HL Deb 18 June 1997 vol 580 cc1229-32

2.57 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their plans to put to the British Parliament and public the advantages of the enlargement of NATO.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, Ministers will be reporting on the outcome of the NATO summit in Madrid on 8th and 9th July when the allies will invite one or more countries of central Europe to start accession negotiations. We shall continue to set out the case both in Parliament and in public for NATO enlargement, and the benefits of it, as part of our strategy for European peace and security.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that most people in this country are totally unaware that any proposals for NATO enlargement are currently on the agenda and that the very small number of people who are so aware are mostly either sceptical or opposed? Given that NATO is the foundation of British defence policy, does the noble Lord accept that the Government need to do a great deal more to explain the rationale for the proposals?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am not sure that I would put it quite as the noble Lord has done, but as compared with developments within, and the enlargement of, the European Union, the enlargement of NATO has been less a subject of public debate. Nevertheless, I think that the public are aware that NATO has helped to give us and our partners peace and security since 1949. The countries of eastern and central Europe share our aspirations for both security and democracy. The public will recognise that those countries have demonstrated their willingness to share NATO's collective responsibilities. It must be our responsibility to allow those countries emerging from totalitarianism the opportunity of joining NATO. Of course, the enlargement of NATO is only part of our approach to peace and security within Europe. Our relations with Russia and the Ukraine are also part of it.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House what military advantage Hungary and the Czech Republic can bring to the alliance?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the advantage of bringing such countries into the alliance—noble Lords will be aware that no decision has yet been taken about which countries—is to broaden security and the sharing in that security. The specific commitments of any particular country will need to be assessed by the allies as a whole, but it must be right that the countries which are committed to democracy and security in Europe can share in the responsibilities and the duties of membership of the NATO alliance.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, does my honourable friend agree—

Noble Lords


Lord Jenkins of Putney

I beg your Lordships' pardon. Does my noble friend agree that so far as this country is concerned the advantages of the enlargement of NATO are difficult to discern whereas the disadvantages and dangers are very real?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I understand why my noble friend is unaccustomed to addressing me in the form used in your Lordships' House. I sometimes find it difficult myself. On my noble friend's point about the benefits of NATO, I believe that the involvement of the eastern and central European countries in some sort of relationship with NATO must benefit us all and the peace of Europe as a whole. I trust that the dangers will be taken care of in terms of developing a much more positive relationship with Russia and with the other countries of the former Soviet Union.

Earl Howe

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware—I am sure that he is—that whatever decisions are taken at the Madrid summit there will be some difficult issues to resolve on the funding of NATO enlargement? Can the noble Lord give the House any up-to-date news on the NATO command structure and the progress being made towards reorganising it? Does he agree that that structural reorganisation needs to yield some worthwhile savings in order to mitigate the costs of enlargement?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Earl will be aware that we and our allies are looking for savings through the review of NATO's structure. However, the decisions on enlargement are not directly related to the cost assessment in that form. There have been various estimates of the cost. It has to be borne in mind that the costs of enlargement will depend on the number of countries to which NATO membership is extended and on the timescale. Furthermore, the costs will be spread over a dozen or more years and between 16 or 20 countries. I am not in a position to give up-to-date estimates of the cost until the decisions at Madrid are clearer.

Lord Grenfell

My Lords, can my noble friend give some assurance that when the time comes to negotiate the burden-sharing of the cost, which will be considerable, the new members' ability to pay will be most carefully and sympathetically assessed? Furthermore, if the United States Government, in order to be able to gain passage of the necessary legislation through the Senate, seek to reduce to the minimum the cost to the United States, is my noble friend aware that not only the burden falling on existing members will be very considerable but that, proportionately, it will be much larger on the new members who have to finance very important economic and social programmes which, in the long run, are a better guarantee of security in the region than is the enlargement of NATO?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, to some extent I agree with the final point my noble friend makes. Clearly, the expansion of NATO is secondary to the development of economic prosperity and democracy in eastern and central Europe. As far as concerns the sharing of the burden by the United States, the decision will be a collective one reached by all of the allies in NATO. That will become clearer following Madrid. The costs will be shared equitably. Part of the assessment of the criteria against which applicants are judged will be their ability to meet part of the cost, but the bulk of it may well fall on the existing members of NATO for the reasons outlined by my noble friend.

Lord Elton

My Lords, to revert to the form of address adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, does the noble Lord recognise that while he is always honourable he is not necessarily right? Does the noble Lord accept that there is a need for the public to be convinced of the rectitude of this policy which spreads into civil as well as military areas? Does he agree that this is a form of education which is required and which should be pursued?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, neither I nor any of my noble friends has ever claimed infallibility, and therefore I accept the first point. However, I believe that the whole question of peace and security in Europe, of which this is but one part, requires further explanation to the British public. I trust that when the decisions and the strategy are clearer—as is now the case in relation to the European Union—the Government will engage in a public education programme to help explain these matters more widely.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, given the understandable reluctance of the United States to accept Romania, how does the noble Lord balance the need to reintegrate France into NATO?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am not sure that the two matters are connected. The application of Romania will be decided against the same criteria as any other application. Decisions on French reintegration have already been taken. The two issues are not a trade-off.

Lord Rea

My Lords, is my noble friend completely assured that the addition of these eastern European countries to NATO will not encourage the emergence in Russia of nationalistic forces that we do not particularly wish to see?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, that is precisely why I said that the enlargement of NATO should be seen in a wider context in which the improvement of relations with Russia, the founding act and the accord between NATO and Russia must be regarded as an integral part. It would be extremely dangerous were the expansion of NATO to create negative reactionary moves within Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union.