HC Deb 17 June 2002 vol 387 cc14-5
11. Hugh Bayley (City of York)

If he will make a statement on the relationship between NATO and Russia. [58681]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

Last month saw an historic transformation of the NATO-Russia relationship, with the first meeting at the Rome summit of the new NATO-Russia Council. That is a major step towards the alliance's long-standing goal of building a secure, co-operative and democratic Euro-Atlantic area. We welcome the very positive approach that has been adopted by Russia in establishing the NRC, and all allies look forward to working with Russian colleagues as equal partners in areas of common interest.

Hugh Bayley

I welcome closer co-operation with Russia on security matters, but I have two questions for the Secretary of State. If Russia were to be attacked by another country, would the NRC be convened immediately, and what obligations, if any, would NATO have to go to Russia's defence?

Mr. Hoon

There is no specific agreement to cover either of those eventualities; I can see no specific reason why it would be necessary to convene an NRC meeting in the event of Russia being attacked, but if the existing members of the council judge that useful and appropriate, that could well occur in appropriate circumstances. Similarly, the article 5 guarantee only affects members of the NATO alliance, and so does not apply to the NATO-Russia Council.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Clearly, the warming of relations between Russia and NATO is critical at a time when we face the threat of international terrorism on an unprecedented scale. However, does the Secretary of State agree that it is also important to remember that NATO is first and foremost a military alliance? While welcoming former adversaries into association with NATO, we must also bear it in mind that, should democracy in Russia take a backward step, our arrangements should not compromise the ability of the original NATO countries to defend themselves.

Mr. Hoon

That must be right. However, it is equally right to pursue the opportunity for closer co-operation between NATO and Russia, not least because it flowed from the appalling events of 11 September. Specifically, there is an agreement to discuss techniques and measures to deal with global terrorism, which must be welcome to all concerned.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

Given the formation of the NATO-Russia Council and the likelihood of a large increase in NATO membership at the Prague summit at the end of the year, has my right hon. Friend made an assessment of the need to change the decision-making structures of NATO in the interests of security and military efficiency?

Mr. Hoon

NATO's specific decision-making structures must remain a consensus of all member states. However, the United Kingdom strongly supports the need to look again at the way in which NATO reaches its decisions and the alliance's bureaucratic supporting structure. That should follow any enlargement, should it occur at Prague.