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NATO Reform

Volume 515: debated on Monday 13 September 2010

As my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary made clear at the meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in June, reform of NATO is a key priority for the UK. Defence Ministers will have further discussions on reform at their next meeting in October. We also have frequent bilateral discussions with fellow NATO Ministers and the Secretary-General on the importance of both ensuring that the alliance has the right capabilities and structures to carry out its missions, and on making better use of resources by making it a leaner, more efficient and more effective organisation.

In the coming months three major developments will have a profound impact on Britain’s foreign and defence policy in the medium term: the comprehensive spending review, the strategic defence review and the NATO summit. Does my hon. Friend agree that, although it goes without saying that NATO should be effective and efficient, it must also be flexible? Will he focus on flexibility in his pursuit of the reforms that NATO needs?

May I take this opportunity from the Dispatch Box to congratulate my hon. Friend on his election as Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs? As a result, the Committee is in very safe hands indeed, and the House should be grateful for that. He is absolutely right: we do need to be flexible, and we do need to make NATO much leaner and more able to react to circumstances as they arise. However, he is also right to point out the pressures under which we are all labouring at the moment. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we have inherited no money in the kitty with which to defend the country.

NATO’s new draft strategic concept—to be discussed at the NATO summit—suggests that participation in missile defence is open to all allies. What conclusions has the Minister drawn regarding Britain’s involvement in new missile defence systems?

As the hon. Gentleman knows well, the strategic concept will be discussed at the Lisbon summit, but as yet the Secretary-General’s paper on it has not been seen. However, I understand that missile defence is a matter of interest, and I know that, as a former member of the Select Committee on Defence, the hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest in such matters. Indeed, when he and I were on the Committee, we both looked at missile defence. This is an important area that NATO needs to address, and I hope it will be addressed squarely in the context of the strategic concept.

My hon. Friend knows of my long-standing interest in the kingdom of Morocco. What future does he think NATO’s European Mediterranean dialogue has? In particular, what future does NATO’s relationship with Morocco have, in the light of Morocco’s participation in the Mediterranean dialogue since 1995, its assistance in the Balkans and its activities in Operation Active Endeavour? Does he agree that Morocco, as one of our oldest allies, has a strong part to play in future NATO operations?

I know that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in Morocco; indeed, he is the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Morocco. He has rightly pointed out that that country is part of Operation Active Endeavour, although I understand that certain technical difficulties currently preclude it from contributing to naval shipping. I must also point out to him that Morocco is not involved in Afghanistan. However, we welcome support from wherever we can obtain it, and I hope he will be able to use his good offices to that effect.