HL Deb 08 May 2002 vol 634 cc1137-40

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

What conditions for NATO membership they consider to be appropriate in assessing the acceptability of candidate states.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the key conditions remain as set out by allied leaders at the 1999 NATO Washington summit. We want the alliance to extend invitations to countries which are willing and able to assume the responsibilities and obligations of membership; whose inclusion would serve the overall political and strategic interests of the alliance; and whose inclusion would enhance overall European security and stability.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, she did not explain the overall political and strategic interests of the alliance. Some large questions underlie that. For example, does she consider that it should be a condition of membership that applicant states should be able to make a substantial contribution to NATO military forces—which would imply a limited enlargement—or, rather, that their inclusion would contribute to the broader security of the European region as a whole, which would imply a much broader enlargement?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, it is the security of the region as a whole that is crucial, but within that some specific issues may be discussed alt the Prague summit in November this year. It is a fact that threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are key security challenges for the West—for us in Europe as well as for our allies in the United States. So, at Prague, as well as considering the broad strategic issues, we shall consider ways to maintain levels of interoperability between allies; we shall focus on the capabilities most needed to deal with those threats; and, of course, we shall look for new ways for Europe and the United States to work together. The threats are not just in Europe or the United States, so interoperability between the two sets of forces will be crucial.

The noble Lord should not read too much into numbers at present. The numbers, and the countries themselves, will be decided at Prague.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, is it intended that new members will subscribe to all of the articles of the NATO treaty, or will they be selective? For example, will they adhere to Article 5, which states that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us? That was invoked after September 11th.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

Yes, my Lords, they will be expected to abide by all the articles of the NATO treaty. I can also tell the noble Lord that the accession of each and every country will be a matter for ratification by member Parliaments—by this Parliament as well as by other parliaments of current member states.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, have the Government given thought to the problem of frontiers? Many of the new members—such as Poland and Hungary—have large elements of their population living outside their frontiers. The European Union demands strong frontiers. I gather that about 1 million Poles live in Belarus and Ukraine. How will the Minister explain the Government's policy with regard to a strong frontier to people who have been used to crossing frontiers to visit graveyards, attend memorials, funerals and so on?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, those issues are covered by NATO's membership action plans, which vary with individual aspirant countries according to discussion on their possible membership. Those action plans were launched at the 1999 summit and have included a clear programme of work towards meeting the standards for membership required by NATO. As the noble Lord would expect, there has been some extremely candid feedback, but the plans cover political, economic, defence, resource and security aspects, which comprehend issues about borders.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, what will be NATO's response if an applicant country points out that some existing member states may not be able to make the sort of contribution that equity would suggest is reasonable?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, that is an interesting hypothetical question. The fact is that we expect all members of NATO to live up not only to the articles of the NATO treaty, to which the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, referred, but to all the obligations of NATO membership. I am not sure what my noble friend has in mind in asking his question, although perhaps I may guess, but I assure your Lordships that it will be important for all countries to abide by the same standard.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that, while enthusiasm among central and east European countries for EU enlargement may be a bit wobbly at the moment, their commitment to enlargement of NATO is strong, provided that NATO is not undermined by duplication, talk of autonomous forces, and so on? Did she note the speech by the chairman of the Military Committee of the European Union, General Häggland, yesterday? He rightly asked whether it made any sense for there to be parallel crisis management organisations within the region; he deplored duplication and suggested better ways to develop NATO that would be more appealing to both applicants and its present members. Is it not time for a change of policy in the direction suggested by General Haggland?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I do not entirely accept the noble Lord's surmise about some EU countries being wobbly on enlargement. There are certainly those within countries who express some difficulties, but I do not think that EU governments as a whole are "wobbly", to use the noble Lord's word.

As for NATO, I agree that current members of NATO want it to expand, because it is vital to our collective defence. But the essential point is that NATO must adapt further if it is to continue to be relevant. In answering the supplementary question from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, I mentioned interoperability and how we need to focus NATO's capabilities in new ways. But we should not view the European common security policy arrangements as either rival or duplicate arrangements. The arrangements should harmonise with and complement each other.

Lord Roper

My Lords, will the Minister think again about the answer that she gave to my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire about ratification? Is it, in fact, the case that either the United Kingdom or Canada must ratify NATO enlargement? Is that not a prerogative act in those countries?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I specifically asked about that point and was assured that all the Parliaments of current NATO countries would be required to ratify accession. That is my understanding, but, if that is not the case, I shall write to the noble Lord and place a copy of my letter in the Library.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, does the Minister recollect how Field Marshal Lord Ismay famously described the purpose of NATO as keeping the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down? What is the purpose of NATO now, in the eyes of the Government?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, quite a lot has happened since those remarks were made. However, there is a serious point about the purpose of NATO. Does NATO still have a relevance today? It certainly does.

NATO's invocation of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty after 11th September sent the strongest possible sign of allied support to the United States. NATO redeployed its Mediterranean standing naval forces to the eastern Mediterranean and an airborne early warning system to the United States, freeing up United States assets for operations elsewhere. I could not give the noble Lord stronger arguments for the continued existence of NATO than those.

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