DEFENCE – EU RAPID REACTION FORCE – 11 July 2001
Dr Julian Lewis: The hon. Gentleman [Nick Palmer] is typically generous in giving way. He got to the nub of the problem when he talked about reserving serious war fighting for NATO and confining the work of the EU force to crisis management. The flaw at the heart of that argument is that there is no way of having such a fire-break. The major wars that have been fought in history have, as often as not – indeed, more often than not – started when attempts at crisis management spiralled out of control. Creating a structure outside NATO reopens the deadly prospect of war breaking out in Europe without the Americans being involved from the outset. That is the nub of the problem and the cancer at the heart of the project.
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Dr Lewis:I think that the hon. Gentleman [Mark Hendrick] is missing the point of the Opposition's objections. What we object to has nothing to do with the capability of European countries to defend Europe. It has to do with the structures that organise and apply those capabilities. We want European defence capabilities to be organised and applied within the structure of NATO. Under the treaty, we are getting new structures without capabilities, whereas we need new capabilities within existing tried and tested structures such as NATO.
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Dr Lewis: The hon. Gentleman [Mark Hendrick] has been exceptionally generous in giving way, and I thank him for that. He says that there is no conflict between the rapid reaction force and NATO, but if the rapid reaction force is not to have standing forces of its own – which it is not – and if it is only to deploy forces that are normally allocated to NATO, what would happen if it were engaged in a large-scale peacekeeping operation, taking forces away from NATO, and another crisis arose in which NATO and the United States wished to act, but found that their forces were depleted because they were engaged in some escapade with the rapid reaction force? Which of the two crises would come out on top? Is all this necessary, when if the force remained within the structure of NATO, all such matters would be resolved internally?