My Lords, there is no standing European rapid reaction force; therefore, no specific UK forces have been allocated to it.
However, the United Kingdom has identified a pool of relevant forces and capabilities up to a maximum of 12,500 troops, plus, if required, up to 18 warships and 72 combat aircraft. Any decision by the UK Government to participate in an EU-directed operation, as well as the nature of our contribution, would depend on the circumstances at the time.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that his reply will occasion some amazement in the rest of Europe? It is apparently the case that whatever RRF personnel are allocated, the number is exactly the same as is presently allocated to NATO—they will sometimes be within one force and sometimes within another. Under which general will they be allocated? Let us suppose, for example, that the RRF, including our own troops, were involved in clearing up following flooding or following the eruption of a volcano and NATO had urgent need of them for a terrorist exercise, who would say whether they would go or whether they would stay? Which general would be the senior and how would the chain of command work—bearing in mind that there must be extreme urgency in matters of this kind?
My Lords, I would be surprised if there were any amazement at the Answer that I have given. So far as concerns any chain of command, any decisions about where British Armed Forces will or will not be used will be a matter for Her Majesty's Government.
My Lords, will the Minister tell the House how the United Kingdom could possibly contribute any of its Armed Forces to the European rapid reaction force when they are fully engaged on present operational commitments? Secondly, if we are to commit our Armed Forces to this force, when will the national defence budget be increased to make that possible?
My Lords, like all of us, the noble Baroness will have to wait for an answer to the second part of her question until later this year. As to her first point—I want to emphasise this because there may be some misunderstanding about it—there is no additional commitment for the deployment of United Kingdom forces on operations. The new arrangements do not mean that we shall consider operations that we should not otherwise consider. Individual countries will decide whether, when and how to commit their forces. Of course, national governments will continue to be answerable to national parliaments for the use of their forces.
My Lords, the Minister says that there will be no commitment, but there are a number of Petersberg tasks which various countries, including this one, will feel that they have to carry out. How are those Petersberg tasks to which the ERRF is committed to be carried out if there are no staff and no armed force in place?
My Lords, I repeat that there is no European rapid reaction force. I must make that clear to the House; there is not one. When and if the Petersberg tasks needed to be fulfilled, it would be a matter for Her Majesty's Government to decide if and when that should take place. I emphasise that there is no extra commitment so far as concerns the Armed Forces.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the establishment and development of this force might well encourage our European partners to make more realistic contributions to European and international defence and stability?
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. That was one of the principles behind the arrangement. The United States has argued for many years—and perhaps with some force—that European countries have not had sufficient capabilities to meet the needs of NATO. It is very important that European nations find extra capabilities to meet whatever requirements there may be. It is an essential part of this policy that European countries obtain the right capability to meet the new situation in which they find themselves.
My Lords, I am not in a position to say how many would have to come from the Reserves. I again make the point that there will be no extra commitment. There would always be a possibility that Reserves would be used, but no more so for this force than for any other.
My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can enlighten me. According to an article in today's edition of The Times, the contribution of Belgium, for instance, to the force in Afghanistan—which admittedly is not a Petersberg task but is nevertheless a commitment—is 30 people. Are we talking about that kind of increase in the defence capacity of our allies?
My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Baroness has asked that question. The article to which she refers goes on to suggest, quoting the Conservative spokesman on defence in another place, that an EU army is proposed for Afghanistan. The idea of any such army in Afghanistan is nonsense. There is no EU army, nor will one be deployed there. It is important to make the distinction between a force which includes EU member states and one which is under the political control of the European Union itself. Moreover, as has been said previously from the Government Benches in this House, the EU is not yet capable of carrying out a task of the complexity and size of that posed by the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
It may assist if I tell the House that, of the 17 countries potentially involved in sending armed forces to Afghanistan, five are not members of the EU. The suggestion that was made that somehow the British Government had a secret agenda was nonsensical. I am sure that, on consideration, the honourable Member who made it will withdraw it.
My Lords, may I correct one point? In asking the question, I hoped I had made it clear that I recognised that we were not looking at a Petersberg task in Afghanistan, nor at an EU force. My point was that if those are the kinds of numbers that individual countries can produce, it is not very encouraging.
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness. There have been considerable negotiations about the numbers of troops needed for the ISAF agreement. The noble Baroness should not take the various numbers that may come from various countries as an indication that that is the maximum that they could provide.