Security and Defence: EUC Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:26 pm on 20th May 2002.

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Photo of Lord Blaker Lord Blaker Conservative 6:26 pm, 20th May 2002

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Jopling and his committee on producing an excellent report. I take pleasure in speaking after my old friend, the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, who spoke with enormous authority.

I wish to make three points. The first point strikes a different note. If the ESDP did not exist, I would not now want to invent it. I believe that it will not add by its existence to the military capability of Europe, and its relationship with NATO is full of difficulty. As my noble friend mentioned, duplication is only one of the problems.

Nevertheless, we have to make it work. We can do that if we give the task enough priority. It would be no good to contemplate turning back now because that would give the impression of an even greater lack of will than already exists to provide effective armed forces from European resources. It would not lead to the Europeans making a greater contribution to NATO.

My second point concerns our relations with the United States. As has already been said, it is one of the most important aspects before us. I take the view that what is needed to keep strong links between the United States and Europe in defence is for Europe to make a very much greater effort. There are plenty of reasons why the defence effort of the United States could be redirected towards other parts of the world—there are many temptations in Asia and elsewhere—and the best way to keep American efforts directed towards helping Europe is for us to make a much better effort than we have been making so far.

The best guide to the American attitude towards the ESDP is the statement attributed to President George W. Bush in answer to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Powell of Bayswater. In the minutes of evidence at question 62, the President is quoted as saying:

"The US would welcome a capable European force, properly integrated with NATO, that provided new options for handling crises when NATO chooses not to lead".

I find it difficult to judge how the machinery of the ESDP will work, on what kind of occasion the United States is likely to decide to take part and when it will decide not to take part. It seems to me that the United States is becoming reluctant to be involved in peacekeeping or humanitarian activities, but would be more inclined to take part in peace-making or anti-terrorist roles. As has been said, the US is becoming choosy about its partners. It has learnt from Kosovo that if other countries are in partnership with it they may be rather too ready to disagree with American actions. But the most important factor in relations between Europe and the United States—and one cannot say this too often—is European defence spending and the effectiveness of European forces. It is to be noted that President Bush referred to a "capable" European force in the passage that I quoted.

It is dangerous and shameful that Europe, with its wealth and its vast population, cannot make a better contribution to its own defence. The most important battles that the European countries have to fight are with their own finance Ministers. I do not exclude our own Chancellor of the Exchequer from that remark. He does not display much of an inkling of the fact that, in an age of terrorism, defence and security spending, including home security, is at least as important as spending on social services and health.

My third point relates to the tasks that the rapid reaction force will face. On page 10 of the report, the Secretary of State for Defence is quoted as saying:

"the EU must develop a full military force able to project power around the world" and the participating governments have committed themselves to the proposition that the ESDP is,

"designed not for territorial defence but for international operations".

After the end of the Cold War—which seems a long time ago now—we were led to believe that there would be a new world order. That was taken to mean relative peace. The opposite has happened, and was happening well before 11th September last year. I want to mention seven factors which have led to this situation, which I believe will continue to be relevant in the coming years, and which could lead to calls for the participation of the ESDP.

The first factor is the end of the Cold War. During the Cold War, turbulence was limited by the dominance and rivalry of the two super-powers. Smaller countries felt that, if they started small wars, those might turn into big wars. Yugoslavia is a good example. It is astonishing that Yugoslavia stayed together as one country for so long—with six different nations, and with many different languages, religions and cultures. It was kept together not only by President Tito, who died many years before Yugoslavia started to break up. It started to break up because the Cold War had ended.

The second factor is the end of empires. That has left Africa in particular in a turbulent state. It is to the credit of African countries that they have not attempted to redraw their borders. Many African borders are straight lines—the straight line indicating a colonial border, a line drawn to suit the wishes of the colonial territory, not a natural border between different tribes, for example. To the credit of the African countries, they have resisted that temptation. I hope that they will not surrender to it in the future. That would be very dangerous indeed. However, what is now taking place in a number of African countries is a scramble for riches—mineral riches, timber and so on. They have surrendered to tribal rivalries—I refer, for example, to Zimbabwe and Rwanda—and they have produced some failed states, Somalia being one example. So there is plenty of turbulence there.

The third factor which may lead to a demand for the presence of the ESDP is that peacekeeping forces tend to stay for much longer than they are expected to be needed. One reason is that the disputes that they have been sent to help relieve tend to continue longer as reassurance is given by the presence of the peacekeeping force. Cyprus is a good example. British troops have been in Cyprus since 1964. Bosnia is a more recent case.

Another factor which will lead to a demand for forces such as the ESDP is the explosion in the number of states in the world which are now independent. When the United Nations was formed, it had 50 members. There are now 190, and many of those are very small. I remember that, about 20 years ago, a study was made in the Foreign Office of the minimum population size necessary to enable a state to survive independently. The conclusion was that a population of 1 million was the minimum. For 20 years now, there has been a small independent territory in the Pacific with a population of 10,000. It recently became a member of the United Nations. I refer to Tuvalu. There are many other independent countries with populations of less than 1 million. These examples have given fuel to the Scottish Nationalists and to people in Quebec who want independence, and will continue to have an effect.

The fifth point is that many countries have separatist movements; for example, Iraq, Turkey, Georgia (I refer to Stalin's Georgia, not to Jimmy Carter's) and, in the Pacific, Kiribati and Vanuatu, which are tiny little countries with populations of no more than 200,000. They have independent movements in some of their islands. Similarly, a serious war has been going on in the Solomon Islands. I do not mention these specific cases as ones in which I expect the ESDP to be involved; that would be going rather a long way geographically—but they are examples of the sort of tendency that we have to expect in many parts of the world. The western Sahara is another example of an area which has an independence movement. It is a good deal closer to home and could possibly become relevant to European forces one day.

Sixthly, there is the factor of world-wide terrorism, which has been encouraged by the speed and ease of communication. It is a problem of which we are very much aware and which will certainly continue for quite a long time.

Seventhly, I want to end with a question to the noble Baroness who will reply to the debate. It relates to a Written Answer given by her predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, on 2nd May last year, which is headed:

"Humanitarian Crisis: Proposals for International Action".

The noble Baroness said :

"We firmly believe that we have shared responsibility to respond when confronted with massive violations of international humanitarian law and crimes against humanity ... We have spent the past year trying to build the broadest possible consensus around a set of ideas on the conditions and circumstances that make international action appropriate . . . The key elements of our ideas are . . . when faced with an immediate humanitarian catastrophe and a government that has demonstrated itself unwilling or unable to halt or prevent it, the international community should take action . . . Our consultations will continue".—[Official Report, 2/5/01; col. WA 279.]

That seems to me to be a big potential expansion of the responsibilities that the democratic world would be taking on if we followed that route. Can the Minister indicate the results of the consultations referred to a year ago? It seems to me that the kind of task foreshadowed in that reply would be relevant to the ESDP.

To sum up, it is unlikely that there will be any shortage of situations over the years leading to ESDP involvement. What I find surprising is that in this situation the Prime Minister, who was one of the inventors of the ESDP, is giving so little prominence to European defence.