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Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order for me.

Mr. Marshall: You are quite right, Mr. Deputy Speaker; nor do the hon. Gentleman's remarks have any relevance to the point that I am making.

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor): My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe

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(Mr. Howard) is sorry to be unable to be here today, but he is travelling abroad. From time to time, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence have been unavoidably absent from the House for the same reason, and we quite understand when that happens.

Mr. Marshall: I am grateful for that information. I realise that shadow Ministers, as well as real Ministers, have appointments that they have to keep; however, I pointed out the absence of shadow Ministers today because it shows the degree of importance that the Opposition attach to the subject of our debate. Many of us have important things to be doing elsewhere in the United Kingdom today. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) would prefer to be in his constituency, and I would prefer to be in Leicester. I only wish that the shadow Foreign Secretary were here to speak on behalf of the official Opposition.

Bearing in mind the point made by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), I shall move on to my constructive contribution to the debate. Like many of my hon. Friends, I have often, throughout my adult life, had equivocal feelings towards NATO. I have never been anti-NATO, but I have been more sceptical and critical of it at some times than at others. I have been a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament for most of my adult life.

Dr. Julian Lewis: If the hon. Gentleman has been a member of CND for most of his adult life, either he does not realise the implication of that or he is not being fully open with the House. CND's constitution requires the one-sided abandonment by Britain not only of nuclear weapons and nuclear bases but of nuclear alliances. If he has been supporting CND for most of his adult life, he has, like the Foreign Secretary, been supporting withdrawal from NATO and a policy of neutralism, unless NATO gave up all its nuclear weapons, which of course it never had any intention of doing.

Mr. Marshall: As I was saying, I have been a member of CND most of my adult life. One of my criticisms of NATO was its undue emphasis on the possible use of nuclear weapons. I still hold that view, and I do not intend to apologise for that to the House or to the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis).

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that NATO has been one of the most successful military and political alliances of all times. Fifty years ago, it brought together nation states, many of which were traditional enemies, under the hegemony of the United States. A decade ago, it defeated its enemy without having to resort to physical warfare.

With the end of the cold war and the emergence of pluralistic democracies in central and eastern Europe which are committed to market forces, to respect for human rights and to peacefully settling disputes with neighbours, it was inevitable that NATO's future would be debated in the context of future security arrangements in Europe. In that regard, there are three possible scenarios. The first, which is favoured by some of my hon. Friends, is to disband NATO; the second is to remain an alliance of 16; and the third is to expand, particularly in central and eastern Europe.

The first scenario--the disbandment of NATO--would lead to the withdrawal of the United States of America from Europe, and to Europeans making the decisions and

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taking any necessary action to protect European security interests. Events in Bosnia, later in Albania and currently in Kosovo have shown clearly the inability of European states to act in concert to deal with their own problems without the political involvement and leadership of the United States. Events on the ground in Bosnia, through the actions of NATO, have shown the value of NATO planning and the integrated command structure.

That leads me to two inevitable conclusions. First, there is a need to maintain the involvement of the United States in European security through the proven structure of NATO. Secondly, it demonstrates the efficacy of NATO as a military machine.

The second scenario--to remain an alliance of 16--has received publicity in recent weeks, which is a bit late in the day to contribute to the debate. One of its supporters is my noble Friend Lord Healey. Advocates of this position argue that there should be no expansion because the alliance would become too unwieldy and would therefore be unable to deal with the delicate political problems that are likely to occur on the military map in the next century. Their basic argument is that consensus among 16 is difficult enough, and that that situation would be an order of magnitude worse if there were 19-plus members of NATO. They also argue that it would adversely affect relations with Russia.

I believe that NATO remaining an alliance of 16 would ignore political reality in Europe. There is no doubt that the end of the cold war created in central and eastern Europe a vacuum waiting to be filled either by a volatile Russia or by the western democracies. In that regard, it is interesting to note that the three countries invited to join NATO--Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic--and other applicant countries want to join NATO and the European Union because those organisations are seen to have contributed to the peace and prosperity of their member states over the past 15 years. It would be a grave strategic error to bar them from admittance to NATO because of possible future difficulties resulting from increasing the size of NATO.

For Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, NATO membership could well have a positive outcome. In respect of relations with Russia, there is a real prospect that NATO's expansion will prompt a genuine reconciliation between the Russians and their central European neighbours. Once in NATO, the central Europeans will no longer fear that their closeness to Russia can lead to a mortal embrace--a fear that is undoubtedly deeply rooted in painful historical experience.

On that basis, I welcome the admission of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to NATO. As I said in an earlier intervention--not one to which you were privy, Mr. Deputy Speaker--it is right that the current round of enlargement is based more on political considerations than on purely defence-related calculation, as I believe political considerations are paramount.

Despite what we may hear from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, it is generally accepted that the three candidate countries will not be able to make a proportionate contribution to NATO for at least another decade. However, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome said, we should not forget that those three countries are prepared to pay the price of membership of NATO and of European Union membership, for which

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they have also applied, in terms of accepting the acquis of the European Union. We could not have a surer indication of the value of those institutions to those three countries and to others than the economic price that they are prepared to pay in defence expenditure and in public expenditure to bring their social and environmental infrastructure up to scratch to join the European Union.

Finally, we must have regard to countries that are unsuccessful in their applications, and make it clear to them that enlargement of NATO is an open exercise and will not be closed. We have to make it clear, particularly to central and eastern European countries, that they will be part of the next enlargement within the next decade to 15 years if they can meet the minimum requirements for NATO membership. It would be foolish to close the door to those countries permanently; that way lies future instability. We must ensure that there is a continuum allowing them to move toward membership of NATO in the foreseeable, rather than the distant, future.

As I said when I intervened on the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, I share the concern about the Baltic states. There are grave dangers in encouraging them to believe that membership of NATO is on the immediate horizon. It would be unfair to allow them to believe that. It would create instability in that part of northern Europe around the Baltic.

I favour the solution proposed by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome--that the best way for those countries to get into the European security architecture is via membership of the European Union. Despite what we say about the European Union and defence, the European Union has an indirect security context. No one could persuade me that, if a member state of the European Union was attacked by any foreign country, we would not go to that member state's assistance. There is therefore an implicit security guarantee in membership, which I believe we should encourage the Baltic states to accept.

As I said in response to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, I believe that we must alter the configuration between the European Union, the Western European Union and NATO, so that member states of the European Union that are not members of NATO have the right to join the WEU. That would not only solve the problem of the Baltic states, but cover the case of Slovenia, which is likely to be accepted into the European Union at the next enlargement, and which is keen to join NATO.

In our relationship with Russia, we must ensure continuing close co-operation and consultation through the Permanent Joint Council of the NATO-Russia Founding Act, but obviously there must be no veto. Finally, I believe that we must try to make it evidently and credibly clear to the Russians that the expansion of NATO and the expansion of the European Union are open-ended historical processes, without fixed geographical or time limits, and that, eventually, a more formal association with both is on Russia's political horizon.

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