HL Deb 01 February 1999 vol 596 cc1282-3

2.46 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has so far been made in the drafting of a new strategic concept for NATO.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert)

My Lords, work is still on course toward the adoption of an updated strategic concept for the alliance at the NATO summit in Washington in April. Discussions are based on a draft prepared by the NATO International Staff after a series of preliminary discussions among the 19 countries concerned. Her Majesty's Government continue to play a full part in the discussions.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the NATO strategic concept document will refer to further enlargement of NATO, which would, of course, extend British security obligations further eastwards in Europe; that it will cover the European defence identity within NATO—one of the explicit commitments of the British Government; that it will thus affect the future of US/European relations and that it must also touch upon NATO commitment out of area, which implies British commitments in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Gulf? Given the central importance of such questions to defence policy, do Her Majesty's Government have any plans to consult the House on the document before it is finally agreed?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the discussions with respect to the updating of the strategic concept are being conducted in confidence. Therefore, it would not be appropriate for me to speculate on what will be in the final document, because it is still subject to negotiation. I should be surprised if none of the matters to which the noble Lord alludes is covered by the document. There are no plans at present to consult the House before the negotiations are completed.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Government will ensure that the new concept contains a provision that no NATO country will be the first to use nuclear weapons?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, my noble friend always tries to seduce me down that path. I can do no better than repeat what I have just said to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. It would be pointless for me to speculate at this stage on what will be in the strategic document.

Lord Carver

My Lords, in revising the strategic concept, will the Government do their best to encourage their fellow members of the alliance to ensure that, before there is any question of enlarging the alliance further, the stark, uncompromising commitment of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty will be reconsidered?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, there are no plans of which I am aware to consider revising Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, or any other article of it.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Lord inform the House of the extent, if any, to which the European Commission has been involved in, or has been informed of, officially or unofficially, the content of the various drafts?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I am unaware of any consultations up to now involving the European Commission in such matters. I should be very surprised if it were involved at any stage in the future.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, bearing in mind the success of the Strategic Defence Review, conducted by Her Majesty's Government over the past 18 months, will my noble friend suggest to our Government's colleagues in NATO that that model of public consultation not only with experts in the military establishment, but ranging much wider than that, would be beneficial in the construction of the new strategic concept for NATO?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend for his complimentary remarks about the way in which the Government conducted the recent Strategic Defence Review. However, I have to say that this is a consultation with respect to the new strategic concept for NATO, which is being conducted among 16 countries. Shortly, with any luck, three new adherents will be taking part in the final stages of the discussions. It would be inappropriate for us—indeed, quite futile—to try to impose on them at this late stage of the negotiations any method of proceeding other than the one in which we are currently engaged.