HC Deb 31 March 2003 vol 402 cc654-5
7. Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

If he will make a statement on NATO reorganisation. [105454]

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

At the NATO summit in Prague last November, alliance leaders agreed a comprehensive set of proposals to improve NATO's organisation. They include a streamlined command structure; the creation of the NATO response force; a new capabilities initiative; invitations to seven nations to join the alliance; and the modernisation of NATO's internal structures and processes. The United Kingdom has been working with our NATO allies to ensure that these initiatives are delivered.

Mr. Viggers

Does the Secretary of State agree that the enlargement and restructuring of NATO will enable it to remain relevant and effective as a military alliance and, equally important, as a political forum enabling us to engage with the United States and other allies? Does he also agree that the European defence identity is increasingly being seen as at best irrelevant and at worst a serious threat that might undermine NATO?

Mr. Hoon

I agree that it is clearly necessary for NATO to reform, not least to take account of a new military situation in the world, but also to take account of a much larger membership. The reason why we believe that it is essential for NATO to link itself with the European defence identity is the need to improve NATO's and Europe's military capabilities consistently. We aim to ensure that European nations can make a still more effective contribution both to their own defence and to defence through NATO. That is the test that I am sure the United States wants to see met as it considers NATO and NATO's future development.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde)

Does my right hon. Friend know of any NATO member countries that want to withdraw from the alliance altogether? If not, what advice can he give to the people of Scotland, who will shortly face an election in which the principal Opposition party will advance just such a policy? In view of that, and given the loss of Scotland's permanent place on the Security Council, might not Scotland be left completely defenceless and irrelevant in the world?

Mr. Hoon

Given the number of countries queuing up to join NATO, and the enthusiasm with which invitations to join are received by candidates for membership, I should be astonished if any part of the United Kingdom contemplated withdrawal, indeed, it seems to me that the people of Scotland, in particular, are far too sensible to fall for such a suggestion.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Does the Secretary of State agree that the United States-European common strategic policy has been of immense benefit to the security and defence of the west? Now that NATO no longer has to worry so much about east versus west, and more about a world of order rather than disorder, and is increasingly concerned with operations to the south rather than the north and the west, does the Secretary of State agree that, as those fundamental changes are approached, there should be no rush towards early decision making? As in the transatlantic relationship during the cold war, a serious amount of thought and time should go into thinking about the correct strategic composition of NATO, especially given the serious new challenges that it faces.

Mr. Hoon

The hon. Gentleman makes his observations with his customary expertise and thoughtfulness about the issues. The real issue for NATO is that it needs to reform its own internal structures and processes to deal with the changed military reality, as well as effectively to persuade its members—certainly those other than the United Kingdom and the United States—to reorganise their armed forces in order to deal with that new military reality. Unless both occur within a reasonable time frame, the danger is that the military capabilities available to Europe will not match the military realities that they have to confront. That is why NATO must reform internally as well as encouraging reform of its members' military capabilities.

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