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North Atlantic Treaty

Volume 520: debated on Tuesday 14 December 2010

5. What recent discussions he has with his US counterpart on co-operation under the north Atlantic treaty; and if he will make a statement. (30262)

Secretary Clinton and I worked together closely prior to and during the NATO summit in Lisbon in November. During the summit, we worked together to agree with other allies the new strategic concept as well as the way forward on Afghanistan. The United States remains a firm ally of the United Kingdom and we will continue to work closely with it in NATO.

Could the Secretary of State elaborate on what discussions he has had with the US on the gap in our defence capability, and the implications of that for international relations? I am thinking in particular of the gap in our carrier strike force.

The United States has been very supportive of the conclusions of our strategic defence and security review—[Hon. Members: “What?”] It has been extremely supportive, and Secretary Clinton reflected that in her remarks. The US is pleased that we will continue to spend more than 2% of our national income on defence, and that we will continue to have the fourth largest military budget in the world. The fact that we are such a strong member of NATO, and that we have the strong alliance of which I have been speaking and work so closely with the United States and France, will help us to work through some of the difficulties in the coming years while we get to an orderly state in our defences, which we certainly did not inherit and we have now to bring about.

Sea lanes of communication are a critical component of the global economy, especially those in the north Atlantic that facilitate trade between the US and the UK. What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with his counterparts on maritime security co-operation within NATO, especially since the axing of the Nimrod MRA4?

Maritime security is an important component in NATO. It is primarily the work of my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence to hold those discussions, but the hon. Lady can be assured that Defence Ministers have done so. In particular, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has been working with international colleagues on maritime security around the high north and the north Atlantic. That work is going on, primarily in the Ministry of Defence, but it is of course supported in the Foreign Office.

The Prime Minister said last week that we might start drawing down troops from Afghanistan next year. Has the Foreign Secretary had any discussions with the United States about what conditions would have to be met before such a draw-down could be put into effect?

My hon. Friend will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister first talked about that during his visit to Washington in July, as well as reiterating the point during his trip to Afghanistan last week. He said in Washington, around his discussions with the President, that such a draw-down

“should be based on the conditions on the ground. The faster we can transition districts and provinces to Afghan control, clearly the faster that some forces can be brought home.”

That is the position of the United States as well as of the United Kingdom, and the Prime Minister and the President have certainly discussed it together.