HC Deb 12 February 1980 vol 978 cc1251-4
8. Mr. Latham

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what recent assessment has been made by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Powers regarding Soviet intentions towards the use of military force in Europe; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Pym

NATO assessments conclude that the foreign and defence policies of the Soviet Union aim at moving the balance of power in its favour. In the light of this, and the continued build up of Warsaw Pact forces, NATO must make continued efforts to ensure that the Alliance forces remain an adequate deterrent to aggression in Europe. The Government are determined that the United Kingdom will play its full part in these efforts.

Mr. Latham

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that peace can be maintained in Europe only if the NATO Powers remain strong and united? Does he further agree that we should insist upon the territorial integrity of all countries in Europe that are outside the Soviet sphere of influence?

Mr. Pym

I certainly endorse my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Haynes

If the Warsaw Pact countries were to increase their defence expenditure well above present figures, would the Secretary of State announce that the Government would review the 3 per cent. increase that he mentioned earlier?

Mr. Pym

NATO's strategy is to act as a deterrent. We have never sought to match the full capability deployed by the Warsaw Pact countries. Warsaw Pact forces outnumber ours in terms of tanks, manpower and in several other ways. We need an adequate capability to deter. At present, the Soviet Union is increasing its military output at a substantially higher rate than NATO. If that were to continue, and if we thought that it was leading to a dangerous imbalance, we would review the situation. Our present intention is not to increase at as great a rate as the Soviet Union, but to ensure that we have an adequate capability to deter aggression and to preserve peace.

Sir Frederic Bennett

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in the realm of conventional forces and of theatre nuclear forces, the Soviet Union already possesses a dangerous imbalance of strength? Does he further agree that in most cases that imbalance amounts to two or three times the size of our own forces?

Mr. Pym

Yes, such an imbalance does exist. There is also a growing imbalance in the nuclear field. The purpose of our nuclear capability is to maintain an adequate force with a retaliatory strike capability to deter an aggressor in the first place. We are constantly watching the balance between the two sides. We are aware, as I said earlier, that that balance is moving towards the East and that causes increased concern.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that his reply ignores the rest of NATO's armed forces? Will he ask his NATO colleagues at least to negotiate Mr. Brezhnev's offer to reduce his SS20s if we do not proceed to deploy cruise and Pershing 2? We have three years before deployment takes place. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should use it at least to negotiate that offer?

Mr. Pym

As the hon. Gentleman will know, there was no response at the MBFR negotiations. The offer made by the United States of withdrawing 1,000 warheads has not been taken up by the Soviet Union. The climate for a balanced and verifiable arms reduction appears to be unsatisfactory. That is not our fault. We are still trying to negotiate, and we hope to carry it through. Unless negotiation is undertaken on an even-handed basis by all sides, there is every reason for us to be cautious.

Sir John Eden

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the build-up of Soviet military strategy in Europe is far in excess of what is necessary for that country's self-defence? Will he make clear the Government's determination to repair as speedily as possible the damage done to our defence capability by the Labour Government?

Mr. Pym

I do not believe that the forces of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact are necessarily thought of in a self-defence role. On the whole, they are rather thought of in terms of offensive action. The Soviet Union's approach is totally different.

We want to increase our defence capability throughout the Alliance, and make our contribution. The increased imbalance is of great concern. At the same time, we would be wise to remember that we cannot go faster than the strength of our economy, and that is why we cannot increase our strength as quickly as some of us would like.