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Mr. Tyrie: The hon. Gentleman suggests that the arms race destroyed the Soviet economy, but, because of the failure of state planning, the whole economic system would have collapsed regardless of whether it was designed to make weapons--that is what led to the current malaise in the Russian economy.

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman is looking at the same thing from a different angle. Because Russia was compelled to take part in an arms race--which was just as deleterious for the United States, except that the Americans had greater resources--and consigned so much of its effort into arms production, it was not able to develop sufficiently rapidly to take care of its social structures. He and I are saying the same thing, and I do not understand his intervention. Perhaps I did not make my point sufficiently plainly, but I hope that it is plain now.

As I said, alliance member states have reduced their forces to the levels determined in the conventional forces in Europe treaty or below. However, those levels were set when Russia had its Warsaw pact allies. The Warsaw pact has collapsed, so there is a huge imbalance. That is a cause of great concern to the Russian Federation, which feels itself--we have been talking about perception--to be outgunned. NATO is in danger of hugely increasing that imbalance by admitting two and half former Warsaw pact nations--Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The perception of imbalance in Russia is in danger of getting ever greater, and we must address it urgently if we are to avoid further alarming the Russian Federation.

We will not make any decisions today. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North has expressed dissatisfaction about that, but democracy is not only about decisions: it is about expressing disagreement, disapproval or whatever one feels. We will decide today only whether to adjourn, but we have a valuable opportunity to express our opinions.

Democracy involves the capacity to accommodate disapproval, disagreement and differences of opinion, although that was not evident in the previous Government, and some take the view that it is not over-common in the present Government.

We have an opportunity to comment on the three protocols. If we seek a stronger, broader-based, more effective collective European security architecture, NATO is the only means to achieve it. If we seek a vehicle by which the United Nations can effectively offer appropriate means of giving protective cover to people and nations under threat, NATO is the most experienced and capable organisation, with the necessary resources and commitment.

When enlargement was first discussed, I and one or two of my colleagues were opposed to it in principle--why change a winning team, I thought--but changes in circumstances and in the character of NATO have altered my views. Exchanges with representatives from central and eastern Europe have accelerated that change.

I support paragraph (r) of the summary of conclusions and recommendations in the Select Committee report. To those who say that we cannot afford enlargement, I say

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that we cannot afford not to have it. The broadeningand strengthening of a collective European security architecture are essential precursors to developing the state of play that will doubtless be achieved some time after we have departed this life: global governance. The approval of the three protocols will be a small but positive step in that direction.

12.21 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): This important debate should have happened some time ago. I absolutely concur with the view expressed by the hon. Members for Walsall, South (Mr. George) and for Romsey (Mr. Colvin), as well as by many other hon. Members, that our mechanism for dealing with overseas treaties is simply not satisfactory. I made that point to the Leader of the House in an attempt to secure earlier progress on the Ottawa convention and land mines legislation.

Mr. Corbyn: The procedures are not only unsatisfactory but non-existent. Under the royal prerogative, the Government can sign treaties and make war or peace with any country they choose, and Parliament has no say in it whatever. Before we lecture the world about democracy and the mother of Parliaments, we should at the very least bring treaties within the orbit of Parliament.

Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman makes the point extremely well, and perhaps I was understating the case. I am not given to hyperbole.

Mr. Corbyn: Nor am I.

Mr. Heath: That is something we share.

The mechanism does not work effectively, even when a treaty requires changes in domestic legislation, because of the inevitable delays. I, like other hon. Members, have had the embarrassment of talking to friends from Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic who simply cannot understand why Britain appears to have taken a lead on the matter but cannot get the procedures right and give the appropriate support.

Lest I fall into the trap into which Ministers accused the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) of falling, let me make the Liberal Democrat position absolutely plain from the outset. We have supported NATO and we support the new concept of NATO and enlargement to encompass the present three applicants. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) has made it plain on a number of occasions that we see no difficulty in being both Atlanticists and Europeans. The two are not mutually exclusive, and our only concern is that some of the structures within Europe do not sufficiently take account of that fact or enable us to construct the arrangements by which Europe could speak with a strong enough voice in the negotiations.

If this debate had taken place a little while ago, one major question would have been whether NATO should continue. With the changing situation throughout Europe, there were doubts about its role in the security of the

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European continent. To a large extent, that is a dead argument, because NATO has made the adjustment and has sought a new role. It still makes an important contribution to the concept of the defensible entity that provides enhanced security within Europe and provides stability to areas that have historically been unstable points of tension between powers--not merely the Warsaw pact and modern western Europe but, going further back in time, those areas that have always been areas of difficulty for the continent. Providing stability in such areas is an important role.

NATO is also developing its peacekeeping role, and I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) that that should be an enhanced role for the United Nations, too. NATO should offer a service, often mediated through the UN. We would go further, and make designated forces regularly available to the UN--not a standing army, but forces that would be available for peacekeeping, but that is a different debate.

The military structures of NATO need to change to allow rapid deployment. That is a downgrading of the normal state of readiness.

Mr. Frank Cook: Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind, when he talks about rapid reaction deployments, that the shortfall is due not to the military, but to the fact that we do not have rapid reaction politicians?

Mr. Heath: We need both, I am grateful for that intervention, as that is an important point. One of the many difficulties that bedevil any negotiations on a European front is the inability to seek early consensus.

On the questions whether enlargement is possible and desirable, and whether there is a rationale behind it, let me say that this would not be the first enlargement of NATO. Other major enlargements have been mentioned. It has enlarged in the past 10 years with the incorporation of the eastern lander of Germany--part of Germany was on the other side and is now on our side, and its armed forces have had to be incorporated, although we have perhaps not had the same agonies over that decision.

Enlargement has some important ground rules. I would be greatly concerned if it were seen as some sort of second prize for countries that aspire to be members of the European Union, but are not economically ready for the task. That would be a distortion of the intention behind NATO and would not be an appropriate way to deal with the aspirations of the countries of central and eastern Europe. Vice versa, it would be wrong if the EU were considered the short cut to NATO, without having to go through the business of providing support for it, and we must be aware of that. There must be genuine mutual security benefits to both NATO and the applicant countries.

We cannot divorce accession from economic considerations, not only as they relate to control of the armed forces but as they affect the applicant countries which will incur expenditure and will hope to nestle in a security blanket that provides an environment in which economic investment can take place. That is crucial to countries whose fragile economies are trying to grow in a democratic context.

Acceding countries must form part of a defensible area. It makes no sense to incorporate countries that cannot be defended in any real sense. That may preclude some countries that might wish to develop an interest in NATO at some stage.

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The Visegrad three--the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary--pass all the tests. They would pass with even greater aplomb if Austria would finally take the tortured decision to end neutrality and join NATO. In Vienna last week, I spoke to senior Austrian politicians and found that great differences of opinion have yet to be resolved, but there are strong advocates of accession to NATO. That would correct the geographical problem that has been referred to. Routes around Slovakia take us around one side, but Austria provides a more direct route of connection for Hungary to the rest of NATO.

All that is important in terms of the points made by the Foreign Secretary. We are discussing mitteleuropa, the core of Europe. At the heart of the European continent, countries share with us many cultural and political aspirations that were submerged for so long by the Russian empire. It is symbolically important that mitteleuropa should rejoin the European family of nations.

Other countries may apply. I have no problem with Slovenia's application, although it is slightly offensive that it appears to have been subject to American veto before reaching the negotiating table. I accept that Slovenia will not make a massive contribution, but it passes all the tests, and I see no reason why it should not eventually join NATO.

Romania has strong advocates among French politicians, who can instantly list all the reasons why it should be a member. That may be based on a slightly odd view that Romania remains Francophone: when one talks to the Romanians one finds that they are not, despite the perception in Paris that Romania forms part of the French sphere of influence. Romania would be a valuable ally. Its democracy is still tentative, but is developing quickly.

The Baltic states are more difficult, because they are inextricably linked with Russia. Other hon. Members have mentioned that we cannot entirely eliminate the Russian view. There can be no Russian veto, and Russia cannot arbitrarily decide with whom we shall do business on defence, in economic terms or in any other sense. No veto, no surprises, must be the right way to deal with Russia.

We should recognise the difficulties that inclusion of the Baltic states would present to Russia. It would mean the encirclement of Kaliningrad, which, as a highly militarily engaged enclave, would be a node of instability. It would worry me if Russia felt that part of its sovereign territory was so encircled in an area where there is high level of military activity. There is a problem. To incorporate the Baltic states while the other Scandinavian countries lie outside NATO might seem an unnecessary provocation. It is not necessarily a good enough reason for not doing it, but it should be considered in examining the benefits.

I do not accept that Russia has some area of influence that we have to respect under all circumstances, and into which we can never intrude, but we must be sensitive to what Russians feel about what is happening near their borders. We should base our decisions on what creates stability and security in Europe rather than on that which does the opposite. That is a proper consideration.

We have another problem with Estonia, which may soon be in the European Union. There are few obstacles to its accession other than those common to all applicant countries. As an EU member, it has virtually automatic membership of the Western European Union. It is a conundrum that will cause us difficulty.

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