HC Deb 01 February 1983 vol 36 cc127-8
2. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Defence by how much the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and other Warsaw Pact countries have increased the number of nuclear warheads targeted on western Europe in the last five years; and by how much the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries have responded similarly in the same period.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Peter Blaker)

Since 1977 the number of Soviet warheads on longer range intermediate nuclear missiles targeted on western Europe has increased by about 400 to a total of nearly 1,000 because of the deployment of SS20 missiles, each of which has three independently targetable warheads. NATO has no comparable intermediate missile systems and, moreover, has unilaterally withdrawn 1,000 nuclear warheads for shorter range systems from its inventory. The planned NATO modernisation programme will entail no increase in NATO's warhead numbers.

Mr. Chapman

I hope that my hon. Friend's answer will be heard throughout the country. Does he agree that the figures underline yet again the fact that Russia is spending 50 per cent. more in real terms than the United States on its defence budget? Does he further agree that the imbalance in nuclear weaponry in Europe is the main cause of the sense of insecurity? Does he agree also that the best service that Mr. Andropov can do, if he is in good faith about reducing tension, is to enter into serious negotiations on President Reagan's zero option proposal?

Mr. Blaker

I agree entirely that Russia is spending a much higher percentage of its GDP on defence than is the United States or any other Western country. I am sure that the zero option, meaning that there should be none of these missiles on either side, is the best proposal. I cannot understand why some people seem to have the idea that no Pershing and no cruise but some SS20s is better than the zero option.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is not Mr. Bush's offer identical to the zero option?

Mr. Mates

No. It is quite different.

Mr. Allaun

Is it not therefore a non-starter? Is it not correct that all the British and French submarine missiles would still remain, as would the British and American bombers at Lakenheath and throughout the country?

Mr. Blaker

The United States has made it clear that it will be prepared to consider other proposals by the Soviet Union. The British and French strategic nuclear deterrents are not included in the INF negotiations. They are strategic missiles, as the Soviet Union recognised in the SALT I negotiations. What is more, if we were to exclude all American intermediate range land-based nuclear forces from Europe, we would frustrate the whole purpose of the 1979 twin track decision, which was to demonstrate American commitment to the defence of Europe in the face of the enormous Soviet intermediate build-up. We would leave the Soviet Union with a monopoly of land-based intermediate range nuclear missiles in Europe.

Mr. Trippier

On the nuclear arms issue, will my hon. Friend remind the House and the country that the campaign for unilateralism being fought by the CND and the Labour party is constantly weakening the West's negotiating position in Geneva?

Mr. Blaker

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Furthermore, the reason why the Soviet Union is at last prepared to put forward some proposals, even if they are not satisfactory, is that the West has shown itself resolute and united in pursuing a policy of bringing in the cruise and Pershing missiles in the absence of a satisfactory agreement.

Mr. Denzil Davies

The Minister said that the British Polaris—the independent nuclear deterrent—was not included in the intermediate range talks because it is a strategic weapon. Does that mean that it will be included in the strategic arms reduction talks?

Mr. Blaker

No, Sir. That has also been made clear.