Russia's, was not matched by an equivalent effort. We should return to that theme and recognise the need in Russia for a relatively successful level of economic progress to underpin its future. We should also examine opening our markets and the roles of the International Monetary Fund and of the European bank for reconstruction and development. Those factors are central to the process.

As I have said, we must consider Russia's very real fears. In 1995 Russia began to talk about a "cold peace", having clearly heard warning bells in relation to expanding NATO in the wrong way. I also do not think that we can take it for granted that the opinion of the Russian Government will automatically be the same as that of the Russian people. We should take that factor into account and be realistic in ensuring that we do not begin a destabilisation process.

Russia obviously regarded the collapse of the Warsaw pact as the collapse of its own defence system. It regarded the dismantling of its air defence system in a similar manner and feels particularly vulnerable to attack from the west. It saw how the conventional forces in Europe treaty of 1990 became hopelessly outdated as the balance of power shifted. With the possibility of NATO expansion, the former allies of the then Soviet Union became firmly locked into the NATO system and Russia saw a massive change in the balance of power.

Mr. Redwood

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why he thinks that a threat to Hungary should be taken seriously and that we should offer it the protection of a security guarantee, whereas a threat to Lithuania should not be similarly treated?

Mr. Lloyd

The tone of my comments in this debate has been to emphasise that NATO enlargement is a component of the European peace structure, but that it is no longer the only or even the central part of that structure. We should realise that Russia would have very different reactions to the inclusion in NATO of Hungary, for example, and of the Baltic states. The forthcoming Helsinki summit between Presidents Yeltsin and Clinton will be of paramount importance in ensuring a proper dialogue so that NATO forces can allay Russia's fears.

I endorse the article by Madeleine Albright in The Economist, which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). She said: Russia would have no veto. But its voice would be sought and heard. She made it clear, and we endorse the view, that NATO's position must be to include Russia in the closest possible dialogue. It is not a matter of NATO versus Russia, as that is an outmoded part of the European framework. Such a framework was relevant in the cold war era, but it is not relevant in the current era. Russian participation must be central—not as a bolt-on extra, but as an essential player—in the NATO-Russian council and in NATO's overall planning structure. NATO should make permanent Russia's role within NATO headquarters. I believe that that is inevitable. We should also ensure that the charter—although we may quibble over its exact legal status—establishes clear principles by which consultation and participation will occur between NATO and the Russians.

Although I do not think that we can give any permanent guarantee, in practice the idea of nuclear deployments on the territories of potential new NATO states is unrealistic. After next year, the only land-based nuclear weapons will be those of the French and will be on French soil. I do not think that it is realistic to talk about siting nuclear weapons in Hungary, Poland, Slovenia or the Czech Republic. It is also unlikely that NATO troops will be permanently stationed in those states, although it must be said that NATO troops have recently been through—among other places—Hungary, when they were on their way to Bosnia. British troops have also engaged in exercises in Poland with Polish troops. Therefore, the mere presence of NATO troops need not concern the Russians.

We should go beyond the agenda of NATO enlargement and examine the agenda of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. At the December 1996 Lisbon summit, the Russians made clear the importance with which they regard the OSCE as a part of the overall security apparatus.

We should also consider a proper arms control agenda. I welcome Madeleine Albright's comments in The Economist on that aspect. We should first examine carefully the need to renegotiate the conventional forces in Europe treaty and consider lower levels of troop involvement across Europe. We must also realise that we can both achieve lower troop levels and provide mechanisms whereby long-term stability and transparency become part of the troop deployment issue.

A challenge for the British Government is to examine the role of nuclear weapons and the possibility of a third round of strategic arms reduction talks. The alternative would be to play on the concern expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House that Russia's fears could lead to a very different climate in Moscow and throughout Russia. For instance, the Russians could both refuse to ratify the current CFE treaty—in its current terms, that is quite likely—and begin a non-ratification process over START 2. The process could go into reverse. None of those consequences is necessary if enlargement is handled well by NATO and by the Russians.

If NATO is considering—realistically, I think that it is—including Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, those inclusions of themselves will not pose a threat to Russia. We cannot allow a Russian veto over that type of NATO expansion, but we must ensure that we take proper account of Russia's legitimate fears. NATO enlargement would then be simply one part of a process to enhance overall security across Europe. Russia's role and position could be greatly enhanced if the Russians were to engage in the dialogue in which we wish to engage them.

10.49 am
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Sir Nicholas Bonsor)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) on bringing up this extremely important subject. It is clearly time that the House debated the expansion of NATO and I am pleased to have an opportunity to make some short comments on the subject.

Before dealing with the specific points raised by hon. Members on both sides, I should like to make some general comments on enlargement. Why should we enlarge? With the greatest respect, my hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside put the question the wrong way round. I see no way in which we could not enlarge NATO. I do not believe that it would be right for us in the west to deny the countries of central Europe the right to join an organisation which, had they not been under the boot of Soviet oppression for so many years, they would unquestionably have joined at the outset. We cannot deny them a guarantee for their security that they desire and desperately need. They have all been subjected to the traumas of war, as my hon. Friend so admirably said, and they are fearful of being so condemned again. NATO can offer a valuable cover for them; it is the best assurance for peace in that region, as it has been in ours since its foundation 50 years ago.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside rightly stressed that the importance of NATO is not only military, but political. It offers an opportunity to the countries of central Europe to expand their security, stability and prosperity. We can already see signs of the benefits of the proposed NATO enlargement. Great efforts are being made in all 12 aspirant countries to establish democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. They are also trying to deal with the border disputes that many of them have had in the past. There have been great successes on that: Hungary and Romania have dealt with their dispute; Romania and Ukraine are in the process of sorting out theirs; and in many other instances, some of which have been mentioned today, the difficulties are being resolved. The pressure of the potential expansion of NATO has been effective in ensuring that efforts are made to resolve disputes.

Efforts are also being made to bring the armed forces of those 12 countries under full democratic control with transparency in defence planning. I do not believe that that would be the case were it not for the prospect of joining NATO as a result.

In the short time available, I will deal with some of the specific points that have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside said that he did not think that military alliances or treaties were the way to establish peace. He preferred trade. I agree that the establishment of free trade internationally is a guarantor of peace and one way in which we can try to get rid of poverty and the rivalry between countries that is so often the cause of excessive nationalism, leading to war. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) rightly said, trade is not adequate, any more than democracy is, in itself, adequate. Military strength and the military alliances necessary to create that strength are a vital third pillar for the establishment of lasting peace.

I understand entirely the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside about what happened in Poland and our having to go to war in 1939, but it is wrong to draw the conclusion that he appears to draw that we should not have had a treaty with Poland in 1939. That would not have resulted in peace. The apparent weakness of the allies and the fact that Hitler did not believe that we would go to war over Poland caused the war, not the treaty, in which we made a guarantee that we ultimately honoured.

The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) mentioned several points—some of which I have already covered—and focused particularly on cost. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) that the cost is more likely to be in the $35 billion bracket than the $125 billion bracket. However, that is in the hands of NATO and it has not yet resolved how to go ahead. We shall have to watch the cost of expansion closely.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) asked five questions, which I shall try to deal with briefly. What will the Russian reaction be? Mr. Primakov's many talks with my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and with Mr. Solana and others lead me to believe that Russia will accept a limited and reasoned expansion of NATO in the first wave. Although there will be some rhetoric against it, I do not believe that there is genuine hostility to that reality, which I think that Russia accepts. However, there is genuine and understandable fear among the Russian people, who have been brought up on years of Stalinist propaganda to believe that NATO is an aggressive potential enemy. We must move with great care to ensure that those fears are assuaged and that the Russian people understand that NATO is no threat to Russia and is never intended to be so.

My right hon. Friend asked whether the applicant countries had stable frontiers. I agree that that is a primary criterion on which we shall have to decide whether any aspirant country is allowed to join. I have said that one of the advantages that we have reaped so far is that many countries are desperately trying to solve their frontier disputes so that they can join.

My right hon. Friend also asked what contribution the new members will make. That is another very important point. We make it clear to all the countries that wish to join that this is not a one-way street. There is no free guarantee given by existing NATO members. The new countries will be asked and expected to play a full role in NATO operations, and particularly peace-keeping operations. We expect them to increase defence expenditure when necessary, to bring their armed forces up to the level of NATO armed forces and to ensure interoperability. We are making great progress on all those fronts. The many joint exercises, such as Ulan Eagle with Poland last year, show how we are moving forward on that. The value of potential NATO membership is already becoming evident.

Can we defend the applicant countries? I agree with my right hon. Friend that that is a vital criterion. We must ensure that that is a realistic and feasible guarantee for every country that we allow to join NATO. We must not give a guarantee that we cannot honour. Nothing would weaken NATO more. We shall have to examine that closely.

I disagree with my right hon. Friend's comment that we should have an ultimate aim of a specific number of new NATO members. We must have a specific long-term aim to establish freedom and peace throughout Europe. That aim has never been crystallised in the past. NATO has expanded three times and I believe that it will expand again on a number of occasions. NATO is evolving continually—it is not a static finality—and we should recognise that fact in the way in which we take the matter ahead.

Many other points have been raised, and I am sorry that I do not have time to answer them all. We must expand NATO, taking great care not to antagonise Russia or to make it unnecessarily fearful. We must have a partnership with Russia and with the Ukraine reflecting their different, but equally important, concerns about their position after the first step of NATO expansion. Those processes should go ahead in parallel, and all the NATO countries are working hard on that.

We must develop other security alliances which overlap NATO. It important not to go back to a cast iron dividing line between east and west, with NATO on one side and hostile or fearful countries on the other. We must consider the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the "Partnership for Peace" programme, the status of the Western European Union and the council of Baltic sea states, all of which can play a valuable role in ensuring that NATO is not seen as the only security guarantee, with Russia and her allies outside it and some countries that we cannot allow in standing between the two blocs. That must not happen again. The only way to ensure that it does not is by enhancing and building up other security arrangements so that the dividing line is blurred until it disappears.

The American proposal that we should form an Atlantic partnership council for "Partnership for Peace" members would be a useful step forward. We must bring in Russia and the Ukraine and make sure that the Baltic states do not feel insecure. We must expand NATO cautiously, as the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) said, and make sure that there is no final status whereby some countries are left out. That is extremely important.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. We must now move to the next debate.

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