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NATO Summit

3.30 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the NATO summit in Brussels, which I attended with my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.

On 10 January, the summit launched the "partnership for peace" programme with a framework document and an invitation to 22 states to participate. On 11 January, it issued a declaration. These documents have been placed in the Library of the House.

NATO summits are not held routinely, but only for a specific purpose. This was only the 11th summit in 35 years. It met to carry forward the post-cold war evolution of NATO which began at the 1991 Rome summit.

NATO's core function is to ensure the security of its member states. It has been by far the most successful collective security organisation in history, and it was agreed that the alliance will continue to be the cornerstone of post-war European security. As this was the first summit attended by President Clinton and Prime Minister Chre tien of Canada, a key objective was to renew the transatlantic relationship. President Clinton's affirmation that the core of American security remained with Europe received a warm welcome. He confirmed his commitment to keep around 100,000 United States troops in Europe.

Over the past five years, new democracies have been born to the east. A pre -eminent challenge for NATO is to develop its relations with those countries in ways which will enhance stability across the whole of Europe. There must be no new dividing line, no new antagonistic blocs. The "partnership for peace" programme is an imaginative response to that challenge. All states which were once within the Warsaw pact have been invited to join, and NATO may also invite other states within the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The aim of the partnership is to bring Europe together by building practical military co-operation between nations in ways that reflect their different aspirations and capabilities. That could include joint exercises in peacekeeping, search and rescue or humanitarian operations ; it could include joint military planning, exchanges on defence budgeting and the democratic control of armed forces. Each partner will draw up with NATO an agreed partnership programme tailored to that particular relationship. Partnership will be an evolutionary process, and it will bring all partners closer to NATO. The summit has thus opened a clear perspective of the enlargement of the alliance. It is too soon to determine which countries will be able to meet the obligations of membership or when, but there are obviously strong candidates in the democracies of central and eastern Europe.

A second challenge for the summit was to improve the alliance's ability to mount new humanitarian and peacekeeping operations. During the cold war, NATO's military structures were based predominantly on static regional commands and large-scale formations. Experience in recent years in the Gulf and in Bosnia has shown the importance of flexibility and of mobility.

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The summit endorsed the new concept of combined joint task forces. They will improve NATO's capability to deploy task forces inside or outside the NATO area, but, because they will be available for purely and predominantly European operations, the combined joint task forces could also meet the requirements of the European security and defence identity. They will strengthen the European role within NATO without detracting from its transatlantic character.

Partnership for peace and the combined joint task forces are changes of fundamental significance. The alliance will now begin to implement them.

The summit discussed other important issues. It supported efforts by the United Nations and the European Union to secure a negotiated settlement in Bosnia. We discussed the recent intense fighting in Sarajevo. We reaffirmed our readiness, under the decisions taken last August, to carry out air strikes to prevent the strangulation of Sarajevo.

We also considered ways to solve two other current problems. The United Nations command in Bosnia has recently been prevented from rotating the United Nations Protection Force contingent in Srebrenica and from using Tuzla airport. On a proposal from the United Kingdom and France, the summit asked UNPROFOR to draw up plans for the Netherlands contingent to take over from the Canadians in Srebrenica. We also decided to examine with UNPROFOR how Tuzla airport could be opened for humanitarian relief purposes.

We would prefer not to have to use force, but those who are impeding UNPROFOR at Srebrenica and Tuzla must realise that force is available, if necessary, to support UNPROFOR and its ability to protect relief efforts.

In all our discussions, we were conscious of the importance of closer relationships with Russia's dem-ocratic leaders. Russia has a huge contribution to make to stability and to efforts to resolve international problems. I hope that the Russian Government will take up the invitation to partnership with the alliance. If they do, it will be another way in which we can enhance our support for reform and democracy in Russia.

I should briefly describe individual meetings which I held during those two days.

I met the Prime Minister of Turkey and welcomed her country's continuing support for Operation Provide Comfort in Iraq. Mrs. Ciller expressed her commitment to settlement of the Cyprus problem, which is long overdue.

I focused on Bosnia in my meeting with the French Prime Minister. We decided to call for the action in connection with Srebrenica and Tuzla which I have described.

With the German Chancellor and the Italian Prime Minister, I discussed developments in Europe and further efforts to enhance relations with Russia and to support reform there.

I thanked President Clinton for his support concerning Northern Ireland. We welcomed the decisions taken about Bosnia, and looked ahead to our next meeting in Washington at the end of February. I had a long meeting with the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Joulwan, the chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Sir Richard Vincent, and other senior NATO officers. We examined how "partnership for peace" would be put into effect, and the way in which the combined joint task forces would be set up.

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It was a timely summit. It has reaffirmed northern America's commitment to Europe, and has shown that the allies stand closely together in maintaining their collective security. The summit has carried forward the modernisation of NATO's military structures. It has launched a vital new initiative towards the east, opening the way to new relationships and new members. It has established the outward-looking character of the NATO of the 1990s, with a greater emphasis on operations in support of peace and humanitarian relief. I believe that the summit has successfully equipped the alliance to meet new challenges, and I commend its results to the House.

Mr. John Smith (Monklands, East) : We on this side of the House broadly welcome the declaration agreed by the North Atlantic Council yesterday in Brussels. We hope that it is the beginning of a process in which countries and institutions such as NATO seek to come to terms with the opportunities and challenges that result from the end of the cold war.

I particularly welcome the general principles and direction of the "partnership for peace" concept. That offers the prospect of closer co- operation with former Warsaw pact countries, including Russia, and creates the circumstances for an expansion of NATO itself. Military co-operation designed to enhance mutual security is clearly desirable, particularly if it can be developed to encourage wider participation in United Nations peacekeeping efforts.

However, may I suggest that the emphasis on military co-operation should be balanced by encouraging political developments within applicant countries? Ought not the criteria for involvement in "partnership for peace" and eventual NATO membership be expanded to include an effectively functioning multi-party democracy and an acceptable record on human rights, as well as strict civilian control of the military apparatus?

On issues of arms control and disarmament, which were discussed at the council, we welcome the declaration's stated commitment to the indefinite and unconditional extension of the non-proliferation treaty, and are encouraged to see reference to the need for the negotiation of a universal and verifiable comprehensive test ban treaty.

Despite attempts by the British Government to continue nuclear testing, we welcome the US moratorium and similar action by France and Russia, which we hope will soon lead to a treaty being signed. Do the Government accept the target date of September 1996 for the successful negotiation of that vital treaty?

Following the welcome agreement by the United States, Russia and Ukraine to destroy Ukraine's nuclear weapons, will the British Government accelerate the promise made in 1992 to supply British-made nuclear weapons transporters to the Ukraine to help with the removal and to assist Russia in the disposal process?

On the continuing and agonising situation in Bosnia, will the Prime Minister say whether the acceptance of the use of air strikes now is different from or stronger than the apparent commitment made last August, which resulted in no effective action or sustained improvement in the situation?

Does the Prime Minister accept that repeated declarations that are not followed through risk undermining the credibility of both NATO and the whole

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UN operation, and only strengthen the hands of those who have become adept at defying the wishes of the international community? Will effective action now be taken to open the airport at Tuzla, allow the replacement of UNPROFOR forces in Srebrenica, and lift the siege of Sarajevo? Is it not wholly intolerable that a defenceless population in Sarajevo should be shelled so relentlessly and pitilessly? Was it not disgraceful that, during the so-called "Christmas truce", Sarajevo was bombarded constantly?

Finally, will the Prime Minister put an end to suggestions that British forces in Bosnia might be withdrawn once the winter is over? Do we not need a commitment to increase ground forces, as requested by the UN, to make a greater effort to bring some peace to Bosnia?

The Prime Minister : First, I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman's general support for the declaration and the "partnership for peace" policy. I am sure that he is right to say that co-operation, both militarily and politically, with former Warsaw pact countries, including Russia, is vital to our own interests and security as well as to the development of democracy right across the continent of Europe.

On political development and military co-operation, the right hon. and learned Gentleman touched particularly on human rights. I confirm that all countries entering NATO would need to be democracies and we shall certainly look at political developments, but not necessarily as an intrinsic part of the "partnership for peace" proposals. We shall be prepared to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty as soon as it is negotiated and settled, whether that is by September 1996 or some earlier, perhaps some later, date.

Our offer to help the Ukraine with the removal of nuclear weapons has been there for some time. I do not immediately know whether it is practicable to accelerate it, but I have no objection in principle to doing so if that would be of assistance and if our assistance is required. The agreement reached between Presidents Clinton, Yeltsin and Kravchuk, if carried through, is a remarkable advance in the reduction of nuclear weapons and I very much hope that it will be adequately carried out. To have nuclear weapons removed from Ukraine would be a great bonus.

The declaration on the general level of air strikes as regards Sarajevo was a reiteration of what was suggested on 2 and 9 August. Of course, the practical decisions for that should not be made by politicians some distance away, but should best be made upon the advice of troop commanders near at hand. It is predominantly upon their advice that it would be right for NATO leaders to act. Reservations have been expressed by troop commanders from time to time, and we would be very unwise to sweep those to one side. It was determined that, in the light of advice that we might receive, the agreement in principle for military strikes exists. What is different in this particular declaration is that the two specific cases of Srebrenica and Tuzla are included under the broad umbrella. The position in Srebrenica is that the Canadian troops can probably come out--that is certainly possible--but it is not possible at the moment for the Dutch troops to get in.

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It is intolerable when UNPROFOR troops are inhibited from getting into Srebrenica to carry out the necessary humanitarian work. To be strictly correct in relation to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question, Tuzla airport is technically open. The problem lies around the airport, because there is a danger of incoming aircraft being attacked. It is not immediately evident precisely what needs to be done on the ground.

It is for that reason that the commanders are finalising the plans that they commenced some time ago with the determination to ensure that Tuzla airport is open--

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil) : When?

The Prime Minister : As soon as possible. It should be open to assist the humanitarian relief. The right hon. Gentleman may shout, "When?", but, yet again, if we are wise, we will not issue such casual edicts from afar, but will seek the advice of the military commanders on the spot. That is what we are committed to doing. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the withdrawal of troops from Bosnia. We have committed ourselves to assist with humanitarian aid, and I must tell the House and the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, at this stage, I am not prepared to extend that commitment until I am certain of the security of British troops working for the United Nations there. I have consistently taken that position, and it is also taken by the Heads of other Governments who have troops on the ground in Bosnia. Despite the remarkable work that they have done for humanitarian reasons, our first concern must be the security of the United Nations troops, and in particular those of our own country.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden) : If air strikes are authorised, can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that contingency plans are in place to prevent British troops and United Nations troops from being sucked in to the conflict in Bosnia?

The Prime Minister : Yes, it is part of the UNPROFOR determination to discuss with troop commanders on the ground the current position. I am sure that my hon. Friend will realise why I do not go into details of what might have to happen in those circumstances, but I reiterate that the security of our troops would be given the very highest priority of all. The Secretary-General of the United Nations would have to approve air action by NATO on behalf of United Nations troops.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister accept that the future peace and stability of Europe depend on upholding the principle of national integrity of borders, especially in volatile areas such as the new democracies of eastern Europe? If NATO, for very good reasons, has to treat the matter gradually, is there not a case for Europe and the Western European Union to be a little more bold? Specifically, does the Prime Minister accept that the WEU has a role to strengthen and complement NATO's actions in creating a framework for peace in Europe?

On Bosnia, does the Prime Minister recognise that, as he has been warned on many occasions, the bottom line credibility of the United Nations operation in Bosnia is now at risk? As President Clinton said, if we cannot show the determination to deliver our promises, we should not

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make promises. In that context, is not the opening of Tuzla airport central to that credibility? If the Prime Minister will not say exactly when that airport will be opened, will he at least give us an indication of the time scale in which he expects it to happen?

The Prime Minister : With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I must tell him that the last part of his question was unreal. It does depend on what is happening on the ground and on the advice that we get from the troop commanders there.

As for not making promises unless we can keep them, we have been very careful about promises we make unlike the right hon. Gentleman, who has been shifting and manoeuvring throughout this whole operation, advocating everything from all-out war to, apparently, pulling out immediately. His opinions seem to have been moving rapidly on an escalator, so I fear that I am in no mood to accept lectures from him about Yugoslavia.

On the right hon. Gentleman's earlier point, there are practical reasons for adopting, and it is right in principle to adopt, an evolutionary approach to the possible extension of the NATO alliance. Of course the WEU has a role ; that is partly why we have combined task forces. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the Western European Union also has a role as part of the European defence identity and as the European pillar of the NATO alliance. That is most certainly true, and it will remain so.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster) : I greatly welcome my right hon. Friend's assurance about the priority given to the security of British and other United Nations forces in Bosnia. I also welcome the cautious approach that he and his colleagues have adopted towards the evolutionary process of bringing the former Warsaw pact countries under the NATO umbrella.

May I ask my right hon. Friend a question about Cyprus? He said that he met the Turkish Prime Minister and obtained assurances from the Turks that they seek a peaceful solution. Will he also approach the Greek leadership and ensure that the Greeks do not adopt too aggressive a stance in attempts to reach that peaceful solution?

The Prime Minister : On the latter point, the straight answer is yes : most certainly. That is a matter that we regularly discuss with the Governments of Greece and Turkey. What was encouraging in my discussions with Mrs. Ciller was her belief that the

confidence-building measures were a proper basis for continuing discussions now that elections in the northern part of Cyprus are concluded. I hope that, under the aegis of the United Nations, it will be possible to move much closer to a settlement.

This dispute has gone on for far too long. United Nations troops have been in Cyprus far too long, and I think that there is impatience on all sides that people should move towards a proper settlement of what we have for too long known as the Cyprus problem. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks about an evolutionary approach to the extension of NATO. I am sure that such an approach is right. For example, once a country enters the NATO alliance, it undertakes an inviolable commitment to defend the security of NATO's borders.

There has been a British Army on the Rhine for 25 years. Once NATO is extended, it is conceivable that, at some stage, there will be a NATO army, not on the

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Rhine but on the Vistula. We need to be careful about extending NATO ; it must be done in an evolutionary fashion. That is right in principle, and desirable in terms of the practical way in which NATO should develop.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : May I ask the Prime Minister a question of which I have given his office notice? Are his NATO colleagues at ease about the continuing sanctions and actions against Libya, given the evidence from Edwin Bollier, the Swiss manufacturer of the timing mechanisms that were so crucial to the Lockerbie crime, and the evidence of his engineer, Ulrich Lumpert? Is it true that Lumpert's evidence was given to the Scottish police three years ago?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful for the fact that the hon. Gentleman gave me notice of his question about the Lockerbie bombing. Sanctions against Libya were not the subject of discussion at the summit. As the hon. Gentleman has said, new evidence has been reported in the press, casting doubt on Libyan complicity, but after five years, the inquiry into the bombing has not revealed any evidence that implicates any country besides Libya.

Recent press reports notwithstanding, my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate remains convinced that the evidence still justifies the warrants issued for the arrest of the two Lockerbie suspects. The inquiry remains open ; if anyone has new evidence pertinent to the case, he should pass it to the investigating authorities without delay. But there seems no doubt at the moment that it is right for the two warrants to stand.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the accepted or agreed new stronger line against Serbian obstruction of humanitarian aid in Bosnia is welcome, provided that the operations are carefully limited, and that it does not lead to any uncontrolled escalation of outside troop involvement in the area? On the question of NATO expansion, did my right hon. Friend note the comment by the President of Poland, Lech Walesa, a few days ago that it would be a tragedy if Poland and other western and central European countries were not brought by some firm date into a new European security alliance of some kind? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that can be done without in any way isolating Russia and its neighbours, whose security needs are also great? Does he accept that that is the right way forward, and that it would allow us to have a Europe with a new security system, and not one in which many countries feel that they are still in a security vacuum?

The Prime Minister : On Yugoslavia, I can do no other than agree with my right hon. Friend. In terms of the expansion of NATO, for the reasons that I set out some moments ago, it is right to take this matter carefully and to deal, firstly, through the "partnership for peace" proposals. Of course, in the case of Poland and the other Visigrad countries, it is expected that at some stage in the future--perhaps within 10 years or so--they will become members of the Community, the European Union. At that stage, via the Western European Union, it is highly possible that they would enter the alliance more speedily than others.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South) : The Prime Minister and the other Heads of State and Governments are to be congratulated on evolving NATO even further and, in particular, on confounding those who had hoped that

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NATO and the alliance were now superfluous. While the Prime Minister was discussing "P4P", we were discussing "B2B".

I have three brief questions. First, if NACC--the North Atlantic Co- operation Council--is so important, was there any discussion about providing it with a staff and a budget, and perhaps an assistant secretary- general ? Secondly, if Europe is to do more for its own defence, was there any discussion about how that could be done when defence forces and budgets are in near free fall ? Thirdly, if there is to be more accountability of executives to legislatures in defence, as a member of the Select Committee on Defence may I ask whether we too may have a little more of that ?

The Prime Minister : We are, of course, moving on beyond NACC with what is actually proposed. On the levels of armed forces, of course the intention is that there should be joint task forces, for example, and joint disciplines. There would be more people coming in to be available to deal with peacekeeping and other matters. Of course, those countries that are in "partnership for peace" would also be able to play a role in the joint task forces from an early stage. Therefore, a good deal of practical action can be taken to prepare the countries in the "partnership for peace" proposals for possible eventual accession to NATO.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his exceptionally strong support team on the important British contribution to this sound strategic plan for NATO. Does he agree that the worthy objective of the distribution of humanitarian aid in Bosnia requires the active co-operation on the ground of all the local troops manning control posts, be they Serb, Croat or Muslim ? How could we be sure that that local co-operation would continue if we had previously taken military action against one of the sides ?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend points precisely to one of the primary factors that needs to be taken into account before determining whether any military action of any sort needs to be taken. It is easy to say that it is an easy decision, and that one has only to unleash an aircraft or two and all will be well. I say to those who readily advocate that course without careful thought that it may well not be a wise policy. It may be a necessary policy at some stage, but such a policy should be entered into with very considerable caution.

Co-operation among the participating forces on the ground is very patchy. I think that great frustration is building up among Governments, particularly those which have troops on the ground, at what seems to be a complete double standard, with the participants saying in Geneva that they want peace, and acting on the ground in a fashion that denies every single word they utter in the peace negotiations.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) : The Prime Minister reiterates yet again the readiness to use air strikes. Can he explain how, over these many months, no action whatsoever has been taken where it has been desperately necessary, and all we have had have been the mumblings and the bumblings of the Foreign Secretary of this country, and of other western countries in Europe? How has he--or has he--the will to ensure that action will be taken to clear up the situations both in Srebrenica and in Tuzla and to

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mount action against the artillery--the Serbian artillery--which is continuing to bombard Sarajevo? Has he personally the will to do such a thing?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman has just illustrated, with very great clarity, I fear, how easy it is to make declaratory remarks without considering what is necessary on the ground to carry them out and without any understanding whatever of what we might be asking the commanders on the ground to do, and, if they have done it, what the subsequent implications of that would be, either for their troops on the ground, the humanitarian operation, or indeed the civilian population, who are there to be helped, if it became impossible to carry forward the humanitarian operation.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is yes. Every Head of Government at NATO had the will. What we need to be sure of is that it is wise to do so, and on that we must necessarily rely on the advice of the commanders on the ground, and, as the sanctions are in United Nations guise, the sanction of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. What we did was to indicate that, in the right circumstances, the will is there to take that action.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington) : In view of what my right hon. Friend has said, does he now feel that there is a key role for the Western European Union to extend the hand of co-operation to central European countries, with a view to furthering their defence and security?

The Prime Minister : Yes. I have no doubt about the present--and indeed the future--role of the WEU. We are at the moment actively considering what can be done, and how it can be done, to give the WEU a more effective and perhaps a larger role. As I told the House a moment ago, the WEU would be the vehicle effectively to provide the European pillar of the NATO alliance, through the European Union's own proposals on defence.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : Would the Prime Minister care to elaborate on what obligations he might feel that some countries may not be able to meet in becoming members of NATO? Although I welcome the general thrust of the statement and the Council meetings, does he agree that it is unwise to make promises that may not be able to be fulfilled, and imply threats that are not carried out? In the end, that causes people to ignore the issues.

When he thanks President Clinton for his co-operation in Northern Ireland, will the Prime Minister give us some information as to whether President Clinton is following advice from his embassy in London, or from Dublin, as there seem to be some confused messages?

The Prime Minister : President Clinton has certainly given strong support to the joint declaration issued before Christmas, and he reiterated that in a meeting that we had in Brussels a day or so ago. I have no doubt that we will return to the general issue of Northern Ireland in the meeting that I will have with him on 28 February. There would be substantial obligations for countries joining NATO. They would, for example, need to join the integrated military structure. Fresh members of NATO would certainly be required to do that. One of the reasons why it is right in practice, as well as in principle, to have

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an interim approach via "partnership for peace" is that one needs to prepare the planning, organisation and management of defence in other nations, to look at a whole range of things, such as equipment interoperability and a proper legal framework for military forces, all of which, when the time came, perhaps, for a country to enter NATO, would need to be determined.

During the period of membership of "partnership for peace", it is hoped that, through those proposals, potential applicant members will begin to make those changes.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that, if the central and welcome aim of the summit--to enhance the stability of Europe--is to be achieved, it is essential that the conflict in the former Yugoslavia does not expand, and that the carnage is brought to a halt? If he accepts that, will he also accept that, hitherto, Serbia has never taken seriously threats that have been issued, from NATO or anywhere else, and that it is essential that it now understands that we mean business?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend that it would be desirable both to prevent the expansion of the present conflict and then to bring it entirely to a halt. What has happened has tended to happen frequently. There was no doubt at the outset of the conflict that the principal aggressor was Serbia and the principal victims were the Bosnian Muslims.

Since then, the position has become not quite so clear-cut. Each of the three participants in the dispute has been, from time to time, a stumbling block in reaching a negotiated political settlement. Some of the fiercest fighting has been between the Muslims and the Croats, and has not involved the Serbs. In no sense am I seeking to defend Serbia. I am saying that, if it ever was, this is no longer a clear-cut case of one aggressor and one victim, but a most horrible dispute in which each of the participants has committed actions of which it should be thoroughly ashamed.

Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool) : Will the Prime Minister accept that at the heart of the issues concerning the future of NATO are Europe's community of interest and the understandable security fears of the Visegrad countries in central Europe? Therefore, will he make it clear this afternoon, as the Foreign Secretary did on the BBC's "Newsnight" the other night, that any physical threat to the security of those countries, irrespective of when they become members of NATO, will be met by effective NATO action to defend them?

The Prime Minister : I am not entirely sure that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would have put it in quite that crisp fashion. [Laughter.] My right hon. Friend is quite capable of doing almost anything, but I doubt that he spoke precisely in those terms. Of course the security of countries is of great importance to us. However, what the hon. Gentleman invites me to say goes further than he would find anyone going at the moment.

The best way to ensure security for the future of Europe is to ensure that the reform process and the reformers in Russia are sustained and stay there. That is of vital interest not just to Russia but to the rest of central and eastern Europe. If there is one thing that would be of immense value for this generation of politicians across Europe to

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pass on to the next, it would be to have helped Russia to become permanently a good neighbour to Europe, and part of the general western system of democratic nations.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes) : Could my right hon. Friend elaborate on the integration of the French Government and French forces into future NATO planning and thought? That is crucial both in NATO and in the WEU.

The Prime Minister : French forces have for many years not been part of the integrated command in the same way that other NATO forces have been. As to the joint task forces and the new proposals, France will play precisely the same role in terms of integration as each of the other members of the NATO alliance. France will take a full part, to deal with the point most pertinently, in the joint task forces that are proposed.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : While many of us will understand the caution being exercised by the Government and their allies in the context of the expansion of NATO, could the Prime Minister elaborate on the criteria that will apply to those who wish to move from partnership into membership, particularly in the context of the time scale that will be applied, not solely in terms of capability? What consideration is being given to the Baltic states, given that Lithuania is one of the applicants for full membership of NATO, as those states that are recently independent from the Soviet Union surely deserve our support?

The Prime Minister : Yes, they certainly deserve our support, and we hope that they will take up the "partnership for peace" proposals. The Baltic states are among the countries that have had the offer, and I both hope and expect that they will take it up.

The obligations placed on potential applicants for NATO are the same as those that are placed on existing NATO states--proportionate, of course, to their size and strength. The criteria, however, will be the same and will include, as I said in response to an earlier question, a democratic system of government.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) : Will my right hon. Friend clarify how exactly the combined joint task forces are supposed to work? He said that they will be able to operate out of the NATO area, and that they will strengthen the European identity in the alliance. As the United States is the only country in NATO with a strategic airlift capability, and as only the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands of the European member countries have amphibious forces, how will such troops be deployed out of area?

Will the Germans participate out of area, as to do so is against their basic law? Will there be integrated military staffs? Will there be pre- planning, and will combined operations be exercised in advance? To cobble together forces to meet difficult contingencies overseas is not necessarily a recipe for success, as we have seen with Somalia and the Americans.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend's last point shows precisely why we need the new combined joint task forces. Many of his detailed questions are being considered by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, who will report to the North Atlantic Council by the end of March. I suspect that I am able to anticipate most of the report, but it would perhaps be wiser to wait until he has delivered it.

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Although the command and control, for example, of NATO operations in Bosnia has been ingenious and effective, it has necessarily been ad hoc. It is intended to ensure that the alliance is capable of taking on a full range of likely future mission adjustments. The purpose of the combined joint task forces will be to ensure that a proper command and control structure is swiftly available, rather than it having to be provided when a crisis arises.

It is a new concept that is being developed by SACEUR. Its intention is to provide more flexibility, specially earmarked personnel and personnel who are trained, used to working together and deployable, at home or abroad, at short notice under the command of NATO. As my hon. Friend knows, the concept has been employed with some success by some nations--the USA and the United Kingdom in particular--in deploying national forces, but it is a novel idea to use it in NATO.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Was not NATO set up in 1948 in answer to a perceived threat from the Soviet Union? Since that threat has now diminished and disappeared--if it ever existed--and since the Warsaw pact has been disbanded, what is the point of people spending time and a great deal of money looking around for something for NATO to do, simply so that the organisation remains in existence when it has no function and when eastern European countries need encouragement to develop militarisation and further to arm troops like a hole in the head? Why not accept the truth-- that NATO is redundant and that we would be a lot better off without it?

The Prime Minister : I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman carries many Labour Members with him--he certainly carries few Members of the House as a whole, and almost no one in the country, with him. He assumes that there will never be a threat again. I do not know the basis on which he makes that assumption. It is certainly not made on any logical basis. He is saying, effectively, that he has an insurance policy and he has not had to claim on it this year, so he will cancel it and assume that he will never need it. The reality is that NATO has been the guardian of our security for more than 40 years. It would be folly beyond belief not to ensure that NATO is securely in place for the next 40 years.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath) : In view of the isolationist tendencies in the United States, should not the President's firm commitment to have 100,000 American troops on the continent of Europe be warmly welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House? My right hon. Friend will have read the reports of an era of estrangement between Britain and the United States. Will he and the Foreign Secretary make a new year resolution to do all in their power to ensure that the Anglo-American relationship, while it may be conducted more at arm's length than 30 years ago, remains extremely cordial?

The Prime Minister : As I said earlier, I strongly welcome the re- commitment by the USA and Canada to NATO. President Clinton showed his commitment to the security of Europe in a most practical fashion by making it clear that 100,000 US troops will stay in Europe. I welcome that very much.

As for the second part of my hon. Friend's question, there was one area of disagreement some nine months ago, but apart from that, President Clinton called for the integration of a broader Europe and the integration of the

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former communist bloc with the rest of Europe. As the House will know, I have been advocating that course vigorously--for example, in calling for enlargement of the European Union. Since then, we have agreed in a series of statements and on a series of occasions. We agreed in Brussels, where President Clinton welcomed the action that I initiated with the French. As he said at his press conference, they agreed with my position, and I strongly agreed with theirs. When I next meet President Clinton in Washington at the end of February we shall have much to discuss : Russia, on which we have a common view ; the free trade agreement ; the GATT agreement, on which we worked together to ensure that it came about ; the middle east peace process ; Lockerbie ; sanctions on Iraq. Those are all matters on which the United Kingdom and the United States are in complete agreement and upon which the two Governments have worked together. As I said a moment ago, I was able to thank him for his strong support over Northern Ireland. So the relationship between the United Kingdom and United States is in very good repair.

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