HL Deb 05 June 1996 vol 572 cc1252-4

3 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their current expectations as to the timetable for the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which countries they expect to accede, and how they intend to involve Parliament in the process of negotiation and ratification.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, NATO has yet to decide which countries to invite to join the Alliance and when. NATO Foreign Ministers decided in December 1995 to consider the way forward at their meeting this coming December. Many of the details of the process of negotiating enlargement and ratifying any enlargement document have yet to be decided by NATO. The Government will, however, keep Parliament informed as appropriate.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer, but may I ask him whether the Government are worried that the process of ratification through the US Senate, which will be a great deal more open than the process of ratification through these Houses of Parliament, may lead to another situation in which we have marched all the way up the hill only to find that the US Senate is deeply reluctant to enlarge NATO security across Eastern Europe?

I have been impressed by some of the papers that are already available to the US Senate—in stark contrast to what has not yet been provided to this House. One of the papers which I have just seen, from the Rand Corporation, suggests that there must be a clear link between NATO enlargement and the enlargement of the European Union. Do the British Government also see a link? If so, how does that affect the likely timetable for NATO enlargement?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, there is not necessarily a link between the enlargement of the EU and that of NATO. They are complementary processes with similar objectives, but all the allies agreed that there should be no formal link. Both organisations are autonomous and decisions on NATO enlargement must be based on defence criteria.

We cannot be responsible for the information that is available in the United States or for any decisions that are made there. However, in September 1995 the Alliance produced an extensive study into the howl and whys of enlargement. A copy of that has been in the Library of the House for some time. All interested Partnership for Peace partners have received full briefing on it.

Lord Carver

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that if the membership of the North Atlantic Alliance is to be expanded in the way that is envisaged at present, it will be essential to modify Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which ensures that, to quote the words of the previous Foreign Secretary in April of last year, if a member of the Alliance is attacked in the morning, Britain is at war in the afternoon"?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord for that question. Under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, NATO allies agreed that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and that if such an armed attack occurs, each ally will assist the ally or allies so attacked by taking such action as is deemed necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain security in the North Atlantic area. I do not believe that that should he changed.

Lord Carver

My Lords, will the noble Lord admit that he has left out one important word, the word "forthwith"?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I do not have the word "forthwith" on my brief.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, does the noble Lord who is speaking for the Government agree that it is important to reassure Russia if there is to be enlargement to the east? In that context, can the noble Lord tell the House what plans the Government and their Western allies have for developing the special relationship with Russia that has been promised beyond the Partnership for Peace?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for that question. There was a meeting yesterday between NATO and Foreign Minister Primakov, after which Foreign Minister Primakov made positive statements and the Russians appear to be more willing to accept the fact that enlargement will happen. We particularly welcome Primakov's emphasis on the need to develop a closer NATO-Russia relationship. The UK has been at the forefront of efforts to improve Russia's relations with the Alliance. We are pleased with the practical co-operation between Russia and NATO which has developed in IFOR.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, what is the point of pushing the frontiers of NATO up against the Russian frontier and saying that it threatens no one when the Russians insist that they feel threatened by it? Is it not likely that they know best about that and that they will rearm and once again adopt a more military stance towards us in response to that feeling of being threatened? If that happens, what happens to the reduced threat, which was adduced a moment ago by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, as the reason for the reduced numbers in the British Army?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, we believe that enlargement will be a further step towards the Alliance's goal of enhancing security and stability throughout the Euro-Atlantic area within the context of a broad European security architecture based on true co-operation. That will also extend to new members the benefits of common defence and greater integration into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions and will help to protect their further democratic development. We do not believe that that is a threat to Russia. As I have already said, we are having great discussions with Russia, which now appears to accept that an expanded NATO will be a fact.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, although many of us agree with the noble Lord that the expansion of NATO does not constitute a threat to Russia, nevertheless it is important to secure at least its acquiescence if we are to avoid increasing tension in Europe. In those circumstances, what is the Government's reaction to what I believe was expressed by Marshal Grachev recently; namely, that there might be room for agreement between NATO and Russia provided that, while accepting those countries into membership, we did not put NATO troops at this stage on Russia's borders with Poland and Hungary?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, we shall, of course, take full account of Russian concerns and do everything possible to reassure Russia. There is no intention at this stage of stationing any NATO troops or equipment into any new members of NATO unless there is a threat such that it is appropriate to do so.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the prospective new entrants will bring with them a military capability which will balance the increase in the responsibilities and commitments of the other NATO partners?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, that very point is being discussed at the moment. Obviously, we shall have to consider such matters not only from the budgetary point of view but also in terms of compatibility with existing equipment.