HC Deb 17 July 1998 vol 316 cc716-52

Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.

11.47 am
Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith


Mr. Corbyn

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman as he is about to speak, but earlier Madam Speaker said that she would refer to the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons the issue of debates such as this. Will you also ensure that the Speaker considers the whole issue of what happens when so much of a debate like this, for which we have waited a year, is taken up with a very important statement? Should not statements be better timetabled?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is a matter to take up directly with the Modernisation Committee.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

I agree with what the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has said. I believe that what we have experienced today represents a gross discourtesy to the House. It certainly interrupted the flow of the debate. Anyway, we shall make the protest at another time.

Before I was interrupted, I was saying that, ever since I can remember, the NATO alliance has been not just a military, but a political, alliance. That probably accounts for the fact that the alliance did not end when the cold war ended. We recognised that there were good reasons—including political reasons—for extending the scope of NATO to fulfil one of its original aims in its preamble: that it should be there to protect democracy in Europe. We also recognised that there were good reasons for extending that remit, after the end of the cold war, into eastern Europe by opening the alliance to European states that wished to join and meet the requirements of membership.

From the beginning, the enlargement process has produced differences of opinion. Some of those opinions have already been expressed during the debate. The differences have emerged in debates of the NATO parliamentary assembly that I have attended. The American Government's influence on the other Governments and in debates in the assembly has persuaded most people to look favourably on the principle of enlargement. There is nothing new about enlargement. NATO has been enlarged before, when Germany, Spain, Portugal and Turkey joined the founder members. The development came as no surprise and was affirmed in July last year by the NATO Governments, who said: A new NATO is developing; a new NATO for a new and undivided Europe. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary emerged from the pack as the principal contenders for entry to NATO. All three suffered dreadfully at the hands of the Nazi and communist dictatorships. Before and after the war, the west did nothing to help them in their moments of distress. I have taken a positive view about the inclusion of those countries, because refusing their request for membership would have been a dreadful act of insensitivity.

Mr. Brzezinski, a distinguished former adviser to a President of the United States, once said: The expansion of NATO is an important milestone in European history. It is an important step forward in that unique relationship that binds America and Europe together. It expands the role of the alliance from an alliance that has defended freedom and deterred war to an alliance that promotes the scope of freedom and enhances peace. That is a fine sentiment, but it should not stop us from questioning the wisdom of ever more expansion. NATO should be used as a political force to help build a political consensus in Europe, as well as to back up our diplomatic initiatives and political goals with military options.

The prospect of NATO enlargement has already given central Europe greater stability. It has helped to strengthen democratic procedures and settle border and other disputes. The NATO-Ukraine pact is one example. There has been no opposition to enlargement from Ukraine. Poland has already created a joint peacekeeping battalion with its neighbour Ukraine and with Lithuania.

However, it is reasonable to ask whether expansion can go on without undermining the cohesion of the alliance and playing into the hands of Russian nationalists. On the other hand, can we or should we risk disappointing those countries that contend that they should not be excluded if the Visegrad countries can join? It is difficult to give a precise answer to such questions from countries known to be keen on joining NATO.

Since NATO accepted the idea of enlargement, certain events have moved the argument further than was originally envisaged. Those events should cause us to pause and reflect. The development of "Partnership for Peace" has fundamentally changed our attitude towards co-operation between the nations of western, central and eastern Europe. When "Partnership for Peace" was first raised, it was described as a "policy for procrastination". It was regarded as a tool or a sop to defer enlargement. Its recent progress has been substantial. It has had impressive success and achieved a momentum in military exercises in which the UK and other western NATO countries have participated. It has also given non-NATO countries opportunities to work with NATO in military exercises, helping to strengthen democratic control over their armed forces. We had feared that, when the cold war ended, democratic practices, particularly democratic control of the armed forces, might not be introduced.

The establishment of the new co-operative arrangements, such as the Euro-Atlantic partnership, will also provide new possibilities for closer dialogue on a broad range of political and security-related issues in Europe. Then there is the NATO-Russian Founding Act, signed on 27 May this year in Paris, which provides a unique framework for improving relations between NATO and Russia on a new basis of partnership and co-operation.

The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) said in his excellent speech that Russian officers can be seen swanning around NATO headquarters. They are obviously enjoying themselves, not feeling shut out from anything. They can get hold of all the relevant information that anyone needs to know about NATO. We have taken that on trust, but we have agreement from the Secretary-General of NATO to go into the HQ. We want to assure our Russian friends that, as democrats, we do not just take for granted what the Executive tells us; we go and see for ourselves. When we have reported back to the NATO parliamentary assembly, we shall go to Moscow and say what we have seen.

Mr. Colvin

The Russians are not privy to discussions about article 5 issues.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

That is a fair point. There is some concern about how far article 5 protection should be extended to those states that seek membership. That is an important issue. If they join NATO, they will expect that we would respond to any attack on them. One has to question the wisdom of that protection, particularly to countries close to the Russian border or to other areas of tension. Many initiatives have been drawn up since expansion was first considered, which should encourage the stability and co-operation we seek with the nations of eastern Europe.

Mr. Frank Cook

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that candidates for membership should not be admitted to the alliance unless they are willing and able to engage fully on article 5 issues in relation to other nations?

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

The hon. Gentleman has made a valuable point. I have a high regard for the "Partnership for Peace". I am indebted to a report that the hon. Gentleman submitted to the NATO parliamentary assembly, which went into the issue in detail. He showed how convincing a system it is for ensuring that those nations feel more protected, not more vulnerable, and enjoy the benefits of closer co-operation with NATO. Asking them to take article 5 on board is a serious step, which we cannot impose in the immediate future.

That is why I ask for a pause in the examination of which nations we should allow to join NATO and which we should encourage. Nothing is more devastating to people than to be told, "Don't worry; spend a little more money, hold a conference for us and we will ensure that you have a good opportunity—perhaps not next year or the year after, but in five years' time—of joining NATO." To encourage people in such a way provokes dissension in their countries and mistrust of our way of dealing with them; it is not fair to them.

The initiatives that I have mentioned have permitted central and eastern Europe to participate in a wider range of NATO activities. In so doing, membership of NATO has become less urgent—indeed, for some countries, unnecessary. It would therefore be wise not to encourage those involved in "Partnership for Peace" to believe that it provides a passport to NATO. It should not necessarily do so. For that reason and others, further expansion of NATO should be treated with caution.

11.58 am
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith)—not that I follow his politics. I follow him more in friendship. We have shared quite a few exchanges in defence debates over the years. I have been a Member of the House for more than 15 years and have taken part in quite a number of defence debates. Some might say that my contributions have been mediocre, but I hope that today's might be more helpful to the House.

As a delegate to the North Atlantic Assembly—NATO's parliament—I am vice-chairman of its defence and security committee, and its special rapporteur on reform of Russian forces, for which I must consult and work with a Russian general and two senior members of the Duma. As the right hon. Member for Wealden said, I am the author of the assembly's report on "Partnership for Peace". Therefore, I hope that my comments will be helpful in filling out some of the structures laid before us.

If I had been consulted on NATO 25 years ago, it would have been apparent that I was an ardent opponent of it. Indeed, I was a passionate advocate of the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the organisation. Today, of course, I am a firm supporter. As I have said more than once in the House, if it did not exist we would have to invent it.

What have I learnt that has made me change my mind? I suppose that I must start by saying that NATO has always been a thoroughly defensive alliance. It was formed as a defensive organisation in response to fears of a threat from the east. The offensiveness of its character—it was offensive in part—was purely economic. Its existence and activity compelled the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact satellite states to commit very scarce resources to arms production rather than industrial development and infrastructural schemes.

However, NATO proved its unthreatening posture when, as the cold war began to thaw, western analysts began to postulate and propagate the principles of inoffensive defence. They began to promote the ideas of exchanging details of force structures and deployment so that the opposite side would understand, if not agree, that the configuration and deployment of such forces were thoroughly defensive rather than threatening. That was a major change in climate.

Such a change proved to be welcome in the Soviet Union, as it began to admit more openly what it had acknowledged privately for several years: it could not sensibly afford the continuing madness of a Gadarene arms race. Indeed, the United States of America came to the same conclusion at about the same time. The House will recall that President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev admitted as much jointly at their meetings in Reykjavik.

However, easement of the bipolar conflict following Mikhail Gorbachev's declaration that his secret weapon was that he could deprive the west of its enemy has been only partial. It is true that the wall has come down, trade links are being developed and there are even joint ventures in arms production—although small. A burgeoning democratic pluralism is evident in central and eastern Europe and in the Russian Federation, and civilian control of the military is improving steadily.

Mr. Corbyn

Will my hon. Friend reflect on the fact that, on the break-up of the Soviet Union, NATO member states might have done better to heed Mr. Gorbachev's words about wanting a better European home? Does he agree that they could have looked to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe as a base for future European co-operation and security rather than to the expansion of NATO up to the Russian borders, which puts pressure on the Russian military and encourages it?

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend's intervention pre-empts some of my comments. I remind him that the European home has not been forgotten. The OSCE consists of 55 nations. It is top heavy and does not have many resources, apart from its archival filing cabinets and the intellectual initiatives of its diplomats and observers. It does not have the resources of NATO, which has been proved over a couple of generations and is structured to provide the architecture for common, collective European security.

I have said that there have been some improvements since the thaw in the cold war. However, there is a long way to go. There are still blocks of strong doubt and great mistrust. There is great mistrust between the Russian Federation and the west, and even more mistrust between the Russian Federation and its previous satellite allies. Ironically, NATO is proving to be the most effective single instrument in removing the doubts and building the missing confidence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, gave some examples of how NATO is building confidence. It is slowly and surely changing its declared aims and processes, engaging in a liberal application of its globally acknowledged planning resource, and making use of its integrated military command structure. It is also employing its exchange training programme and its "Partnership for Peace" programme.

One of the disadvantages of the exchange training programme is that, at least until recently, Russian officers who returned to the former Soviet Union after attending military academies in the west were consigned to command posts towards Siberia. It is thought that some of the senior Russian military suspect some contamination of those who have been trained in western establishments. That is sad, but the problem is easing.

Article 5 of the treaty commits member states to enter armed conflict in defence of other full member nations. At the moment, 16 nations are so committed, but, after ratification of the protocols, there may be a further three. In Hamburg in 1998, I was proud to move a resolution in the political committee of the North Atlantic Assembly that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic be admitted to the assembly as observer nations. That was not to every nation's liking. The French referred to me as an imbecile. They may have been right and that may still be true, but the motion won the day and, within 12 months of its acceptance by the political committee, at the assembly in Rome, Vladimir Lobov was on one side of the defence and security committee and, I think, Bernard Rogers was on the other. The meeting was chaired by the right hon. Member for Wealden. All that happened in 12 months—it was very sudden.

Article 4 of the treaty commits members to a form of operational crisis management and peacekeeping, not involving outright armed conflict. NATO's "Partnership for Peace" programme offers nations an opportunity to improve and enhance their capacity to co-operate effectively with NATO members in those international peacekeeping operations. Each partner for peace can pick its own profile and work towards it at its own pace as it qualifies for that co-operation.

The effectiveness of that programme can be seen in Bosnia, where every informed military analyst would assert that there could not have been a successful operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina had it not been for the previous work done through the programme. We have heard about the co-operation between the Russians and the Americans under American direct control, and several hon. Members have seen that in visits to Tuzla.

The "Partnership for Peace" programme has 27 signatory nations. The present candidates for membership—Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic—are signatory nations, and could be called "gonna-bes". A number of other countries, such as Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia, would like to join the alliance, but are in limbo. Nevertheless, they are active within the partnership programme. They could be called "wanna-bes".

There are other signatory nations within the partnership programme, including Finland and Sweden, who are fiercely protective of their declared neutrality. They want to take an active role in the creation of a collective European security architecture, but they do not want to do it on a declared basis. We are lucky to have nations of that calibre and expertise.

Finland and Sweden have a particular history. Each stood out against the former Soviet Union when it was at its most threatening. Both nations won—one more than once. Their relationship with the Russian Federation is based on respect. The Russian Federation respects them, and they respect the Russian Federation.

Finland and Sweden have a measure of confidence in their relationship with the west. There is also a large measure of confidence—because of their historical example—between them and the previous satellite states. They serve a useful purpose in working on the block of mistrust between the Russian Federation and the west, and the even larger block between the former satellite states and the Russian Federation. We must cultivate and encourage the continuation of that relationship.

We have heard about the prospect of the Russian Federation adopting its old outlook. The Russians are not unaware of that, and understand it just as much as people on the centre and centre-left in Germany worry about the far right in that country. The Russians are afraid also of a return to totalitarianism. One has only to consider the news from Russia. The good news is that Lenin's mother is alive; the bad news is that she is pregnant. The Russians make a jest of their past, but they are fully aware of it. They joke seriously.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) rightly spoke of the danger that Russia may become antagonised and alienated. I promise him that we are fully alert to that. I believe that we should embrace the Russian Federation, as it has a unique experience and talent. It may have led the Warsaw pact unsuccessfully, but the threat was big enough to worry us for many years.

We have an opportunity to allow article 5 nations to focus around the United States of America, as we do now for article 5 actions, and to allow the "Partnership for Peace" nations, which are not full members of the alliance, to concentrate on article 4 operations—the crisis management and peacekeeping—using Russia as a focal point. The two bodies could act as drayhorses in a common harness, pulling European security in the same direction. Ironically, Russia cannot afford to adopt that leading role, because the arms race left its economic structures in such a terrible mess. None the less, I believe that we should give Russia a more active role in the partnership programme.

Another obstruction to Russian confidence is our failure to make progress on the review of the conventional forces in Europe treaty. Most alliance member states have reduced their force structures and deployment to levels that are way below those set out in the treaty.

Mr. Tyrie

The hon. Gentleman suggests that the arms race destroyed the Soviet economy, but, because of the failure of state planning, the whole economic system would have collapsed regardless of whether it was designed to make weapons—that is what led to the current malaise in the Russian economy.

Mr. Cook

The hon. Gentleman is looking at the same thing from a different angle. Because Russia was compelled to take part in an arms race—which was just as deleterious for the United States, except that the Americans had greater resources—and consigned so much of its effort into arms production, it was not able to develop sufficiently rapidly to take care of its social structures. He and I are saying the same thing, and I do not understand his intervention. Perhaps I did not make my point sufficiently plainly, but I hope that it is plain now.

As I said, alliance member states have reduced their forces to the levels determined in the conventional forces in Europe treaty or below. However, those levels were set when Russia had its Warsaw pact allies. The Warsaw pact has collapsed, so there is a huge imbalance. That is a cause of great concern to the Russian Federation, which feels itself—we have been talking about perception—to be outgunned. NATO is in danger of hugely increasing that imbalance by admitting two and half former Warsaw pact nations—Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The perception of imbalance in Russia is in danger of getting ever greater, and we must address it urgently if we are to avoid further alarming the Russian Federation.

We will not make any decisions today. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North has expressed dissatisfaction about that, but democracy is not only about decisions: it is about expressing disagreement, disapproval or whatever one feels. We will decide today only whether to adjourn, but we have a valuable opportunity to express our opinions.

Democracy involves the capacity to accommodate disapproval, disagreement and differences of opinion, although that was not evident in the previous Government, and some take the view that it is not over-common in the present Government.

We have an opportunity to comment on the three protocols. If we seek a stronger, broader-based, more effective collective European security architecture, NATO is the only means to achieve it. If we seek a vehicle by which the United Nations can effectively offer appropriate means of giving protective cover to people and nations under threat, NATO is the most experienced and capable organisation, with the necessary resources and commitment.

When enlargement was first discussed, I and one or two of my colleagues were opposed to it in principle—why change a winning team, I thought—but changes in circumstances and in the character of NATO have altered my views. Exchanges with representatives from central and eastern Europe have accelerated that change.

I support paragraph (r) of the summary of conclusions and recommendations in the Select Committee report. To those who say that we cannot afford enlargement, I say that we cannot afford not to have it. The broadening and strengthening of a collective European security architecture are essential precursors to developing the state of play that will doubtless be achieved some time after we have departed this life: global governance. The approval of the three protocols will be a small but positive step in that direction.

12.21 pm
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

This important debate should have happened some time ago. I absolutely concur with the view expressed by the hon. Members for Walsall, South (Mr. George) and for Romsey (Mr. Colvin), as well as by many other hon. Members, that our mechanism for dealing with overseas treaties is simply not satisfactory. I made that point to the Leader of the House in an attempt to secure earlier progress on the Ottawa convention and land mines legislation.

Mr. Corbyn

The procedures are not only unsatisfactory but non-existent. Under the royal prerogative, the Government can sign treaties and make war or peace with any country they choose, and Parliament has no say in it whatever. Before we lecture the world about democracy and the mother of Parliaments, we should at the very least bring treaties within the orbit of Parliament.

Mr. Heath

The hon. Gentleman makes the point extremely well, and perhaps I was understating the case. I am not given to hyperbole.

Mr. Corbyn

Nor am I.

Mr. Heath

That is something we share.

The mechanism does not work effectively, even when a treaty requires changes in domestic legislation, because of the inevitable delays. I, like other hon. Members, have had the embarrassment of talking to friends from Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic who simply cannot understand why Britain appears to have taken a lead on the matter but cannot get the procedures right and give the appropriate support.

Lest I fall into the trap into which Ministers accused the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) of falling, let me make the Liberal Democrat position absolutely plain from the outset. We have supported NATO and we support the new concept of NATO and enlargement to encompass the present three applicants. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) has made it plain on a number of occasions that we see no difficulty in being both Atlanticists and Europeans. The two are not mutually exclusive, and our only concern is that some of the structures within Europe do not sufficiently take account of that fact or enable us to construct the arrangements by which Europe could speak with a strong enough voice in the negotiations.

If this debate had taken place a little while ago, one major question would have been whether NATO should continue. With the changing situation throughout Europe, there were doubts about its role in the security of the European continent. To a large extent, that is a dead argument, because NATO has made the adjustment and has sought a new role. It still makes an important contribution to the concept of the defensible entity that provides enhanced security within Europe and provides stability to areas that have historically been unstable points of tension between powers—not merely the Warsaw pact and modern western Europe but, going further back in time, those areas that have always been areas of difficulty for the continent. Providing stability in such areas is an important role.

NATO is also developing its peacekeeping role, and I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) that that should be an enhanced role for the United Nations, too. NATO should offer a service, often mediated through the UN. We would go further, and make designated forces regularly available to the UN—not a standing army, but forces that would be available for peacekeeping, but that is a different debate.

The military structures of NATO need to change to allow rapid deployment. That is a downgrading of the normal state of readiness.

Mr. Frank Cook

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind, when he talks about rapid reaction deployments, that the shortfall is due not to the military, but to the fact that we do not have rapid reaction politicians?

Mr. Heath

We need both, I am grateful for that intervention, as that is an important point. One of the many difficulties that bedevil any negotiations on a European front is the inability to seek early consensus.

On the questions whether enlargement is possible and desirable, and whether there is a rationale behind it, let me say that this would not be the first enlargement of NATO. Other major enlargements have been mentioned. It has enlarged in the past 10 years with the incorporation of the eastern lander of Germany—part of Germany was on the other side and is now on our side, and its armed forces have had to be incorporated, although we have perhaps not had the same agonies over that decision.

Enlargement has some important ground rules. I would be greatly concerned if it were seen as some sort of second prize for countries that aspire to be members of the European Union, but are not economically ready for the task. That would be a distortion of the intention behind NATO and would not be an appropriate way to deal with the aspirations of the countries of central and eastern Europe. Vice versa, it would be wrong if the EU were considered the short cut to NATO, without having to go through the business of providing support for it, and we must be aware of that. There must be genuine mutual security benefits to both NATO and the applicant countries.

We cannot divorce accession from economic considerations, not only as they relate to control of the armed forces but as they affect the applicant countries which will incur expenditure and will hope to nestle in a security blanket that provides an environment in which economic investment can take place. That is crucial to countries whose fragile economies are trying to grow in a democratic context.

Acceding countries must form part of a defensible area. It makes no sense to incorporate countries that cannot be defended in any real sense. That may preclude some countries that might wish to develop an interest in NATO at some stage.

The Visegrad three—the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary—pass all the tests. They would pass with even greater aplomb if Austria would finally take the tortured decision to end neutrality and join NATO. In Vienna last week, I spoke to senior Austrian politicians and found that great differences of opinion have yet to be resolved, but there are strong advocates of accession to NATO. That would correct the geographical problem that has been referred to. Routes around Slovakia take us around one side, but Austria provides a more direct route of connection for Hungary to the rest of NATO.

All that is important in terms of the points made by the Foreign Secretary. We are discussing mitteleuropa, the core of Europe. At the heart of the European continent, countries share with us many cultural and political aspirations that were submerged for so long by the Russian empire. It is symbolically important that mitteleuropa should rejoin the European family of nations.

Other countries may apply. I have no problem with Slovenia's application, although it is slightly offensive that it appears to have been subject to American veto before reaching the negotiating table. I accept that Slovenia will not make a massive contribution, but it passes all the tests, and I see no reason why it should not eventually join NATO.

Romania has strong advocates among French politicians, who can instantly list all the reasons why it should be a member. That may be based on a slightly odd view that Romania remains Francophone: when one talks to the Romanians one finds that they are not, despite the perception in Paris that Romania forms part of the French sphere of influence. Romania would be a valuable ally. Its democracy is still tentative, but is developing quickly.

The Baltic states are more difficult, because they are inextricably linked with Russia. Other hon. Members have mentioned that we cannot entirely eliminate the Russian view. There can be no Russian veto, and Russia cannot arbitrarily decide with whom we shall do business on defence, in economic terms or in any other sense. No veto, no surprises, must be the right way to deal with Russia.

We should recognise the difficulties that inclusion of the Baltic states would present to Russia. It would mean the encirclement of Kaliningrad, which, as a highly militarily engaged enclave, would be a node of instability. It would worry me if Russia felt that part of its sovereign territory was so encircled in an area where there is high level of military activity. There is a problem. To incorporate the Baltic states while the other Scandinavian countries lie outside NATO might seem an unnecessary provocation. It is not necessarily a good enough reason for not doing it, but it should be considered in examining the benefits.

I do not accept that Russia has some area of influence that we have to respect under all circumstances, and into which we can never intrude, but we must be sensitive to what Russians feel about what is happening near their borders. We should base our decisions on what creates stability and security in Europe rather than on that which does the opposite. That is a proper consideration.

We have another problem with Estonia, which may soon be in the European Union. There are few obstacles to its accession other than those common to all applicant countries. As an EU member, it has virtually automatic membership of the Western European Union. It is a conundrum that will cause us difficulty.

Mr. Jim Marshall

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the possible entry of the Baltic states into the European Union. He said that they would automatically enter the WEU. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will correct that impression. It does not work that way around. It has become a precondition of entry into the WEU that a member state of the European Union must also be a member of NATO. He may argue, as I intend briefly to argue, that we should change that configuration, particularly in the cases of the Baltic states so that their entry into the EU—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. This is a very long intervention. 1 know that the hon. Gentleman hopes to catch my eye later. Perhaps he could make those points when he does.

Mr. Marshall

I apologise. I hope that it will be sooner rather than later. Perhaps we could alter the rules so that entry into the EU would mean automatic entry into the WEU.

Mr. Heath

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point, and he will no doubt expand on it later.

There is the further difficulty with the extension of NATO to Russian borders. It is not a matter of principle that the Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus should not be incorporated, although in the case of Belarus it seems unlikely. It is a matter of identifying the objectives of NATO, how they work in the geopolitical climate of Europe and whether it is anyone's interest to create what might be perceived as a new cold war front along the Russian border. We must consider whether that would create instability where it does not exist.

I want to discuss what is commonly called the architecture of NATO, which is not always a helpful term. A proliferation of pillars bedevil the European Union, and they are beginning to bedevil NATO. I do not like the analogy of two pillars. If architecture is based on two pillars and one becomes weaker, we get a lopsided structure. I prefer to use the term "a twin foundation". We clearly have that with the United States, which is a very important player, and with the states of Europe, which would form a much stronger player than they currently do, were they able to come to a common position.

I believe that we have to have concerns about the position of the United States. One has only to listen to the debates in the Senate and Congress to realise that there are proper concerns that we as Europeans must face about the attitude of United States politicians and their potential attitude in the future. I thought that the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) was exceedingly polite about Jesse Helms, his American colleague, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Such American attitudes are the sort of thing that we in Europe could frankly do without.

It is essential to develop the positive contribution that the European dimension within NATO can provide. We have the European security and defence identity, and combined joint task forces. All those are moves in the right direction, but we are not there yet. I should like to see much more consolidation within Europe—for instance of the defence industries—as that is essential if we are to maintain competitiveness with the Americans. I should like to see the review undertaken by the Secretary of State for Defence encompass the European dimension much more overtly. He knows that we have applauded a great deal of what has emerged from the strategic defence review, but what was missing was the view of how that fitted into a wider European context. We should also see an extension of common procurement.

None of the development that has taken place ought to preclude further strengthening of the consultative machinery to which several hon. Members have referred—the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, which is an underdeveloped area of activity. All our Governments should pay a little more attention to CSCE and provide better resources if it is to do its job effectively. We have in it a process for de-escalation of potential tension. That must be the name of the game. We must seek to avoid conflict, rather than having to resolve it once it has arisen. That is an essential component.

The one area that has not been discussed, yet I believe will be essential to European and world politics in the 21st century, is the development of sub-regional organisations. In this sense, "sub-regional" means anything up to half a continent, but it means that people can talk about security, economic and environmental issues that transcend boundaries in the context of a smaller unit that takes people outside the fixed certainties of the blocs and enables them to make quicker progress. We have seen that developing in the Baltic council, the Barents sea, to an extent in the Caspian sea and rather unsuccessfully in the Mediterranean. Those are the areas on which we need to concentrate.

I have not referred yet to the costs of enlargement. As other hon. Members have said, they are terribly difficult to get a grip on in any accurate sense. They are unlikely to be as high as the highest expectations in America or elsewhere. I believe that those expected figures are wrong. We can be sure that the costs will certainly not be as high as the costs of failure in defence in Europe. If we fail to incorporate other countries into NATO and give them reason to develop their armed forces and security machinery outside the envelope of NATO, the costs will inevitably be much higher.

It is important that we do not saddle the applicant countries with inappropriate costs. There is a clear necessity to improve their command structures and their training, but I do not believe that there is an enormous need to improve the military material that they have at their disposal. Enlargement should not be a licence to Lockheed to go hawking its wares around central and eastern Europe. Instead, we should concentrate on the contribution that the applicant countries can make best.

I have taken enough of the House's time, so let me say finally that the Czechs, the Hungarians and the Poles have been waiting for a clear message from the House, as from other Parliaments across Europe. We have a significance as one of the countries that has often taken a lead in these matters and it is a shame that we were not able to do so earlier, but I hope that the message that will go forward from this morning's debate is a clear one.

We accept the protocols that have been laid before us but, more than that, we embrace the countries in central and eastern Europe and we want them to be part of the European family. We believe that they have contributions to make; the contributions will be not entirely one way, as some hon. Members have suggested, but reciprocal. Those countries have a contribution to make to NATO and we look forward to ratification at the earliest opportunity. It has the Liberal Democrats' full support.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I should like to point out that many hon. Members want to contribute to the debate. We have already lost quite a lot of time because of the statement, so, unless hon. Members' speeches are brief, many will be disappointed.

12.45 pm
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for not allowing my perhaps over-long intervention on the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) to prejudice your judgment as to who should follow him. I am grateful.

I share the concern expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the nature of the ratification process for the protocols and treaties. I hope that the Modernisation Committee, as part of its work on improving the working methods in this place and within Government machinery as a whole, will find some more sensible method of allowing Parliament not only to discuss such matters but to be involved in the decision-making and ratification processes.

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have drawn attention to the fact that the debate is a short one, but that is not our fault. I shall try to heed your request, but we were presented with a maximum of four and a half hours for this debate, and three-quarters of an hour disappeared because of a statement. I welcome that statement, but it means that the House will have only three and three quarter hours at most to discuss a crucial issue. That is a message that the Government and their business managers should take to heart.

I do not want to introduce a note of political acrimony into the debate, because there appears to be cross-party support for the measure in hand, but I am slightly disturbed by the attitude of the official Opposition. The Government fielded my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to introduce the debate, and it will be wound up by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. But who do we have on the Opposition Front Bench? There is no shadow Foreign Secretary—in fact, the shadow Front-Bench team is a real shadow today. I do not know what urgent business is keeping the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) away from the House, but—

Mr. Blunt

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The time for the debate is limited, and you have previously spoken to the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) about a lengthy intervention. What the hon. Gentleman is talking about is not germane to the debate, and I wondered whether we could get on.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order for me.

Mr. Marshall

You are quite right, Mr. Deputy Speaker; nor do the hon. Gentleman's remarks have any relevance to the point that I am making.

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor)

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) is sorry to be unable to be here today, but he is travelling abroad. From time to time, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence have been unavoidably absent from the House for the same reason, and we quite understand when that happens.

Mr. Marshall

I am grateful for that information. I realise that shadow Ministers, as well as real Ministers, have appointments that they have to keep; however, I pointed out the absence of shadow Ministers today because it shows the degree of importance that the Opposition attach to the subject of our debate. Many of us have important things to be doing elsewhere in the United Kingdom today. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) would prefer to be in his constituency, and I would prefer to be in Leicester. I only wish that the shadow Foreign Secretary were here to speak on behalf of the official Opposition.

Bearing in mind the point made by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), I shall move on to my constructive contribution to the debate. Like many of my hon. Friends, I have often, throughout my adult life, had equivocal feelings towards NATO. I have never been anti-NATO, but I have been more sceptical and critical of it at some times than at others. I have been a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament for most of my adult life.

Dr. Julian Lewis

If the hon. Gentleman has been a member of CND for most of his adult life, either he does not realise the implication of that or he is not being fully open with the House. CND's constitution requires the one-sided abandonment by Britain not only of nuclear weapons and nuclear bases but of nuclear alliances. If he has been supporting CND for most of his adult life, he has, like the Foreign Secretary, been supporting withdrawal from NATO and a policy of neutralism, unless NATO gave up all its nuclear weapons, which of course it never had any intention of doing.

Mr. Marshall

As I was saying, I have been a member of CND most of my adult life. One of my criticisms of NATO was its undue emphasis on the possible use of nuclear weapons. I still hold that view, and I do not intend to apologise for that to the House or to the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis).

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that NATO has been one of the most successful military and political alliances of all times. Fifty years ago, it brought together nation states, many of which were traditional enemies, under the hegemony of the United States. A decade ago, it defeated its enemy without having to resort to physical warfare.

With the end of the cold war and the emergence of pluralistic democracies in central and eastern Europe which are committed to market forces, to respect for human rights and to peacefully settling disputes with neighbours, it was inevitable that NATO's future would be debated in the context of future security arrangements in Europe. In that regard, there are three possible scenarios. The first, which is favoured by some of my hon. Friends, is to disband NATO; the second is to remain an alliance of 16; and the third is to expand, particularly in central and eastern Europe.

The first scenario—the disbandment of NATO—would lead to the withdrawal of the United States of America from Europe, and to Europeans making the decisions and taking any necessary action to protect European security interests. Events in Bosnia, later in Albania and currently in Kosovo have shown clearly the inability of European states to act in concert to deal with their own problems without the political involvement and leadership of the United States. Events on the ground in Bosnia, through the actions of NATO, have shown the value of NATO planning and the integrated command structure.

That leads me to two inevitable conclusions. First, there is a need to maintain the involvement of the United States in European security through the proven structure of NATO. Secondly, it demonstrates the efficacy of NATO as a military machine.

The second scenario—to remain an alliance of 16—has received publicity in recent weeks, which is a bit late in the day to contribute to the debate. One of its supporters is my noble Friend Lord Healey. Advocates of this position argue that there should be no expansion because the alliance would become too unwieldy and would therefore be unable to deal with the delicate political problems that are likely to occur on the military map in the next century. Their basic argument is that consensus among 16 is difficult enough, and that that situation would be an order of magnitude worse if there were 19-plus members of NATO. They also argue that it would adversely affect relations with Russia.

I believe that NATO remaining an alliance of 16 would ignore political reality in Europe. There is no doubt that the end of the cold war created in central and eastern Europe a vacuum waiting to be filled either by a volatile Russia or by the western democracies. In that regard, it is interesting to note that the three countries invited to join NATO—Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic—and other applicant countries want to join NATO and the European Union because those organisations are seen to have contributed to the peace and prosperity of their member states over the past 15 years. It would be a grave strategic error to bar them from admittance to NATO because of possible future difficulties resulting from increasing the size of NATO.

For Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, NATO membership could well have a positive outcome. In respect of relations with Russia, there is a real prospect that NATO's expansion will prompt a genuine reconciliation between the Russians and their central European neighbours. Once in NATO, the central Europeans will no longer fear that their closeness to Russia can lead to a mortal embrace—a fear that is undoubtedly deeply rooted in painful historical experience.

On that basis, I welcome the admission of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to NATO. As I said in an earlier intervention—not one to which you were privy, Mr. Deputy Speaker—it is right that the current round of enlargement is based more on political considerations than on purely defence-related calculation, as I believe political considerations are paramount.

Despite what we may hear from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, it is generally accepted that the three candidate countries will not be able to make a proportionate contribution to NATO for at least another decade. However, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome said, we should not forget that those three countries are prepared to pay the price of membership of NATO and of European Union membership, for which they have also applied, in terms of accepting the acquis of the European Union. We could not have a surer indication of the value of those institutions to those three countries and to others than the economic price that they are prepared to pay in defence expenditure and in public expenditure to bring their social and environmental infrastructure up to scratch to join the European Union.

Finally, we must have regard to countries that are unsuccessful in their applications, and make it clear to them that enlargement of NATO is an open exercise and will not be closed. We have to make it clear, particularly to central and eastern European countries, that they will be part of the next enlargement within the next decade to 15 years if they can meet the minimum requirements for NATO membership. It would be foolish to close the door to those countries permanently; that way lies future instability. We must ensure that there is a continuum allowing them to move toward membership of NATO in the foreseeable, rather than the distant, future.

As I said when I intervened on the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, I share the concern about the Baltic states. There are grave dangers in encouraging them to believe that membership of NATO is on the immediate horizon. It would be unfair to allow them to believe that. It would create instability in that part of northern Europe around the Baltic.

I favour the solution proposed by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome—that the best way for those countries to get into the European security architecture is via membership of the European Union. Despite what we say about the European Union and defence, the European Union has an indirect security context. No one could persuade me that, if a member state of the European Union was attacked by any foreign country, we would not go to that member state's assistance. There is therefore an implicit security guarantee in membership, which I believe we should encourage the Baltic states to accept.

As I said in response to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, I believe that we must alter the configuration between the European Union, the Western European Union and NATO, so that member states of the European Union that are not members of NATO have the right to join the WEU. That would not only solve the problem of the Baltic states, but cover the case of Slovenia, which is likely to be accepted into the European Union at the next enlargement, and which is keen to join NATO.

In our relationship with Russia, we must ensure continuing close co-operation and consultation through the Permanent Joint Council of the NATO-Russia Founding Act, but obviously there must be no veto. Finally, I believe that we must try to make it evidently and credibly clear to the Russians that the expansion of NATO and the expansion of the European Union are open-ended historical processes, without fixed geographical or time limits, and that, eventually, a more formal association with both is on Russia's political horizon.

1.1 pm

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

This has been a consensual debate. No contributor to it has opposed the entry to NATO of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, and I confirm that I support that. The debate has been consensual as between Labour and Conservative Members. The admission of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland is consensual, accepted by the United States and Russia. However, that consensual attitude—that harmony—has not always existed.

When I trained as a pilot, 40 years ago, the wing commander in charge of flying called in the newly training pilots and told us, "At this moment, in the Soviet union, a young pilot will be starting his training today, and one day you may meet him above the skies of central Europe. If he is better trained than you, he will kill you." That was the atmosphere in which my generation grew up. We believed that there might be a war, and we were prepared to fight in it.

The 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were a difficult period, and not a consensual one. Many of us fought the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Labour party conference after Labour party conference passed resolutions demanding the abolition of nuclear weapons. I was chairman of an organisation called the Campaign for Defence and Multilateral Disarmament. We tried to tie CND's shoe-laces together, with some success. We fought things such as the Lambeth nuclear-free zone. We watched Michael Foot march to Aldermaston. There were organisations such as socialists against the bomb and scientists against the bomb, and various fellow travellers. I once received a missive from an organisation calling itself Streatham lesbian dentists against the bomb—I am still not sure whether that was meant to be serious. It was a period when there was absolutely no consensual attitude.

The security and safety of this country owes nothing to the Labour party at that time. It took Margaret Thatcher's support for President Reagan in the deployment of cruise missiles at Greenham Common to face down the expansion of the Russian and Warsaw pact missile programme. Fortunately, history will not say what would have happened had we had a Labour Government at that time. No Labour Government would have given President Reagan the support that the Americans needed to face down the Warsaw pact. That was a period of triumph for us, and I am proud that we were there. I have mentioned the Labour party, but the Liberals were even worse. Woolly of clothing and of mind, they were even more firmly in favour of CND, if that is possible, than was the Labour party.

I am questioning not the patriotism of the Labour party or the Liberals, but their judgment. Their judgment was wrong: thank God we had a Conservative Government to support NATO.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)

The hon. Gentleman has given a list of dirty tricks that the Conservatives used to undermine CND—an organisation that reflected the will of the majority of the population, who were worried about nuclear war after the Cuban missile crisis. The Conservatives seem to have no policies and are useless at reflecting what people need. Are they going to employ such dirty tricks to try to undermine the Labour Government?

Mr. Viggers

That is unfair of the hon. Gentleman, who should know me well enough to realise that I would not engage in dirty tricks. I went round the United Kingdom, going to universities, colleges and open meetings. I debated several times with Monsignor Bruce Kent and put forward the argument for nuclear weapons, which was unpopular in many circles, although most of the population believed in their retention. CND had to be fought. That was a difficult period, when we were seriously concerned that CND would undermine the defence of the country. I am proud that we fought that battle and won it on intellectual grounds.

Dr. Julian Lewis


Mr. Viggers

I am sorry, but I cannot give way because there are too many people waiting to speak.

NATO was created to counter-balance the Warsaw pact. It was a military and political alliance—both aspects were important. NATO brings United States and Canadian military force and political support to Europe. NATO has always had some weak points. Some years ago, I travelled around NATO countries. In Greece we were given a presentation on "the threat". We were surprised that a map of Turkey was put up when the threat was mentioned. Some members of NATO have always been stronger and more allied than others. Some of our allies have armed forces far weaker than ours.

There has been some discussion about whether NATO was required and whether the Western European Union could make NATO less relevant. That argument is in the past. The thrust is for mutually reinforcing institutions. We have the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and "Partnership for Peace", which has 27 members and has been exceptionally successful in promoting understanding and the use of military facilities between different countries, not all of which are or, wish to be, members of NATO. It is vital that NATO should retain its core value and its ability to fight a high-intensity war.

The concept of NATO expansion is not new: Greece and Turkey joined in 1952; the Federal Republic of Germany joined in 1955; Spain joined in 1982; and, more recently, eastern Germany has joined. Why expand now? The motor for expansion is the United States of America. It is worth remembering that only 7 per cent. of Americans have travelled abroad and that 40 per cent. of Congressmen do not even possess a passport.

All those people had to come from somewhere. As we have seen, the Irish in America tend to become more Irish the longer they are there. There is a strong feeling among the American people that the nations from which their ancestors came should not be deprived of the benefit of NATO membership. There has also been a rapturous response in central and eastern Europe, where membership of NATO is seen as a western credential and a way of joining prosperous western nations as well as enjoying NATO's support in defence.

I have been agnostic about the expansion of NATO. I am not at all sure that we should expand too fast. My doubts are focused on three main areas. First, several central and eastern European countries have very insecure foundations as democracies. I was recently briefed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington. It is not for nothing that the FBI has a special division which deals with countries which are, effectively, controlled by organised crime. Several of them, including those whose names have been mentioned in this debate as candidates for NATO, have extremely insecure foundations as democracies. In some of their elections, their Members of Parliament have been accepted as having strong links with organised crime. We must be careful that countries that are admitted to NATO are true and secure democracies.

My second argument for being cautious about NATO expansion concerns the costs of defence of countries that are admitted. That is a respectable doubt for a person to have; Lord Healey has been mentioned as one such person. An article last year in Defense News referred to 46 people who came together to write a letter to the President of the United States on the matter. They included former Senator Sam Nunn, two former ambassadors to Moscow, a former ambassador to Poland, a former Under-Secretary and a former NATO Assistant Secretary-General, all of whom argued: Instead of expanding … NATO should boost its Partnership for Peace program, which aids nonmembers in military training and helps Eastern and Central Europeans join the European Union. Much of the expenditure on defence could be better spent on improving economics. Having said that, I reiterate that I do not oppose Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic joining NATO. I just feel that we should be cautious about expanding still further.

My third main reason for being cautious about NATO expansion is the attitude in Russia. I am saying this not because I am afraid of Russia but because I think that we have stronger links, through the Founding Act of 1997, at presidential and governmental level with Russia than we have at parliamentary and people level. No one who has seen—as I have—a Duma packed with people who are seriously concerned that the expansion of NATO will cause instability in Russia can doubt that that needs to be taken seriously. We need to build on and expand the Founding Act, which states that one of its purposes is to improve public awareness of relationships between countries.

Most changes in the former Soviet Union have been greatly for the better, but in Russia in particular there has been seismic shock. Communism is—was—a way of life; it is virtually a religion. The people have lost not only the illusion of military might but their faith. The nearest parallel I can think of is this: it is as if the Vatican had been told that God did not exist and that the Roman Catholic Church was a myth, corrupt and incapable.

The people of Russia are baffled, disillusioned and angry that their faith has been taken from them. More than half the members of the state Duma have signed a resolution stating that expansion of NATO will create new dividing lines and barriers in Europe. The question that has always been asked in Russia is against whom NATO is expanding. Instability in Russia is not surprising, bearing in mind the arrears of pay and appalling housing conditions in the armed forces. We hear that even officers and their families are living in tents.

Russia and the Warsaw pact countries had military-industrial combines and much employment depended on military and industrial expenditure in military areas. A month ago, the Pentagon told me that, in 90 cities in the former Soviet Union, more than 75 per cent. of the population work in the defence industry. Think of that industry being undermined and people realising that they are losing their former markets—the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary—because those three countries and others will re-equip with NATO-compatible equipment.

The NATO-Russian framework is sound at Government level, but it needs to be broadened and strengthened. One way to do that is to have Russian delegates at our North Atlantic Assembly meetings. It is surprising to me that I am on conversational terms with Mr. Zhirinovsky. I have had several conversations with him and have chaired meetings at which he spoke. We have experienced the calming and reassuring influence of personal contact with people from the former Soviet Union countries and from Russia.

There should be more military contacts between NATO and Russia, and I welcome the fact that there are now Russians in Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. The "Partnership for Peace" programme has been an outstanding success in promoting a sense of common purpose in defence-related activity of all kinds, including even air traffic control. Russia is losing markets in former Soviet Union countries, and we must seriously face the loss of business and currency to Russia. If currency does not enter Russia, reform may not happen.

How can we co-operate? I shall put to the House a thought that may seem eccentric. It is that the former Soviet Union, and in particular Ukraine, has the Antonov aircraft factory, which is without orders. It manufactures aircraft that are similar to those that are contained in plans for the future large aircraft. I welcome the fact that the Germans are seeking to co-operate with the Antonov factory, and regret that no other NATO country seems to want to co-operate with Antonov, which has a world leader in the field. Similarly, the Mig 29 Fulcrum and the Sukhoi 35 have airframes which, as far as I can see, are far superior to any in the west. I regret that we have not found ways to co-operate with Russia or to pass orders to it to demonstrate that the confidence that we express in the expansion of NATO does not mean that we are seeking to do it down.

As the Foreign Secretary said, the expansion of NATO involvesa geographical expansion of one sixth of territory and a borders expansion of one third. That is a large expansion. I would resist further expansion in the foreseeable future, and I would avoid a timetable for further expansion. Meanwhile, we must retain the core role of NATO and its ability, if necessary, to engage in high-intensity warfare.

1.17 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I am vehemently opposed to the expansion of NATO. When occupants of both Front Benches are united, they are sometimes united in error. In view of what the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) said, I should like to place on record the names of those who share the view that expansion is a folly of historic proportions. They are Ken Aldred, the director of the Council for Arms Control; Sir Michael Atiyah, the President of the Royal Society; Sir Hugh Beach; Sir Michael Beetham; Frank Blackaby; Field Marshal The Lord Bramall and Field Marshal The Lord Carver; Sir Frank Cooper, the former permanent under-secretary at the Ministry of Defence; Sir John Curtiss; Sir James Eberle, who ran Chatham House; John Edmonds, the former ambassador to the comprehensive test ban treaty; Sir Stephen Egerton and Sir John Graham, former ambassadors; Dr. Helga Graham, who put the letter together; Hugh Hanning; Lord Healey; Sir Michael Howard; Sir Arthur Hockaday; Lord Kennet; Sir John Killick; Sir Ian McGeoch; Sir Harry Tuza and Mrs. Elizabeth Young. They are not exactly CND marchers. They say: Our misgivings are manifold, but what lies at their heart is the vital need to preserve NATO's ability, in the new Europe where, by common consent, potential threats to the peace are diffuse and unpredictable, to make rapid assessments and take quick and effective decisions on what action, if any, to take. This is difficult enough with 16 members, as the Bosnian experience as shown; with more it risks becoming impossibly slow and ineffective. There are other disturbing implications: Actual and potential arms control and arms reduction agreements, both nuclear and conventional, will be more complicated and difficult; their ratification and implementation may be jeopardised … The security threat to those states not admitted in the first wave is liable to be increased; yet it is they, the Baltic states for example, who are already the most vulnerable. On the other hand, we fail to identify any countervailing advantages for the Alliance in enlargement. It will therefore continue to antagonise Russia for no good reason. I hope that the Defence Secretary will give a serious answer to those distinguished people. I hope he will answer another question. I do not think that I do the Foreign Secretary an injustice in saying that he implied that, somehow or other, what we are doing was okay by the Russians. That is not their view.

Dr. Alexei Arbatov—whom some of us have met at Labour party groups and, doubtless, Conservative groups—of the Russian state Duma has said: First the enforced reconcentration on strategic nuclear forces is ruinous to our [economic] development. Second, our need to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in the Western military regions of the country and in the Northern fleet damages our prospects significantly. Thirdly, there is the need to expand anti-missile defences at great expense in European Russia. And fourth, the increased vulnerability of Russian strategic nuclear bases and conventional forces means increased defence commitments and expenditure. Dr. Arbatov concluded by complaining that one third of the west's military power in Europe is close to Russia's land frontiers, and that historical hostility to Russia is part of the policy and attitudes of some of the new countries.

We are assured that the NATO-Russian Founding Act establishes the framework for co-operation between NATO and Russia and creates the foundation for a lasting friendship, yet arguably, the 10 conditions imposed recently on US ratification of NATO enlargement by the ultra-conservative Republican Senator Jesse Helms, according to the Russians, guts this incipient co-operation of any realistic content and revives the spirit of the Cold War. What are the facts of the matter? What are the Russians saying to us? In particular what are they saying about the Helms conditions? As I understand it, the Helms conditions have created considerable worry in the Russian Duma. The conditions are:

  1. "1. Outline a clear, complete strategic rationale for NATO expansion.
  2. 2. Agree that no limitations will be placed on the numbers of NATO troops or types of weapons to be deployed on the territory of new member states, including nuclear weapons.
  3. 3. Explicitly reject Russian efforts to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone in central Europe.
  4. 4. Explicitly reject all efforts to tie NATO decisions to UN Security Council Approval.
  5. 5. Establish a clear delineation of NATO deliberations that arc off-limits to Russia, including, but not limited to arms control, further Alliance expansion, procurement and strategic doctrine.
  6. 6. Provide an immediate seat at the NATO table for countries invited to join the Alliance.
  7. 7. Reject Russian efforts to require NATO aid for Russian arms sales to former Warsaw Pact militaries joining the Alliance …
  8. 737
  9. 8. Reject any further Russian efforts to link consensus in arms-control negotiations including the … ABM treaty and the CFE treaty.
  10. 9. Develop a plan for a NATO ballistic missile defence system to defend Europe.
  11. 10. Get a clear advance agreement on an equitable distribution of the cost of expansion, to make certain American taxpayers don't get stuck with the lion's share of the bill."
What is the attitude to those conditions? Any foreseeable Russian Government must surely deeply resent them.

The worries are not only British, but American. I shall spare the House the list of the American signatories to a letter to President Clinton, but the fact that it includes people such as Nitze shows that there is at least a queasy attitude to what we are doing. I believe that we are unnecessarily alienating and isolating Russia. Such vindictive handling will encourage revanchism; a genuine comparison can be made to Weimar Germany in what we are doing to the fragile and flawed democracy of current Russian politics.

Enlargement along the lines that are proposed will be counter-productive. It will undermine the efforts of the reformers in Russia and support the rise to power of reactionaries, whether of the communist left or the authoritarian right. Even in the short term, the alienation of Russia may remove its incentive to co-operate with the west in other areas of international affairs, such as the non-proliferation and nuclear arms control treaties.

The START 2 agreement on nuclear arms reduction, which was signed in 1993, has not come into force because of the Duma's refusal to approve it.

What is the assessment of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of the likely effect of enlargement on START 2? Until the situation is resolved, there will be no movement on further START negotiations. Indeed, Russia has revealed that, until funds are found to modernise its armed forces, it will place a greater onus on its nuclear arsenal in its defence strategy. In February 1998, the Duma passed a motion calling NATO enlargement the biggest threat to Russia since the end of the second world war.

Elsewhere, Russia has followed policies that are not consonant with those of the US and Britain, notably on the treatment of Serbia, and particularly on Kosovo. If we want Russia to co-operate on such delicate matters, is it really wise to provoke it?

We must also consider the interests of the applicant states. As envisaged, NATO will never be able to achieve the consolidation of a peaceful and undivided Europe unless Russia—a European country—is made a full member of the alliance, which is most unlikely. Dangerous military or psychological imbalances could occur between those countries that are in and those that are out. New members, such as Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, will have access to military communications and nuclear intelligence that regional neighbours such as Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria will be denied.

That is a difficult situation. Senator Moynihan pointed out that, if the Baltic countries of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, which are panting for membership, were brought in, the United States and other signatories would have a solemn obligation to defend territory further east than the westernmost border of Russia. Is that wise?

Sam Nunn, who has been mentioned, said: Russian co-operation in avoiding proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is our most important national security objective". He pointed out that NATO expansion makes the Russians more suspicious and less co-operative". When Mr. Gorbachev was directly approached by Sir Hugh Beach, Dr. Graham and Sir John Killick, he said: In 1990 I was assured by, among others, Chancellor Kohl and the then US Secretary of State James Baker that there were no plans for the expansion of NATO Eastwards and that there would not be any. Of this we have documentary evidence. James Baker, in particular said to me on 9 February 1990: 'We understand that, not only for the Soviet Union but for other European countries, it is important to have guarantees that, if the US, in the framework of NATO, maintains its presence in Germany, that will not lead to the extension of the jurisdiction or the military presence of NATO by one inch Eastwards.

Mr. Blunt

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dalyell

Forgive me. I am rushing through my speech, because so many hon. Members want to speak.

The expansion of NATO means Russia relying more and more on nuclear weapons. It is NATO's hope that co-operation under the Founding Act, and especially joint operational experience of peacekeeping, will help to dispel Russian mistrust of NATO and its enlargement, but the existing member states should not be deluded about the extent of the psychological trauma suffered by the Russian political elite as a result of the collapse of the Soviet empire. We really had better be careful about what we are doing.

What is the likely cost of equipping central European countries for NATO membership? What proportion are they supposed to pay, and what would be the effect on, for example, the Polish economy? What will it cost to make central European weapons systems compatible with those of NATO?

The Pentagon recently came up with a new estimate of the cost, at $1.5 billion over 10 years, but the new york times said that the figure was laughable, and clearly cooked up to reassure the Senate as it approached a vote. Only a few months ago, the Pentagon calculated that the cost could run as high as $35 billion over 13 years. One is entitled to ask what costs are involved.

The entry of the Baltics would create huge problems in Moscow. NATO expansion may damage paramount security interests for decades to come. The American President and the British Government may mistake Yeltsin's seeming acquiescence for permanent Russian acceptance. Other Governments will come along in Russia, and they may not acquiesce.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) said, the whole American plan seems to be at the expense of the United Nations. Why cannot the UN be involved? It is not clever to give grave offence to a weakened Russian state. We are encouraging the slow candle of Russian nationalism. I beg those on both Front Benches to be careful.

1.32 pm
Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey)

I am tempted to follow some of the thoughts of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), but I will resist. I am amazed that so many intelligent, well-informed and experienced people could put their names to the documents that he told us about. Much of what he and other hon. Members have said today rests on how Russia will respond to NATO enlargement, which I welcome, but with caution, as expressed in the Select Committee's third report.

The House may have overlooked Russia's capability to mount a military reaction to enlargement. There is concern about Russia's economy and internal politics. There is a danger of that enormous country, with all its human and natural resources, imploding. A reactionary leader might then be tempted to go on an external adventure.

Following what my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) said, one has to ask oneself how quickly Russia could tool up for war. At present, its armed forces are totally demoralized—most of them are unpaid and there is massive desertion—and if it made any attempt to tool up for a military adventure, the west would get so much warning that we would be able to respond and, I think, deter any aggression. That is what deterrence is all about. Also, before Russia went on any external adventure via its front door, it would have to bear in mind the 3,500 miles of its back door, which is the People's Republic of China all the way along.

There has been much discussion of enlargement of the European Union as well as of NATO, and the two have a certain synergy. If I were from a central or eastern European country, in terms of security I would far rather go for membership of the EU than of NATO, because achieving comparability with the other NATO member countries and interoperability with their weapons would impose considerable costs. Implicit within membership of the European Union is a mutual security obligation. It is inconceivable that, if any member state were attacked, it would not expect other EU members to come to its assistance.

Much has been said about membership of the Western European Union. However, the Brussels and Washington treaties both contain a fifth article—the mutual security article—so it is inconceivable that any country joining the EU that qualified to join the WEU would not also qualify to join NATO. The Select Committee on Defence has always pointed out that a European country cannot belong to one without belonging to the other.

Another important point is that the EU will enhance trade. In 1975, when we were debating Britain's continued membership of what was then the European Economic Community, a history master in Andover told me that to him the matter was simple. He said, "Where you trade, you have peace, and when trade breaks down, you often have war." My advice to the countries of central and eastern Europe that are concerned and disappointed about the lack of a quicker way to join NATO is to concentrate on achieving EU membership and on maintaining and enhancing the trading links that they had with Russia when they were part of the Soviet Union.

It is time that NATO redefined its mission. For example, at the moment it is geographically restrained—its southern flank is the north coastline of north Africa. We must understand that the world security situation is now completely different. Gone is the stability of the cold war, and the loss of cohesion means that everyone is much freer. All sorts of new problems now face us.

For instance, a crescent of crisis stretches from the Caspian sea right across the southern flank of NATO, following the fault line between Christian and Muslim communities. In the north African states, there is much fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. By undermining the economies of those countries, the terrorists are sowing the seeds of the sort of problems that could well harm the soft underbelly of the EU and NATO. Therefore, NATO must rethink its strategic concept, which was first drawn up in 1991. It is high time for a new concept, and that should be top of the agenda at the NATO Washington summit next year.

I suggest that the concept might contain, first, the clear mission statement that I asked for; secondly, guidance to the military and defence planners; thirdly, reassurance to world audiences that NATO is still a vital part of the free world's security system and that it is flexible enough to react to anything, anywhere in the world. Finally, it must accommodate the European security and defence identity and the common foreign and security policy without undermining the North Atlantic alliance.

I shall refer briefly to Spain's membership of the integrated military structure, and to Gibraltar. Earlier this week, at the annual general meeting of the British Gibraltar parliamentary group, an event which does not usually generate much parliamentary excitement, concern was expressed about agreement at Madrid that Spain should join the IMS. We were assured by the Foreign Secretary at the time of that agreement that it would not mean a sell-out of Gibraltar. However, many of us felt that, as Spain was so keen to join, the British Government should take the view that, unless Spain stopped harassing the civil population of Gibraltar, it should not enter the IMS of NATO.

The Foreign Office has assured me that a deal has been done with Spain. I should like to know a little more about that. COMGIBMED, the NATO headquarters in Gibraltar, is to close, which will have an impact on the economy of Gibraltar, and there is much concern on the rock, as hon. Members who have visited recently have confirmed. If Spain is to enter the IMS, we must have firm assurances that harassment of military ships and aircraft and of movements connected with NATO exercises will stop. Harassment of the civil population must stop, too.

The Defence Committee has repeatedly said that NATO remains the cornerstone of our security and defence policy. I welcome Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, but I sound a note of caution about further enlargement.

1.40 pm
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) was kind enough to mention my reports to the economic committee of the North Atlantic Assembly on the costs of NATO expansion. Those reports helped to clear obfuscation about the costs of expansion, to which NATO unnecessarily added by its secrecy about the costs.

On 2 December 1997, NATO's meeting of Defence Ministers adopted the conclusion of NATO's senior resources board's study that the costs of new infrastructure would be $1.5 billion over 10 years, as the Foreign Secretary said. That might be an underestimate, but the figure is certainly significantly lower than the Pentagon's estimate, and a fraction of estimates in reports from other bodies such as the congressional budget office.

Earlier reports made three assumptions. They believed that five countries would join, but there will in fact be three. They believed that there would be forward deployment of forces from current member states into the territory of new members, something that is not necessary. They believed that infrastructure for new member states would have to be compatible with that of existing members, a belief that is not supported by the threat environment or by facilities in the new member states. Those reports therefore came up with such high costs on a flawed basis.

The estimate of $1.5 billion is for common funding of NATO infrastructure. It covers only one category of costs that analysts have linked to enlargement. Other costs will fall to national Governments, not to NATO, and they include restructuring and modernising, particularly for states' own armed forces. The three new countries have agreed to increase defence spending by between 10 and 30 per cent.

Mr. Frank Cook

Has my hon. Friend taken account of the tendency of those in the United States who plump for the higher estimates to use the argument to support their consistent demand for more burden sharing and to justify a higher European contribution?

Mr. Cohen

That is a factor. Some would like European nations to put in much more money, but that is not justified, in my view.

The main emphasis should be on interoperability—which will not happen overnight—better communications between the new members' forces and their allies, training and joint training. The new countries should not be harassed to upgrade their weapons quickly. As long as there is a benign security environment, there is no case for that, or for the excessive cost estimates.

We must resist pressure from militarists and United States right wingers to insist on high defence spending across Europe and especially in the new countries. We must resist United States and other defence contractors who want to use hard sell and make up false threats to try to get those countries to buy weaponry.

Much has been said about Russia. Whatever happens with NATO, one of the most important issues will be how the treaty is seen by non-members, especially Russia. The effects of capitalism are much more likely to lead to trouble in and from Russia than any alliance configuration. Democracy, anti-corruption and economic stability should be the priorities. We have partnership agreements with Russia, which even has a full-time delegation at NATO headquarters. It could be said that Russia is at least a little on board with the new security arrangements whereas, during the cold war, it was not on board at all.

I am not in favour of any return to cold war blocs or cold war thinking. Territorial expansion after military victories invariably breeds resentment and the potential for future wars. The end of the cold war has that potential. It is essential that its end should be seen in terms not of victory and defeat but as an opportunity for a more inclusive new world order incorporating security arrangements for all, including Russia. It is essential to improve NATO's inclusive arrangements for Russia.

Such arrangements must include a conventional forces in Europe agreement, tightened by all NATO countries, as well as Russia, holding fewer arms. NATO countries should take the lead in having fewer conventional forces in Europe. The arrangements should lead to nuclear weapons reductions. They are still the greatest danger to the world, and we should take this opportunity to get significant reductions everywhere, not just in Europe. We should play a role in that.

There should be no duplication of militarism. I oppose the expansion of a military role based on the European Union. I do not think that the European Union should have a military wing in addition to what exists in NATO. That would be duplication.

NATO must change. That it changes is more important than expansion. The shadow Defence Secretary's comments about NATO being hard or soft were most unhelpful. The combined military force of NATO countries is massive. It could more than ably deal with any conventional threat. The weak link is political liaison and the potential for mistrust and misunderstanding. So, with the cold war over, there has to be far more of a political role for NATO. That is why I welcome the defence diplomacy aspects described my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in the strategic defence review last week. That has to be extended to NATO.

We must have observation, verification and joint exercises with the non-member countries such as Russia, in order to increase mutual trust. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe should have an expanded role as well.

The three new states are joining NATO because they want to. I believe that they have unduly high expectations of what they will get out of membership. Some may view it as a panacea, and I certainly do not think that it is that, but they want to join, and those views should be respected. However, that does not make any automatic case for their joining. Existing NATO members can also say no or not yet if they choose. I believe that they should say that in respect of any significant future expansion. Integration should be tilted towards the European Union instead in the first instance. That is where the emphasis should be over the next decade.

Defence is an insurance policy, but it can be costly. Money for social purposes such as schools and hospitals is lost as a result of defence spending, so it should be kept to the minimum deemed essential. Alliances and co-operation between states can lead to improved security for all and to less cost than defence which is born out of mistrust. I favour greater communication, co-operation and partnership between states. I favour far greater inclusivity rather than isolation, within which threats are imagined and exaggerated to dangerous proportions.

A security system is better than none at all. However, it should not be at exorbitant cost or be unnecessarily heavily armed. It must be an institution for peace, not a threat to world peace in itself. It must be inclusive, not exclusive. That is why NATO must change politically. NATO's peacekeeping role in Bosnia, including the non-NATO states, points to one of the ways forward to that change.

The way in which NATO is run also needs to change. It is a different animal now than it was in the cold war. The United States' tendency to insist on, or dominate, decision making, or to threaten not to engage if it does not get its way, should give way to a more open, equal, consensual decision-making process involving all the NATO members. NATO expansion is going ahead, but it is its political role, with an emphasis on inclusivity and co-operation, that needs to be expanded.

1.53 pm
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Grand strategy and high diplomacy do not merit long speeches. I want to refer to the issue that is central to our whole debate. What does NATO exist for? It exists for the preservation of liberty and the safeguarding of democracy—values that are now shared across our continent, thank God. It is an alliance to which all ought to be able to aspire. It is an alliance which all ought to be eligible to join.

The Foreign Secretary, quite rightly, said that he wanted the process of enlargement to include Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland and not to produce any further divisions in our continent, of which we have seen enough in our lifetime. For me, the coming down of the Berlin wall was the most exciting event of my time in politics. The interment in a fitting manner of the Tsar, the Tsarina and their family in St. Petersburg today has a symbolic aspect that we should not forget: it is a beacon of hope for restitution and reconciliation within Russia, on which a new relationship within our continent can be built.

Vulnerability should not exclude a country from membership. Had it done so, would we have allowed Norway to be in NATO? During the cold war, there was only one Norwegian battalion in position in Finnmark, and in the whole of the northern part of Norway, there was only one Norwegian brigade. There were no NATO troops, nor any nuclear weapons stationed in Norway; there were exercises, it is true, but never were they stationed there. Norway, a country contiguous to the Soviet Union at a point of particular strategic vulnerability to the Soviet Union—northern Norway is adjacent to the Kola peninsula, which had the greatest concentration of offensive Soviet military power—was able to maintain a satisfactory relationship with its totalitarian neighbour and preserve its own integrity as a country as a full member of the north Atlantic alliance. That is a model which we should follow.

We should remember that never in its history has NATO acted in an offensive manner. That is in complete contradistinction to what the Hungarians suffered at the hands of their Warsaw pact allies in 1956 and the Czechoslovaks suffered in 1968. Similarly, the Poles have little to be thankful for, what with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the Yalta agreement, the way in which the workers' uprising was put down in 1956 and the struggles of Solidarity against what ultimately became military rule.

All three countries—Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic—are now to be warmly embraced in our collective security apparatus in NATO, but we should not exclude others—for example, the Baltic states. How can they be a threat in any sense to their neighbours? They do not possess the armed forces to be a threat; they are democratic; and they have the rule of law. Estonia and Latvia are trying to come to a satisfactory accommodation with their Russian minorities, offering them citizenship and full participation in the democratic processes of their respective nations. I have had the privilege of leading parliamentary delegations to both those countries in the past three years.

People may point out that there is a border dispute between Estonia and Russia, but it is not of Estonia's desire. Estonia hoped that the Tartu treaty would be recognised by the new Russian Federation, but it has not been. Estonia has put forward new proposals to accommodate Russian concerns but, so far, those have lain on the desk of the Russian Government, unsigned. As for the Latvians, they are doing everything that they can to extend citizenship to the Russians living within their border.

If we are to say that a nation should be excluded because it is small and can make very little military contribution, how is it that Luxembourg, which has only one battalion, is a member of NATO? How is it that Iceland, which has no troops at all, is a member of NATO? We should not be too critical of NATO nations' internal affairs, because all countries go through difficult periods. We accepted Portugal under Salazar. We allowed Greece under the Greek colonels to remain in the alliance. We even allowed Turkey to remain in NATO after it invaded northern Cyprus.

We should bear it in mind that freedom is indivisible. We were prepared to launch the Berlin airlift 50 years ago to ensure that freedom was retained in the western part of the city. Had we not done so, Berlin could have fallen, which would have been a dire precedent. As a consequence of our action, the Brussels treaty was signed later that year and the Washington treaty the year after. It is because of the collective security arrangements that were put in place at that time that western Europe has enjoyed liberty. I do not see why central and eastern Europe should not also, under NATO, ultimately enjoy that liberty.

2 pm

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor)

If any hon. Member had stood up in the House 10 years ago and said that NATO would enlarge its membership into central and eastern Europe in the next decade, he or she would have been regarded as unhinged.

We have heard much today about how the enlargement of NATO is an historic development—which it is—on a scale that is still hard to grasp. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) made an important point about today's events in St. Petersburg. There has been a remarkable transformation of the landscape in Europe, which is an historic development indeed.

It is also an historic vindication of those who bought the western alliance to its present position. There would have been no possibility of enlargement if Baroness Thatcher's Government in the 1980s had not, in the recent words of the Leader of the Opposition,

rejected the simple-minded arguments for unilateral disarmament, and stood up for NATO and the western alliance in the years when that support counted the most".—[0fficial Report, 9 July 1997; Vol. 297, c. 939.]

Mr. Frank Cook

The hon. Gentleman's quote referred to "unilateral disarmament". I believe that he and his right hon. Friend meant unilateral nuclear disarmament. There is a difference.

Mr. Trend

I happily confirm that that is what my right hon. Friend and I meant.

The road along which Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary have travelled towards NATO ran through Greenham Common, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) reminded us, that road ran within the perimeter fence of Greenham Common, not outside it.

It gives all Opposition Members enormous satisfaction to hear the Foreign Secretary concede, if not in so many words, that he is now one of Thatcher's children. He referred to

We who owe so much to the alliance". That transformation of his view is a matter for congratulation. Never mind about seeing the light on the road to you know where. He pronounced only 10 years ago: It is nonsense on stilts for Britain to pretend to be a nuclear power. On 20 September 1985, on page 6 of Tribune, he put his name to the view that Britain should not be aligned to any major power, such as NATO. Thank heavens he is now one of us. We welcome the Foreign Secretary in his role as a full-hearted supporter of NATO and its nuclear deterrent. It can be said that, on this issue at least, the Foreign Secretary is sound.

Continuity in policy—[Interruption.] This is an important point. Continuity in policy towards the extension of the NATO alliance to the east is welcome. The Madrid summit, where Britain was represented two months after Labour's general election victory by the Prime Minister, brought to a successful conclusion the work begun at Brussels in 1994. The Opposition today whole-heartedly support the three former Warsaw pact nations seeking membership of NATO.

Two weeks ago, I was in Poland at a conference that included politicians from all three Visegrad countries. We were discussing their approach to the enlargement of the European Union. They were disappointed at how little progress had been made on that in the past six months, but they were immensely enthusiastic about their coming membership of NATO. In Poland, that is a cross-party matter. From their point of view—and from ours, as Opposition Members—the Madrid summit was more successful than the Amsterdam summit.

So much for the past—the old certainties that existed when NATO kept watch on the iron curtain have gone, or at least changed beyond recognition. A new question has arisen and will continue to be the central concern for the foreseeable future: what is NATO for?

We have heard many interesting views on the subject today and there has been general agreement on many, if not most, points. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) spoke with huge authority, based in part on his distinguished role in the NATO parliamentary assembly. Much the same is true of the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), who made an excellent point about current economic realities in Russia.

Our debate has been most lively in respect of the Russian question. While not agreeing with the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), he put the case against expansion with great passion. The view of almost all others who spoke, starting with my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), was that, while Russia's perception of its own interest is vital, we must not allow it to have a veto over the alliance.

It would also be right to include the important contribution to the debate by the Defence Select Committee, whose Chairman, the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), made an important speech. The Select Committee sought to find answers to some difficult questions, including the particularly astute question put to it by Mr. Ronald D. Asmus, who said: If Russia is no longer the question to which NATO is the answer, what is the question? And how does enlargement help answer the question? The Committee's conclusions are important, and I should like to pick out one or two. The vital issue in terms of enlargement is not whether there will be an extension of NATO, but its pace and manner. That was the view reached by the predecessor Committee in 1994 and endorsed by today's Select Committee. It is the right view.

Particular concerns have been expressed about the effect of enlargement on NATO's military effectiveness, especially in the light of the need for new entrants to improve their military capabilities. The Select Committee rightly concluded that the benefits in terms of increased ability in central and eastern Europe should outweigh the short-term costs.

Others have questioned the effect of an increase in NATO's size on its flexibility and the speed of its decision-making processes. There is, however, no reason to believe that the new NATO partners will wish to step out of line with the existing 16 or that they will be anything other than model members.

In the context of relations with Russia, we welcome the signing of the Founding Act in May 1997, which provides mechanisms for co-operation between NATO and Russia, including the establishment of the permanent joint council. However, we urge the Government to take serious notice of the views of the United States Senate's Foreign Relations Committee and our own Select Committee that the Founding Act should not become a means by which Russia could gain a veto over alliance decisions.

We also welcome the formation of the Euro-Atlantic partnership council in May 1997, building on the existing "Partnership for Peace" initiative and offering central and eastern European countries enhanced co-operation with NATO. The operation of the NATO-led SFOR in Bosnia, drawing NATO and non-NATO countries together has helped to ease fears over NATO's expansion. Perhaps the Government will clarify their position on the boundaries of NATO operations for the future. Will NATO's capacity to act out of area be increased?

There are other important questions on which we should like to hear the Government's views today. Indeed, I should like to bring the focus of the debate back to the Government. Greater clarity is needed on the financial costs of enlargement, both to new entrants and to existing NATO members.

The Prime Minister told the House last year that there was no reason why Britain's financial contribution … should rise significantly in real terms."—[Official Report, 9 July 1997; Vol. 297, c. 937.] Is that still the Government's view?

Have the Government had any reason to revise their opinion since then? The Defence Select Committee's third report of 1997–98, on NATO enlargement, noted that the figure of $1.5 billion as the estimated cost of enlargement was a minimum figure, and said in paragraph 77 that the actual cost may well be greater." The Committee concluded, in paragraph 86: "we cannot share the Secretary of State's confidence that $1.5 billion represents the probable limit on the true costs of enlargement. Will the Secretary of State clarify the position? Might the United Kingdom pay more than the current estimate of 1 1 million per annum for enlargement during the next decade?

Conservative Members were not bowled over by the recently announced strategic defence review. We shall watch very closely indeed how the Secretary of State manages with his greatly reduced budget. Britain must always be in a position to honour in full its NATO responsibilities. May we have a specific assurance on that point today?

Perhaps the Secretary of State will help us by setting out the Government's position on the future enlargement of NATO. I return to the subject of the Russians. The widely predicted Russian backlash against the existing extension of NATO never materialised. Should we now allow supposed Russian intransigence to be used as a reason to block further NATO expansion into, for example, Slovenia or Romania—about which my hon. Friends spoke well? In 1997, the Prime Minister said that those countries were strong candidates for any future enlargement".—[Official Report, 9 July 1997; Vol. 297, c. 937.] Perhaps the Secretary of State will expand on that view today. Is future enlargement a clear priority for NATO, and is it a clear priority for the UK Government?

It must be acknowledged that Russia will vigorously oppose the Baltic states' entry to NATO. What is the UK Government's reaction to that? It is a commonly held view that Russia should not have a veto on NATO expansion, yet Russia's attitude is central to the debate on the possible entry into NATO of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. If those countries are judged to have made the necessary progress in, for example, their treatment of the Russian-speaking populations, will the bar to NATO membership remain? Washington recently reassured the Baltic states of its continued support for their right to seek NATO membership. Is that also the position of the British Government?

The Secretary of State heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wealden that we believe that the greatest caution should be exercised in that area. This debate illustrates the importance of NATO as the basis for European defence and the main guarantor of European security. However, some would favour another solution to the question of European security, through the integration of the Western European Union into the European Union, as foreshadowed by the Amsterdam treaty. We believe that that move was driven by political considerations and a desire in some quarters to advance the cause of European federalism.

We welcome the fact that European countries are doing more to defend themselves, and we support initiatives such as the combined joint task forces, which enable the WEU to support NATO more fully. However, the WEU should not be used to undermine the Atlantic alliance, or to question the role of NATO and the vital United States contribution as the cornerstone of our defence. I hope that the Government share those sentiments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) and the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) made interesting points on the relationship between NATO, the WEU and the European Union. No doubt we shall debate the subject in greater detail in future.

Comparisons between NATO and EU enlargement are instructive. The two are complementary but not symmetrical. Of the two, NATO enlargement is proceeding more rapidly, despite the obvious obstacles in the way of extending a military rather than a political alliance. That shows what can be achieved when there is real political momentum behind the reforms.

NATO enlargement will achieve two aims. First, it will provide security guarantees for the individual states involved. Secondly, it will enhance the prospect of peace and stability for Europe as a whole.

However, in considering enlargement, we must recognise that, although prospects of NATO membership act as a spur to democratic and constitutional reform in central and eastern Europe, NATO, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford on Avon said at the start of the debate, is a military guarantee, not a political club. In that I must disagree with the hon. Members for Leicester, South and for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen). Expansion has to be manageable and credible. New entrants need to be able to contribute to the collective security that NATO membership entails. Military considerations should be at the heart of discussions about NATO expansion.

In the 1980s, the Conservative Government got right the question to which NATO was the answer. It is a matter of some regret that the Labour party did not. Now that the Labour party is in government, let us hope that it helps to frame the right questions for the future. The right answer will remain the Atlantic alliance.

2.14 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson)

Let me begin with a simple, but, I hope, clear statement about the importance of the North Atlantic alliance to the Government and to this country. Unlike the Conservatives, I give Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic an unambiguous and warm welcome to the NATO family.

Since its foundation in 1949, when another Labour Government were in power, the transatlantic alliance has been the cornerstone of European security. It established a community of nations committed to promoting shared values and defending common interests, and it still forms a concrete link between the influence and interests of European democracies and those of the United States and Canada. By doing so, it enhances the political and military capability of every member of that community.

Every British Government and official Opposition since 1949 have been firmly committed to the alliance. The House should have no doubts about the Government's continuing commitment. As the strategic defence review amply demonstrated, we are determined to ensure that strong British defence is maintained and that the alliance remains the key instrument in ensuring peace and security for our citizens.

The strategic defence review which we published last week reaffirmed that a strong and relevant NATO is central to the security of Europe and to Britain's defence and security policy. The outcome of the review, with its emphasis on the need for forces that are deployable, mobile, flexible and sustainable, means that we shall maintain a highly effective commitment to the full range of alliance missions, including peace support and collective defence. We shall continue to play a leading role in the vital work of transforming the alliance, including the admission of the three invited countries.

I will not have been alone in finding the speech of the Opposition's chief defence spokesman grudging, confused and mean-spirited, and a remarkable transformation from previous Conservative positions on the rights of newly freed nations to make their own decisions about their security. For more than half a century, we have yearned and worked for the day when the great countries of central Europe returned to democracy, pluralism and enterprise economies, and the unwanted chains of the Warsaw pact were cut from their armies.

It is sad that it took my intervention to prompt the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) to get round to saying outright that he was in favour of our old but temporarily enslaved allies rejoining us in a free alliance of nations. I assure him that the people of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary will notice with some concern the change in tone and content from the Conservatives.

Dr. Julian Lewis

The right hon. Gentleman is reading too much into what was said earlier. A little humility would be in order from the representative of a party three quarters of whose Members of Parliament wanted this country to give up its nuclear deterrent and wanted NATO to refuse the vital cruise and Pershing missiles that saw the end of the Soviet Union. The people of Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia—as it then was—remember which party stood up to the Soviet Union and which party wanted to lie down in front of it.

Mr. Robertson

The hon. Gentleman, of all people, should not be castigating others for changing their minds. Let him be reminded that, from 1949, when a Labour Government took us into the North Atlantic alliance and a Labour Foreign Secretary was the architect of the treaty, the Labour party has never wavered for a moment in its support for NATO and continued membership of it.

I turn briefly to a political party that is not represented in the House today. No member of the Scottish National party has contributed to or been present for this important—indeed, historic—debate. That is hardly surprising, given that the SNP does not believe in NATO. Despite the fact that the alliance has helped to maintain peace and security in Europe for the past 50 years, and despite its magnificent efforts in Bosnia, the Scottish nationalists would turn their backs on NATO.

While other small nations in Europe are desperately trying to get into NATO, the SNP is scrambling to get out. What more obvious example could one give of the narrow nationalism and isolationism of that party? What more potent symbol does one need of the nationalist empty-chair policy in the councils of Europe? As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland is able not only to enjoy the security that comes from being part of NATO but to offer leadership to the world. The SNP wants to throw all that away and turn Scotland from a world leader to a spectator on the sidelines.

Mr. Blunt

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Robertson

No, I want to address some of the many points that have been made in the debate. I may be generous to the hon. Gentleman later, as he has sat through the entire debate.

Enlarging the alliance is, of course, no small step. As many hon Members have said, it requires careful thought. I therefore welcome all the thoughtful speeches in the debate, as well as the admirable report of the Select Committee on Defence, which was published in April. I also welcome the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) in amplification of that report. I welcomed the report when it came out, and I gladly and sincerely welcome it now. It was a considered analysis of the issues. I was heartened by its broad support for the policy that the Government have pursued on this important issue.

The Committee commented on the need for a parliamentary and public debate on NATO enlargement. Although some hon. Members have expressed dissatisfaction with the delay and interruption in the debate, I should point out that we are debating this important issue before the Government ratify the treaty—under the Ponsonby rules, we are not obliged to do so—and following the publication of the strategic defence review, which has helped.

The Defence Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South, produced another report yesterday, which dealt with a further letter that I had sent to it. The report asks that the confidential study on costs published by NATO and made available to the Committee in confidence be put in the public domain. We shall ensure that NATO is informed of the Committee's request. The matter is one for collective decision based on consensus among allies. The report is not the property of the Government, but we will certainly tell NATO of the Committee's views.

The broad political considerations that underpin the alliance's decision to add to its membership have been set out amply by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. As Defence Secretary, I shall stress the practical and military implications of enlargement of the alliance. I shall remind the House of the commitments involved. When we undertook to defend Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, they undertook to defend each other and all other NATO members. In the memorable words of the Washington treaty, an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an armed attack against them all". Those historic and momentous words in 1949 are still as important and significant today. I have no doubt that the three invited countries will meet the obligations involved in such a commitment with honour, dedication and military professionalism.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), who apologised for having to leave before the end of the debate, was wrong when he suggested that the contributions of Poland and the Czech Republic to SFOR in Bosnia represented the limit of their military capabilities. That is simply not true. The new members have substantial armed forces and have plans to modernise them and make them interoperable with NATO forces as a whole. The three new countries understand that they must develop such capable forces and must commit them to NATO.

It will take time to integrate the armed forces of the three countries into NATO. We seek a contribution to common defence, not rapid rearmament or crippling defence expenditure. For their own security, the three countries would have had to invest anyway for their own defence, and it is easier and more effective to do that collectively inside NATO.

We have heard much about the importance of Russia and of Russian views. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has changed his views a number of times on these issues, but we always listen to him with interest for a view that may be different from those that are expressed throughout the House. However, he was wrong to say that the two Front-Bench teams were united. If he reads the speech by the Opposition spokesman, he will see a clear difference between it and the warm welcome for NATO enlargement from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

My hon. Friend read out the names of the distinguished signatories to the letter to The Times that objected to further NATO enlargement. I disagreed with it when I saw it, and I disagree with it now. My hon. Friend asked for a response to that letter. There was one from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the signatories, and I will ensure that a copy is placed in the Library so that my hon. Friend can see it.

My hon. Friend asked about assurances that might have been given to the Soviet Union about NATO enlargement. No British Minister has ever given any formal undertaking that NATO would not expand eastwards; nor should any have done so. The Government believe that it is a decision for the three countries and for NATO, and for nobody else. He asked about the impact of NATO enlargement on the START 2 process. We all hope that the Duma will soon ratify START 2. The Russian Government are confident that it will do that. I hope that, when Mr. Primakov reads the copy of the strategic defence review that I sent him yesterday, he will see what this country is doing about reducing strategic warheads. Perhaps the Duma will follow our example.

The opponents of NATO enlargement cite Russian resistance to it, but Russia has nothing to fear from that enlargement. The stability that it will bring to central Europe will be in Russia's best interests. We have said that to the Russians. Their opposition to the new NATO is misplaced, because NATO is not designed to threaten Russia, or its legitimate interests or those of any other country. NATO simply provides its members with a guarantee of collective defence.

Of course, we must consider the impact of these decisions on Russia and on other countries, and we should be open and honest about our intentions and those of the alliance as a whole. As many hon. Members have said, Russia cannot exercise a veto on the decision to join or to be admitted to NATO. NATO members made the intentions clear and gave specific assurances to Russia and to others.

I ask the Russians, whether the Government, the Opposition or the various parties in the Duma: can we really believe that Russia is less secure as a result of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland being governed by democratic and moderate Governments and able to participate fully in the system of collective defence that has done so much to defend peace in Europe? The answer to that question is self-evident.

I cannot say which country will be next invited to join the alliance or when, but we will not close the door on the legitimate aspirations of countries that wish to join the alliance, whatever their location in Europe. Our guiding principle will be the effectiveness—

Mr. Blunt

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Robertson

At 28 minutes past 3, even my generosity would be stretched to the limit. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not giving way.

Our guiding principle is, and will continue to be, the military effectiveness of the alliance. It will be important to assess the process of absorbing the three new countries and the practical military implications of the current enlargement before making decisions on further invitees.

Much has been made of the cost of enlargement, but the new figures presented by NATO have been accepted by all major countries, including the Americans, as well as by the invitees. The figures form a solid, sensible basis for moving forward into enlargement.

I should like to close the debate with a statement which I think expresses the feelings of the House and this country. This decision is a landmark in our relationship with the three fellow European countries which have suffered so much from the turbulence of this century. Their commitment to NATO represents—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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