Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I add that I heard Carl Bildt talking on this precise issue. He said that there is a fourth D which is also important to avoid, and that is "domination".

10.46 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Kennet for the opportunity to debate this important subject. I am very grateful to your Lordships for the interest which the House has maintained in the affairs of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the Western European Union and, of course, the emerging debate on European defence capabilities to which the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, referred.

That kind of involvement by Parliament and by the public is essential if our defence forces are to enjoy the support--both political and financial--that they must have if they are to do their jobs properly. Thanks to the Strategic Defence Review, the United Kingdom knows in what direction it is heading. We have a clear foreign policy perspective within which to take decisions relevant to our security interests. This process will be mirrored within NATO by the drafting of the new strategic concept, as indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. This important document will convey a clear vision of NATO's likely role in the first years of the 21st century. It will then enable the right decisions to be taken on the kind of forces with which the alliance needs to fulfil this role.

That is precisely the debate that the Prime Minister has initiated within the European Union--what foreign policy role do we want the EU to play? That is a debate which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, has been kind enough to welcome in your Lordships' House on previous occasions. What procedures and military capabilities are needed to put those policies into operation?

I believe that it is undisputed that NATO will continue to provide the guarantee of the collective defence of the United Kingdom and of the other European members of NATO and, of course, our transatlantic partners.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan--I am sure that he will expect me to say this--in answer to the specific point that he raised, that NATO is the

14 Dec 1998 : Column 1220

cornerstone of our defence policy. The St. Malo declaration specifically makes that clear. It is being discussed with the United States and the United States has said that it welcomes what it describes as burdensharing, and we shall, of course, continue to discuss the ideas put forward in the St. Malo declaration both within the EU and, naturally, with our defence policy partners elsewhere in the world.

But the world has changed greatly since the last strategic concept was drawn up in 1991. There are new challenges. Bosnia and Kosovo are the clearest examples of the sort of situation that NATO--and the EU--are now called upon to face.

As all three noble Lords have said, Article 5 of the Washington Treaty provides for the defence of any member of the alliance which is subjected to armed attack; any such action would be an exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations.

NATO involvement in peacekeeping activities is possible with the consent of the parties concerned; this could be given, for example, within the framework of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. As committed members of the United Nations and one of the P5, we also recognise the UN's invaluable role in peacekeeping operations, many of which have been supported by British assets.

In other cases, a Security Council resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter may authorise the use of force. In Bosnia, NATO led the multinational force that deployed after the Dayton Agreement in 1995. The 60,000 strong implementation force (IFOR) stopped the fighting, separated the warring parties and began the crucial task of overseeing arms reductions.

The legal basis for the implementation force was provided by the Dayton General Framework for Peace and by the UN Security Council Resolution 1031, which was passed in 1995.

In December 1996, after a year-long deployment, the implementation force was replaced by the 50,000 strong stabilisation force (SFOR), provided for in Security Council Resolution 1088. This established SFOR for a period of 18 months; this was renewed in June this year in Security Council Resolution 1174. We envisage a further renewal of the mandate in June 1999.

The IFOR/SFOR deployment has been highly successful, with some 36 nations, including Russia and other NATO/Partner countries, participating.

As I told the House on 16th November, cases have arisen (as in northern Iraq in 1991) when, in the light of all the circumstances, a limited use of force was justifiable in support of purposes laid down by the United Nations Security Council, but without the council's express authorisation when that was the only means to avoid an immediate and overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. These cases are exceptional and it is not possible to say whether NATO would be involved.

The noble Lords, Lord Kennet, Lord Wallace and Lord Moynihan, all gave examples relating to Kosovo. In its response to the crisis in Kosovo, NATO played a

14 Dec 1998 : Column 1221

fundamental role in averting a humanitarian disaster of appalling proportions. Given Bosnia's history, there was a huge incentive not to let Kosovo follow suit. In October, there were still 50,000 people living in the mountains and woods of Kosovo, without access to shelter. That month, NATO issued an activation order for limited air strikes, giving NATO a credible threat of use of force against the former Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). This made a crucial contribution to the ceasefire and reduction in FRY forces in Kosovo as required in Security Council Resolution 1199, thus helping to avoid a humanitarian disaster. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has reported that there are now no such refugees living in the open.

The people of Kosovo remain at risk of the humanitarian crisis returning as long as there is no lasting political settlement. Meanwhile, the alliance's enhanced state of military readiness continues.

NATO's actions over Kosovo, as with Bosnia, have been and remain in accordance with international law. They have the strong support of the OSCE and the two organisations continue to co-operate closely together.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked about the future relationship. I hope that there will continue to be such co-operation. I believe that what we have seen in Kosovo is an indication of that.

The important point is that all NATO operations must have a proper basis in international law. In answer to the specific point raised most cogently by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, this need not always be a United Nations Security Council resolution. The legal basis in any particular case is bound to depend on the circumstances. We have to judge each case on its merits and act accordingly.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, raised the issue surrounding the relationship of the UK and the US. I thought that what he described was a caricature of that relationship. The Government are wholeheartedly committed to the United Nations. We believe that it is essential that the authority of the Security Council is maintained and that all member states act in accordance with the UN Charter and international law. As a permanent member of the council, Her Majesty's Government take those responsibilities extremely seriously. To suggest that we are somehow subverted in that by our relationship with the United States is definitely incorrect.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the noble Baroness misheard me. I was not suggesting that we were in any way subverted.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I mean the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me. It is the lateness of the hour that led to a moment's confusion. I believe that the suggestion was made by my noble friend. He was also anxious about what has happened in relation to the amendment which he tried to move at the North Atlantic Assembly meeting in Edinburgh last month. I understand that his amendment did not attract the support that he would have liked. He was concerned lest

14 Dec 1998 : Column 1222

Her Majesty's Government had perhaps brought pressure to bear on Mr. George and Mr. Anderson who opposed his amendment. I assure my noble friend that the FCO officials gave a written, factual briefing to all members of the UK delegation on all resolutions. That included factual advice on a legal basis. But there was no conspiracy involved. The fact is that those members who did not feel able to support my noble friend and his amendment believed that they were doing the right thing. It was not because undue pressure had been brought to bear on them by Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, the point that I raised was nothing to do with any amendment proposed by me; it was an amendment proposed by Mr. George and Mr. Anderson. The effect of that amendment, as I specified in my speech, was to delete reference to UN authority for NATO action "out of area". My question was whether they had government backing in moving that amendment and deleting the UN from the governing text of NATO.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord may find this painful, but the fact is that Her Majesty's Government did not agree with my noble friend's perspective on this and neither did other members of the delegation. I hope I have assured my noble friend that the other members of the delegation were given factual information. It was not some kind of conspiracy or put-up job. They reached their own conclusions about what they believed was the right thing to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked about the Government's view on US suggestions that NATO would defend common US-European interests in other parts of the world. Since the end of the Cold War the allies have recognised that fulfilling the purpose of security around the world depends not just on the defence of allied territory but, as the noble Lord indicated, on efforts to promote security and stability more widely that in NATO's borders. As the noble Lord said, we live in a very different world these days and the fact is that what happens on the other side of the world as regards weapons of mass destruction is bound to have an effect in parts of the world which could be said to be "out of region." It is hard to know what "out of region" actually means when we are talking about those kinds of weapons. NATO's wide-ranging programme of political and military co-operation with non-members through Partnership for Peace is one way that we are trying to address these issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, also pointed to what he believed were the shortcomings of NATO in Kosovo; indeed, if I may say so, he put forward a very different perspective from that expressed by my noble friend Lord Kennet. I can assure the noble Lord that NATO has not and will not lower its guard in relation to Kosovo. The NAC is keeping the situation on the ground under constant review. If NATO sees evidence of substantial non-compliance with the resolutions of the UN Security Council, it will be ready to use force. Actors for limited operation are still in place and NATO

14 Dec 1998 : Column 1223

intends to keep up the pressure on President Milosevic. I hope that that gives the noble Lord the unequivocal assurance which I believe he was seeking.

The noble Lord also asked about the position regarding Russia. NATO does want a real partnership with Russia. We recognise that Russia has some legitimate security concerns and we believe that the signing of the Founding Act in 1997 established the basis of a greater co-operation. I hope that the noble Lord will be reassured to learn that NATO and Russia met at ministerial level in Brussels on 9th December and that there was a highly constructive session; indeed, a very good discussion on serious topics at that time, including Kosovo, NATO's strategic concept and CFE. I hope that that serves as an example of how that relationship between NATO and Russia has developed to one of growing trust in the sort of dialogue that can be had.

I have on many occasions been able to assure noble Lords that this Government are committed to NATO as the cornerstone in establishing and preserving security in Europe. By replacing the previous system of national defence policies in Europe with a strategy of collective

14 Dec 1998 : Column 1224

defence, NATO has for the past 50 years transformed security in Europe. During the Cold War, NATO stood steadfast against the threat and challenge of the Soviet Union and did so with remarkable success. Since 1945, the countries of the alliance have enjoyed peace in Europe.

However, the world has changed and NATO has had to change with it. NATO will shortly welcome three new members to the alliance--the fourth enlargement since 1949. NATO's door remains open for further enlargement. We welcome the interest of aspirant candidates and we, with other NATO members, are committed to helping them grow closer to NATO through practical assistance.

The tasks of the alliance grow more diverse with the changing international circumstances. I believe that the new NATO is capable of meeting those challenges with the help and co-operation of existing and, indeed, new members; and, of course, with NATO's partners. We are committed to peace and security in Europe. Her Majesty's Government will continue to work for that goal.

        House adjourned at three minutes past eleven o'clock.

14 Dec 1998 : Column 1223

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page