On a point of order, Madam Speaker. We are debating three protocols relating to the North Atlantic treaty. The protocols have been tabled. They are Command Papers and are available to the House, but the explanatory memoranda are not available in the Vote Office. May I suggest that, in our quest for ways in which to modernise this place, we might think again about the Ponsonby rule, under which treaties, conventions and protocols are ratified in the House? We are lucky to get a debate on the enlargement of NATO. As the House is considering how it administers its proceedings, the Ponsonby rule might fruitfully be reviewed.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point of order. It seems to me that the Modernisation Committee could look at that. I shall see that the relevant section of the Official Report is given to the Modernisation Committee.
For almost half of this century, Europe has been divided between east and west. That division would have been incomprehensible to previous generations. For the preceding two centuries, Berlin, Warsaw, Prague and Budapest were part of a common European heritage expressed in shared culture, music and architecture. Their separation from the rest of Europe after the war was brutal, and was enforced with frequent brutality.
The restoration of those capitals and their countries to our common European heritage has been the most exciting change in political geography of our generation. It began a decade ago in Berlin with the destruction of the wall that symbolised the iron curtain. It will continue for another decade, as we continue the process of enlargement of the European Union to embrace the new democracies of central and eastern Europe. Countries that have emerged from former communist rule to share our democracy and our freedom of speech must also be given every opportunity to share in our prosperity. We cannot allow the iron curtain between east and west to be replaced by a velvet curtain, dividing the haves from the have-nots.
Today's debate is another step in rolling back the division that has scarred Europe for too long. Just as enlargement of the European Union will enable the people of central Europe to share in our prosperity, so the enlargement of NATO will enable them to share in our security. It is a mark of the momentous change in our continent that three countries that, only a decade ago, were among our potential enemies will, from now on, be among our firm allies.
That step is in the interests of the new member states, but it is also in the interests of the existing states. We, too, have everything to gain from increased security in central Europe. The division of Europe has lasted since a war that began with the invasion of the Czech lands and of Poland. Today, we put such conflict between us firmly into the history books by bringing those countries into a common military alliance based on the principle of mutual defence.
NATO has been the foundation stone of Britain's security for 50 years. As the iron curtain parted, there were those who claimed that NATO would become redundant. Some still say that, with the Soviet Union dead and buried, NATO has done its job and should be given an honourable discharge, but, 10 years after the cold war, NATO has a new role. We have learnt that there is a continuing need for a military organisation of NATO's competence and strength. We have learnt that NATO is still essential to maintaining peace and stability. NATO's role now is not solely one of the territorial defence of its members against any external military threat. The mission most often undertaken by NATO forces is to act as the instrument of regional security by building peace rather than deterring war.
In Bosnia, we saw war wreak its misery once again in our continent. NATO played the key part in bringing that war to an end, and is playing an equally key part in building the peace. Without NATO's resolve, the brutal repression in Kosovo in early June would have remained unchecked. It is NATO which is providing comfort and solidarity to the neighbouring countries of Albania and Macedonia by high-profile military visits and exercises. Therefore, there is a clear, continuing role for NATO, facing up to new threats to security and stability.
On NATO's role in southern Europe, will my right hon. Friend reflect on whether there is a case for expanding the work of the United Nations, giving it the capability it needs to ensure that ceasefires are observed and peace is upheld, rather than handing matters to a military alliance which is not answerable to the UN?
The United Nations remains at the centre of the Government's policy in creating a strong, healthy and peaceful international community. Indeed, over the past year, we have ensured that key decisions on peacekeeping and conflict prevention are taken to the UN. Also, we have made proposals in the strategic defence review for ensuring that Britain is ready to respond to calls by the UN on our forces in order to meet challenges to peace around the world. Senior UN figures are of course adamant—as we are—that the UN must be the body which provides the mandate and the international community's response to threats, but, by its culture and nature, it is not a military organisation, and is not well placed to provide command and control of military operations. That is why the UN's recent history in peacekeeping operations has been to use military regional organisations to respond to its mandate and requirements. NATO must be able to respond to such UN calls when they are made.
This Government can speak with some authority on NATO because, of course, a Labour Government negotiated the North Atlantic treaty. Britain has remained one of NATO's major allies and contributors ever since. NATO has served our country well; it has given us security against external threat, confidence in our relations with European partners and the means by which to police the security of our region. NATO is also the most powerful pillar of the partnership between Europe and the United States.
We who owe so much to the alliance must now be generous in admitting as members the central European countries on our borders. As the hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) mentioned on a point of order, that is achieved by three protocols—one for each of the three countries. Incidentally, I have made inquiries; the explanatory memoranda will be in the Vote Office as soon as they can be copied this morning.
There are three fundamental components to NATO's effectiveness: collective defence, armed forces that can work together and a commitment to common values. We believe that each will be strengthened by admitting Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic as new members.
The new york times reports that a majority opinion in Czechoslovakia is against joining NATO. Having said all that about NATO's advantages, what is my right hon. Friend's assessment of the effect of NATO expansion on nationalist forces in the Soviet Union, which do not love democracy and which might exploit for their own purposes such expansion to their borders—especially the Baltic states?
It is not for the House to decide the state of Czech opinion. That is a matter for those who are elected to represent Czech opinion; they are unanimous in their wish to accede to membership of NATO. The one occasion on which public opinion in any of the three lands was tested was in Hungary, where a referendum organised by the Hungarian Government produced a thumping majority in favour of membership. We NATO members must recognise and accept the advice of those who represent the three countries that it is the settled view that they wish to share the security that NATO membership confers.
It may be appropriate to respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, who anticipated part of my speech, by making the following points. We have always maintained that Russian concerns were misplaced. NATO is a defensive alliance; its primary duty remains the defence of its member states against aggression from any quarter. Its most urgent work at present is securing stability in parts of Europe where there is instability, such as the western Balkans. It is in Russia's interest that NATO should be able to restore stability in such regions of common interest. Indeed, Russia has worked with NATO to secure that objective in Bosnia. I accept my hon. Friend's point that Russia's concerns about NATO remain, although we have established valuable dialogue with Russia on wider issues.
On the eve of the Madrid summit on enlargement of NATO, all members of the alliance signed the NATO-Russia founding Act, which has established a new relationship based on co-operation not confrontation. The founding Act provides for a permanent joint council between us. I have attended ministerial meetings of that council, which have been extremely productive and conducted in a friendly spirit. The permanent joint council has a wide agenda, covering a variety of common interests from assistance with economic and employment consequences of defence reduction to greater transparency of force levels and capability. A year on from the summit, I find it welcome that we can talk constructively with Russia about issues of common interest without the matter of enlargement getting in the way of the dialogue.
I return to the issue of the three countries that are seeking to join us. I said that the principle of collective defence still lies at the heart of NATO. Article 5 of the Washington treaty makes an attack on one NATO member an attack on all. It is the strongest possible guarantee of our security, and sends the clearest possible message to anyone with designs on the territory or freedom of action of a NATO member. The three new members of NATO will enjoy that guarantee; they will accept, too, the responsibility that it imposes on them. We will help to defend Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic; they will help to defend us. The principle of collective defence will not be weakened by the expansion of NATO's numbers. On the contrary, the capability to deliver on that principle will be strengthened by the increase in numbers and the greater security of our present borders.
The Foreign Secretary has said that it is in all our interests to secure stability in the western Balkans. Might we not be able to enhance our security in that area by admitting Slovenia to NATO? The United States made clear its opposition to that at the Madrid summit. Does it remain United Kingdom policy that Slovenia should be admitted at an early opportunity? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that would enhance the stability of the western Balkans?
The case for Slovenia becoming a member of NATO stands on its own ground and does not require to be approached tangentially by reference to the western Balkans. It is well known that, in the lead-up to the Madrid conference, Britain supported the case for admitting Slovenia.
Two main schools of thought emerged in discussions before and during Madrid. One was that there should be an enlargement by the admission of three countries, and that is the proposition that we are debating. It is manageable, and I shall later deal with why it is important not to have an unmanageable enlargement.
The second proposition was that there should be an enlargement by five countries to embrace both Slovenia and Romania. There was no support in the alliance for an enlargement of four. However, this will not be the last enlargement, and other countries, including Slovenia, have made applications which will continue to be considered on their merits
I have said that, in debating enlargement, we must reflect on three considerations. The first is the maintenance of our collective defence; in our judgment, the enlargement will strengthen, not weaken, that. The second consideration must be the military effectiveness of the alliance.
The former communist countries have had to face a series of daunting tasks. They have had to re-create democratic institutions, restore individual freedoms and restructure and modernise their economies. They have also had to address the need to reform their armies as modern military forces that are accountable to civilian rule. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have all approached that challenge with determination and energy.
Through NATO's "Partnership for Peace" programme, we have provided training, advice and joint exercises. Britain has provided extensive programmes of education in the English language, which is a key part of integration into NATO in which English is the common language of command. Britain has also sponsored seminars in the new member states on subjects such as air traffic control, the role of the junior ranks and military law. We have first-hand knowledge of the competent and disciplined character of their armed forces from working alongside them in Bosnia. Armies that once exercised in readiness for war against each other now work together to impose a common peace.
Working alongside our forces in Bosnia is a mechanised infantry battalion from the Czech Republic, another such battalion from Poland and an engineer battalion from Hungary. The contribution of those countries to the NATO-led peacekeeping forces in Bosnia demonstrates their commitment to fulfilling their obligations as allies
I am listening to my right hon. Friend with great interest. He places great credibility on the military input of the three new countries to NATO. I ask him to back-pedal a little on that proposition, because the contribution of those nations to the campaign in Bosnia is currently the total contribution that they will be able to make to NATO's future defence.
Will my right hon. Friend re-emphasise his earlier comment that we are not debating a military decision? It may have military significance in a decade, but the important aspect at present is the political decision to expand. Those three countries have given a commitment to increase defence expenditure. When that happens, they will be able to make a real military contribution, but that will be in perhaps five or 10 years' time, rather than at present.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting contribution. I do not go along with him in the limited character that he ascribes to the military forces of those three countries. They would be the first to recognise that they have further to travel. As one of the existing members of NATO, we are willing to help them to travel that road and to continue to work with them. We shall be able to do more with them as allies in the alliance than we can do while they are not. Of course, my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the powerful political character of the decision. His contribution leads me naturally to the third consideration in debating enlargement and whether those countries are ready to join NATO.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that another key factor in those countries' eligibility for membership of NATO is the democratisation of their armed forces so that they are under civilian, political control rather than military control?
The hon. Gentleman takes me to my third consideration, which is about how we assess those countries.
NATO's fundamental strength is not its military capability: it is the common values of the alliance countries. The strength of the alliance derives from our respect for democracy and human rights, individual liberty and the rule of law. The Washington treaty reaffirms the faith of NATO members in the United Nations charter and their wish to live in peace with all peoples and all Governments.
Ernest Bevin, the first Labour Foreign Secretary after the war, laid that treaty before the House. He said that it was
an endeavour to express on paper the underlying determination to preserve our way of life—freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and the rights and liberty of the individual.
Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have shown that they share those values. Perhaps they treasure them even more than we do, because they had to struggle for their freedom and democracy and they know their worth. Perhaps that helps to explain the great enthusiasm within those countries for membership of NATO.
NATO is effective because all its members share common principles. That is why 16 countries can still be effective, even though every decision is by consensus. The same will be true of a NATO of 19 allies with shared principles. The enlargement by three countries that was agreed at Madrid still leaves on the table applications for membership by other countries. In an intervention, the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) drew attention to one such country.
Those countries are also seeking to address the modernisation of their armed forces, and we are playing an active part in assisting them through "Partnership for Peace". We are also in close political dialogue with them on security through the Euro-Atlantic partnership council.
It was no easy decision to choose which among so many applicant countries should be successful. The consensus that emerged from long discussion in Madrid was that they should be the three countries that we are debating. Critical to that judgment was the broad view that NATO enlargement should proceed at a pace that is consistent with NATO absorbing its expanded membership. We would do no service to the other countries that aspire to join NATO if we expanded so rapidly that NATO lost its effectiveness as the military guarantor of peace on our continent. As I have said, this will not be the last NATO enlargement. No one should be under any illusion about the magnitude of the current enlargement.
I hope that, when the Foreign Secretary amplifies his remarks, he will address the issue of Russia. Early in his speech, he said that the expansion of NATO was an export of security to central and eastern Europe. In view of the NATO-Russia founding Act, will the culmination of that process be Russian membership of NATO, or is that not the Government's view?
As was famously observed by a Prime Minister, "never" is one of the longest words in the English language. Nobody rules out any option for the future of NATO. At present, Russia has not applied to join NATO, and we are a long way from the time when that will be a credible proposition. However, we work hard for the success of the permanent joint council, and that is the basis of our current dialogue with Russia. In the same way, we are working with Ukraine through the charter that we have formed between it and NATO.
At present, NATO has not only a good relationship with applicant countries, but a strong relationship with many countries such as Russia and Ukraine which have not submitted an application to join, but who work with us through "Partnership for Peace". Many of those countries are participants in the Euro-Atlantic partnership council, which has met four times, and proved successful when it has done so. We particularly welcome the relations with Ukraine.
Although Ukraine and Russia may not be part of the enlargement, it is still a substantial enlargement. The admission of the three countries will increase the territory within NATO by a sixth, and will increase the borders of NATO by a third. The immediate priority must be to make a success of such a large expansion of the alliance by ensuring the integration of the new members into the command structure and the interoperability of their forces. The costs of doing so are modest, and well worth the price.
The UK may have to pay an estimated additional £110 million to NATO's common budgets; that will be spread over a decade. The costs to the new members might be higher, but they will not be excessive. It is a cost which, in large part, they would have had to undertake if they were to modernise their forces, whether or not they were members of NATO.
The figure of £110 million over 10 years is called into question in the Select Committee report. Has the Ministry of Defence examined the £110 million projection? If so, are the Government prepared to stand by it?
Two years ago, The new york times reported that the congressional budget office had estimated that the price tag might be as high as $125 billion over 15 years. The American estimates seem very different from the one that my right hon. Friend has given the House. Is he saying that the American estimates are baloney?
The agreed NATO costs, which embrace the Americans' support, is a total of $1.5 billion, of which the UK share is the £110 million to which I have referred. I invite my hon. Friend to consult the papers in the Library, which go into some detail about why we believe in the figures and why we believe that other estimates are exaggerated.
I have explained the costs to the House, and I welcome the interest of hon. Members in making sure that it is convinced of the figures. However, it is broadly agreed that the cost of enlargement will not be great, to either existing or new members. I hope that the House will agree, without the necessity to consult the Library, that the rewards of a successful enlargement will be great for both existing and new members.
The reward is a NATO that unites, rather than divides, our continent. Enlargement of NATO is a logical response to the end of the cold war and the collapse of the iron curtain. I therefore hope that the whole House will join today in offering a warm welcome to our new partners in the Atlantic alliance.
I agree with much of what the Foreign Secretary said, but I am slightly more cautious than he is. He made a diplomat's speech, but there are military considerations in the further expansion of NATO which I wish to touch on in rather more detail than he did.
Before I go on, I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House, as I cannot stay to the end of the debate. I have already apologised to the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence. I also wish to say to the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), that, in preparing for the debate, I found the Committee's report extraordinarily valuable and comprehensive. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.
Like the Foreign Secretary, I wish to spend a moment on the background. NATO was formed as a defensive alliance nearly 50 years ago, in response to a clear military threat from the Soviet Union and its allies. It is worth reminding ourselves that it is and was a collective defence organisation with a commitment to mutual military defence. The Foreign Secretary referred to article 5. That is a serious commitment for one state to make—that it will consider the invasion of another state or a threat to its territory as a threat to itself.
As a result of that commitment, we developed in NATO a highly integrated military command structure, and we committed troops and equipment in Germany to resist any attack. That was a commitment to the forward defence of the whole NATO area, and it has been an incredibly successful venture. By any standards, the result of the cold war has been victory for the west.
That victory poses problems and challenges about the identity and purpose of NATO, which we must address. The Madrid summit last year contained many items in its further programme of activity, but I wish to mentioned four: the admission of the three new states, on which the Foreign Secretary spent time and which we wholly support; NATO's commitment to an open-door policy; the enhancement of the programme for peace and the creation of the European-Atlantic partnership council; and the instruction that NATO staff should examine the strategic concept of NATO and come back to the conference next year to carry the discussion forward.
The purpose of NATO after the end of the cold war is the big question that ought to be addressed before we consider how far NATO's expansion might go. The old objective was substantial and involved the possibility of total war, including the use of nuclear weapons. Those threats have largely disappeared, and all member states of NATO have significantly reduced defence spending as a result.
The future role of NATO must be to defend the vital interests of NATO members. That extends from resisting external attack on NATO territory—improbable though that currently seems—to intervention in non-NATO regional disputes and to defending NATO interests outside the NATO area.
The immediate threat of a Russian attack has considerably diminished, but territorial threats remain, at least potentially—the poverty and Islamic fundamentalism of the Maghreb countries in north Africa; rogue states, such as Libya and Algeria, with biological and chemical weapons capability and, in some cases, the possibility of nuclear weapons; and potential instability in Russia, Ukraine and other countries in the region.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned nuclear weapons twice in the last few moments, and he emphasised earlier the importance of the security guarantee to be extended under article 5 to all members, including new members. That security guarantee includes, if necessary, the use of nuclear weapons, which tends to underline the solemnity of the guarantee and the extent to which we should appreciate what we are to extend.
The hon. and learned Gentleman makes his point very well, and I agree. We are extending our military umbrella, which includes the availability of nuclear weapons from the United States, France and ourselves, to the defence of those other countries. That throws into stark relief the extent of the commitment we are making.
I wanted to look later at the problem from the Russians' point of view. It may be the fault of the lawyer in me that I like to look at things from the other side, but it is probably a virtue in a diplomat as well—to try to see things from a different point of view.
I am a lapsed lawyer, I am afraid.
It is worth reminding ourselves that there are many heavily armed states with modern weapons outside NATO—40 have modern aircraft, 20 have ballistic missiles, 12 have chemical and biological capability and some, as we know, are developing nuclear capability as well. Threats to our interests remain—for example, the instability and war in the former Yugoslavia, the possibility of a spillover into south-eastern Europe from middle east disputes, and the need to protect commercial interests, as we saw in the Gulf recently.
Such threats—which are unforeseen precisely because no one can predict what they will be—will arise. The possibility of a resurgent Russia may be remote, but we should take it seriously. When we consider the conflicts in which we have been involved over the past 16 or 17 years, we should remember that the Foreign Office did not predict the Falklands conflict or the Gulf war, so the chances that the next conflict will be predicted are remote.
An advantageous feature of NATO is that it has made war between its member states unthinkable. Without its military structure and the integrated military command, that may change, which would be a dangerous departure.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the whole thrust of NATO expansion—right up to the borders of Russia and down through south-east Europe—may encourage increased militarism in the countries that it borders? The military in those countries will be encouraged to demand increased resources at the expense of an often very deprived population. Should we not demilitarise Europe rather than increase militarisation on its borders?
I shall deal later with how expansion appears, and what the consequences may be, in Russia and some of the other countries of the former Soviet Union. I do not agree that our response should be to demilitarise NATO; I have enumerated some of the threats that we may have to meet with military force.
We must decide what kind of NATO we want—do we want a hard NATO or a soft NATO? We clearly need it to have a crisis management, peacekeeping function, as has been shown over the past few years. As the Foreign Secretary said, we need to foster understanding and good relations with the countries of the former Warsaw pact and the former Soviet Union.
The three successful applicant countries—and, indeed, the other applicant countries—want to join NATO because of the territorial security guarantee. They do no want to join it because they regard it as a nice western political club; they want the security guarantee that article 5 of the NATO treaty will give them.
It would be foolish to disband NATO's integrated military command structure, which gives it the capability to handle such military threats; if we did, we might have to put it together again at rather short notice. We should remember that, in the Gulf war, the NATO command structure enabled the British and the Americans to work closely together. Indeed, the French found it difficult to work with their allies; as a result, they played a somewhat peripheral role.
NATO keeps the United States committed to European defence and involved in any military operations, which I regard as vital. We should ask whether the United States would be involved in Bosnia if NATO did not have a hard military element and whether, without the United States, we would be involved in Bosnia. Europe has been reluctant to become involved in such disputes without the support of the United States—most of NATO's hard dimension depends on the United Kingdom and the United States.
NATO is not a political club; it is a military alliance. Membership is not a reward for good behaviour; it is about mutual military defence and the efficiency and rapidity of response. We are all aware of the letter that was sent to the Prime Minister in May by 23, I think, distinguished military and diplomatic figures, who referred to the
vital need to preserve NATO's ability, in the new Europe where, by common consent, potential threats to the peace are diffuse and unpredictable, to make rapid decisions and take quick and effective decisions on what action, if any, to take.
We must ensure that NATO retains those characteristics.
Any new members must be defendable without huge extra expense or risks to the existing members, and they must make a real military contribution. We must ask some difficult questions. Are we prepared to go to war to defend their territory under article 5 of the NATO treaty? How practical would it be for NATO to defend the Baltic states? NATO obligations could lead to a general war in Europe. Are we prepared to allow that to happen for the sake of the defence of some of the applicant countries? We must consider the military commitments very carefully.
I wholly agree with my hon. Friend's point that, as NATO is only as good as its weakest link, we must be cautious about too rapid an expansion. The most recent expansion was in 1990, when east Germany became part of west Germany, so to speak; the Bundeswehr had fundamentally to restructure east German forces to integrate them into the west German army. Does he agree that we should be cautious about the time and money that will be required to restructure the armed forces of some of the new countries, so that they can play an active and useful part in NATO?
My hon. Friend is right. The United States Department of Defence estimates that the restructuring and development of the armed forces of the three successful applicant countries will take about 10 years.
The current round of enlargement increases the length of NATO's borders by 31 per cent. Hungary, one of the three new countries, does not have a border with any other member state; it sits alone with other non-NATO countries between it and its allies, although that would, of course, change if Slovakia became a member.
I am talking about the geographical gap, and Slovenia would provide only a narrow corridor between Italy and Hungary.
The fact that new members will have to restructure and upgrade their forces will, in the short term, reduce NATO's overall military effectiveness; as my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) pointed out, that is likely to take some time.
What should the criteria be for new membership? The military and strategic considerations that I have mentioned should remain paramount, but we must remember that, as the Foreign Secretary said, many of the applicant countries regard themselves as European; they believe that, over the past 50 or 60 years, they were temporarily detached from Europe by Russian imperialism. If we denied them membership, we should be sending a clear and unwelcome message, and perhaps drive them back into the Russian orbit.
Difficult decisions must be taken. Although we must encourage progress towards greater democracy and freedom, we must be careful that that does not lead states into thinking that they will be entitled to membership if they meet certain conditions. No state should be ruled out from membership, but there can be no timetable or fixed commitments. The essential conditions for membership must be that an applicant country is internally stable and at peace with its neighbours and that it has stable and responsible Government and political institutions. Moreover, it must be able to make a real military contribution to its own defence without imposing heavy military or strategic commitments on others.
The intermediate status of membership in the "Partnership for Peace", the European Atlantic partnership council, the European Union or the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe should reinforce the confidence of former Warsaw pact countries that are not members of NATO. All those organisations have great value in their own right, not only as stepping stones to something else. We do not regard membership of the European Union as a stepping stone to NATO membership; it is, and should continue to be, possible to be a member of NATO without being a member of the European Union, and vice versa
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, will he say whether he agrees that some countries that want to become members of NATO—and the European Union, for that matter—have equally important bilateral relations with their neighbours? The Baltic states collectively have a bilateral agreement with the United States of America, which has important security implications for them as they wait and hope to join NATO.
My hon. Friend is right to say that we should not regard NATO membership as the only solution to many of these problems. Membership of the organisations that I have mentioned may offer something, and he suggests other possibilities.
As I said, I want to look at the matter from Russia's point of view. We must remember that Russia was one of the world's two super-powers. It had a large empire, and was the second biggest military power in the world. Now, it is much diminished—it is much smaller, its economy is in a parlous state and its military capability is a pale shadow of what it was. Although we cannot allow Russia to have a veto on NATO's future, NATO must recognise Russia's legitimate interests and how it sees things. Rightly or wrongly, Russia regards NATO's expansion with suspicion.
We must acknowledge that it is a legitimate aim of Russian foreign policy to seek security and secure borders. Russia no doubt feels that there is a need for there to be other states between NATO's eastern borders and its own western borders. I am not pretending that the issue is not difficult, but we cannot ignore it or pretend that it does not exist.
I wholly agree with the Foreign Secretary that it is vital that Russia, Ukraine and the other countries of the former Soviet Union are brought back fully into the international community. The west has devoted substantial resources and efforts to that end, and we all hope for success.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would not be to the benefit of European security if we were to let the Russian Government believe that they could ever exercise a veto on the decision of any free, independent, democratic country, on its borders or elsewhere, to come into a collective security arrangement in its own interests and the interests of its neighbours?
I agree entirely, but it would be foolish and short-sighted not to take into account the Russian point of view. In 10 years' time, Russia's view may be completely different, but we should never consider the question solely from a western, or even American, point of view.
Russia seems to have accepted the three new members, and there are one or two others to which it would probably have no objection, but would it take the same attitude to, for instance, Romania and Bulgaria or the Baltic states, which involve specific problems, such as the substantial Russian minorities living there, and access to Kaliningrad? The United States has recently been supportive of the Baltic states' desire to join, but Russia has made it clear that it would view that as a serious threat.
According to the BBC's summary of world broadcasts, a Russian Minister said in June that he viewed NATO's planned expansion eastward, and especially the possible admission of former Soviet republics to the alliance, as a "serious threat to Russia". In May, the Russian President himself warned in The Guardian that NATO would cross a perilous red line if it invited the Baltic states or Ukraine to join. We have to take those views seriously, even though they may change over the next five or 10 years—I hope that they will.
There is a danger of NATO expansion helping the cause of the ultra-nationalists in Russia by undermining the position of the western-oriented democrats, who may not be able to persuade other Russian politicians that it is a benign development. That would be a tragedy, because it could help to create a new threat. There is obviously suspicion in Russia, because the START 2 treaty is stalled in the Duma, and doubts are being expressed about the conventional forces agreement.
Russia may have fears, but if those fears are misplaced, our duty is to allay them. The expansion to include the new east European countries offers Russia far more security, because they will come under the umbrella of NATO military doctrine and discipline, with civilian control of the military, which will make them far more stable neighbours than they might otherwise have been.
The hon. Gentleman makes two points, one of which I agree with and the other of which I am not so sure about. I agree that we must try to allay the fears. There are a variety of programmes to try to do that, and to develop constructive and peaceful relationships with the countries of the former Soviet Union and Warsaw pact.
I have tried to say why I do not agree with the second point. Russia has some suspicions. I entirely agree with the Foreign Secretary that those are unfounded and that we are not a threat to Russia, but that is not how Russia sees it.
The fundamental point that needs to be put on the record is that the Baltic states were free and democratic before they were incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940, by force of arms and against their will, so no one should take away their legitimate democratic inheritance by bullying or cajoling.
Of course that is true, and I completely agree with my hon. Friend. My point was simply that this is a two-way street: the Baltic states may want to join NATO, but we have a say in whether we accept them, and, when we come to make that decision, I hope that we will consider seriously the military commitment that we are making to them. One does not have to be a great historian or geographer to realise that that will be a difficult commitment to fulfil.
There are significant Russian minorities living in the Baltic states, and there is a piece of Russian territory, at Kaliningrad, which can be accessed only through those states. In any case, their accession is probably a long way off, so the issue remains somewhat theoretical. I simply want to put more emphasis than the Foreign Secretary did on the military aspects of our commitments.
There are widely differing estimates of the cost of having the new members. That is incredibly important, because it relates directly to the military and strategic factors involved in defending the territory of a new member state. The mainstream estimates vary from $1.5 billion up to about $10 billion, although, as the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said, the congressional budget office at one point had an estimate about 10 times higher than that.
The Select Committee said that it thought that the likely cost was in the middle of that range, and the Government say that they are confident of their estimate. I only hope that they are right; otherwise, we will all pay a very high price for NATO expansion, despite being told that there is no military threat. I am concerned that the low estimate is effectively based on the assumption that NATO has no enemies, which implies that, if a threat emerges in future, there will be extra spending to be met. I hope that we can be more confident of such estimates in future, and that there will not be quite such a wide range.
It is a significant task to integrate Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary into the alliance.
The hon. Gentleman said that he would not be here at the end of the debate, and that he would not want to divide the House on the issue, but he has made a very long speech setting out all the reasons against taking the three countries into NATO. Will he say outright whether he and his party are in favour of NATO enlarging to incorporate those countries?
The right hon. Gentleman anticipates me, because I was going to say that we fully support those countries' membership. I have taken an awful lot of interventions. Apart from those, I have spoken for only about 15 minutes, which is half the time that the Foreign Secretary took. I am sure that his contribution was worth more than mine, but I nevertheless think that the Defence Secretary's stricture was not fully justified.
We fully support the accession of the three new members, but it will be a significant task to integrate them into NATO's military structure, and that must be substantially completed before there is any further expansion. We should be cautious about having more new members until it is clear how the situation in central and eastern Europe is developing. Almost all the countries that want to join fail at least one of the tests that I set out earlier.
NATO has an enormous current agenda without further enlargement: the integration of the three new members; developing a new strategic concept; and building relationships with Russia and its former allies. Those are all significant tasks, which will take much effort and time. Let us ensure that they are concluded satisfactorily before proceeding any further.
I am relieved that, at long last, the House is discussing NATO enlargement. When the Defence Select Committee visited NATO very early in the new year, we met the Secretary-General, Mr. Solana, who ever so politely expressed his hope that Britain would be the first, or at least almost the first, country to endorse enlargement. Now we are into July, and four member states—Canada, Denmark, Norway and Germany—have completed all their ratification procedures and formally ratified the enlargement protocols. They have deposited the protocols with the depository state, the United States of America.
The Parliaments of Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Iceland, France, Spain and the USA have all approved the enlargement protocols, but their Governments have not yet deposited the instruments of ratification. The Belgian Senate has approved the protocols, and its lower house will do so shortly. That leaves the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Portugal and Turkey as the member states whose Parliaments have yet to approve the protocols, or in our case even to debate them in full.
Frankly, I am not entirely happy with that arrangement. As has been said, we were the instigator of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in 1949, and it has been embarrassing, bordering on humiliating, going to the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary to talk to diplomats and politicians who have been asking, "When will your Parliament ratify our membership of NATO?" The business managers and the Government have had an enormously hectic programme, but it is with some relief that we are now finally to approve ratification.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that neither of the principal Opposition spokesmen will be here for the reply? Last week, the shadow Defence Secretary was not present for the important land mines debate. Frankly, that shows a lackadaisical, if not frivolous, approach by the Opposition Front-Bench team to such important defence and foreign policy matters. The sooner that they are replaced by people who would do the job, the better for Parliament.
The last thing that I want to do is contribute to a descent into partisanship in what is basically a non-partisan environment, although I would have preferred the debate to take place on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.
My second parliamentary point is not directed at my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs and for Defence, and I am not patronising them when I say that I admire what they have done and what they are doing. They are both exceedingly competent. My criticism is that of hon. Members for many decades and is about the process of ratification. The deputy Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, the hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin), raised that matter when he jumped up to retaliate early in the debate.
Our Parliament is about the only one—bar Canada—that has no real role in the ratification process. I dignified our proceedings today deliberately, although erroneously, by saying that we were ratifying, but we are doing nothing of the sort; we are debating. Clearly, the Modernisation Committee must realize—the Defence Select Committee report spelled this out in great detail—what is wrong with our alleged ratification system.
The hon. Member for Romsey referred to the Ponsonby rules and said how important they were. We should go beyond those, because few Ponsonby treaties have been debated here unless we have been compelled to debate and formally ratify them. This Parliament has no formal input in treaty-making, which is the prerogative of the Executive acting on behalf of the Crown, as we all know. That system is profoundly unsatisfactory, and this Parliament is in a minority in being totally marginalized in the process. In virtually every other democratic country, it is not simply the prerogative of the Government or the Crown to ratify a treaty. Why is that not the case here? It should be up to us.
The Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committees, or the relevant Select Committee, should consider the matter and make representations to the House, and there should be a formal vote as part of the treaty-making process, not simply a polite add-on to ratification. That is a general principle, and I hope that, in due course, the House will unite to demand, not ask, that we function as a legislature is supposed to and not be seen as simply an appendage to the Executive in decision making.
Having got that off my considerable chest, I can move on to the subject of debate. Perversely, I shall start with the conclusion of the excellent Defence Select Committee report. Paragraph 117 answers some of the criticisms of the Opposition. We produced earlier reports on NATO enlargement in the 1994–95 and 1995–96 Sessions. We shall also be producing a report before the 50th anniversary of NATO in the middle of next year.
As we said in our latest report,
We should embark upon this new era … with our eyes open.
A long period of debate has culminated in the current proposals which the NATO governments have put before us.
that the House endorse the admission of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to the North Atlantic Alliance.
We are unequivocal about our recommendation, but we are cautious, because we must consider the legitimate anxieties of Russia and listen carefully to the anxieties of the countries in eastern and central Europe that were hijacked into the Soviet orbit just before or just after the second world war and that are desperate to return to our political and democratic culture. Not all of them subscribed in the 1930s to that culture—the Governments of eastern Europe then were not all perfect democracies by any stretch of the imagination.
However, can one imagine what the message would have been from NATO Parliaments or Governments if we had said, after such a lengthy period of debate as to who should join, "Sorry lads, you're out—Russians in, Hungary out"? It would be Russians in, in the sense that we would be accepting their veto, and we would just have to tell those other countries to wait. The consequences would have been politically disastrous. Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic deserve to be reincorporated into Europe—into its security, political and economic environment.
In due course, although again one has to be cautious, Slovenia, Romania and perhaps in a few years Slovakia and Bulgaria—but not yet—will be added to the list. We must develop NATO's absorbative capacity. When the three new countries have been formally admitted, NATO should consider further enlargement, but it should be selective.
We must be concerned about the effect on Russia. To a large extent, we have accommodated that country's views. We have done so in a variety of ways. Russian officers are now in NATO and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, or SHAPE—no longer do the Russians have to employ Soviet military intelligence, as the information is largely there for them and is handed to them. There are the "Partnership for Peace", the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, and the NATO-Russia permanent joint council. There are treaties with Russia and the Ukraine. The G7 has admitted Russia. Russians are working alongside troops from NATO countries in Bosnia. There are enormous financial injections from western countries into development and democratisation in Russia.
Does my hon. Friend accept that NATO's expansion to the borders of Russia provides the Russian generals and military-industrial complex with strong arguments for expanding expenditure at the expense of the poorest people in Russia? NATO will also cause large increases in defence costs for the new applicant members.
I disagree with my hon. Friend, as he might expect. The Defence Committee hoped that the accession of the three countries would not be seen by American, British, German or French defence manufacturers as a chance to step into countries that can barely afford existing security expenditures. We do not want to destroy developing economies by lumbering them with enormously costly aircraft. Clearly, those countries must spend sufficient money to join NATO, but many countries are drifting down towards the level of expenditure of those three countries. As our spending is projected to be 2.3 per cent. of gross domestic product, we are going perilously close to the spending of countries that cannot afford to be in NATO.
There is anxiety among generals, and among both Russophobes and Russophiles, about the weakness of the former Soviet Union. In talking to generals and politicians in Russia, I often hear the same attitudes that were expressed by the State Department in the United States just after the Falklands war. The State Department official then responsible for relations with Latin America, now deceased, was visited by a large delegation of Latin American Foreign Ministers and ambassadors, and they admonished him and the United States Government for supporting the United Kingdom in the conflict. They gave him hell, but as they left, one after another of them walked past him out of the view of their fellow ambassadors and Foreign Ministers, and winked at him as if to say, "I had to say that, didn't I?" One feels that many people raise ritualistic objections.
One of the contributors to my seminal Jane's NATO Handbook, which was purchased only by the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell)—at £125 a copy, I can understand why—was Rainer Rupp, who is well known to some hon. Members. Rupp is now doing 12 years in the slammer in Germany for transmitting 29,000 pages of classified NATO documentation to East German intelligence. That must have been the greatest exercise in confidence building in world history. Comrade Rupp's transmission of information surely led the Soviet Union to realise that we were weak, and that we were not aggressive. I hope that the Russians will realise that they do not confront NATO in an eyeball-to-eyeball cold war environment. We are partners, and we are working together. It is as much in our interests as theirs that they should democratise and modernise their economy and their political culture.
Khrushchev said more than 30 years ago that NATO would one day include the Soviet Union as a member, and everyone laughed. Who knows what will happen five, 10 or 15 years from now, but anyone who argues that NATO is superfluous, or that Russia should be incorporated now, is being premature, to put it politely.
It would be unfair of me to criticise the chairman of another country's Foreign Relations Committee, but Jesse Helms does not, thankfully, sit alongside Bill Clinton in decision making. Senator Helms's Committee has a great deal of power, but, even as a proponent of more power for our Committees, I realise when I see the powers exercised in the United States that there must be some exceptions.
I do not regularly read the Morning Star but, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) contributes, I do. Earlier this week, the paper reflected the paranoia in some circles in both the west and the former Soviet Union. There are fears that war is about to burst out, or that we are all aggressive. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence would have smiled to read:
Our own defence review in Britain, for instance, provides for greater expenditure".
Perhaps I have been asleep for the past week. If that statement were true, I would be frankly delighted, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be delighted, too. However, it is not.
Such collective paranoia suggests that the end of the cold war has left us all spending more on defence. However, our spending has gone from 5.2 per cent. Of GDP under the previous Government to about 2.5 per cent. now, and we are drifting a little lower. I see no evidence of a build-up of military equipment and threats. We have only one mechanism—Trident—for delivering nuclear weapons, and the numbers of warheads and missiles are dropping way below the numbers in France, which some hon. Members consider, although I do not, a greater threat than Russia. I say that in jest, so no one should think that I am totally paranoid.
A practical example of the unfounded paranoia to which the hon. Gentleman refers is the fact that Russian troops took part in NATO's intervention force in Bosnia. He and I saw at Tuzla that they were under direct command of the United States general who was in overall command, and they were able to operate reasonably, sensibly and constructively.
We are used in the House to dealing with the paranoid, but the situation in Russia can be terrifying. Several of us attended, in Copenhagen, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Russian delegation included Zhirinovsky. With the security of parliamentary privilege, I can say that he is, at least in his public pronouncements, certifiable. I suspect that he is much saner and more rational than the public image that he creates would suggest.
About three months ago, I went to a meeting of the Duma, which was headed by people who had recently been converted to the idea of parliamentary control of the Executive. The meeting was held in a Communist party caucus room where there was an enormous bust of Lenin. We should remember that the words emanating from the Duma are those of true unreconstructed cold warriors. While we must listen, we must not get obsessed by what we hear.
In support of what the hon. Gentleman says, does he agree that there is a parallel between the argument that we must not take certain steps for fear of upsetting or strengthening the warmongers in Russia and that of unilateralists between 1981 and 1987 that, if NATO pressed on with nuclear deterrence, it would make war more, not less, likely? The reverse was the case, and he was one of a relatively small minority of Labour Members who stood up for that view.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support. He knows a little about penetrating left-wing organisations from his early political career. I am sure that much of the work of the Stasi and KGB was based on his successful penetration of the Labour party in early 1980s. We have to be balanced, and we are.
I have examined costs, on which much nonsense has been written. There are reports by the congressional budget office, Rand, the United States Department of Defence, NATO and the Polish Euro-Atlantic Association. My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) published a report under the auspices of the North Atlantic Assembly. Much of the confusion arises because some studies are based on there being four new entrants and a longer time scale. They were made rather early on. We concluded that the cost of NATO enlargement is a bargain for the UK. The Secretary of State for Defence had said that it represented each year the cost of a quarter of a Eurofighter. Even if it doubled to a half, the UK would have gained enormously from its contribution to NATO enlargement.
We strongly argue that the cost may eventually fall between the alarmist costs suggested by the congressional budget office and Rand reports and that suggested by the NATO study. The Committee states:
We conclude, therefore, that it would be as well, in choosing to endorse the process of enlargement, to be prepared for the costs shared among the 19 members of NATO to drift up at least towards the mid-range between NATO's $1.5 billion over ten years and the US DoD's $5–6 billion over thirteen years.
That might seem expensive, but the decision to endorse enlargement will be made not on economic but on political grounds. I firmly believe that the costs are manageable, and not high.
There are some hon. Members—there were more before 1 May last year—who are as enthusiastic about joining NATO as about joining the masons. They believe that we should have kept out. I have no sense of guilt about supporting NATO, even in the heyday of the cold war; quite the reverse. Like any sane person, I knew that it was necessary in 1949 to establish a defensive military and political alliance.
People seem to forget, because they do not want to remember, that NATO has always been as much a political as a military alliance. It incorporated new members and it will incorporate more. It has reformed incredibly. People who are prepared to look can only admire how NATO has adapted to the new world environment. NATO is still necessary. It would be lunatic beyond words to subscribe to the old mid-1980s philosophy of peace groups that the alliance should wither away or collapse precipitately and be replaced by a collective security organisation that I would have regarded as akin to the League of Nations.
The Foreign Secretary is exceedingly competent. Like the Labour party, he has adapted over the years, but, even when he was anti-nuclear weapons, he was unequivocally pro-NATO. Many people on the same side of the Labour party as me in the early 1980s thought that money spent on Trident could be better spent on enhancing our conventional capability.
It is much cheaper. If Conservative Members invested in it, they would see that all that we are doing is returning to our roots of being very pro-defence. If I were in a provocative mood, I would invite them to read our parliamentary debates in 1940 to find which parties favoured a strong effort against Nazi Germany. It was the Liberals and the Labour party. I shall not make that point.
I do not feel guilty about the NATO of the past or of the future. I believe that, in enhancing our security, it will enhance not only the security of the three countries that will join it formally next year but that of people in the countries that have not yet had their requests for membership agreed. It is certainly enhancing the security of people living in the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, and, even more certainly, Bosnia. This is an alliance for the future. The day may come when it can wither away, but I suspect that it will not be in the lifetime of any hon. Member in the Chamber at the moment.
Having spoken at excessive length, for which I apologise, I urge all hon. Members to endorse the recommendations of the Government, of all NATO Governments and of the countries that are desperate to join, backed, in most cases, by their public opinion. Above all, I urge hon. Members to accept the recommendations of the Defence Committee by saying a resounding yes to enlarging the alliance to include the three additional members.
Several hon. Members rose—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some of us have waited for more than a year for this debate. It is intolerable not only that it should be held on a Friday when most Members have gone to their constituencies but that it should be interrupted by a Government statement that will interfere with an important debate. We protest in the strongest terms.
It is not a matter for the Chair how the business of the House is arranged. In view of the tightness of time, making such points only detracts from the time available. Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith.
I did not realise that I deserved this honour, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that you had recognised me for another reason. I shall take advantage of the minute or two left before the statement that the Government feel it necessary to make today. It could have waited.
The North Atlantic treaty would not have been signed had it not been for the Soviet threat but NATO has never been regarded by those of us who have studied it as a purely military alliance. One has only to examine the treaty preamble, which clearly articulates support for
democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law".
I make that point because it explains why, with the end of the cold war and with no imminent Soviet threat, NATO was not disbanded.
My view is that, had NATO not responded to the challenge of building a new security architecture for Europe following the end of the cold war, the people of western Europe would have said, "What is the purpose of this military alliance? The cold war has ended. Russian communism is dead and buried and the Soviet threat has disappeared." The answer to the question "Why not disband it?" that was posed in people's minds was based on the statement made in 1967, when the Harmel doctrine, as it was called, was adopted. It made it clear that NATO strategy was to be based on a twin-tracked policy of maintaining adequate defence while seeking a relaxation of tensions between east and west Europe.
In short, NATO was not just a military alliance; it was and continues to be a political alliance—