HL Deb 12 December 1995 vol 567 cc1256-68

9 p.m.

Lord Kennet rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their view of the current political and military relations between Europe and the USA.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I start by saluting President Clinton's visit here and to Ireland and his extremely well chosen words. In them we heard the best voice of the United States—peaceful, law abiding and constructive. They did as much as any foreign head of government could do to secure peace in Northern Ireland. But it was not enough. How could it be? Conflicts are settled by the adversaries. In the new and dangerous era which began last Thursday night, we are surely entitled to expect a total US ban on all funding for the IRA.

Our relations with our neighbours within the European Union and with the United States are the most important that we have. They need to be consciously balanced. For every other European Union country, its relations with fellow EU countries are more important than its relations with the United States. Only we have the values the other way round. I believe that it is true to say that.

I ask: are we still right in that judgment? It dates from 1943. But there are many who think—including some who never say it—that we are no longer right. The United States itself, its position in the world, and its view of itself in the world are all changing fast and our own Government's values belong to another age.

Although our economy is increasingly meshed with Europe's, our military security goes on being meshed with the United States' systems, command structures and strategies. Moreover, that extremely unequal symbiosis is being steadily increased. Can we still choose which way to go? When the time comes—as it must, because security and the economy cannot be separated—for us to turn wholeheartedly towards Europe, how will we be able to disentangle ourselves? I think of the quasi-sovereign US bases here and in our dependencies and of the weapons and equipment, both those we buy from the US and those deployed here. The House of Commons Trade and Industry Committee has seen part of the damage to Britain and Europe that is now being done. I think of intelligence; of space; of US plans for the enlargement of NATO, plans which it claims threaten no one, though that is hardly for the United States to judge; and of US destabilising policies in the Middle East and Far East. I think of the dangers arising from the imposition of the one-sided Dayton agreement in Bosnia and of Sarajevo, tomorrow's Jerusalem.

I think particularly of what will happen when the Americans leave after arming, for domestic and political purposes, the Bosnian Moslems. They will apparently bypass the whole United Nations, NATO and the Dayton system, presumably using the US NATO commander, Admiral Leighton Smith, since he also wears a national hat, to do so.

It is often observed, especially in this House, that it was a great Conservative, Lord Palmerston, who said that Britain had no permanent allies, only permanent interests. One common reason for cleaving to the United States is that many still believe that it is, as it tells us, the greatest and truest democracy, the teacher, the protector, the cynosure of the whole world. But only the leniency of unthinking devotion licenses such a view. At the last Congressional elections, only 38.4 per cent. of the American electorate voted. In many countries the whole election would have been annulled. The Republicans scored 20 per cent. and the Democrats 18 per cent. So that great Republican "landslide" represented a majority of 1.8 per cent. of the electorate. In 80 per cent. of all the contests, the candidate who spent most won.

The latest of the recurrent wars between executive and legislature brought the country into virtual default. To meet a 25 billion dollar interest payment on government stock last month, the government pension funds were raided. Perhaps next time, in a month or two, peace may not break out at the 13th hour.

Today, the United States GDP looks good. But GDP measures and has always measured the wrong things—not prosperity, let alone justice, on which domestic stability depends. The budget is not yet balanced, the foreign debt is astronomical, and the texture of domestic society is deteriorating. The country set up in the name of democracy and the rights of man was in reality founded on genocide and slavery. We should not forget that. Economic inequality is once again widening. The advance of black people has ceased. On any given day one young black man in three is in prison, on bail or on probation. Chain gangs are back in the South. Capital punishment is thriving. The gun culture, now in religion and art as well as in life, is sickeningly familiar.

Internationally, the picture is scarcely brighter. Foreign policy is now ruled by domestic concerns. When he announced the Dayton agreement on television to the American people President Clinton did not once mention the United Nations, even though the Security Council has to approve the agreement. Nor did he mention what any other countries have been doing in former Yugoslavia under UN auspices. But someone has counted that in his speech he mentioned leadership 19 times. Dayton was to be a Clinton triumph.

The Republicans want the United States out of the UN. That is political myopia, not economic prudence. The Australian foreign minister has pointed out that the cost of UN peace operations last year was 3.2 billion dollars, which was less than the cost of the police, fire and prison services of New York city alone. He also pointed out that the whole UN family of organisations employs 61,000 people, which is less than the world's three Disneyland parks.

The United States owes the United Nations 1.5 billion dollars. It says that its quota is too high, which is probably true given its decline in the economic world league tables. A new quota should be negotiated. Despite that the United States has been charging the UN for the military actions which it initiates and commands. For the Somalia action, which it abandoned, it claimed 63 million dollars and got 61 million. American firms building what were described as "luxury villages" for US soldiers in Somalia claimed 30 million dollars and got it.

Quota defaulters used to forfeit their right to vote in the United Nations; but no longer. The US makes great use of its sole superpower status to bring the Security Council to demonise all and sundry; to punish what it calls "rogue states". They now include Iraq, Iran, Libya and North Korea while China is once again a minor demon to be "contained". Cuba remains demonised after 35 years. Terrorism is commonly adduced as the ground for demonisation, but neither the IRA nor Israel has been demonised. Clients' human rights records, like Saudi Arabia's, do not figure. There is no mystery here; each of those policies suits important sections of the home electorate.

Meanwhile, there are 100,000 American troops in the Far East, left over from earlier wars. The Chinese are not alone in considering them "an anachronism"—their phrase. Some other thousands were withdrawn from the Philippines soon after the corrupt Marcoses were ousted. The South Koreans, now also trying to emerge from decades of corrupt US-protected generals and presidents, were paying around one-third of the cost of the American presence until last month when their share went up. Korea will soon unify. How will the United States' recent roles, both in the South and in the demonised North, be viewed in the new unified country?

There are 37,000 United States troops in Japan. Japan's own defence spending is now the third highest in the world, yet it still pays all the American occupation costs. Seventy-seven per cent. of Japanese want to put an end to the US military presence; but the Japanese prime minister is today being required to take the mayor of Okinawa to court to force him to renew US military leases that 95 per cent. of Okinawans want to end. When the boil finally bursts—Japan will not put up with the indignity forever—what will happen? Japan could move within months to become the world's third nuclear military power; thus is proliferation fanned.

The general content of recent US foreign and defence policy has often been succinctly expressed as "Deter and defeat any sources of trouble", "Contain China", or "The secret of leadership is thefait accompli" as in the Dayton pressure cooker. Mr. Christopher himself, the voice, we often think, of the conciliatory end of the state-defence turf battle in Washington, said in June, First, America must continue to lead and engage". Good things had come from the end of the Cold War, he went on, but, only the US has the vision and the capacity to consolidate them". Of course, the Republicans put it even more clearly. Mr. Gingrich joyfully calls the US the world's military hegemon and says that the purpose of the military is to enforce one's will.

If those were just political slogans for a macho-electorate, we should not need to worry. But policy increasingly follows them and it is into fanciful and dangerous strategies that this deeply unequal relationship is sucking us. We can see what those strategies are going to be by looking at the weapons and technologies now being researched and developed. Above all, we must ponder the central position of automatically-triggered "pre-emption" in the capabilities being developed and procured—a capability being proposed even within NATO.

Procurements are no longer strategy led, let alone "threat led", if they ever were. It seems only too possible that threats are now being actively developed to suit the wonderful equipment that hungry industries are offering. The whole world is being destabilised by the avalanche of weapons being poured across it. Will the arms producers bleed Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to death?

The United States is also where we in this country get most of our intelligence, both true and false, including that on which our weapons increasingly depend. What will we do now that the CIA has been given the job of economic and industrial spying on its own allies? Will GCHQ collaborate in that and, if it does not, will US intelligence be withheld from us as it was in Bosnia when we criticised American breaches of the UN embargo?

The questions for us are these: is the rest of the world likely to accept a future of self-appointed US domination? Is that a future we should try to further? I believe not. I do not want to see this country tied any longer to the apron strings of a deluded giant. An Indonesian commentator has an interesting angle. He says that, like a demented uncle, the United States issues orders from a special room set apart from the main house".

Should we try to save Uncle Sam from himself? Of course we should: if not us, who? And if not now, when? It will be hard work. Last June, when Mr. Rifkind was in Washington, two receptions were set up for him in Congress. One senator turned up at the Senate reception and no Congressman at all at the House one.

But there is still hope. The polls show that more Americans approve of the United Nations than approve of their own Congress and courts; it is the administration and the Congress that are out of step. And, eventually, the American people may start voting again.

So what now are our permanent interests? They are the same as they always were; peace, freedom and prosperity. All of them depend on justice, both at home and abroad. The way to secure those interests is no longer to hold on to the coat tails of the strongest nation but to gather closely in equality among those who are the closest and the most similar. Our security future, as well as our economic and social future, lies in the European Union. Our future also lies in the international mechanisms which include the United States and Russia, and that means the United Nations itself and the neglected OSCE. NATO cannot be other than a partial and factional instrument. It is not because NATO wants peace in Bosnia that forces have to be sent; it is because the entire world does, and especially Europe where Bosnia is located. The nations of the world need the US not to lead them but to be one of them.

I conclude with a quotation from the great Anglicised American poet T.S. Eliot: last year's words belong to last year's language, And next year's words await another voice".

9.16 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I am sure we would all agree that if there is to be a second Chamber, with a vital role to play in our national life, it is important that we have among us people of the rugged independence of mind of my noble friend. I have always admired his courage in saying straight what he believes is relevant to the interests of the country. I am sure he will therefore understand that if in one way or another during my remarks I take the themes which he has mentioned I may not draw the same conclusions that he has drawn. But I certainly welcome the challenge which he has put to us to think deeply about the issues he has raised.

This short debate is in many ways an extension of the debate which has just preceded it on the IGC. Arguably, strategically, it is about even more significant dimensions to our future. My noble friend referred to the President's speech to both Houses here in Westminster. I found that a very powerful occasion and very reassuring in the way in which the President set out without equivocation his commitment to the special relationship between the United States and ourselves. The European Union meeting in Madrid this weekend is central to our considerations, and the elections in Russia later this month—my noble friend did not dwell on this—are also of profound significance.

On one point I am sure my noble friend and I do agree. We live in a world of uncertainties. If we are to face these uncertainties with any confidence, international co-operation in one form or another is central to all for which we must strive.

For western Europe and the United States the end of the Cold War has been a positive development for our security. Apart from the dangers of worldwide terrorism breeding on social and ethnic injustice and instability, a threat never to be underestimated in an age of readily available lethal technologies of mass destruction and extermination, including nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities, we in the United Kingdom are today more safe from military attack. There has been a massive political change for the better in central and eastern Europe, and there is now a real chance of extending the European Union to the east to secure this change. This is an opportunity which must never be allowed to become counterproductive by our failing at the same time to reassure Russia and, by so failing, provoking national paranoia, with all the hazards that could ensue.

At least for the time being, with US-Soviet rivalry gone, there is a new potential for the United Nations, but one that will only be realised if the necessary will is there, not least in the United States and Europe. In a highly interdependent world temptations to sideline the globally representative United Nations or to replace it de facto by, for example, NATO, could bring high long-term costs in terms of global security. It is not enough simply to put blue berets on essentially NATO forces, especially if there is any possibility whatsoever of confusion between peacekeeping and peacemaking on the one hand and peace enforcement on the other. The challenge is how we use our impressive NATO experience to support the development of the United Nations security capabilities and not destroy them. Meanwhile, the evidence of the new potential for peace is there in the work towards the resolution of conflict in central America, southern Africa, Cambodia, the Middle East and between Vietnam and its neighbours. With much of that I believe that my noble friend and I would agree.

Moreover, since 1990, there have been major advances in tackling the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In the 1980s the international community often seemed ambivalent towards proliferation. Iraq was a disturbing example of that in the late 1980s. But the Gulf War taught a hard lesson. In large part, because of US efforts, the nuclear programmes of Iraq and North Korea have been rolled back, the programme of South Africa has been dismantled, the Ukraine is a non-nuclear non-proliferation treaty signatory, and attempts are at last being made to impose constraints on dual-use technologies. Of course, much remains to be done especially on chemical and biological weapons; but there are genuine grounds for hope that the arms race is reversible and that the tide can be made to turn.

But the benefits have not been universal. The end of the Cold War has precipitated new crises. Conflict within states has taken on a new intensity in the wake both of the economic and political collapse of communism and of the failure of state building in too many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Here I have to declare an interest in terms of my own professional work with non-governmental organisations such as Safer World and International Alert.

The need to build up capacity for conflict resolution and pre-emptive diplomacy, as distinct from peace enforcement or peacekeeping, is immense. The imperative to regulate the too-often vicious and recklessly irresponsible conventional arms trade is undeniable. The European Union IGC gives a great opportunity for a European lead. Europe and the United States together could do a great deal to ensure a strengthened role for the United Nations.

Yet despite all that, the bonds holding the west together may be loosening. In the Cold War they had to be strong. There is now the temptation for individual states to believe that they can pursue their own interests without regard to common policies. It is a dangerous illusion shared by backwoodsmen of the United States Republican Party, the ultra-nationalists of the French Right and the jingoistic wing of the Conservative Party opposite, encouraged, I believe, to his shame, by the Secretary of State for Defence himself.

Described as the re-nationalisation of foreign and security policy, it is a profound danger because it appeals so readily to those searching for scapegoats for economic failure and because, with the Soviet bogey gone—although, as I have said, we cannot relax about the sinister appeal of nationalism within Russia itself—it is difficult to hold disparate nations together. It is a danger because in the end all of us would suffer.

I do not want to be apocalyptic. I do not endorse the gloomy prognostications of some analysts within the United States who argue that again in the end there will be war between the United States and Japan or France and Germany. There is every possibility to keep that unthinkable, but any drifting apart will make it much harder to resolve international dangers. In a volatile, unpredictable world it is vital that the US and the nations of the European Union stay together.

That is why we on these Benches welcome the United States involvement in the Bosnia peace force although there must be anxieties about the one-year time limit. That is why we welcome the decision by France to rejoin the NATO military committee and soon, we hope, the integrated military command. It is also why we welcome the strong US commitment and contribution to non-proliferation, to seeking a Middle East peace and to peace-building in Northern Ireland.

However, those positive indications are tempered by our concern at apparent weakening in the United States' resolve to tackle the global economic and social issues on which instability and conflict can breed. For example, it is frankly deplorable that just as the World Bank is putting right many of its failings of the past, the United States is reducing its allocations to IDA with its key role in helping the poorest in the world. Whatever the arguments for restructuring the finances of the United Nations system, with perhaps a ceiling on contributions for any single state, it is also indefensible that a backlog of United States contributions has been allowed to accumulate when the United Nations faces bankruptcy.

So, what are the priorities? Mine may not be exactly the same as those of my noble friend. We must take US complaints about inadequate burden-sharing seriously. It would be legitimate for the United States to resent being called in to save the day in Bosnia because we in Europe could not get our act together. Collectively, the European Union states spent 170 billion US dollars on defence in 1994 and had 2 million active service personnel, yet we are told that without the United States having troops on the ground, the countries of Europe could not police a ceasefire between different groups in Bosnia. There is clearly something wrong here and it is not an unwillingness of the European states to spend enough money on defence.

It is urgent that we take steps to ensure that within the context of an unbreakable commitment to NATO as a whole Europe can in future take appropriate effective action itself in its own region. The Western European Union is essential in that respect. It is geographically wider than the European Union alone with Norway and Turkey included, although Turkey remains a relatively weak partner until it can strengthen its commitment to human rights, and it is free of the complications of the four neutral states of the European Union. As part of the Western European Union, we must improve the cost-effectiveness of defence provision. Too much is still wasted on duplicating forces of little value in the new era.

While underlining the critical significance of our own UK defence industries and their acute need for a predictable, secure future, it is sensible to recognise the role of joint defence procurement with other leading WEU members. Declining equipment procurement and increasingly aggressive competition from United States manufacturers are already compelling defence companies to collaborate in order to share development costs and technology and to gain access to other markets but only, we hope, when that is rationally justified in terms of international security.

The reality of Franco-German collaboration at the political and industrial level should be a cause of concern for the United Kingdom. That is the case for our becoming full participants in the western European armaments group from its inception. By the same token as, for example, EF2000 workshare disagreements begin to reach a critical mass, the unavoidable question for us in the United Kingdom must be whether to collaborate in projects such as the Horizon frigate and the successor to EF2000 or whether to purchase off the shelf from the United States at the expense of our own industrial base.

It is not a contradiction between involvement in WEU and involvement in NATO. As NATO sets itself new targets and tasks, there is a growing realisation that a pillar of its future must be sound arrangements to conduct co-operation within the Western European Union. As part of that, the combined joint task force concept will have a central role in those circumstances where it is not obvious that there is a need for the US to become heavily involved. By such modifications to the chain of command, US-European relations and the Atlantic Alliance can become more flexibly dynamic and more adaptable to wider security requirements.

The argument that if Europe is seen as able to do too much itself, the US will do less is not convincing. The opposite is true. If—Bosnia is a very worrying example —Europe does not do effectively what it clearly could and should do, the relationship between Europe and the United States might well founder. Indeed, the moves in France towards a full return to NATO are a powerful example that the choice is not between Europe and NATO but between co-operation and disintegration of common security.

The 19th century was the European century as Europe dominated much of the world. The 20th century has been the Atlantic century as the US led an alliance of democracies to a dominant position in the world. The 21st century will have to come to terms with the rapidly strengthening position of East Asia and Japan, the potential of a united Korea, and the cut and thrust of South East Asia generally. Singapore already has a higher GNP per head than the UK. Overshadowing all else is the future economic and political weight of China. A possible model for the century ahead—one we should be foolish to ignore—is for it to be the Pacific century—a future shared by Asia and the US with a stagnant, feuding Europe left behind.

Already the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Council with leaders of all the Pacific Rim states may be as important as the G7 Summit, still dominated by European representatives. We cannot blame the US for taking the options seriously. But if we in Europe want to avoid being the odd one out, we must ensure that the vital Atlantic relationship is one leg of a trilateral design. On certain issues—most especially military security—the US relationship will remain fundamental for Europe. But on other issues—for example, trade, the environment and aid—our relationship with the ascendant economies of Asia will he every bit as essential.

I respect—indeed I agree with—those who argue that we should not be defensive about this. Such an approach, if rationally developed, should help to resolve the issue of putting all the burden of world leadership upon the US. That is precisely why we should positively encourage greater global involvement by the newly wealthy nations of Asia. They should become suppliers, not just demanders, of international security. Already, some are doing a great deal of peace keeping. Japan is a major aid donor, and others are beginning to follow Japan's lead.

Construction of the currently missing "third leg" in a trilateral design will be demanding, not least in terms of co-operation with different political styles and cultures. But it cannot be delayed. It is in the interests of a stable world, and I sense that many of our friends in the US understand that perhaps better than we in Europe understand it.

9.32 p.m.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, the two speeches we have heard have produced a wide-ranging discussion. I thank both noble Lords for participating in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, painted his rather gloomy view of the US. I am not prepared to agree with such a depressing view of it. Extraordinarily perhaps there was little mention of Europe in his speech.

Political and military relations between Europe and the United States are based on the twin pillars of NATO and the European Union. The North Atlantic Alliance remains the indispensable cornerstone of Western security, and the transatlantic link is a fundamental element of this. The US makes a vital contribution to NATO's defence structures and is also playing a key role in the alliance's political and military adaptation to face the new challenges of the post-Cold War period. US and European NATO allies have together a shared commitment to enlarge NATO to include the new democracies of the East, thus extending stability and security to the whole of Europe.

Relations between the European Union and the US are governed by the Joint Declaration agreed in 1990. These already close ties have been further strengthened by the adoption at the recent EU/US Summit in Madrid on 3rd December of a political declaration on "The New Transatlantic Agenda" and a detailed action plan setting out areas for future EU/US co-operation. I am arranging for copies of those documents to be deposited in the Library of the House.

Lord Kennet

About time!

Lord Chesham

My Lords, they are not ready yet.

The areas for co-operation cover a wide range of subjects, from promoting peace and stability, democracy and development around the world, to working together to promote transatlantic and global open markets. The agenda for EU/US co-operation closely reflects UK ideas and priorities, particularly on trade liberalisation and joint action to combat international crime.

The UK/US relations are based on a shared world outlook and a commitment to common fundamental values; for example, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Defence and security have long been the bedrock of our relationship. Shared ideals of peace and freedom are pursued through membership of NATO, the United Nations, G7, OSCE and many other bodies.

We are, of course, conscious of Russia's concerns about enlargement, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. We must convince the Russians that they have nothing to fear but much to gain from the enhancement of European security which enlargement represents. The key to this is the development of a good relationship between NATO and Russia. The agreement at the NATO ministerial meeting last week that Russia would contribute troops to the implementation force in Bosnia is, therefore, a very important development. We hope that it will lead to increased and enhanced co-operation between NATO and Russia on a wide range of issues.

We welcome the continued US commitment to the security of Europe which is demonstrated by her leadership of NATO and her very significant contribution to its defence structure. United States' participation in NATO is vital to European defence. There are 100,000 US troops stationed in Europe and the US also provides most of the alliance's strategic and substrategic nuclear forces. NATO membership also serves US interests. NATO is still the key instrument to defend the institutions and promote the ideals that America values.

In response to the point about proliferation, I should make it clear that the United States' counter-proliferation initiative is exactly that—a United States national initiative. However, Britain is very closely involved in the work that NATO is undertaking to ensure that our defences are fully capable of meeting the challenge of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This is an important and positive element of the alliance's adaptation to the new security environment. Its intention is to enhance international stability and the security of NATO members. It does not represent any change to the essentially defensive nature of the alliance.

NATO's policy remains to prevent proliferation or, if it occurs, to reverse it through diplomatic means. We are wholly committed to the existing non-proliferation regimes which have achieved considerable successes in preventing proliferation. The report recently endorsed by NATO Ministers fully recognises the importance of supporting and reinforcing these measures. At the same time, it is only prudent for the alliance to consider what capabilities it might need to defend its members from possible threats.

The world in which we live is changing fast. We are faced with new opportunities but also with new threats. The noble Lord drew attention to the changing roles of China and Japan and the emergence of the newly dynamic economies of South-East Asia and the Pacific Rim and to the effects of this on the regional and global balance of political and economic power. Europe and the United States have a responsibility as well as an interest in responding flexibly to change. Our aim must be to promote stability, democracy and prosperity around the world. The EU/US summit declaration of 3rd December acknowledged that and set out proposals for ways in which we might do more to support these aims.

Noble Lords have expressed their views about the importance of close political and military relations between Europe and the United States. I can only reiterate that the enhancement of transatlantic relations is a top foreign policy objective of Her Majesty's Government. The success of President Clinton's recent visit to the UK demonstrates the excellent state of the bilateral relationship.

More widely, US military links with Europe are of the utmost importance. A European security system without direct US involvement would be neither credible nor effective. We must not underestimate the importance of continued US commitment to the security and stability of Europe. As regards the European Union, the EU/US initiative complements the rich network of ties which already exist between ourselves and our European partners and the United States. It helps to set the agenda for future transatlantic relationships. I am sure that we all agree how important it is that that relationship should remain healthy and active.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may ask him a rather general question. Has he said anything in his speech which he could not have said 10 or 20 years ago?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I certainly have, because I came into this position in July.

House adjourned at nineteen minutes before ten o'clock.