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National Security

Volume 503: debated on Monday 11 January 2010

1. Whether his Department's forthcoming Green Paper will include an assessment of the contribution to national security of the UK's EU and transatlantic relationships. (309564)

Effective international partnerships are crucial to our security as a nation and we will benefit from strengthening multilateral and bilateral co-operation. We expect to build further on both our European Union and transatlantic relationships. Those who think that it is a choice misunderstand where our interests lie. The EU, NATO and our bilateral relationships are complementary one to another. The Green Paper will address that issue.

The world faces threats from global terrorism, global warming and global poverty. Those international issues require international solutions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK’s defence is best served by strong alliances with mainstream parties in Europe, not with those on the lunatic fringe?

Totally. Those who believe that the EU has no effective role to play in our security, of whom there appear to be some in the House, really miss the point. As I said, the EU is complementary to our other alliances and relationships and can play a very significant part in our security. We should welcome that and build those relationships.

Although I agree with the burden of what the Secretary of State says, it is nevertheless true that because of the European Union’s poverty of ambition and its disorganisation, it needs to be directed towards the military operations for which it is equipped and in which it is able to take part. Does he agree that stabilisation operations are ideal for the EU, but that we need to look to NATO for the serious war-fighting operations?

I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says, but not exclusively. The EU can play a role. We should not build concrete alternative structures, but what the EU can do and is doing should be complementary to NATO. After all, most of its members are also members of NATO. I was at fleet command in Northwood only a few days ago, where the EU is working well with NATO on anti-piracy and making a real contribution.

Although the transatlantic relationship will obviously remain our most important alliance, does the Secretary of State agree that in the 21st century the Americans will increasingly look towards the Pacific and less towards the Atlantic? Will the Green Paper offer an opportunity to reappraise the military relationship with some of our key European partners and move it on to a scale that we have not seen in the past?

Our bilateral relationship with the United States is, as the hon. Gentleman said, the most important security and defence relationship that we have and will stay that way for the foreseeable future. However, no serious people in the US expect us to do anything other than build good working relationships with our European neighbours and the European Union. They see that as a positive thing, so there is no competition in that regard, as some people appear to think there is or should be.

Given the state of the defence budget, the fact that we are fighting a war and the possible danger of duplication by investing sums of money in European alternatives to NATO defence structures, what possible justification can there be for spending any significant sums at all on the duplicatory European defence capability?

The hon. Gentleman would have to explain exactly where we have done that and where there has not been effect from European Union involvement in the operations that it has undertaken. As I said, I recently visited fleet command, where we have run Operation Atalanta without any structures and without building any unnecessary bureaucracy. We have got that operation up and running in pretty short order, under a European flag and co-operating with NATO. Why is his party so totally opposed to such effective operations?