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Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he asked members of the committee whether they had cynicism. I think that I can speak for all Members of the Committee when I say that we had no cynicism at all. We were trying to set out the agenda without any particular bias one way or another. There was no cynicism.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I consider that to be a pity. I think that we should all be cynics.

7.34 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Hilton of Eggardon and her committee for tabling this important debate. I am grateful for the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Government and to thank all noble Lords who have participated for their valuable contributions to the debate. I am also grateful to the committee for its detailed and constructive report on this important subject and for the update published earlier this week. I take this opportunity to respond to the points made by the committee and to address some of the key criticisms which have been levelled at the initiative. I shall do my best to bring your Lordships up to date, as the noble Lord, Lord Roper, suggested.

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Since the publication of the 15th report by the Select Committee, the profile of the Common European Policy on Security and Defence has been, as we all know, substantially raised, in particular in the aftermath of the Capabilities Commitment Conference and now in the reactions to the Nice European Council. It is regrettable that in general too much attention has been focused on the rhetoric and perhaps too little on the facts. However, I am bound to say that all the contributions from noble Lords this evening have been honourable exceptions. However, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, that I did not detect the note of cynicism that he detected in the report of the committee chaired by my noble friend.

As I think most of us acknowledged, recent developments are a direct consequence of the treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam. Perhaps more significantly, they are a continuation of the pragmatic approach that the United Kingdom has always taken to ensuring that the organisations that provide our security adapt to the changing circumstances of the world in which we live. The United Kingdom has been at the forefront of discussions on the modernisation of NATO, just as we have taken, and will continue to take, a leading role in the debate on the new arrangements for European defence.

Ever since the Prime Minister called for fresh thinking in the autumn of 1998, we have shaped the course of the debate. We said then that NATO remained essential to European security. That remains our position. It is our cornerstone. It is fundamental. I assure my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel that that is the position. Our commitment is unchanged and it is undiminished.

We also said that Europe needed to take a greater share of the security burden. We have begun to make this ambition a reality. We have consistently ensured that the debate has focused on what really matters, the strengthening of European military capability, as so cogently argued by my noble friend Lord Harrison.

I welcome the committee's recognition that above all else European defence needs improved military capability. Like the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, I stress that this is about military capability; it is not about symbolism or new institutions. We fully agree with the points that the committee made. Without better European military capability, the new arrangements will amount to very little, as the noble Lord, Lord Roper, said.

That is why the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of efforts to strengthen Europe's military capability. Last year, with Italy and then with France, we put forward the case for concrete targets for improvement by EU member states. We challenged Europe to do better. This challenge resulted in the Headline Goal agreed at Helsinki last December which requires EU member states by the year 2003 to be able to deploy up to 60,000 ground troops and maritime and air elements within 60 days and sustain them in a theatre of operations for at least a year. These troops should be capable of conducting the full range of

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Petersberg tasks. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, that the full range includes peace enforcement.

Since Helsinki, on the basis agreed by heads of state and government at the Feira European Council, defence planning experts from the member states have developed the Headline Goal into a detailed statement of requirements. They have done so with significant support from NATO experts. I emphasise to noble Lords that defence planners from NATO headquarters and from the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE) have been in regular and close contact with EU colleagues. The EU's activities have been fully transparent to NATO. I hope that that is an important reassurance for many noble Lords.

At last month's Capability Commitment Conference, the EU member states and other European partners identified the type and level of forces that they are willing to make available and from which elements could be assembled but on a case-by-case basis for crisis management. It is enormously important that we are clear on that point. Much of the worry and concern about European defence has arisen from an entirely false premise, the premise XEuropean rapid reaction force". We have not done so. We have not created, or even taken the first steps towards creating, a European army. I was enormously grateful for the clear acknowledgement of that point from the noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Taverne. The report of the French presidency to the Nice European Council is explicit on this point. It says:

    XThis does not involve the establishment of a European Army".

We have earmarked forces for use in possible EU-led operations, just as we earmark forces for NATO or for UN operations. This is not a question of semantics, as some seem to suggest, but a fundamental point, and for some a fundamental misunderstanding. We have not given away the right to say where and how British troops will be deployed. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Park, on that point. We have not placed another burden on our already overstretched Armed Forces. We have not signed up to duplicate or independent structures that would in some way damage NATO. We have simply taken steps to ensure that European nations are better able to act in crises--a lesson learned, as the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, reminded us, as a result of Kosovo.

The Capability Commitments Conference looked to the future. As well as earmarking certain forces, the EU member states identified where their military capability is lacking, as my noble friend Lady Hilton said--for example, in enabling capabilities such as strategic lift and in the characteristics of our Armed Forces, which were enumerated so well by my noble friend Lord Harrison, and availability, deployability, sustainability and interoperability. We committed ourselves to identifying additional measures to respond to those needs. This determination will encourage more efficient defence spending and better European military capabilities for NATO and for Europe.

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In addition to the 12,500 troops, 18 warships and 72 combat aircraft, we announced major equipment undertakings, including strategic air and sea lift and precision guided munitions and logistics. We are keen to take forward a number of promising ideas for multinational defence co-operation that we have discussed with several partners.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, asked what our EU partners were doing. It is a very good question. Eleven of 16 European members of NATO have announced real-term increases to their defence budgets for next year. Given that, we hope that it is true that European nations are beginning to deliver. The committee rightly recognised the importance of a system of review against individual and national targets. Nice agreed a mechanism for peer review of performance against collective and national aspirations which will now be implemented and aligned with NATO's defence planning system.

The committee and noble Lords have raised a number of key concerns that must be addressed. The first is planning. Some of the misunderstandings about what we mean about the planning process lie at the root of some of the arguments, so I must be clear about what has and has not been agreed. The EU has not agreed to establish a separate operational planning system. Nor does the EU have any plans to do so. The EU military staff, established in interim form by the Helsinki European Council, is a centre of military expertise whose advice and support will ensure that the EU political authorities--the representatives of the 15 member states--are able to take competent and sensible defence decisions. I am sure that no one could argue that military support to decision making is unnecessary, especially when troops are deployed into areas where they may risk their lives.

The EU military staff will also act as a link to the military command chain and to operational planners. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, asked how that happens. As regards many EU-led operations, certainly when the EU draws on NATO assets and capabilities, operational planning will be conducted at SHAPE, under the supervision of the Deputy SACEUR. The Deputy SACEUR will often in such cases act as the operation commander at the head of an operational command chain drawn from NATO but under the political control and strategic direction of the governments of the EU. The ability of the EU to draw on NATO's planning and command and control structures, as well as other common assets and capabilities, is a key piece in the jigsaw. NATO Foreign Ministers are taking stock of the progress made in discussing the way ahead. We hope that we shall be able to say more about that when the discussions are completed. The noble Lord asked me whether I could bring any further light to bear on the discussions today. I am afraid that I am unable to do so. But we shall do so as soon as we are able.

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In other circumstances, for smaller or less demanding operations, the EU may draw on existing European national and multinational headquarters, for example, the UK's Permanent Joint Headquarters, for operational planning and as the basis of a command chain.

In a similar vein, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and my noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney also raised questions about intelligence. Let me say again that it is inconceivable that we would deploy British troops without the best possible intelligence support. Of course we would not do so. I am sure that no noble Lord would wish us to do so.

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