The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Commons Statement on the NATO Summit in Rome – 12 November 1991

Below is the text of Mr Major’s statement to the House of Commons on the NATO Summit in Rome, held on 12th November 1991.


The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on the NATO summit in Rome on 7 and 8 November which I attended with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Last July, in London, NATO agreed to adapt its strategy to the changed situation in Europe and to build up a new partnership with the countries of central and eastern Europe. At the summit we agreed on how to carry forward both those tasks.

The strategic concept reflects the British Government’s objectives. These were to ensure that NATO remains the linchpin of western security, charged with dealing with whatever security problems might threaten. The strategy reaffirms the need for a collective defence based on NATO’s integrated military structure; and also on the need for both nuclear and conventional forces, kept up to date where necessary, but at significantly lower levels. Alliance forces in every NATO country will be smaller, more mobile and more flexible. At the summit we endorsed the establishment of new rapid reaction forces, in which the United Kingdom will command the land element. The summit declaration establishes a North Atlantic Co-operation Council. This forum will enable NATO to discuss common security issues with the Soviet Union, the Baltic states and the countries of eastern Europe. At Britain’s suggestion, the first such meeting will be held at Foreign Minister level in Brussels in mid-December. We have agreed a wider role for NATO. Henceforth, NATO will not just be keeping the peace ; it will be actively promoting peace. It will be prepared to help the countries of eastern Europe in planning defence forces in a democracy, with civilian-military relations, and in converting defence production to civilian purposes. The relationship may well develop still further.

The NATO summit also, for the first time, considered in depth the European defence identity and the alliance. We affirmed some important principles : first, the principle that NATO is the essential forum for consultation and agreement on policies bearing on the security and defence of alliance territory; secondly, endorsement of the British proposals to use the Western European Union as the means of strengthening the European pillar of the alliance; thirdly, the need to establish clear and open relations between NATO and the Western European Union and to involve other allies on issues discussed in the Western European Union which affect their security.

Heads of Government received a report on Yugoslavia following a meeting of Community Foreign Ministers with Lord Carrington. In view of the grave situation in Yugoslavia and the repeated breaches of the ceasefire, Community Governments agreed in Rome on a series of restrictive measures. They include suspension of the trade and co-operation agreement; suspension of benefits under the general scheme of preferences; suspension of the PHARE–Poland and Hungary Assistance for Economic Restructuring– programme; and the restoration of quotas on textiles. Community Governments asked those member states that are members of the Security Council to promote measures in the Security Council to tighten the arms embargo, and to take steps towards imposing an oil embargo. We are now consulting other members of the UN Security Council about the introduction of such measures.

Community Governments also decided that positive action should be taken to benefit the parties which were being co-operative in the peace process. Taken together, these measures will increase the pressure on those responsible for appalling bloodshed and suffering in Yugoslavia. NATO Heads of Government issued a separate statement making clear the allies’ strong support for the efforts of the European Community to promote peace in Yugoslavia.

We also discussed developments in the Soviet Union. We publicly supported economic reform and democratisation. We stressed the need for the authorities in the republics, as well as at the centre, to respect their obligations–on human rights, on arms control and on economic policy. In particular, we urged them to do everything necessary to implement the CFE– conventional forces in Europe–and strategic arms reduction treaties, and to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

We are living through a dramatic revolution in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. We have to use all the means at our disposal–the European Community, the conference on security and co-operation in Europe and NATO– to help them to build stable democracy in their countries. NATO remains the core of our defence. Were we again to face a military threat, NATO would be there to meet it ; but NATO is now reaching out to the countries of eastern Europe to help to provide stability and a sense of security. All of us at last week’s meeting agreed that the continuing American and Canadian presence in Europe is vital to both defending and promoting peace in Europe. Britain will have a central part in that task, both in the alliance and in the European Community.

The decisions of the NATO summit provide important guidelines for the negotiations leading to the European Council in Maastricht. I hope that the House will welcome the outcome of the summit as a significant contribution to a sound defence and to democratic stability in Europe.