HL Deb 27 June 1973 vol 343 cc1974-80

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they can make a Statement on the deliberations at the recent NATO Ministerial meeting at Brussels.


My Lords, I attended the Ministerial meeting of the Defence Planning Committee of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which was held in Brussels on June 7. With your Lordships' permission, I am arranging for the Final Communiqué to be published in the OFFICIAL REPORT. In common with my colleagues, I reaffirmed the continuing support of Her Majesty's Government for the Alliance as the instrument of our collective security. We reviewed the progress that had been made towards the achievement of our objectives, including the work of the Euro-Group, and had a useful exchange of views on the tasks now confronting us, including those relating to measures designed to lead to the improvement of East/West relations. Her Majesty's Government very much value these discussions, and will continue to play a constructive part in them.

Following is the Final Communiqué referred to:

The Defence Planning Committee of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation met in Ministerial Session in Brussels on Thursday, 7th June, 1973, for its regular Spring meeting.

2. Ministers discussed the state of Allied defence in the light of the current political and military situation. Recalling with satisfaction the success with which NATO has safeguarded the freedom of their countries and has established the stable conditions under which the quest for better relations with the East can safely be pursued, they reaffirmed the confidence of their Governments in the principle of collective security embodied in the Alliance, and their determination to support it by all means in their power. They welcomed the increasing contacts between East and West; the ongoing SALT negotiations; the progress made towards the holding of a Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe; and the prospects for an early start to substantive negotiations on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions.

3. They noted, however, that despite these developments the Warsaw Pact continues to maintain forces of a size and character greatly in excess of those needed for purely defensive purposes. Ministers received a briefing on the most recent developments in the capabilities of these forces, which confirmed that a formidable programme of the modernisation and re-equipment is continuing with unabated momentum. They noted in particular the strengthening of Soviet forces facing NATO: in the strategic nuclear forces, in the land and air forces and in the increased striking power and world-wide deployment of the Soviet Navy. In this respect, they reaffirmed that NATO must continue to provide a firm defence posture, from which a genuine and lasting détente can be negotiated.

4. Against the background of the increasing strength of Warsaw Pact forces, Ministers reveiwed the present defensive capabilities of the Alliance in the context of a further report on the Allied Defence Problems in the 1970s (AD 70). This report summarised the progress made during the past two years in improving the effectiveness of NATO'S land, sea and air forces in each region and also identified the areas where further improvements were still required. In the course of this discussion, Ministers reviewed the special problems of the Northern and Southern Regions including the Mediterranean. They undertook to concentrate their current efforts on the improvements recommended, taking account of the need, recognised at their December meeting, to allocate more resources for the modernisation and re-equipment of NATO forces. In this connection, they noted United States proposals for measures of force improvement and agreed that these should be studied by the Defence Planning Committee in Permanent Session within the framework of AD 70.

5. Also in the context of AD 70, Ministers reviewed the joint defence programmes of NATO (e.g., Infrastructure, Communications and Civil Preparedness) with a view to ensuring adequate support for the requirements of combat forces. Fresh emphasis was placed on the increased need to improve co-operation in logistics and in armaments research, development and production. They expressed their satisfaction with the substantial progress made in establishing procedures and facilities to enable the North Atlantic Council and the NATO Defence Planning Committee to carry out their rôles in times of crisis.

6. Emphasising that public support is a fundamental condition of the entire defence effort of NATO, Ministers drew attention to the vital need to foster understanding of its aims and policies among the peoples of every country of the Alliance.

7. The Ministers noted with satisfaction the progress made towards tax-free comparison of Infrastructure bids. They invited the Defence Planning Committee in Permanent Session to prepare appropriate recommendations for the development of the NATO common Infrastructure programme covering the period 1975–1979, for review in December 1973.

8. Ministers welcomed the report of the Conference of National Armaments Directors, noted with satisfaction the new initiatives being taken to provide greater armaments co-operation, and agreed on the need for continuing high level attention and effort to be devoted to these activities in the countries of the Alliance.

9. Ministers received a report by the Chairman of the Eurogroup Ministers of Defence on the further progress made in measures of practical co-operation, particularly in the fields of training and equipment procurement. They welcomed the continuing work of the Eurogroup to strengthen the European contribution to Alliance defence.

10. Ministers discussed the practical implications of negotiations on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions and stressed that the NATO objective remained the maintenance of undiminished security at lower levels of forces. They reiterated their conviction that unilateral action on the part of countries of the Alliance to reduce or withdraw forces would erode the conditions of stability essential to the negotiation of a satisfactory agreement. In this connection Ministers welcomed the reaffirmation by the United States that, given a similar approach by their Allies, they would maintain and improve their forces in Europe and not reduce them except in the context of an East/West agreement.

11. Ministers agreed to a proposal by the Netherlands Minister of Defence that a study should be undertaken of the possibilities of specialisation in the Central Region by interested countries; they invited the Defence Planning Committee in Permanent Session to initiate such a study without delay, and to submit a report with recommendations to them at their next meeting.

12. Ministers recalled that in the past they had acknowledged that member nations are entitled to bring to the attention of the Alliance any special problems arising from balance of payments deficits resulting from military expenditures for collective defence, and had recognised that the solidarity of the Alliance can be strengthened by co-operation between members to alleviate them. In this context they took note of a statement by the United States Secretary of Defense Designate on the balance of payments problems which arise from the maintenance of United States forces in NATO Europe and directed the Permanent Representatives to study these issues and offer whatever recommendations seemed appropriate.

13. In the light of these discussions, Ministers gave guidance to the NATO Military Authorities on the political, military, economic and technological background to force planning for the period up to 1980. This guidance, which is issued periodically, is intended to ensure that forward defence planning in the Alliance is continuously adapted to changes in the political and military situation, and accords with the level of resources which each country is able to contribute to the common defence.

14. Finally, Ministers identified a number of strategic issues affecting planning in the longer term, and agreed to consider them further with a view to discussion at a future meeting.

15. The next Ministerial meeting of the Defence Planning Committee will be held in Brussels in December 1973."


My Lords, I am grateful for the answer which the Secretary of State for Defence has furnished to your Lordships' House. Would he make a further comment on the substance of what occurred at that Conference? Can he make a comment on the submission and report made by Admiral Poser in which he indicated there was a vast inferiority in NATO as compared with the Soviet Union forces and the Warsaw Pact forces; and also the delivery of a report to Mr. Schlessinger, the American Secretary of State for Defense, and his comment that before we enter into negotiations we must ensure that we negotiate from strength?


My Lords, in the intelligence briefing given by the Admiral it was reaffirmed by the authorities in NATO that there is certainly no evidence that the military threat to the NATO Alliance is diminishing; indeed, assessments point to the opposite conclusions. I agree with the noble Lord and Mr. Schlessinger that we cannot afford to relax our efforts.


My Lords, let me ask a further question of the Secretary of State for Defence. If we cannot afford to relax our efforts, what is to be done in order to implement the propositions that have been made by the United States Government that we should strengthen our defence, which means increases in manpower and provision for more modern conventional equipment?


My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, Her Majesty's Government have indeed strengthened their defence effort and have been contributing more to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation over the past few years. It It has been my task—and I have tried to do it—to encourage my colleagues in NATO to do the same. If the noble Lord will read the reports of the Euro-Group, and note the significant improvement there has been in the contribution and the level of contribution made by European countries over the past few years, he will see there has been some success.


My Lords, is that not really the point at issue? I apologise for pressing the matter further, but this is a subject of considerable interest to this country, to NATO and to the security of Europe. Does the Secretary of State realise that I am well aware that the United Kingdom has made a substantial contribution? Is he also aware that by comparison his colleagues in NATO have not made a substantial contribution? The last financial provision was negligible in comparison to what is required in order to provide a substantial conventional defence.


My Lords, we must have regard to the realities of the situation. On the last occasion but one when the Euro-Group met we pointed out the increase in the level of the European contribution, and there was an increase in the level of defence expenditure over the Euro-Group countries as a whole of over one billion dollars.


My Lords, the noble Lord made an incidental reference to East/West relations. Can he say whether this Ministerial Conference took into account the immediate meeting of the European Conference for Security and Co-operation, and the agreement about the Vienna Conference on armament reduction on both sides? Did the Ministerial Conference regard those as the alternative to mounting armaments in Europe?


My Lords, of course the two Conferences to which the noble Lord referred were the central topic of the meeting. I hope, as does the noble Lord, that both these Conferences will lead not only to increased détente but to a reduction of the forces in Europe. Until such time as there is evidence that this happens, I do not think that we can afford to relax.


My Lords, in supporting my noble friend Lord Shinwell on this question, I wonder whether the noble Lord heard a broadcast last Saturday which had an outline of the arms that the Soviet Union are building up. It was quite shattering for many people like myself, who did not have any idea that this build-up was going on.


Yes, my Lords, and that is why Her Majesty's Government have always said that it is necessary to see some evidence of a decline in the Russian effort before we relax our own effort. It is disturbing to see the continuing level of the Russian military effort in Europe.


My Lords, would not the Minister agree that the test of effective military strength is not figures in the balance sheet but the right amount of fire power at the right place at the right time? If that standard is applied, is it not a fact that the first country to renege on its obligations was Great Britain?—for it was a Conservative Foreign Secretary, Sir Anthony Eden, who undertook to keep four divisions on the European land mass until the end of the century and that promise was never honoured; there was never any intention of honouring it. And is it not now a fact that we have unilaterally disarmed to the extent that when we go to Vienna to negotiate the Soviet strength is at the highest point compatible with their economic needs whereas ours, for political reasons, is at its lowest?


My Lords, I think to go back into history at this time is not particularly helpful. I think that what we must do is to look at the realities of the situation. As to the level of the effort made by this country (I think the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said this), I do not think when one looks at the proportion of our gross national product which we spend on defence, and that of other countries, we have anything to be ashamed of.


My Lords, in view of the intervention of my noble friend Lord Brockway, may I ask the Minister of Defence whether he is aware of what I am driving at; namely, that if we are to enter into this M.B.F.R. Conference, which suggests that we can produce balanced forces in Europe, we have to be mightly careful? And I ask whether the noble Lord is aware that I am warning the Government to be very cautious in their approach when they enter this Conference.


My Lords, as is so often the case on these occasions nowadays, the noble Lord and I are driving in the same direction.