CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

DEFENCE – EU RAPID REACTION FORCE – 19 March 2001

Dr Julian Lewis: The Minister [Keith Vaz] has rightly said that there will be no duplication of assets, which is absolutely true. If the EU rapid reaction force is operating, it will have to use assets previously allocated to NATO. Is it not correct that the EU rapid reaction force will be operating only on occasions when NATO does not wish to be involved? Therefore, is not the consequence that, when the EU rapid reaction force is operating on such occasions, it will be taking away forces from NATO, thus leaving NATO with fewer forces for those operations in which it does wish to be involved?

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Dr Lewis: If a Petersberg task is being undertaken, forces will be siphoned off from those previously allocated to NATO in order to discharge it. How can NATO discharge the tasks that remain within its remit if it has depleted forces? Is the right hon. Gentleman [Terry Davis] suggesting instead that European countries will spend more money and use larger defence budgets to add to the strength of their armed forces? If so, will he tell us which countries will do so?

[Terry Davis: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I recognise the importance of his comments and accept that forces cannot be used twice in two separate theatres. To pretend otherwise would be ridiculous and deceitful, so I entirely accept his point. However, the new arrangements do not change that situation. NATO can have more than one crisis to deal with. [Interruption.] I should like to finish my point; the hon. Gentleman asked a fair question and I am trying to provide a direct answer. The arrangements do not change the reality. Previously, if two crises occurred at the same time, NATO would have had to choose which one to prioritise. If two crises occur at the same time under the new arrangements, NATO will still have to decide whether to give priority to a crisis that is not being dealt with by the EU or whether to allow some forces to continue to be used by the EU.

Let me give the hon. Gentleman a case in point, as such circumstances are not unprecedented. Four years ago, the need arose for Operation Alba. The United Kingdom did not participate in the operation, but several of our NATO allies and some non-NATO European countries did so. If a bigger crisis had arisen that required those forces, the Italians, French and others taking part would have given priority to NATO. [Interruption.] I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's second point in a moment. I have tried to answer his first question, as he did not receive a reply the first time he asked it.

The hon. Gentleman's second question was about which countries would increase defence expenditure. That is another fair question, of which I am not afraid. Let me give him one good example. I have no doubt that Italy needs to increase its defence expenditure considerably. Currently, it does not define such expenditure in the same way as other NATO members. By NATO's assessment, it does not make a reasonable contribution to the collective defence of Europe and to NATO. There are other examples, but that is one of the most glaring. It does not help the debate to refuse to deal with such points.]