I beg to move,
That this House
believes in the importance of European nations' building up their military capabilities to contribute more to European and global defence and security through NATO;
notes that the 'Berlin Plus' agreement provides the EU with assured access to NATO assets to plan and conduct military operations under NATO's Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, who is always a European military officer;
condemns proposals for the European Union to conduct the planning and leadership of operations independent of NATO means and capabilities;
further notes that this represents a threat to NATO, which was developed in the 1998 St. Malo Declaration and would be given superiority under the draft EU constitution;
and further believes that such proposals discriminate against non-EU members of NATO, decouple EU security policies from NATO and duplicate existing NATO structures and assets without increasing real military capability in any way whatsoever.
The security of our citizens, of our country and of the world is the first and most important duty of Government. The security challenges that we face today are very different from the days of the cold war, and they will continue to change. The end of the cold war was greeted with relief, but that relief has proved misplaced. Many expected the end of the superpower stand-off to herald a new international order; instead we have a new international disorder, where the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism are the main threats, and they arise from the new instability of whole regions, civil strife and the rise of rogue states.
No single country can achieve security in isolation. Security can be delivered only through an alliance. So if security is the Government's first and most important duty, the first and most important question that we must answer is this: in the new post-cold war security environment, what kind of alliance offers the best and safest prospect for our security? That leads us to the crux of the debate: is European and American security divisible? The answer, of course, is no.
The security, freedom and prosperity of Europe and north America are as inextricably linked as ever. The US and Canadian commitment to the preservation of peace and security in Europe is in their national interests as well as ours, so the north American military commitment in Europe must be maintained. Therefore, the only alliance that can best guarantee security is a transatlantic alliance and, moreover, a proven alliance. That alliance is NATO. Maybe the Secretary of State is with me up to this point in my remarks. [Interruption.] It might help if he had been listening instead of treating this subject lightly.
NATO is founded on the principle that European and north American security is indivisible, and it works. NATO not only won the cold war but has adapted to the post-cold war world. NATO enabled Europe to pacify the Balkans. But NATO must continue to transform, and it is doing so. The NATO summit in Prague last November implemented a leaner, more efficient, effective and deployable command structure. Furthermore, a 20,000-strong NATO response force was established. Made up mainly of European forces, it provides NATO with a credible, high-readiness, fully trained and equipped combined arms multinational expeditionary force, able to deploy quickly and undertake the full spectrum of NATO tasks wherever required.
The Government do not like it when we agree with what they say, but let us see whether they are delivering what they say they agree with. There is much more to do. We need more European capability in NATO to match the threats that we face, but we must resist anything that undermines its cohesion. The Government say that they understand these things, and the Prime Minister said on Thursday:
"We don't want duplication and we certainly don't want competition with NATO."
The test that the House must apply to the Government's policy is simple—does it bear out those wishes?
The hon. Gentleman says that NATO needs a European capability, so does he agree that NATO is a basket of resources, including a European resource, and that that flexibility is bound to strengthen rather than weaken it?
It depends how that basket is constructed and whether that involves duplication and competition with NATO. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees with the Prime Minister, who said on Thursday:
"We don't want duplication and we certainly don't want competition with NATO."
I hope that the hon. Gentleman endorses that—[Interruption.] Well, that does not concur with what the Prime Minister said.
The test that the House must apply to the Government's policy is simple: does it duplicate, and does it create competition with, NATO? Let us look first at the Franco-British declaration at St. Malo in 1998, which launched the concept of an autonomous EU defence, and resulted from a personal initiative by the Prime Minister to soothe EU leaders who were annoyed that Britain would not join the euro. It was, however, immediately obvious that that created a second rival security alliance in Europe—the very competition that the Prime Minister says he is against. The Clinton Administration reacted with fury, and the then Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, railed against what she called the three Ds—duplication of NATO assets, discrimination against non-EU members of NATO and decoupling of European and north American security.
In November 2001, the Prime Minister saw President Bush and assured him, in the President's own words,
"that European defense would no way undermine NATO . . . that there would be joint command, and that planning would take place within NATO".
Has the Prime Minister kept his word? Did he understand what he started at St. Malo? Even if he meant what he said, can he deliver those assurances without changing his policy? The answers to those three questions are categorically no, no and no. The matter should have been resolved in the EU-NATO agreement known as Berlin-plus, which was signed earlier this year. As our motion makes clear, it provides the EU with assured access to NATO assets to plan and conduct military operations under NATO's Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, who is always a European military officer. If the Prime Minister believes that European and north American security is indivisible, what more could he ask for? If the EU wants to act militarily, it has all the necessary planning and command structures at its disposal as of right. There is no need for wasteful duplication or dangerous decoupling of security policy. Moreover, it took four long years to agree the settlement between NATO and the EU. The ink was hardly dry on the paper, however, when the Prime Minister met President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder in Berlin last month and agreed to the very competition that he says he is against. A published communiqué has not been released from that meeting, but there was a leak to a German newspaper—[Interruption.] Would the Secretary of State like to publish that communiqué? He shakes his head, so we are to believe that the three Heads of State met in Berlin and that no notes were taken, and that no statement or position was agreed. Of course we know that is not the case. The right hon. Gentleman did not deny it previously, so it is no good denying it now. He is changing his evidence again.
The three Heads of State agreed that
"the EU should have a common capability for the planning and leadership of operations independent of NATO means and capabilities."
If that is not duplication, decoupling and competition with NATO, what is? It does not strengthen NATO; it undercuts it.
Why is duplication of military planning so damaging? The job of a military planning HQ is not to run operations. That is done through the command chain. Military planners work up options, permutations and combinations and run different scenarios so that they can present a range of choices to the military commanders and politicians. NATO, at supreme headquarters allied powers Europe, or SHAPE, as it is known, provides the best multinational military planning capability in the world. Why would anyone in the EU wish to duplicate that? Can the Secretary of State answer that question?
The only answer is that the Government really want to decouple NATO from the EU. Despite what they say, they want competition between the EU and NATO. There could be no clearer evidence of that ambition. [Hon. Members: "What evidence?"] I shall come to the evidence. The very principle of what the Prime Minister agreed with our EU partners does not contribute to our security, but undermines it. The Prime Minister, having started the process in St. Malo in 1998, is now incapable of stopping it, or is unwilling to do so.
Which of the two faces of our Prime Minister should we believe? Can we believe the Prime Minister who makes promises to President Bush? Can we believe him when he says that he
"will never put at risk NATO"?
Is he sincere when he says:
"No one wants to see European defence develop inconsistently with NATO"?
That sounds like the promise of the two-timer in the morning, who says, "Of course I love you, darling." It is surely more reliable to study what the Prime Minister actually agrees on paper with his EU counterparts than to trust what he says.
The joint declaration at St. Malo makes only cursory reference to NATO, but it launched
"the capacity for autonomous action, backed by credible military forces" and
"the means to decide to use them."
The Nice summit conclusions of December 2000 reaffirmed the need for
"operational planning for autonomous EU operations".
The Franco-British summit conclusions from Le Touquet in February this year claimed:
"The European Union now has the capacity to . . . conduct operations with or without recourse to NATO assets."
The Secretary of State will tell us today, no doubt, that all this is in the process of being resolved. He will try to convince the House that those words on paper are not what they seem, and that whatever demands the Prime Minister faces, his pro-NATO statements will remain operational. True, the proposal for the construction of a EU military planning HQ at Tervuren in Belgium has been dropped, and the idea of an floating EU military headquarters has disappeared. However, Peter Struck, the German Defence Minister, conceded that no separate EU HQ is necessary, but read carefully all of what he said last week. He added:
"For the time being, I'm in favour of putting it in SHAPE", so it is just a matter of time.
Listen to what President Chirac is reported as saying in the International Herald Tribune on
"our British friends have reservations about the creation of a planning and operational headquarters . . . But we have decided to pursue this project because we think that there will not be a Europe without a defence capacity."
It is as plain as day that the EU's defence ambitions will not stop at SHAPE. [Interruption.] I hear the Minister for Europe saying from a sedentary position, "It's all been shelved." May I read to him again what Peter Struck said? He said:
"For the time being, I'm in favour of putting it in SHAPE".
If the proposal is put on the shelf, it can be taken off the shelf again. What is written down anywhere to prevent the French and the Germans taking it off the shelf again? It is as plain as day that the EU's defence ambitions will not stop at SHAPE, and the hon. Gentleman knows that.
When I was in Washington last week, I had the chance to talk to members of the Administration about the subject. My hon. Friend is absolutely right—they are seriously alarmed by the text of the draft European constitution, which would allow Europe to go ahead with a European defence, including operational undertakings, without the permission or agreement of our north American allies. They are particularly alarmed that the White Paper issued by the Government does not promise to reverse those parts of the treaty text. My hon. Friend is right that the Government's assurances are completely hollow unless they make it a red line veto issue decisively to change the draft constitution from its present form.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's intervention. He will agree that it is an extraordinary turn of events that members of this American Administration, who are so personally grateful to the Prime Minister for his support during the Iraq war, should speak out in public to criticise the policy that he has been pursuing in Europe. Almost every member of the Administration to whom I have spoken has said, "We are extremely worried, but there is no way we are going to criticise Mr. Blair after he has been so helpful to us in Iraq." Despite that, they eventually blew a gasket when the Secretary of State attended the NATO ministerial meeting in Colorado Springs earlier this month: I understand that he was taken to task by Mr. Donald Rumsfeld. They are seriously concerned about the destabilising of NATO that is so against their and our European security interests.
The document was drafted in July 2002 and released secretly among the German Government during spring 2003. The Minister for Europe, in a hastily dispatched letter to The Daily Telegraph, rather lamely protests that this is just another
"round of anti-EU propaganda".
That underlines the Government's determination to avoid a proper public debate on these issues. The document drafted in the German military high command is clearly reflected in the joint declaration on EU defence that was issued by the Heads of State of Germany, France, Luxembourg and Belgium in April. The Minister for Europe will recall that that was dubbed the "chocolate summit"; I seem to remember that the Secretary of State was highly critical of it at the time. As it was explicitly the policy of those four Governments, the Minister's denials are somewhat unconvincing. The Government's pathetic attempt to trash the document was not helped by the German Defence Minister, who said over the weekend:
"There is no issue, no step, along the path of EU military integration that would be unthinkable for Germany to take . . . There is no topic that is taboo or beyond consideration, not now nor in the future."
He goes on:
"We are good Europeans and have nothing to fear over the issue of national sovereignty within integrated European military structures."
He talked about "working around" British "taboos over these issues". There is evidence that he is working around them very successfully. The German paper, when describing its central premise, states:
The German Government have not denied that.
My hon. Friend is guiding the House with admirable clarity through the thickets of public policy and he is rightly disdainful of the sedentary protestations of the Minister for Europe. Does he agree that a common defence policy, independent of NATO and in the European Union, requires the existence of a common identity, purpose and willingness to make equal sacrifices to achieve that purpose? Given that none of those conditions is currently satisfied, does he agree that such a policy is, at best, a dangerous illusion and at worst, a potential disaster?
I agree with my hon. Friend, but I believe that the European Union has tended to operate in that way. It has tended to try to create the framework for policy on which there is no agreement in the hope of creating agreement. It is an unwise policy, not least because it creates the expectation of an agreement when there is bound to be disagreement; otherwise, we would all have agreed on what to do about Iraq.
I shall explain why I disagree with the Government amendment later.
Today, I shall place a copy of the document—in the original German for the benefit of the Minister for Europe and in translation so that he can check that we have had it accurately translated—in the Library for all to see. The most germane parts to the debate are comments on "an equal partnership" with the United States of America.
It states that if NATO and the EU cannot agree on decisions,
"then they would have to act independently from each other."
Does the Secretary of State for Defence disagree with that statement? I believe that he agrees that that is his policy.
The objective of German policy and that of the Secretary of State is duplication and competition between NATO and the European Union.
The hon. Gentleman is making a commendable speech that could have been delivered to the Bundestag, but I am struggling to find its relevance to British Government policy or, perhaps more significantly, to that of the European Union. To correct his historical record, he will find that the German military high command was abolished in 1945.
That may be a matter of translation. Unlike the Minister for Europe, I do not speak fluent German and I am therefore happy to be corrected. However, that does not get the right hon. Gentleman off the hook of the substance of the policy.
The British Government accepted the principle of EU military autonomy at St. Malo and afterwards. The key elements of the German paper are reflected in the draft EU constitution: a new European defence order, including a new European defence agency, defined by a framework of laws, ultimately justiciable by the European Court of Justice.
The House can set no store by the Government's so-called red lines. The White Paper on the European constitution, which was published in September, shows the weakness and ambiguity of the Government's policy. The security of our nation will hang on the crucial phrases that
"effective links to NATO are essential to the success of ESDP. We will not agree to anything that is contradictory to, or would replace, the security guarantee established through NATO."
The only real red line here is the narrow security guarantee established through NATO's article 5. The Foreign Secretary narrowed that even further when he told the House that
"it is unacceptable for us, for the EU . . . to aspire to provide a territorial defence commitment for Europe."—[Hansard, 20 October 2003; Vol. 411, c. 375.]
Territorial defence is hardly NATO's main task in the modern security environment. There is no red line about NATO remaining the cornerstone of our security in its wider sense, as was expressed in the Queen's Speech, for example. There is no red line to guarantee the independence of national defence policy, let alone to prohibit the creation of a European army.
NATO today is Europe's defence and security alliance, but it is clearly the intention that the EU should compete with, duplicate and take over from NATO all its tasks and functions except the most residual. The Prime Minister protests that
"there are people who want to pull me away from Europe, and people who want to pull me away from America."
If he is feeling pulled hither and thither, he has nobody to blame but himself. In reality, neither America nor NATO can pull Britain away from Europe. However, the EU constitution, which
"shall have primacy over the law of the Member States", would pull Britain away from our north American allies and from NATO if it were ever to come into effect.
This is perhaps a conversation rather than a heated debate, so it is kind of the hon. Gentleman to give way. Can he say how his arguments conform to the second paragraph of article 42 of the proposed constitutional treaty, which of course is not yet negotiated? It states:
"The policy of the Union in accordance with this Article shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States and shall respect the obligations of certain Member States, which see their common defence realised in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, under the North Atlantic Treaty, and be compatible with the common security and defence policy established within that framework."
Assuming that that article remains in the final constitutional treaty, it exactly guarantees the authority and centrality of NATO.
The key word is "obligations". If the Minister would like to come back to the Dispatch Box to describe the United Kingdom's obligations to NATO that the treaty respects, I shall listen to him. There are very few obligations under the NATO treaty—it is a commitment, but there is not much of an obligation. Even when article 5 is invoked, it remains essentially voluntary on the member states, not obligatory. [Interruption.] I am sorry, but it is absolutely true.
The fundamental difference between the draft constitution and the NATO treaty is that the constitution will have the force of statute in our law whereas the NATO treaty does not. The obligations in that document will clearly become superior to those under the NATO treaty. Does the Minister for Europe want me to give way? That is game, set and match on that point, thank you very much.
The European constitution declares that it will have supremacy over the law of the member states, so it will clearly have superiority in terms of its parity with the Atlantic alliance. The Prime Minister has either unwittingly walked into a trap of his own making or he is deliberately deceiving the British people about his real intention to divide the EU from NATO.
The only way to protect NATO is to veto any such constitution and to insist that foreign, security and defence policy remain a matter for intergovernmental co-operation—not central co-ordination—completely separate from any institutions for making or interpreting laws. That is the fundamental problem with this constitution. It dissolves the three-pillar structure and folds the defence and security policy into the central pillar of the EU, which is ultimately under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. The Minister for Europe is still shaking his head, so I will divert from my text to make a particular point. Article I 15, entitled "The Common Foreign and Security Policy", in part 1 of the draft constitution, states
"1. The Union's competence in matters of common foreign and security policy shall cover all areas of foreign policy and all questions relating to the Union's security, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy, which might lead to a common defence.
2. Member States shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity and shall comply with the acts adopted by the Union in this area. They shall refrain from action contrary to the Union's interests or likely to impair its effectiveness."
Does the Minister wish to dispute the fact that that article is justiciable by the European Court of Justice?
The language is taken directly from the Maastricht treaty. Members sitting on the Opposition Front Bench with the hon. Gentleman voted for that, although he did not. [Interruption.] Oh, he did. I am sorry.
I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will deal with the second point. The constitutional treaty—whose final text we do not yet have; we are referring here to a draft—will be justiciable to the extent that it refers to what the European Union does, but I think the hon. Gentleman is making a lot of fuss about nothing when it comes to a solid commitment to NATO in this text, repeating Maastricht language that the House has endorsed.
I am afraid that the Minister has not answered my question. The fact is that in the Maastricht treaty none of the defence and foreign and security provisions is justiciable by the European Court, whereas this article is. That creates a gaping hole in all the assurances that the Government have given us over a long period, and in all the red lines that they have drawn.
The hon. Gentleman has yet to explain the Prime Minister's motive for embarking on this clandestine attempt to take us away from NATO. May I, however, make a specific point about the draft constitutional treaty? Article III-214, paragraph 4, in section 1, "The Common Security and Defence Policy", states
"This Article shall not affect the rights and obligations resulting, for the Member States concerned, from the North Atlantic Treaty."
It is stated clearly, in black and white, that the North Atlantic treaty remains paramount as part of the constitution.
Interestingly, the hon. Gentleman added his own interpretation at the end of his intervention. The article does not say "NATO remains paramount". It says that we shall respect the obligations of member states under NATO. First, the obligations under NATO are extremely limited compared with the obligations of membership of the European Union. Secondly, the obligations under NATO are only treaty obligations, while the obligations under the European Union have the force of statute. They will therefore tend to override our obligations under NATO, however limited they are.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He may not have had time to look up the reference. Mr. Keetch is wrong. What he quoted relates only to article III-214, which concerns closer co-operation on mutual defence. It does not apply to the—in my view—more dangerous article on structure co-operation, which is about planning cells and separate headquarters in Europe that will be set up under the provisions of the constitution. References to the primacy of NATO do not apply to the structure co-operation article to which my hon. Friend referred earlier. I hope he appreciates this support from the Back Benches.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. In fact, I am very pleased with the interventions that I have taken, because I was encouraged to leave out large parts of my speech that referred in detail to the European constitution.
May I refer the hon. Gentleman to page 128 of the document that he is examining? Article II-282 states
"The Court of Justice shall not have jurisdiction with respect to Articles . . . concerning the common foreign and security policy."
I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman intervened on that point, because article III-282 says:
It does not refer to or exclude article I-15, which I read out verbatim earlier. Therefore, there is a loophole in the drafting—[Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman checks the record, he will see that I read out article I-15 and asked the Minister for Europe whether it was justiciable under the European Court of Justice. He declined to answer. Article I-15 is justiciable. I hear what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. Everything is justiciable unless it is specifically excluded.
This debate underlines one thing—why the Government have an obligation to provide a proper legal analysis of the draft constitution, so that we can have a proper debate about what the import of the draft constitution is. It is not satisfactory that we should finish up just bandying these points across the Dispatch Box, interesting and amusing though it is. The Government should publish a proper White Paper with a detailed legal analysis, using some of the top legal brains in the country, to explain to the British people why the European constitution is absolutely fundamental to the liberties of the British citizen.
I thought that my hon. Friend would like to know that, in the Convention on the Future of Europe, that precise point was brought up. It was pointed out that the European Court of Justice will have authority over the earlier articles, including the obligation to
"actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity".
That will be fully judiciable.
When that was pointed out, I and a number of other Members in the Convention tabled an amendment to reverse that. We were not supported by the British Government representative. The Government know full well that they are walking into a trap and that British freedom of action and powers of self-government will be undermined. We will all be under the authority of the European Court of Justice, which will interpret these overriding articles in part 1 of the constitution.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for telling us what went on in the Convention but, even so, I say to him and to the Secretary of State that in the end it does not matter what either of them thinks. The only institution that will in the end decide who is right is the European Court of Justice, and unless we get the best legal opinion to apply their minds to these questions, we cannot have a full and proper debate on how fundamental the terms of the constitution are. For the Government to protest that it is just a bit of tidying-up is a very unsatisfactory way of proceeding.
I return to Mr. Keetch, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, who agrees with the European constitution and does not mind what it means. He asked about the Prime Minister's motivation. I would love to know what it is. There is one thing that we can deduce from his statements. From St. Malo onwards, we have seen the growing tendency of the European Union to duplicate and to compete with NATO. That is being reinforced in the European constitution.
The inclusion of common foreign and security defence policy in the draft constitution does not make the world a safer place, because it undermines NATO, on which our security depends. The Euro army is a policy in search of a mission, as my hon. Friend Mr. Bercow said. Its development has no positive influence on the United States; in fact, it sends an adverse signal to the United States, which is why it was so bitterly criticised by the American NATO ambassador recently. Of course, we cannot influence US policy by separating ourselves from it. It is about the political ambition of those who would use defence as an instrument of European integration for its own sake, whether it is good for our security or not.
Of course, European nations want a stronger voice in world affairs. Of course, European nations should increase their military capabilities and be able to operate more effectively in Europe and around the world. Of course, European nations must take more responsibility for European and global security. But the Government's policy is clearly not about those great tasks. European security and defence policy and the EU constitution will not add a single bullet to Europe's military capability.
So what is the Government's policy about? Is it about the "little Europe" that believes that it can shut the door on our north American allies and the wider world? It is about a Prime Minister who says one thing to the President and another to his colleagues in Europe. It is about a Prime Minister who has lost control of the agenda and is now just playing for time; a Prime Minister who does not lead in Europe but follows; a Prime Minister who is failing in his most important task; a Prime Minister who is undermining the security of the British people.
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:
'believes that NATO is, and should remain, the cornerstone of Europe's collective defence;
believes in the importance of European nations building up their military capabilities to contribute more to their defence and security through NATO and the EU;
welcomes the development of the European Security and Defence Policy as a part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, including its role in undertaking operations where NATO as a whole is not engaged;
welcomes the "Berlin Plus" agreement which provides the EU with assured access to NATO planning and presumed access to NATO assets and capabilities for military operations;
and welcomes the success of the ESDP operation undertaken in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the continuing military operation in Macedonia and police operation in Bosnia.'.
Before responding to the speech of Mr. Jenkin, I should like to say a few words about this weekend's events in Iraq. I know that the House will join me in condemning the recent attacks in Baghdad, not least that on the International Committee of the Red Cross. Terrorists have targeted an organisation that is recognised the world over as utterly impartial and driven solely by its concern for the alleviation of human suffering. They have demonstrated, in doing so, that they have absolutely no concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people. We will not be deterred by these attacks. I should like to express my sympathy to the families of all those who were killed in recent attacks, and to send my best wishes for a speedy recovery to those who were injured, particularly Jacob Nell, who was working in Baghdad on secondment from the Treasury.
I return to the theme of today's debate. During a debate that took place a week or so ago, I observed that the hon. Member for North Essex became interested in it only when I used the phrase "European Union". He has now transformed such interventions into an entire debate, and anyone listening to his speech could reasonably conclude that his interest in defence is outweighed by his obsession with the European Union and its prospective constitution.
To the best of my recollection, we have just had two defence debates and this is a further opportunity for us to debate that subject. Reasonable people would conclude, having listened to the balance of the hon. Gentleman's speech, that he is perhaps much more interested in the minutiae of the European Union than in the debate's wider perspective.
It has been made clear to the House on several occasions that this Government will not agree to anything that is contradictory to, or would replace, the security guarantee established through the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. NATO is, and should remain, the cornerstone of transatlantic and European collective defence. Challenges to global security continue to evolve and change, but it seems, unfortunately, to have escaped the notice of current Conservative Front Benchers that the cold war is over, and that the world has moved on to a security environment that provides new challenges and new threats, played out on a global stage. We recognise that to meet those challenges we need both to transform NATO and to change the way in which European nations participate. It is no longer sufficient to rely on a few nations to provide deterrence to security threats.
I assume that the Conservatives agree with the following statement:
"Our objective must be to strengthen the European pillar of the Alliance and improve European defence co-operation . . . the US strategic commitment to Europe will remain an irreplaceable guarantee of Western security. If we wish to preserve it and ensure that our views continue to be given due weight by future US Administrations, the European Allies must find answers to some difficult questions: Are we able to take on a larger share of the responsibility for our defence? How should we respond to renewed public questioning of defence policy? Or the need to develop new technologies at a time of rising costs and resource constraints? The answers make it evident that such problems have to be tackled jointly."
As I observed in interrupting the hon. Gentleman's admirable contribution to the debates of the Bundestag—criticising, I assume, the policy of the German Federal Chancellor—his criticism was not in fact of this Government's policy, nor, indeed, of anything agreed by the European Union. If he wants to stand for election to the Bundestag and to criticise the German Chancellor's policies he is, I assume, free to do so. He can exercise the free rights under the EU treaty that he so confidently criticises, go there and make his criticisms of German Government policy, not of British Government policy. That is the difficulty that he faces in the light of his remarks today.
I was inviting the hon. Gentleman to comment on the particular contribution to the debate on the subject of European allies made by Baroness Thatcher as long ago as 1984. Baroness Thatcher is not noted for her support for things European, but as long ago as 1984 she correctly recognised that the solution to the problem of improving European military capabilities lay in European hands. That is precisely the policy that successive Governments have followed ever since.
The hon. Gentleman seems to suggest that the European security and defence policy is somehow the creation of a Labour Government and that, if the Prime Minister and President Chirac had not signed the St. Malo agreement, the ESDP would somehow not have existed. Perhaps I can remind him of the words of Lord Hurd, as Foreign Secretary on
"At Maastricht, we reaffirmed the principle that European activity in defence should complement the common defence that we have through NATO. NATO is, and will remain . . . the anchor of European security. At the same time . . . the Europeans need to shoulder a greater share of the burden of providing their own security, while keeping the critical link between the transatlantic and European dimensions of our defence. That is why we agreed at Maastricht"— we being a Conservative Government—
"the vehicle for developing a genuine European military capability to act in areas where NATO is not engaged or chooses not to be."—[Hansard, 21 May 1992; Vol. 208, c. 517.]
Those are familiar words and I am sure that the hon. Member for North Essex will agree.
On this occasion I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. I have to say, however, that when the Prime Minister was asked about the issue at his press conference on Thursday, he said something different. He did not say that it all started under Maastricht. Rather, he said:
"This is a debate that has been carrying on ever since St. Malo."
The right hon. Gentleman should take responsibility for the debate in Europe, instead of trying to shirk his responsibilities, which is typical of him.
If the hon. Gentleman listened to the debate, instead of making such poor points, he would realise that the question of how European nations improve their military capabilities is a serious matter for those nations. [Interruption.] He voted in favour of Second Reading of the Bill that introduced the Maastricht provisions—[Interruption.] He voted in favour of provisions that included the framing of a common defence policy, which might, in time, lead—[Interruption.]
I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I was quoting words in favour of the
"framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence".
The hon. Member for North Essex voted for that. He supported it on Second Reading and, as I understand it, he has said nothing today to detract from it. If he supported that provision in 1992, does he still support it now?
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is better at law than at history. In fact, I voted against Third Reading of the Maastricht provisions—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman asks if I support it, but that is irrelevant—[Interruption.] Maths may not be the Secretary of State's strong point either. The Prime Minister said clearly that the debate has been carrying on ever since St. Malo, which started in 1998, not 1992.
We could debate at length the hon. Gentleman's difficulties with the Maastricht treaty, because he appears to have voted for the provisions on Second Reading, but then voted against, following their amendment in the Bill's passage through Parliament. As I recall, I would not normally have expected him to support those amendments.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to bring up this issue. Could he conclude his history of the Maastricht treaty by reminding the House not only that Mr. Jenkin supported this element of the treaty, but that he and his Government denied the British people a referendum on the subject?
The hon. Gentleman is right. History is not one of the present Conservative Front Benchers' strong points, as they are establishing rather well at the moment.
We are seeking to put the provision from the Maastricht treaty into the context of the 21st-century security environment—one which recognises the value of the transatlantic relationship while strengthening European capabilities and commitment to defence. As a global economic power, the European Union has clear responsibilities in the world. The European Union and its member states provide more than 50 per cent. of overseas development aid. The Government White Paper on the draft constitutional treaty for the European Union stated:
"The Government has been a strong supporter of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), which is designed to give the EU the military and civilian capabilities it needs to support the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy objectives and, in turn, the peace and international security objectives of the UN."
That common foreign and security policy enables the European Union to take concerted action using a variety of both civil and military means. The early reactions to the recent visit to Iran by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, working in concert with his counterparts from France and Germany, provide a good example of the common foreign and security policy in action. Are the current Conservative Opposition against such action, and against such European co-operation?
At the St. Malo Summit in 1998, the United Kingdom and France, the main architects of the ESDP, recognised that, for the European Union to play its full part in international affairs, it must have the capacity for autonomous action to participate in the Petersberg tasks, which include humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping and peacemaking. In the joint declaration from the 1998 UK-French summit, this Government secured the recognition that existing collective defence commitments, including NATO, would be maintained, that ESDP would be developed
"in conformity with our respective obligations in NATO", and
"that the Alliance remains the foundation of the collective defence of its members".
That has not changed. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at his press conference on
"it must be absolutely clear that for NATO countries the basic territorial defence rests with NATO, and the defence guarantee rests with NATO, and secondly in any structured co-operation, which we support in principle, it has got to be agreed between all 25 of the countries, so it is important that it only goes and develops in a way that is fully consistent with NATO."
I should like to clear up one other myth that is being put about by the Conservatives. What St. Malo secured, from the United Kingdom perspective, was that the ESDP would be developed in conformity with NATO, would operate only where NATO as a whole was not engaged, and would draw on NATO as well as European military capabilities to avoid unnecessary duplication. Last Thursday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said:
"We don't want duplication and we certainly don't want duplication with NATO . . . The record since St. Malo has not been one of us either giving up on the transatlantic alliance or allowing EU defence to become a competitor to NATO."
We would have no argument with the strengthening of European capabilities within NATO if the structure for the control and command of those capabilities remained within NATO. However, if a command structure existed outside NATO, but drew on the same troops, ships and aircraft that are at NATO's disposal, what would happen if NATO needed those troops, ships and aircraft and if there was a divergence between the two sets of commands being given to the same set of capabilities?
I regret that the hon. Gentleman, like other Members on his Front Bench, is hypnotised by the European Union. Of course there is a command structure outside NATO: it exists in national headquarters. It has always existed, and that is precisely what the word "autonomous" refers to. There is not, and never has been, anything to prevent European nations—or, indeed, any other nations—from operating together militarily in an alliance or coalition to achieve a military objective. That is essentially what we are talking about here. Nothing has changed as a result of these agreements. The capabilities exist already. To return to the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's question, we certainly want European capabilities to be improved within NATO, but we want them improved outside it as well. Simply being transfixed by the phrase "European Union" and, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying it, frothing at the mouth every time the phrase is used, is not an acceptable or sensible way of conducting the debate.
We have a position in which the pre-eminence of NATO for the more demanding global crisis management operations is recognised. It is necessary only to look at the range and scale of operations in which NATO is involved—in the Balkans, in Afghanistan and in support of Poland's efforts in Iraq—to see the remarkable array of skills and expertise that have been developed with other nations. The agreed EU position, reflected in the presidency report on the ESDP that was endorsed by the Nice European Council, is that NATO remains the basis for the collective defence of its members. The report emphasised specifically that the ESDP was about conducting crisis management tasks. That seemed to us an appropriate and complementary division of labour between the EU and NATO. In effect, the EU acts militarily only where NATO as a whole is not engaged.
There is a crucial distinction, which the Government keep making, even though the right hon. Gentleman resisted when I intervened on him during our previous debate on this subject: NATO will be confined to issues of defence while matters of security and crisis management will be taken over by the European Union. What does he think that NATO is in the modern security situation? It is a crisis management organisation. What has it been doing in the Balkans? What is it doing in Afghanistan? It does crisis management. Why do we need two crisis management headquarters and two crisis management capabilities? The only reason for having a EU crisis management capability separate from NATO is so that it can shut the door on our north American allies.
I will give the hon. Gentleman an illustration of what I am talking about in a second, but it is important that he recognises that the world cannot fit into this neat analysis—for or against the European Union and for or against the involvement of European nations in particular operations. What we are talking about is improving the overall capability of European nations, both within NATO and outside it, and I will give him an example to deal with his point in a moment.
The practical arrangements between the EU and NATO are embodied in the Berlin-plus agreement, concluded in March 2003. It sets out the support that NATO would provide to the ESDP in terms of assured EU access to NATO planning capabilities, the presumption of availability to the EU of NATO capabilities and common assets, and a range of European command options for EU-led operations, including developing the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe's role in relation to European responsibilities.
It was on the basis of Berlin-plus that the EU was able to launch its first military operation, taking over the stabilisation role from NATO in Macedonia, with supreme headquarters allied powers Europe—SHAPE—as the operational headquarters and DSACEUR as the operation commander. The UK supported that mission. Are the Conservatives now against it?
The EU's second military operation, in Bunia this summer, is another example of where the ESDP can be used effectively. The operation, which followed an upsurge in violence in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, stabilised the situation and assisted in the deployment of reinforcements for the UN peacekeeping force there. The House will be aware of the valuable contribution that the UK has made to that important mission. Are the Conservatives against that operation? The hon. Member for North Essex may not like the fact that the mission was conducted autonomously.
At the start of the ESDP, at the Cologne European Council in 1999, we agreed that ESDP operations would be conducted either with recourse to NATO assets or using national assets. NATO has had little experience of such small-scale operation in Africa. Various European national headquarters, in contrast, have a wealth of just that sort of experience. That is why we agreed with the approach taken in Bunia and why we supported it.
In that context, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary stated in the House on
"There is a hierarchy in military planning. It is not formally established in treaty but it has been followed and we want it to continue to be followed: NATO first, then the Berlin-plus arrangements . . . making use of NATO assets, and thirdly, wholly autonomous operations."—[Hansard, 20 October 2003; Vol. 411, c. 383.]
I have listened with great interest to what the Secretary of State has been saying and the point that European nations' experience in Africa endows them with an autonomous capability for operating there. Could not the same argument be made for the experience of European nations versus NATO in terms of operations in the Balkans? NATO was involved successfully in the Balkans. Why now do we need autonomous forces operating in Africa? I am sure that NATO can learn.
The hon. Gentleman, with the benefit of considerable experience, regularly reminds the House of the importance of not overstretching our armed forces—I am sure that he would extend that to the armed forces of other countries as well—so it must be of some assistance both to NATO members and other European nations that organisations other than simply a NATO command headquarters are capable of carrying out such operations because, undoubtedly, that will have the effect of spreading the burden. As he rightly points out, modern nations in the present global security environment have a problem in taking on their share of responsibility, so I would have thought that, consistent with the points that he has wisely made to the House on many occasions, he would agree with my argument.
I wish to return to the hierarchy described earlier that applies when the EU may take a role that NATO does not want to take. Liberal Democrat Members have often said that NATO should have a formal right of first refusal. NATO should have a formal ability to consider an operation, and if it did not want to undertake it for whatever reason, the EU system would click in. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that such a formal right exists at the moment? If he believes that it does not exist, it might be helpful for other hon. Members to understand the arrangement if such a formal right of first refusal did exist.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Clearly, there is no such formal right and I have indicated that there is no such specific treaty provision, but there are regular, detailed exchanges and conversations, particularly between Heads of State and Government in contemplation of military action, and certainly between Defence Ministers, trying to establish both the scale of any required operation and the most appropriate way to carry that through. All that takes place well before formal meetings involving NATO Ministers, EU Ministers or, indeed, a coalition of the willing, depending on which is appropriate.
I turn now to the capabilities. The Government firmly believe that the European countries need to strengthen their military capabilities. We are pursuing that both in NATO and, indeed, through the EU. The United Kingdom's work in NATO contributed to the agreement, at the Prague summit last year, on the Prague capabilities commitment, which is beginning to produce results. Multinational groups have been established to run programmes that address the critical capability shortfalls and recognise future capability requirements. The NATO response force—the tip of NATO's spearhead of high-readiness forces—is another resounding success for Prague. It was inaugurated just over a week ago, with an initial operating capacity. Although not yet the full package, it is 12 months ahead of schedule.
Similarly, under the Helsinki headline goal, EU member states aim to be able to deploy within 60 days, and sustain for at least one year, some 50,000 to 60,000 troops on crisis management operations. The EU now has operational capability across the full range of the Petersberg tasks, limited and constrained by recognised shortfalls. EU member states must now take action to address those shortfalls by more effective defence spending on the capabilities that enable member states to deploy their forces rapidly. That is being taken forward by EU member states in the European capabilities action plan.
The hon. Gentleman is too long-standing an expert in such matters to ask that question without already knowing the answer. The answer is clear: it will depend on how long the operation lasts. The operation might require those troops for a short period, not longer than the figures outlined in the Helsinki headline goal. Alternatively, if the operation was a recurring one and the troops were required for years, as has been the case in the Balkans, we would obviously need many more than the 50,000 to 60,000 troops available if the force were to be sustained at that level for any longer period. All I would say is that we have not needed to have that number of United Kingdom troops engaged over that length of time in the Balkans, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman would accept that, when we get to the peacekeeping stage of any operation, the number of troops required may be significantly lower than might be required, as we have seen most recently, in the war fighting in Iraq.
Together those initiatives in NATO and the EU will lead to greater overall European capability and capacity to meet the range of threats that we all now face. A capabilities development mechanism has been agreed by the EU and NATO that aims at full and mutual transparency of the programmes. In the case of the strategic airlift and air-to-air refuelling programmes, the same country is chairing both groups to ensure a co-ordinated approach.
In support of those efforts to enhance capabilities, the United Kingdom has been playing a leading role in the creation of a European defence agency. We are currently discussing detailed arrangements with other member states, and we have secured widespread European support for our view that it should be primarily focused on developing EU military capabilities and establishing a framework for measuring them. It would also have a wider commitment to promoting cost-effective procurement and competition. Are the Conservatives also against that?
Every one of the measures and negotiations that I have described has been aimed at delivering a more effective defence contribution for Europe and our transatlantic partners. Our approach has been to ensure that effectiveness, not just in cost terms but in operational terms, is the driving force for change. To that end, we have been robust in our stance against unnecessary duplication.
When does the Secretary of State think that he will be able to produce a draft statute for the European armaments, research and military capabilities agency? I notice that under article III-212, paragraph 2, the agency will have a statute drawn up by the Council acting by qualified majority. On the agency's statute, seat and operational rules, is it likely that the operational rules themselves will contain qualified majority voting? The list of tasks assigned to the agency is very broad, and could well include, under the heading
"contribute to identifying the Member States' military capability objectives" the setting up of a military planning headquarters. Therefore, even if the proposal is shelved at present, under those arrangements money could be raised and spent on a military planning headquarters.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that four is not a qualified majority, however the arrangements are configured.
I turn to what is becoming a much misrepresented part of the negotiations with our European partners: the aspirations to create an EU operational headquarters. Let me start with what actually has been agreed. At the Nice summit in December 2000, it was agreed that the role of the EU military staff would be to perform, and I quote again,
"three main operational functions: early warning, situation assessment and strategic planning".
The EU military staff terms of reference, reflected in the Nice presidency report on the ESDP, do not include operational planning. That is still the position. The Government have not agreed to any change in that position in the draft constitution. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told the House only last Monday,
"It is not the case that military planning is currently done only in NATO: for some time, EU military staff based in Cortenberg have carried out strategic planning. That should continue—it is fine by us—but the issue for us is that there is no case for having operational planning and the running of operations per se in an EU headquarters, separate either from supreme headquarters allied powers Europe, SHAPE, or from national headquarters."—[Hansard, 20 October 2003; Vol. 411, c. 383.]
The military advice that we have received on this is clear. The military elements of ESDP operations could be planned only by an operations headquarters with access to the functional capabilities available at SHAPE or from national headquarters. The EU military staff does not have such capabilities.
We believe that there is scope to improve the EU's strategic planning capacity—its ability to look ahead and identify areas of potential concern worldwide and to frame strategic military options. Our opposition to the proposal to develop an EU multinational operational and planning headquarters remains unchanged. Whether or not it is at Tervuren, it is not the way ahead.
From a military perspective, we are convinced that the operational planning and conduct of an EU operation needs to be undertaken from a working headquarters—a headquarters formed at SHAPE or by a national headquarters. Only with that approach can we ensure the currency, expertise, and access to in-depth military advice and co-ordinated resources that is needed. We must concentrate European efforts on developing effective military capabilities, not on the unnecessary duplication of NATO facilities.
If the hon. Member for North Essex still believes that collective defence leads to a European army, he should read the Nice presidency report, in which it is stated that the ESDP
"does not involve the establishment of the European Army".
It would be difficult to be clearer than that, but, for the avoidance of doubt, it also goes on to say that the commitment of troops by member states to ESDP operations would be based on national, sovereign decisions. Some people, however, would rather invent the concept of a European army than explain why the world will be less dangerous if European nations work together on military tasks that NATO does not take on.
The Secretary of State is being exceptionally generous in giving way. He might find it useful to take this opportunity to assure the House that, if a Government of this country were at direct loggerheads—as they were over Iraq—with leading members of the European Community and the European military set-up that is gradually evolving, it would not inhibit a future Government in any way from proceeding with a military campaign such as that in Iraq, which was done with the support of the official Opposition?
Of course not. The hon. Gentleman has given the most recent possible example. There were discussions with European allies, and the countries that participated in the meeting in Belgium that led to the specific proposals—four of them—are in a distinct minority in the European Union. I find it difficult to understand why Opposition Front Benchers are so seized of those countries, which form a tiny minority, rather than the overwhelming majority of countries that support the position of the British Government on Iraq and, indeed, the specific negotiations.
I make it clear that there is no European army or standing European rapid reaction force or, indeed, any European agreement to create that. Forces are offered by EU member states for EU crisis management operations on a voluntary basis. That is no different from the arrangements for NATO crisis management operations or, indeed, from those used by other international organisations, such as the United Nations. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was clear on that point last Thursday when he dismissed the idea that British troops could be used without the consent of the British Government. He said:
"It is only in circumstances where the British Government or any other government agrees to participate in each individual operation that we participate."
As to the future, we are actively engaged in the wider debate in the intergovernmental conference and we set out our position in the White Paper to which I referred. The European security and defence policy is only one element of the IGC and we are at the centre of the debate. We are trying to shape the debate with a view to the United Kingdom's long-term interests rather than sitting on the sidelines and sniping, as the Conservative party would have us do. We welcome several proposals in the draft constitution that would strengthen the ESDP. Can the Conservatives say the same? Do they welcome those proposals?
We support the updating of the Petersberg tasks—the range of crisis management operations that the EU can undertake. That will ensure that the ESDP continues to reflect more closely the security challenges that we now face. The new solidarity clause should enable a swift and co-ordinated response to be made to a request from a member state for assistance when dealing with the consequences of a terrorist attack or disaster. We also support the creation of an intergovernmental European defence agency to increase co-operation among member states when developing defence capabilities.
Proposals for structured co-operation go further and present both opportunities and risks. There are opportunities to strengthen the ESDP and encourage member states to improve their effective military capabilities. Much depends on the detail that will be contained in an associated protocol. We are discussing ideas in this area with many partners to establish the right way forward.
We do not support all the proposals in the Convention text. Effective links to NATO are vital to the success of the ESDP. We could not agree to any proposal that would contradict, or replace, the security guarantee established through NATO. However, we also want a strong and effective ESDP, and that must be flexible and responsive to global security challenges. Any proposals for new forms of co-operation must not undermine that.
Will the operations of the proposed European defence agency be subject to the terms of the protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality in the treaty of Amsterdam, and to those of its intended successor?
I understand the benefit of applying subsidiarity to the arrangements because we clearly do not want a European capability solution that would mean that one country, or a small number of countries acting together, could solve a specific problem. That is the benefit of having an agency to look across all members of the EU, examine their current military capabilities, identify shortfalls and gaps and, indeed, suggest where solutions may lie.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall move on to my conclusion.
Anyone with any experience of international or European negotiations knows that the best way to secure Britain's interests is by engaging with our partners and allies to secure the best way forward for Britain. I have been conducting some interesting reading lately and I am sure that all Conservative Members have been reading the latest pamphlet that Mr. Clarke produced. He recently wrote:
"the more influence Britain has in Brussels, the more influence we have in Washington and the wider international community."
I am sure that that is a useful text for Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen to reflect on when they respond to the debate.
I have set out a consistent and coherent set of policies and actions that delivers a European defence structure, takes account of the relative strengths of NATO and the European Union, reflects the modern security environment and allows us to enjoy the benefits of a strong European defence dimension as well as a positive transatlantic relationship.
May I add our condolences and sympathies to those offered by the Secretary of State to those people recently hurt in Iraq? I am sure all hon. Members would join us in that.
I welcome the debate, although it is difficult to understand how much further forward we are since last week's statement on NATO and European defence. Nevertheless, as already expressed, there are legitimate concerns about what impact the discussions within the EU and the intergovernmental conference will have on NATO. Judging by the comments of the US ambassador to NATO and the consultations with other EU and NATO partners, it seems that will have to handle those with more sensitivity and transparency in future.
I, too, suspect the Conservative party's motives in calling for this debate, as I think the Secretary of State and others do. Perhaps the Conservatives are trying to draw attention away from their other problems—I note the poor attendance of their Back Benchers—by concentrating on their usual anti-European rant. If they had really wanted to draw out some of the things in a defence debate that members of the armed forces are concerned about, they could have called a debate on a range of issues—overstretch, which the Conservatives go on about, armed forces housing, pensions and defence medical services. Those are more relevant to the men and women who serve in the armed forces than NATO and EU defence policy.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House are in agreement that the primacy of NATO must not be threatened. They also agree on the hierarchy to which the Secretary of State recently referred, which was again set out by the Foreign Secretary last week, of NATO first followed by Berlin-plus should NATO decline to be involved, followed by EU operations without NATO support, as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, followed by wholly autonomous operations. Provided that that remains the Government's position, it is entirely sensible and we will continue to support it.
The inference I drew from the Opposition was that they regretted Europe's positive response to the request by our American allies for Europe to do more. Does my hon. Friend think that there was a disappointed air to their contribution as a result of Europe for once responding positively and getting its act together?
A cursory reading of the motion shows that we welcome Europe's greater contribution to global defence. What interests me, however, is whether the hon. Gentleman will press his order of priorities, which has some merit, on the Secretary of State, because it is not written down in anything that the Government have signed with our European partners. The so-called right of first refusal for NATO over EU operations does not exist, as we saw before the Prague summit when France threatened to veto the continuation of the Macedonia mandate unless NATO as a whole agreed that the EU should take it over. France did that with finesse to produce what it wanted.
I shall deal with the intervention of my hon. Friend Mr. Hancock first. I share his concerns about the Conservative view of the issues. An anti-European rant does appear to run through the Conservative party.
I am concerned by the lack of even-handedness in the shadow Defence Secretary's attitude to the reality between the United States and Europe. His is a political party that supported—hook, line and sinker—the deployment of Her Majesty's armed forces in Iraq and asked hardly a single question about it because our forces were acting with United States armed forces.
In answer to the specific question, I do believe, as Liberal Democrat Members have said on many occasions, that there ought to be a formal right of first refusal. The Secretary of State answered that point well in his speech; there is no such formal right, but there is a series of arrangements between Defence Ministers which we need to look at.
No party or Government in Europe or, indeed, the United States should be against European security and defence co-operation. As the shadow Defence Secretary said, that belief is underlined in the motion in his name. However, American anxieties about European defence arrangements must be set in context. Successive American Administrations have supported defence co-operation in the EU since 1962. Even the Opposition motion expresses a belief in enhanced European military capacity, even if it is not explicitly developed under the auspices of the ESDP.
"the guidance from the State Department is still supportive of ESDP."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 22 October 2003; Vol. 653, c. 1614.]
It is worth remembering, however, that the anxieties of the Pentagon are not shared throughout Washington and are the subject of criticism in the United States. Some analysts in the US believe that undue antagonism from the US could itself be a danger to the alliance and that Europe should have the right to discuss its defence arrangements provided that they do not undermine the alliance.
All nations have the right to decide on their own defence and to speak to other nations if they want to do so. I do not believe that that undermines the north Atlantic treaty at all. So far, all the discussions and documents relating to the ESDP have stressed the primacy and inviolability of obligations to NATO, and we agree with that.
We supported the Government in their efforts to make progress in this matter at St. Malo in 1998. We have also supported the attempts to improve interoperability, joint procurement and shared capabilities since then through the Helsinki headline goals, the Prague capabilities commitment and the NATO rapid reaction forces. As the Secretary of State said, a major goal of the ESDP is to increase capabilities, and that goal is beginning to be realised, albeit too slowly. The French announced a major increase in defence spending earlier this year, but sadly they have not been followed by others. The Helsinki headline goal process is beginning to deliver improved capabilities—deployable capabilities—in many areas. That process complements, rather than diverts from, NATO and it makes both the ESDP and NATO stronger.
NATO and the EU are not in competition. Everybody agrees that the EU needs to do more, and that is what St. Malo was about. How those capabilities are organised is not, as the Americans would say, a zero-sum game. The Defence Secretary and I are in good company—which includes leading Conservatives and others who are extremely important in defence—when we make that point. Two former Chiefs of the Defence Staff, Lord Bramall and the late Lord Carver, two former Conservative Defence Ministers, Lords Heseltine and Gilmour, and a former Tory Foreign Secretary, Lord Hurd, signed a joint letter to The Daily Telegraph in November 2000 which said:
"European defence co-operation is not about creating a Euro-army in competition with Nato: it is an essential underpinning of the Atlantic Alliance . . . ESDI and Nato are entirely complementary and it is not helpful to the public's understanding of this important issue to suggest otherwise."
I agree with those comments and with the recent comments of Mr. Clarke, as expressed by the Secretary of State.
The capabilities that are available to NATO are the same ones that are available to the EU. There are no separate British troops, tanks, warships or aircraft with a little NATO flag that will, some time, turn into a little EU flag; they are the same capabilities. It is important for us to remember that.
The EU has done a splendid job in Macedonia, in the Congo and with the police support mission in Bosnia. If the NATO mission in Bosnia is brought to an end and the EU takes over, I wish it well in that task. The Government appear to accept that no new structures, which could compete with NATO for joint operations, are needed. Indeed, the Berlin-plus arrangements make any such structures redundant. The EU has been assured access to NATO planning assets. Who could require more? Provided that the Berlin-plus arrangements, which have been agreed by all concerned, including NATO members, are followed, there should be no problem or conflict of interest between the two formations.
We have had some discussion of the draft proposals produced by the European Convention, and there are concerns about the way in which the ESDP could develop following the adoption of a European constitution. In fact, the problem is more likely to be that the addition of many new members slows down co-operation and encourages states to seek national solutions instead of getting involved in more complex multinational negotiations. We, too, welcome the expansion of the Petersberg tasks set out in article III-210 of the new constitution. The way in which those tasks are defined and implemented will be decided unanimously, as has been said, and we support the view that there should be no qualified majority voting on defence and foreign affairs.
An armaments research and military capabilities agency is a good idea, which we support in the interests of saving money and improving defence co-operation. Any enhancement of European capabilities will benefit NATO, but the key point is the way in which those capabilities are configured and deployed. We, too, have concerns, as structured co-operation should not discriminate against other EU countries that want to take part. Moreover, a mutual defence guarantee could be seen as a threat to NATO, as the Secretary of State has just accepted. The Government have declared that they are aware of those issues and have resolved to deal with them during discussions at the intergovernmental conference—we shall take them to task if they fail to do so.
The Liberal Democrats have always believed that the real value added by the ESDP to British security lies in sharing the military burden and increasing capabilities through pooling assets. Progress on reaching the Helsinki headline goal has been painfully slow. Achieving further and deeper collaboration on the provision of capabilities is, in fact, the real issue facing European Defence Ministers at the moment. Many targets have been set at the behest of the Americans, the British and the French, most recently at Prague, but considerable work needs to be done to translate those targets into deployable assets. Pooling capabilities has long been a theme of Liberal Democrat defence policy, but considerable potential remains for more sharing. A range of civilian and shared military support operations could be operated jointly by NATO and the EU in a similar way to the AWACS—airborne warning and control system—planes that currently fly under NATO command.
I cannot speak about the French nuclear deterrent, but certainly we have no plans whatever in Liberal Democrat defence policy to pool the British nuclear deterrent in any EU force.
Ultimately, the ESDP will be defined by what it delivers. It promises to deliver much, not just in terms of offensive, war-fighting capabilities that could be of use to NATO, but in making larger numbers of intelligent and well-trained peacekeepers available for multinational operations. If we want NATO to continue to develop its ability to meet the new security challenges of the 21st century, the United States and Europe must co-operate as partners. The ESDP is part of that co-operation, which is why we shall not support the Conservative motion but shall instead join the Government in the Lobby.
As my hon. Friend Mr. Smith said in an intervention, this debate is a lot of fuss about nothing. It was significant that in his opening speech Mr. Jenkin built his argument not on any analysis of Government or EU policy, but on the admitted ambitions of some people in Germany and elsewhere to have a European army. I concede the point—of course there are people in other European countries who want total integration and a European army—but that is not the position of the British Government. I do not think it is the position of any party in the House, not even the Liberal party, which usually strongly supports European integration, but not on defence. It is the classic storm in a teacup. We should not allow ourselves to be mesmerised or carried away by the dreams of some people in other European countries, any more than we should be carried away by the nightmares of the Conservative party.
Everybody in the House agrees that NATO should have the right of first refusal whether to undertake humanitarian tasks—the so-called Petersberg tasks. That is not new. We have had a European defence organisation for some 50 years; it is called the Western European Union. To use the language of the hon. Member for North Essex, some people would argue that the obligation under the Brussels treaty, which is the basis of the Western European Union, is much more extensive than the voluntary commitment under the NATO treaty. Although it exists on paper and has done for 50 years, we in Britain recognise that that obligation has been superseded in practice by our commitment and that of our allies to NATO. That is the way it works.
For some time, the Western European Union has had an accepted role in humanitarian tasks, peacekeeping and similar missions—the Petersberg tasks. In the past few years it has been agreed that the WEU should be integrated into the European Union. All that has happened is that the EU has taken over from the WEU the responsibility for Petersberg tasks. Although there are all sorts of difficulties surrounding that decision, those detailed difficulties are not the subject of the debate this afternoon. I repeat: it is a storm in a teacup.
It is essential that we do not leave the job to NATO. It is one thing to say that NATO should have the right of first refusal; it is a different thing to say that NATO should have a right of veto. It is significant that Mr. Heathcoat-Amory said in an intervention that the Americans should have the right to give permission for Europeans to undertake the Petersberg tasks. I reject that concept. There will be some situations in which the Americans do not want to get involved. We should not go cap in hand to Washington and say, "Please, President Bush, if you don't want to do it, may we do it?"
We should have the autonomous right to take our own decisions as a sovereign country, in alliance with our European allies, to undertake some mission that almost certainly—but not exclusively—will be in Europe. There have already been examples of that. Someone asked from the Opposition Benches, "When has NATO never wanted to undertake such missions?" Consider the case of the Balkans. Only a few years ago, Albania was sliding into anarchy. NATO did not want to get involved. The EU did not want to get involved, because the British Government did not want to get involved. The British Government prevented the EU from taking any action in Albania. I do not make a party political point, but there was a Conservative Government at the time. On behalf of the British Government, Lord Hurd attended a crucial meeting at Apeldoorn, where it was decided that the EU would not take action, so it was left to a coalition of European countries, fortunately, to take the necessary action to ensure that Albania did not go the way of the rest of the Balkans.
In Albania there would have been a civil war on the scale of that in Bosnia, except that it would have been between political parties, rather than between people of different ethnic origin. That very dangerous situation was averted by a coalition—an alliance—of European countries, regrettably outside the European Union, but extremely effective none the less. Operation Alba was one of the greatest successes of any coalition of willing people.
There will be similar situations in the future. I hope not, but it would be unreasonable to pretend that that will not happen. It would be wise to make provision to ensure that if it happens we can take action because it is part of Europe. Albania is part of Europe. Europe is not the EU; Europe is much bigger. We have a right and an interest in taking action in the Balkans and elsewhere. I am thinking of places such as the south Caucasus, where we might well want to get involved as Europeans with our European allies.
We have faced that situation before and it could easily arise in future. The real problem about the arrangements that are being negotiated is not the nightmare envisaged by Conservative Members, but the complete lack of any arrangements for liaison between national Parliaments. That is a retrograde step, because we have had such arrangements before. If Conservative Members cared about defence and the roles of national Parliaments, they would complain that our Government have not done enough to ensure that there is liaison and consultation between national Parliaments in jointly scrutinising the arrangements that are negotiated at a European level.
As someone who consistently voted against Maastricht, I have no difficulty in supporting the Government in the Lobby tonight.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way just before he sits down. If I may, I should like to give him the opportunity to put a case to the Government for the retention of the WEU to serve in the role of parliamentary scrutiny of defence across Europe.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We entirely agree on this issue, although he means the WEU Assembly, not the WEU—we tend to confuse the two. The WEU has been integrated into the European Union, but there is a role to be played by a body of some kind—perhaps not the WEU Assembly, as I do not pretend that the WEU and its Assembly were perfect organisations. There is a great need for improvement, but it would be a great mistake to throw the baby out with the bath water by dispensing with the Assembly now that the WEU is integrated into the European Union.
That is a different debate that I shall not pursue further. I am sure that Mr. Hancock and I, together with hon. Members on both sides of the House, will do so on future occasions. I merely draw attention to the fact that the Conservative Opposition are barking up the wrong tree.
The Americans came rather slowly into the first and second world wars; we are very grateful that they did so. After the second world war, the main aim was to link the United States so inextricably to Europe through NATO that there was no question of its entering briskly into any further conflict. Indeed, it was required, as a part of the NATO alliance, to ensure that no further conflicts would happen in Europe and that any attack on one member would result in a joint response. It has often been said that NATO is the most successful alliance in the history of the world. It has been very successful in achieving its objectives.
It is important to remember, however, that the United States does not look only to us in Europe for its allies. If one visited a schoolroom in the United States, one might be surprised to find that the map on the wall shows north and south America in the middle of the world, with Asia on the left and Europe on the right. That is unlike the standard Mercator projection on the wall of most of our schoolrooms, where the United Kingdom is in the centre with the United States on one side and Asia on the other. The United States does not necessarily wake up every morning worrying about Europe, central Europe and Asia. A book prepared in the United States entitled, "Report on Allied Contributions to the Common Defence", links it not only to allies in Europe and NATO, but to those from north and south America, as well as to Japan, Korea and allies in the Gulf. The United States does not owe us a living—we must play our part if we wish it to play its part in supporting the NATO alliance.
NATO has been extremely successful. It faced down the Warsaw pact. The deployment of Cruise and Pershing missiles by our former Prime Minister, now Lady Thatcher, and President Reagan led to the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Berlin wall. However, the importance of NATO remains.
There were some stresses before the events of
Let us consider the input of some countries into defence. The United Kingdom is notable for being better than many. Only Turkey and Greece contribute percentages of gross domestic product to defence that exceed those of the United Kingdom. Of course, that is for their own purposes. Luxembourg, which is a prosperous country, contributes a small amount—approximately 1.1 per cent.
The Minister corrects me, but let us call the modest percentage 1 per cent. for simplicity. That is less important than Germany's input, which was 1.9 per cent. when I last looked. The Minister may have a different figure. [Interruption.] He indicates a lower figure. Germany, with a heavy GDP, does not make much of a contribution to defence when compared with many others.
There is not only an overall quantitive weakness but a failure to co-ordinate defence procurement. Different nations often insist on their own aircraft, tanks, guns, uniforms and boots. If the head of an airline insisted on having his own aircraft, he would be certified and fired without delay, whereas the heads of different air forces—notably in France—insist on having their own aircraft. We have co-operative ventures but we do not come together to procure one type of equipment.
That was the position until 9/11, but since then there has been a massive boost to the United States defence effort. The United States spends approximately as much on defence as the next 11 largest countries put together. Its increase in defence spending is the equivalent of much of the European initiative overall. The United States is therefore in a class of its own.
Article 5 was invoked, not, as was expected, by a European country against possible aggression but in respect of the attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. The United States therefore effectively invoked article 5 of the Washington treaty, which led to the European NATO countries deploying airborne warning aircraft over the United States and support of the US by Europe.
The invocation of article 5 was not what we historically expected—a triumphant proof that NATO is an operative coalition. In the context of Afghanistan and Iraq, it proved ultimately to be more a coalition of the willing than simply the operation of NATO. I therefore maintain that invoking article 5 after 9/11 did not result in boosting support for NATO.
Before an attack on Iraq, Turkey invoked the NATO treaty and asked for support against a possible missile attack. The refusal of France and others put NATO under considerable stress. So NATO has been in some difficulty, and this all comes when NATO is being expanded: the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are to be admitted, together with Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania. That will be helpful in strengthening and broadening the alliance.
The admission of those—in military terms—comparatively modest countries is justified, bearing in mind the fact that although we have thought of NATO as a military alliance, it is, of course, also political. One might once have asked, "What is the point of admitting Estonia to NATO? What can it do to support the defence of the other NATO countries?" However, that is not really the right question. The question is what Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and all the other nations can do to strengthen the political alliance that is NATO.
Also, those countries will be given the reassurance of NATO membership. They still feel that they are under the shadow of the former Soviet Union and now of Russia, and might feel that they can benefit from the safeguard—the spiritual and mental support—that they get from being members of NATO. That is important in terms of NATO's expansion. NATO is alive and well, but we need to work on the alliance.
Meanwhile, there are the European Union initiatives to consider. Let us never forget, although it is quite easy to do so, that France withdrew from the integrated military structure. It deliberately put itself in a situation whereby it cannot take part in the normal command and co-ordination efforts of NATO. It makes a point of not being part of the integrated military structure, and that significantly weakens NATO and significantly weakens the contribution that France can make to it.
I thought it regrettable that the Government and our Prime Minister chose the country that is not involved in the integrated military structure to be the subject of the St. Malo initiative in 1998. The intended Franco-British co-operation, and the strengthening of the European institutions for defence and of the European security and defence policy, which has led to a proposal that there should be a separate headquarters and command structure for a European force's identity, have not been very successful.
The Secretary of State talked with some pride of an initiative for having 60,000 troops available on a sustainable basis, but he ducked and weaved when I asked how many troops would be needed to maintain 60,000 on a sustainable basis. Of course, we all know that the answer is three times 60,000, because there must be one unit in preparation, one in operation, and one in stand-down and retraining. That is before one takes account of the fact that troops are often unfit for military service—some 10,000 are currently unfit—quite apart from all the other problems of training and so on. We would need 180,000 troops, but the Secretary of State did not give the answer that he knew as well as I did: we are nowhere near providing 180,000 troops on a sustainable basis, and we are dreaming if we think we can.
There is a tendency in Europe to talk about European co-operation and, having talked about it and agreed yet another new European initiative, everyone goes home feeling that they have done something good—people feel fitter for it all. That is rather like a man going to a shop and buying an exercise bicycle or a pair of dumb-bells, and going home feeling that he has done something to improve his health. He has not done anything of the sort. The fact is that these European initiatives are all talk and not much action. They are like, as they say in Texas, someone with a big hat and no cattle. To follow the analogy through, there is a danger that Europe is deteriorating because we are not taking defence as seriously as the Americans are. I have heard it said that Europe, or the European Union, is deteriorating into a great, fat, lazy Switzerland.
We cannot go on like this. There are severe dangers in pursuing the European defence initiative. I want to make two points that have not been made yet today. In making the first, I speak as a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, of which several of those present now are also members. We co-operate and participate in the assembly's debates, and learn a great deal from listening to colleagues from other countries. I listen to Americans who say that if there were a credible European defence identity, the United States would not feel the need to become involved in areas such as Kosovo.
I remember a conversation with an American senator, who said, "I do not think we would have been able to carry Congress with us if there had been a European defence identity. Congress would not have felt the need to be involved. It would have said, 'Kosovo is a European issue: let the Europeans work it out'."
As I said when I was talking about the allied contributions to the common defence of the United States, the US has many obligations apart from those in Europe. If there is a credible European identity in defence terms, it will not wish to be involved. I am confident of that, and I think it is a serious hazard.
The second hazard is this. If the US is not involved in a European venture and we in Europe do become involved, if and when the involvement becomes difficult—if more military power is needed than we originally anticipated; if the small involvement in an attempt to keep the peace turns sour, and our troops come under immense pressure and attack—we say to the US, "We are very sorry, but we had a European initiative which has gone wrong and we now need your support", the US will be even less likely to involve itself.
May I add a further refinement to my hon. Friend's point? Even if a so-called crisis management operation went wrong and escalated, and we as Europeans had to appeal to the Americans to come in—and even if they did come in—by then the war would already be under way. If they had been involved from the outset under the NATO structures, the war might have been avoided through deterrence, and the fighting might not have broken out in the first place.
That is a good point. The sheer weight of NATO's power might deter a potential aggressor. The whole point of deterrence is that there is no need to become involved, because the initiators have been deterred. If an approach is made with much less force and in a rather timid manner, the fighting could well escalate. It is the sheer weight of the American war machine that enables America to assist in the maintenance of peace around the world.
Let me say in parenthesis that we should continue always to pay tribute to the Americans. Theirs is in many ways a rather insular country, and only 7 per cent. of them have passports. It has taken real determination and a real moral sense of purpose for America to involve itself in world events as it has.
The EU and NATO are not coterminous. With military involvement through the EU we would, as it were, gain an ally in Ireland and lose an ally in Turkey, which is NATO's strongest member in the crucial area of eastern Europe and western Asia. NATO is better shaped to assist the maintaining of peace in dangerous areas than is the EU. I should add that some of our allies have an agenda that is inconsistent with NATO and, indeed, hostile to NATO interests. We would not paint a complete picture if we did not point out that there are European interests that are anti-American. They would like to see a greater American initiative, and to aggrandise their own countries at NATO's expense.
All the difficulty that we have been discussing has arisen because our Prime Minister has a penchant for telling people what he thinks they want to hear. What he says in Europe is different from what he says in the United States. That is why, along with many others, the ambassador to NATO, Nick Burns, has expressed serious concern about the manner in which the European defence initiative is proceeding. He is anxious for us to play our part, and remain staunch allies of NATO. If we do not reiterate our support, there is a risk that the United States will place more emphasis on other parts of the world.
The debate has drawn attention to an important issue, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on the motion.
It is a privilege to speak in the debate, and also to follow Mr. Viggers, who made a very interesting speech. I, too, am a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and have been for some years. I take an interest in NATO's future and in its current state, and I often reflect on the huge success that the NATO alliance has been. It has already been described as probably one of the most successful military alliances in history—certainly in European history—and it has given us virtual peace in Europe for nearly half a century. We want it to go on succeeding, which is why I was so disappointed to see the motion and to hear what was said by Mr. Jenkin.
The debate was supposed to be about NATO and the European security and defence policy, but the hon. Gentleman's speech was about nothing of the sort. It displayed a preoccupation with the vagaries of the pending negotiations on the EU constitution, and had little or nothing to do with the crucial defence issues that face this country and the rest of the world. Those are the issues that I came to hear debated, and to talk about.
In fairness to the hon. Member for Gosport, he raised a crucial issue. He said that NATO had been enormously successful but that we should be very careful, because it was currently under threat and there were pressures on it that needed to be addressed. He rightly drew attention to those pressures, unlike the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. I hope that the Opposition Member who winds up the debate will do the same.
The biggest single threat to NATO—the most successful military alliance in European history—is the lack of burden sharing. It is an equal threat: a threat to one is a threat to all under article 5 of the north Atlantic treaty, and under article 5 as invoked on
NATO, however, was primarily a cold war alliance, and the cold war disappeared a long time ago. I believe—as, I think, do many Members who take an interest in defence matters—that in many respects our current security environment is ten times worse than it was during the cold war, when our enemy was predictable, stable and clearly identifiable. That is not the world in which we live now: we live in a much more insecure world, where the enemy is not obvious and we do not know whence the threats will come from one day to the next. Who could have predicted the military engagements in which we have been engaged in the past five years? I do not think that anyone could have done so.
That illustrates the nature of the threat. It illustrates the importance of defence spending, and it illustrates why the Government are right to increase it in order to protect this country and create a safer global environment. It is, of course, crucial for us to persuade our European allies to share their responsibility. That is exactly what they are not doing. The biggest single threat to NATO is if America becomes more and more separated from Europe in terms of military capability and technical capability in the military sector, which since the increase in defence expenditure in the United States has become very great indeed, not if there is one command, two commands, or one planning organisation. That is irrelevant. That is like arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The truth is that those countries do not have capability.
There is plenty of planning capability already in Europe. One would not have to create a new planning capability structure because all one would have to do is move a few people around. What one does not have is the military capability to be able to respond to an article 5 threat, for example, if it were presented to Europe.
The reason the Prime Minister sat down with the President of France to discuss the future shape of European security and defence policy is that Britain and France are the only two countries that can deliver it. They are the only two countries with a war-fighting capability. France is not even in the military command structure, so it is right that the British Government play a leading role in shaping European defence policy, and at the same time play a leading role in terms of our alliance with our most powerful ally, the United States of America. No one, therefore, should be confused about the role that is being played, and I think that it is very constructive.
It is crucial that we get the Europeans to invest in defence. Not only are they not investing but their defence expenditure is going down. Their contribution to NATO is going down. That must be addressed. We have had the defence capabilities initiative and the Prague capabilities commitment and we are starting to see an improvement, but the big issue in Europe is not just the lack of defence expenditure but the inefficient way in which other European countries are investing their budgets in defence. They do not address the capabilities of NATO, the Petersberg missions under the ESDP, or, frankly, anything else. So much of the debate this afternoon has been an irrelevance. What we need to do is to address those issues that guarantee the future of NATO, which has served us so well for so long.
I remind the House that every NATO member, including the new members from new Europe—not old Europe—is in favour of a European security and defence policy, because every country recognises the importance of improving that capability for NATO. There will be no duplication whatever in terms of military capability because at the moment it does not exist. Anything that is being created is a bonus. Anything that is created for Petersberg missions under the European security and defence policy will be available for NATO missions, and those are capabilities that do not exist at the moment. That is why it is ludicrous for Opposition Front Benchers to argue what they have been arguing today and no doubt will continue to argue in the debate. That is the single biggest issue; that is the single biggest threat to NATO. The single biggest challenge that we face is establishing those capabilities.
Command and control and new headquarters are irrelevant. The only interoperational activities, the only combined activities, that can take place are through NATO structures, because they work, have been tested and have been extremely successful over the past decade. Europe could not do anything about the Balkans and sat back and watched people slaughtering each other in Bosnia, which was, strictly speaking, outside the sphere of influence of article 5 of the NATO treaty. That is why there is a strong case for developing a European military capability. That is now being used in Macedonia and in the Congo. Surprise, surprise! It just so happens that NATO command and control facilities are being used, because there is no other option. The debate that we have had about the creation of the European bogeyman, some fundamental threat that will undermine the defence of this country, is patently absurd.
It is somewhat sad to see a once great party, the British Conservative party, advance these arguments in an Opposition day debate. That party was closely associated with the defence of this nation for many years. Conservative Members are so off the wall now. They turn up this afternoon and use precious time to discuss a crucial issue—the defence of the nation—by talking about the vagaries of the European Union constitution. It has been pointed out to them repeatedly that it will have no bearing whatever on the future defence of this nation.
It is absurd even to contemplate a situation where the one country in Europe that has a war-fighting capability, this country, and which is within the military command structure of NATO, would commit British troops, British men and women, to active engagement anywhere in the world without the sovereign approval of the nation. Even to argue such a case is patently absurd. Yet that is what Conservative Members have done today; it is what they have been doing all afternoon. I hate to say it, but I am sure that that is what the Conservative spokesman will do when he sums up the debate.
I would like to hear some constructive proposals on how we can aid our allies in Europe, our fellow NATO members, in addressing their problems. I would like to hear proposals not even to increase but just to stem the haemorrhaging of their defence budgets, and to help them to build the capabilities that were outlined in Prague in 2002. That is what we should do if we were serious about defence. Frankly, if one of the political arguments necessary to achieve that is that Europe should have a crisis management and conflict prevention and avoidance capability within a rapid reaction force of 60,000 troops, so be it. I agree with the hon. Member for Gosport that it is a long way off because one needs 180,000 troops to do that, but do not forget that there are 2 million troops in Europe, who, if they were trained and prepared properly and if there were the political will, could provide the very force to meet not only the Petersberg missions but the commitment to NATO as well.
That is the challenge of this debate about NATO and the European security and defence policy. That is why I will support the Prime Minister's amendment and why it is sad to see the Tories in the state that they are in now.
It is a great pleasure to follow Mr. Smith. I hope that I will be able to make some positive suggestions, rather than be merely negative.
I pay tribute to the members of the American armed forces who have been killed over the past 24 hours in a series of extremely unpleasant ambushes and skirmishes in Baghdad and the surrounding area. Without wishing to be complacent, notably, there have not been British casualties for several months, touch wood. Clearly, the opposition in the southern part of Iraq may not be as serious as that in the centre and the north. It could also be that our excellent soldiers, sailors and airmen are doing a first-class job. Before going any further, I want to pay tribute to the work that they are doing.
Sadly, neither the Secretary of State for Defence nor his shadow is currently present, so I will not be able to patronise them to their faces, but I should like to point out how interesting I found their opening comments. I assume both men to be honourable and utterly rational, but they came at similar problems from two very different angles, which proved extremely illuminating. The Secretary of State made some calming and placatory comments, which I also found very interesting. In an interview of
"Europe has reached a point of maturity where it is now capable of isolating any one-off problems . . . Today, I reckon Defence Europe"— capital D, capital E— exists, even though it needs to be bolstered on the capabilities front, on which all the European countries must make extra efforts. But today we are demonstrating in Macedonia, where we took over from NATO"— note the use of the phrase, "we took over from NATO"— and above all in Ituri [Democratic Republic of the Congo] where we are operating autonomously, that Defence Europe exists."
In the light of words such as those, it is hardly surprising that people such as the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan, who presented an extremely balanced view, exhibit a tension and a concern about where our defence is going.
I still do not understand why operations such as those in Macedonia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo cannot be mounted underneath a NATO umbrella. Nor do I understand why, given that our European partners' defence spending is falling continually, we are even contemplating adding another headquarters. Headquarters are expensive. They involve big fat chaps with red tabs—I can say that because I was one—who consume large salaries and are driven around in cars. But they do not carry a rifle or deliver a grenade. They do not keep peace or save starving thousands. They do not contribute, in terms of killing or saving, one iota. As has been said, anybody can plan; the question is one of adding money and capability and keeping people up to the mark, via the various different agreements and alliances that we have had over the years. My view is that NATO has stood the test of time, and that comments such as the French Defence Minister's are deleterious. My view is also illustrated by my hon. Friend Mr. Viggers, who said that a feeling of anti-Americanism most certainly exists abroad and about, in NATO and Europe, which is thoroughly damaging to the transatlantic alliance.
I am listening to my hon. Friend's speech with great interest, but does he not realise that our French neighbours have the clear political ambition that the European Union should exercise an autonomous muscle and intervene in world affairs? It is easiest to start where there are less intractable military problems: in Africa, for example, of which countries such as France have much experience, and in which they have great financial and commercial interests.
I am very grateful for that intervention. It certainly illuminates the point that I was struggling to make, but which my hon. Friend makes much more clearly than I ever could; indeed, it is made particularly clear by the conduct of the French during the war in Iraq. I do not wish to beat a drum or to aerate this matter more than is necessary, but the fact remains that we are standing on a dividing line in terms of where this nation goes: whether we look towards America, or towards Europe, in terms of our defence.
I should like to consider a rather more arcane aspect of NATO and European defence policy, and to discuss three different elements of what lies ahead for this nation's defence and its relations with America and Europe. First, it would seem that, as my hon. Friend Mr. Wilkinson has just pointed out, European nations are concentrating at the lower end of the war-fighting spectrum in particular. My grave concern is that Great Britain is about to join the second-class military nations—a development that, in my view, will be heralded in the White Paper that will be published shortly. It will not only show the way in which our defence will be restructured; it will also disguise the swingeing defence restrictions—not cuts—that will be introduced over the next months and years. The grave danger is that if we are not careful Britain's first-class armed forces will end up being capable of standing shoulder to shoulder only on operations such as those in Macedonia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to which we have just referred. They will be incapable of the higher end of war-fighting that we have seen, and continue to see, in Iraq.
Secondly and even more significantly, just around the corner is the grave danger of trying to reap a peace dividend on the back of what I trust and pray is the wholly laudable progress that will, I hope, be made in Northern Ireland. I am not alone in this view—the outgoing Chief of the Defence Staff made exactly that point as he stepped down from his post. He said that any lessening intention in Northern Ireland must not be used as an excuse for a peace dividend. I firmly believe that this Government will cynically attempt, on the back of any success that they enjoy, one hopes, in Northern Ireland, to cut our armed forces in such a way that they are capable only of dealing at the lower end of the operations that we have discussed. In this way, there might be a much more comfortable billet for this country as a third-class power, with other European powers rather than with America. That worries me gravely.
I turn to my third—I hope novel—point. In a recent debate on defence policy, I tried to intervene to tell the Secretary of State that we need new and fresh defence thinking. He was introducing, in his inimitable way, the foothills of the White Paper. At no point in his comments was anything other than conventional war discussed. Our capability to deal with the asymmetric threat simply did not feature. Tanks, aeroplanes, ships, numbers, bullets and so on were mentioned, but intelligence effort, co-operation between uniformed and non-uniformed forces, and co-operation between armed forces, police forces and other forces that might help to recover from a terrorist outrage—in other words, the gamut of homeland security—were not touched on. The EU and NATO between them must look towards a totally different way of dealing with the changed threat. Only by so doing will we be capable of meeting—whichever alliance we are in, whichever way we choose to go—the threat that lies just around the corner.
Labour Members giggled rather hard at one or two documents allegedly written by Conservative Members, which were published in that noble organ, The Sun. None the less, I shall offer a quote. As a result of what that paper did—or did not—say, the fact remains:
"Nicholas Burns, the United States ambassador to Nato, has said the EU plans represent 'one of the greatest dangers to the transatlantic relationship'."
Nothing that we do—nothing—must endanger that relationship, because upon it our future depends.
I do not think that a single speech this afternoon has dissented from that last contribution. Every hon. Member has supported the ongoing commitment of this country to have a strong relationship with the United States: no one has expressed significant dissent about that in recent defence debates. What they have done is suggest, as the Americans themselves have time and again since President Eisenhower first proposed that Europe ought to do more—successive American Administrations have argued the same point—that we have to share the burden. As Mr. Smith rightly said, if there was a threat to NATO, the biggest threat was the fact that Europe has, over the past 40-odd years, ignored the request and demand from the US to play—and pay for— a bigger role in the defence of the world through NATO.
We are right to praise the splendid results of 50 years of co-operation between Europe and our north American allies, which has delivered peace, but it is wrong to suggest that we can stand still. The American Administration have made it clear that they are not prepared to stand still and they demand that Europe move forward. What disappoints me is that they make that demand, and then want to exercise a right of veto if they do not like the direction in which Europe is going. Conservative Members have reminded us time and again of the role of the sovereign nation, but it disappoints me that they were prepared to give up that sovereignty by giving the US a veto on when our forces would or would not be used. That drift away from their prepared line seriously disturbed me.
Patrick Mercer was right to end his comments by reminding us of our commitments to the ongoing fight against terrorism. The sort of unexpected event that has beset the US, occurs all too often in Iraq and is all too frequently on the horizon in Saudi Arabia, elsewhere in Europe and, indeed, in the UK. Our lack of preparedness in respect of homeland defence is a significant issue, which Parliament must address. I would be greatly disappointed if any of the Government's proposals in the White Paper were going to dilute our commitment to homeland defence. I would like to see it strengthened.
I endorse the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I do not believe that he was present at the defence procurement debate on Thursday, when I raised the possible danger—I have often discussed it with my hon. Friend Patrick Mercer, given his special responsibilities in that area—posed by sealed containers that come into this country, when only minuscule numbers of them are picked out, scanned and identified as potential carriers of weapons that could cause devastation in the heart of our cities. I confined my one request to the Minister for Europe to address that point, but he did not do so. I welcome the emphasis that Mr. Hancock has put on that matter and I hope that the Opposition can work together to secure some better answers from the Government than we have had in the past.
I entirely accept that. Together with my hon. Friend Syd Rapson, I represent a major seaport, and we drew attention to sea-borne threats when the Defence Select Committee was producing its report. We mentioned the problem of being unable to check enough containers. Sometimes, out of whole shiploads, perhaps containing 1,000 containers, only about 10 might be checked with any thoroughness. I have already said that I shall be disappointed if the Government do not ensure that sufficient resources are devoted to dealing with that problem. Dr. Lewis is right to emphasise that issue and I hope that Ministers will listen hard to what is said.
In examining Europe today, we should reflect on how NATO has changed in response to European expansion from being more of a military alliance to being more of a political one. Mr. Viggers was right to mention the example of Estonia. What does that country bring to the military table? Very little. However, it does bring an immense experience of involvement in political dialogue in an important part of northern Europe. Similarly, we need to bear in mind the great experience of dealing with the former Soviet Union that is shared by the countries that will shortly join the EU. Their valuable experiences are drawn from the eastern part of Europe, and we need to learn to use their expertise.The EU is responding as Governments have requested it so to do.
To understand the St. Malo dialogue, we have to remember what was said during the previous year. President Clinton had spoken to the President of France and the British Prime Minister to explain that he expected those two countries to become the leaders of the European dimension in defence. He looked to them to bring some impetus and try to get Europe to spend more on defence, and to plan and co-ordinate the capabilities of Europe. St. Malo was born out of the pressure then exerted by the then American President and his Administration. Europe responded positively, and St. Malo gave the lead to many of the initiatives now being brought to fruition.
We have heard today that the idea of having a duplicate planning centre has been shelved and is no longer on the agenda. I sat in a meeting in Brussels last week where the NATO ambassadors representing EU countries made it clear that the capability to provide 60,000 men for deployment had been achieved. Not only that, such deployment included the support necessary to make that happen. That was repeated in the Select Committee in the same week. However, what could not be guaranteed was the capability to have such support in place for a year. That is the problem every time: the lack of such support to deliver the capability. It can be delivered only with the support of our American allies through NATO—only that offers Europe the possibility of mobilising a force that can deliver the punch that we want it to have. We have to work in harmony with NATO.
I was disappointed that the biggest failure that any of the ambassadors—and particularly ambassador Burns from the United States—could suggest for the problems that we had experienced was the failure to understand the structures of the EU. The NATO Council had not understood what the EU was trying to achieve. It was interesting to note the well publicised comments to the effect that Ambassador Burns was going to read the riot act to his colleagues at the NATO council. He did nothing of the sort. In fact, he changed his tune considerably at the meeting. The Secretary-General, the former Secretary of State for Defence here, was complimentary in thanking the ambassador for the change of tone. Far from going there to teach us a lesson, the ambassador did the opposite and complimented Europe for what it was trying to do. I am delighted to see that the American Administration are nowhere near as frightened of Europe doing what it was asked to do as the Conservative spokesman, Mr. Jenkin, was this afternoon.
Mr. Davis, who spoke about the need for proper parliamentary scrutiny of defence in future, is dead right. We not only need to exercise such scrutiny in this Parliament, we need a parliamentary assembly that can deliver such scrutiny right across Europe. We need a parliamentary forum or assembly—not the European Parliament—with real teeth. The Minister for Europe might like to consider having a debate on that subject in the House in Government time: it is long overdue. I am very disappointed by the tone of the Conservative motion this afternoon, and I hope that the House will reject it.
We have had a number of excellent speeches this afternoon, particularly those of Mr. Keetch and Mr. Davis, who both claimed that Conservative sentiments were alarmist. I want to deal with that issue in my remarks. Some of our EU partners have a clear ambition to secure much greater integration at many levels, including in respect of defence. Frankly, I believe that they want it at a level that is unacceptable to the British people.
We heard a particularly good speech from my hon. Friend Mr. Viggers, who talked about the failure of defence procurement to work together across European boundaries, and specifically about the problem of heavy lift. He also referred to the enormous impact on others of the huge US spending commitment, and he rightly mentioned the need for NATO to reform. Indeed, spending—or the lack of it—in Europe was a consistent theme of many contributions.
I listened with interest to Mr. Smith, who said that NATO had been a huge success, which is true, and that the biggest threat to it was the lack of burden sharing. I agree with him on that, too. He talked about establishing capabilities and mentioned the fact that we—and my hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin in particular—had referred to the constitutional implications of what is before us.
I do not want to dwell on that issue any more than is necessary, but I want to make one point on article I-15 of the proposed constitution, which deals with the competence of the Union in relation to matters of common foreign and security policy. For the record, I refer the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan to Professor Arnull's submission to the Lords Constitution Committee so that we can draw the matter to a close. The professor stated:
"The power of the Court of Justice to review compliance by Member States with the second subparagraph of that provision is particularly significant."
That measure relates to loyalty and mutual solidarity. He continued:
"It may lead the Court to be called upon to consider whether action by a Member State complies with an act adopted by the Union in this area or is contrary to the Union's interests or likely to impair its effectiveness. The Court would be likely to regard at least some of these issues as justiciable."
However we look at this issue, case law, driven on by the European Court of Justice, has massively increased what can broadly be described as judge-led law in this country, with all the implications that flow from that. I simply wanted to make that point to the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members. This is not an obsessive thing; we know what has happened in the European Union and I believe that, with the constitutional arrangement that is now before us, the whole process of integration will inevitably be driven further forward.
My hon. Friend Patrick Mercer is always heard with enormous respect when he speaks on military matters. He talked about new structures at a time of reduced spending, and what he said was absolutely right. He also mentioned the changed threat—the threat of terrorism—and the need for homeland defence. Those points are very pertinent at this time. I agree with Mr. Hancock, who also highlighted the need for homeland defence and the lack of spending.
The people of this country have, rightly or wrongly, lost faith in almost all our national institutions, but the one institution that continues to inspire unqualified respect and affection is our armed forces. By way of an example, whatever controversy may have surrounded the Iraq war, nobody could dispute that, militarily, it was extraordinarily successful. Our front-line soldiers performed magnificently, and their conduct in post-conflict Iraq has been marked by a remarkable mixture of firmness and sensitivity. We are also blessed with military leadership that stands up to any international comparison. That could have been said time and again over past decades. The point is that we play pointless politics with our armed forces at our peril.
The Government have an obsessive stated desire to have influence in Europe, not by a firm focus or sense of purpose, but by being carried along in the slipstream of others, time and again. I heard the Prime Minister observe, about an emerging EU defence identity, that it was going to go ahead anyway, so we had to be involved. To what purpose? It is beyond absurd to suggest that that will buy us any influence. There will be times when, explicitly, our national interests have to outweigh some illusory pursuit of influence.
In his desire to mend fences with France and Germany after the Iraq war, the Prime Minister has again given in to an agenda that could damage NATO but yield no practical benefits. Of course the Government are right to try to mend fences with our European partners in France and Germany. The joint trip to Iran by the three Foreign Ministers was a fine example of what can be accomplished when our three countries work together. But, by consenting to the creation of an EU defence policy that is increasingly separate from NATO—reinforced in the proposed EU constitution, as I have spelled out—the Government are endangering the basis of British and European security, weakening the transatlantic alliance, alienating countries that look to us and, once again, failing to show leadership in Europe.
I warmly endorse the point that my hon. Friend so powerfully made about the brilliant success of British forces in the Iraq war, and, indeed, at all other times. He was at the Ministry of Defence, and I wonder whether he would agree that the forces' principal concern on this matter is the Government's obsession with structures and their failure to understand that what matters more than anything else in the European context is capability, in which we are grievously deficient?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I pay tribute to him for being one of the most outstanding Ministers ever to have occupied a position in the Ministry of Defence.
The Government must ensure that EU military co-operation proceeds only under NATO's umbrella, and without duplication or competition with NATO. I speak with some admiration for the way in which France has set the agenda for the European project over and over again. The proposed EU defence entity is very much a French creation, as indeed are so many other policies in the EU. But let us consider NATO. For decades, France has not been part of the integrated command structure, and that has certainly had a direct impact on the efficacy of the organisation. Although most of the other EU countries have been full members of NATO, has French influence in Europe overall been diminished?
The point is that there will be times when European countries will not feel it appropriate to be part of an integrated structure at whatever level. Is Ireland's influence in Europe less because it is not in the Schengen agreement? Is Sweden ignored because of the single currency issue? Of course not. The blunt truth is that there can never be a viable EU defence identity without British involvement. That being the case, why have we been sucked into this? Of course, this is all about politics and not about defence. Surely everything in history shows us that to do something not specifically for a particular functional purpose, but to make a political point, is invariably wrong in practice and in principle. There is no evidence that the creation of an EU defence identity will enhance European defence capabilities. There is something profoundly unsound in doing something not to resolve a functional problem, but simply because of some misplaced political purpose.
The Prime Minister may wish to forget it, but in 1997 he assured the House that
"getting Europe's voice heard more clearly in the world will not be achieved through merging the European Union and the Western European Union or developing an unrealistic common defence policy."—[Hansard, 18 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 314.]
Yet since then his policy has changed. That should be no surprise. This Government took office pledging to uphold the EU's three separate pillar structure, yet they are now acquiescing in its abolition. Three years ago, they were against a written EU constitution; now they are in favour of one. They used to be against a legally binding charter of fundamental rights, but now they accept the proposal. And this Government are now backing the very unrealistic policy that the Prime Minister once inveighed against. They have consented, in effect, to an EU planning defence cell and are willing to accept structured co-operation—in other words, deeper defence integration—within the EU, despite the fact that it is absolutely clear where that agenda is leading us.
Dominique de Villepin recently said:
"The appointment of a European Foreign Minister, together with the creation of a European Defence policy, backed by credible assets, will enable Europe to defend its vision and shoulder its responsibilities."
An internal German army document stated:
It went on to say that this European army needed
"a clear definition that separates it from . . . NATO".
That is the thinking behind the whole European defence integration process. Those who favour that approach have invariably been ultimately successful in the pursuit of integration at different stages of the EU's political process.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Essex set out the risks of undermining the transatlantic relationship at a time when there is, as hon. Members have observed, rising anti-Americanism. Regrettably, there are those who sit in Governments in our EU partner countries who would not find that unacceptable. By contrast, I invite the Secretary of State to talk to our friends in the EU accession process, who consider that rise with genuine alarm. Like me, the Minister of State for Defence was recently in Turkey, a country to which we should all be greatly indebted for what it did in the cold war. He will have heard in no uncertain terms of Turkey's anxieties.
Our American friends famously helped to preserve our liberties during the cold war. Of course, as we have heard again this afternoon, the nature of future conflict would be very different, but given the inability of Europeans to spend on defence, it is hugely important that our American allies continue to want to be in Europe. I speak as a Member of Parliament who has more than 20,000 American service personnel at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath. They are hugely welcome in our midst.
In different economic circumstances, will a future US Administration considering budgetary savings look to their European commitments to secure them? Given the unwillingness of Europeans to spend, and the clear, open and focused desire of some in Europe to create a wholly separate defence identity, what will their response be? There is a limit to generosity. It should be our unequivocal role to understand, without qualification, the nature of the danger and to react to it not by weasel words, but by taking a clear and principled stand.
We want European countries to be strong in defence and to co-operate closely. They need to establish an equitable burden in international security, and they need to spend more in a more rational way, concentrating on today's defence needs. However, that must be entirely and unequivocally within NATO. We, the Europeans and the Americans are united by shared beliefs in democracy, the rule of law and human rights. We can best promote those beliefs throughout the world if America and Europe stand together.
What is it about this Government that means that they so lack self-confidence that they must continually make damaging gestures to gain influence in Europe? Any dispassionate observer who looks at the proposals before the intergovernmental conference will see immediately that there has been almost no substantive British influence on the Convention's proceedings. So we have the worst of two worlds—signing up implicitly to a defence identity that adds nothing to our defence capabilities, but for which there is obviously no quid pro quo. It is symptomatic of the cataclysmic failure of British influence in the EU that history, in due course, will judge accordingly.
We have had a good debate, with some fine Back-Bench speeches. I would like to be able to pay a compliment on the speeches that we have heard from the Conservative Front Bench, but at times, even in parliamentary debates, some intellectual honesty is required.
We heard an extremely good contribution from my right hon. Friend Mr. Davis. There was also a good contribution from Mr. Viggers, almost in a double act with his near neighbour Mr. Hancock. They spoke well; both are experts on defence issues.
The hon. Member for Gosport gave us to believe that NATO was under some threat. On the contrary, in all my travels in the incoming member states in eastern Europe, I have found that NATO is extremely popular. Those countries reject the efforts of both the anti-Americans, many of whom exist in different parts of mainland Europe—there are some here in island Europe—and the anti-Europeans, who of course control the Conservative Front Bench.
Towards the end of his speech, Patrick Mercer was slightly critical of the role of France. I refer him to the interview given in Newsweek by General Jones, the US four-star general who is currently Supreme Allied Commander Europe. He went out of his way to praise the quality of the French army, describing it as probably the finest expeditionary force in Europe.
There were animadversions at the beginning of the hon. Gentleman's speech to a paper that was published more than a year ago by some unit somewhere in Germany. I have been as yet unable to find out who is responsible for it—certainly no German Minister is taking responsibility for it—but it will be translated and put in the Library by the Conservatives. I welcome that contribution, and it is good that at long last the Conservatives are translating documents from Europe and understanding how Europe works. They may find that recommendation 21, at the back of that document, states that the only language to be used for any future European military operation should be English. There are other recommendations that would be of great interest to our friends in France, but we will leave Paris to decide whether it wants to take that document, from the thousand papers churned out monthly throughout Europe and the United States, as seriously as the Conservative party has done.
When considering matters that pertain to our security, we have to look at 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 years' time. When we take that wider perspective and consider the rising powers that we can now see around the world equipping themselves with nuclear weapons or even the capacity to operate in space, it is more vital than ever that the two great democratic regions of the world, where the rule of law, open-market economies and liberal democracies are enshrined—namely, the European Union and the United States—co-operate even more closely to secure a peaceful and prosperous 21st century. That is why it is so irresponsible of the Conservative party to spend so much energy trying to drive huge wedges between Europe and the United States. As long as the Labour party has Government responsibility, it will continue to try to bring the European Union and the United States together.
Tomorrow, our friends across the Atlantic and in the EU of 25 will read this debate with some amazement. The British Conservative party, which since 1945 has devoted time, thought and political skill to strengthening European defence, is now pledged to criticise and undermine every effort to achieve a more coherent and concerted approach for our European allies. Conservative Front Benchers, with their fanatical anti-European opposition, cannot attract any support, even from their own Back Benchers. The debate has been most notable for the fact that more Liberal Democrat Members have attended it than Members from the main Opposition party. The 25 member states of the European Union will be looking at this debate with some interest—[Interruption.] I understand that there may be 25 Conservative Members who have rather more interesting things to work on and discuss tonight. Perhaps some of them could have turned up for this debate.
This country has always believed in the notion of the EU having a common external policy. A previous Prime Minister believed that Europe should have a common external policy and that "greater depth" should be given to Europe's "internal and external activities" to
"Fulfil our international responsibility to the causes of freedom, democracy, prosperity and peace."
In arguing for a common external policy, one of this country's leaders has said that the member states with which we are in joint partnership in Europe should
"increasingly . . . adopt common positions on world problems and . . . vote together in non-economic international bodies" and
"take more seriously their solemn commitments to consult and take account of their partners' views".
All those quotes come, of course, from the noble Baroness Thatcher in a paper that she circulated to her European partners in 1984, and it is a mark of how far the Conservative party has moved to the ultra anti-European, anti-Atlantic part of the spectrum that the statements that she made then should now be repudiated by all Conservative Front Benchers.
Several issues have been raised during the debate. We have heard about an issue that was raised during much of last week—the idea of an operational headquarters at Tervuren, a pleasant suburb of Brussels—but we now understand that that idea will not see the light of day. It has been argued that there will be some loss of control over the deployment of British soldiers, yet in every European treaty since Maastricht, including in the draft for the new constitutional treaty now under discussion, it has been made quite clear that each sovereign nation state in the EU will control the deployment and use of its soldiers, sailors and airmen.
As part of the treaty of Nice, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made clear, it will be up to each European member state to decide whether its soldiers, sailors or airmen are deployed in any European operation.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, who is not in his place, intervened to say that NATO should give permission before any European state or any coalition of European states take any action. He may want to reflect on the notion that the House of Commons and this sovereign nation should have to seek permission from anyone before deciding to deploy our armed forces in action.
The record should be checked. Mr. Heathcoat-Amory was saying, as I understood it, that America, not NATO, should give permission before any other country intervened. If he did refer to America—the Secretary of State for Defence is nodding—and the Conservative position is that America should have a right of veto over the deployment of Her Majesty's armed forces, let alone forces from the rest of Europe, that is pretty disgraceful.
It is important that we work in partnership and collaboration with our allies—including, of course, the United States—but we are not in the permission game and the Government will certainly take the only decisions that count: those to send any of our armed services into action. That point was underlined in the interview that Ambassador Burns gave on Radio Free Europe when he said:
"The UK is the closest ally of the US and we have a perfect understanding of each other and we are working closely together and there are no problems between the US and the UK on this issue".
However, the whole thrust of not just the speech made by the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, but the continued activity of the obsessive anti-Europeans who now control the Conservative Front Bench, is to divide the UK from the United States and the UK from our partners in Europe.
The hon. Gentleman is an expert in this knockabout stuff, but does he not understand that that the declaration made in April by Germany, France, Luxembourg and Belgium on European defence was extremely divisive and has led to profound concern in America and elsewhere? This is not to do with driving wedges; it is a profound concern about the future of European defence. Will the hon. Gentleman take seriously the real anxieties raised by many Opposition Members who want Europe to play a bigger role in its own defence and who understand that the action of Germany, France, Luxembourg and Belgium represents a serious slap in the face for NATO and is likely to cause the gravest confusion?
The hon. Gentleman is repeating word for word speeches that I have made across the continent. I made exactly those points. I hope that when the necessary 25 signatures have been found, the hon. Gentleman will assume his rightful place as shadow Secretary of State for Defence because he would certainly make a much better fist of it—he would understand Europe and the United States—than Mr. Jenkin.
I repeat my answer. If the hon. Gentleman likes, I can send him chapter and verse of speeches on the record and on the Foreign and Commonwealth website in which I made exactly the point that we have two ways in European defence—NATO, which has stood the test of time and has a big future in front of it, and what we need to do at European level. As a good new Labour MP, I say that there is no need for a third way. I have said that time and again.
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the United States agrees with the following statement:
"The EU should have a common capability for the planning and leadership of operations independent of NATO means and capabilities", because that is the Government's policy?
The Government's policy remains to build on decisions taken by previous Governments to ensure an effective European contribution. Whether in Operation Alba in Albania, when a European initiative was blocked by the previous Government, or in the Congo, Kosovo, Sierra Leone or East Timor, it is right that European forces should be prepared to accept their responsibilities.
The Conservatives, as we know, ruined much of the UK's defence capability in the 1990s with their massive cuts. They damaged the alliance with United States by their crass interference in American domestic politics in the middle 1990s. They undermined, if not destroyed, Britain's standing in Europe with their relentless hostility to a constructive partnership with the EU. Above all, they did nothing to stop Milosevic turning the former Yugoslavia into Europe's killing fields. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill reminded the House that the Conservative party, when in power, sought to block Operation Alba. Like Neville Chamberlain, the political godfather to today's isolationist Tory Front Bench, the Conservatives turned their eyes away from the terror and torture of Milosevic. More than 1 million asylum seekers cascaded into northern Europe from Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo and even Serbia because the Conservatives refused to come to grips with reality.
Today, the Conservative party is out on the far right of the extreme end of anti-European politics. While President Bush and our own Prime Minister struggle to defeat fascist terrorism in Iraq, the Conservatives, as we saw in their disgracefully opportunistic motion last week, only want to undermine the United States and our nation for having the guts to take on Saddam's tyranny and terror. Derided in Europe, of no interest to the United States and ignored in our country, today's Tories have nothing to say. This opportunistic, dishonest, badly worded and irrelevant motion is the last gasp of a party that looks into the future and sees no place. One day, a Tory leadership will emerge that is capable of talking sense to Europe and being an effective partner of the United States. Let us all hope that that leadership emerges, if not tonight, as soon as possible. I ask all hon. Members to support the Government amendment and reject the anti-European, divisive motion tabled by those on the Conservative Front Bench.
Question accordingly negatived.
Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to
Madam Deputy Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House believes that NATO is, and should remain, the cornerstone of Europe's collective defence; believes in the importance of European nations building up their military capabilities to contribute more to their defence and security through NATO and the EU; welcomes the development of the European Security and Defence Policy as a part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, including its role in undertaking operations where NATO as a whole is not engaged; welcomes the "Berlin Plus" agreement which provides the EU with assured access to NATO planning and presumed access to NATO assets and capabilities for military operations; and welcomes the success of the ESDP operation undertaken in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the continuing military operation in Macedonia and police operation in Bosnia.