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European Security And Defence Initiative

Volume 622: debated on Wednesday 28 February 2001

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2.53 p.m.

Whether they are satisfied with the discussions they have had with the United States Administration on the subject of the European Security and Defence Initiative.

Yes, my Lords. The United States and the United Kingdom agree that NATO is the essential foundation of transatlantic security. The United States administration supports European efforts to improve military capability and to take a greater share of the security burden. The United Kingdom is committed to taking the European Security and Defence Policy forward on the basis agreed at the Nice European Council. The US supports these efforts and welcomes the progress made towards our shared goals.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Will she confirm that the United States administration was assured that the European security and defence identity would have no separate planning, intelligence or policy analysis or activity of its own? If that is so, what is the function of the policy, planning and intelligence divisions at the European Union military staff headquarters?

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that there will he no duplicate command structure. However, he raises an interesting question, and one that has caused confusion in the minds of some commentators. The strategic planning capability is the facility to examine military strategic options to support political decisions by providing high-level advice to EU military committees—the Chiefs of Staff and their representatives—and to the political authorities. As previously discussed, that is an advisory function based in Brussels involving about 135 people. That is entirely different from operational planning—the detailed military planning which takes place once a decision to intervene has been made. The role of the operational planners will be carried out either through an existing NATO command structure or, where a smaller or less intensive operation is envisaged, in existing national structures such as our own PJHQ. I hope that that has cleared up what I believe has been significant confusion in some people's minds—though not, of course, in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont.

My Lords, does the President of France agree with the Prime Minister's interpretation of the role and function of the ESDI?

My Lords, I believe that there is a wide degree of agreement between the British Prime Minister and the President of France. Perhaps I may quote a remark on the NATO alliance made by the President of France on 9th February at Cahors. He said:

"European defence is being done and can only he done in complete harmony with NATO. It is a question of two tracks which are complementary and not in competition".
That is an unequivocal statement.

My Lords, it is important to get this right. It matters enormously in terms of practical politics and international relations. I have no doubt that we are convinced that we should be backing and reinforcing NATO, rather than setting up an organisation that could be different from NATO, autonomous, and indeed a potential rival. But that is clearly not the same understanding as exists in Paris and in other continental capitals.

If we want to make the matter absolutely plain, surely it was very unwise to agree at Nice to the presidency conclusions which include such words as:

"The military capabilities are to be established so that the Union is in a position to intervene with or without recourse to NATO assets".
I could give many more such quotations, but I shall not. That is indeed military autonomy.

My Lords, I must take issue with the noble Lord on his last point about access to NATO assets. We have been clear throughout on this matter. We are talking specifically about Petersberg tasks—about humanitarian tasks and peacekeeping tasks. In answering Questions previously in this House I have made it clear that there may be occasions when, for humanitarian tasks, we shall not need recourse either to NATO planning or to NATO assets. One such example was the rescue operations that were mounted recently in Mozambique. That has been clear throughout. The essential point that I must impress upon my noble friend, on which we are all agreed, is that it is essential to improve European military capability. I believe that the understandings on that with our French allies are very clear. Indeed, Mr Alain Richard said:

"The European defence we aspire to is not and will not be an alternative to the Atlantic Alliance".

My Lords, is there not a danger that we are getting all this out of proportion? Does the noble Baroness agree that it must be in the American interests that Europe should do more in the defence field; in our interests that Europe is capable of handling small, local situations over which the Americans may show increasingly less interest; and in everyone's interest that all this should happen within the overall umbrella of NATO and without undue and unnecessary duplication? Can the noble Baroness confirm that that is exactly what the Government are working towards?

Yes, my Lords. I agree unequivocally with the noble and gallant Lord. I can agree that that is exactly the aim to which the Government are working.

My Lords, your Lordships will have listened with interest to the noble Baroness's rather convoluted reply to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I should like to ask the noble Baroness this question categorically: do we believe what the Prime Minister said to President Bush in Washington last week, or do we believe in the Nice treaty? These are two totally different things.

My Lords, they are not two totally different things. There has been a great deal of discussion around Annex VII to the treaty, and much discussion about what is meant. I should remind the noble Lord of the aim of that annex which states:

"The aim in relations between the EU and NATO is to ensure effective consultation, co-operation and transparency in determining the appropriate military responses to crises and to guarantee effective crisis management".
There is a whole annex devoted to it. I believe that it is very clear that the interests of the United Kingdom, of Europe and, indeed, those of the Atlantic Alliance and our friends in America are being served by the measures that we are taking forward.