HL Deb 12 January 1994 vol 551 cc136-45

3.55 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the NATO Summit made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows: With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a Statement about the NATO Summit in Brussels, which I attended with my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. On 10th January the summit launched the Partnership for Peace programme with a framework document and an invitation to 25 states to participate. On 11th January it issued a declaration. These documents have been placed in the Library of the House. Madam Speaker, NATO Summits are not held routinely but only for a specific purpose. This was only the eleventh summit in 35 years. It met to carry forward post-Cold War evolution of NATO, which began at the 1991 Rome Summit. NATO's core function is to ensure the security of its member states. It has been by far the most successful collective security organisation in history; it was agreed the alliance will continue to be the cornerstone of post-war European security. As this was the first summit attended by President Clinton and by Prime Minister Chretien of Canada, a key objective was to renew the Transatlantic relationship. President Clinton's affirmation that the core of American security remained with Europe received a warm welcome. He confirmed his commitment to keep around 100,000 US troops in Europe. Madam Speaker, over the past five years new democracies have been born to the East. A pre-eminent challenge for NATO is to develop its relations with these countries in ways which will enhance stability across Europe. There must be no new dividing line; no new antagonistic blocs. The Partnership for Peace programme is an imaginative response to that challenge. All states which were once within the Warsaw Pact have been invited to join and NATO may also invite other CSCE states. The aim of the partnership is to bring Europe together by building practical military co-operation between nations in ways which reflect their different aspirations and capabilities. This could include joint exercises in peacekeeping, search and rescue or humanitarian operations; joint military planning; and exchanges on defence budgeting and the democratic control of armed forces. Each partner will draw up with NATO an agreed 'Partnership programme' tailored to that particular relationship. Partnership will be an evolutionary process. It will bring all partners closer to NATO. The summit has opened a clear perspective of the enlargement of the alliance. It is too soon to determine which countries will be able to meet the obligations of membership or when. But there are obviously strong candidates in the democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. Madam Speaker, a second challenge for the summit was to improve the alliance's ability to mount new humanitarian and peacekeeping operations. During the Cold War NATO's military structures were based predominantly on static regional commands and large-scale formations. Experience in the Gulf and Bosnia has shown the importance of flexibility and mobility. The summit endorsed the new concept of Combined Joint Task Forces. They will improve NATO's capability to deploy task forces inside or outside the NATO area. Because they will be available for purely and predominantly European operations, the Combined Joint Task Forces could also meet the requirements of the European Security and Defence Identity. They will strengthen the European role within NATO, without detracting from its Transatlantic character. Partnership for Peace and the Combined Joint Task Forces are changes of fundamental significance. The alliance will now begin to implement them. Madam Speaker, the summit also discussed other important questions. It supported efforts by the United Nations and the European Union to secure a negotiated settlement in Bosnia. We discussed the recent intense fighting in Sarajevo. We reaffirmed our readiness, under the decisions taken last August, to carry out air strikes in order to prevent the strangulation of Sarajevo. We also looked at ways to solve two other current problems. The United Nations command in Bosnia has recently been prevented from rotating the UNPROFOR contingent in Srebrenica and from using Tuzla airport. On a proposal from the United Kingdom and France, the summit asked UNPROFOR to draw up plans for the Netherlands contingent to take over from the Canadians in Srebrenica. We also decided to examine with UNPROFOR how Tuzla airport could be opened for humanitarian relief purposes. We would prefer not to have to use force. But those who are impeding UNPROFOR at Srebrenica and Tuzla must realise that force is available if necessary to support UNPROFOR and its ability to protect relief efforts. In all of our discussions, Madam Speaker, we were conscious of the importance of closer relations with Russia's democratic leaders. Russia has a huge contribution to make to stability and to efforts to' resolve international problems. I hope that the Russian Government will take up the invitation to partnership with the alliance. This will be another way in which we can enhance our support for reform and democracy there. Madam Speaker, I shall briefly describe individual meetings which I held during these two days. I met the Prime Minister of Turkey, and welcomed her country's continuing support for operation Provide Comfort in Iraq. Mrs. Ciller expressed her commitment to a settlement of the Cyprus problem, which is long overdue. I focused on Bosnia in my meeting with the French Prime Minister. We decided to call for the action over Srebrenica and Tuzla which I have described. With the German Chancellor and the Italian Prime Minister, I discussed developments in Europe and further efforts to enhance relations with Russia and support reform there. I thanked President Clinton for his support over Northern Ireland. We welcomed the decisions taken on Bosnia, and looked ahead to our next meeting in Washington at the end of February. I had a long meeting with the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Joulwan, the chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Sir Richard Vincent, and other senior NATO officers. We examined how Partnership for Peace would be put into effect, and also how the Combined Joint Task Forces would be set up. Madam Speaker, this was a timely summit. It has reaffirmed North America's commitment to Europe, and has shown that the allies stand closely together in maintaining their collective security. The summit has carried forward the modernisation of NATO's military structures, and has launched a vital new initiative towards the East, opening up the way to new relationships and new members. It has established the outward-looking character of the NATO of the 1990s, with a greater emphasis on operations in support of peace and humanitarian relief. Madam Speaker, I believe that the summit has successfully equipped the alliance to meet the new challenges. I commend its results to the House". My Lords, that concludes my right honourable friend's Statement.

4.4 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in another place by his right honourable friend the Prime Minister. I say right at the outset that we on these Benches welcome that Statement and broadly support it. It was an important Summit. I hope that it has produced some important results.

The Partnership for Peace initiative has great significance for both NATO and the former communist states in Eastern Europe. It does represent an important stage in the development of a post-Cold War security structure for Europe based at last on peace, co-operation and mutual trust. In that respect we hope that Partnership for Peace will be the first step in a process which will eventually lead to the integration of former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO. When I penned those words it occurred to me how, a few years ago, that sentence would have seemed the stuff of dreams or even Lewis Carrol-ish. But how nice it is to be able to make that statement today.

Considerable progress has indeed now been made. I believe that noble Lords on all sides will recognise that. The important thing now is to identify ways in which the advances which have been made can be built on and indeed taken further. We hope that the closer military co-operation between NATO and the former communist states envisaged in the programme will now be pursued as a matter of priority. It is important that this momentum, which I hope that this Summit will have launched, be kept up.

Page 6 of the Statement says: It is too soon to determine which countries will be able to meet the obligations of membership or when". I am not quite sure what are the criteria for full membership of NATO. I assume that they are such matters as democratic systems of government, a respect for human rights and strengthened civilian control over the military. If it is that, then it is probably a question of time and we must wait to see whether the countries of Eastern Europe will fulfil those conditions. If there are other conditions I shall be grateful if the noble Lord the Leader of the House can tell us what they are. In any event, can he tell us what we are now going to do to try to encourage the former communist countries of Eastern Europe in the direction that we would like them to go?

We welcome the agreement on Bosnia which reaffirms NATO's position on the use of air strikes. It is critical now that the Serbs, both in Belgrade and in Bosnia itself, understand that NATO has the will and the means to implement the agreement on air strikes. There is still a certain credibility gap in that respect which needs to be addressed. I assume that all who supported this in principle in the declaration will now be prepared to see it implemented.

Finally, perhaps I may say a word about the renewal of the trans-Atlantic relationship. For me, at any rate, that was the most important matter to come out of this Summit. It was clearly right that President Clinton came, and it was right that he should have spoken and acted as he did. I trust that, as a result of this Summit, the relationship between Europe, on the one hand, and the United States and Canada, on the other, will not only have been restored, but I hope that it will have been strengthened and for the future perhaps put on a more realistic basis than it has been at times in the past.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in thanking the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in another place by his right honourable friend. As has been said by both speakers, the Statement covers two points of real significance—that is to say, first, the relationship between NATO and the former Warsaw Pact countries and, secondly, the position in Yugoslavia.

I cannot altogether share the optimism of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, about the outcome of this Summit' in all respects although, like him, I greatly welcome the statement by the President renewing the American commitment to participation in the defence of Europe and undertaking that no fewer than 100,000 troops are stationed here. That is an important advance and confirmation of an attitude which it was high time was made.

However, I do not find the Partnership for Peace proposals very convincing. They sound to me all too like a public relations exercise. I am absolutely convinced that they will not satisfy the Visegrad countries. That is something which has to be taken seriously. The anxieties of those countries as regards their security are real and justified when one considers what is happening to the east of them. It must be remembered that the political and economic reforms in which those countries are engaged will be seriously jeopardised if they believe that their security is at risk.

I should like to ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House a question. The Visegrad countries are all associate members of the European Union. They also attend the Western European Union forum which meets once a year. If and when they become full members of the European Union, they will automatically have the right to be members of WEU. What is there to prevent us giving them accelerated membership of WEU? That would have the advantage of providing them with the security that they want—it also has the advantage of French membership—something to which the Russians could not object because the Russians have never objected to those countries becoming members of the European Union, and membership of WEU goes with that if the country in question so desires.

It seems to me that that would overcome many of the fears of those countries while taking into account what I regard as the legitimate anxieties of Russia about the expansion of NATO which, after all, was an alliance that was formed against Russia. It is difficult for Russia to forget that significant fact. I put that point to the noble Lord and look forward to hearing what he has to say.

On the Bosnian situation, it must be said that the Statement amounts to a reversal of emphasis at least of the policy that was previously pursued by the Government. That point must be recognised. In the past, as I understood it, we have argued that air strikes would endanger humanitarian aid and would put British troops at risk. On 10th January, the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, said: The humanitarian aid would then be placed at very grave risk … I do not believe that we have yet reached that stage".—[Official Report, 10/1/94; col. 7.] That was only two days ago, so this is a rather sharp change of emphasis.

I should like to know whether we have taken into account the implications of that change of emphasis. If air strikes have to be undertaken, are we prepared for the consequences —the consequences for humanitarian aid and for the safety of our troops? May they not require reinforcement? If the air strikes are not wholly successful, will they be asked to fight their way through to Tuzla or Sarajevo or wherever? Is there the political will to do that? If not, the threat of air strikes will be, as the Serbs have already said, an empty threat. It is a threat which has been made before and not carried out. We cannot afford to do that twice. Any ultimatum to the Serbs that we make now must be precise and unequivocal. If it is not accepted, it must be followed by action. Those are matters on which we need clarification.

Finally, we have now been involved in the Yugoslav tragedy for three years or so. We have had a series of Statements and questions in your Lordships' House on the issues that are raised. It is impossible to discuss such a complicated matter as this in response to Statements or questions. I sincerely believe that it is high time that we had a debate in which the matter could be discussed more fully.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for welcoming the Statement and for their good measure of support for what is contained in it. I share somewhat the view of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that some parts of the Statement were the stuff of dreams not so many years ago. That indicates progress.

As both noble Lords dealt with many of the same points I shall, if I may, seek to answer both sets of points collectively. As I see it, the Partnership for Peace is not a closed shop. NATO is not a closed shop. It has not been one and it will not become one. What has been achieved is a clear and open perspective for enlargement. But the security of central and eastern Europe will not he increased if, by accepting some and excluding others right at the beginning, we recreate old divisions in Europe and antagonise Russia. The process must be managed over time. A close relationship with Russia is essential. The Partnership for Peace envisages an evolutionary process, building on relationships and practical military co-operation so that it is easier for us at a later date to contemplate the guarantees which are fundamental to the existing NATO arrangements.

I accept in part what the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said and that it is clear that some of the countries of central and eastern Europe are probably nearer membership than others. However, I think that it would be a mistake at this stage to have any sort of "sheep or goats" approach. Membership of the European Union will, of course, change the situation as the noble Lord indicated.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked about the criteria for membership. No criteria have been set, but the noble Lord envisaged the main elements of democratic, civilian control over the armed forces, developing practical military co-operation and building integral armed forces which are capable of operating within NATO force structures.

Both noble Lords raised the very worrying and important subject of Bosnia. I should like to say at the outset that it is important to clarify NATO's policy, which is to support the United Nations in its humanitarian aims but not to get involved in the civil war. The commitment of saying that NATO would make support available for the humanitarian aims, which would or could involve air strikes, has to be' distinguished from the use of air strikes or anything of that sort in seeking to solve the civil conflict which we hope can he solved by negotiation. We hope that progress will be made when the parties resume their talks in January. As I understand it, what NATO has said has indicated to the United Nations that it is for the UN to draw up a plan knowing that in certain circumstances NATO would support the humanitarian assistance effort with air strikes. The plan which the United Nations has to prepare must, of course, take fully into account the consequences of any air action. That matter will have to be weighed carefully. The safety of international and United Nations personnel on the ground in Bosnia would have to be of paramount consideration in the plans which the United Nations commander and Secretary General now have responsibility for producing.

I am extremely glad that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, highlighted the importance of the strength of the Atlantic Alliance which was renewed at the summit meeting. I share his belief in the importance of that aspect. The summit was important in that regard.

With regard to a debate, I recognise that I cannot say, as many of my colleagues say, that that is not a matter for me. I recognise the importance of a debate. It is something that I should like to discuss with the usual channels to decide the most appropriate way forward.

4.20 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, will the noble Lord expand a little on his answer to the question put by my noble friend Lord Bonham-Carter? It seems to me that we are not in this business purely for humanitarian reasons. We are blockading Serbia in an effort to bring about a political solution. That is not a humanitarian purpose, although it might do a great deal more good in humanitarian terms than the present effort. If we are to use air power—there is no question of our immense superiority—the role of our troops on the ground will have inevitably to change back to what they are best suited. Instead of using crack troops to negotiate, to plead, and to placate often drunken irregulars, they will have to ensure that the objectives of relieving Sarajevo and the other towns are carried out. Surely that will be inevitable if air strikes are used.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, the consequences of using air strikes cannot be underestimated. However, the situation is such that if the UN humanitarian effort is to be maintained that possibility exists and has to be used. The NATO summit agreed that it would indicate to the UN that they would be available to the UN if it draws up a plan in which it feels they would help relieve the problems with humanitarian aid. All the considerations the noble Lord raised are of course important. The UN will have to address them before it comes to a conclusion and finalises its plans.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I wonder whether we might have some clarification about the time. The Clock has gone out of kilter, and to the best of my understanding is still out of kilter. The 20 minutes allowed for Back Benchers started when the Clock showed 34. It has been 34 for some time. Can we be guided as to how the 20 minutes will be judged?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, my assessment, gained from my noble friend who can read clocks better than I can and who has one in his pocket, is that there are about 16 or 17 of the 20 minutes left. We shall keep a watch on it.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I welcome warmly the concept of the Partnership for Peace. The presence of President Clinton, and the way he fulfilled his role, is a matter of great encouragement. The questions I wish to ask are about Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, because they were never part of the Warsaw Pact. The Baltic States were not referred to in the Statement. The Leader of the House will know that Lithuania was the first of the former Soviet nations not merely to gain its independence in Mr. Gorbachev's time but to apply for membership of NATO. The Leader of the House will also recognise that some of the Baltic States will have fears of Russia because they have Russian troops on their territory and are seeking to get rid of them as quickly as possible. I have a great interest in the subject. I have visited Lithuania and feel for it. What decisions were taken as to where Lithuania fits into those states which we hope will qualify eventually for NATO membership?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, the NATO summit declaration states that NATO invites: the other states participating in the NACC, and other CSCE countries able and willing to contribute to this programme, to join with us in this Partnership". I have a list of all the countries. I see that Lithuania is an NACC country. It is all in the Library if anyone is in any doubt about it.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, will my noble friend expand a little on what he said about North America. Have the Canadians now said that they will return and put something concrete on the European continent? In other words, are they going back from their total withdrawal? Secondly, will he say something about whether NATO has now agreed that its facilities will be placed at the disposal of the WEU? Will he also bear in mind that if air strikes have to take place, and British troops are endangered, there is always the possibility of some kind of action against Belgrade itself?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, my noble friend tempts me to go further than I should. The problem is the Canadian troops in Srebrenica, Bosnia, who need to be relieved. As my noble friend knows better than I, the WEU has an important role to play, but it is not in a position to offer guarantees independent of NATO. It agreed at its November ministerial meeting to enhance its relationship with central and eastern Europe. Of course, it can offer an added political security and dimension to countries on the path to eventual European Union membership. I shall write to my noble friend on some of the other points that he raised.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, on the subject of air strikes against Tuzla and Srebrenica, are not confusing signals being sent to the Bosnian Moslems? May not the peace process be impeded by the fact that they may believe—I believe that they do believe—that NATO and the UN will intervene on their side if they hold out long enough? Is it being made absolutely clear to the Bosnian Moslems that the air strikes involve only the relief of the Canadian troops and that under no circumstances will British troops be involved in the civil war in Bosnia? That must be made clear, and I hope it is being made clear.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, the position is clear. No decision was taken at the NATO summit for air strikes to be used as part of the solution of the civil conflict in the former Yugoslavia. We seek to solve that by negotiation, as I said. The commitment to possible air strikes relates to the three cases that have been mentioned. They are all designed to assist with humanitarian aid, and that assistance will be given only as part of a plan for their use which the UN has to draw up.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, does my noble friend the Leader of the House agree that behind the language of the communiqué, which is always diplomatic, there exists certain decisions of principle, the first of which has been to subject the guarantees which were and are requested by the countries of eastern Europe to what was felt to be the overriding necessity of maintaining in power the present regime in Russia?

That is a perfectly arguable case and one can see why it has not been stated in those bleak terms. But it leads to another question that I should like to put to my noble friend. Was any attempt made, or will any attempt be made, to use the preference that is now being given to maintaining the Russian government in power to do something about the civil war in Yugoslavia, because all that is being said now would assume that humanitarian aid, which has been our central point, is destined to go on for ever? The idea that under present circumstances there will be a peaceful settlement seems highly improbable. On the other hand, the Russians now have, and have always had, a particular interest in Serbia. It is only Russia which can compel Serbia to abandon its career of conquest and bring about the peace which would make the efforts of our troops and the voluntary agencies no longer necessary.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I do not believe that I should draw from the declaration and the summit quite the conclusions which my noble friend seeks to draw. If there was a decision in principle about the widening and enlargement of NATO, it was a decision to have an evolutionary process rather than a process of achieving that enlargement at the beginning and creating new divisions in Europe. We believe that decision to be the right way forward. In part that is because we believe that it is extremely important that we should have a close relationship with Russia, but it is not a Russian veto or anything of that sort. It is merely that we believe it to be the best way forward.

I share with my noble friend a feeling of—I should not say pessimism—concern about the length of time that it is taking to reach a settlement of the civil conflict in former Yugoslavia. But that does not mean to say that the Government wish to move from achieving that settlement by non-military intervention by NATO or others. We must seek to continue with the present process. Any part that Russia can play in assisting in that will be welcome. I am sure that the Russian Government will play a full part in that if they are able to do so.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, given that the collapse of the Soviet empire has led to the prospect of Europe's frontiers once again being up for grabs—a risk which was effectively neutralised by the NATO-Warsaw Pact stand-off—is there not a danger that the period of diplomacy needed to persuade Russia of the entry of Visegrad and the Baltic states to NATO will provide a window of opportunity for aggression? Is it not desirable that we should perhaps negotiate with considerable intensity with the prospect that the members of the former Soviet Union, including in particular Russia, should be able to have the hope of entering NATO so that the matter can be sewn up before people behave in the way in which I fear they may try to behave?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, my noble friend is right that there are dangers and difficulties. The NATO summit sought to find in those difficult circumstances the best way forward. We believe that that is what we have done. There are risks involved but we believe that this is the best way forward. My noble friend will know that NATO has stated clearly that the security of the member nations is inseparably linked to that of all the other states in Europe. It is not possible for us in NATO not to be concerned about what might or might not happen in central and eastern Europe. But that is a long way from saying that at this moment in time those countries in eastern Europe are in a fit state and have the proper arrangements to be full members of NATO.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, perhaps I may inform your Lordships that the debate will now end at 6.15 p.m. The digital clocks for timing speeches are now not working properly. They may have to be disregarded if they cannot be reset for each speech. If that is the case, I must ask noble Lords taking part in this and the next debate to be fully aware of the length of their speeches and to use the Clock over the Bar of the House to note when they begin to speak.