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Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): The Foreign Secretary has said that it is in all our interests to secure stability in the western Balkans. Might we not be able to enhance our security in that area by admitting Slovenia to NATO? The United States made clear its opposition to that at the Madrid summit. Does it remain United Kingdom policy that Slovenia should be admitted at an early opportunity? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that would enhance the stability of the western Balkans?

Mr. Cook: The case for Slovenia becoming a member of NATO stands on its own ground and does not require

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to be approached tangentially by reference to the western Balkans. It is well known that, in the lead-up to the Madrid conference, Britain supported the case for admitting Slovenia.

Two main schools of thought emerged in discussions before and during Madrid. One was that there should be an enlargement by the admission of three countries, and that is the proposition that we are debating. It is manageable, and I shall later deal with why it is important not to have an unmanageable enlargement.

The second proposition was that there should be an enlargement by five countries to embrace both Slovenia and Romania. There was no support in the alliance for an enlargement of four. However, this will not be the last enlargement, and other countries, including Slovenia, have made applications which will continue to be considered on their merits.

I have said that, in debating enlargement, we must reflect on three considerations. The first is the maintenance of our collective defence; in our judgment, the enlargement will strengthen, not weaken, that. The second consideration must be the military effectiveness of the alliance.

The former communist countries have had to face a series of daunting tasks. They have had to re-create democratic institutions, restore individual freedoms and restructure and modernise their economies. They have also had to address the need to reform their armies as modern military forces that are accountable to civilian rule. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have all approached that challenge with determination and energy.

Through NATO's "Partnership for Peace" programme, we have provided training, advice and joint exercises. Britain has provided extensive programmes of education in the English language, which is a key part of integration into NATO in which English is the common language of command. Britain has also sponsored seminars in the new member states on subjects such as air traffic control, the role of the junior ranks and military law. We have first-hand knowledge of the competent and disciplined character of their armed forces from working alongside them in Bosnia. Armies that once exercised in readiness for war against each other now work together to impose a common peace.

Working alongside our forces in Bosnia is a mechanised infantry battalion from the Czech Republic, another such battalion from Poland and an engineer battalion from Hungary. The contribution of those countries to the NATO-led peacekeeping forces in Bosnia demonstrates their commitment to fulfilling their obligations as allies.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South): I am listening to my right hon. Friend with great interest. He places great credibility on the military input of the three new countries to NATO. I ask him to back-pedal a little on that proposition, because the contribution of those nations to the campaign in Bosnia is currently the total contribution that they will be able to make to NATO's future defence.

Will my right hon. Friend re-emphasise his earlier comment that we are not debating a military decision? It may have military significance in a decade, but the important aspect at present is the political decision to expand. Those three countries have given a commitment to increase defence expenditure. When that happens,

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they will be able to make a real military contribution, but that will be in perhaps five or 10 years' time, rather than at present.

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend makes an interesting contribution. I do not go along with him in the limited character that he ascribes to the military forces of those three countries. They would be the first to recognise that they have further to travel. As one of the existing members of NATO, we are willing to help them to travel that road and to continue to work with them. We shall be able to do more with them as allies in the alliance than we can do while they are not. Of course, my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the powerful political character of the decision. His contribution leads me naturally to the third consideration in debating enlargement and whether those countries are ready to join NATO.

Mr. Colvin: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook: I shall give way, but, at some stage, I must be allowed to make my speech.

Mr. Colvin: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that another key factor in those countries' eligibility for membership of NATO is the democratisation of their armed forces so that they are under civilian, political control rather than military control?

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman takes me to my third consideration, which is about how we assess those countries.

NATO's fundamental strength is not its military capability: it is the common values of the alliance countries. The strength of the alliance derives from our respect for democracy and human rights, individual liberty and the rule of law. The Washington treaty reaffirms the faith of NATO members in the United Nations charter and their wish to live in peace with all peoples and all Governments.

Ernest Bevin, the first Labour Foreign Secretary after the war, laid that treaty before the House. He said that it was

Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have shown that they share those values. Perhaps they treasure them even more than we do, because they had to struggle for their freedom and democracy and they know their worth. Perhaps that helps to explain the great enthusiasm within those countries for membership of NATO.

NATO is effective because all its members share common principles. That is why 16 countries can still be effective, even though every decision is by consensus. The same will be true of a NATO of 19 allies with shared principles. The enlargement by three countries that was agreed at Madrid still leaves on the table applications for membership by other countries. In an intervention, the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) drew attention to one such country.

Those countries are also seeking to address the modernisation of their armed forces, and we are playing an active part in assisting them through "Partnership for Peace". We are also in close political dialogue with them on security through the Euro-Atlantic partnership council.

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It was no easy decision to choose which among so many applicant countries should be successful. The consensus that emerged from long discussion in Madrid was that they should be the three countries that we are debating. Critical to that judgment was the broad view that NATO enlargement should proceed at a pace that is consistent with NATO absorbing its expanded membership. We would do no service to the other countries that aspire to join NATO if we expanded so rapidly that NATO lost its effectiveness as the military guarantor of peace on our continent. As I have said, this will not be the last NATO enlargement. No one should be under any illusion about the magnitude of the current enlargement.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): I hope that, when the Foreign Secretary amplifies his remarks, he will address the issue of Russia. Early in his speech, he said that the expansion of NATO was an export of security to central and eastern Europe. In view of the NATO-Russia founding Act, will the culmination of that process be Russian membership of NATO, or is that not the Government's view?

Mr. Cook: As was famously observed by a Prime Minister, "never" is one of the longest words in the English language. Nobody rules out any option for the future of NATO. At present, Russia has not applied to join NATO, and we are a long way from the time when that will be a credible proposition. However, we work hard for the success of the permanent joint council, and that is the basis of our current dialogue with Russia. In the same way, we are working with Ukraine through the charter that we have formed between it and NATO.

At present, NATO has not only a good relationship with applicant countries, but a strong relationship with many countries such as Russia and Ukraine which have not submitted an application to join, but who work with us through "Partnership for Peace". Many of those countries are participants in the Euro-Atlantic partnership council, which has met four times, and proved successful when it has done so. We particularly welcome the relations with Ukraine.

Although Ukraine and Russia may not be part of the enlargement, it is still a substantial enlargement. The admission of the three countries will increase the territory within NATO by a sixth, and will increase the borders of NATO by a third. The immediate priority must be to make a success of such a large expansion of the alliance by ensuring the integration of the new members into the command structure and the interoperability of their forces. The costs of doing so are modest, and well worth the price.

The UK may have to pay an estimated additional £110 million to NATO's common budgets; that will be spread over a decade. The costs to the new members might be higher, but they will not be excessive. It is a cost which, in large part, they would have had to undertake if they were to modernise their forces, whether or not they were members of NATO.

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