HL Deb 14 December 1998 vol 595 cc1208-24

10.6 p.m.

Lord Kennet rose to ask Her Majesty's Government to what extent they think NATO actions "out of area" must be in accordance with United Nations and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe resolutions and international law.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in an abrupt change of subject, I regard with unconditional horror and loathing the organised slaughter which humanity commits each day and would conceive my life to have been wasted if I had not done what I could to reduce it. That is why I come back and back again in this House to the dialectics of war and peace and of order and chaos.

The organised slaughter has usually been among sovereign states though at the moment it is more within than among states. It was thus that in 1945 one could feel sure that the foundation of the United Nations was not only the best, but was the only hope for the peace, if not the survival, of the human race in the nuclear age. In the UN the states of the world could meet, argue, vote and decide in rough imitation of the model which had proved so successful in some of the single states: the democracies. It was, and still is, the nearest we have got to Tennyson's "Parliament of Man".

And, the supreme element of that great hope, the Americans, were there. The League of Nations had failed because the Americans were not there. They, or rather an enlightened minority of them, had been its midwives. But the Republican Party pulled out before it came alive. The rest of the world did as best it could without them.

After the victory over Nazism, in which the US played a belated but splendid part, the world returned to the League principles. We had learnt the lessons of Versailles—generosity towards those we had defeated, lest the war continue in their hearts and re-emerge later to defeat us all. During the next half century, people were able to hope that the UN would in time be permitted to achieve the virtually eschatological purpose for which it had been set up; and many times over wars were averted or ended, sometimes even by armed force; multilateral treaties were signed, including disarmament measures; subordinate specialised agencies were created; and missions, missions, missions, which, when they could not succeed by private appeal to reason, often succeeded by public exposure to obloquy. War was not banished but a universally valid think-tank, mediator, reporter and, in the last resort, policemen, was present.

In the age of ideological self-importance after 1950 the two super-powers cancelled one another out. They wasted their own and each other's wealth on the grandest and most useless scale, and terrified everyone. On the Soviet side the Cold War provided an excuse for occupying other people's countries; on the American side for developing arms of a horror and expense undreamed of by former generations, and also for more or less occupying other people's countries. One side produced lasting political resentment, the other produced lasting distortion of scientific research and investment. It also produced NATO, to which an anthem was written in the early 1950s. This promised undying loyalty, etc., and was recommended to be sung in schools. It did not catch on.

NATO was a necessity then, but it may soon be a danger. I have often set out here in the past few years why I think this is so. The United States wants NATO to spread round the entire globe, picking up members as it goes, and flexing its military muscles. It would be the arbiter of disputes within and among its members and in the rest of the world alike and would defend "our shared interests and values" against all corners anywhere. The United States would remain in command and would define the interests and values.

How does this fit with the UN in the American view and in our view? When we in this country consider American foreign policy nowadays we often say, "The Administration is good, it is only Congress under Senator Helms that is bad. The President has a lot of difficulty with the Republicans". That is of course true, and we must sympathise with President Clinton. But however it is arrived at, the foreign policy of a country is what comes out at the end of the pipe and that is what affects the rest of us. The US is a single nation, and presidential smiles butter no parsnips. It is the Senate which today determines the foreign policy of the United States, and this we must recognise. We share few of the values of the present Senate majority, and many of the interests they proclaim, pursue and pass into American law, we must strongly oppose.

Let us indeed continue to co-operate with the United States' Administration whenever we can, but not when it proposes to break or ignore the law, by which I mean international law, including the UN Charter, UN resolutions, conventional law and the United States' own international commitments.

For instance, just what has been happening in UNSCOM, whose American deputy director has apparently been in London to fund and plan with Iraqi oppositionists to topple Saddam Hussein, which is against British law and against international law? We in this House were recalled for an emergency session in the middle of the summer to pass a law precisely against that. Was the gung-ho attack on the pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum not enough egg on both our faces, America's and ours?

The rule of law is necessary for the achievement of justice, and justice is necessary for peace. It is thus necessary—using the word in the strictest possible sense—that the rule of law be at the heart of NATO's new strategic concept. Unambiguous support of international law is not now American policy. Senator Helms, the progenitor of the United States' current proposals for the strategic concept, imposed—as the House knows—a legally binding duty on the US which points quite another way. We discussed this earlier this year when the Helms' conditions first appeared and Ministers responded that this was a matter internal to the United States. It is not at all internal to the United States, and it is now central to our own approach to world affairs. It is central to the significance of, for instance, our defence review.

In spite of Helms, the US has not actually left the United Nations. It is grossly in arrears with its debt and dues. Its arrears add up to more than those of all other countries put together. The US is also indirectly in debt to this country, because the United Nations is unable to pay us a portion of what is due for our part in various peace-keeping operations.

Senator Helms has produced this situation. He has also refused to pass any aid appropriation from the US to any country which will not ban abortion. He also refuses any US contribution to any subsidiary UN body. One recent refusal banned funds for the UN population fund which deals with family planning and, therefore, with AIDS—a scourge which is once more exploding in poor countries. The senator then jeers at the weakness of the United Nations.

The United States does not belong to UNESCO, to which we have now fortunately returned after the Conservative years. Today, unexpectedly, UNESCO is crucial to the future of humanity. A slow-moving crisis is far advanced in the world over the status of patents in biotechnology, including both human and plant genetics and the International Bioethics Committee, which comes under UNESCO, is the right place to discuss this. The chairpersons of the national bioethics committees of the world have recently had an emergency meeting. They are at their wits' end for a forum in which they can grapple directly with the Americans. At present they simply cannot attract attention.

The dominant opinion within the Washington Beltway is profoundly nationalist, irresponsible and ignorant. In the country at large, as polls show, this is not the case. Most Americans have more faith in the United Nations than in their own judiciary. But the Beltway climate shows itself every week in routine decisions on international affairs: Iraq, North Korea, China, Japan, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Sudan, France.

Our otherwise nice, kind and sensible government, as I have pointed out so often, still believes a sleepy and uncritical cheer is the right response. Is President Clinton not a fellow believer in what New Labour believes? There has been one quite striking example in recent weeks of the sleepy cheer which has not hit the headlines. It is this. At the meeting of the North Atlantic Assembly in Edinburgh last month there was a draft general resolution before the final plenary which was to be the contribution of the alliance's only democratic body to the formulation of the new strategic concept. Its main thrust was that NATO should now routinely undertake out-of-area operations, which were forbidden by the original Cold War treaty, but are now permitted by a treaty revision. The question was, with what authority?

In the draft of the final resolution at Edinburgh, the familiar view was re-stated: the freedom of NATO to go outside its area was subject to UN or OSCE authority. This seemed obviously right; it stated no more than what must be the case. International law and international assemblies and tribunals exist, and the mightiest military entity in the world must obviously set an example to all others by its scrupulous observance of them.

But an amendment was proposed to this peaceful and normal draft: there was a division and it was carried. The amendment deleted that condition; it deleted the words making out-of-area expeditions subject to UN or OSCE approval. It thus left the partial military alliance called NATO subject, in its own eyes, to no other authority and thus potentially master of the world.

In context, the passage it amended bore a relation to the new concept of "overwhelming humanitarian necessity". This is a useful description of a thing which may happen, does happen, and morally requires whatever remedy we can apply. But, as my noble friend Lady Symons confirmed recently, it is not known to international law. It is glaringly obvious that if it is to be any use in licensing the despatch of armed force, what constitutes an overwhelming necessity must be open to discussion in and confirmation by an international authority, as happened, for instance, with the threat NATO issued to Milosevic a month ago. The amendment I speak of was, in short, a direct blow at the rule of international law.

The proposers of the amendment were two American and two British parliamentarians. The two British proposers were the chairmen of the Defence Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. I have given them notice that I would raise the matter here today, and I ask my noble friend what discussion preceded this extraordinary action? Were they briefed by the Foreign Office to go with the US in deleting the authority of the United Nations over the actions of NATO; and to do so in the only democratic organ in NATO in the course of its contribution to the formulation of the new NATO strategic concept?

Has the Foreign Office, or whoever was behind this shameful action, failed to note that it is not nice, preoccupied President Clinton, not sparky Mrs. Albright, not the excellent Ambassador Vershbow, least of all the American people who are behind the anti-United Nations, anti-Europe, anti-human proposal to set NATO above the UN: it is the same spirit of ignorant pride which drew the United States back from the League of Nations 70 years ago and back from the International Criminal Court and the Landmines Convention this very summer. In its present incarnation that spirit is Jesse Helms, US Senator, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and in foreign policy far more powerful than the President. He is friend neither of Europe nor of peace.

We owe a loyalty of friendship to the American people, not to the present Senate majority, and for their sake as well as our own, and for the sake of all our children, our best support must go to protecting and building up the rule of international law, and to protecting and building up the United Nations.

10.21 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, this was an important subject and I regret that so few of us are discussing it at so late an hour.

I do not entirely share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, of the United States as edging towards isolationism. Nor do I entirely share his view of the Washington lead as ignorant. He is correct in saying that a certain arrogance of power has invaded the Washington policy elite. But that is different from the attitude of the Republican Right, and in particular of Senator Helms and his friends in the US Senate. I noted that in the last congressional elections the Republicans did much worse than they had expected. Senator Helms has particular views. He is an extremely elderly man, but he will in time go.

We have to maintain a close dialogue with our American friends. One of the reasons that I and my party welcome so warmly the Government's initiative on closer European defence co-operation is that it seems to us that one needs a more equal dialogue with the United States. On a number of occasions in the past few months when involved in transatlantic discussions I have been struck by the extent to which we are dealing with a benevolent hegemony which has come to assume that it is a righteous nation and that it knows what is best for the world. If I had been French or Italian a hundred years ago I would probably have felt the same about the British. There is a certain overriding self-righteousness within the American policy elite which one has to watch. The remedy for that is clearly a stronger European pillar within NATO, a stronger European dialogue and a more equal European relationship with the United States.

I share some reservations with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. However, I have two opposite sets of reservations on the Motion. I share much of his unhappiness with the current mood within the United States—for example, the extent to which the Republican dismissal of the UN has now seeped through to so much of the policy elite. I note that the draft of a foreign relations report on the future of transatlantic relations due to be published in the new year does not mention the United Nations at all until the last four pages. There is an underlying assumption, even in part of what Madeleine Albright says about the future of NATO and world order, that a transatlantic partnership that is entirely outside the United Nations will come to maintain world order.

The American mood towards the United Nations is unavoidably negative. Clearly, it is something on which the United Kingdom and its European allies should continue to remonstrate with the United States. I recall that one of the earlier activities of Robin Cook as Foreign Secretary was to remonstrate with Senator Helms on this very point and thereupon the latter abruptly terminated the meeting.

The American attitude to international law is also ambivalent. There is resistance to acceding to the Convention on the International Criminal Court. The extent to which the US Supreme Court in its current formation with a number of Republican nominees is inclined to resist international law as a relevant factor in taking US decisions on the grounds that the United States is the world's most democratic country and has the most perfect system of law is something that should worry us all. There are also undertones within the United States in the debate on NATO which imagine an America that maintains an American-led world order with Europeans in support. That is something that our Government, together with our German, French, Dutch and other European allies, should be careful to guard and advise against.

American triumphalism at the present moment is very strong. American dismissal of Europe is exaggerated. Therefore, we must address the balance. There are concerns here that feed into our worries about discussions on NATO's new strategic concept and getting into the serious business of trying to draft something for publication next April. I worry about American assumptions as to what "out of area" means and new concepts like the "Greater Middle East" or NATO as extending western power across Eurasia, meaning Central Asia, with its oilfields, and the Greater Middle East seen very much through Arab-Israeli eyes with rogue states beyond.

However, on the other side I also worry about the problems of organisations that are blocked by minorities or vetoes of particularly important states. Within the United Nations and the Security Council we repeatedly suffer problems with the Russians and Chinese who are unwilling to go along with collective action. I note that in last Thursday's Financial Times there was a report of a discussion between NATO and Russian Ministers on Kosovo in which it was said: Mr. Ivanov reiterated Moscow's view that NATO should have received United Nations Security Council approval for their air strike alert. But he sat in silence as NATO Ministers explained that they had only sidestepped the UN because Russia had blocked action in the Security Council. that the NATO decision had not been taken lightly and that Kosovo would not set an automatic precedent for future NATO action". That seems to me to be exactly the right balance to strike; namely, that we use the UN when we can and should bypass it only when it is blocked by the veto of a particular great power.

I wish that I could agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that the United Nations has now become the parliament of man. Sadly, it is not a parliament but is still a collection of governments, some better than others and some, sadly, a lot worse than others.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, with all politeness and some grief, perhaps I may correct the noble Lord. I did not say that I believed that but that it was possible to believe it in 1945.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My apologies, my Lords.

Similarly in the OSCE there was a large question which perhaps the Minister will answer: what is the future relationship between the OSCE and NATO in maintaining order in Europe?

One of the problems with the OSCE is that, given the current state of Russian politics and the various divisions within the Russian state, we cannot entirely guarantee that the OSCE itself will be able to act as a maintainer of order, a vehicle through which one can prevent conflict within the wider European space. We have also, after all, seen problems with minority vetoes even within the European Union and the common Parliament security policy, with Greece blocking progress towards resolving the Turkish relationship with Europe, towards resolving the Cyprus problem, and the United Kingdom and others going into smaller groups—contact groups of one sort or another—in order to evade that veto.

There is no easy answer either way. There is no formula which can answer all of our needs. We do, however, need to maintain a close alliance with the United States. It may be a flawed super-power, but it is better than a world without a benevolent and democratic super-power. This is the case of a stronger European presence within NATO and within world affairs as such, for a more institutionalised Europe which plays a much more central role in managing the security of its own region.

10.31 p.m.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, as we draw ever closer to the 50th anniversary of NATO's foundation, I would like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, on securing this debate, although I anticipate and hope that we will have further opportunities to debate NATO issues in advance of the 50th anniversary summit to be held in Washington in April.

This evening's debate has provided a timely opportunity to examine the appropriate legal basis under which NATO should take action in today's geopolitical landscape which increasingly poses "out of area" security and stability challenges. It also provides an opportunity to explore the achievements of the relationship between NATO, the UN and the OSCE as interlocking institutions which provide a global framework for respect to human rights, fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, security and common liberty.

NATO as an organisation has enlarged, evolved and adapted over the five decades of its existence. The founding fathers of NATO sought to safeguard the freedom and security of all its member countries through political and military co-operation in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter. NATO's essential purpose, as set out in the 1949 Washington Treaty and reiterated in the London Declaration, pointed towards the establishment of a just and lasting peaceful order in Europe.

However, changing times have brought changes to NATO's functions. In the Cold War years the alliance was focused on the development and maintenance of collective defence and territorial integrity of its member states, enshrined in Article 5 of the Treaty of Washington, and on overcoming the fundamental political issues dividing Europe. At the beginning of this decade NATO underwent a process of far-reaching change to adapt itself to the new challenges of the post-Cold War world and the transformation of the European security environment. In many respects NATO's new strategic concept was introduced at the Rome summit of November 1991. It called for structures which would enable the alliance to respond effectively to the changing security environment by providing the forces and capabilities needed to deal with a wide spectrum of risks and contingencies. This included the capability to undertake crisis management and crisis prevention operations, including peacekeeping, while continuing its core mission of collective defence. This was because, in the words of the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, a ballistic missile attack using a weapon of mass destruction from a rogue state is every bit as much an Article V threat to our borders now as a Warsaw Pact tank was two decades ago.

Largely as a result of this new strategic concept, the alliance has developed procedures and mechanisms for closer co-operation with its partner countries, for example, through Partnership for Peace, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the NATO-Russia Founding Act and the NATO-Ukraine Charter, as well as increased co-ordination and co-operation with other international institutions, such as the United Nations, the OSCE, the Western European Union and the agreement to make NATO's assets and experience available to support international peace-keeping operations.

Against that background, we are all agreed that it is vital to have a common vision of NATO for the 21st century and to equip NATO to make the maximum contribution to peace and democracy in a Europe that is truly free.

The Washington summit next April provides an opportunity to make sure our road map is leading us to the goal of a NATO strengthened by new members; a NATO capable of collective defence; a NATO committed to meeting a wide range of threats to our shared interests and values; and a NATO acting in partnership with others to ensure stability, freedom and peace in and for the entire transatlantic area.

We are all agreed that today's world of diverse and multi-directional risks poses a very different set of challenges to NATO than the world of 50, 20, or even 10 years ago. Threats to our security are less likely to result from calculated aggression against the territory of NATO allies. Instead, the serious economic, social and political difficulties, including ethnic rivalries and territorial disputes faced by many countries in central and eastern Europe, have the potential to undermine European stability and to lead to armed conflicts, as we have seen in Bosnia and in Kosovo. Those conflicts could spill over into NATO countries and could have a direct effect on the security of the alliance.

There is no doubt that the allies' security is inseparably linked with that of the other states in Europe, underlining the importance of dialogue and co-operation within all of Europe to help defuse crises and to prevent conflicts. There is no doubt that events beyond NATO's borders can affect vital alliance interests. That is why NATO acted in Bosnia, and that is why NATO must be prepared to act in Kosovo. There is no doubt that if such threats are not addressed early and effectively they could grow into Article 5 threats.

In those new circumstances, the increased opportunities for the successful resolutions of crises at an early stage must be grasped. The question facing NATO today is how it can fine-tune its political and military structures to be able to defend alliance interests in the future as effectively as it has defended alliance territory in the past.

Does the Minister agree that the future success of NATO policy will require a coherent approach determined by the alliance's political authorities choosing and co-ordinating appropriate crisis management measures as required from a range of political and other measures, including those in the military field? Does the Minister agree with the US Secretary of State who has called for an updated strategic concept to deal with instability when it is at arm's length rather than when it is knocking on our door? What assessment have the Government made of fears in some European member countries that the United States' stated desire for NATO, to be able to act in the area that it now acts in and able to have missions out of area that affect the interests of NATO members", is indeed an attempt to create a global NATO or an American-led policeman of the world guided primarily by US global security interests which, accordingly, would downgrade the security of Europe in its lists of priorities? The matter was explored in some detail by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet? That raises the issue of mandates for missions beyond NATO's periphery. Article 1 of the Treaty of Washington makes it clear that NATO is bound to act according to the principle of the United Nations as set out in its charter. But can the Minister say what flexibility the Treaty of Washington, by which NATO was founded, offers to adapt the alliance to the realities of the new strategic environment? What assessment has the Minister made of the suggestion that NATO should not need the backing of a United Nations resolution for out-of-area operations, most recently expressed by the US Secretary of State in an interview with the French newspaper, Le Monde, last week, following the meeting of NATO foreign Ministers in Brussels. In a statement to the North Atlantic Council, Mrs. Albright stated that: NATO will—in all cases—act in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter, while continuing to address this issue on a case-by-case basis". Does the Minister agree that this is very different from accepting that NATO should only act out of area when backed by a Security Council resolution? Does the Minister agree that NATO should pledge to respect international law, but that the mandate of the UN Security Council resolution should not be compulsory? Can the Minister clarify the position of the Government on this absolutely critical issue which has major implications for future NATO operations.

In response to the crises such as Iraq and Kosovo, time after time the UN Security Council has fractured down familiar lines of dissent. We know from experience that indecision, disagreements, prevarication, even mere shades of opinion within the Security Council can he exploited by the leaders of rogue regimes in a dangerous game of divide and rule. The end result is deeply detrimental to the diplomatic and moral authority of the international community and risks the erosion of its credibility. Does the Minister accept that the requirement for a UN Security Council resolution would make any NATO action vulnerable to vetoes from China and Russia and could threaten to paralyse the western alliance, fatally weakening its effectiveness?

Perhaps I may pursue the example raised this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, in Kosovo. During the summer, while Kosovar-Albanians were being murdered in their hundreds, we witnessed months of dithering, delay, disunity and disarray on the part of the international community. Sanctions were imposed, relaxed, then reimposed. In the Security Council there was deadlock with Russia, already dissociated from some of the Contact Group's wider economic sanctions.

Even NATO's response was hesitant, unenthusiastic and sluggish. Having finally drawn up contingency plans for military intervention, its members operated a talking shop for months on the possibility of a preventive deployment force to the Kosovar-Albanian border and bickered over the legal basis for NATO military action. Russia's Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, told the UN General Assembly in September that NATO military action could provoke a big war in Europe and he repeated threats that NATO air strikes would be ruinous for international peace and could provoke a return to years of the Cold War. The speaker of Russia's Duma, Gennady Seleznyov, threatened that the Duma could try to rescind the Russia-NATO founding Act if NATO military action was taken.

How far does the Minister believe that Russian Government statements, such as the one on 6th October that: the use of force against a sovereign state without due sanction of the UN Security Council would be an outright violation on the UN Charter undermining the existing system of international relations were bluster for domestic consumption? How far does the Minister believe that NATO air strikes without prior UN approval, which would be unprecedented although the circumstances demanded such action, did indeed risk splitting the alliance and polarising relations with Russia?

It is no wonder that President Milosevic, scenting weakness and division, ignored all the apparently ritual denunciations by the West and instead chose to tough it out in defiance of the international community until late in the day when his bluff was finally called. The fractured international response and the disjointed policies of NATO and the UN allowed him a window of murderous opportunity.

Kosovo remains the critical test not only for NATO but for Europe's largest security structure. There is consensus that we have a political interest in promoting a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Kosovo based on the fundamental principles of democracy and respect for human rights, while we have a humanitarian interest in seeing an end to the bloodshed and the pain of innocent people. I would be grateful if, in considering this example, the Minister could outline the Government's policy on the legal basis under which NATO may take action out of area, given that its policy must be reconciled with the need for unity within NATO, for without unity the alliance will not have credibility and that it must be consistent with NATO's fundamental objective.

In conclusion, I want to turn to the critical issue of preserving NATO as the linch-pin of European security. NATO is the embodiment of the transatlantic partnership between the European members of the alliance and the United States and Canada. It is the permanent link between the security of North America and the security of Europe. It is not an over-statement to say that NATO is the most successful defence alliance the world has ever seen. Its unique military capabilities, and its politically stabilising framework have given its members unprecedented peace since its foundation in 1949.

On that note, what assurances have the Government given to the United States that the St. Malo declaration will contribute to NATO's vitality and will preserve its prerogatives? What assurances have been given that the Government's initiative on European defence will avoid the US Secretary of State's three Ds: the diminution of NATO, discrimination and duplication? Finally, what assurances have the Government sought from the United States that NATO and the transatlantic link will continue to have the highest priority in America's overseas security commitments?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I add that I heard Carl Bildt talking on this precise issue. He said that there is a fourth D which is also important to avoid, and that is "domination".

10.46 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Kennet for the opportunity to debate this important subject. I am very grateful to your Lordships for the interest which the House has maintained in the affairs of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the Western European Union and, of course, the emerging debate on European defence capabilities to which the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, referred.

That kind of involvement by Parliament and by the public is essential if our defence forces are to enjoy the support—both political and financial—that they must have if they are to do their jobs properly. Thanks to the Strategic Defence Review, the United Kingdom knows in what direction it is heading. We have a clear foreign policy perspective within which to take decisions relevant to our security interests. This process will be mirrored within NATO by the drafting of the new strategic concept, as indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. This important document will convey a clear vision of NATO's likely role in the first years of the 21st century. It will then enable the right decisions to be taken on the kind of forces with which the alliance needs to fulfil this role.

That is precisely the debate that the Prime Minister has initiated within the European Union—what foreign policy role do we want the EU to play'? That is a debate which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, has been kind enough to welcome in your Lordships' House on previous occasions. What procedures and military capabilities are needed to put those policies into operation?

I believe that it is undisputed that NATO will continue to provide the guarantee of the collective defence of the United Kingdom and of the other European members of NATO and, of course, our transatlantic partners.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan—I am sure that he will expect me to say this—in answer to the specific point that he raised, that NATO is the cornerstone of our defence policy. The St. Malo declaration specifically makes that clear. It is being discussed with the United States and the United States has said that it welcomes what it describes as burdensharing, and we shall, of course, continue to discuss the ideas put forward in the St. Malo declaration both within the EU and, naturally, with our defence policy partners elsewhere in the world.

But the world has changed greatly since the last strategic concept was drawn up in 1991. There are new challenges. Bosnia and Kosovo are the clearest examples of the sort of situation that NATO—and the EU—are now called upon to face.

As all three noble Lords have said, Article 5 of the Washington Treaty provides for the defence of any member of the alliance which is subjected to armed attack; any such action would be an exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations.

NATO involvement in peacekeeping activities is possible with the consent of the parties concerned; this could be given, for example, within the framework of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. As committed members of the United Nations and one of the P5, we also recognise the UN's invaluable role in peacekeeping operations, many of which have been supported by British assets.

In other cases, a Security Council resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter may authorise the use of force. In Bosnia, NATO led the multinational force that deployed after the Dayton Agreement in 1995. The 60,000 strong implementation force (IFOR) stopped the fighting, separated the warring parties and began the crucial task of overseeing arms reductions.

The legal basis for the implementation force was provided by the Dayton General Framework for Peace and by the UN Security Council Resolution 1031, which was passed in 1995.

In December 1996, after a year-long deployment, the implementation force was replaced by the 50,000 strong stabilisation force (SFOR), provided for in Security Council Resolution 1088. This established SFOR for a period of 18 months; this was renewed in June this year in Security Council Resolution 1174. We envisage a further renewal of the mandate in June 1999.

The IFOR/SFOR deployment has been highly successful, with some 36 nations, including Russia and other NATO/Partner countries, participating.

As I told the House on 16th November, cases have arisen (as in northern Iraq in 1991) when, in the light of all the circumstances, a limited use of force was justifiable in support of purposes laid down by the United Nations Security Council, but without the council's express authorisation when that was the only means to avoid an immediate and overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. These cases are exceptional and it is not possible to say whether NATO would be involved.

The noble Lords, Lord Kennet, Lord Wallace and Lord Moynihan, all gave examples relating to Kosovo. In its response to the crisis in Kosovo, NATO played a fundamental role in averting a humanitarian disaster of appalling proportions. Given Bosnia's history, there was a huge incentive not to let Kosovo follow suit. In October, there were still 50,000 people living in the mountains and woods of Kosovo, without access to shelter. That month, NATO issued an activation order for limited air strikes, giving NATO a credible threat of use of force against the former Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). This made a crucial contribution to the ceasefire and reduction in FRY forces in Kosovo as required in Security Council Resolution 1199, thus helping to avoid a humanitarian disaster. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has reported that there are now no such refugees living in the open.

The people of Kosovo remain at risk of the humanitarian crisis returning as long as there is no lasting political settlement. Meanwhile, the alliance's enhanced state of military readiness continues.

NATO's actions over Kosovo, as with Bosnia, have been and remain in accordance with international law. They have the strong support of the OSCE and the two organisations continue to co-operate closely together.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked about the future relationship. I hope that there will continue to be such co-operation. I believe that what we have seen in Kosovo is an indication of that.

The important point is that all NATO operations must have a proper basis in international law. In answer to the specific point raised most cogently by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, this need not always be a United Nations Security Council resolution. The legal basis in any particular case is bound to depend on the circumstances. We have to judge each case on its merits and act accordingly.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, raised the issue surrounding the relationship of the UK and the US. I thought that what he described was a caricature of that relationship. The Government are wholeheartedly committed to the United Nations. We believe that it is essential that the authority of the Security Council is maintained and that all member states act in accordance with the UN Charter and international law. As a permanent member of the council, Her Majesty's Government take those responsibilities extremely seriously. To suggest that we are somehow subverted in that by our relationship with the United States is definitely incorrect.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, the noble Baroness misheard me. I was not suggesting that we were in any way subverted.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I mean the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me. It is the lateness of the hour that led to a moment's confusion. I believe that the suggestion was made by my noble friend. He was also anxious about what has happened in relation to the amendment which he tried to move at the North Atlantic Assembly meeting in Edinburgh last month. I understand that his amendment did not attract the support that he would have liked. He was concerned lest Her Majesty's Government had perhaps brought pressure to bear on Mr. George and Mr. Anderson who opposed his amendment. I assure my noble friend that the FCO officials gave a written, factual briefing to all members of the UK delegation on all resolutions. That included factual advice on a legal basis. But there was no conspiracy involved. The fact is that those members who did not feel able to support my noble friend and his amendment believed that they were doing the right thing. It was not because undue pressure had been brought to bear on them by Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the point that I raised was nothing to do with any amendment proposed by me; it was an amendment proposed by Mr. George and Mr. Anderson. The effect of that amendment, as I specified in my speech, was to delete reference to UN authority for NATO action "out of area". My question was whether they had government backing in moving that amendment and deleting the UN from the governing text of NATO.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Lord may find this painful, but the fact is that Her Majesty's Government did not agree with my noble friend's perspective on this and neither did other members of the delegation. I hope I have assured my noble friend that the other members of the delegation were given factual information. It was not some kind of conspiracy or put-up job. They reached their own conclusions about what they believed was the right thing to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked about the Government's view on US suggestions that NATO would defend common US-European interests in other parts of the world. Since the end of the Cold War the allies have recognised that fulfilling the purpose of security around the world depends not just on the defence of allied territory but, as the noble Lord indicated, on efforts to promote security and stability more widely that in NATO's borders. As the noble Lord said, we live in a very different world these days and the fact is that what happens on the other side of the world as regards weapons of mass destruction is bound to have an effect in parts of the world which could be said to be "out of region." It is hard to know what "out of region" actually means when we are talking about those kinds of weapons. NATO's wide-ranging programme of political and military co-operation with non-members through Partnership for Peace is one way that we are trying to address these issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, also pointed to what he believed were the shortcomings of NATO in Kosovo; indeed, if I may say so, he put forward a very different perspective from that expressed by my noble friend Lord Kennet. I can assure the noble Lord that NATO has not and will not lower its guard in relation to Kosovo. The NAC is keeping the situation on the ground under constant review. If NATO sees evidence of substantial non-compliance with the resolutions of the UN Security Council, it will be ready to use force. Actors for limited operation are still in place and NATO intends to keep up the pressure on President Milosevic. I hope that that gives the noble Lord the unequivocal assurance which I believe he was seeking.

The noble Lord also asked about the position regarding Russia. NATO does want a real partnership with Russia. We recognise that Russia has some legitimate security concerns and we believe that the signing of the Founding Act in 1997 established the basis of a greater co-operation. I hope that the noble Lord will be reassured to learn that NATO and Russia met at ministerial level in Brussels on 9th December and that there was a highly constructive session; indeed, a very good discussion on serious topics at that time, including Kosovo, NATO's strategic concept and CFE. I hope that that serves as an example of how that relationship between NATO and Russia has developed to one of growing trust in the sort of dialogue that can be had.

I have on many occasions been able to assure noble Lords that this Government are committed to NATO as the cornerstone in establishing and preserving security in Europe. By replacing the previous system of national defence policies in Europe with a strategy of collective defence, NATO has for the past 50 years transformed security in Europe. During the Cold War, NATO stood steadfast against the threat and challenge of the Soviet Union and did so with remarkable success. Since 1945, the countries of the alliance have enjoyed peace in Europe.

However, the world has changed and NATO has had to change with it. NATO will shortly welcome three new members to the alliance—the fourth enlargement since 1949. NATO's door remains open for further enlargement. We welcome the interest of aspirant candidates and we, with other NATO members, are committed to helping them grow closer to NATO through practical assistance.

The tasks of the alliance grow more diverse with the changing international circumstances. I believe that the new NATO is capable of meeting those challenges with the help and co-operation of existing and, indeed, new members; and, of course, with NATO's partners. We are committed to peace and security in Europe. Her Majesty's Government will continue to work for that goal.

House adjourned at three minutes past eleven o'clock.