I often discuss with allies the role of NATO, because the alliance remains the bedrock of European security. Our proposals to enhance European defence arrangements, launched by the Prime Minister on 1 March, are based firmly on this. They also reflect the desire, shared by many of our European allies, that European defence arrangements should remain intergovernmental. The US Government have welcomed our initiative and the desire of European allies to take on a greater share of the burden of providing for Europe's defence.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that encouraging answer. Does he agree that people in Britain will not thank us for mucking about with NATO and risking upsetting our long-term allies in the United States and Canada in favour of some new-fangled defence arrangement under which we may find ourselves relying on countries such as Belgium, which would not help us in the Gulf war, France, which will not let its troops serve under anyone but a French officer, and even Spain, with which, as we know, it is very difficult to co-operate on anything?
I think that General Rupert Smith, who commands French troops in UNPROFOR, might be a little baffled by my hon. Friend's remarks, but I agree with her general point. We have no desire to replace or duplicate NATO. That is why the proposals which the Prime Minister sketched on 1 March are designed to provide a meeting place between the continuance of NATO—enlarged, as we hope, to the east in coming years—and the desire of Europeans to do more alongside NATO, using NATO assets in the humanitarian and peacekeeping tasks which we might want to undertake as Europeans.
Will the Foreign Secretary tell his colleagues in NATO that the queue of serious, democratic countries in central and eastern Europe that wish to become NATO members should not be left hanging around outside the door of NATO for ever? If NATO is to succeed and if it is to have a 21st century role, the countries that want to become part of that club should be admitted, with a clear timetable, instead of being put off for years to come.
There is a deliberate exercise in hand. This year, NATO is considering the how and the why—the rationale and the method—of enlargement. After that, we shall discuss the results with all those who are interested and then we shall discuss the who and the when—who will join and the timetable. It takes time. This is not a matter of signing a piece of paper and clinking champagne glasses. This is a matter of extending considerably further to the east the security guarantees that we undertake to all our NATO allies. The process needs a bit of time and a bit of thought, but it will happen.