Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): The Secretary of State refers to the wish to have 60,000 troops available on a sustainable basis. How many troops would that require, and how likely is it to be fulfilled?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is too long-standing an expert in such matters to ask that question without already knowing the answer. The answer is clear: it will depend on how long the operation lasts. The operation might require those troops for a short period, not longer than the figures outlined in the Helsinki headline goal. Alternatively, if the operation was a recurring one and the troops were required for years, as has been the case in the Balkans, we would obviously need many more than the 50,000 to 60,000 troops available if the force were to be sustained at that level for any longer period. All I would say is that we have not needed to have that number of United Kingdom troops engaged over that length of time in the Balkans, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman would accept that, when we get to the peacekeeping stage of any operation, the number of troops required may be significantly lower than might be required, as we have seen most recently, in the war fighting in Iraq.

Together those initiatives in NATO and the EU will lead to greater overall European capability and capacity to meet the range of threats that we all now face. A capabilities development mechanism has been agreed by the EU and NATO that aims at full and mutual transparency of the programmes. In the case of the strategic airlift and air-to-air refuelling programmes, the same country is chairing both groups to ensure a co-ordinated approach.

In support of those efforts to enhance capabilities, the United Kingdom has been playing a leading role in the creation of a European defence agency. We are currently discussing detailed arrangements with other member states, and we have secured widespread European support for our view that it should be primarily focused on developing EU military capabilities and establishing a framework for measuring them. It would also have a wider commitment to promoting cost-effective procurement and competition. Are the Conservatives also against that?

Every one of the measures and negotiations that I have described has been aimed at delivering a more effective defence contribution for Europe and our transatlantic partners. Our approach has been to ensure that effectiveness, not just in cost terms but in operational terms, is the driving force for change. To that end, we have been robust in our stance against unnecessary duplication.

27 Oct 2003 : Column 49

Mr. Jenkin: When does the Secretary of State think that he will be able to produce a draft statute for the European armaments, research and military capabilities agency? I notice that under article III-212, paragraph 2, the agency will have a statute drawn up by the Council acting by qualified majority. On the agency's statute, seat and operational rules, is it likely that the operational rules themselves will contain qualified majority voting? The list of tasks assigned to the agency is very broad, and could well include, under the heading

the setting up of a military planning headquarters. Therefore, even if the proposal is shelved at present, under those arrangements money could be raised and spent on a military planning headquarters.

Mr. Hoon: I remind the hon. Gentleman that four is not a qualified majority, however the arrangements are configured.

I turn to what is becoming a much misrepresented part of the negotiations with our European partners: the aspirations to create an EU operational headquarters. Let me start with what actually has been agreed. At the Nice summit in December 2000, it was agreed that the role of the EU military staff would be to perform, and I quote again,

The EU military staff terms of reference, reflected in the Nice presidency report on the ESDP, do not include operational planning. That is still the position. The Government have not agreed to any change in that position in the draft constitution. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told the House only last Monday,

The military advice that we have received on this is clear. The military elements of ESDP operations could be planned only by an operations headquarters with access to the functional capabilities available at SHAPE or from national headquarters. The EU military staff does not have such capabilities.

We believe that there is scope to improve the EU's strategic planning capacity—its ability to look ahead and identify areas of potential concern worldwide and to frame strategic military options. Our opposition to the proposal to develop an EU multinational operational and planning headquarters remains unchanged. Whether or not it is at Tervuren, it is not the way ahead.

From a military perspective, we are convinced that the operational planning and conduct of an EU operation needs to be undertaken from a working headquarters—a headquarters formed at SHAPE or by a national headquarters. Only with that approach can we ensure the currency, expertise, and access to in-depth military advice and co-ordinated resources that is

27 Oct 2003 : Column 50

needed. We must concentrate European efforts on developing effective military capabilities, not on the unnecessary duplication of NATO facilities.

If the hon. Member for North Essex still believes that collective defence leads to a European army, he should read the Nice presidency report, in which it is stated that the ESDP

It would be difficult to be clearer than that, but, for the avoidance of doubt, it also goes on to say that the commitment of troops by member states to ESDP operations would be based on national, sovereign decisions. Some people, however, would rather invent the concept of a European army than explain why the world will be less dangerous if European nations work together on military tasks that NATO does not take on.

Dr. Julian Lewis: The Secretary of State is being exceptionally generous in giving way. He might find it useful to take this opportunity to assure the House that, if a Government of this country were at direct loggerheads—as they were over Iraq—with leading members of the European Community and the European military set-up that is gradually evolving, it would not inhibit a future Government in any way from proceeding with a military campaign such as that in Iraq, which was done with the support of the official Opposition?

Mr. Hoon: Of course not. The hon. Gentleman has given the most recent possible example. There were discussions with European allies, and the countries that participated in the meeting in Belgium that led to the specific proposals—four of them—are in a distinct minority in the European Union. I find it difficult to understand why Opposition Front Benchers are so seized of those countries, which form a tiny minority, rather than the overwhelming majority of countries that support the position of the British Government on Iraq and, indeed, the specific negotiations.

I make it clear that there is no European army or standing European rapid reaction force or, indeed, any European agreement to create that. Forces are offered by EU member states for EU crisis management operations on a voluntary basis. That is no different from the arrangements for NATO crisis management operations or, indeed, from those used by other international organisations, such as the United Nations. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was clear on that point last Thursday when he dismissed the idea that British troops could be used without the consent of the British Government. He said:

As to the future, we are actively engaged in the wider debate in the intergovernmental conference and we set out our position in the White Paper to which I referred. The European security and defence policy is only one element of the IGC and we are at the centre of the debate. We are trying to shape the debate with a view to the United Kingdom's long-term interests rather than sitting on the sidelines and sniping, as the Conservative party would have us do. We welcome several proposals

27 Oct 2003 : Column 51

in the draft constitution that would strengthen the ESDP. Can the Conservatives say the same? Do they welcome those proposals?

We support the updating of the Petersberg tasks—the range of crisis management operations that the EU can undertake. That will ensure that the ESDP continues to reflect more closely the security challenges that we now face. The new solidarity clause should enable a swift and co-ordinated response to be made to a request from a member state for assistance when dealing with the consequences of a terrorist attack or disaster. We also support the creation of an intergovernmental European defence agency to increase co-operation among member states when developing defence capabilities.

Proposals for structured co-operation go further and present both opportunities and risks. There are opportunities to strengthen the ESDP and encourage member states to improve their effective military capabilities. Much depends on the detail that will be contained in an associated protocol. We are discussing ideas in this area with many partners to establish the right way forward.

We do not support all the proposals in the Convention text. Effective links to NATO are vital to the success of the ESDP. We could not agree to any proposal that would contradict, or replace, the security guarantee established through NATO. However, we also want a strong and effective ESDP, and that must be flexible and responsive to global security challenges. Any proposals for new forms of co-operation must not undermine that.

Next Section

IndexHome Page