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1.1 pm

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): This has been a consensual debate. No contributor to it has opposed the entry to NATO of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, and I confirm that I support that. The debate has been consensual as between Labour and Conservative

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Members. The admission of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland is consensual, accepted by the United States and Russia. However, that consensual attitude--that harmony--has not always existed.

When I trained as a pilot, 40 years ago, the wing commander in charge of flying called in the newly training pilots and told us, "At this moment, in the Soviet union, a young pilot will be starting his training today, and one day you may meet him above the skies of central Europe. If he is better trained than you, he will kill you." That was the atmosphere in which my generation grew up. We believed that there might be a war, and we were prepared to fight in it.

The 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were a difficult period, and not a consensual one. Many of us fought the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Labour party conference after Labour party conference passed resolutions demanding the abolition of nuclear weapons. I was chairman of an organisation called the Campaign for Defence and Multilateral Disarmament. We tried to tie CND's shoe-laces together, with some success. We fought things such as the Lambeth nuclear-free zone. We watched Michael Foot march to Aldermaston. There were organisations such as socialists against the bomb and scientists against the bomb, and various fellow travellers. I once received a missive from an organisation calling itself Streatham lesbian dentists against the bomb--I am still not sure whether that was meant to be serious. It was a period when there was absolutely no consensual attitude.

The security and safety of this country owes nothing to the Labour party at that time. It took Margaret Thatcher's support for President Reagan in the deployment of cruise missiles at Greenham Common to face down the expansion of the Russian and Warsaw pact missile programme. Fortunately, history will not say what would have happened had we had a Labour Government at that time. No Labour Government would have given President Reagan the support that the Americans needed to face down the Warsaw pact. That was a period of triumph for us, and I am proud that we were there. I have mentioned the Labour party, but the Liberals were even worse. Woolly of clothing and of mind, they were even more firmly in favour of CND, if that is possible, than was the Labour party.

I am questioning not the patriotism of the Labour party or the Liberals, but their judgment. Their judgment was wrong: thank God we had a Conservative Government to support NATO.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): The hon. Gentleman has given a list of dirty tricks that the Conservatives used to undermine CND--an organisation that reflected the will of the majority of the population, who were worried about nuclear war after the Cuban missile crisis. The Conservatives seem to have no policies and are useless at reflecting what people need. Are they going to employ such dirty tricks to try to undermine the Labour Government?

Mr. Viggers: That is unfair of the hon. Gentleman, who should know me well enough to realise that I would not engage in dirty tricks. I went round the United Kingdom, going to universities, colleges and open meetings. I debated several times with Monsignor Bruce Kent and put forward the argument for nuclear weapons,

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which was unpopular in many circles, although most of the population believed in their retention. CND had to be fought. That was a difficult period, when we were seriously concerned that CND would undermine the defence of the country. I am proud that we fought that battle and won it on intellectual grounds.

Dr. Julian Lewis rose--

Mr. Viggers: I am sorry, but I cannot give way because there are too many people waiting to speak.

NATO was created to counter-balance the Warsaw pact. It was a military and political alliance--both aspects were important. NATO brings United States and Canadian military force and political support to Europe. NATO has always had some weak points. Some years ago, I travelled around NATO countries. In Greece we were given a presentation on "the threat". We were surprised that a map of Turkey was put up when the threat was mentioned. Some members of NATO have always been stronger and more allied than others. Some of our allies have armed forces far weaker than ours.

There has been some discussion about whether NATO was required and whether the Western European Union could make NATO less relevant. That argument is in the past. The thrust is for mutually reinforcing institutions. We have the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and "Partnership for Peace", which has 27 members and has been exceptionally successful in promoting understanding and the use of military facilities between different countries, not all of which are or, wish to be, members of NATO. It is vital that NATO should retain its core value and its ability to fight a high-intensity war.

The concept of NATO expansion is not new: Greece and Turkey joined in 1952; the Federal Republic of Germany joined in 1955; Spain joined in 1982; and, more recently, eastern Germany has joined. Why expand now? The motor for expansion is the United States of America. It is worth remembering that only 7 per cent. of Americans have travelled abroad and that 40 per cent. of Congressmen do not even possess a passport.

All those people had to come from somewhere. As we have seen, the Irish in America tend to become more Irish the longer they are there. There is a strong feeling among the American people that the nations from which their ancestors came should not be deprived of the benefit of NATO membership. There has also been a rapturous response in central and eastern Europe, where membership of NATO is seen as a western credential and a way of joining prosperous western nations as well as enjoying NATO's support in defence.

I have been agnostic about the expansion of NATO. I am not at all sure that we should expand too fast. My doubts are focused on three main areas. First, several central and eastern European countries have very insecure foundations as democracies. I was recently briefed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington. It is not for nothing that the FBI has a special division which deals with countries which are, effectively, controlled by organised crime. Several of them, including those whose names have been mentioned in this debate as candidates for NATO, have extremely insecure foundations as democracies. In some of their elections, their Members of Parliament have been accepted as having strong links with organised crime. We must be careful that countries that are admitted to NATO are true and secure democracies.

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My second argument for being cautious about NATO expansion concerns the costs of defence of countries that are admitted. That is a respectable doubt for a person to have; Lord Healey has been mentioned as one such person. An article last year in Defense News referred to 46 people who came together to write a letter to the President of the United States on the matter. They included former Senator Sam Nunn, two former ambassadors to Moscow, a former ambassador to Poland, a former Under-Secretary and a former NATO Assistant Secretary-General, all of whom argued:

Much of the expenditure on defence could be better spent on improving economics. Having said that, I reiterate that I do not oppose Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic joining NATO. I just feel that we should be cautious about expanding still further.

My third main reason for being cautious about NATO expansion is the attitude in Russia. I am saying this not because I am afraid of Russia but because I think that we have stronger links, through the Founding Act of 1997, at presidential and governmental level with Russia than we have at parliamentary and people level. No one who has seen--as I have--a Duma packed with people who are seriously concerned that the expansion of NATO will cause instability in Russia can doubt that that needs to be taken seriously. We need to build on and expand the Founding Act, which states that one of its purposes is to improve public awareness of relationships between countries.

Most changes in the former Soviet Union have been greatly for the better, but in Russia in particular there has been seismic shock. Communism is--was--a way of life; it is virtually a religion. The people have lost not only the illusion of military might but their faith. The nearest parallel I can think of is this: it is as if the Vatican had been told that God did not exist and that the Roman Catholic Church was a myth, corrupt and incapable.

The people of Russia are baffled, disillusioned and angry that their faith has been taken from them. More than half the members of the state Duma have signed a resolution stating that expansion of NATO will create new dividing lines and barriers in Europe. The question that has always been asked in Russia is against whom NATO is expanding. Instability in Russia is not surprising, bearing in mind the arrears of pay and appalling housing conditions in the armed forces. We hear that even officers and their families are living in tents.

Russia and the Warsaw pact countries had military- industrial combines and much employment depended on military and industrial expenditure in military areas. A month ago, the Pentagon told me that, in 90 cities in the former Soviet Union, more than 75 per cent. of the population work in the defence industry. Think of that industry being undermined and people realising that they are losing their former markets--the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary--because those three countries and others will re-equip with NATO-compatible equipment.

The NATO-Russian framework is sound at Government level, but it needs to be broadened and strengthened. One way to do that is to have Russian delegates at our North Atlantic Assembly meetings. It is surprising to me that I am on conversational terms with Mr. Zhirinovsky. I have had several conversations with

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him and have chaired meetings at which he spoke. We have experienced the calming and reassuring influence of personal contact with people from the former Soviet Union countries and from Russia.

There should be more military contacts between NATO and Russia, and I welcome the fact that there are now Russians in Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. The "Partnership for Peace" programme has been an outstanding success in promoting a sense of common purpose in defence-related activity of all kinds, including even air traffic control. Russia is losing markets in former Soviet Union countries, and we must seriously face the loss of business and currency to Russia. If currency does not enter Russia, reform may not happen.

How can we co-operate? I shall put to the House a thought that may seem eccentric. It is that the former Soviet Union, and in particular Ukraine, has the Antonov aircraft factory, which is without orders. It manufactures aircraft that are similar to those that are contained in plans for the future large aircraft. I welcome the fact that the Germans are seeking to co-operate with the Antonov factory, and regret that no other NATO country seems to want to co-operate with Antonov, which has a world leader in the field. Similarly, the Mig 29 Fulcrum and the Sukhoi 35 have airframes which, as far as I can see, are far superior to any in the west. I regret that we have not found ways to co-operate with Russia or to pass orders to it to demonstrate that the confidence that we express in the expansion of NATO does not mean that we are seeking to do it down.

As the Foreign Secretary said, the expansion of NATO involvesa geographical expansion of one sixth of territory and a borders expansion of one third. That is a large expansion. I would resist further expansion in the foreseeable future, and I would avoid a timetable for further expansion. Meanwhile, we must retain the core role of NATO and its ability, if necessary, to engage in high-intensity warfare.

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