Skip to main content

Weu Meeting: European Security

Volume 490: debated on Tuesday 17 November 1987

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

2.49 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement on the recent meeting of defence ministers at the Western European Union in The Hague.

My Lords, the meeting was the latest in a series which provides a valuable opportunity for collective discussion by foreign and defence ministers from member nations. It was marked in particular by the publication of a platform on European security which will act as a guide for the future development of the union.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. I presume that he is encouraged by the fact that President Reagan welcomed the platform, as it is called, which, as my noble friend said, was adopted at the recent conference at The Hague. Can he indicate what areas of work Her Majesty's Government will be seeking to promote in the coming months for the WEU's future development?

My Lords, we certainly share the welcome accorded to the platform which I referred to and which reaffirms both the central position of the United States with regard to the defence of Europe and the nuclear strategy we have adopted ever since the end of the Second World War.

As regards the future activities of the WEU, that is a matter for the union itself. We have noted for example the very useful role which the WEU has recently played with regard to political aspects of activities in the Gulf.

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the Government are satisfied with the degree of liaison which exists between the WEU and NATO generally?

My Lords, we are satisfied. I should emphasise that the role of the two organisations is very different. Indeed, I myself addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the WEU only last year.

My Lords, since Soviet foreign policy has not departed in a single respect from the Brezhnev doctrine where the former independent countries of eastern and central Europe and the Baltic states are concerned or in other continents, does not this emphasise very heavily indeed the importance of WEU?

My Lords, nobody underestimates the importance of the WEU, certainly not this Government. We were instrumental in revitalising the union a couple of years or so ago. My noble friend is quite right to point out that both the foreign policy and the defence policy of the Soviet Union have changed hardly a jot recently. That is not to say that we do not welcome some of the changes that have taken place.

My Lords, is the Minister concerned that there is a great danger of proliferation between the various bodies of European defence ministers? There is the WEU which does not include all the European members of NATO. There are also the European defence ministers who meet within NATO, France also being represented. There is a separate body to deal with equipment problems.

Is there not a danger of there being differences of view (I speak as an ex-President of the Assembly of the WEU), which might confuse allies, particularly the United States and Canada who are not involved in these exchanges? I feel that there is a danger of them getting at cross purposes.

My Lords, I think the noble Lord is right. There is a danger that there will be a proliferation of bodies of this kind all trying to achieve the same thing. That is why it is important that all the respectable bodies such as the WEU make sure that they take part in the activities appropriate to them.

As I said earlier, the WEU provides a valuable political impetus to European security and cooperation. But it is NATO which is the cornerstone of our defence policy. It is important that those two particular areas do not get blurred.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Helsinki Final Act still has a useful part to play in the objectives of Western defence? What have Her Majesty's Government to say of the implications for Western defence priorities in view of the cuts in defence expenditure widely predicted as a result of current considerations regarding the American budget?

My Lords, as I mentioned just now, the platform which was agreed at the recent WEU meeting underlined the importance of the American contribution to the defence of Europe. That is why my noble friend Lord Rodney was right to point to President Reagan's welcome of that particular aspect.

My Lords, what are the Government's views on the nuclear defence policy of the Western world? Does the Minister agree that it is now absolutely essential for the European members of NATO to make immediate progress in the direction of a common conventional defence policy?

My Lords, nobody doubts the importance of ensuring the strength of our conventional weapons systems and other aspects of conventional defence. We spend a great deal of time coming together in that particular way, for example through the independent European programme group which has frequent meetings, not least at ministerial level.

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that the WEU gave full support to the proposed INF treaty? On the discussion which took place concerning the Iran-Iraq conflict, can he say whether there were any views about a co-ordinated Euro-forces policy in the Gulf?

My Lords, on the latter point, I think it is important that the WEU does not get involved in operational matters. There would have been a risk of that if it had gone too far down the road which the noble Lord indicates. Its contribution on the political aspects of the Gulf situation was very welcome. As to support for the INF agreement, I can assure the noble Lord that all the European allies, including in particular those who are members of the Western European Union, warmly welcome the agreement which is now in prospect.