HL Deb 09 July 1997 vol 581 cc651-60

4.40 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on the NATO Summit in Madrid on 8th July. Copies of the Declaration which was agreed, of the separate statement on Bosnia, and of the NATO/Ukraine Charter, which was signed this morning, are being placed in the Library of the House. The Statement is as follows: "The main outcome of the summit was an invitation to Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to begin accession talks with NATO with the aim of joining the alliance by the 50th anniversary of the Washington Treaty in April 1999. This is a historic decision, and a step of huge importance, which I am confident will be widely welcomed in this House and indeed across Europe and the alliance. We aim to negotiate a protocol of accession by the end of this year. This will need ratification by all NATO members, as well as by the prospective new members. We shall of course ensure that there is a full debate in this House before British ratification.

"Successful NATO enlargement has been a key objective of both the previous government and this Government. If we can get this right, it will make a major contribution to security and stability in Europe by bringing in countries of central and eastern Europe to one of our key institutions. Our priority was a manageable and limited enlargement, involving credible candidates with reliable democratic credentials and a real ability to contribute to collective security. As I said in yesterday's discussions, NATO is a military alliance, not a political club, and its collective defence obligations have to be taken with the utmost seriousness.

"We were, of course, conscious of the sensitivities of candidates who might not be asked to begin negotiations this time, and of others, like Russia, who might fear the consequences of enlargement for them. We also wanted to ensure that the NATO door would remain open for future enlargements. We therefore strongly favoured an enlargement of three countries at this stage.

"I should say a particular word about Romania and Slovenia, whose applications were especially closely considered, even though there was no consensus to invite them on this occasion. Both countries have indeed made remarkable progress. Romania's new government deserves particular congratulation on the steps taken since they took office last November. A number of allies would have liked to see Romania and Slovenia included among those invited at Madrid. All, including ourselves, saw them as strong candidates for any future enlargement. But we felt that Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary were the limit for current enlargement. I warmly congratulate them.

"There will of course be a financial price to be paid, mostly by the new members but also by existing members of the alliance. We believe this cost will be manageable. For example, there is no reason why Britain's contribution to NATO budgets, currently some £155 million per year, should rise significantly in real terms.

"There were, of course, other disappointed applicants. We recognised, for example, the progress achieved towards greater stability by the states in the Baltic region. NATO leaders agreed that they expected in the years ahead to extend further invitations to nations willing to take on the responsibilities of membership and whose inclusion would serve the interests of the alliance and enhance overall European security. We made clear our intention to intensify dialogue with aspiring members.

"NATO's relationship with all its partner countries also took on a new dimension with the establishment of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in May. Today's meeting with the heads of partner countries has been taking place under the aegis of the Partnership Council.

"Relations with two partners deserve particular mention. NATO leaders underlined the historic achievement represented by the Founding Act between NATO and Russia, signed in May in Paris. Good future co-operation with Russia is vital for Europe's security.

"In Madrid, we took a further important new step by signing with President Kuchma the NATO/Ukraine Charter, which provides for intensified consultation between the alliance and Ukraine. Ukraine's independence and sovereignty are vital to European stability and the agreement with her is a further move to consolidate her key role in Europe.

"We also looked at progress on the alliance's internal adaptation, in particular the development of a new command structure. The aim is to reach final agreement by the time of the December ministerial meetings. Against this background, we warmly welcomed Spain's readiness to participate fully in the alliance once agreement on the new command structure has been reached. I should underline that, while we want to see Spain contributing fully to alliance security, we are determined to ensure that the interests of Gibraltar are fully safeguarded in this process.

"We also discussed Bosnia, and expressed particular concern about the political crisis in the Republika Srpska. We called on those responsible to resolve their differences peacefully and demanded that the police in Republika Srpska comply fully with all provisions of the Dayton Agreement. We also again urged the leaders of the region to deliver those indicted for war crimes for trial at the International Tribunal in The Hague. This issue must not and will not be put on one side.

"Finally, we agreed on a further NATO Summit in April 1999 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Washington Treaty. That treaty has proved its enduring value in keeping the peace in Europe. But NATO has also shown its continuing relevance and its ability to adapt to changed circumstances. NATO must continue to evolve and change as the security situation in Europe changes. The agreement on enlargement at the Madrid summit is a further important step in that process. It is an agreement which meets all of the objectives we sought to secure. I commend it to the House."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.46 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, the House will, as usual, be grateful to the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal for repeating the Statement. Arising out of what the Prime Minister said in another place, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord whether he will be able to assure the House that he too will arrange for a full debate before the UK ratifies the protocol of accession. As the Prime Minister—and the noble Lord—said, it is an extremely important element which I am sure this House would like to discuss.

The extension of the NATO alliance to the east was an important objective for the past Government, as it is for this one, as the Prime Minister acknowledged in his Statement. We therefore particularly congratulate the Government on their role in bringing that objective to fruition. After all, the NATO alliance constitutes a raft of security in an unstable world. I believe that European security is still the key to world stability.

So, we certainly welcome the agreement, which enables Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to join the alliance, and we congratulate them, just as the Government do, on their imminent accession. It is equally important that the door is held open for other countries, notably Slovenia and Romania. We welcome the sentiments expressed in that regard also in the Statement.

I am sorry that the success of NATO expansion was not matched by success in expanding the European Union in the same year. After all, the two matters are intimately linked, as I am sure the noble Lord, the Lord Privy Seal, would agree. Does he agree that the Partnership for Peace initiative played an important part in the process that led to this step in the expansion of the alliance and that the Partnership for Peace initiative should continue to play a role in other countries which are not yet members or who may never become members?

Meanwhile, we welcome the noble Lord's confirmation that NATO is an organisation with a hard edged purpose and in particular that Article 5 of the original treaty provides that an attack on one member should be regarded as an attack on all. I wonder, therefore, whether he could expand a little on paragraph 7 of the Declaration which states: Admitting new members will entail resource implications for the Alliance. It will involve the Alliance providing the resources which enlargement will necessarily require". I wonder whether the noble Lord could tell the House what will be the real cost to the three successful candidates themselves? Equally important, can he expand a little on the assurance given in the Statement about the costs to our own defence budget?

The Statement says that there is no reason why our contribution to NATO budgets should rise significantly. Perhaps the Minister can explain why the Government are able to take that view and give us some reassurance, particularly in the light of the defence review that they are undertaking. Can he also advise the House whether our increased contribution—significant or otherwise—will reduce our capabilities elsewhere? If so, is that trade-off worth having? It may well be.

I noticed that paragraph 2 of the declaration refers to, building a European Security and Defence Identity within NATO". As the Lord Privy Seal is aware, we support that aspiration. However, can he explain to the House how that clear use of the word "within" squares with that part of the draft Amsterdam treaty which refers to possible plans to integrate the WEU into the European Union? I thought I detected a clear reluctance on the part of the Government to accept that aspiration during the course of the report to both Houses of Parliament on the negotiations at Amsterdam. However, since it is clearly possible that at some time the Government may have to choose between two incompatible objectives, can the Lord Privy Seal assure the House that, if presented with such an uncomfortable choice, it is the Amsterdam aspiration that they will reject? If he can give the House that assurance, can he explain to the House how, once the Government have signed the treaty, they will go about rejecting that aspiration rather than what is contained in the Madrid conclusions?

I am glad too about what was said in relation to Gibraltar. We fully support any efforts the Government make to bring Spain and France back into the integrated structure of NATO, but not at any price. I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will be able to assure the House in rather more specific terms than the generalities contained in the Statement about the interests of Gibraltar, that there will be no weakening of the constitutional guarantees to Gibraltar which this country has already given.

In relation to Russia, clearly we agree with the sentiments of the Statement that the relationship with Russia is an important one and it is clearly right that it played an important part in the deliberations in Madrid. Does the Lord Privy Seal agree that this is an extremely delicate path for NATO and the allies to tread? Russia must of course be seen not to have a veto over the activities of independent nations; but we must welcome Russia's emergence as a free nation and, increasingly, as a partner for the West. We must not discourage that process and must only hope that the Madrid participants have judged correctly what is clearly an extraordinarily difficult balance.

I particularly welcome what the Prime Minister said in relation to the Ukraine—a country whose geopolitical importance is becoming increasingly apparent. We welcome the special declaration in relation to Bosnia and, most notably, once again it gives me pleasure to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the role of British troops in Bosnia—a role about which I was able to learn at least a little when I was privileged to be a junior defence Minister and an occasional visitor to that unhappy country.

I wonder whether the Lord Privy Seal can tell us in particular whether there was any discussion in plenary session or marginally in the Madrid conference as to whether the United States is prepared to extend the deadline for withdrawal of its troops from the middle of next year. Quite apart from anything else, Bosnia has shown that NATO's European members can only proceed in conjunction with the United States of America if NATO is to be an effective alliance. Some of us may feel that Bosnia has been the most difficult test that NATO has faced so far in military terms.

Finally, we welcome what has been achieved at Madrid. However, as the Lord Privy Seal will be aware—I suspect none more so than he—the nature of threats to security is fast changing. The questions of the Russian Far East, for instance, and of central Asia go far wider than NATO's immediate geographical limits; they concern Russia and many of the south European and central Asian parts of the former Soviet Union. Equally, the risk of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is becoming increasingly serious. Can the Lord Privy Seal tell the House whether such matters will form an integral part of NATO's agenda between now and the next summit in 1999 and, indeed, at that summit itself? It is important that NATO continues to show that it can adapt to changing circumstances in good time.

From this side of the House we will do whatever we can to support what is self-evidently a good cause in an uncertain world.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the Statement as a further step in the transformation of NATO from the Cold War alliance towards the European security organisation. I regret that NATO slid towards that enlargement by a series of steps in the course of which we have granted Russia half membership of the organisation. We have followed the United States' lead and many of our European governments, including our own, have so far failed to explain to their public or their parliament the rationale for NATO enlargement as such.

Our always excellent Library obtained for me yesterday from the Internet one publication issued this year which actually sets out the rationale for enlargement. It is a US government report to Congress on the enlargement of NATO. So far the British Government have not provided anything similar to their Parliament or public and I very much hope that they will. We do not simply want a debate in both Houses of Parliament; we want an explanation of the overall approach to enlargement, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said, both of NATO and the European Union as to how those two linked processes contribute towards the construction of a stable European international order after the Cold War.

In that context we need to know the answer to a number of questions. What, if anything, is the role of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe? Does NATO begin with Russia as a half member to replace the OSCE? What is the future of the treaty on conventional forces in Europe, which will have to be amended? How far, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, suggested, do we see NATO in the future as a global alliance under US leadership or, alternatively, as a security organisation for this region?

I was in the NATO headquarters last Monday and was struck by the extent to which the alliance is already changing. They were talking about constructing extra wings to the building; about where they will fit in the Russian and Ukraine delegations and the others who will come. The Belgians, ever keen to make sure that they stay, are talking of offering a different site altogether within Brussels. That is fundamental change.

I am reluctant to accept, without comment, the suggestions in the declaration that it was our priority as the British Government that Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary should be the limit of the current enlargement. It is clear that that was an American priority and the British followed uncritically the American demand that there should be only three new members on this occasion because, they argued, only three would get through the Senate in terms of ratification.

I should like to express some unease with the idea that NATO operates by consensus. That is less and less clear. NATO operates by American leadership and by the Europeans accepting that they should follow. I express also a little unease in relation to the press comment about the Madrid European Summit; it related to the extent to which the British Government have appeared to be the main cheerleader for following the Americans whatever they say and criticising the French in public for the position in which they currently find themselves. That is partly their own fault, but it is in our interests that France should, following Spain, also be integrated into the alliance.

Like the noble Viscount, I should like to ask a little more about cost and burden sharing, in particular how far the cost will fall upon the new members. After all, it is not ideal in terms of their adaptation to democracy and economic growth that they should now be spending large additional sums on defence, let alone that they should be spending large additional sums on purchasing new major weapons systems. There is a good deal in the American press about how major American companies are currently doing their utmost to sell to the Poles, the Czechs, the Hungarians and others F-16s, F-22s and so on. That does not seem to be in their best interests.

Future enlargement is now clearly on the agenda. As the Statement suggests, we are talking about enlargement perhaps within the next two, three or four years; possibly by current members of the European Union, Austria, Sweden or Finland; certainly now that we have made half promises to Romania and Slovenia that they will be in the next round; and then, in the long run, there is the whole question of what we do about the Baltic States and the other south-eastern European states.

I hope that within the next few months the Government will provide us with their view of the future overall strategy which they will be pursuing not only under American leadership but also with their European partners towards the construction of a stable, new European international order and of how NATO enlargement as one of the aspects of that will contribute.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, speaking on behalf of their parties, for the welcome they have given to the outcome of the summit. I cannot forbear from making the point to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that occasionally he might concede that the Americans are right. It is also conceivable that we have arrived at an independent conclusion that the Americans might be right and that therefore it is in our interests, just as much as in everyone else's interests, that we and the Americans should pursue a common policy in relation to a given issue. On this issue, to use the kind of language that he used about the way in which our decision was arrived at and the way in which it was presented in Madrid is putting it much too high. The noble Lord had his debate yesterday on this point and indeed these views were expressed vigorously from different quarters of the House. I can only say on behalf of the Government that we do not recognise them and we reject the implications behind them.

I was asked a number of detailed questions, some of which I can answer. I was asked about costs. Precise details of the costs will be worked out now that we have a decision as to which countries should or should not join. I can tell the House that preliminary NATO work gives us confidence that the costs will be manageable, but we now have to confirm that. There will of course be costs for new members but it is very much in their interests for their economies not to be distorted by excessive defence spending. Enlargement will not require that. Our forces are already well suited to the alliance's strategy of reinforcement so we do not expect enlargement to mean significant extra costs for the United Kingdom. I cannot go further than that at this stage.

The noble Lord asked about the relationship between NATO and the European Union. The two organisations are totally separate. NATO will decide, on the basis of what it considers its common interests to be, which countries should be asked or invited to become members of it. The same is true of the European Union. The noble Lord asked about the relationship between NATO and the Amsterdam summit, particularly that part of it which related to EU-WEU integration. One of the important points the Prime Minister made when he returned from the IGC was that we preserved the primacy of NATO in European defence. That was the object of the exercise and that we succeeded in doing. We rejected moves towards a European Union common defence. We successfully rejected the integration of the WEU into the European Union unless and until we all decided otherwise. We ensured that common defence policy would be carried out by WEU and that it should respect NATO obligations.

I do not see the difficulty that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, was sketching out. The two organisations—the European Union and NATO—will no doubt develop. When they develop, it would be very foolish if one organisation paid no attention to what the other organisation was doing. But the idea that somehow we shall be forced, at some unspecified date in unspecified circumstances in the future, to take an as yet unspecified decision as between one and the other is one I would reject.

The noble Viscount asked for reassurances on Gibraltar. I give those reassurances gladly. The British policy on Gibraltar remains precisely the same.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said that we had not taken the opportunity to explain to people why NATO required enlargement. Perhaps I may read one paragraph of the communiqué: The Alliance recognises the need to build greater stability, security and regional cooperation in the countries of southeast Europe, and in promoting their increasing integration into the Euro-Atlantic community. At the same time, we recognise the progress achieved towards greater stability and cooperation by the states in the Baltic region which are also aspiring members. As we look to the future of the Alliance, progress towards these objectives will be important for our overall goal of a free, prosperous and undivided Europe at peace". Perhaps I may condense that into a sentence. The Government and NATO as a whole saw enlargement into eastern Europe as a potent force for attempting to ensure stability in that part of our continent. We took the view—and NATO as a whole took the view—that at this stage three was probably about right. We said that the doors may well remain open in future, particularly as far as concerns Romania and Slovenia, and we paid tribute to the progress that they had made and also to the progress that the Baltic states had made. It seems to me that that was a reasonable, sensible and balanced approach to the problems of enlargement and the problems posed by enlargement.

Noble Lords asked about a debate. Without consulting the business managers, I am sure I can commit the Government to having a debate in this House before integration. I am sure that would be right.

5.7 p.m.

Lord Wright of Richmond

My Lords, I wish to ask the Lord Privy Seal about one aspect of relations with Russia. Can the Government give any assessment, in the light of the Madrid Summit and in the light of the agreement with the Ukraine, whether they see any early progress in strategic arms reduction and limitation?

Lord Richard

My Lords, in the NATO communiqué there are one or two sentences in which we urge the Russians to ratify START II and commence negotiations on START III. The Russian response to that is not one I have yet seen. However, now that this enlargement decision has been taken, I hope that things may settle down a little and that it may fall on fruitful ground.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, raised an important point in connection with costs and the implications for rearmament in Europe. My noble friend has already dealt with the question of anticipated costs of membership, but it is generally agreed that the defences of the new members are not modern and in defence terms not adequate. Do I assume that in addition to the burden of paying for membership of the club, the new members will incur as an obligation substantial expenditure in equipping themselves with new and modern arms? If that is so, it would represent a burden on the part of those countries which, with their other obligations in terms of rebuilding their economies, could be very serious.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I recognise the point that my noble friend makes. These are essentially matters for decision by the countries concerned. It is not for us to tell the Poles, the Hungarians or the Czechs that it is not in their interests to do something which they clearly decided was very much in their interests and which they have been anxious to do for some time.

I cannot go further on costs than I did in my response to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, which is that we do not expect them to be crippling to the economies of those three countries. I believe I also said that we realistically hope that they will not amount to a great deal of increased defence expenditure on their part. There will obviously be some costs. They will have to adapt to the military structures of the alliance: they will have to accept a common command structure. There are a number of issues here which clearly have to be dealt with. If those countries are in favour of membership it would be very bold of us to say nay.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord gave an undertaking that this House will have an opportunity to debate the Statement. The question was put to him, but I was not clear as to his answer. I very much hope that there will be an opportunity for full debate on this extremely important matter.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I hoped that I was clear. I believe I was so bold as to say that I was prepared to give an assurance, without even consulting the business managers, that there would be a debate on the ratification of the Protocol of Accession. So there will be a debate and everybody will have a full opportunity to have their say.

Lord Judd

My Lords, clearly security and stability in Europe are about more than just military alliances. In view of the need to reassure those in Russia who see or choose to interpret the expansion of NATO as a threat, and in view of the need to have good, constructive and helpful relationships with the majority of those in the former communist empire who are unable to join NATO at this stage, was any time given in Madrid to discussing the role of the OSCE and how it can play a constructive part in overcoming these anxieties, even if they are only imagined, and promoting economic and social stability in the wider community?

Lord Richard

My Lords, the short answer is that I do not know. I shall try to find out and when I do I shall write to my noble friend with the information. The concerns that he expressed are perfectly valid and I believe they are shared by a large number of people, not excluding this Government.

Lord Rea

My Lords, can my noble friend say what the effect of this new agreement will be on the treaty for the reduction of conventional forces in Europe both on our side and the Russian side?

Lord Richard

My Lords, I think I can—when I find it. NATO tabled proposals on 20th February for the adaptation of the CFE treaty to the new circumstances in Europe. The NATO proposals tabled are compatible with the joint approach to CFE adaptation negotiations agreed by NATO and Russia and included in the founding Act. The NATO proposals are really two main objectives: one reducing the amount of arms in Europe as a whole; secondly, abolishing the old bloc-to-bloc structure of the treaty and moving to a system of national limits to reflect the new Europe. We believe that adaptation of the CFE treaty in this way will be a very important element indeed in the wider transformation of Europe's security architecture and in particular the evolving relationship between NATO and Russia. Negotiations on CFE treaty adaptation are indeed continuing in Vienna.