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Thursday, May 13, 1999 Published at 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK

UK Politics

Lib-Lab join forces on defence

Greater European defence co-operation needed, the parties say

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have issued their first proposals after nearly two years of working together in a joint cabinet committee.

The two parties called for greater defence co-operation within Europe but ruled out a European army.

At a news conference, both Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and his Lib Dem counterpart Menzies Campbell insisted defence was not a partisan issue , but one which showed the two parties could work together constructively.

[ image: Robin Cook: Nato remains the
Robin Cook: Nato remains the "bedrock"
"In publishing this joint document , both parties are making a clear statement that Britain's foreign policy should not be a partisan issue," Mr Cook said.

"The interests of Britain must come before the interests of any political party, and politicians have a responsibility to work together to secure those national interests."

The document proposed decreasing the reliance of European nations on the United States, but said Nato should remain the "bedrock" of defence policy.

While national governments should retain control over their armed forces, European countries should increase their co-ordination, the two parties suggested.

The foreign secretary said: "As Kosovo demonstrates, Europeans remain dependent on American military power to tackle crises on their own continent.

[ image: Menzies Campbell:
Menzies Campbell: "Paper shows what is necessary for Europe"
"Europe can and must do more to provide for its own security."

Mr Campbell added: "Our experiences in Bosnia and Kosovo teach us that Nato and the EU need to transform to a changed world.

"This paper shows us what is necessary for Europe and shows us what can be done by Europe."

The document calls for the European Union to "take political control and strategic direction" of peacekeeping and humanitarian missions.

Defence Secretary George Robertson warned this would involve an end to on-going reductions in the defence budgets of European nations.

"We cannot keep taking peace dividends if there is no peace," he said.

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