HL Deb 17 April 1991 vol 527 cc1530-48

6.19 p.m.

Lord Molloy rose to call attention to the role of NATO in the 1990s; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is still difficult for many of us to appreciate that the shedding of communist shackles in Eastern Europe and the introduction of glasnost and perestroika should have created problems to a degree regarding our own defence. A number of worthy journals and so-called experts were called in for the examination of NATO. I believe that that was the proper and right thing to do. However, some are already advancing the cause that NATO should be considerably reduced.

I believe that is a crass observation and a very dangerous one. The examination of NATO must be a matter for great caution. It has been argued that NATO was created for the war that never came, and that is perfectly true. That war never came because NATO existed, which of itself is no mean achievement. That is why we should exercise very great caution indeed in what we do about the future of that organisation in the next decade.

We should also bear in mind that there are parts of the world which are suffering under communism and there are parts of the world where there are communist victims. People vanish off the face of the earth because they are not communists in places such as Vietnam, Afghanistan, Zaire, Angola, El Salvador and Cuba. One day we might be very fortunate in realising that we did not take advice to reduce the power of NATO. The future of that body must be linked to the United Nations, with a specific role. It should be considered at all times as a vital part of the defence of the free world. I shall welcome it very much if the noble Earl can tell this House whether the Government take that view as well.

There is no replacement for NATO. I had the distinction of working with Ernest Bevin, who was the founder of NATO. In my judgment he was almost a supreme Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He had the idea of NATO. That organisation was born out of a hatred that Ernest Bevin had for communism. He also had a massive distrust of Stalin. I can remember him being upset by Winston Churchill, who called Stalin "Dear old Uncle Joe". I regret that the rules of this House will not allow me to repeat what Ernest Bevin called Stalin. Nevertheless, it was the gut reaction of a British lorry driver and a great trade union leader who became one of our finest Foreign Secretaries. That has been acknowledged by another great Foreign Secretary of ours—the noble Lord, Lord Carrington.

That gut reaction created a benediction for Western Europe. What is more, the creation of NATO gave hope to many anti-communists and victims of communism in communist countries. Therefore, NATO is a basic ingredient which is fanning the spark of freedom in Eastern Europe and I hope will do so in other places as well. I hope that Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin realise how much they owe to NATO. If that organisation had not existed they could never have dreamt of raising the issues that they have raised. Therefore, they and the peoples of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe must be immensely grateful for the fact that we in this country, with our American allies and other allies in due course, created the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

We would be wise to look at the form and role of NATO in the future. Let us never forget that communism is the multiple sclerosis of freedom and always will be. There is a need to refashion NATO's defences, equipment and weapon technology. We have seen an example of that in the war in the Gulf. There has been a remarkable improvement in weapon technology for the Royal Navy and other navies, for the British Army, the United States army and others and for our Air Force and that of the United States in particular. Through NATO they have been able to develop remarkable weapons which have made a massive contribution to saving the lives of so many soldiers which might otherwise have been lost. That is a part of NATO which is sometimes not appreciated.

Recently at a London conference a case was made for enlargement and closer liaison with new members, particularly with the new Germany. But as we can see, that is going to create problems. I hope that the concerns of Germany will in no way entice us to give in to a reduction in the availability of NATO. At the last May Day celebrations in Red Square the situation was so very different. There were free market economists among those in the Politburo. Soviet citizens were freely participating in the parade. Being a Welshman, one of the things that struck me emotionally was when I saw crosses representing the crucifixion at the May Day parade in the Soviet Union. All that has been achieved because we helped to create the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Therefore we should think carefully before we attempt in any way—not to abolish it, because that is totally out of the question, but perhaps to make reductions which would be a little risky.

Talks about conventional forces in Europe is a very useful procedure. I believe that the noble Earl will want to enlarge on that a little. The interchange of command should be made practical. All these matters are worth while examining. I refer to the wise words of Mr. Manfred WÖrner as regards "the collapse of communism". He says that a new threat could emerge. There is a good deal of sense in that because, as Mr. WÖrner continued, we have a need now to examine what we all understand as NATO's out-of-area involvement and to keep it under constant review.

Our Commonwealth involves about 30 nations and they all owe much to NATO. It can contribute in various ways. I hope that the Government will see to it that, with our other allies, we keep our Commonwealth informed with NATO developments. We have to realise that there is nothing so cunning as a communist organisation. There are all kinds of communism, and they are all evil. If one wants to appreciate the reality of communism, it was summed up best by Aneurin Bevan when he said that the relationship of communism to democratic institutions is that of,

"the deathwatch beetle. It is not a party—it is a conspiracy".

That is as true today as when Nye Bevan first said it.

After 40 years the forces of NATO must be updated to meet the changes in the world. We have to look to weapons, materials and the sciences and industries which are associated with NATO in this and other NATO countries. Those weapons, materials, sciences and industries have a great deal to contribute to the NATO of the future. We should embark with thoroughness and care on a review of NATO. That has to be done, but in a manner which in no way weakens the organisation but strengthens it for the possibility of a threat in the future.

We should modernise and adjust both the weaponry and the troops and the liaison between the troops of various nations to create a speedy efficiency but never ever to weaken the organisation. I ask the noble Earl to comment on the need for even closer liaison between the various nations after the Gulf war. That close liaison worked very well with the Gulf war coalition. We should continue with the example that we had then and bring it into NATO. Defence, security and industrial co-operation are vital. NATO nations stand together for freedom and progress and for a better life for all. It may be that an efficient NATO, which is both larger and stronger and is unchallengeable, could begin the possible abolition of chemical and nuclear weapons.

We should update NATO for the future but never forgetting or endangering the real value of NATO to the alliance and to all mankind. It is the best multi-national treaty organisation of all time. It has done so much for not only the nations of NATO but for others as well.

I conclude with these words. I hope that the aims and objectives of NATO will continue and that NATO will always be regarded as the international flagship of freedom, so winning the approbation of the good, the applause of the wise and ultimately the blessing of all mankind.

6.31 p.m.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, for initiating this debate and for the very forceful defence of NATO which he gave us. First, like him, I wish to express my concern at the emphasis that some of our EC partners are placing on the development of a common European defence policy and at suggestions that the Europeans can create a self-reliant security system outside the NATO framework.

NATO is a political and military alliance that has served us well. In the bipolar world of the Cold War the military threat to our security was clear and our military requirements were relatively simple to calculate. As a result of the pressing military requirements the important political nature of the Atlantic alliance was perhaps overlooked. Now that the Warsaw Pact has broken up, our military requirements are more difficult to calculate and the political will of the alliance may be weakened as a result.

However, I want to underline that, while the emphasis may have shifted from NATO's military role to its political role, both the political and military logic for retaining NATO remains. Any suggestion that the end of the Cold War and the resurgence of Western European economies means that we can do without the North Americans must be refuted on both the political and military fronts.

NATO is first and foremost a political organisation. It is important that NATO's political integrity survives and is not replaced by diluted, impotent, all-European alternatives. NATO represents a unique forum in which the communities of Western Europe and North America can co-ordinate their security policies.

It has been possible to summon the political will of the 16 NATO nations to work together because NATO represents a genuine political community. The United States and Europe have common interests. They share common values which they believe must be defended—democracy, freedom and market economics. NATO is a forum in which co-operative policies can be formulated. It is also a forum in which parties can learn to understand one another's anxieties and in which disagreements can be worked out. The mechanisms at its disposal were not born overnight. They represent 40 years of experience of working together. A degree of trust and understanding has been built up that cannot easily be replaced.

There are two main dangers in downgrading the importance of the Atlantic alliance. First, there is no other comparable forum in Western Europe or Europe as a whole in which security policies to defend shared Western interests can be satisfactorily worked out and implemented. In the current climate there is a tendency to emphasise the need for a common European defence policy and to point to institutions such as the Western European Union and the EC as the guardians of our future security. The EC is not a suitable forum since it excludes three NATO members and includes neutral Ireland. The Western European Union consists of only nine members of the EC and it has not, as yet, a command structure, or any forces committed to it. Should it become, as some have suggested, the defence wing of the EC, the decision-making channels have yet to be worked out, along with how they will be translated into military action.

The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe allows Western states to co-ordinate their policies in relation to other European states and the Soviet Union in specific issue areas. It will play an important part in building trust between East and West, managing crises and helping to disseminate Western values in Eastern Europe. It is not a forum in which the West can formulate and co-ordinate security policies.

A credible alternative forum that includes Western European and North American states does not exist. It is therefore important that NATO remains as an expression of the political will of the Western democracies to defend Western values. Secondly, if the Europeans put too much emphasis on an independent and individual defence policy the shared interests of Western Europe and North America may be eroded and forgotten.

It should be remembered that, though the Cold War has been successfully concluded, new and perhaps unexpected challenges may lie ahead. If we detach the security policies of Western Europe from North America our interests may diverge and the clarity of our security policies may become muddied by the interests of different blocs. For example, as we have stated in this House in previous debates, there is a danger that should the GATT negotiations fail the world may be divided up into rival trading blocs. Under these conditions the interests of the North Americans may conflict with those of Europe. NATO is a forum in which we can nurture a sense of common purpose in defending Western values and work to overcome such possible suspicions and disagreements.

The best interests of democracy can be served by showing that the West will stick together and remain vigilant in the defence of its freedom. NATO need not be a confrontational organisation. NATO is willing to co-operate with its former adversaries and with other organisations, such as the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, in confidence building and crisis management. However, NATO's determination to defend Western values will allow us to hold them up as an example to be emulated in the, perhaps, stormy seas ahead. As these values take root in Eastern Europe, so they too may become part of a genuine political community with common interests. Thus NATO has a political dimension that may prove essential for the future well-being, not just of Western Europe, but of Eastern Europe too.

In addition to these political imperatives, the military logic for NATO remains. There is no guarantee that renewed threats to Western security will not emerge in the years ahead. The Soviet Union still has the largest standing army in Europe. It has nearly 4 million men under arms, of whom nearly 3 million are in the Atlantic to the Urals zone. While the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty was a significant breakthrough in creating military stability in this zone, Soviet adherence to the treaty is still in some doubt. It still has the nuclear arsenal of a superpower, against which there Ls no credible European-based deterrence. The future of the Soviet empire is unclear. The future orientation of its leadership is open to question. The spectre of a renewed Soviet threat remains. Should the Soviet empire collapse in disarray, it is possible that the central control of the Soviet nuclear arsenal will be lost.

Thirdly, until democracy and prosperity take root in Eastern Europe its instability may threaten the West, either through the return of totalitarian rule, the spillover of ethnic unrest, or mass migration westwards. The certainties of Western military capabilities could be a stabilising factor in such circumstances. Fourthly, there may be threats from other regions to Western democracy to which NATO will be required to respond. For example, NATO was able to respond to possible threats to Turkey from Iraq during the recent Gulf war.

The Europeans alone cannot meet these challenges. First, we cannot afford to replace and maintain the forces and the intelligence-gathering equipment that the US is willing to commit to NATO. Nor can we afford to develop the new technologies that will be required for a credible defence, as the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, explained. Secondly, as I mentioned earlier, there is as yet no command structure through which political decisions can be implemented by the Western European Union or the EC. There is no supreme commander of European forces as there is for NATO. It must be emphasised that we must not throw away NATO for the sake of a European defence policy.

This is not to say, however, that NATO should not evolve to reflect a new balance of responsibilities between Europe and North America. The European pillar of NATO will play a bigger role than it has in the past. Europe's resurgent economies should also expect to shoulder more of the burden. The Western European Union could be used to co-ordinate the policies of the EC members within Europe and thus allow Europeans to play a more prominent role in NATO than they have before. The Western European Union may also strengthen NATO by providing an important military link with France. It could also play a role in co-ordinating Western European action outside the NATO area.

There are also ways in which European co-operation within NATO, on developing military hardware, can be used to economic, military and political advantage. First, it makes economic sense because it provides real jobs in participating countries, eliminating the danger of destroying the defence industry of one country through failure to win contracts in a shrinking market. Secondly, it makes military sense, since standardisation of equipment will lead to greater military efficiency. It also makes political sense, since it will enable greater control of weapon systems exports to the third world. The problems in this area have been demonstrated to us in recent months.

The European fighter aircraft is an example of such European co-operation. Similar projects should be encouraged and should include the Americans, if possible. For example, it may be sensible to look to co-operative projects for the next generation of tanks between the four main tank manufacturing states of the United States, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

The European states should thus seek to play a bigger role in NATO. They should not seek to marginalise NATO. At the end of the day it must be remembered that NATO has provided us with 40 years of peace, the longest sustained period of peace the continent has ever experienced. NATO's stabilising influence has provided unparalleled levels of prosperity for those of us fortunate enough to live under its guardianship. We must use the stability NATO has secured in the West to help the Eastern European states. We must be aware of the dangers of decoupling the defence interests of the US from those of Europe through pursuing elusive common European defence policies. We must work to keep the Americans committed to the defence of Western Europe. NATO must remain the cornerstone of our defence policy.

6.41 p.m.

Lord Parry

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend and fellow countryman Lord Molloy—I am glad he told the House that he is Welsh; it might not otherwise have recognised the fact—for the opportunity that his initiative has given me to include local and particular concerns in the debate on the general and operative consequences of NATO's revised requirements for the 1990s.

Reassessment of the role of NATO presupposes radical revision of Britain's defence forces with knock-on implications that worry communities that host and service Royal Air Force, army and naval establishments. In making those local worries known to the House I am also aware that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is already advised of them and that the Secretary of State for Defence will shortly meet a delegation to discuss some of them, having been given copies of a number of documents that report concern, particularly in West Wales, about the defence review. These are documents such as the report prepared by Dyfed County Council and Preseli Pembrokeshire District Council working in conjunction with the Transport and General Workers' Union. They spell out the economic and social importance of RAF Brawdy to the local economy of West Wales, and especially to Preseli, Pembrokeshire. The report was produced because of the concern of the local authorities and the trade unions at reports that the future of RAF Brawdy is in some doubt and that there is a possibility of its closure in 1992. If it were to occur it would mean the direct loss of 163 civilian jobs, more than £12 million in income paid to the 768 service personnel based at RAF Brawdy and many millions of pounds to the local economy from operating expenditure of the base.

When in 1990 the Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Torn King, identified in Options for Change various ways in which the armed forces might be restructured by the mid-1990s, he was said to be looking for reductions in regular service manpower of 18 per cent. and a similar percentage reduction in civilian employment. Mr. King promised further work on the detailed implications of these broad proposals. Clearly it is this work that has given rise to reports that RAF Brawdy's future is under threat.

Similarly, RAF Valley on Anglesey, which was represented in another place for many years by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, and the station at Chivenor in Devon seem threatened by the proposals. Rumours of the proposed disbanding of anything from a dozen to 15 squadrons of the Royal Air Force clearly concern many in the RAF and in the communities likely to be affected. The prospect of the closure of RAF Brawdy is viewed in West Wales and elsewhere with great alarm. Not only is it one of the largest employers; it is also located in an area already hit by defence cuts, by the recession and by other threats of unemployment.

In expressing my concern I ask the House to accept that the socio-economic impact elsewhere will be potentially disastrous if these large cuts are carried through. Important and inevitable though it is, as two speakers have said, that a total review of Britain's defences should be undertaken and radical changes made, every single proposal should take full account of the possible socio-economic impact. We have not done that as a country. We have not begun to do it in assessing some of the changes that we make. All too often we seem to go ahead pragmatically when forced to do so without studying the fact that something done for good and proper reasons in an individual sector might have serious consequences outside that sector.

The House will perhaps better understand my concern if I take leave to show just how much Dyfed is affected by defence considerations integral to NATO's defences. Defence establishments integral to NATO play an important role in providing employment in West Wales. There has been a continuing reduction in the number of employees in defence establishments in Dyfed, and in recent years that county has suffered economically and socially from a number of factors. There was the closure of RAF Tenby and the closure of the Royal Naval armament depot at Johnston. There was also the closure of the Royal Naval stores depot in Llangennech. That alone resulted in the loss of more than 600 jobs. Although the Ministry of Defence transferred its stationery stores to a centralised organisation at Llangennech, of the 250 jobs forecast fewer than 60 have materialised. Privatisation of certain jobs at the Proof and Experimental Establishment at Pendine, inevitably involving some job losses, is a concern and a study being undertaken at RAF Aberporth could result in an agency taking over the running of the establishment which may also lead to job losses. In fact, a dispute about wages is going on there at present.

The most recent blow was the closure of the Royal Naval armament depot at Milford Haven only a couple of weeks ago with the loss of 285 jobs. A review is now in progress of the Royal Naval armament depot at Trecwn. The number of service personnel stationed in Dyfed fell from 1,229 in June 1976 to 825 by December 1985. By January 1990 the figure stood at 790. What is significant is that 96.5 per cent. of the service personnel were based in the former county of Pembrokeshire, mostly at RAF Brawdy. We have always known that over the years the Ministry of Defence was the largest single employer of labour in that county. In 1986 the number of civilian jobs in defence in Dyfed totalled 2,435. By February of this year there had been a fall to 1,581 civilian jobs in the Ministry of Defence, with a further 190 in privatised jobs. More than half of the jobs are in the former county of Pembrokeshire.

I would not wish to leave the House with the impression that all is doom and gloom in the lovely West Wales peninsula, nor does anyone there expect the service chiefs to weigh defence needs against social and economic ones. It is recognised that changes and savings must be made and that strategic issues must govern service proposals made by servicemen. The Government, however, have a wider mandate and a deeper responsibility. All across South Wales quite massive efforts are being made to resuscitate the economy. Some of the successes of the Welsh Development Agency, the Rural Development Board, the Wales Tourist Board, the Welsh Office and several administrations, local authorities, the Milford Haven Port Authority and the Cleddau Enterprise Zone are winning respect. It would be tragic if. in pursuit of apparent rationalisation and the peace Budget bonus, hard won progress were to be set back in the reviews that are being undertaken.

Perhaps I may summarise as I conclude. I have noted here that unemployment in any case remains desperately high. In January this year a total of 2,118 persons were registered as unemployed in the travel-to-work area of Haverfordwest alone. That is the equivalent of one in nine of the working population. In terms of unemployment, the area has consistently suffered a level well in excess of the national rate. While there was a 5 per cent. fall in female unemployment since January 1990, male unemployment has risen by 13 per cent.

The Minister may feel that I am taking the local and particular beyond the general and operative, but I am not. I assure noble Lords that any major review of consequence, as this one must be, will inevitably cause greater difficulty in the resuscitation of the economy of Great Britain. There is no excuse then. It will not surprise noble Lords that I think it would be disastrous if there were substance in the rumour that Brawdy Air Station will close in or after 1992. There are 768 service personnel based at Brawdy and the establishment employs 163 civilians. Closure of the base is viewed with great alarm as it is one of the largest employers in the area. It is in an area already seriously hit by defence cuts, the recession and other threats to employment.

Any closure effects will be compounded because the local economy is already in a parlous state. The direct impact of closure will be the loss of 163 civilian jobs and £14.59 million in wages and salaries of both civilian and service personnel.

There will be indirect and induced effects: the loss of orders and income by the industries which supply materials, goods and services to the base. That in turn could produce further closures of firms and job losses. It is estimated that, of £6 million spent on operational purchases, £1.59 million remains in the local economy and generates 120 jobs. The loss of local purchasing power will have an immediate impact on the quality and quantity of local shopping and other services. An estimated 250 jobs could be lost as a consequence.

There are likely to be wide-ranging social effects from closure. These will include unacceptably high levels of unemployment, increasing dependence on benefit and welfare support systems, pressure on local authority social services and housing and the loss of younger and more mobile elements of the community.

All that I have specifically related in the researched relationship to West Wales and the closure of the Brawdy Air Base will be part of the effect that every service oriented community in Britain will feel at the radical reorganisation of NATO needs. Pilots and air and ground crews, using systems and tactics learnt in Wales, were vitally important in the war in Iraq. The almost instant readiness of the Royal Air Force won vital strategic initiatives for the coalition forces and that fact must surely have an influence on Options for Change that would not have been obvious when the peace Budget seemed possible in 1990. I urge the Government to back that success with their support and always to consider the socio-economic effects of the policies that they propose.

6.55 p.m.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, we must ask ourselves what is the threat to peace in Europe with which NATO is suitably equipped to deal. That is the question. In the clear and informative statement of the noble Lord, Lord Wade, I missed any analysis of the dangers to peace in Europe for which NATO is well equipped. To some extent, although we are grateful to him for raising the subject, I missed the same analysis in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Molloy.

The truth is that Europe now is a very different place from the Europe we knew at the time when NATO was formed in 1947–48, with which I personally was involved. The formation of NATO was made possible not by Truman, Attlee, Ernest Bevin or Adenauer; NATO was made possible by Stalin and Molotov. If they had not been there, if the Soviet challenge had not existed, it would have been totally impossible to bring together the Canadians and Americans with the West European countries.

Now that Gorbachev is there and, to be frank, the threat of a Soviet conventional attack on the West has vanished, we are left with an organisation which has done a magnificent job but which is not properly suited in its membership, structure or spirit to handle the remaining, luckily diminished, threats to European peace.

There are threats of ethnic violence in many parts of Eastern Europe—Yugoslavia, Romania, Hungary and other places. However, the threat for which NATO was designed and for which its membership is proper—the threat of Soviet conventional attack—has vanished. We all know that there is resistance among the Soviet military high-ups to the Gorbachev reforms, to his political revolution in Eastern Europe and his disarmament concessions to the West, which have been considerable. We know that there is resistance among the military commanders in Moscow. However, when we consider the increasing weakness of the Soviet economy, its long-term need for Western aid and, above all, the bitter ethnic and national divisions in the Soviet Union, it is quite plain that for the foreseeable future the threat against which NATO was formed no longer exists.

On these Benches we recognise that. We do not suggest that NATO should be wound up; not at all. I shall come to that later. However, with great respect, we are not in sympathy with the view that new jobs must be found for NATO; that now the old ones have gone, let us start considering overseas expeditions based on NATO—that is, excluding Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Let us have Western overseas expeditions—not with the United Nations or the CSCE but with NATO. We believe that this is the wrong approach.

The truth is that what Europe today needs for its security is not organisations based on the confrontations between East and West; not organisations that are exclusively based on the West, as once upon a time the Warsaw Pact was exclusively concerned with members of the Eastern countries. That concept has gone with the Cold War. The concept of confrontation of a military nature between East and West is over and therefore organisations such as the Warsaw Pact and NATO, which were based on that position and reflected it, have no big long-term future. I am not saying that they should be wound up here and now, but what Europe needs today is a European security system which provides shared security and a common security for all the countries of Europe both in the East and in the West.

How do we achieve that? There seem to be two lines of advance. First, we need to apply to all the countries of Europe the remedies which have made war unthinkable between the members of the European Community. That is to say, we need to adopt ever closer political and cultural ties and ever greater economic interdependence—there must be a steady decline in the ability, as well as in the incentive, for one country to attack another. That position should be reinforced by further big advances in arms control, confidence building, crisis management, disarmament and mediation.

For all those roles the CSCE, which includes NATO members and former members of the Warsaw Pact, is ideally suited and already has major achievements to its credit. In the view of my noble friends it should now be formed into a treaty organisation committing its members to the objects I have mentioned and to mutual support against aggression. However, its membership is so large and so varied—it includes the Soviet Union, the United States and San Marino —that it is not well constituted for raising operationally effective defence forces. That goes without saying. Nor has NATO that ability. NATO represents only one half of Europe and it does not have the ability to form defence forces on a pan-European basis.

In the new Europe we have today the concept of neutrality to which the noble Lord, Lord Wade, referred, as practised by Austria, Ireland and Sweden, has lost a great deal of its meaning. We believe the solution is to extend the functions of the European Community to cover defence. It is anomalous that the European Community should have the same policies in trade and aid and more or less the same policies in foreign policy and yet have nothing to do with defence. Why should the Western European Union not be developed into or replaced by a European defence community—with regular meetings of the council of the Community defence ministers and with a Community directorate general for defence? Why should there not be more joint European military formations? Why, as the United States forces diminish in Europe, without leaving it altogether, should there not be a European Community military command? These major developments would take time to achieve and would involve amendments to the Treaty of Rome. However, in the view of my noble friends and myself, the Government should adopt them as a long-term aim.

I believe the following comments would be true of NATO. First, the level of forces are being and will be sharply reduced. I say that with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Molloy. Fewer of the forces will be stationed in countries other than their own. Nuclear policy will be modified, with nuclear weapons restricted strictly to the role of a minimum deterrent. As the noble Lord, Lord Wade, said, there will be a relative increase in the influence of the European component inside NATO. It would therefore be appropriate for the supreme commander to be a European.

However, as I have said, there can be no question during this period of getting rid of NATO. We cannot do this, first, because an American presence in Europe, even if curtailed, will still be needed and, secondly, because the minimum nuclear deterrent of which I have spoken, although it might, I suppose, be provided one day by CSCE or by the European Community, should remain for the present in American and NATO hands. The major role of NATO should be in effect to do itself out of a job —that is, to set the crown on its great achievements in the past by helping to put in place, as its successor an effective security system for Europe as a whole.

7.6 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elva

My Lords, we are grateful to my noble friend Lord Molloy for bringing forward this important matter for debate today. It is to a certain extent disappointing that there are not more speakers in this debate because this subject is of immense importance and great national interest.

The House has reviewed three aspects of this question. I believe all the speakers in the debate would agree with that. The first aspect concerns the question of whether NATO should survive and in what form. The second aspect concerns whether NATO should change and whether it should be transformed in some way that we shall have to consider. The third aspect is whether the 1990s—the Motion refers to the 1990s —should see a strong European pillar—I hope I may use the current jargon—within NATO, or outside NATO or separate from NATO as some would argue. I wish to address those aspects in that order.

Should NATO survive? I believe all speakers have agreed that NATO must survive, at least for the present. Even the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, agreed that NATO should survive for the present. He introduced the possibility that CSCE might take over NATO's role. With great respect to the noble Lord and the opinions he was putting forward from the Benches he represents—

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord does not intend to get me wrong. I said there were two ways of development—one was the CSCE; but the real role of producing a pooled defence might be transferred from NATO to a European defence community.

Lord Williams of Elyel

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that clarification. I understood him to say that CSCE might at some stage develop some kind of nuclear capability. However, I must have misheard the noble Lord.

Clearly there may be a case at some future stage for a developed CSCE—in a manner which at the moment we can only envisage in the long-term future—to assume responsibility for international stability or stability within the broader Europe. I agree with all noble Lords who have spoken that it is perfectly clear that there have been dramatic changes to military doctrine. The Cold War is effectively over for the moment, so far as one can see. I shall qualify that statement in a minute. At the moment, although there are distinct possibilities that the CFE treaty will not be ratified and distinct possibilities that the START treaty will never get off the ground, there is at the moment the possibility that NATO will have a greatly increased warning time because of the progressive withdrawal of Soviet forces from Eastern Europe.

However, it would be unwise to ignore the fact that, even after any START treaty or after ratification of CFE, if that comes about, the Soviet Union will still possess a formidable nuclear arsenal and large conventional forces. It will be far and away the largest military superpower on the continent. If it explodes, as the noble Lord, Lord Wade, suggested that it might, which is perfectly possible judging from what is happening at the moment, it will explode violently. It will not be an easy transition from a monolithic Soviet Union run by the Kremlin and the Politburo in Moscow to a diverse confederation, even if they avoid civil war, which they will be lucky to do. Therefore, there has also been increased talk of a military or KGB putsch or takeover in the Soviet Union, which would return us to the days of the Cold War.

The answer to the question, should NATO survive? in my view is yes. As noble Lords have said, it has served us well for 40 years. As my noble friend Lord Molloy said, it was a Labour Government which participated in and was the motive force in forming NATO. As the Foreign Secretary wrote in an article in the Financial Times yesterday, it is for the opponents of NATO to demonstrate why it should not survive rather than ask why NATO should continue.

There are other detailed reasons why NATO should survive, at least for the foreseeable future. First, it is reassurance that even if things go wrong in Eastern Europe in a way which we cannot predict, we shall still have an institution which has been proved to work. That is important. When one sets up institutions, it is difficult to know whether they will work. This one works.

Secondly, NATO is the only institution that links Europe militarily with the North American democracies. It is vital to ensure that the United States and Canada are enmeshed in our security system.

Thirdly, NATO has played, and in my view will continue to play, a critical role in arms control and the disarmament process. US forces, although they will be greatly reduced, will be required in Europe for the foreseeable future.

Fourthly, there are strong arguments that the Soviet Union itself would wish to see a US military presence on the continent. There are many signs coming out of Moscow that they do not want the Americans to detach themselves from Europe and to move back to the United States. A number of the Soviet Union's allies in the former Warsaw Pact, which has now been abolished, wish to see the continuing existence of NATO. Some even desire to be members of NATO. For those specific reasons, I would answer the question, should NATO survive?, with a resounding yes.

However, when I come to the second question, should NATO change and if so in what direction?, the ground is slightly less certain. It is perfectly true that the Cold War as we knew it is not on the agenda for the moment. NATO was founded as a Cold War alliance. The two alliances—NATO and the Warsaw Pact—faced each other across a divided Europe with the ever-present possibility of war, either by accident or by design.

It was in 1987 that the North Atlantic Council started the process of moving NATO away from that particular stance. That process has accelerated with events in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union moving very quickly in 1989 and 1990. The process was further accelerated by the London Summit of 5th and 6th July 1990 which, after very considerable study, produced the London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance.

That declaration set the tone for what is to happen in NATO in the future. No fewer than 19 initiatives were produced by the London declaration to set a course for the alliance and to shape a new Europe. They included preparations to adapt, if necessary, its nuclear and conventional weapons strategy. There were also a number of initiatives reaching out to the former adversaries, to change the character of conventional defence, calling for further measures of arms control and for the strengthening of the CSCE process. It was not for nothing that President Bush said after that declaration: The London Declaration will bring fundamental change to every aspect of the Alliance's work. This is indeed a day of renewal for the Atlantic Community". Those initiatives are now being studied and the strategic reviews are due to be completed soon. The direction in which NATO will change will be decided by the result of those reviews and the debate that takes place round them. I take very much to heart what my noble friend Lord Parry said about the socioeconomic consequences of any decisions that might be taken as a result of those reviews. However, we have to see what those reviews produce and we have to debate the results of those reviews to see which way NATO may go in the 1990s.

The largest and most striking development in recent months has been the desire of the Europeans to see a strong European pillar within NATO. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, if I did not misunderstand him, would like to see a European defence community take on much of the responsibility of NATO in due course. The initiative for this has come principally from President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl, and also from the Italians at the Rome Summit last December.

The problem is whether the Western European Union is a proper vehicle or whether the European Community is a proper vehicle. We should like to see a stronger European voice in NATO but we should like to see one which would operate through a strengthened Western European Union, which would be kept separate from the Community. We do not see the Community having a defence role, not least because the United States reacted with a great deal of vigour to the Delors speech of 7th March suggesting that the Treaty of Rome should be amended to include a mutual defence clause on the lines of that of the Western European Union.

The United States did not like that at all. The United States ambassador to NATO said that if people were to "mess" —to use his word—with familiar security structures, that would make the Americans very suspicious. A very strong diplomatic note was sent from the United States to European capitals, followed by a very clear message that if there was to be a European caucus inside NATO which would face the Americans with an agreed caucus view, much as in the GATT negotiations, the Americans would find that offensive. So we must find a way—this is the big issue —for Europe to develop a defence identity without alienating the United States. That is the major problem that we must address at the moment.

I believe that there should be no merger of any kind between the Community and the WEU; that the WEU should not take orders of any kind from the Community; that European defence competence should be retained in the WEU and not in the Community itself; that an expanding WEU should, if necessary, limit its military capabilities to the non-NATO area and should avoid duplicating NATO command structures; that the use of WEU military forces should require some degree of consent from the NATO Council—in other words, there should be some integration between the WEU itself as it develops and the NATO council—and that NATO's strategic review should aim to make the alliance a more attractive home for that European defence identity so that the Europeans do not have to feel that they have to set up something which is in opposition to the United States.

All that is a fairly large agenda and something to which we shall have to give great thought over the months and years to come. However, there is no doubt in our minds that for the 1990s NATO itself has a positive and strong, albeit modified, role. We shall have to wait and see exactly what that role will be and how it will operate when the strategic reviews are produced and debated. But we must recognise two important facts. First, there is a move in Europe towards a defence identity. As the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, said, Europeans wish to have a greater say in some form in their own defence. We believe that that should come through the WEU. We must seek to allow space for that in a modified NATO. Secondly, the world is far too uncertain a place at the moment for us to abandon an organisation that has served us so well for over 40 years. As the chairman of NATO's military committee recently said: in this period of dynamic change, of unrest, turmoil and instability, we should not add to unpredictability by throwing away our own stability". I recommend that view to your Lordships.

7.22 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, for raising this timely debate in your Lordships' House this evening. I agree immediately with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. I too wish that there had been more speakers for a matter that is so important to our future and at a moment when so much discussion is taking place on the future.

The debate takes place after a period of great international activity aimed at adapting our security arrangements to the new circumstances of the 1990s. The NATO review, the intergovernmental conference of the Twelve on political union and the moves to strengthen the Western European Union are all part of that broad process. Defining a new relationship between those organisations in the field of security and defence is a key task for 1991.

NATO has been the particular focus of our debate today. We in Western Europe are most fortunate to have had such an alliance over the past 40 years. Not only has it kept the peace in Europe and provided the vehicle for the essential North American commitment to our defence; it has also given us a firm basis of security on which we have built a stable and prosperous European Community.

Now the NATO alliance faces a new challenge. It needs to show that it can outlast the immediate purpose for which it was created. We are all familiar with the extraordinary changes that have taken place in Europe in the last two years. The communist regimes in Eastern Europe have fallen away and democratic governments have taken their place. The military structures of the Warsaw Pact have been dismantled. German unification has been achieved. Soviet forces are returning to their own country. The treaty on conventional forces in Europe will, if fully implemented, create unprecedented openness in military activities on our continent. With CFE in place, it would be an extremely difficult task for the Soviet Union to mount a successful conventional attack.

I should like to expand on that point which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Molloy. Along with our allies and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, we are maintaining pressure on the Soviet Union to comply with the treaty, especially over its claim that ground equipment and naval and other units do not count against previous ceilings. Discussions continue. We hope for an early resolution of the outstanding problems so that we can all ratify the treaty and begin to enjoy the benefits that it will bring. Once that has taken place, other arms control negotiations, such as SNF, can get seriously under way.

All that changes the job which NATO has to do. The heads of state and government meeting in London at the NATO summit last July recognised that. They set in hand a thorough review, which is still under way. The Government are approaching this in a confident rather than a timid spirit. We want to design structures which will last us through the nineties and not simply tinker with a few cosmetic changes for 1991.

At the height of the euphoria in Europe last summer, some, including many in this House who, alas, are not here tonight, were inclined to ask: do we still need NATO? I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, wobbled on the answer that he gave, saying that there was no big future for it but that we should not necessarily abolish it now. I disagree with the noble Lord, not for the first time. The Government's answer was always and remains an emphatic yes. Our security needs may be changing but our need for security is not. We have in fact heard less questioning of the need for NATO in the months since then. Once again there is a recognition that we shall face security challenges in the 1990s and beyond. I would put these in three main categories.

First, there is the Soviet Union. My noble friend Lord Wade was right to say that for the foreseeable future it will remain a mighty military power, even if the present instability worsens. Secondly, there is Central and Eastern Europe. It is possible that, as that region emerges from under the shadow of the Warsaw Pact, old rivalries and tensions may come back to the surface. Thirdly, there is the possibility of threats to our security from outside Europe. The Gulf conflict has reminded us all that the combination of modern weaponry and old-style military aggression can still pose a direct threat to our vital interests, requiring a military response. The Gulf crisis did not involve aggression against NATO territory, so NATO was not involved in the military operations. But next time it might be different. Allies therefore need to pay more attention to the threats that may arise from beyond Europe.

For all those reasons, we need to maintain sound collective defence based on NATO. We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, on that point. The transatlantic dimension to that is crucial. We should never forget the contribution in men and resources which the US has made and continues to make to the defence of Europe. I am sure that the whole House recognises that and wishes to pay tribute to the United States for the part that it has played. European security without the US simply does not make sense.

Over the next few years the American military presence will diminish—quite rightly since the Americans have borne more than their fair share of the military burden over the years. But—here my noble friend Lord Wade puts his finger on the vital point—it is vital for our security that a significant number of US forces remain in Europe. That in turn requires a healthy alliance in which the Europeans and North Americans consult openly about all issues affecting their security.

From what I have said, it follows that there are a number of essential features of NATO which we should retain: the collective military structure, US forces stationed in Europe and a sensible mix of nuclear and conventional weapons to provide effective insurance. But that list of the enduring features of NATO leaves great scope for change. We see three aspects to that process of change. First, there must be a stronger European input to the collective defence. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has said: I see the strengthening of the European pillar in NATO as a major priority for 1991". It is right that Europeans should be taking greater responsibility for their defence at a time when the US presence is diminishing; and it is right that as part of the broader process of European integration Europe acquires a more distinct role within the alliance.

There is a lively debate under way in Europe about how a stronger European input should be achieved. It is vital that decisions should be driven by the need to produce a more effective European defence contribution, not by institutional tinkering. This requires that the European defence identity should be developed in a way which is compatible with preserving a strong alliance. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, that we should not put at risk the sure defence we have in NATO for some uncertain alternative. We could not therefore accept separate European defence structures which would duplicate those of the alliance, or the notion that European defence should be pursued separately from the alliance.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, referred to strengthening the European pillar of NATO-an important point. I was pleased to hear what the noble Lord had to say towards the end of his speech on that subject. We firmly believe that the best way of doing that is by developing the Western European Union. If the WEU was moved to Brussels it would be well placed to build up close links both to NATO and the Twelve and act as a bridge between the two. That would be wholly consistent with the Twelve co-ordinating their policies on security issues as part of the process of political union. But defence should be kept separate from the Twelve and dealt with in the WEU and NATO. The WEU should develop an independent military capability. This should not undermine or cut across NATO's role or duplicate its military structure; but a European reaction force for use outside the NATO area would be logical and compatible with NATO's responsibility to defend NATO territory.

The second aspect of change in NATO is the need for a review of strategy and force structures. A great deal of work is taking place within NATO on this. The results should be made public later in the year, but the main lines are already clear. NATO will field highly mobile and versatile smaller forces to give the necessary flexibility for responding to the wider range of possible threats. There will be a larger role for multinational units comprising American and European forces. In the new Europe we shall move away from forward defence, directed only eastwards, to strategy and structures designed to meet a variety of threats from different directions. Nuclear weapons will continue to fulfil an essential role in the overall strategy of the alliance for preventing all forms of war in Europe, but the numbers of nuclear weapons in Europe should be much reduced.

NATO is not solely a military alliance. The third aspect of change is NATO's increasing contacts with the Soviet Union and the countries of central and eastern Europe. NATO has long supported the goal of freedom and democracy in eastern Europe. Last summer it extended a hand of friendship to our former adversaries in the Warsaw Pact. This new policy has borne fruit in the development of dialogue and co-operation. There have been high level visits to NATO headquarters, including visits last year by the Soviet Foreign Minister and last month by the President of Czechoslovakia. NATO is seen widely in central and eastern Europe as a force for stability, and it serves the interest of stability for contacts to be expanded. NATO adapted on those lines will be well fitted to continue to serve in its twin roles as defender of our security and the expression of our transatlantic values for the next 40 years. As the London summit made plain, NATO can, help build the structures of a more united continent, supporting security and stability with the strength of our shared faith in democracy, the rights of the individual and the peaceful resolution of disputes".

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I wish to thank noble Lords on all sides of the House who have participated in this important debate and for all their contributions. In particular, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who has had a hard and tough day. I am bound to say that he has come through very well indeed. To a degree I am glad that Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's Opposition see almost eye to eye. I suppose it is right and proper that the Liberal Democrats should have another view. At one time I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, in saying that Molotov and Stalin had created NATO was taking the same attitude as those who claim that if it were not for microbes medical science would not exist. We can all indulge in absurdity from time to time and today was the noble Lord's turn.

Three political parties have participated in this debate. If the communists in Eastern Europe look at us I hope they will acknowledge that the plurality of political parties is a wonderful thing. We may not always agree—rarely are we all in complete agreement —but the fact is that we have the right to disagree. I believe that that right has been guaranteed by the existence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty-four minutes before eight o'clock.