HL Deb 12 November 1991 vol 532 cc486-92

3.33 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Waddington)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on the NATO Summit in Rome on 7th and 8th November. The Statement is as follows

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a Statement on the NATO Summit in Rome on 7th and 8th November which I attended with my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary.

"Last July in London NATO agreed to adapt its strategy to the changed situation in Europe and to build up a new partnership with the countries of central and eastern Europe. At the summit we agreed how to carry forward both those tasks.

"The strategic concept reflects the British Government's objectives. These were to ensure that NATO remains the linchpin of Western security, charged with dealing with whatever security problems might threaten. The strategy reaffirms the need for a collective defence based on NATO's integrated military structure and also on the need for both nuclear and conventional forces, kept up to date where necessary, but at significantly reduced levels. Alliance forces in every NATO country will be smaller, more mobile and more flexible. At the summit we endorsed the establish-men: of new rapid reaction forces, in which the United Kingdom will command the land element.

"The summit declaration establishes a North Atlantic Co-operation Council. This forum will enable NATO to discuss common security issues with the Soviet Union, the Baltic states and the countries of eastern Europe. At Britain's suggestion the first such meeting will be held at Foreign Minister level in Brussels in mid-December.

"We have agreed a wider role for NATO. Henceforth, NATO will not just be keeping the peace. It will be actively promoting peace. It will be prepared to help the countries of eastern Europe in planning defence forces in a democracy, with civilian-military relations, and in converting defence production to civilian purposes. The relationship may well develop still further.

"The NATO Summit also, for the first time, considered in depth the European defence identity and the alliance. We affirmed some important principles: first, the principle that NATO is the essential forum for consultation and agreement on policies bearing on the security and defence of alliance territory; secondly, endorsement of the British proposal to use the Western European Union as the means of strengthening the European pillar of the alliance; thirdly, the need to establish clear and open relations between NATO and the Western European Union and to involve other allies on issues discussed in the Western European Union which affect their security.

"Heads of Government received a report on Yugoslavia following a meeting of Community Foreign Ministers with Lord Carrington. In view of the grave situation in Yugoslavia and the repeated breaches of the ceasefire, Community Governments agreed in Rome on a series of restrictive measures. These include: suspension of the trade and co-operation agreement; suspension of benefits under the general scheme of preferences; and the suspension of the PHARE programme and restoration of quotas on textiles.

"Community Governments asked those member states which are members of the Security Council to promote measures in the Security Council to tighten the arms embargo and to take steps towards imposing an oil embargo. We are now consulting other members of the United Nations Security Council about the introduction of such measures.

"Community Governments also decided that positive action would be taken to benefit those parties who were being co-operative in the peace process. Taken together, these measures will increase the pressure on those responsible for appalling bloodshed and suffering in Yugoslavia. NATO Heads of Government issued a separate statement making clear the allies' strong support for the efforts of the European Community to promote peace in Yugoslavia.

"We discussed developments in the Soviet Union. We publicly supported economic reform and democratisation. We stressed the need for the authorities in the republics as well as at the centre to respect their obligations on human rights, arms control and economic policy. In particular, we urged them to do everything necessary to implement the CFE and START treaties and to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

"We are living through a dramatic revolution in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. We have to use all the means at our disposal—the European Community, the CSCE and NATO—to help them build stable democracy in their countries.

"NATO remains the core of our defence. Were we again to face a military threat, NATO would be there to meet it. But NATO is now reaching out to the countries of eastern Europe to help provide stability and a sense of security. All of us at last week's meeting agreed that the continuing American and Canadian presence in Europe is vital both to defending and to promoting peace in Europe. Britain will have a central part in that task both in the alliance and in the European Community. The decisions of the NATO Summit provide important guidelines for the negotiations leading to the European Council in Maastricht.

"I hope the House will welcome the outcome of the summit as a significant contribution to a sound defence and to democratic stability in Europe."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.40 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. The Rome Summit was a very important occasion in view of the continuing argument within the Community about the place of defence in political union and the general view of Germany and France that the Community should operate independently of NATO.

Will the noble Lord tell the House whether the two principles listed on page 2 of the Statement mean that France and Germany now unequivocally accept the continued presence of the United States in Europe and the continuance of NATO? It certainly seems that the outcome of the summit has left the options open with regard to the development of European security, that the message to the Maastricht Summit is that NATO remains at the heart of our security policy. We welcome that assurance as well as the recognition of the need for a closer link between NATO and the former Warsaw Pact countries.

We further recognise that it will take time for the development from collective to co-operative security to take place, but that this may be achieved if a closer relationship between East and West Europe becomes meaningful and real and is not merely the product of wishful thinking. We further welcome the European commitment to NATO's rapid reaction force and we note that Britain is intended to play an important role in this. Is the noble Lord confident that Britain will be able to make a substantial contribution? Can he guarantee that the percentage of reservists in the British contribution to the RRC will be no more than 20 per cent., as previously understood? Further, can the noble Lord say when further discussions on nuclear and conventional disarmament will begin? In particular, can he say whether Britain, as the major European contributor to NATO's naval forces, requires NATO to respond to Soviet requests for talks on reductions in maritime forces? That is particularly relevant in view of the Norwegian worries about this matter.

We warmly welcome the remarks about Yugoslavia. Can the Minister tell the House when resolutions or proposals are likely to be put to the Security Council of the United Nations, as mentioned in the Statement?

Finally, can the noble Lord say whether the Government intend to support non-proliferation measures mentioned by NATO by actively pursuing negotiations for a comprehensive test ban treaty and fully implementing United Nations arms embargoes on countries such as Iraq?

The Statement gives us confidence that there is a more likely possibility that agreement can be reached in Maastricht on the defence issue within the argument about political union.

3.43 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, my noble friends and I are also grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. On the whole, Her Majesty's Government seem to have secured a satisfactory outcome to the NATO Summit. I congratulate the Prime Minister on the result.

The central issue, which is of some considerable delicacy of balance for the future seems to me to be this: for Europe to encourage a precipitate American withdrawal at the present time would seem to be both dangerous for the stability of Europe and to smack of considerable ingratitude for the contribution of the past 45 years. NATO, after all, has been an unusually manifest and triumphant success. There are very few international organisations in the history of the world which have achieved almost completely the objectives for which they were set up. NATO has done that for almost the past half century and it would seem appropriate to pay tribute to its primary architects who were Truman and Acheson, Attlee and Bevin. It has been a remarkable achievement and something for which we owe great gratitude.

Therefore, while I take this view about the great American contribution and the desire that it should continue, I think that at the same time it would be foolish to assume, with the end of the cold war, with other changes, with the weakening of the relative economic position of the United States, with the tilt in the balance of that continental country from east to west—although not likely to be over the turn of the century and beyond—some adjustment of America's degree of commitment across the Atlantic. Therefore, it would seem that the act of statesmanship which has to be performed is not to encourage any precipitate withdrawal but, at the same time, look to the future and realise that Europe will have to take more responsibility for its own defence. I hope that that is the approach of the Government. I should be very grateful if the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal could assure me that that is so.

I have only one small question about Yugoslavia. In general I welcome the approach. The Statement outlines the desirability of taking up sanctions against the aggressive forces within Yugoslavia while taking positive action to benefit those parties who are co-operative in the peace process. It is an admirable objective but quite a difficult one to carry out in practice. I should be grateful if the noble Lord has any thoughts to share about how effective sanctions can be brought against those who are being aggressive while benefiting those who are more anxious to see a peaceful solution brought about.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos and Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, for their remarks. This undoubtedly was a successful summit. It was accepted that there must be a continued presence of the United States in Europe and a continuing role for NATO. Clearly, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, is right to remind us that things could change by the end of the century but at the same time we are entitled to put considerable reliance on the statement by President Bush that he believes that there should be an unshakeable commitment to European security by America and that so long as American forces are wanted in Europe they will continue in Europe. It is indeed very important, as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, said, that we should build up closer links between NATO and the former Warsaw Pact countries, and that was an important theme of the discussions.

As a result of the changes that are being made 23,000 members of the British Army will still remain in Germany. I cannot answer the specific points made by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, about the opening of talks; neither can I tell him when any particular resolution will be put to the Security Council on Yugoslavia. The decision was made, however, that those members of NATO who are members of the Security Council should certainly promote the decision of the NATO Summit.

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, about Yugoslavia was that one does not know how hard the sanctions decided upon at the summit will bite. Somehow or other we have to put in place sanctions which mark the disapproval of the international community and do some good yet leave the way open to helping those parts of Yugoslavia which have actually helped the peace process.

3.49 p.m.

Lord Bridges

My Lords, will the Lord Privy Seal give the House any more details about the new institution of which he informed us—the North Atlantic Co-operation Council. This seems to be a most welcome and significant development. While it is helpful to know that the first meeting of this council will be held in December and attended by the Foreign Secretary, will the Lord Privy Seal say something more about the composition of this council, the likely plan of its activities and how Her Majesty's Government intend to use their influence on what it does?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, we certainly intend to exercise as strong an influence as we can on what it does. However, I regret that I cannot answer the noble Lord's specific question. I wish that I could. All I can say is that it was a conclusion of the council that such a co-operation mechanism should be set up. Perhaps the noble Lord will bear with me if I write to him on that specific matter.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, perhaps when he does so the noble Lord will be good enough to write to me too. I was going to ask exactly the same question and add to it a small supplementary question. Why was it decided to set up a new institution, as distinct, for example, from using the CSCE or a sub-committee of the CSCE for this purpose? I am against the proliferation of new institutions. I should have thought that that is a good Conservative view as well. I am sure that there must have been a reason, and I should be interested to know what it is.

I have two further points. When will the rapid reaction force become operational? I know that one or two top appointments have been made. I was a little disturbed to hear that it will be some time before it is thought that a multinational division will be formed and the other divisions will be wholly operational. I should be glad to hear what the position is. Arising out of that, and just as important as the establishment of the force, is the point that its role has not yet been determined. I certainly do not wish to be critical here. What is it to do, where is it to go, in what circumstances and for what purpose? That is clearly as important as setting it up. I realise that some time must be spent in working that out. I hope that agreement can be reached that its role will not necessarily be wholly within the present boundaries of the NATO area. We should look at the possibility of extending it provided we do not alarm people too much and provided we can get agreement on that.

Having said that, I add my congratulations. It is not a question of finding a role for NATO; it has been a question of adapting NATO to the changed circumstances. I am delighted to hear from the noble Lord that it will remain the linchpin of our defence. We must do everything we can to ensure that the Americans understand that this is in their interests as well as in ours.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I am grateful for the congratulations offered by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. I am not so grateful for the questions, so few of which I seem able to answer. I cannot answer the question as to why it was thought that the North Atlantic Co-operation Council was necessary as a new mechanism. I shall have to come back to the noble Lord 3n that. I do not think that he need worry about the timing of the coming into operation of the rapid reaction force. It is not as though there will be a vacuum before it comes into operation, and NATO deployments will continue until that change comes about. It is right to say that the new role need not necessarily be confined to the NATO area.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, perhaps I may follow up the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. In the Statement my noble friend referred to the fact that NATO would be playing a more positive role in the future. Does that imply that NATO will be more interventionist? If that is the case, can we anticipate that it could in certain circumstances be attempting a pre-emptive role in order to guard against the outbreak of localised incidents, if they can euphemistically be referred to as such, with the example of Yugoslavia in mind? In that context, is NATO likely to look beyond the strict confines of the European territories? It would be most helpful if my noble friend could throw some light on how he sees NATO's more positive posture in the defence of peace and the promotion of security developing.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the questions he has put and for giving me a breathing space. I can now answer the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. The aim is to make the NATO rapid reaction force operational by the end of 1992. The most important decision of the summit was the acceptance that NATO should remain the linchpin of Western security and WEU should be the defence component of political union in Europe. That is the real significance of the talks.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I am a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of WEU. Can the noble Lord tell us whether progress has been made towards resolving the ludicrous position whereby France, because of past suspicions, will not take part in the command structure of NATO? We are talking of WEU as the defence component without France being wholly within NATO. To talk of setting up interchangeable staff units and so on is quite ludicrous. Was there any sign at the summit of the French modifying their attitude? That would make matters so much simpler in view of the likely reduction of American forces in Europe.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I have no reason to believe that there was discussion at the summit about a change in the present position of France so far as concerns the command structure of NATO. Apart from the communiquéabout the Soviet Union, France agreed with the conclusions reached and the important conclusion about WEU to which I referred a short time ago.