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North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Defence Ministers)

Volume 982: debated on Tuesday 15 April 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence when next he expects to meet North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Defence Ministers.

I expect to meet NATO Defence Ministers at the Eurogroup and NATO Defence Planning Committee meetings in May.

When the NATO Defence Ministers meet in May will they discuss the reported warning from the United States that certain key American forces currently committed to NATO may have to be switched elsewhere? Can the right hon. Gentleman say what impact such a change in United States policy will have on the strategy set out in his White Paper?

I have no doubt that we shall discuss that matter. In view of international events the United States has announced plans to reinforce its military capability in South-West Asia. In no sense—as the United States has made absolutely clear—does that diminish its responsibility to its NATO Allies and the part played by the United States in that Alliance. Together with all our Allies we must take stock of the situation created by the invasion of Afghanistan. As a result of the meeting yesterday, further work has been set in hand and we shall be discussing that at the meeting I mentioned.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in current international circumstances the Council of Ministers might look with profit at a more effective division of responsibilities within the Alliance? For our part can we not try to ensure that British forces are as flexible as possible so that they are capable of intervening if necessary, where required, beyond the NATO theatre of operations?

Yes, Sir. That is always possible and is continuing at present in the light of the new situation.

When the Secretary of State goes to the next NATO meeting will he take with him page 89 of the Defence White Paper and draw the attention of the West German Defence Minister to the statement on that page to the effect that the rising trend in foreign exchange costs to BAOR is disturbing and that it is worsened by the expiry of the offset agreement this year? Will the Secretary of State impress upon the West German Minister that it is absurd that one of the weakest economies in Europe should continue to contribute such a substantial subsidy to one of the strongest economies in Europe without any offset agreement?

There is no doubt that that aspect of our costs in the Federal Republic is a source of great anxiety. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it was the Gov- ernment whom he supported, in the last Parliament, which brought the previous agreement to an end last month. We inherited that arrangement. However, I make no secret of the fact that, though I have no intention at the moment of doing anything about the arrangement that was entered into, it is a source of anxiety to us that the cost should be so high.

Will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of his NATO colleagues to the increase in the invasion of our airspace—and that of our NATO colleagues—as reported today? Does the Secretary of State intend to give any indication eventually of the results of the exercise affecting air defences in this country today?

I am not sure that that would be appropriate but I believe that it is a good thing that an exercise of this kind is taking place. There are always lessons to be learnt from an experience of this kind.