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Mr. Gray: I wholly agree with my hon. Friend's point that, as NATO is only as good as its weakest link, we must be cautious about too rapid an expansion. The most recent expansion was in 1990, when east Germany became part of west Germany, so to speak; the Bundeswehr had fundamentally to restructure east German forces to integrate them into the west German army. Does he agree that we should be cautious about the time and money that will be required to restructure the armed forces of some of the new countries, so that they can play an active and useful part in NATO?

Mr. Maples: My hon. Friend is right. The United States Department of Defence estimates that the restructuring and development of the armed forces of the three successful applicant countries will take about 10 years.

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The current round of enlargement increases the length of NATO's borders by 31 per cent. Hungary, one of the three new countries, does not have a border with any other member state; it sits alone with other non-NATO countries between it and its allies, although that would, of course, change if Slovakia became a member.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson): Slovenia.

Mr. Maples: I am talking about the geographical gap, and Slovenia would provide only a narrow corridor between Italy and Hungary.

The fact that new members will have to restructure and upgrade their forces will, in the short term, reduce NATO's overall military effectiveness; as my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) pointed out, that is likely to take some time.

What should the criteria be for new membership? The military and strategic considerations that I have mentioned should remain paramount, but we must remember that, as the Foreign Secretary said, many of the applicant countries regard themselves as European; they believe that, over the past 50 or 60 years, they were temporarily detached from Europe by Russian imperialism. If we denied them membership, we should be sending a clear and unwelcome message, and perhaps drive them back into the Russian orbit.

Difficult decisions must be taken. Although we must encourage progress towards greater democracy and freedom, we must be careful that that does not lead states into thinking that they will be entitled to membership if they meet certain conditions. No state should be ruled out from membership, but there can be no timetable or fixed commitments. The essential conditions for membership must be that an applicant country is internally stable and at peace with its neighbours and that it has stable and responsible Government and political institutions. Moreover, it must be able to make a real military contribution to its own defence without imposing heavy military or strategic commitments on others.

The intermediate status of membership in the "Partnership for Peace", the European Atlantic partnership council, the European Union or the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe should reinforce the confidence of former Warsaw pact countries that are not members of NATO. All those organisations have great value in their own right, not only as stepping stones to something else. We do not regard membership of the European Union as a stepping stone to NATO membership; it is, and should continue to be, possible to be a member of NATO without being a member of the European Union, and vice versa

Mr. Colvin: Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, will he say whether he agrees that some countries that want to become members of NATO--and the European Union, for that matter--have equally important bilateral relations with their neighbours? The Baltic states collectively have a bilateral agreement with the United States of America, which has important security implications for them as they wait and hope to join NATO.

Mr. Maples: My hon. Friend is right to say that we should not regard NATO membership as the only solution

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to many of these problems. Membership of the organisations that I have mentioned may offer something, and he suggests other possibilities.

As I said, I want to look at the matter from Russia's point of view. We must remember that Russia was one of the world's two super-powers. It had a large empire, and was the second biggest military power in the world. Now, it is much diminished--it is much smaller, its economy is in a parlous state and its military capability is a pale shadow of what it was. Although we cannot allow Russia to have a veto on NATO's future, NATO must recognise Russia's legitimate interests and how it sees things. Rightly or wrongly, Russia regards NATO's expansion with suspicion.

We must acknowledge that it is a legitimate aim of Russian foreign policy to seek security and secure borders. Russia no doubt feels that there is a need for there to be other states between NATO's eastern borders and its own western borders. I am not pretending that the issue is not difficult, but we cannot ignore it or pretend that it does not exist.

I wholly agree with the Foreign Secretary that it is vital that Russia, Ukraine and the other countries of the former Soviet Union are brought back fully into the international community. The west has devoted substantial resources and efforts to that end, and we all hope for success.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Does my hon. Friend agree that it would not be to the benefit of European security if we were to let the Russian Government believe that they could ever exercise a veto on the decision of any free, independent, democratic country, on its borders or elsewhere, to come into a collective security arrangement in its own interests and the interests of its neighbours?

Mr. Maples: I agree entirely, but it would be foolish and short-sighted not to take into account the Russian point of view. In 10 years' time, Russia's view may be completely different, but we should never consider the question solely from a western, or even American, point of view.

Russia seems to have accepted the three new members, and there are one or two others to which it would probably have no objection, but would it take the same attitude to, for instance, Romania and Bulgaria or the Baltic states, which involve specific problems, such as the substantial Russian minorities living there, and access to Kaliningrad? The United States has recently been supportive of the Baltic states' desire to join, but Russia has made it clear that it would view that as a serious threat.

According to the BBC's summary of world broadcasts, a Russian Minister said in June that he viewed NATO's planned expansion eastward, and especially the possible admission of former Soviet republics to the alliance, as a "serious threat to Russia". In May, the Russian President himself warned in The Guardian that NATO would cross a perilous red line if it invited the Baltic states or Ukraine to join. We have to take those views seriously, even though they may change over the next five or 10 years--I hope that they will.

There is a danger of NATO expansion helping the cause of the ultra-nationalists in Russia by undermining the position of the western-oriented democrats, who may

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not be able to persuade other Russian politicians that it is a benign development. That would be a tragedy, because it could help to create a new threat. There is obviously suspicion in Russia, because the START 2 treaty is stalled in the Duma, and doubts are being expressed about the conventional forces agreement.

I agree entirely with the American Secretary of State and the Foreign Secretary that Russia cannot have a veto, but we would be foolish to ignore its concerns.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): Russia may have fears, but if those fears are misplaced, our duty is to allay them. The expansion to include the new east European countries offers Russia far more security, because they will come under the umbrella of NATO military doctrine and discipline, with civilian control of the military, which will make them far more stable neighbours than they might otherwise have been.

Mr. Maples: The hon. Gentleman makes two points, one of which I agree with and the other of which I am not so sure about. I agree that we must try to allay the fears. There are a variety of programmes to try to do that, and to develop constructive and peaceful relationships with the countries of the former Soviet Union and Warsaw pact.

I have tried to say why I do not agree with the second point. Russia has some suspicions. I entirely agree with the Foreign Secretary that those are unfounded and that we are not a threat to Russia, but that is not how Russia sees it.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) rose--

Mr. Wilkinson rose--

Mr. Maples: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson).

Mr. Wilkinson: The fundamental point that needs to be put on the record is that the Baltic states were free and democratic before they were incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940, by force of arms and against their will, so no one should take away their legitimate democratic inheritance by bullying or cajoling.

Mr. Maples: Of course that is true, and I completely agree with my hon. Friend. My point was simply that this is a two-way street: the Baltic states may want to join NATO, but we have a say in whether we accept them, and, when we come to make that decision, I hope that we will consider seriously the military commitment that we are making to them. One does not have to be a great historian or geographer to realise that that will be a difficult commitment to fulfil.

There are significant Russian minorities living in the Baltic states, and there is a piece of Russian territory, at Kaliningrad, which can be accessed only through those states. In any case, their accession is probably a long way off, so the issue remains somewhat theoretical. I simply want to put more emphasis than the Foreign Secretary did on the military aspects of our commitments.

There are widely differing estimates of the cost of having the new members. That is incredibly important, because it relates directly to the military and strategic

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factors involved in defending the territory of a new member state. The mainstream estimates vary from $1.5 billion up to about $10 billion, although, as thehon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said, the congressional budget office at one point had an estimate about 10 times higher than that.

The Select Committee said that it thought that the likely cost was in the middle of that range, and the Government say that they are confident of their estimate. I only hope that they are right; otherwise, we will all pay a very high price for NATO expansion, despite being told that there is no military threat. I am concerned that the low estimate is effectively based on the assumption that NATO has no enemies, which implies that, if a threat emerges in future, there will be extra spending to be met. I hope that we can be more confident of such estimates in future, and that there will not be quite such a wide range.

It is a significant task to integrate Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary into the alliance.

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