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Collective territorial and strategic defence in Europe could and should be the role of the 21 EU-NATO members and their three non-EU neighbours, Norway,
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Turkey and Iceland. A strong commitment by the European NATO members is wanted and needed by the alliance—a commitment not just to deployment but to spending and capacity building—and that would be welcomed by the United States. EU-NATO relations need reviewing, and such a review would be useful on the strategic and institutional level as well as on the operational one. Both organisations run operations in a number of places: in Kosovo in the western Balkans, in Afghanistan and in Africa. But can we honestly say that they are deployed “together”? Is it not the case that they are being deployed alongside each other? Perhaps I might give a few examples that illustrate why the relationship between the EU and NATO is far from perfect.

An EU naval force is currently involved in the anti-piracy Operation Atalanta, off the coast of Somalia Together with a number of colleagues, I recently visited the headquarters of that naval anti-piracy operation at Northwood. Securing our trade routes is important to all of us; 90 per cent. of global trade is carried out with merchant ships. The sea off the coast of Somalia has been the scene of an alarming number of pirate attacks recently, with the result that some merchant lines have changed their routes. Those attacks have reduced considerably since the launch of the Atalanta mission, which obviously has a deterrent effect on potential pirates.

Operation Atalanta is run by the EU in the framework of the ESDP. The 10 or so participating nations are all members of NATO. Norway, another NATO member, has just announced that it will contribute a vessel to the operation, and others may join soon. Five nations—France, Germany, Greece, Spain and the United Kingdom—are responsible for ensuring a permanent operational capability. However, these nations are not using NATO communications and intelligence systems. Instead, some ships have had to install a new, civilian system for satellite communications. I am told that when the navies of NATO member states go on joint exercises, they are normally quite happy to use the NATO communication system. We must look into why a special arrangement was necessary in this case. Why does Berlin-plus not extend to such operations?

Another example is at the political level, in joint meetings of EU and NATO ambassadors. This example concerns the regular meetings that are held between the EU Political and Security Committee and the North Atlantic Council, which bring together the permanent ambassadors of both organisations’ member states in Brussels. There was one such meeting on Monday of this week. The 21 EU member states that are also members of NATO are represented twice—by their NATO ambassador and by their PSC representative. Both are usually supported by different administrative structures and both may receive instructions from different hierarchical levels in their respective capitals. These parallel structures do not necessarily share a common culture. Moreover, the NATO ambassador is generally the more senior and higher-ranking of the two, which means that in practice only one of them speaks.

These joint meetings are described by those attending them as sometimes rather sterile. They leave participants with a certain degree of frustration because of the particularities of the EU-NATO relationship, which is based on the so-called Berlin-plus agreements. The agreements consist of a number of unpublished documents
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that have never been subject to parliamentary scrutiny or ratification. The limits of Berlin-plus in practice confine EU-NATO dialogue to the Berlin-plus Operation Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina and a joint EU-NATO working group on capabilities, and prevent NATO and the EU from jointly discussing pressing issues such as terrorism, Afghanistan or the middle east. The underlying problem is the unresolved dispute between Turkey and Cyprus. Turkey is a substantial contributor to ESDP missions and has vital interests in connection with its ongoing candidacy for EU accession. However, as soon as the suggestion arises of discussing issues that are not part of the limited agenda of the current military co-operation between the EU and NATO under Berlin-plus, Cyprus is not allowed around the table because it is not part of the partnership for peace programme and does not have security clearance for access to NATO classified documents. Conversely, the EU refuses to deal with anything other than Berlin-plus matters unless all 27 member states are present.

Robert Key: Will my hon. Friend share his perspective on the problem that Macedonia’s name holds for the Greeks, who hold the right to block any progress for that new democracy because of the disputed name?

Mr. Walter: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and share his frustration about the Greek veto over Macedonia’s participation in NATO. If we can, we ought to knock some heads together. I remember being in Skopje not long ago with a former Greek Defence Minister, who as we walked into the meeting said that he could not give a stuff what they called their country, but as soon as we were in the meeting steadfastly defended the Greek line on the name. We have to move on, because such ridiculous problems—although the Turkey-Cyprus problem is not ridiculous to a Cypriot—are blocking the co-operation that is essential if we are to move forward. I understand where the political rationale for Turkey vis- -vis the EU lies, but we all need to look at the bigger picture.

The bigger picture is where my third and last illustration of the current difficulties in EU-NATO relations comes from. It is Afghanistan, where the EU is not a very big player. However, there is a police mission run within the ESDP framework, and both the European Commission and EU member states spend large amounts of money in that country. EUPOL Afghanistan, the EU police mission, is suffering from the difficulties that participating EU member states have in finding police officers who are willing to work in such a challenging environment. The security of the police is obviously crucial to the success of the operation. However, due to the difficulties that I have just mentioned, the EU is not able to obtain a global security arrangement with NATO in Afghanistan, so it was necessary to negotiate individual security provisions with every provincial reconstruction team on the ground. What is more, intelligence sharing is made more complicated by the absence of a relevant EU-NATO agreement.

Those examples show clearly that we need to find a way to improve the relationship between the two organisations. Beyond those examples, which could be regarded as anecdotes, there are deeper reasons for the current difficulties. First, I believe that, for a long time, the United States Government and many in this country have looked at the EU and the development of ESDP
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with a certain degree of suspicion. There has been a fear of duplication and the feeling that emancipation could lead to separation. None of that is true. ESDP is a process of consolidating, improving and extending member states’ capabilities. It has created a new potential actor, ready to stand in when NATO cannot or does not want to get involved. Now is the time to draw the two actors and their member states closer together.

There is, of course, an opposite view. Some believe that closer relations between the EU and NATO would result in too much influence for the USA. I hope that if such fears have ever been justified, they are less urgent with the election of the new President. The announcement made by President Sarkozy that he will take France back into NATO’s integrated military structure is a clear signal of new thinking on that issue. There is a new window of opportunity. The new Administration in Washington are interested in good relations with Europeans and recognise the added value of effective multilateral institutions. That should not only help to improve relations between the EU and NATO, but provide us with a vision to help shape the role of both organisations in our security in the 21st century.

I shall take as an example the situation of countries to the east of the EU and NATO border. NATO enlargement might not always be the best answer to their concerns and ours, but if it is not the right thing for those countries, what else can we propose, and what can the EU in particular offer them? Could the nascent EU eastern partnership initiative be developed into a transatlantic one?

It is probably too early for President Obama and his new team to come up with any far-reaching proposals in early April at the NATO anniversary summit or at the EU-US summit the following day. But the different tone and style of the new American President could lay the basis of a positive review. One year from now, there could be a real breakthrough. We need the EU-NATO relationship to be clarified sooner rather than later, not least because we need our own minds made up before we face others who challenge the existing security architecture. I refer to the Russian President, Mr. Medvedev, his recent remarks about the weakness of the European security system and his proposal for a new European security treaty. In that regard at least, we know what we do not want—the unravelling of the Helsinki principles.

I conclude with two thoughts. First, we need to review not only the EU-NATO relationship but the EU-US relationship, and focus those relations more on security issues. We in Europe need to ask ourselves: do we want to be an attractive partner to the United States both inside and outside NATO? Do we want to contribute to the resolution of the huge challenges ahead of us? The Spanish Government, who take over the EU presidency in 2010, are considering the issue with a view to relaunching an EU-US initiative. In Madrid, in 1995, they launched a new transatlantic agenda, and this would be a new, new transatlantic agenda.

Given the limited capabilities and our scarce financial resources, which will not only not grow but come under immense pressure once the current financial crisis has had its full impact on our real economy, we need to be innovative and imaginative in finding ways of co-operation and co-ordination. We need to be able to make the best use of the capabilities of both organisations and their
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respective member states. The military and civil dimensions of security go hand in hand and, institutionally, our response to conflict and crisis needs to reflect that.

Secondly, as I said at the start, electorates tend to put schools, hospitals and health care before spending on helicopters, guns and missiles. However, we need to realise that we live in dangerous times and a harsh world, and if we want to make a difference and guarantee the security of our citizens, such investment is inevitable. We must also explain to our people that military operations, such as the one in Afghanistan, are not about remote conflicts, but directly concern security at home.

At the NATO summit in Strasbourg and Kehl on 3 and 4 April, I hope that work will be launched on a new strategic concept for the alliance. It is time to move on and adapt NATO’s strategy to future challenges. It is important to ensure a real democratic debate on transatlantic and European security challenges, and to promote bold ideas to enable NATO and the EU to meet those challenges.

5.3 pm

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter), whose expertise on matters European is second to none. I had the pleasure of serving alongside him, sadly only for a year, on both the Western European Union and the Council of Europe. Through my own ignorance, I never quite discovered what either organisation was for, what their purpose was, or whether they have one—to this day, no one has explained what it is. None the less, I am sure that they do fulfil an awfully useful purpose, and I congratulate him on the many hours that he spends seeking to discover it.

My hon. Friend and I will not agree, I fear, on the importance of ESDP. My view is that the European Union is a first-class trading organisation among independent nation states, and the notion that it could have anything called ESDP is nonsensical. Why on earth the EU is busily engaging in a very good operation in Somalia defeats me. What on earth it is doing there I cannot imagine. Nor do I know why it is doing policing in Kabul. Those things can be done either by NATO or independent nation states, and I fear that I have a deep cynicism about whether European co-operation of the kind that my hon. Friend describes has much future. I readily say, however, that that is simply because of my bog-standard little Englander ignorance, and I am sure that I can be educated in such matters as time goes on.

Secondly, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), the Chairman of the Defence Committee, who is temporarily not in his place, about the structure of these debates. I am glad that today’s debate has not been a topical debate, unlike, I believe, the last event of this kind. None the less, I feel that the present structure of our defence debates is rather false, and does not quite work. Those of us who are defence anoraks turn up on a Thursday afternoon, drone on for a quarter of an hour, and then go home. No one listens to a word we say, and the sum total of human happiness is not necessarily advanced. That should not be happening at a time when the nation and the globe are involved in such potentially catastrophic and vastly important defence
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matters. The entire House of Commons should be eagerly involved, and competing like mad to secure a five-minute slot. I hope the powers that be—the Government, the Leader of the House, or others—will think about whether we could restructure our defence debates, at least while the current turmoil around the globe continues, and find a way of attracting greater interest in them.

As always, however, this has been a successful, well-informed and wide-ranging debate. I shall not seek to add to what my many better-qualified colleagues have said about assorted defence matters. Instead, if the House will forgive me, I shall focus on a topic which may sound like a constituency issue more suited to an Adjournment debate, but which I would argue has a much wider significance for the defence of the realm than for my own constituency.

We know that, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, one of the biggest failings one way or another—although the exact way in which it has failed is debatable—has involved helicopters. There are those who would say that we have not got enough of them, there are those who would say that we have not got enough pilot hours, and there are those who would say that both are the case. There are others who would say that although we could always do with more, we have enough to manage with. That, broadly speaking, is the Government’s line. I think everyone would agree, however, that the way in which our joint helicopter force—Army, Navy and Air Force helicopters—are currently managed is not ideal. The helicopters are based in a variety of places around Britain, and there is very little coherence. Joint Helicopter Command, which I believe was created only a year or two ago, experiences some difficulty in acting as a coherent “purple” organisation.

There has been a strong demand from Joint Helicopter Command, and from the three services, for a move towards the establishment of a single unified base for, in particular, RAF and Army helicopters. That strikes me as an immensely laudable and hugely sensible ambition with a great deal to be said for it, and I think that just about everyone in the defence world agrees that it should be realised. One senior officer involved with helicopters said to me the other day, referring to Project Belvedere—which is what we are talking about—“They cannot afford to do it, but they also cannot afford not to do it.” I think that there is a good deal of truth in that, and I shall return to it in a moment.

There is a reason for my interest in Project Belvedere. The House will recall that some eight or nine years ago it was announced that the C130K fleet of Hercules aircraft based at RAF Lyneham, in my constituency, would reach the end of their useful life in 2012—or would progressively approach the end of their useful life in the years leading up to 2012—and that, at that stage, the C130J fleet of modern planes would be transferred to RAF Brize Norton, just down the road. All the RAF’s transport capabilities for passengers, freight and tankers would be based there.

Many of us argued strongly against that decision, which was advanced for two main reasons. First, it was claimed that combining the two bases would produce a cost saving. That may be the case, although a substantial capital cost will be involved in the move, and only accountants will be able to tell us how long it will take for the modest year-by-year saving to pay that off.

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I was talking to one of the base commanders—I will not say who it was—who would be involved in Project Belvedere and in the transfer of his helicopters to RAF Lyneham if that were to happen. He maintained that the cost would be so large that it would take 50 years to repay it. I said, “That is a very interesting argument. If that applies to your helicopters being moved from base X”—which I will not name—“to Lyneham, how much longer would it take to repay the vast amount that it will cost to move our Hercules fleet from Lyneham to Brize Norton?” He said, “Well, it is certainly 50 or 100 years, and it is possibly never.” I said, “I will not name you, but I will quote you,” which I have happily done.

The accountants are going to have to answer much more clearly on how they can add the thing together to make a sum that justifies shifting 3,500 RAF people and up to 50 planes from RAF Lyneham to RAF Brize Norton, which is already too small. Anyone who has had the misfortune to travel courtesy of crab air to Afghanistan or Iraq, which I have done two or three times recently, will know that RAF Brize Norton is already one of the least hospitable bases and that it is demonstrably too small for the job that it does at the moment. If about 50 Hercules, A400Ms—if they arrive—or C-17s were also operating out of the base, goodness knows what it would be like.

At the moment, three tactical runways, two of which are at RAF Lyneham and one of which is at Brize Norton, are used for transport. If we were to bring everything together in one place at Brize Norton, all our eggs would be in one basket—there would be only one runway, and there are many reasons why it might be inoperable. I was there the other day waiting to fly out to Afghanistan. I was delayed for 12 hours because of ice on the runway. If all our transport capability—refuelling, transport and passenger planes—were in Brize Norton, who knows what the end result would be? The first argument in favour of collocating everything at Brize Norton, namely cost, is questionable, and perhaps the accountants will have a second look.

The second argument for collocation at Brize Norton advanced at the time was that the A400M was coming in by 2012, that it would be the greatest thing since sliced bread, that it was a European co-operative project and that it would be a superb aeroplane. We all know that the project has been delayed—the latest I have heard is that it will be delayed by up to four years, although no doubt the delay will be longer than that. The Secretary of State has made it plain in a couple of interventions from the Dispatch Box that he is by no means confident that the A400M will be bought by the British forces, at least to the extent that we said we would buy it.

The whole future of transport is questionable. Most people in the RAF would prefer to see a fleet consisting of Hercules and C-17s, which is the ideal combination of sizes. From memory, we already have six C-17s—perhaps the figure is eight—and we can certainly buy or lease more. Hercules and C-17s seems like a nice combination to me. That combination operates nicely out of RAF Lyneham, and there is no reason why it would have to be based at Brize Norton. At the time, the argument was that the runways at RAF Lyneham are too short for the A400M to take off or land. That is demonstrably not the case, and that excuse was used to achieve other things.

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I would prefer to see RAF Lyneham remain the same as it is at the moment. I hope that the delays with the A400M and/or the delays in rebuilding RAF Brize Norton will lead to that outcome. I hope that that door is not entirely closed. Without being party political about it, if there is a Conservative Government at some stage in the future—of course, there might not be—perhaps Conservative Front Benchers will consider reversing that decision. There may well be good economic reasons why it is impossible, but I hope that they do. In a recent informal conversation with one of my Front-Bench colleagues, I was encouraged to hear him say that Conservative policy is not to close RAF bases. We have to keep RAF bases open—in 1942, we discovered that we did not have enough. That was an informal remark, and I may be corrected by other Front Benchers, but I will seek to persuade them to keep RAF Lyneham as it is.

Let us assume that for good reasons advanced by accountants or others, it is not possible to keep RAF Lyneham as it is. At the moment, 3,500 service personnel and 750 civilians work on the base. If one brings those people’s other halves into the calculation, some 10,000 people in my constituency owe their livelihood one way or another to RAF Lyneham, and there are also retired service personnel. It is, therefore, a major part of my little constituency, and plays a very significant part in its economy, so the future of RAF Lyneham is of gigantic importance to me as a constituency MP.

I hope and think that I speak for the vast bulk of my constituents in saying that we would very much like Lyneham to remain military. We do not think it is right to convert it to any other use. We do not want a new town—an extension of Swindon, perhaps—or a refuelling base for Virgin Atlantic; that is a proposal I have heard, but it would certainly not be appropriate. We do not want it to become a gigantic industrial site either. We would very much like it to remain military. Wiltshire is home to the military, and the military are home for us in a very real way. We are very proud of our contribution to the military; half of the British Army is in Wiltshire. We want Lyneham to remain military—either RAF or, potentially, Army.

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