Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. George: I disagree with my hon. Friend, as he might expect. The Defence Committee hoped that the accession of the three countries would not be seen by American, British, German or French defence manufacturers as a chance to step into countries that can barely afford existing security expenditures. We do not want to destroy developing economies by lumbering them with enormously costly aircraft. Clearly, those countries must spend sufficient money to join NATO, but many countries are drifting down towards the level of expenditure of those three countries. As our spending is projected to be 2.3 per cent. of gross domestic product, we are going perilously close to the spending of countries that cannot afford to be in NATO.

There is anxiety among generals, and among both Russophobes and Russophiles, about the weakness of the former Soviet Union. In talking to generals and politicians in Russia, I often hear the same attitudes that were expressed by the State Department in the United States just after the Falklands war. The State Department official then responsible for relations with Latin America, now deceased, was visited by a large delegation of Latin American Foreign Ministers and ambassadors, and they admonished him and the United States Government for supporting the United Kingdom in the conflict. They gave him hell, but as they left, one after another of them walked past him out of the view of their fellow ambassadors and Foreign Ministers, and winked at him as if to say, "I had to say that, didn't I?" One feels that many people raise ritualistic objections.

One of the contributors to my seminal Jane's NATO Handbook, which was purchased only by the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell)--at £125 a copy, I can understand why--was Rainer Rupp, who is well known to some hon. Members. Rupp is now doing 12 years in the slammer in Germany for transmitting 29,000 pages of classified NATO documentation to East German intelligence. That must have been the greatest exercise in confidence building in world history. Comrade Rupp's transmission of information surely led the Soviet Union to realise that we were weak, and that we were not aggressive. I hope that the Russians will realise that they do not confront NATO in an eyeball-to-eyeball cold war environment. We are partners, and we are working together. It is as much in our interests as theirs that they should democratise and modernise their economy and their political culture.

Khrushchev said more than 30 years ago that NATO would one day include the Soviet Union as a member, and everyone laughed. Who knows what will happen five,

17 Jul 1998 : Column 699

10 or 15 years from now, but anyone who argues that NATO is superfluous, or that Russia should be incorporated now, is being premature, to put it politely.

Mr. Dalyell: My hon. Friend may not be aggressive, but the Russians are faced by the 10 conditions set out by Senator Jesse Helms. The third of those conditions is the explicit rejection of a nuclear-free central Europe. Did my hon. Friend's Defence Committee reflect on the Helms conditions?

Mr. George: It would be unfair of me to criticise the chairman of another country's Foreign Relations Committee, but Jesse Helms does not, thankfully, sit alongside Bill Clinton in decision making. Senator Helms's Committee has a great deal of power, but, even as a proponent of more power for our Committees, I realise when I see the powers exercised in the United States that there must be some exceptions.

I do not regularly read the Morning Star but, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) contributes, I do. Earlier this week, the paper reflected the paranoia in some circles in both the west and the former Soviet Union. There are fears that war is about to burst out, or that we are all aggressive. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence would have smiled to read:


Perhaps I have been asleep for the past week. If that statement were true, I would be frankly delighted, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be delighted, too. However, it is not.

Such collective paranoia suggests that the end of the cold war has left us all spending more on defence. However, our spending has gone from 5.2 per cent. of GDP under the previous Government to about 2.5 per cent. now, and we are drifting a little lower. I see no evidence of a build-up of military equipment and threats. We have only one mechanism--Trident--for delivering nuclear weapons, and the numbers of warheads and missiles are dropping way below the numbers in France, which some hon. Members consider, although I do not, a greater threat than Russia. I say that in jest, so no one should think that I am totally paranoid.

Mr. Menzies Campbell: A practical example of the unfounded paranoia to which the hon. Gentleman refers is the fact that Russian troops took part in NATO's intervention force in Bosnia. He and I saw at Tuzla that they were under direct command of the United States general who was in overall command, and they were able to operate reasonably, sensibly and constructively.

Mr. George: I agree.

We are used in the House to dealing with the paranoid, but the situation in Russia can be terrifying. Several of us attended, in Copenhagen, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Russian delegation included Zhirinovsky. With the security of parliamentary privilege, I can say that he is, at least in his public pronouncements, certifiable. I suspect that he is much saner and more rational than the public image that he creates would suggest.

17 Jul 1998 : Column 700

About three months ago, I went to a meeting of the Duma, which was headed by people who had recently been converted to the idea of parliamentary control of the Executive. The meeting was held in a Communist party caucus room where there was an enormous bust of Lenin. We should remember that the words emanating from the Duma are those of true unreconstructed cold warriors. While we must listen, we must not get obsessed by what we hear.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): In support of what the hon. Gentleman says, does he agree that there is a parallel between the argument that we must not take certain steps for fear of upsetting or strengthening the warmongers in Russia and that of unilateralists between 1981 and 1987 that, if NATO pressed on with nuclear deterrence, it would make war more, not less, likely? The reverse was the case, and he was one of a relatively small minority of Labour Members who stood up for that view.

Mr. George: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support. He knows a little about penetrating left-wing organisations from his early political career. I am sure that much of the work of the Stasi and KGB was based on his successful penetration of the Labour party in early 1980s. We have to be balanced, and we are.

I have examined costs, on which much nonsense has been written. There are reports by the congressional budget office, Rand, the United States Department of Defence, NATO and the Polish Euro-Atlantic Association. My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) published a report under the auspices of the North Atlantic Assembly. Much of the confusion arises because some studies are based on there being four new entrants and a longer time scale. They were made rather early on. We concluded that the cost of NATO enlargement is a bargain for the UK. The Secretary of State for Defence had said that it represented each year the cost of a quarter of a Eurofighter. Even if it doubled to a half, the UK would have gained enormously from its contribution to NATO enlargement.

We strongly argue that the cost may eventually fall between the alarmist costs suggested by the congressional budget office and Rand reports and that suggested by the NATO study. The Committee states:


That might seem expensive, but the decision to endorse enlargement will be made not on economic but on political grounds. I firmly believe that the costs are manageable, and not high.

There are some hon. Members--there were more before 1 May last year--who are as enthusiastic about joining NATO as about joining the masons. They believe that we should have kept out. I have no sense of guilt about supporting NATO, even in the heyday of the cold war; quite the reverse. Like any sane person, I knew that it was necessary in 1949 to establish a defensive military and political alliance.

People seem to forget, because they do not want to remember, that NATO has always been as much a political as a military alliance. It incorporated new

17 Jul 1998 : Column 701

members and it will incorporate more. It has reformed incredibly. People who are prepared to look can only admire how NATO has adapted to the new world environment. NATO is still necessary. It would be lunatic beyond words to subscribe to the old mid-1980s philosophy of peace groups that the alliance should wither away or collapse precipitately and be replaced by a collective security organisation that I would have regarded as akin to the League of Nations.


Next Section

IndexHome Page