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Mr. Duncan Smith: These interventions from Labour Members are enlightening. We are beginning to see the real debate that will take place in the Labour party when it has to make a decision about nuclear proliferation and ballistic missile defence: there will be a return to the old days of the 1980s, when it had to make a decision about our defence against the Soviet threat using theatre

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weapons. I repeat that the discussions of the ABM treaty should take place between the signatories to the treaty. I cannot begin to say what the Russian position on the issue is, other than what everybody reads in the newspaper. All I can do is draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to what took place in the discussions between the Prime Minister and Vladimir Putin when he was over here. Beyond that, I leave it to the hon. Gentleman's judgment, because I cannot pursue the point.

I hope that the parties reach an accommodation, but the key question is the Government's position on the growing threat. Do they believe that the threat is in line with the Rumsfeld commission report and that, within the next three years or so, we are likely to face a direct challenge from a state armed with such weapons? If that is the case, are the Government prepared to respond to that threat? We still have not reached that position.

Mr. Bercow: In the light of what my hon. Friend has just said, does he agree that it was untimely for the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), to signal, in a written answer given on 24 January this year, a growing interest in a readiness on the part of this country to negotiate away her nuclear weapons? Does that not underline the importance of the Ministry of Defence retaining control over policy in these matters, and not allowing the Foreign Office to queer its pitch?

Mr. Duncan Smith: I must say that there appears to be a clear difference of opinion between the two Departments, and that is dangerous. When one sends a conflicting message to a possible aggressor, it will invariably take the weaker message that says that we will do nothing because we are instinctively and ideologically opposed to doing anything else. Countries that want to possess those weapons will take their cue from the mood of the Foreign Office, not the MOD.

I shall end my discussion of the issue by mentioning an interesting comment by the Chairman of the Defence Committee, who said in August last year:

The Committee at least is beginning to realise that we face a serious problem.

The second aspect of the Government's strategic thinking that is weak and wrong-headed--and also impinges on the ballistic missile defence debate--is on European defence. That comment will not surprise the Secretary of State, who made great play of the issue, and I shall respond. The Government's approach started for very much the wrong reasons. In 1998, the Prime Minister was worried about what he perceived as a weakening of his influence in the corridors of power in Brussels, because of our failure to be part of the euro, and he decided to discuss a range of matters on which we might toss a little more into the pot to rebalance the loss of influence. We should have had some warning of what was to come, because the Financial Times reported in June 1998 that it had been briefed about the grandiose ambitions of the Government in Europe and that the UK favoured closer integration in defence as part of a plan to increase influence in Europe. Clearly, the Government were by then beginning to see defence as just another big-ticket item in the game of influence.

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On that basis, the Prime Minister started his initiative with the French in St. Malo. We have debated what was said, and I shall not repeat that now, but the decision taken there marks not only the difference between the parties but the difference in approach to what is best for the defence of these islands and of western Europe. The result of that shift will weaken NATO, not create a more potent and balanced NATO, and make it more difficult for it to operate in the future.

The French continue to make it clear how they see the process working. However, their view is totally at odds with that espoused by the Secretary of State. Recently, Hubert Vedrine, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, made that absolutely clear in an interview with Ouest France, when he said:

That is no surprise to anyone, but the fact that it was said recently, in the middle of all the discussion and debate about the construction of the European strategic defence initiative and the common european security and defence policy is important.

Britain should be taking a lead in working with the United States instead of acquiescing in moves that will weaken NATO. However, I want to focus on the practicalities. The lesson that the Secretary of State said the Government had learned from Kosovo--the Government are constantly referring to it--is that the European capabilities were wholly inadequate, with the United States providing the vast bulk of the air assets used in the Kosovo operation.

The obvious answer was that our European partners should spend more on defence and upgrade their currently woeful capabilities. Here we see the Secretary of State at odds with his predecessor. Lord Robertson has said on a number of occasions, and certainly quite recently, that European countries need to spend more on defence; he branded them "paper tigers". However, the Secretary of State's response--he said it again today--was that European nations did not need to spend more, and needed only to refocus their defence expenditure. He wrote in a letter to The Times:

Mr. Soames: I am sure that my hon. Friend did not mean to create the impression that our European friends do not have good capabilities in some areas. Indeed, the French, the Germans and the Dutch have some extremely professional units that work very well with ours. Is it not correct that because very many of those forces are conscript forces that are completely unsuited to fighting and certainly to any high-intensity warfare, the change required and the time taken to get that change under way is so great that it makes the whole initiative quite meaningless in contemporary terms?

Mr. Duncan Smith: I agree with my hon. Friend. The German Defence Minister recently made it clear that conscription is perceived as a tool of social policy. It means not just membership of the armed forces, but meals on wheels and the like. It is all part of what they call binding the country together, and they do not foresee a major change. A falling defence budget without any major

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change will mean less rather than greater capability. That is what Lord Robertson, the architect of the SDR, meant when he spoke about paper tigers.

Mr. King: If it is still the case--my hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong--one of the problems with the French conscripts is that they cannot be deployed outside metropolitan France. If we are looking to deploy the more mobile force to which the Secretary of State referred, one of the real problems with some of the European forces is that they are simply not available. I certainly remember that significant elements of the French forces in the Gulf were from the Foreign Legion, the only troops that they were able to deploy there.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I intend to move on to that point. What is not in dispute, however, is the view that the defence capability of the nations of Europe is not good enough to match that of the Americans or to complement or balance NATO. That is the key. I want to talk about whether what is being proposed presents a solution to that problem, or whether, as I hope to be able to demonstrate, it is there for other reasons.

Mr. Dalyell: Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the topic of Lord Robertson, one or two of us Scots cannot recollect Lord Robertson telling the electors of Hamilton that there should be an increase in defence expenditure.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am not absolutely au fait with exactly what Lord Robertson said at the election, but I do not recall that a pledge to increase defence expenditure was part of his election manifesto. I take the hon. Gentleman's word that it was not.

Ms Squire: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Duncan Smith: If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I must make some progress, as I have given way rather a lot and I know that others wish to speak.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, The hon. Member for Leicester, East, has also made the same point as the Secretary of State that in essence, there is no need to increase defence expenditure, but they are at odds with the expert opinion provided by the International Institute for Strategic Studies which last October, in the Financial Times, said of the CESDP:

We have had a number of debates in the House about the development of CESDP as a political initiative, but today I should like to ask some serious questions about the military practicalities. Reading from the interesting paper produced by the Political Committee of the European Council, I note that the so-called "headline goal" is for the force to be in place by 2003. The report said that the force will be made of up to 50,000 to 60,000 troops and that it will be militarily self-sustaining with the necessary command, control and intelligence capabilities, logistics and other combat support elements. The force

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may even have to carry out more than one operation at a time. The document further states that the force will undertake

The committee noted that it would require an additional pool of deployable forces to provide replacements.

So what is the force for? The Secretary of State consistently attempts to talk it down. Apparently, according to the Government, it is meant to fulfil the Petersberg tasks and not much more. Those tasks involve peacekeeping and the delivery and co-ordination of humanitarian aid. That rules out a Kosovo-style intervention.

Furthermore, in his recent evidence to the Select Committee on Defence, the Secretary of State seemed to bend over backwards to tell us that the force would not have any particular organisation and that we should not get hung up on structures, as it was all just planning. Yet in France and Germany, in the European Commission and in Italy, as we heard earlier, it seemed to be a very different story. We have been through all the quotes time and again, but they seem to indicate that it is an embryonic European army or a Eurocorps. So who is wrong and who is right?

It beggars belief that we should be expected to accept from the Government that the EU and all its member states have embarked on four conferences, endless ministerial meetings, and talked ambitiously about this force of up to 200,000 troops, without believing from the outset that it required a structure and an organisation in its own right and was not just an ad hoc affair, as the Government seem to suggest.

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