HL Deb 14 March 1997 vol 579 cc619-42

3.51 p.m.

Lord Kennet rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy on the proposal that NATO should expand eastwards.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am glad that there are so many speakers and I am very sorry that our rules do not prove flexible enough to allow them to speak for more than five minutes.

There are two sides to this question: how we see it and how Russia sees it. Russia first. The Poles, Czechs and Hungarians want to join both the EU and NATO. Only last week President Yeltsin reaffirmed Russia's "sharply negative" attitude to their joining NATO. Is this the best kind of security we can give to the Poles, one that ensures Russia's enmity?

The United States argues that NATO expansion is not against Russia's interests. But that is not for us to say. Russia's interests are defined in and by Russia, not by us. That is what national sovereignty is about.

Poland and the others are part of the family of European nations. So is Russia. Poland and half-a-dozen others want expansion because they are afraid of one nation, Russia. But Russia opposes it because it is afraid of 15 nations already and would be more afraid of 20.

Has Russia the right to be more afraid than Poland? Poland has suffered more wrong from Russia this century than Russia from Poland. But already Russia is one versus 15, and that 15 includes the militarily most powerful nation in the world. Russia is also half-sunk in economic chaos, military impotence and political debility, largely because of the West's thoughtless insistence on immediate free markets in everything.

Nothing Mrs. Albright or Mr. Solana can say will persuade the Russians that two plus two makes three. The Russians are not imposing a veto on them making three; they just do not do so.

History is not bunk. We know perfectly well that there are potential Stalins, if not Hitlers, among the contenders for the succession to the ailing Yeltsin. Both the Duma and the Federal Council now have "anti-NATO" groups. The Russians are willing to talk to us about NATO expansion. But we should make no mistake here: this is not the willingness of an equal; it is the willingness of a hopelessly inferior negotiator to grasp at any straw of forbearance.

I think it is dreadful to realise the deafness of official Washington to these facts, which are obvious to all of us in Europe and to sensible people in the US too. We can bait the bear in his pit, but in the end he will rise up and bite us, or it will cost us all the ambulances of the UN and OSCE 10 times over to restore him to health. Europe will suffer first.

Mr. Rifkind worries about the new line drawn across Europe. But there is a line now. Limited expansion would move it east. Applicant-wide expansion would move it further east. Which is its most dangerous position? I submit it is that which comes closest to encircling Russia.

Ukraine is being hailed by Mrs. Albright as the United States' "strategic partner", and vast US funding—the third highest after Israel and Egypt—is going there. Russia calls all this destructive and provocative. Ukraine too opposes NATO expansion. And beyond, where the Secretary General of NATO makes his repeated swings, promising NATO science and NATO environmental protection, the distant voices of Kazakhstan and Kyrghizia urge the US not to he in such a dangerous hurry.

Now, our side of the matter. Mr. Rifkind has written that Russia's relationship with NATO is as important to peace in Europe as NATO's enlargement. Right. This much can be agreed by everyone and fits every sensible statement from all three parties here. But NATO enlargement is not free-standing. 1 remain astonished at the Government's continued claim that it might be. The future of Europe and of the whole international arms control system is involved, and that is not NATO's responsibility.

US insistence on expansion means Russia will keep open the option to re-arm, and this puts at risk most of the arms control agreements of the past 30 years: SALT, START, INF, CFE, CTB, probably the Non-Proliferation Treaty; also the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty on the continuation of which the credibility of Britain's Trident force depends.

The political ructions following even minimum enlargement would be legion. The Baltic states would be angry and frightened at their exclusion. The Romanians have only agreed to settle their dispute with Hungary because they thought it would get them into NATO. If they are excluded, will it hold?

Does Mrs. Albright's sudden notion of a NATO-Russia Council fit the bill, given that the Americans do not want a binding charter and the Russians do not want a non-binding one? It could only be a channel of military communication between the 18 nations of an expanded NATO, on the one hand, and the single nation of Russia, on the other—a permanent expression of tension and resentment. It would be the seventh wheel to the coach, and a square one at that.

With several highly sensitive European states outside it, it would not be an organ of pan-European security. In any case, we already have the OSCE, which includes all the countries of Europe, plus the United States and Canada, and has the relevant remit. Its authority should have been reinforced last December to deal with the present unnecessary crisis. Why was it not?

NATO expansion involves the remilitarisation of Europe. Look at the proposals the various arms manufacturers are making to possible new members—5 million dollar deals here; 1 billion dollars there. The United States has also, outside NATO, been developing bilateral military relations with governments as various as those of the Ukraine, Hungary, Moslem Bosnia and Albania. "That is no concern of ours", say the Government. Why not?

Expansion would affect all our economic futures because this remilitarisation would be going on at the same time as we start admitting the same countries to the European Union. The cost estimates for NATO expansion are now numerous and contradictory. They are mostly far too low to command confidence. The Washington Post calls the latest official figures of the United States "enlargement on the cheap". These last do not cover new weapons at all, but they do double the NATO bureaucracy. Above all, they do not include the costs of our new military build-up against the new Russian build-up which we must confidently expect if we do it. There is value for money!

NATO expansion would also affect the viability of political Europe. It would not be the "new", more European, less military, NATO we were once promised. It would still be a US-led military organisation, as always. During the Cold War, this leadership was a military necessity and the democratic deficit was unavoidable—now, no longer.

I turn lastly to the question of commitments. Last November I inquired after the verbal commitment not to expand NATO made by Mr. Major as Foreign Secretary and Mr. Baker as his American opposite number. The Russians allege this verbal commitment, and HMG tacitly admit it. Does the Foreign Secretary's word no longer commit us?

There has of course been the electioneering commitment given by President Clinton, without any consultation with his allies, to central European ethnic groups. This cannot bind any other government and we are as much free agents in this matter now as we were two years ago.

Has any European Parliament approved NATO expansion? The Foreign Office does not even know whether any have so much as discussed it. Expansion has had a shamefully brief airing in both Houses of our own Parliament. I have asked quite a lot of questions. But, to put it mildly, there is no consensus that this should be done: by no means is it a "done deed" if democracy means anything. Perhaps the Minister will tell us why Parliament's opinion has not been sought.

Usually any suggestion in this House that the United States may be less than perfect is greeted on the government side with the primmest of pursed lips. But now that a Cabinet Minister has expressed his determination to stand firm against "American imperialism" at a semi-public meeting, I feel released from the customary inhibited dictions. The development of a "Clinton and Albright are always right" culture in this country would be no kindness either to us or to them.

Look: the walls have been down six years now, and the flowers should be out. Why should we want to continue an anachronistic transatlantic military leadership? We should want the right of political equality for sovereign states under the law, unless and until conscious and democratic actions are taken to merge sovereignties.

4.2 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, with the end of the Cold War, it was assumed that the Soviet threat had gone away. The Visegrad countries do not share that view: they feel vulnerable to a Russia which both for nationalist reasons and for economic self-interest would like still to dominate them. They know, as NATO does, that the Russians are thinking strategically. They are building nuclear submarines and weapons and new fighter aircraft with the added incentive that Russia is rapidly increasing its claim of arms sales in the world market (11 per cent. in 1996) and has no inhibitions about proliferation.

The Russians still maintain, despite much publicised troubles over money elsewhere in the army, their strategic missile forces at a high level. Indeed, General Rodionov, the Defence Minister, actually referred to NATO intelligence reports which say, he says, that although the general purpose forces of the Russian army do not present a danger, its strategic nuclear forces are at full combat readiness. It is too soon, therefore, to write off the need to deter a possible Russian threat and it will not do to throw the Visegrad countries back into their only-too-willing arms.

Russia knows that the Visegrad countries are not seeking allies in an offensive war but insurance against threats, actual or subliminal. So what are Russia's objectives? We need to remember that Russian military doctrine, as defined by General Lobov, the arms control specialist, advocates reflexive control (the art of manipulating the actions of an opponent), military cunning and maskirovka. Thus, they will try to prevent enlargement in several ways: first, by playing on our fears and by claiming that we shall, if we go ahead, destabilise Russia. Primakov told Chatham House recently that, if agreement could be reached to freeze all new admissions, then it will be possible to speed up democratic reforms in Russia". Next, they are bargaining, arguing that enlargement requires revision of the CFE Treaty (already agreed in principle) and START 2 (still not ratified by Russia) and a new package for START 3.

Next, in any treaty with NATO they will argue for a veto and make stipulations on the enlargement process. Primakov said on 7th March that any documents regulating Russian-NATO relations must provide the guarantee that NATO will not extend its military infrastructure (a very broad term) into the territory of new members. I hope that NATO will firmly retain its right to deploy, although it will obviously exercise it with great restraint. Russia, on the other hand, has established military bases in every CIS country, including a reluctant Georgia. Russia is not exactly alone.

All those activities are a mixture of shadow-boxing and hard bargaining. What is more disturbing is the Russian strategy to neutralise NATO itself and, above all, its Atlantic dimension. Until recently the tactic was to advance the claims of the OSCE, that toothless and amorphous organisation, to replace NATO as, the only collective security system free from demarcation lines". But now we have the Russian honeymoon with the European Union. On the agenda of Jacques Santer and Wim Kok on a visit to Moscow on 3rd March to discuss the economic agreement with Russia were European security and NATO enlargement to the east and security and stability in Europe. Both the Germans and the French have been strongly advocating a defence role for the EU which would embrace the Western European Union. That would suit Russia well. It would precipitate a US withdrawal from Europe, and that would be the end of NATO and, I submit, the beginning perhaps of a new German-Russian axis. The Visegrad countries fear that too. We cannot afford not to enlarge, although I well recognise that it will be extremely difficult.

4.6 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for introducing this important subject for a brief exchange of views today. This debate has been going on in the United States, in Russia and in eastern Europe for a long time and at a profound level. But there has been very little discussion of it in western Europe. Perhaps it is characteristic that we should be having this debate on a Friday afternoon in a House of Lords that can scarcely be said to be bursting at the seams; yet this is one of the most important and strategic issues facing our country, its allies and partners at the moment. Together with the debate about the future political structure of the European Union, it will settle our security and stability for many years to come. It needs careful, profound and calm analysis of where our interests lie.

The first thing to be said is that there must be no Russian veto on the enlargement of NATO. We sometimes forget—and perhaps need reminding—that we won the Cold War. We should not be ashamed to say so—not in any sense of triumphalism, but as a matter of fact. In the light of the noble Lord's somewhat sad phobia about the United States of America, we should perhaps remember that we won against the Soviet Union under the leadership of the US. One of the reasons we fought the Cold War for many years at great cost was that in eastern Europe there were captive nations whose freedoms had been totally removed by the hegemony of the Soviet communist empire. Now that those states have been freed by NATO, do they not have the right to choose where their future security lies? If they choose as their security structure the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation why should they not apply to join it? Do we have any moral right to refuse them admission to the club?

We must also ask ourselves not only what benefits the countries of eastern Europe but where our interests lie. In a report submitted to the US Congress as part of the Fiscal Year 1997 Defense Authorization Act it was suggested that the reason for the enlargement of NATO was that it would provide a stronger collective defence for the West, that it would improve burden sharing in NATO and that it would foster democracy in eastern European countries. We must test those arguments. We must not accept them but we must not reject them out of hand. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said, there will be costs. No one denies that. The enlargement of NATO will not be a free lunch. We shall all have to pay a little towards it. These are important matters for the security of this country and the security of our allies and they must not be vetoed by the Soviet Union—that was a Freudian slip; I mean by Russia or anyone else.

I come now to the second part of the question which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, perhaps significantly, took first. I agree with the noble Lord and with most people who have seriously studied the problem that the need for security arrangements in Europe and the whole process of the enlargement of NATO, if it takes place, must take full account of the concerns of the Russians. There will be no long-term stability or security in Europe without the collaboration and good will of the Russians. In Russia there are real concerns. Recently, I had an opportunity to discuss the problem of enlargement with a group of senior Russian generals. It is true that they have serious concerns. It is not just political posturings. These are the concerns of experienced military officers. Some may say that they are the perceptions of a defeated and demoralised nation. However, as anyone who has ever had anything to do with strategic matters will know, perceptions are as important as realities. They certainly are in this case.

Of course, there are many difficulties in the way of enlargement. It raises complicated issues which we do not have time to go into today. But this must not become another hawk-dove argument or an argument between cold warriors and peacemakers; it must not become a situation in which the Russians are regarded as the reformed characters of Europe and the United States as the great Satan. There are important political, strategic issues to be analysed, and those issues involve the national and collective security of this country and its allies well into the next century.

We must not rush to enlarge but we must not be frightened of doing so. From what I have heard I believe that the Government and their military advisers fully understand the problems and are dealing with them sensibly and calmly. I hope that when the Minister comes to reply he can reassure the House that at the NATO summit meeting in Madrid in July Her Majesty's Government will use their still very considerable influence to ensure that NATO is neither intimidated by pressures from outside the alliance nor stampeded into premature action by pressures from within.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should explain that the significance of my taking the Russian case first was that I thought that it was less well known in this House and in the country than is our own.

4.14 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, this is an important Question that demands very serious consideration. As with so many matters that are the subject of political debate, one must be aware of perception as well as reality. I hope that the Government have learnt the lesson of the Falklands crisis where the realities of a minor defence cut were perceived by the Argentinians as a lack of will to defend those islands. With regard to NATO expansion, we need to be aware that what may be seen as a minor adjustment of NATO's sphere of influence to give some peace of mind to a few small nations in eastern Europe may be perceived by the Russians as threatening.

I, too, should like to ask the Government a few questions. First, do the Government realise that the two most significant events in Russia's history are the invasion by Napoleon and the invasion by Hitler? Are the Government aware, for example, of my pride to be associated with the city of Manchester which was twinned with Leningrad during what the Russians call the Great Patriotic War? I remind your Lordships—although many of you will not need reminding—that Leningrad survived one of the longest sieges in military history. Are the Government aware of the debt that this country owes to the people of Russia and the Red Army for stopping Hitler at the gates of Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad, defeating the German army at the battle of Kursk and driving it back past Berlin?

Can the Government put the unfortunate history of the last 50 years behind them? Can they consign it to the dustbin of history and build a new and better relationship with the people of Russia, building on their perception of the two most significant events in their history when we, during the Napoleonic wars and the Great Patriotic War, were effectively on the side of the Russian people?

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, this is a very serious question. One of the difficulties in considering the question is that it is in terms of what one might describe as military situations. We need to be aware that mass unemployment is afflicting virtually the whole of the Northern Hemisphere to a magnitude that we have not seen since the 1930s. We need to learn from the experience of the 1930s that that mass unemployment led to armed conflict: what we call World War Two and what the Russians call the Great Patriotic War. We need to address our minds, over the next few years, to the problem of mass unemployment without resorting to the armed conflict that existed in the 1940s.

4.17 p.m.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, like other speakers in this debate, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet for introducing it. I share his regret that we have such a small amount of time available to discuss one of the most important foreign policy issues facing us today.

I have to say though that I do not share what I see as an over concern for Russia's susceptibilities expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. We must take into account the fact that whereas the Russian people fought bravely in the Second World War against Hitler, it was their own government, the government of Stalin, who killed far more Russians than Hitler ever did. This sad arithmetical fact must guide our counsels in the years to come because if we appreciate it, how much more so do the people of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary who soon will be invited, I hope, to assume NATO membership?

Both Czechoslovakia and Hungary were invaded in recent years by the Soviet Army and so, of course, was Poland as a result of a breach of the guarantee given to Poland by this country in March 1939—not to mention the promises made by this country at Yalta in 1945 that Poland would have free elections. Poland did not have free elections in any shape or form until after the 1989 changes.

So we must, I believe, not only take into account Russia's susceptibilities but also those of the prospective new members. Very recently, it was seen to be in Russia's interest and Russia was entitled to protect a complete ring of buffer states surrounding that country. Only recently was Russia left to its own devices to defend its own enormous territory with its own still huge resources.

I believe that hardliners will not be strengthened as a result of the enlargement of NATO. On the contrary, I believe that the hardline view in Russia today, whether communist or patriotic, would be strengthened if it were shown that we in the West lacked the resolve to fulfil the pledges that we have made to the Visegrad countries. If we were to falter in that, it would encourage the Gennady Zyuganovs of the new Communist Party in Russia and those who put forward an ultra Right-wing point of view.

We are not trying to bait the bear. On the contrary, I believe that we should hold out the hand of friendship to the Russian nation and the Russian people. If we cannot persuade them this year, we must persuade them next year that we mean them no harm; we certainly mean not to encroach on their territory; and we believe that they have vital interests in Europe which they must be entitled to pursue. But they do not have the right to dominate the countries of central Europe as they used to until very recently.

We believe that Russian public opinion, outraged as it might be at the moment at the idea of NATO's expansion, will be calmed once we can complete an agreement or charter with the Russian Federation and with the Ukraine. It would be dangerous to Russia if we were to leave central Europe, including the Ukraine, in a military vacuum, with nothing to hold on to and nowhere to go. At least with the alliance with NATO, Poland and other countries, even with the special relationship with the Ukraine, Russia's neighbours will be kept within a firm alliance and with a firm discipline of common sense.

In short, we do not want to bait the bear; we want to embrace the bear. That can best be done by NATO enlargement and by a separate track of reassurance and co-operation with Russia. In that way we shall succeed in bringing about peace in Europe, which, for the whole of this century, has been so difficult to come by.

4.22 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, we all look forward to discovering where Her Majesty's Government stand on the vital issue of NATO's expansion eastwards, and how they intend to put their policy into practice. Perhaps I may add my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, upon introducing this Unstarred Question. It is an act of public spirit, for which he is well known. I include in those congratulations the honourable member for North Tayside in another place, who introduced a similar debate in another place on 26th February of this year.

I declare two interests. It was my honour and my privilege to serve in NATO for six years as an armoured troop commander and an armoured squadron reconnaissance commander. It is always pleasant to be part of a successful team. NATO was a success story. It is a success story. I trust and hope that it will remain a success story with suitable modifications.

My second interest is that I live and work in the Baltic states. I live in the northern state, Estonia, which could be regarded, if NATO does not expand eastwards, as a possible flashpoint. One has only to visit the River Narva to know that that river has throughout the centuries run with blood—the blood of all nations. I hope that will not happen again.

I wish to see NATO extended to all the countries of central and eastern Europe so that 100 million people can enjoy the security that so many of us in Western Europe take for granted. I read with interest, but not much enthusiasm, the speech of the Minister of State, the honourable Member for Upminster, in another place on 26th February, who said: I see no way in which we could not enlarge NATO. I do not believe that it would he right for us in the west to deny the countries of central Europe the right to join an organisation … We cannot deny them a guarantee for their security that they desire and desperately need".—[Official Report, Commons, 26/2/97; col. 274.] My question for Her Majesty's Government is: why are they so negative and why are there so many double negatives? If I were standing at the Dispatch Box I would say, "We must enlarge NATO at the earliest opportunity. We do so with enthusiasm and relish. We must urge all the countries of central and eastern Europe to join NATO as soon as they have met the criteria and if they wish to do so. We must be ready at all times to prepare them and to give them the guarantees of security which they so earnestly and desperately desire.".

The noble Lord opposite must answer this question: where do the Government see the borders of Europe? Do they extend from the shores of the Atlantic to the Urals or from the shores of the Atlantic to the River Neva? Do they extend from Murmansk to Malta? Once that question has been answered, the rest fits into place.

I shall not bore your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, can state the case about the Stalinist domination of Europe far better than I; he is a distinguished historian. I look forward to seeing in the Imperial War Museum a permanent presentation on the Holocaust, which affected Europe throughout this century.

Perhaps I may make a point about the borders. Since November 1996 the draft doctrine on delineating the borders between Russia and Estonia has been waiting on the desk of Secretary of State Primakov. Why has he not signed it? I believe that there are four reasons. First, Russia is not yet psychologically ready to renounce her imperial past. Secondly, they are using it as a tool to block the eastern European nations' integration with the European Community and NATO. Thirdly, there is a balance of forces within Russia which are jostling for power.

I turn to the July summit in Madrid. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will take the decision to support the first wave of nations into NATO; that is, the Czech Republic, the Hungarian Republic and the Polish Republic. Furthermore, I hope that they will lay the foundations for the second wave, which should include the Baltic states.

I know that time is pressing, but before concluding I wish to quote four words of Estonian, which I will translate. To answer the question, "Should NATO expand eastwards?", I answer yes and the words, "mida varem seda parem". Those words translated mean, "as soon as possible".

4.28 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I am tempted to match a few words of Estonian with a few words of Russian, but I shall resist. I cannot claim any special knowledge about NATO or its expansion. However, I do have experience of working in Russia. For the past four years I have regularly travelled to Russia for my employer, and I am involved in the exploration and production of oil in western Siberia and other parts of Russia. I calculate that I have taken more than 100 domestic flights on Aeroflot or other Russian airlines. While that cannot be described as a qualification, I believe that I have earned the right to speak about Russia.

Over the past decade we have seen changes in eastern Europe which were unimaginable in earlier times. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been a progression in the integration with western institutions in a variety of ways. In 1991 Russia joined the OSCE and two or three years ago Russia and Croatia joined the Council of Europe. I am aware that some have criticised this move, saying that the Council of Europe's democratic and human rights credentials have been sullied as a result of this expansion. Nevertheless, it is a progression and integration which I believe is a good thing.

Today we are debating the expansion of NATO, and this goes hand in glove to a certain extent with discussion of the expansion of the European Union itself. This expansion and progression are a tortuous process. There is nothing inevitable about it and there should be a large consideration, although not an overwhelming consideration, given to how the Russians view this integration process.

On 20th February this year Madeleine Albright arrived in Moscow with the daunting task of persuading the Russian leaders to drop their objections to the admittance of new members to NATO. On the day she arrived, the communist speaker of the state Duma, Gennadii Seleznev, said that NATO was an instrument of the cold war, and we have only just learnt to live without the cold war; while Boris Berezovskii, the Deputy Secretary of Russia's National Security Council, said that NATO expansion is a totally aggressive decision with regard to Russia and that it is also exceptionally dangerous for the West itself.

On the one hand, therefore, we have the US officials mainly insisting that NATO expansion will happen with or without Russian agreement. On the other hand, we have almost the entire Russian political elite united against the expansion of NATO. It is difficult to think of any other subject on which they are united.

A couple of days ago I obtained a copy of a report to the US Congress about the enlargement of NATO. As one might expect, it was a polished sales document. Noble Lords may be interested to know that I took it off the Internet. It was easy to download. This document makes a convincing case, ultimately, that NATO should indeed be enlarged, but it does not in any way fully reflect the depth of Russian opposition.

There are complex issues of prestige, fears and incentives motivating Russian politicians. The expansion of NATO would be an act of exclusion for Russia, and, on the other hand, the expansion of NATO without some face-saving deal would be an even greater act of exclusion. Russia has a choice to opt for the lesser of two evils.

One issue which does not carry weight with the Russian politicians is the worry of the Poles, Czechs and Hungarians that in 10 years, say, Russia could return to a threatening posture. Whatever one's view about the likelihood of this happening, the Russians themselves pay no attention to this argument. Their retort is to argue that the best way to ensure that Russia will not pose a threat is to let Russia itself into NATO, or indeed to dismantle NATO.

However, I believe that we in the West cannot ignore this argument. I was struck by the quote from the President of the Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, on 20th February. He said: Russia pretends that there is no independent Ukraine. The status of Ukraine … cannot be taken for granted". He went on to recall Polish-Russian history as a possible model for Ukraine—a history which began with a war in 1921 and ended with the annexation of a large part of the country in 1939.

Tremendous diplomatic skill will be required by the right honourable Mr. Rifkind and Mrs. Albright for this idea to move forward. Ultimately, it is an idea which deserves our support.

4.34 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for giving your Lordships a chance to debate this most important issue, albeit, as other noble Lords have said, in a time-limited debate at the bottom of the list of business on Friday. How much lower can one get in your Lordships' House? In any event, we are getting a chance to debate the matter.

I declare my interest in that my wife is Polish. I shall speak only of the interests of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary being admitted to NATO, with the emphasis on Poland because that is the country which I visit every year, sometimes two or three times a year.

The objection to those nations being admitted to NATO comes from Russia, although, as I remember it, in 1992 President Yeltsin, in a visit to Warsaw, said to President Walesa of Poland that he had no objection to Poland joining NATO. Thereafter, he changed his mind, or somebody changed it for him.

It seems to me to be extraordinary that Russia should consider herself to be threatened by countries in central Europe. I gather that Russia even speaks of encirclement which, for a country which stretches from the Baltic to the Islands of Japan, is frankly preposterous.

Let us look at the facts. Russia has been attacked twice in this century. We have heard about that from the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, although he talked also about Napoleon. Both times Russia was attacked by Germany and I should say in parenthesis that one might reasonably say that the Germany of today is unlikely to repeat the performance. In the same period, Russia has invaded Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Afghanistan. I think that that completes the list; I am not quite sure. The Red Army occupied the whole of central Europe for 45 years after the Second World War. If Russia feels threatened, one can only wonder how threatened those other countries feel.

Just over a year ago, I attended a discussion with Polish Members of Parliament one of whom, Professor Wiatr, is Minister of Education. The professor observed that at present, Russia was not going to invade or move against Poland but he said also that Russia did not want Poland to be in NATO because she wanted to keep open the option of invading Poland. That is the view of a man who, before 1989, was a supporter of the Communist Government in Poland. Therefore, one must suppose that he knew what he was talking about.

I do not understand why, in certain circles, the interests of Russian security come before the interests and security of her neighbours. Poland does not threaten Russia; nor does Hungary or the Czech Republic. They merely ask for a reasonable guarantee that they will not be invaded again by anyone.

Let us suppose that those countries are not admitted into NATO. What then, my Lords? Are we to sit on the sidelines once more while a major power, Russia or any other country, carves up those ancient countries to suit itself?

As a result of the Second World War and the Treaty of Yalta, Poland lost 52 per cent. of her national territory. She was then effectively subjugated by the Soviet Union in spite of the rather feeble protests of her western allies. I can think of no other country which was on the winning side and was so heavily penalised. Indeed, Poland was treated as a defeated nation in spite of her unprecedented contribution to allied victory. Tobruk, Monte Cassino and the Warsaw uprising spring instantly to mind. But there were many other occasions. Millions were uprooted and expelled from their homes in eastern Poland, and my own mother-in-law was one of them. Most of those people resettled in the annexed German territories from which, in their turn, millions of Germans were expelled to make room for them. That was a crime against humanity on a vast scale.

I must say to your Lordships that Poland did not ask for or contribute to that huge displacement of her national frontiers. That was imposed upon her. In those circumstances, do we not owe Poland a belated debt and at least a guarantee of her right to live within those borders which we, along with the Soviets and the Americans, dictated to her. From my experience today, I can say that the Poles are realists. They do not seek more than they now have, which is a great deal less than they used to have. But they do not seek to reverse the results of the historic crimes against their nation—partitions and so on. They seek only security within their present frontiers and consider that membership of NATO is the best guarantee that they can have.

4.34 p.m.

Lord Desai

My Lords, I must add my gratitude to that of other noble Lords and thank my noble friend Lord Kennet for addressing this issue this afternoon.

The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has said already that there is much discussion in the United States and Russia but not very much discussion here. First, I wish to point out a very significant article which appeared in the New York Times on 5th February. That was by George Kennan. As we all know, he more or less invented the strategy that the US followed and which ultimately led to NATO and the Cold War. The article was titled, "A Fateful Error". Mr. Kennan puts forward his view and stresses that it is a view which is shared by many other people who know about the subject. He says, The view, bluntly stated, is that expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era". Although these points have been made, I wish to quote Mr. George Kennan again as to why he thinks in that way. He goes on to say: Such a decision may he expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking. And, last but not least, it might make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to secure the Russian Duma's ratification of the Start II agreement and to achieve further reductions of nuclear weaponry". I repeated that only because here is someone who has not only thought a lot about the subject but who was also very active in the construction of the cold war strategy; and he thinks that it was a "fateful error".

In its editorial on 17th February, when Madeleine Albright was beginning her visit to Europe, The Times said, basically: The most urgent reason for Europeans to rise to the Albright challenge is that the centrepiece of her European strategy, the enlargement of NATO by 1990, is dangerously misjudged. Far from enhancing the security of the European continent, this imminent decision risks creating fresh sources of insecurity, inviting confrontation with Russia and, by weakening Nato's military credibility, impairing the Alliance's capacity to respond to new dangers that wiser policies might avert". I have dealt extensively with quotations from the general debate because, like many other speakers, I am not an expert on the matter. However, I read about it. When I read about it I find myself rather alarmed. I have to add that I am equally alarmed about the enlargement of the EU, but we will leave that matter to another day. Indeed, I believe that the enlargement of the EU will destroy the European Union both economically and politically but, as I said, we should leave that to another day.

However, it is quite true to say that the countries of central and eastern Europe have legitimate security needs and that they also have a sovereign right to join NATO if they want to do so. There is no argument about that. But the result of leaving the Ukraine, Byelorussia and the Baltic States out of NATO expansion, with some countries coming in while others do not, is that it is not quite clear why the line is being drawn and where it is being drawn. However, I shall leave that for the time being. We already have the North Atlantic Co-operation Council and "Partnership for Peace". It is not as if those countries have not been made welcome. To go beyond "Partnership for Peace"—and I emphasise the words "to go beyond"—would be to go where the militaristic element would come into the debate. Let us leave it at that level and encourage Russian democracy. If Russia ends up a democracy, that would be the best guarantee for European security.

4.43 p.m.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Kennet for persisting in his efforts to give these issues an airing at a time when many people's attention is fixed almost exclusively on domestic politics. International relations is a difficult subject and one is inclined to defer to the opinions of experts. However, occasionally an issue arises which ought to be accessible to anyone who considers the matter without prejudice. I believe that this debate on the proposal that NATO should expand eastwards is just such an occasion, and that common sense dictates that the proposal should be strongly resisted.

Some years ago, the West was surprised when the old autocratic and corrupt Soviet leadership was replaced by a new generation of urbane, sophisticated and highly civilised politicians, eager to bring the Cold War to an end and to assume amicable relationships with the West. We seemed to be entering a new phase of that perpetual cycle wherein Russia alternates between Europhobia and Europhilia. Historically, the phases of the cycle have been long ones; and so the advent of a new leadership promised to be the beginning of a long period of friendship, or at least of mutual tolerance. It was recognised, even by the staunchest opponents of Soviet Russia, that we could do business with such persons as Mikhail Gorbachev, Edward Shevardnadze and their spokesman Genady Gerasimov.

However, instead of supporting these politicians, we treated them with exaggerated caution and they were replaced by others of a coarser nature. Now we seem set to repeat our mistakes. By threatening the expansion of NATO, we are inciting the fears of the Russian military establishment whose protagonists seem set to make headway in Russian domestic politics and we are giving ample justification to the atavistic chauvinism which is quickly gaining electoral popularity in Russia.

Recently, Jacques Chirac, President of France, increased the pressure upon the Russians by promising, during a visit to Bucharest, to press the case for Romania's admission to NATO. That is a highly provocative attitude. It brings to mind episodes from the past which many of us in the West have forgotten but which are well remembered by the Russians.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, western politicians strove to establish a cordon sanitaire around Soviet Russia. The countries recruited to the cause were a motley collection of monarchies and proto-fascist regimes which surrounded the communist empire. Such countries as Romania, Serbia, Hungary and Poland were recruited. The list, which is a long one, is in fact coextensive with that of the post-war satellite nations of the Soviet Union.

The hostile stance towards Russia of these countries before the war was seen by the Russians as ample justification for their subsequent invasion and subjugation. I am not for a moment suggesting that they now face a similar threat of Russian invasion. Russia no longer has the military capacity for such purposes; nor indeed does it have the will. I am simply suggesting that unless we behave with due caution we are liable to damage our relationship with the new Russia in a way which might be quite irreparable.

Some people may be inclined to ask why we should care about the quality of this relationship. The answer is that it is very much in our interests to do so. In the first place, we have seen how the passing of the "Pax Russica"—if that is what we can call it—led to bloody and costly conflicts on the borders of the erstwhile Soviet Union; it is in our interests to do everything that we can to settle such conflicts before the damage is inflicted. We shall not be well placed to do so if we antagonise both the Russian politicians and the Russian military.

In the second place, some of the decaying military hardware of the Soviet empire poses a global ecological threat which Russia is incapable of addressing on its own. Rotting at anchor in the military ports of the Arctic and the Black Sea are the nuclear vessels which were once the pride of the Soviet navy. We need to seek maximum co-operation with the Russians in an attempt to dispose of these hazards as quickly as possible.

At the moment the West seems bent on achieving the opposite effect. I do not believe that a consensus will emerge among the nations of NATO to admit new members from the East. However, by mooting such proposals in the face of Russian opposition, we are doing a great deal of harm to our relationships with them.

We are being foolishly provocative in other connections too. When US secret service operatives—quiet Americans, if you will—crop up in the Crimea and the southern Caucasus, then, regardless of their intentions, one can be certain that their presence will be interpreted as a provocation by the already nervous Russians.

We can afford to be overt in our relations with our erstwhile Cold War adversaries; and, for the reasons that I have already stated, it is a priority that we establish good working military relationships with them.

4.49 p.m.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, I apologise profusely to the House for speaking in the gap, and I shall be brief. I believe that the Russians are been implementing a massive exercise of disinformation over NATO enlargement, with the aim of throwing NATO into confusion and off course.

During a visit to NATO last November I gained the impression after listening to the Russian Ambassador that, despite their strong protestations, they have discounted current problems with the enlargement of NATO. These particularly well publicised Russian objections will continue and are part of a campaign to ensure there is no second phase of NATO enlargement with the possibility of the inclusion of Ukraine. The alliance should push ahead now with enlargement within the planned time frame.

Central European countries are concerned that unless they become members of NATO they would be the first to suffer from any future aggression by Russia, although this is unlikely as things stand at the moment. It is not surprising therefore that some of these countries wish to join the alliance. The argument that is heard that NATO will be on the borders of Russia and is an aggressive organisation is far from the truth, and the Russians know this. If Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary were to be admitted to NATO, there is only one small piece of territory that borders on Russia, and that is in Poland with the small surrounded Kaliningrad Province.

Russia well knows that the foundation stones of NATO are a defensive alliance. Central European countries will never become allies with Russia, and if they are not allowed to join NATO there is a distinct fear that they might well form their own security treaties in the future and include Ukraine. This clearly would be of much greater concern not only to Russia but also to the West. If this should happen I can see real dangers, in that NATO could well lose its influence and bickering and threats by central European countries and by Germany could well bring about another appalling world war disaster. I believe it is in the interests of not only the West but also of Russia if some of the Warsaw Pact countries are within a responsible military organisation such as NATO which could control them.

Russia has exercised a clever and effective disinformation campaign against the West, banking on the fact that Western parliaments may not wish to accept enlargement of NATO. NATO solidarity has also been badly breached by Presidents Kohl and Chirac, the former saying to President Yeltsin that NATO will not enlarge without Russian acquiescence, and the latter saying there will be further negotiation before any future enlargement. The Russians have succeeded in buying time and have embarked on a course of haggling.

In conclusion, I am aware that the Russians respect strength and solidarity. It is essential that they are prevented from driving a wedge between NATO countries to stop future enlargement. The alliance should press ahead under the Secretary General, announcing its decisions for enlargement this July. NATO must not be thrown off course, as it would be much more dangerous for Europe if some central European countries are not admitted to NATO within the planned time schedule. I do not believe that this is a matter for choice but a vital requirement if peace is to continue in Europe. NATO, a military organisation, secured victory in the Cold War. It is the bedrock of Western defence and has kept the peace for over 50 years. Now is not the time to shirk our responsibilities: we should press ahead with enlargement to ensure everlasting peace for the future.

4.53 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I read with interest the major speech on NATO enlargement given by our Foreign Secretary last Monday in which he told his audience that no issue is more important to British foreign policy than the future security of Europe. It was absurd that he should have delivered that speech in Washington and not in London. It is equally distressing and absurd that we should have a Friday afternoon short debate on what the Foreign Secretary has just admitted is a central issue for British foreign policy and for the West as a whole.

We have had no major debate in either House, no major Government statement, no White Paper and no major Government speech of any sort. This is secret foreign policy, or, I have to say, disguising from one's parliamentary party and one's public what sort of foreign policy one is pursuing. It is too late to question the principle of NATO enlargement. I regret that we embarked upon this process but we have been committed—the British Government and others—for over two years since the January 1994 NATO summit. The process is now moving fast past unprepared parliaments and unprepared publics. In July 1997 NATO will announce at its next summit which candidate it wishes to accept. Madeleine Albright has told us that by December 1997 she intends to have the negotiations completed for an entry date of April 1999. Strobe Talbott, her deputy, now talks regularly about a new NATO—rather like the new Labour Party we have which is somewhat as it used to be but at the same time is entirely different—a different alliance already. The enlargement clearly must, and will, change NATO further from an alliance to a European security organisation.

What I believe I see us moving towards—which is clearly not what either the Americans or our own Government intend—is a European security organisation that is very different from the alliance that it was: an OSCE, with an integrated military structure, a framework for transforming national military organisations into units that can operate on joint multi-lateral missions, an effective structure for peacekeeping and peace making. That is where I hope we are now moving.

Partnership with Russia is very clearly the key. It is important to be generous towards Russia in order to make NATO enlargement a success. What is on the table—again, placed there by the Americans with the British doggedly following behind—is extremely generous. It includes a NATO/Russia council; a permanent Russian mission in Brussels; joint planning activities; potential combined joint task forces; Russia becoming a member of G7, expanding G7 to G8; and a change in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty—half-membership in effect, which would change NATO further. Half-membership for Ukraine, too, is already in effect agreed, which, again, will make NATO, a rather different organisation from the one that we saw three or four years ago.

I regret American unilateralism in this entire process. I regret also the imperial tone in which the Americans address their allies. I regret the way in which our own Government follow the American lead unquestioningly. Indeed, Mr. Rifkind addressed the American public—those who were not convinced—and told them why they should accept their own Administration's lead. It would be kinder if he explained to the British public why he is convinced that this is a process that has to continue.

Americans want NATO to shape Europe's future, not the European Union. They are affected by all sorts of unworthy purposes including bureaucratic self-interest and arms industry interests. Nevertheless, it seems that we have the potential to make NATO enlargement a major contribution to the future security and stability of Europe.

Which countries do we wish to bring in first, and how do we link their inclusion with the new enlargement? I regret the German idea that Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary should be the three countries that enter both organisations. It is important to open up so far as possible. I therefore strongly support Slovenia and Romania being included within the first round of NATO enlargement, and Estonia being included within the first round of EU enlargement. The Romanians have made great progress towards solving their border disputes with Ukraine in the past six months. There is a good deal to be said for trying to bring them in if we can.

We can make a success of this enlargement, but only if we work to include Russia so far as possible; co-ordinate the two processes of enlargement with the European Union; resist the American habit of over-riding European interests, which means working more closely with our European partners; and if our Government and others pay some attention to educating their parliaments and publics to what is at stake.

4.59 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for raising this issue. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that it is rather extraordinary that the Government did not offer an opportunity to either House to debate what in any sense, and by general admission, is one of the greatest geo-political problems of our time. Here we are, debating it at five o'clock on a Friday afternoon in this House, myself restricted, as were the noble Lord, Lord Wallace and others, to five minutes. In those five minutes I have to try to explain what is the position of my party. I shall endeavour to do so, because, as noble Lords will be aware, there is an event which may take place on 1st May, and if that event goes a certain way it may be my party that will be in charge of subsequent events so far as NATO enlargement is concerned.

It is indeed a sensitive moment. I would not wish any of my remarks to influence the negotiations that are taking place, many of them behind the scenes. There are matters about which we must be very careful. I recognise that my remarks may in some respects offend some of my noble friends. That is a problem that may arise from time to time in speaking from the Dispatch Box—you may disagree with what your noble friends behind you say.

We support the enlargement of NATO to incorporate some of the new democracies of central and eastern Europe. The countries which are widely expected to be invited are Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and my noble friend Lord Kennet rightly pointed out, enlargement needs to be approached sensitively to ensure that it does not create new barriers and sources of division across the European continent and so that the difficulties do not develop into a major blow-up. In particular, we believe that the whole process of enlargement must go in parallel with measures that include Russia in a wider security framework in Europe.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Park, I would say that there should be a stronger European component to the NATO alliance. We are strongly in favour of strengthening the Western European Union. But it must be the Western European Union. We are not in favour of giving the European Union itself a military competence.

Having said that rather quickly, perhaps I may go on to make three points. First, however sensitive this may be, there is no question in our view of allowing Russia a veto over who should be members of the NATO alliance. Alliance members have agreed that enlargement cannot be considered in isolation but as part of a wider process of constructing an improved security structure in the whole of the Euro-Atlantic area. That is what we shall try to achieve if we gain office.

Secondly, new members of NATO, assuming that they come in at Madrid next year, will need to reach a minimal level of military activity. Enlargement, after all, means that Article 5 of the NATO charter will apply—an attack on one member will be seen as an attack on all members. New countries will therefore have to spend considerable amounts to bring their military capability up to Western standards. I do not at the moment believe that the candidates, other than Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said about Romania, are up to that standard. I am doubtful—indeed my party is doubtful—whether candidates other than Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and possibly Slovenia could be serious candidates for NATO enlargement.

My third point is about Russia. I hope your Lordships will excuse me if I run through this rather quickly. Russia is the key to the whole matter of how the enlargement of NATO can proceed without a major blow-up. There is no doubt that diplomatic efforts are in course and I do not want in any way to affect the negotiations that are taking place. Whatever we may say in the House today and whatever others may say outside, the Americans are determined to go ahead with NATO enlargement. We must try, in so far as we can, to influence the United States into a positive relationship but, from all that I hear, I think they have taken the point. After all, we have to renegotiate the CFE treaty. The CFE treaty becomes nonsense once the major former states of the Warsaw Pact are loaded on our side in CFE terms and Russia remains on the other side in CFE terms.

It has been suggested that there should be created a NATO-Russia joint brigade for peacekeeping and a NATO-Russia council. All these things are being suggested and promoted by the United States Government. We believe that that is right and we generally support that initiative.

But fundamentally the problem is how NATO evolves. That is where we get to the point where NATO has in the course of time to stop being a Cold War operation, as the Russians perceive it, and become more of a Euro-Atlantic security arrangement. I believe that that is something that will happen only when trust has been created and re-created. That is going to be a long and complicated diplomatic process. We wish that diplomatic process well.

5.6 p.m.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I welcome the debate that we have had this afternoon about NATO's future. I have to try to run through quite a lot as quickly as possible. If I do not answer one or two of the points raised, it is not that I do not have the answers, but a question of time.

No issue has a higher priority in Britain's foreign policy than NATO's future. NATO is the most successful defence alliance the world has ever seen. It has given its members unprecedented peace for nearly half a century. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, expressed the view that NATO enlargement would undermine rather than enhance European security. In my comments I hope to demonstrate that that view is based on outmoded concepts of relations between the states of Europe.

The Cold War is over and our policy now must be to remove the last vestiges of the Iron Curtain and not, as the Foreign Secretary said in a recent speech, to "rust proof and repaint it". There is undeniably Russian hostility to NATO enlargement, but available opinion surveys suggest that the issue is of less concern to the Russian public than their economic and social well-being. Even among the political elite opposition to NATO enlargement is by no means universal.

Any doubts about whether NATO had a post-cold war role are well and truly behind us. Bosnia reminded us of that. Peace in post-cold war Europe cannot be taken for granted. The history of Europe has left many animosities and tensions, particularly in the east. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, spoke of the need to promote a planned European security architecture ranging more widely than NATO. We agree. An enlarged NATO would be one of the cornerstones of this new structure, but in parallel we are pursuing with equal vigour the enhancement of NATO's co-operation with partner countries in the Partnership for Peace and the new Atlantic Partnership Council and working on developing a real partnership between NATO and Russia as well as supporting the enhancement of the operational capabilities for the OSCE. That links in with the EU enlargement, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire.

NATO's military capabilities are unique and vital. No other organisation has a comparable military capability. NATO remains the cornerstone of our security and its opening to new members will help to ensure that it will remain so well into the next century. I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that the US commitment to Europe and its embodiment in NATO is vital to our security.

NATO enlargement is not a new policy. Several noble Lords asked, why the sudden rush? NATO has enlarged three times before, admitting Germany, then Greece and Turkey and then Spain. In January 1994 NATO Heads of Government announced that they expected and would welcome enlargement reaching to democratic states to the east.

A major study on enlargement, agreed by all the allies, was published in 1995. Since then a dozen countries have applied to join the alliance. NATO is not forcing enlargement on them, but responding to their freely expressed desire to join. Last December foreign ministers announced that at a summit in Madrid in July NATO will invite one or more countries to begin accession negotiations. Not until these negotiations have been concluded and approval given by the parliaments of the existing members will NATO admit new members. NATO expects the first new members to take their places in time for the organisation's 50th anniversary in 1999.

I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that the Government will continue to mount a measured and considered approach to the important decisions facing us at the Madrid Summit. The process has not been rushed. NATO's intentions have been publicly known and debated for several years. The process of enlargement will be predictable and transparent. My noble friend Lord Vivian mentioned the need to avoid delay. There is no question of delay either to suit Russia or anyone else. The process will continue according to the timetable.

How could we justify not enlarging? NATO's membership reflects an earlier point in history and circumstances have changed. The countries of central Europe share our aspirations. For NATO to abandon enlargement now would undermine stability and security in central Europe.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, spoke about the lessons of history. History teaches us that instability in central Europe can unbalance the entire continent. My noble friend Lord Bethell would agree that by going back on NATO's agreed enlargement policy we would hand a propaganda victory to NATO's hard-line opponents in Moscow. They would argue that Russia should keep NATO at arm's length to discourage any return to the policy of enlargement. It is only by continuing in a measured, gradual and transparent way with the enlargement process that we can help all Russians to see that an enlarged NATO would benefit their security.

The countries of central Europe share our aspirations and a willingness to accept part of NATO's collective responsibilities. We should not deny them NATO membership. I agree with my noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton that the strong desire of Poland for the security that NATO provides is entirely understandable given its history. The Foreign Secretary has said that we are strong supporters of Poland's accession to NATO and the EU.

We have consistently opposed the concept of "fortress Europe" in the context of the European Union and yet some would have us cling to it in the context of NATO.

It is important to remember that NATO's raison d'être is not just military, but also political. Since the end of the Second World War, NATO has provided something that Europe has never had before—a stabilising framework within which forces of nationalism in Europe could be constrained. Military prowess, for long the last arbiter of national pride, has been harnessed for the benefit of all. For centuries the nations of western Europe had fought each other. War among them is now inconceivable. We have above all NATO to thank for that.

Some argue that EU enlargement alone will achieve our policy objectives. But the new democracies in central and eastern Europe need a security policy in which their peoples can be confident. For the foreseeable future it is only NATO that can provide a real and credible common defence, with guarantees, for its members.

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, asked: why not rest on the Partnership for Peace? The Partnership for Peace has been a valuable engine in political and military co-operation beyond NATO's borders. It is only NATO membership that can provide the mutual defence guarantees that will provide new members with full security and prevent the emergence of national defence policies.

Only NATO can prevent the re-emergence in central Europe of national defence policies that would both be more expensive for the countries concerned and appear more threatening to their neighbours. This is where it will make the most essential contribution to the stability of an historically volatile region.

The process of enlargement is already yielding tangible benefits to European security and is encouraging the adoption across central and eastern Europe of policies aimed at realising NATO's values: democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law.

The 12 countries aspiring to membership are working to bring their armed forces under full democratic control and to promote transparency in defence planning. They are increasingly working to resolve external disputes peacefully in accordance with internationally accepted principles.

Enlargement will also bring real military benefits to the alliance, not least by broadening NATO's ability to undertake crisis management operations underpinned by collective planning and full interoperability. NATO will not be able to admit everyone at once. The allies will have to make hard-headed calculations of the effect of enlargement on the internal structure of NATO to ensure that there is no dilution of its effectiveness.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, asked about Romania. NATO has not decided which countries will be invited to begin accession negotiations at Madrid. Twelve countries have expressed an interest in joining. The decision will be taken nearer the Madrid summit.

My noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth asked about NATO's infrastructure and readiness. NATO will ensure that, in enlarging, its ability to fulfil its mutual defence commitments to all members is not diluted. The decision as to whom to invite to join will be based on the allies' assessment of the credentials of individual candidates and the wider effect on European security of inviting them. There are strong arguments for a manageable first group. To invite too many would place a strain on NATO, reduce the credibility of NATO's pledge of continued openness and increase Russian concerns. There is no reason why this enlargement, NATO's fourth, should be its last. At Madrid NATO heads of government will repeat the alliance's pledge that the door will remain open to those willing and able to further its goals.

The noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, asked about the ultimate borders of NATO. We do not believe that it would be sensible or responsible to fix the ultimate borders in advance. It would not be fair to those countries which do not yet wish to take a public position on the question of NATO membership. We do not believe that any European country should be ruled out of further consideration. The noble Earl also referred to the Estonia-Russia border negotiations. We welcome the recent progress in those negotiations and hope that the positive steps taken by Estonia will lead to early agreement. If for reasons outside Estonia's control there are further delays, we see no reason why they should obstruct progress towards its membership of the EU. The Foreign Secretary raised this issue with Mr. Primakov when he met him on 28th February.

NATO enlargement is not directed against Russia or anyone else, but Russian leaders have a genuine problem in accepting that and explaining it to their public. We are sympathetic to their legitimate security concerns. NATO therefore is offering Russia a unique relationship—a partnership whose centrepiece will be a new joint body that will consult routinely on security issues of concern to either side and oversee deep and systematic military and practical co-operation, including joint planning, training, exercises and operations. Formal talks between NATO and Russia on the new relationship are now under way. We would be happy to see the new relationship enshrined in a charter that would clearly set out the scope and limits of co-operation and consultation between NATO and Russia.

I have considerably more to say but I know that time has caught up with me.

House adjourned at eighteen minutes past five o'clock.