HL Deb 21 July 1999 vol 604 cc1046-62

7.33 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede rose to ask Her Majesty's Government how they see the development of the defence role of the Western European Union.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I joined the WEU Assembly some two years ago. Since then a lot has happened to change and to accelerate the course of European defence. Indeed the continuation of the Western European Union itself is now under question.

It is worth recalling some of the factors affecting WEU's relationship with NATO and its European members. WEU countries combined spend only 40 per cent of the total NATO defence budget. The German Government have recently said that they plan to cut their defence budget and the Austrians spend less on defence than they do on opera. The US provided 80 per cent of the aircraft used in the recent Kosovo campaign. George Robertson described this situation as "embarrassing"; the Washington Post put it more bluntly, saying it would take the Europeans two decades to catch up with the Americans, even if they had the money—and the will to spend it".

There has long been a desire to create a greater European defence independence, while most agree security and defence must remain the prime responsibility of national governments, accountable to their own parliaments within a NATO framework. While the Treaty of Rome sought to maintain peace and security in Europe through a Common Market, it was the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 which specifically called for a common foreign and security policy (CFSP), including the eventual set up of a common defence policy.

Since Tony Blair became Prime Minister, European defence initiatives have accelerated. The Amsterdam Treaty in October 1997 saw the CFSP develop with closer co-operation with the EU, WEU and NATO under the Combined Joint Task Force initiative, where NATO assets were made available to the WEU for limited humanitarian intervention, commonly known as "Petersberg" tasks.

The Anglo-French St Malo declaration of 3rd and 4th December 1998 gave further impetus to strengthening the European defence identity. The two key events were the signing of a letter of intent on defence co-operation and signing a joint declaration that called for Europeans to complete the provisions of the EU's Amsterdam Treaty to develop the CFSP. It also ruled out any responsibility in this area for the European Parliament or the European Commission, quite rightly in my view.

NATO's 50th anniversary summit in Washington again gave further impetus to a CFSP by moving NATO into a direct relationship with the EU. After Washington there was a far greater likelihood of the WEU being absorbed into the EU in some form or other.

This year's Cologne Summit in June further strengthened the CFSP, with the appointment of Javier Solana as the EU's first High Representative for foreign and security policy. The Cologne Summit also reiterated the EU's determination to develop its capacity to undertake the so-called "Petersberg" tasks.

Throughout the past two years the Prime Minister and Secretary of State have repeatedly argued that Europe needs to focus on its capabilities and its assets rather than on institutions. And it is no doubt their determination not to be sucked into sterile arguments about institutional responsibility which has contributed to the progress which has been made so far.

But I intend to argue tonight that the time has come to look at the institutional arrangements for European defence. The Americans have made it plain what they want to avoid in the development of a European CFSP. The three Ds: decoupling, duplication and discrimination. By decoupling they mean that the decision-making process should not be separated from the broader alliance considerations. There should not be duplication of NATO and European assets and there should be no discrimination against NATO members who are not EU members.

To these three Ds I would add a fourth: democracy. The WEU might not have an impressive operational track record, but in terms of building an institution which brings in the new democracies and provides a democratic forum to debate European defence issues it has an unparalleled record. I believe that this should be used and built on in whatever institutional arrangements are made in the future. It is the associate partners who give the WEU its life: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland, Hungary and others. I well remember travelling with the WEU's political committee to Macedonia and Albania. In our party we had Hungarians, Turks and Croatians, as well as the old democracies represented by French, Italian and British parliamentarians. No other institution brings together such a diverse group of nations to debate their common security needs. It is precisely this institutional diversity which should be maintained in any future arrangements. Members, associate members, observers and associate partners should all continue to have a voice, though not necessarily a vote, in future European defence arrangements.

I return to the outcome of the Cologne Summit. The European Council decided in Cologne on the inclusion of only a limited number of the WEU's functions in the EU and the creation of a number of structures similar to those which already exist in the WEU. EU crisis management would take place under the CFSP, the second pillar, but this would not affect the WEU's other functions, including collective defence, which will remain outside the EU. This approach could be made to work and it could work without decoupling, duplication and discrimination, but it raises four important questions.

First, what are the constitutional implications of our existing treaty arrangements, some of which can remain in force inside the EU and others of which cannot? I am thinking of the modified Brussels Treaty, which is the collective security agreement of the WEU. This cannot be brought into the EU because of the neutral states who are members of the EU. So what of our treaty arrangements?

My second question concerns the EU cherry-picking the WEU's assets. What happens to the assets which it does not cherry pick? I have already referred to my third question; that is, what is the fate of the associate members, the observers and the associate partners?

My fourth, and perhaps most substantial, question concerns the democratic deficit which would be created if the WEU Assembly were not also included in the EU's second pillar. While defence remains exclusively the responsibility of nation states, it would be impossible to ask the European Parliament, made up of directly elected parliamentarians who are not answerable to member states, to take on the task of democratic parliamentary scrutiny. Senor de Puig, the President of the WEU Parliamentary Assembly, has called for a bicameral parliamentary system for defence. In his paper he says: the responsibilities of each chamber would initially be determined by the nature of the subjects they arc required to deal with, the Chamber of Nations having greater weight of authority in matters which continue to fall within the national remit"— such as security and defence. The WEU Assembly could lay claim to being a fledgling Chamber of Nations.

It is worth noting that similar ideas were floated in other contexts. At the recent Council of Europe debate on the report of the committee of the wise persons it was suggested that the Assembly of the Council of Europe might become a second chamber to the European Parliament. While I am talking about parliamentary assemblies, what about the NAA? Surely it could be given a more constructive role in European and NATO defence.

I am sure that my noble friend Lady Symons will open her speech by saying it is capabilities which matter and debates on structures are of secondary importance. I agree; but I hope she will recognise that the WEU's greatest achievement has been its structures. It is the structure of the WEU which has given that institution its second youth. It has brought many countries from the former Soviet Union into our debates on our collective defence. I hope my noble friend agrees that these structures are an achievement, that they are worth learning from and that in many cases they are worth preserving.

7.42 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I must start with a congratulation and an apology. The congratulation is for my noble friend Lord Ponsonby on having raised this important matter; my apology is to the House for the fact that I shall have to leave before the end of the debate, irregular as that may be. That is because it is the 21st birthday of my eldest grandson and there is virtually no alternative.

Only when we have analysed what has just happened will we be able to see the way ahead. It seems to me that the main points are these. First, as far as concerns the negotiations which took place before the recent war, we should remember that the Yugoslav Parliament was only seized of them the day before bombing started. There was also Mrs Albright's private commitments to the KLA, which the Albanian Foreign Minister broadcast on 24th February, promising the KLA that it could become part of the Kosovo military establishment and have State Department support.

Was the war lawful? The International Court of Justice will eventually tell us. My noble friend Lady Symons has confirmed that, as she said last November, there is no general doctrine of humanitarian necessity". So humanitarian necessity may demand action, but for it to be recognised as customary law, many other nations will have to agree.

There is also the question of the lawfulness (under the Geneva Conventions) of some of the weapons used. I refer to the "graphite bomb", depleted uranium and perhaps others. I am glad to see that my noble friend Lord Gilbert is here.

What of the opportunities given to defence firms to test their new systems? Some Kosovo weapons are already being hotly marketed. To some, the war was a commercial opportunity. Today the shareholders in weapons firms have a real, thick-wallet interest in the wars where their products can be both tested and used up.

As far as concerns the legality of the targeting, is it lawful to attack the civil infrastructure on the grounds that it helps one's own victory? We are not talking about bombing in the course of a war of self-defence, but about an attack on a country whose government had indeed committed grave crimes against their own people but had not attacked us. Was it lawful to attack chemical, petrochemical and pharmaceutical works when the result could have been potentially life-threatening transfrontier pollution; to knock out the electricity supply when the result is hospitals without power; and television centres? Mr Netanyahu has said that when he bombed Lebanon's infrastructure a few weeks ago he was copying what the Americans were doing in Serbia. Was the bombing of the two civil nuclear reactors in Yugoslavia contemplated? Serbian intelligence warned scientists working at Vinca in advance, and they appealed to the International Atomic Energy Authority.

The long-term effect of the attack on the Chinese Embassy is that because it was precisely the areas in it used for intelligence co-ordination which were hit, the Chinese believe that it was intentional. Now they are letting us know all about their neutron bomb. They see the United States, arranging chessmen on the most critical places on the chessboards of the European and Asian continents [in an attempt] to establish two strategic platforms". Those are their words of course. The Russians agree and are again carrying out nuclear exercises.

General Clark, writing in the current issue of NATO Review, mentions only the success of the forces under his command. But was the war's ending solely due to the effectiveness of the air war rather than to the work of Mr Ahtisaari of Finland and Mr Chemornyrdin of Russia and, at last, to a UN Security Council resolution, to which Milosevic bowed and in which NATO did not figure?

We must also consider the effect on non-nuclear weapons states around the world of this attack on a non-nuclear weapons state by the world's sole military superpower and its allies. Here was a major boost to all proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Some of us visited NATO last week. We were told that even this short war resulted in massive overstretch and ever more evidence of the technological disconnect between the United States and the rest of us. US officials are already declaring that we Europeans must spend much more on defence if we are to be useful military collaborators "next time". So over that looms the question of how to be the ally of a country which will not put its own troops' lives at risk and whose military plans are summed up as "full spectrum dominance", going from space-based lasers, through universal peacetime electronic monitoring, to dragonfly-sized UAVs for the conduct of urban warfare.

Do we think that the United States is, in general, in the big world, going in the right direction? Is its leadership both useful and responsible? We sometimes have to answer "no". Think of the UN, Kyoto, the WTO, the International Criminal Court, anti-personnel landmines, claims to extra-territorial jurisdiction; think, in short, of Senator Helms—and there is so often a Senator Helms.

There is a current American tendency to suppose that if there is not a diplomatic solution, there must be a military one. It is Mrs Albright's naive early question, "If we have this wonderful military, why don't we use it?". We should see whether we can somehow work with the American people rather than with what President Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex and the bureaucratic scientific elite within the Washington beltway.

I submit that those may be useful pointers to the distribution of functions among the three organisations: NATO, the European Union and the Western European Union.

7.50 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, it is a pleasure, as always, to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I wish his grandson a happy 21st birthday party. Having listened to the points he made, especially in regard to the United States of America, the conclusion that we draw is that we need a common European defence, foreign and security policy.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for introducing this Unstarred Question. The noble Lord has been heavily and directly involved in the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. My small contribution to western European security was to command an armoured regiment troop and armoured car medium and close reconnaissance squadrons over a five-year period. The whole security map has changed since I did so. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, I also visited the NATO headquarters, SHAPE and the WEU last week.

Those who approve of the role of the WEU and its contribution to western European security over half a century and who approve its aspirations and its work owe a particular debt to its secretariat, not least to the current Secretary-General, Mr José Cutileiro and his staff. I draw attention to Alyson Bailes, the British civil servant who is director for political affairs. I would describe their briefings to us as robust and up-beat. But during the question time session, it became clear that there was uncertainty as to the future of the WEU. That cannot be good for any organisation—as we know in this House. I hope that the Minister, in replying, will be able to dispel that uncertainty. Among the European nations, it is our nation—since the signing of the Treaty of Brussels in 1948 establishing the Brussels Treaty Organisation, modified in 1954 to become the WEU —that has fielded a disproportionate share of resources compared with other nations to promote security in Europe.

The main objectives of the WEU, as was demonstrated elegantly and eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, were as relevant then as they are desirable now, especially in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Without the WEU we should have found it far harder to integrate the Federal Republic of Germany, to restore confidence among the European nations, and to avoid waste and enable consultation to take place with the European Community when we most unwisely turned our backs when, in 1955, our friends met at Messina.

Likewise today, I suggest that, as we have failed to expand both NATO and the European Union as rapidly as we should have done since the demolition of the Berlin Wall, the WEU is the only forum where western European nations, the nations of central Europe, known as the 28 WEU nations, can conduct a dialogue.

In the wake of the break-up of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and events in Kosovo, it has been demonstrated that the WEU, even if it can call upon NATO troops, is not a forum for swift action. What we should have done is integrate the nations that were formerly under the Soviet Union into all our western institutions as rapidly as possible. They need us, and we need them.

Secondly, we must attempt to achieve a common European foreign and security policy, to which I understand Her Majesty's Government are committed and for which my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire and others on these Benches have argued skilfully and persuasively over the past five years.

I welcome the confirmation at the special European Union summit in Berlin in March that NATO's Secretary-General is to become the EU's first head of foreign and security policy. Does that mean that the European Union will absorb the functions of the Western European Union and develop the capability to act more independently of the United States than has been the case over the past five decades? If so, when?

In order to mount a sustainable European foreign and security policy, it is surely necessary to collaborate more than we have done. EU members spend £100 billion a year on defence and have 2 million of their citizens in uniform. Yet we still find it impossible to deploy a ground force quickly enough to deter a medium-sized state such as Serbia from murdering, deporting and brutalising nearly a million of its neighbours. The WEU as constituted has neither the military might nor the political will to achieve that. The European Union should, and must, have that; and it must be in place as quickly as possible.

I have three questions for the Minister, and I ask for reassurance on these three points when she replies. If the WEU is incorporated and absorbed into the EU, where does that leave the self-styled "neutrals"—Ireland, Finland, Sweden and Austria? Will they have the right to participate in political decisions or opt out of military decisions? Will they have a veto on future policy?

Secondly, will the Government press at Helsinki in December for a speeding-up of the process of integrating those nations in central Europe such as Romania, Slovenia and Lithuania, which have made such gigantic strides in adapting their defence forces to the NATO way of operating. We need their manpower, and they need our mutual security.

My third question concerns relations with what are called the third countries. I declare an interest as a member of the British Ukrainian All Party Parliamentary Group. There will be a WEU/Ukrainian seminar in Kiev in early October. What will be the role of Her Majesty's Government at the conference? How do they intend to enhance co-operation within the framework of European security with those two nations, in particular with Ukraine?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I must interrupt the noble Earl. He is well over his time.

The Earl of Carlisle

I shall conclude my remarks. It makes sense for the European nations to co-operate more closely, to obtain value for money, and to have the military capability and the political will to act rapidly when the US is unable or unwilling to do so. That can best be done through the European Union with a common foreign and security policy.

7.57 p.m.

Lord Kirkhill

My Lords, I join previous speakers in thanking my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede for initiating this important short debate on a matter which is current and meaningful.

When I added my name to the list of speakers, I was not sure how the trend of the debate would go. I was greatly reassured by my noble friend's opening remarks. His overview and his comprehensive statement do not leave much for the rest of us to say. However, I should like to make a couple of points.

I have taken part in the delegation to the WEU for about 12 years. I am reconciled to the fact that institutional change will occur. There is no point in continuing to talk about rapid reaction forces, satellite surveillance units, the training of police forces in Albania and so on; those matters will move within the EU purlieu. There is no question about that. Therefore, the area of capability will move into the EU's environs. Again, there is little point in complaining about that, although some who are active in the WEU do not like the idea.

The principal difficulty, which has already been touched on, is the question of what happens so far as the associate members, and indeed the observer nations, are concerned. A democratic deficit will occur. About five years ago, with colleagues from the WEU, I engaged in a conversation with EU defence parliamentarians. At that first meeting and two subsequent ones over the next two or three years, it was clear to me that when there occurred such a transfer as is now being proposed, the WEU parliamentary concept of some kind of democratic control would be swept aside in a huge amalgam-type committee within the EU structure. One important event in the past few years in the WEU has been that a limited democratic control has been shown by parliamentarians from national parliaments.

I hope that at the least later this evening when the Minister replies, she will give an assurance that parliamentary assembly control in some form will survive. It cannot be within the structure of the EU because it would not take account of the associate member and observer status.

8 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, one of the problems facing the WEU as regards the parliamentary assembly is that since it was established we have had to send the same delegation to the WEU as to the Council of Europe. The latter is more prestigious, perhaps more interesting, it has a wider remit and from time to time it exercises influence in a way which is not possible in the WEU. It is therefore always pleasing that there are members of the delegation who take the WEU seriously. During the two years in which he served, my noble friend Lord Ponsonby devoted considerable attention to it. The House should be aware that he did not do so to the neglect of his responsibilities in the Council of Europe.

I paid a private visit to the assembly on its 50th anniversary and heard the tributes paid to my noble friend for the splendid work he had done to promote youth music in Europe. He has done the House a great service this evening by pointing out the difficult situation in which Europe is placed in regard to the organisation of its security. My noble friend has perceived the value of the WEU and I do not believe he has ignored the weaknesses. There are weaknesses, particularly of complacency within the Council of Ministers. There was complacency as they patted each other on the back over the past 20 years, when there has been a clear understanding and knowledge that most European member states within the WEU have been scarcely capable of offering any defence for themselves or any useful or reasonable contribution in the exercise of the cause of international peace and stability.

There has also been the problem that the parliamentary assembly has often been equally complacent, happily accepting being slaughtered if it were ever placed in a different position from that of the Council of Ministers. I recall from a debate on the subject last year that the assembly was prevented from pursuing something. The Secretary General then said to me that the assembly was only entitled to information about military forces for those units which were directly under its control. Those have been few and far between.

The difficulty is that the past 10 years should have demonstrated to the WEU (as I think they have) as well as to the EU (I am less certain of that) that Europe has been far too weak. It has happily sheltered under the American umbrella and often been jingoistic at the same time. It watched the horrors of Yugoslavia develop and did little or nothing until the American involvement began. Even now, one has doubts about the promises and commitments of all the member states in the alliance to ensure that Kosovo can clear its mind and return to peace and a vestige of normality.

One hears of the continuing reduction in defence in some member states, despite the uncertainties in Europe and beyond. It is absurd. It is quite wrong for Europe to continue to prosper and yet be insufficiently capable either of contributing to its own security or to the cause of international peace and stability.

I fear the uncertainties—although my noble friend Lord Kirkhill is less uncertain—as to the direction in which Europe is going. A reference was made to the NATO journal today. I shall read the following from it, Future operations involving European Allies", will possibly be led by the WEU or the EU. That alternative has been under debate in Europe for the past 10 or 15 years. The journal goes on to mention the need to have "focused interoperability" and the acquisition of "advanced capabilities". I wonder whether interoperability will be helped if responsibility is passed to the EU. That is particularly so, given the neutrality factor to which reference has been made.

Despite its weaknesses, the WEU has a great deal of knowledge and a considerable amount of experience. It has improved dramatically with the appointment of Colin Cameron as the clerk to the assembly, an appointment probably overdue and one which offers considerable advantages.

If we were to cede SCAT we would be doing ourselves a disservice. It would merely extend the period in which Britain has borne a necessary but inequitable share of European security and defence. Attention needs to be given to that, perhaps gently, in diplomatic language, but it ought to persist until fairer shares allow Europe to make a better contribution which the future will require.

8.6 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I also welcome the debate. To anticipate the Minister's closing speech, capabilities matter but institutions matter too. Rules and obligations matter. If the Government are to succeed in raising European defence capabilities, they will have to strengthen the European framework for shared capabilities. As we all know, institutions and rules help to bring pressure on governments to come up to the capabilities needed.

The WEU has always been a mechanism for doing something else. It is 51 years since the WEU was originally formed in 1948 in order to get the Americans to commit themselves to Europe. It was a pathway to the Atlantic alliance. A few years later, the British Government, Anthony Eden, used the WEU as a mechanism for sorting out the re-armament of Germany. It served to bring Germany into the Atlantic alliance. A few years after that, under the Harold Wilson government, it served as a mechanism for keeping discussions between Britain and the six alive, when General de Gaulle shut us out of the European Community.

In the 1980s it served as a means by which the French could edge back towards the NATO integrated organisation by reviving European defence. Since 1990 it has served two useful roles: one, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, pointed out, is in helping to bring the applicant states of central and eastern Europe closer towards western institutions, both the EU and NATO; and, secondly, serving as a pathway for sorting out the defence dimension of the common foreign and security policy in the European Community.

I welcome the extent to which Her Majesty's Government are now pushing for an effective European pillar within the North Atlantic treaty. It has, after all, been Liberal Democrat policy for a long time. We all welcome sinners who repent and I look forward to the Conservative Party in turn, in about the 2006 general election manifesto, acceding to the same overall approach.

After all, NATO has now moved in that direction. In the Washington communiqué of last April we had a clear commitment to reinforcing the European pillar of the alliance. In the NATO strategic concept we had the clear statement that we want to reinforce the transatlantic link by ensuring a balance that allows the European allies to assume greater responsibility. The Americans and the Europeans are moving towards greater integration of European defence with European foreign policy. We are edging slowly towards a common foreign and defence policy. The appointment of Secretary-General Solana to the European Community's council secretariat is a significant step forward. We all recognise that it is necessarily a slow and delicate process, but I pay tribute to the British and French Governments for taking the lead and pushing in the right direction in the St. Malo declaration and subsequently.

I wish that the Government were a little more open about the institutional implications. I understand from the discussions that one hears quietly among officials at Brussels that the issue is intended to be on the agenda of the intergovernmental conference, to which we are committed. That is not surprising. The Maastrict and Amsterdam treaties both dealt with the Western European Union and edged it a little closer towards integration into the European Union.

We are slowly putting in place the foundations of a European foreign and defence policy. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, is right to ask about the continued usefulness of the WEU institutions. I have had professional dealings over the past few years with the WEU Institute for Security Studies in Paris. That is a valuable organisation and it is important that its work should continue. The assembly serves a helpful purpose in bringing national parliamentarians from European countries together to discuss defence and foreign policy. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked whether it should be a European assembly of national parliamentarians or should become a more effective transatlantic body, merged with the North Atlantic Assembly. Those issues need to be explored further.

In passing, I should say that one needs to beware the COSAC model of a chamber of national Parliaments alongside the European Parliament. I have been to COSAC meetings. The French want it to be a national alternative to the European Parliament. One eats extremely well, but I am not sure one comes back having learnt an enormous amount.

What should our future policy be towards the development of a defence role for the Western European Union? I hope that the Minister agrees that we want a progressive movement towards the absorption of the WEU into the EU as the defence dimension of a common foreign and security policy and as the European pillar of the Atlantic alliance.

8.12 p.m.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, I should be most interested to know from where the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, gets his brief, because it was identical to one that was given to me, even down to the fascinating statistics about the Austrian Army's expenditure on opera and the quotation from the Washington Post. My brief was prepared by a Conservative Member of another place.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, that is quite right. The noble Lord is referring to Michael Colvin MP. He and the Labour MP Jim Marshall provided me with the brief. They are both writing the submissions of their respective groups in the WEU Assembly on what they hope will happen to that assembly. There is a lot of cross-party agreement among British members of the WEU on that.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, that is obviously the case No doubt we shall be singing much the same song. I have a feeling that the Minister will be singing a song that she has sung many times before, because we have had debates on this and similar subjects many times. There is one difference for the noble Baroness in that she has the slightly larger figure of myself rather than my noble friend Lord Moynihan to deal with. My noble friend does an immense amount of work and has given me enormous sheaves of bumf, on which I could have based six speeches. In March 1998, my noble friend said: I offer the Government our unreserved support for resisting merging the European Union with the Western European Union. The Prime Minister is rightly proud of the article in the treaty which states that NATO rather than the European Union is the cornerstone of our defence".—[Official Report, 26/3/98; col. 1425.]

WEU members combined spend 170 billion dollars a year and the United States spends 270 billion dollars. Not unnaturally, the Americans complain about Europe's failure to carry its fair share of the burden of collective security. It is Utopian to believe that a federal United States of Europe would be able to agree a level of expenditure that would allow it to spend even half of what America spends on its own. The whole concept of a United States of Europe is Utopian. I pray that it will not exist during the lifetime of those of us sitting on all three Front Benches. We need to consider an alternative defence policy for the WEU that is at least remotely realistic. I appreciate the words of the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, who emphasised the relative strength of various countries.

NATO has preserved peace for 50 years, but today we have Instability and strife where the WEU has singularly failed to cope with the conflicts that have arisen. NATO, which involves American military resources, has come to the rescue. The Maastricht Treaty in 1992 called for the first time for the implementation of a common foreign and security policy. The Amsterdam Treaty called for closer co-operation under the common joint task forces concept. The St. Malo declaration gave a further boost to the idea of a European defence identity. At the Cologne summit in June the European Union committed itself to increasing its capacity for a joint foreign and security policy. That should mean that the will is there.

While I was preparing what I should say this evening, my noble friend Lord Carrington came in and expressed his regret that he was unable to speak this evening, because he would have had to leave halfway through the debate. I am sure that we miss what he would have had to say. I cannot accept the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who I hope will read what I am saying in tomorrow's Hansard. My noble friend expressed forcefully his view about the chances of getting European governments to pay—he authorised me from his height to make that remark—particularly given the number of neutral countries involved.

All over Europe defence expenditure is falling. If that policy is in accordance with the political judgment of the countries of Europe, it becomes all the more important for Her Majesty's Government to maintain their close links with the United States. The most desirable policy seems to be to merge the political responsibilities of the WEU with the European Union. That is of course a compromise, with some of i he disadvantages of all compromises, but it has the incomparable advantage of keeping America involved in European defence. The figures on Kosovo show that it is the only realistic and viable course. Not only is it the only realistic course, it underlines the policy of these Benches and increasingly of the Government as well.

This is not the time for any action that would lead to a federal Europe in which there was a loss of government accountability to national Parliaments. In particular, it is not the time to merge the WEU with the EU. Nor should the WEU be revitalised by giving it a more distinct and discrete security identity within NATO. That would undoubtedly give closer relations with Russia and the Ukraine, but the disadvantages would come from having a common foreign and security policy without defence.

In a previous debate I laid emphasis on the value of the Article 5 mutual security obligations. Any policy that discarded those, although making the WEU a happier place for neutral countries, would lose for the participating countries the security that American involvement means. That is a real danger if the European countries come too close together. I hope that the Government will continue their policy of a close relationship with the United States as well as with Europe. I must quote, "Be sure to keep a hold on nurse, for fear of finding something worse".

8.19 p.m.

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

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede for introducing the debate this evening. I thought the quality of his briefing was superb. It is only that I feel desperately left out as I failed to obtain the brief which so obviously the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, had, as did my noble friend.

It is important that we start from the position of Her Majesty's Government at the forefront of the new initiative, launched last October at Poertschach by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, to improve the effectiveness of Europe's contribution to European security. The Western European Union is at the heart of the debate, as was pointed out by my noble friend. Of course, Kosovo has reminded us all of the very real issues at stake.

The first half of 1999 marked a defining point for European security and defence. NATO was enlarged on 12th March with the historic admission of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. In April in Washington, the NATO Summit looked at the future of the alliance, and agreed further to develop its European pillar. The Bremen meeting of the Western European Union highlighted the importance of developing European capabilities, and launched the second phase of an audit of those capabilities to enable us to learn where the gaps are and what must be done to fill them; and at Cologne, just over a month ago, the European Council took the debate a stage further.

As noble Lords have remarked, the EU appointed Javier Solana as the High Representative for its common foreign and security policy. Its historic declaration on European defence, following the welcome given to the process at Washington, committed member states to develop the Union's ability to take decisions on the full range of crisis management tasks. We agreed at Cologne that the EU should have the capacity for autonomous action backed up by credible military forces in order to be able to respond to international crises.

But, as my noble friend Lord Ponsonby pointed out, Europe needs to do more. European forces make up the bulk of KFOR under General Jackson. Collectively, we continue to play a leading role in SFOR in Bosnia. Yet with some laudable exceptions—above all the British forces—the deployment of many of the so-called European rapid reaction units earmarked for Kosovo was uncomfortably slow, a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle. In the months leading up to the entry of KFOR, and during the bombing campaign, we demonstrated our reliance on US technology and firepower. The European contribution was of course very far from negligible. It was alliance unity that won the day. But our various responses to the developing situation in Kosovo illustrated only too well the mismatch between our continent's size and economic weight, and its international presence.

This imbalance was one of the factors that prompted my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to launch the debate on the development of a security and defence capability to back up the EU's common foreign and security policy. I am glad that that initiative has been so warmly welcomed by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. The common foreign and security policy needs to be underpinned with credible military capability if the EU is to meet the challenge of playing its rightful role on the international stage. This capability is, and must be, based on our investment in NATO. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, when he said that NATO remains the cornerstone. I emphasise that to the noble Lord, although I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, will accuse me of saying the same things in many of our debates; but at least that has the merit of consistency. However, it is important that I reiterate the point, which has been raised again.

When we look at this issue, we must consider not only NATO, but its structures and infrastructure. Equally, Europe must not be so heavily dependent on NATO for peace support operations. The fact is that our North American allies may not wish to be involved in every crisis. We should develop further our capacity for acting without active US involvement. That should help us to contribute better to our cornerstone in NATO, and enable us to act where the alliance as a whole is not necessarily militarily engaged.

As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, pointed out, we have discussed these issues in your Lordships' House on a number of occasions. I have made it clear that our focus is on capabilities and functions, and not on institutions. The noble Lord exhorted me not to repeat that point, but I think that I should because it is important. Our aim is a real improvement in the way in which Europe tackles the crises it has to face. The agreement at Washington ensured that new security arrangements will develop in a way that is fully compatible with NATO. The Cologne declaration commits us to putting those new arrangements in place in the EU. Both guarantee that defence decisions will continue to be intergovernmental, respecting member states' sovereign rights to deploy and control their own armed forces. There is certainly no question of a European army, or a role in defence for the Commission or the European Parliament beyond their current role in CFSP.

At Cologne, member states agreed to include in the European Union those Western European Union functions which would be necessary for those new responsibilities. Final decisions should be taken by the end of the year 2000, at which point Cologne envisaged that the WEU as an organisation would have completed its purpose. This is consistent with our approach of examining what the EU needs to enable it to take decisions and rapidly to translate those decisions into action. The EU as a crisis manager should build on the achievements of the WEU.

The initiative launched yesterday at the UK-Italy Summit to set a timetable and challenging criteria for European defence capabilities and performance is an important stepping-stone along that path. It sets out Europe-wide goals for enhancing military capabilities to undertake crisis management, and national capability objectives to achieve this wider European aim.

But if the Western European Union is to have served its purpose by the end of the year 2000, it will have a great deal to do in the interim. I assure noble Lords that the WEU will continue to play a role until final decisions on defence in the Union are taken and the functions of the WEU are transferred to the EU. It is important that as we work on strengthening Europe's defence capability, we do not find ourselves in a transition period in which neither organisation can function properly. I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath that the WEU has, over the years, built up a legacy of crisis management "best practice", including a close working relationship with NATO. I assure the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, that we shall want to ensure that this legacy is carried over into the EU. That is something which should be a priority over the next 18 months of discussion.

We shall be looking for conclusions from the WEU Luxembourg ministerial meeting in November that we can use to develop our European defence performance criteria ideas. The audit of European defence capabilities, to which I referred earlier, is focusing on real defence outputs: force deployability; flexibility; sustainability; and, of course, at a time when multinational operations are increasingly the norm, as many noble Lords have said, the importance of inter-operability. Kosovo has demonstrated the importance of troops being trained and equipped to be able rapidly and effectively to face the challenges of modern operations. Identifying the gaps that need to be filled, and deciding how best to fill them, will be an important task for the WEU to fulfil.

There is another key feature of the WEU's legacy which we must use as a model for the EU. I am aware that, like other noble Lords, my noble friend Lord Ponsonby is concerned that European security arrangements should be inclusive. That was also a matter on which the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, concentrated. We agree that we should not build new harriers. The WEU has six associate members who are NATO allies, although not EU members, and seven associate partners who are members of neither organisation but are all associates of the EU and NATO Partnership for Peace.

I deal next with the European neutrals, on which the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, and my noble friend Lord Ponsonby touched. The neutral members of the EU have welcomed our initiative. Through existing WEU arrangements they are already able fully to take part in planning and decision-making for European crisis management to which they want to contribute. In particular, they welcome the emphasis in both the St. Malo and Cologne declarations on the need to improve European crisis management capability. We are encouraging them to strengthen their capabilities to enable them in future to take part actively in EU-led operations relating to such tasks.

There are also those who are in NATO but are not part of the EU. These allies, too, welcomed our initiative at the Washington Summit on 24th April. We support the participation of non-EU European allies in European military operations under the right auspices. We look forward to working closely with all allies as we take forward the work to develop NATO's European pillar.

Our attention has also been drawn to the WEU associate partnerships which include Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Baltic states. The Cologne declaration makes it clear that the EU will put in place arrangements to allow WEU associate partners to take part to the fullest possible extent in the new arrangements that we are considering. Similarly, we recognise the importance of the Ukraine to European security. We shall take part in that conference in October. We welcome such events.

Reference was made to the democratic deficit. We agree that national parliamentary oversight of defence and security matters is crucial. We have discussed this on a number of occasions, not least when we debated CFSP in the context of the Treaty of Amsterdam. I reiterate this evening, as I did then, that democratic parliamentary control in these areas is absolutely vital.

My noble friend Lord Kennet is not in his place. I am bound to say to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, that I regard a grandchild's 21st birthday as a reason for absence. I would have hoped that a family-friendly House could accept that. The points raised by my noble friend have been rehearsed in your Lordships' House on a number of occasions. For the record, Her Majesty's Government believe that our military action in Kosovo was lawful and that our targets there were legitimate.

This has been a momentous few months for European security in both theory and practice. There is no time to sit back because there is a great deal of work still to be done. The Western European Union will continue to play an active role in the work under way in Europe to strengthen the European contribution to Europe's security. The WEU will need to examine how best to transmit the legacy of its 50 exceptional years to the EU. It will play an active part in the ongoing efforts in all the organisations about which we have been speaking—the EU, WEU and NATO—to improve the real defence capabilities that we need in Europe. All this work must be clearly focused and co-ordinated to ensure that there is no mismatch between expectations and results. Your Lordships can be confident that Her Majesty's Government will remain at the forefront of that endeavour.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure until 8.35 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.34 to 8.35 p.m.]