NATO Summit

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 9th July 1997.

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Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister 3:31 pm, 9th July 1997

With permission, Madam Speaker, I shall make a brief statement on the NATO summit that took place in Madrid on 8 July. I was accompanied by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and for Defence. Copies of the declaration that we agreed, of our separate statement on Bosnia, and of the NATO-Ukraine charter, which we signed this morning, are being placed in the Library of the House.

The main outcome of the summit was an invitation to Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to begin accession talks with NATO, with the aim of joining the alliance by the 50th anniversary of the Washington treaty in April 1999. This is an historic decision and a step of huge importance, which I am confident will be widely welcomed in the House, and, indeed, across Europe and the alliance. We aim to negotiate a protocol of accession by the end of this year. This will need ratification by all NATO members as well as by the prospective new members. We shall, of course, ensure that there is a full debate in the House before British ratification.

Successful NATO enlargement has been a key objective of both the previous Government and this Government. If we can get this right, it will make a major contribution to security and stability in Europe by bringing in countries of central and eastern Europe to one of our key institutions. Our priority was a manageable and limited enlargement, involving credible candidates with reliable democratic credentials and a real ability to contribute to collective security. As I said in yesterday's discussions, NATO is a military alliance, not a political club, and its collective defence obligations have to be taken with the utmost seriousness.

We were, of course, conscious of the sensitivities of candidates which might not he asked to begin negotiations this time, and of others, such as Russia, which might fear the consequences of enlargement for them. We also wanted to ensure that the NATO door would remain open for future enlargements. We therefore strongly favoured an enlargement of three countries at this stage.

I should say a particular word about Romania and Slovenia, whose applications were especially closely considered even though there was no consensus to invite them on this occasion. Both countries have indeed made remarkable progress. Romania's new Government deserve particular congratulation on the steps taken since they took office last November. A number of allies would have liked to see Romania and Slovenia included among those invited at Madrid. All, including ourselves, saw them as strong candidates for any future enlargement, but we felt that Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary were the limit for current enlargement. I warmly congratulate them.

There will of course be a financial price to be paid, mostly by the new members but also by existing members of the Alliance. We believe that this cost will be manageable. For example, there is no reason why Britain's contribution to NATO budgets, currently some £155 million per year, should rise significantly in real terms.

There were, of course, other disappointed applicants. We recognised, for example, the progress achieved towards greater stability by the states in the Baltic region. NATO leaders agreed that they expected in the years ahead to extend further invitations to nations willing to take on the responsibilities of membership, whose inclusion would serve the interests of the Alliance and enhance overall European security. We made clear our intention to intensify dialogue with aspiring members.

NATO's relationship with all its partner countries also took on a new dimension with the establishment of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in May. Today's meeting with the Heads of partner countries has been taking place under the aegis of the partnership council.

Relations with two partners deserve particular mention. NATO leaders underlined the historic achievement represented by the Founding Act between NATO and Russia signed in May in Paris. Good future co-operation with Russia is vital for Europe's security.

In Madrid, we took a further important new step by signing with President Kuchma the NATO-Ukraine charter, which provides for intensified consultation between the Alliance and Ukraine. Ukraine's independence and sovereignty are vital to European stability, and the agreement with her is a further move to consolidate her key role in Europe.

We also looked at progress on the Alliance's internal adaptation, in particular the development of a new command structure. The aim is to reach final agreement by the time of the December ministerial meetings. Against this background, we warmly welcomed Spain's readiness to participate fully in the alliance once agreement on the new command structure has been reached. I should underline that, while we want to see Spain contributing fully to alliance security, we are determined to ensure that the interests of Gibraltar are fully safeguarded in this process.

We also discussed Bosnia, and expressed particular concern about the political crisis in the Republika Srpska. We called on those responsible to resolve their differences peacefully, and demanded that the police in Republika Srpska comply fully with all the provisions of the Dayton agreement. We also again urged the leaders of the region to deliver those indicted for war crimes for trial at the International Tribunal in The Hague. This issue must not and will not be put on one side.

Finally, we agreed on a further NATO summit in April 1999 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Washington treaty. That treaty has proved its enduring value in keeping the peace in Europe. But NATO has also shown its continuing relevance, and its ability to adapt to changed circumstances. NATO must continue to evolve and change as the security situation in Europe changes. The agreement on enlargement at the Madrid summit is a further important step in that process. It is an agreement which meets all of the objectives that we sought to secure. I commend it to the House.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party

May I thank the Prime Minister for his statement? On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome many aspects of the Madrid summit, particularly the historic decision to extend the NATO Alliance to the east. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman acknowledges the outcome of the summit as very much in line with the policy of the previous Administration, and that continuity is most welcome, as are his assurances concerning Gibraltar.

Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the future stability of Europe may well depend on extending the prospects of membership to other central and eastern European nations over the coming years? What assurances did the right hon. Gentleman give to Romania and Slovenia in that respect? I agree with him that we must not undermine NATO's fundamental role as a hard-edged military alliance. Does the Prime Minister accept, however, that NATO enlargement and EU enlargement are complementary processes in many ways, and that in this respect the Madrid summit was more successful than the Amsterdam summit?

May I welcome the new NATO-Ukraine charter? Does the Prime Minister agree with me that President Kuchma's presence at the summit sent a signal to the people of the Ukraine that their nation has a positive role to play, in partnership with NATO, in spreading democracy and security throughout the world?

I agree with the Prime Minister that relations with Russia are central to the future of NATO, and that the new NATO-Russia Founding Act is an essential step in bringing Russia closer to the west. Will he assure the House that, although Russia has legitimate security interests, she will not have a right of veto over future NATO members?

Does the Prime Minister agree with me that Britain can be proud of the role that our forces have played and continue to play in Bosnia? He said that he had urged the leaders of the region to deliver those indicted for war crimes for trial, but how does he intend to take that forward in practice?

Does the Prime Minister agree that the NATO summit was an opportunity for him to reassure our allies that Britain will continue to play its full role in NATO? Did he explain to them his decision to hold a defence review? Will he confirm that some of our military commitments should be above the review, as they are essential to our defences and those of our NATO allies? Will he take this opportunity to say again that the Trident nuclear deterrent and the Eurofighter 2000 fall into that category?

What consultations has the Prime Minister had with his fellow Heads of Government? Has he reassured our German allies that the United Kingdom will not disband or withdraw the 1st Armoured Division from Germany? Did he reassure our Dutch partners that we will continue to have amphibious capabilities to co-operate with them? If those commitments are under review, are they not under threat? Is the Prime Minister aware that soundbites do not support NATO, but political action and military hardware do? Those are the two criteria that we will apply to measure the Government's commitment to our NATO allies, both old and new.

Finally, does the Prime Minister agree that the enlargement of NATO to take in former members of the Warsaw pact is an historic vindication of the resolve of those who, throughout the 1980s, rejected the simple-minded arguments for unilateral disarmament, and stood up for NATO and the western alliance in the years when that support counted the most?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I shall first deal with the politics at the end of the right hon. Gentleman's comments. The defence review has been welcomed by people in the armed forces, who think that it is entirely sensible. We have made it clear that it is foreign policy-led. As far as I am aware, the greatest cuts in defence made by any Government were made by his Government. With the greatest respect, we shall not take lessons from him on that. Our commitment to Trident and the Eurofighter has been made absolutely clear on many occasions.

I shall briefly deal with the points that the right hon. Gentleman made on the summit and on the NATO-Ukraine charter. We are in basic agreement. The assurances to Romania and Slovenia will be considered in good faith. We did not think it right to give a commitment that those countries will be taken in when the next round of enlargement occurs, but we have given a commitment that we will consider it in good faith.

We thought, as did the Americans and other countries, that it was right not to bring them in now, as the three countries that have joined—Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary—have shown over a long period their commitment to the democratic process, and have got their armed forces almost up to the required state to be full members of NATO, whereas that is not yet the position with Romania and Slovenia. In the language we used, we deliberately "held the door open? to them and to other countries, and we shall continue to do so.

I agree that NATO and European Union enlargement go hand in hand. The charter with Ukraine is an important attempt to bind Ukraine even more into the European Community, but it still has a long way to go with its economic reforms. I expressed to President Kuchma the Government's full support for the action that he is taking, in the hope that he will continue that economic reform process.

Russia will not have a right of veto over new NATO members, although we must handle that issue sensitively. I concur with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the role of our armed forces in Bosnia. We keep all measures relating to the prosecution of war criminals under close scrutiny the whole time. I am immensely glad to report to the House that the British armed forces in Bosnia received the greatest of praise from all countries at the summit. They are generally reckoned to have done a superb job, often in very difficult circumstances, that have taken them far beyond the normal duties of soldiery.

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Leader of the Liberal Democrats

I welcome the Prime Minister's statement, which showed that sensible and admirable progress had been made in Madrid. Even if some of it had as much to do with American domestic politics as with international necessity, it is no less welcome for that.

I have two questions, one relating specifically to Bosnia and one more general. First, does the Prime Minister agree that, while it may not be necessary to hunt down every petty war criminal in Bosnia immediately, it is urgently necessary for stability, and for withdrawal from the climate of increasing confrontation in Bosnia, to hunt out soon—or obtain soon—the more senior war criminals? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the sooner that is done, the better?

My second question relates to the general progress in Madrid. That progress was sensible, but short-term. We still lack a strategy. Let me give the Prime Minister an example. The armed forces of Romania, which has been excluded from NATO, are by general consent both more efficient and more under civilian control than those of, say, Poland and the Czech Republic. Are we now going to draw up general criteria that will be applied in the consideration of future entrants?

Does the Prime Minister accept that there is a necessary but growing divergence between the long-term strategic aims of the Americans in NATO and the Europeans in NATO? The Americans see NATO as a global institution, perhaps with implications for their policy on the middle east, while we see it as an institution concerned with security in Europe.

As an ad hoc set of decisions, the decisions that were made were sensible; but they do not yet comprise a strategy, and we need a strategy urgently.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I agree that it is important for us to take action on war criminals, and, as I have said, we keep that under constant review. There are many other things that we need to do in order to give more impetus to the process in Bosnia, which has been in danger of drifting for some time. That issue formed a large part of the more informal discussions at the Madrid summit. We hope that the proposals that now exist, and the implementation of the Dayton agreement, can be given greater force, and we are considering how we can achieve that.

As for Romania, and the question of which countries come into NATO, a range of criteria must be established before a judgment can be properly assessed; but I think that those criteria are basically fairly obvious. Of course they are to do with the state of the country concerned—with the development of democracy there, and the state of the country's armed forces; but—this is the burden of what I had to say when I addressed the summit—we must realise that NATO is a military alliance.

There was a danger that people were saying, "Let us broaden the alliance to show good faith, and introduce more and more countries." What membership of NATO means is that we guarantee that we will send our troops to a country and that, if necessary, they will die to defend that country. The country involved guarantees, vice versa, that its troops will come and die for our country. That is a profound and solemn obligation, which I believe should be undertaken only when we are absolutely clear that certain countries are ready to undertake it.

Judgments change. Two years ago, people might have said that Slovakia rather than Slovenia was the country that would come into NATO, but they probably would not say that now. The matter must be kept under review.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned relations between the Europeans and the Americans. I think that there is a clear strategy for NATO, in that collective security is still tremendously important to us. Of course its nature has changed somewhat as a result of the welcome changes that have taken place in eastern Europe, but I believe that one of the purposes of NATO is to bind the Americans and Europe more closely together.

I took the opportunity of saying in Madrid—as, indeed, I did at the Amsterdam summit, when we discussed the idea of a common defence policy in Europe—that nothing must ever be done that would undermine that transatlantic alliance, because it is the foundation of NATO, and is entirely right in terms of defence principles.

We were talking about Romania a moment ago. In Romania, we have our biggest bilateral defence programme in central Europe. It is far bigger than those in many other countries that urged us to take Romania into NATO.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

When President Kuchma came to the Jubilee Room last year. I asked him in his capacity as the former technical director at Baikonour whether there should be more co-operation on the tremendous science that existed in Soviet times. He gave the positive answer that, for financial and technical reasons, a great deal could be done between Ukraine and, for that matter, Kazakstan and the west for mutually beneficial purposes. Was anything said about that technical co-operation or about the unstable sarcophagus problem at Chernobyl?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I had a bilateral meeting with President Kuchma, and both those issues were raised. On the first, we assured him of our intention to carry on and to deepen technical exchange. Of course, we make quite a contribution through the know-how funds to what is happening in Ukraine.

My hon. Friend asked about the sarcophagus, the covering on the Chernobyl reactors. President Kuchma raised that with us, and we are currently looking to see how the European bank for reconstruction and development can assist in the process of finding an alternative to what is there at present—the Chernobyl reactors. It is important for this issue to be dealt with because if we are to make sure that Chernobyl is closed down by 2000, there is much work to be done. We agreed that we would carry on exchanging information on these subjects.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

I assure the Prime Minister that, on the central theme of the enlargement of NATO, I think that he will have wise and general support. I emphasise the importance of what he said about showing sensitivity to Russia in this development. There is too ready an acceptance that it must be the obvious step. It is the right step, but it needs to be carefully managed.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say anything about the costs of infrastructure improvements that may be involved in this enlargement? Is it not the case that they could result in substantial injections of foreign currency into some of the countries concerned? Is he aware that, in an existing NATO country, we cancelled a major infrastructure improvement because of evidence that criminal organisations were likely to receive a substantial share of the proceeds? I encourage him to take a close interest in how such investments will be managed in the countries that receive them.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his broad support. I agree that we have to be very sensitive to Russia's concerns, which is why last month we signed the agreement with Russia about our future relations. It is not possible to give a detailed breakdown of the costs, although I am advised that some of the estimates that I have seen recently are highly exaggerated.

The right hon. Gentleman's points about foreign currencies and the difficulties that were encountered over infrastructure projects are well taken. For precisely that reason, we have to be clear, during the negotiations about accession, that proper arrangements are made. Of course, that is another reason for us to be clear about those countries being ready for full membership of NATO.

Photo of Dr Jim Marshall Dr Jim Marshall Labour, Leicester South

My right hon. Friend agreed with the Leader of the Opposition that the expansion of NATO and that of the European Union would go together. Does he agree that the Western European Union should be involved in that equation? If so, will an invitation be extended to the three applicant countries to join the Western European Union? If that happens, what will be the consequences for the developing common defence policy of the European Union?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right: the WEU has an important role to play. That was precisely why we safeguarded its position in the Amsterdam treaty. Words were inserted at our behest to make it quite clear that part of the common defence policy that we certainly perceive in relation to Europe is through the WEU. Obviously, invitations to other countries are kept under review all the time.

My hon. Friend's point is well taken, and it is another reason for our belief that NATO and the WEU are the foundation stones of our common defence policy. Although we want to co-operate with European Union countries and want such co-operation to be practical, we should not rush into a common European defence policy while we are still trying to sort out basic arrangements in the alliances we already have.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

I applaud the Prime Minister's determination to ensure that it is well understood that NATO is a military, not a political, organisation. In his deliberations, was he able to come to any firm conclusion with our partners on the question of Commander-in-Chief South, and the position of the French Government? Does the Prime Minister agree that, as there are countries that have been left out—for reasons with which I entirely concur; again, I applaud what he said about them—it is important that the partnership for peace process is strengthened and deepened, so that it does not become a meaningless waiting room for those countries that want to join, but are not able to do so?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

On the first point, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to be diplomatic and to say that discussions are continuing in relation to Commander-in-Chief South, but the hon. Gentleman's point about the partnership for peace process is absolutely right. I should have said that that was one of the things that was raised at the summit.

It is important that these countries understand that the way is open. A number of different factors have to be balanced there, but one reason why I was hesitant about an enlargement by live, apart from the fact that I did not think that the case was sufficiently justified on other grounds, was that it was important that we did not give the impression that, having taken in five, that was the end—that one group was in and no one else came in.

This process will have to be handled with huge care and sensitivity, not least because of the problems to do with Russia over the next period, but the partnership for peace has worked out far better than people thought as an initiative, and we gave it full support and agreed to intensify it.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley

As the Prime Minister knows, we have not had the open and vigorous debate on this important issue that people have had in the United States, which is regrettable. If we were being sensitive to Russia, we would not have embarked on this enlargement in the first place. Does he think it responsible for NATO to encourage countries such as Poland, which are struggling with their economies, to double their defence budget at the cost of health, education and the infrastructure—all those things that are needed in an emerging economy?

How much is enlargement going to cost this country? The rumours in the United States are that it will cost us more than the United States. Lastly, will he tell us precisely what the process of ratification will be in the House of Commons? As he knows, in the United States, it is a long-drawn-out process. Can he give us some indication of the time scale for ratification in the House?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

First, the process of enlargement is important. There can no doubt be legitimate disagreement about it, but I believe that it is extremely important for countries that have emerged from under the shadow of the old Soviet Union and that feel that accession is an important part of their progress towards modernisation and democracy, to be part of the NATO alliance.

Having talked to the President of Poland during the summit, I believe that Poland did not need much encouragement. It views accession as an essential part of what it wants to achieve. Indeed, the problem for NATO is not that it is having to drag unwilling countries into the NATO alliance. On the contrary, as we have discussed, the problem is that it is having to say no to many countries that want us to say yes at present.

The ratification process will, of course, be a matter for discussion, but it will be fully debated in the House of Commons. There are people in the United States who wholly oppose the enlargement process, but many of them want the United States to have an isolationist policy, which I would not like us to agree with at all. The maintenance of a strong link between the United States and Europe is an essential part of our future defence requirements and of our security. It is to the credit of President Clinton that he has been prepared to take those people on.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Conservative, Wealden

I, too, applaud the Prime Minister's statement. I can confirm that the reaction of the countries to which he referred is correct, as I was able to judge for myself at a meeting in Warsaw over the weekend of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Nevertheless, I hope that the Prime Minister will take into account the fact that, as NATO is a military alliance, there is also concern, among those who have welcomed expansion so far, that it could lead to tremendous diplomatic and political problems with not only Russia but those nations which might find themselves disappointed. I strongly emphasise the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), who said how important it is to establish the criteria in a way that will ensure that, if those countries are not included in the expansion of NATO, there will be an expansion of the usefulness—in their eyes—of the partnership for peace and proper, and positive use of the Foundation Act which established the co-operation of discussions with Russia.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I totally agree with the right hon. Gentleman. That is precisely our intention. It is important that all these decisions are taken free from politics between the main powers. They must be taken on an objective basis that can gain some credibility. That is what we have tried to do in the arrangements that we set out. I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Does the Prime Minister agree that this exercise will almost certainly cost the Labour Government billions of pounds over five years? Now that those three Warsaw pact countries—the Czech Republic. Hungary and Poland—want to join, and another half a dozen Warsaw pact countries want to jump on the bandwagon, who is the enemy? It cannot be all those countries in the middle east, because successive Tory Governments have rearmed them over the years, and it cannot be China because Governments have handed over Hong Kong to that country. Who is the enemy? Why should we be spending all this money for this organisation, when we could use it on the hospitals, schools and many other projects that we need in Britain?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I am sorry to say that I cannot agree with my hon. Friend. We have no reason to think that we are talking about billions of pounds of public spending. I said earlier that I see no reason now—I will make it clear if things change—why there should be a real-terms increase in NATO expenditure at all. Much of the spending that takes place will be in those countries that want to gear themselves up for membership of NATO.

The purpose of NATO remains collective security. Yes, it is less easy today to say where a threat may come from, but we need the capability to defend ourselves properly. Collective security has been the basis of our defence for decade upon decade, and it has served us pretty well. The vast majority of countries which remain in NATO—probably all those countries—do so because they see genuine benefit in it. They would not remain in membership if they did not.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin Conservative, Romsey

I support strongly the calls today for an enhanced role for partnership for peace. Can the Prime Minister be a little more specific about the timetable? Is he saying that the three new members of NATO will be fully fledged members by 1999, able to fulfil their obligations under article 5 of the Washington treaty? Can he be more specific about costings? He said that the cost to the United Kingdom of those three new members will not be significant. Whatever the cost, significant or not, will it fall on the defence budget or the Foreign Office budget?

We welcome what the Prime Minister said about Spain and Gibraltar, but am I to understand that the United Kingdom has vetoed Spain's membership of the integrated military structure, and will continue to do so until it allows its airspace to be used not only for NATO allies engaged in NATO exercises but for civil airlines using that airspace for access to Gibraltar?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

On the timetable, the aim is that, by the 50th anniversary meeting in April 1999, the membership of those countries will be through. Of course, the process of accession has to be negotiated with them in detail over that period, and that is what will happen. The aim is certainly to have them all in by April 1999, and that is the agreement we reached.

The position on Spain and Gibraltar is that the Foreign Ministers have to come back in December with the details of how the command structure will be changed as a result of the internal adaptation process of NATO. We have made it clear to the Spanish Government, tactfully but firmly, that a necessary part of ensuring that any new command structure that involves Spain is in place is that we should resolve the questions over the airspace. We will continue to do that, and I hope that we will be able to resolve the issue.

The reason that we are taking that attitude is not machismo. If Spain is fully to integrate into the military command structure—we would welcome and strongly support that—it will mean consequential changes in the way that that airspace is used. We have to ensure that it is right.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

What did the Spanish Foreign Minister mean yesterday when he spoke of Spain's "legitimate demands" of sovereignty over Gibraltar? What sort of topsy-turvy language is that? Is not an important principle involved—the right to self-determination of the people of Gibraltar? We might compare Gibraltar with the sad situation in Northern Ireland, but Northern Ireland is a divided community and Gibraltar is not. Now that Spain is a democracy, and has been for a number of years, should it not respect the wishes of almost all the people who live in Gibraltar? Surely that is not asking too much.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

Fortunately, I do not have to answer for the Spanish Foreign Minister. It is important to understand that British Government policy on Gibraltar is not going to change, and that the wishes of the vast majority of people in Gibraltar are very clear.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I support the policy of the gradual enlargement of NATO, and particularly the invitation to the three Visegrad countries. Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify policy on the Baltic states? He knows that a number of people wish to close the door permanently on any admission to NATO of the Baltic states—or at least some of them—because of the ethnic Russians in at least two of them.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should maintain the policy of admission, especially as Estonia, and probably others, will in time become members of the European Union? Meantime, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) said, should we not concentrate on ensuring that the three Baltic states participate fully in the partnership for peace programmes?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman—that is one reason why we were so insistent that the right language about the Baltic states went into the agreement and communiqué. It was made clear that there were aspiring members among the Baltic states, and that the door remained open to them on the same basis as for others. That is important. The fact that we took such a strong view was hugely welcomed by representative of all the Baltic states who attended the dinner last night. I am sure that we have generated a great deal of good will among them.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour, East Lothian

I am sure that NATO is right to defer consideration of the application from Slovenia. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that stability in the former Yugoslavia is in the vital interest of NATO and the European Union? Does he further agree that it will be difficult to have stability in the former Yugoslavia as long as Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are strutting their stuff in the Bosnian Republika Srpska? Can my right hon. Friend envisage circumstances in which NATO forces in SFOR in Bosnia may be required to help to apprehend those indicted war criminals?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

All that I can say to my hon. Friend is that we remain dedicated to bringing war criminals to justice, and we keep under review the best means of achieving that. However, that should not be taken as politic-speak for saying that the issue is being pushed into the long grass—it is not. It remains under active consideration.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

May I add my words of appreciation to those of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for the Prime Minister's statement, and in particular for the charter between NATO and Ukraine and the Government's unequivocal statement of support for Ukraine? It is a favourable development, because Ukraine is the foundation stone of eastern European security.

To continue the metaphor, are not the Baltic states the cornerstone of eastern European security? Therefore, could not a similar charter between NATO and the Baltic states be drafted, signed and ultimately ratified? Notwithstanding the favourable statements made, the Baltic states feel exposed, yet they have impeccable democratic credentials, and take part, alongside NATO, Russian and Ukrainian troops, in peacekeeping in Bosnia.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Baltic states undertake that peacekeeping role, which is one reason why we wanted to include language supportive of them in the communiqué. Obviously, we always keep under consideration the best way of improving relationships with them in defence terms. On NATO and Ukraine, it is important to understand Ukraine's absolutely pivotal role in the security of eastern Europe. The move was very good and essential for the future, not only because it assists Ukraine but because it puts in place another block of the collective security of all our countries.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Does the Prime Minister accept that opposition in the United States to NATO expansion comes largely from the peace movement and from those who are concerned about burgeoning US military expenditure? Like many people in central Europe, they are very concerned that countries with huge gaps between rich and poor will be expected to find millions of pounds that are desperately needed for houses, hospitals and schools in order to buy new weaponry from the United States and western Europe.

Would not the situation be rather better if we were attempting to achieve de-escalation in military expenditure across Europe rather than NATO expansion right up the borders with Russia—which may well fuel another arms race between NATO and Russia?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

Opposition will, of course, come from many quarters, but it is misplaced. Countries in central and eastern Europe want to be NATO members, not because they wish to engage in some new arms race—they themselves are tremendously sensitive to their own relations with Russia—but because they regard NATO membership and the collective security that that offers as the best platforms for stability for their countries, and as the best encouragement to the democratic process.

Those countries also detect a very strong connection between economic reform and NATO membership—not because of specific expenditure but because, for them, it is important to be part of the collective security that NATO represents. Being part of that collective security assists the process of economic reform in those countries, because it gives them security and confidence.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Does the Prime Minister accept, when he says that NATO and the EU go hand in hand, that there is a potential inherent contradiction between the concept of control and command, which is part and parcel of article 5 of the NATO treaty, and the concept of progressive movement towards a common defence policy in the Western European Union? How will he reconcile that contradiction in his thinking, as he has just outlined?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

We had it written into the Amsterdam treaty that we believe that our common defence is in NATO precisely because we wanted no one to be in any doubt that—in whatever arrangements for common defence we have in Europe—NATO remains for us, as for other countries, the foundation stone of our defence. NATO is a body that we have joined that, for reasons of the better satisfaction of our national interests, requires a pooling of sovereignty. The situation is similar with the European Union. They are, of course, different bodies, but the principle is the same—that, in certain respects, we are better off binding with other people than remaining outside and on our own.

Photo of Dr John Marek Dr John Marek Labour, Wrexham

I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on the success of the Madrid summit. Hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that Spain should be integrated into the NATO machinery. As part of that process, however—to take the Prime Minister back to a question asked earlier—restrictions over Spanish airspace should be lifted. That applies not only to military but to civil over-flying. It is an important issue. I am sure that the Prime Minister will receive congratulations from all hon. Members if he can resolve it—which I hope he will commit himself to doing before September.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, and, of course, those matters will be part of the discussions that we shall have over the next few months.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

I should like to ask the Prime Minister about the lack of differentiation between Slovenia and Romania. He spoke about the qualifications of credible candidates, which included being a reliable democracy and making a contribution to collective security. We have accepted the membership of Hungary, which does not have a contiguous border with any NATO country.

If NATO is to be a successful military alliance, surely the capacity to reinforce its members is of great importance, and Slovenia has a central contribution to make. Given that it fulfils the democratic functions—I accept that the armed forces of Slovenia are frankly neither here nor there in terms of the overall balance of NATO—why was there no differentiation? Was it because of the need for the United Kingdom to cosy up to the United States in the discussion about the arrangements?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

That is a slightly strange sentiment coming from that corner, but we shall let that pass. In relation to the first part of what he said, the hon. Gentleman has a fair point in one sense, but it was felt by everyone concerned that Romania and Slovenia had to be dealt with together, and I think that that is the right way to have proceeded. It is nothing to do with cosying up to the United States or anything else; it was part of our joint position because we jointly believe in it.