HC Deb 01 May 2001 vol 367 cc734-7
3. Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

When he will next meet the United States Secretary of State to discuss the future of NATO; and if he will make a statement. [158609]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)

I regularly speak by phone to Secretary of State Powell, most recently yesterday evening. We will next meet later this month at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Budapest, when I expect that we will both discuss the future of NATO and confirm our continuing confidence in it.

Mr. Fabricant

Notwithstanding his telephone conversation last night, does the Foreign Secretary accept that there is growing disquiet in the United States about the relationship between the United States and Europe? Just two or three hours ago, the Washington Post and The New York Times published an article following Gerhard Schröder's statement yesterday, which included the following quote from Reimund Seidelmann: There is a long tradition in German foreign policy of giving up sovereignty in order to increase, indirectly, Germany's influence over Europe … This has been the German recipe for increasing power ever since the end of World War II. Whatever the truth of that statement, does not the Foreign Secretary accept that such disquiet exists? What can he do to allay the growing American Euroscepticism in Washington DC?

Mr. Cook

I must confess that I got slightly lost halfway through that question about the relevance of the quotation about Germany. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that there is a real danger of a rift between Washington and Berlin, I would have thought that that would confirm the strategy of this Government in making sure that we have respect in both places, so that we can go between them.

I find the presumption of Conservative Members quite extraordinary, in that they claim to interpret American public opinion better than those who are elected by American public opinion. Both Secretary of State Powell and the President of the United States of America have expressed confidence in their relations with Britain and in the European security initiative. The hon. Gentleman really should stop trying to upstage the President of the United States.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central)

Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity, in his exchanges with the Americans, to make the point that while many of us here recognise the United States' critical role in the leadership of NATO, its preparing, possibly unilaterally, to breach the anti-ballistic missile treaty by going ahead with the national missile defence system is not an agenda around which NATO will unite?

Mr. Cook

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that the issues of national missile defence and President Bush's forthcoming speech were discussed by Secretary of State Powell and me last night. I welcome President Bush's commitment to early and senior consultation with his allies. That is what we asked for and we are glad that he has agreed to it. On the question of the anti-ballistic missile treaty, we have repeatedly said to our American friends that any step that they take should be in consultation and agreement with Russia. I am, therefore, glad that President Bush will be speaking to President Putin today.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

Notwithstanding that answer, what assessment has the Secretary of State made of the impact on the cohesion of NATO if President Bush, as widely reported, announces later today that he proposes to depart from the anti-ballistic missile treaty of 1972 in spite of the reservations, both public and private, of all the European members of NATO? When the Foreign Secretary next meets Colin Powell, will he impress on him that the United Kingdom, like all the other European members of NATO, is strongly committed to a multilateral nuclear non-proliferation regime, and that any action that provokes an increase in existing nuclear arsenals or that undermines the existing strategic balance should be avoided at all costs?

Mr. Cook

I entirely agree with the last point. It is very important for us to take advantage of the change in international relations post-cold war to achieve deep cuts in nuclear arsenals. I also fully accept that such deep cuts would be of great value to us in containing nuclear proliferation. That is why I warmly welcome the passage in the speech that President Bush will deliver tonight in which he looks forward to working with Russia to make deep cuts in offensive nuclear systems.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

The hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) referred to an article in the Washington Post about recent views expressed in Europe. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that American Administrations have frequently said in the past that European member states of NATO should shoulder a greater burden of defence? Does he not find it somewhat curious that Opposition Members are attacking the steps that European member states are taking to make their defence contribution to NATO more effective?

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend is right: a strong theme in the present Administration is the wish to achieve fairer burden sharing in the military responsibility of securing crisis management in Europe. That is why President Bush has said that the European security defence project will make Europe a stronger, more capable partner. I find it strange that Opposition Members, having claimed to be the people who interpret the United States for us, should oppose a measure that will help us to shoulder that fairer share of the military burden in Europe.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham)

The Prime Minister assured President Bush at Camp David that the European army would be "anchored within NATO". The Nice agreement obviously shows that that is not true, but it would help if DSACEUR, NATO's deputy commander in Europe, were to act as chairman of the EU's Military Committee. Did the Foreign Secretary propose that, or does he agree with France's chief of defence staff, General Kelche, who has said that NATO has nothing to do with this?

Mr. Cook

General Kelche said: Europeans are not building a force independent from NATO, they are simply trying to strengthen their capability to manage crisis situations". I should have thought that Opposition Members, even including the right hon. Gentleman, would wish to share that objective.

As for the Nice documents, I wish the right hon. Gentleman would stop pretending that they are secret documents that we have managed to stop the Americans getting their hands on. They were widely circulated by NATO ambassadors, including the United States ambassador, and are widely available in Washington. By constantly pretending that President Bush has somehow been hoodwinked by the British Government into not reading them, the right hon. Gentleman is insulting not only the transparency of the British Government but the intelligence of President Bush.

Mr. Maude

It is increasingly clear that the Prime Minister's assurances to President Bush at Camp David are proving about as reliable as his promises to the British people.

In the light of the speech on missile defence that the President will make later today, will the Foreign Secretary now take the opportunity to make the Government's view absolutely clear? The Secretary of State for Defence said in March last year that he would look sympathetically at requests for the upgrading of Fylingdales and Menwith Hill. Will he have the Foreign Secretary's support in that, or is the Foreign Secretary too keen to curry favour with the CND types on his Back Benches, who are dogmatically opposed to such a move?

Mr. Cook

If that is the best that the right hon. Gentleman can do, it really is time that we cleared the air for a fresh start by consulting the wider public in the election.

Of course any decision that we reach when we receive a request will be a collective decision. I fully understand the United States' concern about missile proliferation—we share that concern, and want to work with the United States against such proliferation.