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25 Nov 2002 : Column 37continued
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): The Prime Minister is right that NATO is the foundation stone of our national security. No other organisation could come close to fulfilling that task, which is why we particularly welcome the Prague statement on Iraq.
The Prime Minister is also right to highlight the threat from terrorists as well as from weapons of mass destruction, particularly those possessed by rogue states. Those who say that the issues are not linked are wrong. They are linked, and they are also linked by their effect in the hands of the wrong people.
The Prague commitment to transform NATO with its new members, new capabilities and new relationships with our partners is a step in the right direction. It is positive for them and it is positive for us. However, there are practical questions. The main question for the Prime Minister is: have the key issues been conclusively resolved? When will European members of NATO start increasing defence spending instead of cutting it?
The Prague statement is long on future capabilities but short on specific spending commitments. How can we be sure that our NATO allies will deliver stronger defence? What assurances has the Prime Minister received? Can he clarify how the Prague statement differs from the previous NATO defence capabilities initiative? What guarantees are there that Prague will deliver where previous initiatives have so far failed?
We also welcome the commitment to the new NATO response force, which is vital to enable NATO nations to contribute effectively to the war against terrorism, which the Prime Minister stressed. The Army, however, now finds itself committed to both the Euro army and to NATO. Can he confirm that NATO commitments, rather than those of the Euro army, will always have priority?
That question underlines the failure of the summit to deal with the relationship between the Euro army and NATO. The Prime Minister promised that this key issue would be resolved four years ago. Last year, he again told the House:
The confusion between the EU and NATO is already threatening the coherence of the peacekeeping operation in Macedonia. [Interruption.] Oh yes it is. The Prime Minister says that he would like a Euro army operation in Macedonia once the EU-NATO links are in place. Is he saying, therefore, that no Euro army operation should take place until permanent arrangements between the EU and NATO have been made? Perhaps he could answer that.
The Prime Minister will recall that the Euro army was a French policy that he signed up to at St. Malo. It was a bad decision. It has undermined NATO, confused our allies and threatens to weaken European security.
The Prime Minister: Some European members, such as France, are increasing defence spending. After years of falling defence expenditurecut by, I think, a third under the ConservativesBritain is also increasing its defence spending. It is true that we need to do more, however, and we are urging people to do that. The prior capabilities commitments differ from earlier arrangements in that they include specific commitments on individual countries, so that takes things forward.
I totally disagree with the right hon. Gentleman on European defence. It is absolutely correct that it has not been possible as yet to reach agreement between Europe and NATO. That is because there is a disagreement, effectively between Turkey and Greece, over the terms. It is important to overcome that disagreement and I am reasonably optimistic that we will. It is extremely important that we push European defence forward. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his party's position on that. There will be circumstances in which Europe is able to act but NATO is not, perhaps because of American unwillingness to act. If NATO as a whole does not wish to be engaged, it makes perfect sense for European defence to take over.
Incidentally, it is not a matter of creating a Euro army. The armies remain part of the armies of individual countries. It is simply a case of them coming together to do things properly, as they would in a NATO exercise. The operation is important in Macedonia because the Americans have made it clear that they prefer it to be led from Europe. Instead of taking a blanket opposition to any concept to European defence, the right hon. Gentleman should realise that if it can be done on the right termsif it is fully complementary with NATO; if it is on the basis that Britain, the Americans and all the Europeans agree; and if we get over the disagreement between Turkey and Greecewe will enhance our ability to undertake defence operations when NATO does not want to be involved. That is an additional string to our bow rather than a drawback.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): In welcoming the statement and the success of the summit, it is only fair to echo the tribute paid to George Robertson for the highly principled and successful conduct of his secretary-generalship. For those of us who remember the Monday afternoon years ago when, under the procedures of the House at the time, we were unable to have a meaningful exchange about the cataclysmic events that had taken place with the collapse of the Berlin wall, it is hard to imagine any British Prime Minister making a statement confirming that seven new accession countries, based on the principles of democracy, are joining NATO. That is a great justification for the entire raison d'être of NATO and its success over the years.
Does the Prime Minister share my curiosity? We just heard the argument that greater coherence and integration of NATOa wider NATOand, at the same time, greater coherence and integration of the defence realm in Europe are bad ideas, but if that is the case it is puzzling that countries are queuing up to join both organisations. Instead, they see the success and future stability that such membership and co-operation can bring.
Can the Prime Minister say a little more about the comparative funding? The Americans are always unhappy about the European contribution to defencethere is nothing new about thatbut does he anticipate that countries that may not have contributed as much per capita as we would like can do more in that direction?
Finally, on the important matter of Iraq, while welcoming the endorsement at the summit of UN resolution 1441, will he confirm that in signing up to that unanimously, all participants at the summit were signing up to the UN having the final categoric judgment if material breaches take place and that the ultimate decision, if military force ever does have to be used, has to be made under the mandate of the United Nations as well?
The Prime Minister: On the last point, that is not what the NATO statement said and it is not what the resolution says either. We have made it clear throughoutthis is in the terms of the resolutionthat of course there will be further discussion in the Security Council. We have also made it clear, rightly, that in the end, if there is a breach, the UN must act. If it does not act, we are in a serious situation, but I hope and believe that it will in those circumstances. There was a remarkable degree of unanimity around the table that we should go the multilateral route, but it has got to workthere cannot be an unreasonable blockage against it working.
On the point made by the right hon. Gentleman about defence spending, some countries are increasing their defence spending, but others are not. As important as the amount spent is the way in which it is spent. If we look at the amount spent in Europe on defence, frankly there are much better ways in which it could be spentthat is why the Prague capabilities document is important.
Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North): Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that if military action is taken against Iraq by America, or America and Britain, without the express authority of the United Nations it will lack international political legitimacy? Does he agree that that would severely damage not only the United Nations but NATO, an organisation that I strongly support?