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Nato Strategic Concept

Volume 591: debated on Monday 22 June 1998

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2.57 p.m.

What information they intend to provide to Parliament about progress in formulating NATO's new strategic concept before its adoption by the alliance in the spring of 1999.

My Lords, decisions on the revision of NATO's strategic concept will be a matter for collective agreement by NATO heads of state and government at the Washington Summit in April 1999. The United Kingdom will play a full part in this process. Members of both Houses will have the opportunity to debate NATO matters during the enlargement debates in both Houses. The Government also expect to contribute to a future inquiry into NATO summit issues which, I understand, the Defence Select Committee in another place intends to conduct.

My Lords, I understand that those consultations are well under way. Will the noble Lord confirm that representatives of the Czech, Hungarian and Polish Governments, who are not yet members of NATO, are being consulted and taking part in the consultations? Given that NATO is the key to British defence strategy, does he think it desirable that this House and the other place should be informed and consulted as consultations proceed rather than being presented with a fait accompli next April?

My Lords, I, and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister have said that before any ratification of enlargement both Houses will have an opportunity to discuss the issues. Of course your Lordships had a debate last Friday on the nature of NATO in relation to enlargement. We shall no doubt have further such debates.

My Lords, will the noble Lord assure the House that in those discussions the UK will support full respect for national sovereignty of all UN members?

My Lords, the sovereignty of UN members is protected under the UN Charter. The UN Charter also includes the commitment to observe certain basic principles of human rights. On occasions, intervention is required within the boundaries of member states of the UN.

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that the US Senate, in giving its assent to American ratification of the expansion of NATO, made it a condition that the new strategic concept should be brought before the US Senate twice during the course of its re-negotiation; that is, before any text is adopted? Will he consider whether that might conceivably be a precedent for our Parliament? If not, in what way can we be content to be less democratic in this matter than the US?

My Lords, I have already indicated that this House and this Parliament will have an opportunity to discuss these matters. As the debate on Friday initiated by my noble friend Lord Kennet indicated, the US Senate was putting different conditions on the various developments within NATO. That is a matter primarily for the US. It is important to remember that if cost is its main concern, its share in proportion to GDP is less compared with that of the other allies. In no sense do we intend to be any less democratic when considering these issues than our allies.

My Lords, bearing in mind the manifesto commitment to seek the abolition of nuclear weapons world-wide, can we be assured that, in discussions on the new strategic concept for NATO, Her Majesty's Government will ensure that the elimination of nuclear weapons as part of NATO's strategy is on the table?

My Lords, the Government's position on nuclear disarmament has been made clear by my noble friend Lady Symons on many occasions in answer to my noble friend Lord Jenkins. We are committed to early discussions on multilateral nuclear disarmament. NATO's role in that is clearly a significant element. However, nuclear weapons are not NATO weapons; they are the weapons of the US, France, Britain and the other nuclear powers.

My Lords, bearing in mind the terms of the Question, which was about progress in formulating NATO'S new strategic concept before its adoption, is that not different from ratification? Can we have an assurance that there will be consultation during this period and not purely ratification after it has happened?

My Lords, the commitment that I have already given will ensure that this House will have adequate time to discuss the matter before the process is complete. There will obviously need to be a ratification debate in this House and another place.

My Lords, My noble friend properly raised the issue of nuclear weapons in this connection. Does my noble friend agree that, although the Government have been commendably clear about their own position in the matter, they have shown no signs of wishing to spread the word among other NATO members? On some suitable occasions would it not be appropriate for NATO or, conceivably, some other UN organisation to tackle this matter so that the Government's ideas may be spread more widely than is the case at present?

My Lords, we are in close contact with all our allies on these issues in NATO and in other contexts. The Government cannot be criticised for failing to make it clear to our allies and other countries where we stand on the issue of nuclear disarmament.

My Lords, will the strategic concept embody the principle of equitable contribution from each of the European member states of the alliance? Will it also establish mechanisms for monitoring the achievement of that equitability?

My Lords, cost contributions will be considered in formulating the future strategic concept. However, the burden sharing has already been set for a number of years ahead. It will no doubt be reviewed from time to time. This exercise will not affect those proportions.

My Lords, will the Minister assure us that these important defence debates, not least the SDR debate, will not occur on a Friday or the last day before the Summer Recess?

My Lords, as the noble Earl will realise there are many things which are within my power to promise, but I cannot however promise time. That is a matter for the usual channels.

My Lords, can the Government confirm that in these discussions the United States evinces more enthusiasm for the European pillar of NATO than do the British Government?

My Lords, the British Government, the United States Government and our European allies all recognise and agree that there has to be a strong European identity within NATO.

My Lords, is the noble Lord satisfied that Her Majesty's Government have done enough to assist those nations not in the first wave to meet the criteria which NATO will set so that they can join NATO as quickly as possible?

My Lords, the House knows that considerable measures have ensured that all those eastern central European countries which have expressed a wish to join NATO have received military co-operation in various forms from us. The decision on further enlargement of NATO will depend on the success of the enlargement to be finalised in March of next year.