HC Deb 12 July 1983 vol 45 cc745-6
1. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on any recent changes in the balance of nuclear intermediate range warheads between the Warsaw Pact and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

Full details of the nuclear balance are given in chapter 4 of the 1983 "Statement on the Defence Estimates", which I published last week. This makes clear the continuing build-up in Soviet nuclear forces. Since last year the imbalance between the Soviet Union and NATO of the longer-range missiles and aircraft in this category has increased from 4:1 to 5:1.

Mr. Chapman

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that information. Will he go further and confirm that in recent years the Soviet Union, with the deployment of the SS20s, has more than 700 warheads targeted on western Europe at a time when NATO countries have withdrawn no fewer than 1,000 nuclea warheads? Will my right hon. Friend also confirm that cruise need not be deployed if the Soviets agree to dismantle the SS20s? In the light of that build-up, is it unreasonable to say to the Soviet Union that if it is serious about disarmament negotiations it should agree to withdraw its SS20s?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to confirm that since the 1979 NATO twin-track decision the number of SS20s has trebled. About two thirds of those missiles are now targeted on western Europe. NATO's purpose is to persuade the Soviet Union to remove those missiles. The Soviet Union is aware that if it will not do so we shall need to carry out the other side of the twin-track decision, which is the deployment of the cruise missile system.

Mr. Cartwright

Does the Secretary of State accept that the modernisation of NATO's intermediate nuclear forces provides an opportunity for the rationalisation of the NATO nuclear arsenal in Europe, and particularly for a reduction in short-range and battlefield systems? When these matters are considered by the high level group later this year, will the Government press for major reductions in the tactical nuclear arsenal in Europe?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that NATO withdrew 1,000 nuclear warheads last year. We are now carrying out a fundamental review and will make a judgment on that matter as soon as the result of the review is available. We have also made it clear that every new weapon that is deployed will be countered by an equivalent withdrawal in numerical terms.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my right hon. Friend take fully into account the fact disclosed by SACEUR. General Bernard Rogers, on 7 June at the assembly of the Western European Union, that all the SS20s deployed in eastern Europe have spare rounds on site, and that therefore the number of warheads targeted against western Europe is double what is often supposed, as was confirmed by the general when questioned?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend touches on one of the great problems associated with the verifiability of nuclear weapons. We have made it clear that we are anxious to talk only about the number of warheads deployed and welcome the fact that in recent statements Mr. Andropov has indicated that he is now prepared to talk about warheads.

Mr. Silkin

The Secretary of State says that we are prepared to talk about nuclear warheads. As the only member of the Warsaw Pact which possesses nuclear weapons is Russia, whereas on the NATO side they are possessed by the United States, Great Britain and, even though excluded under chapter 4, France, why will the Secretary of State and the Government not agree that British nuclear weapons — Polaris and, if it comes, Trident—should be put into the negotiating count when the time comes?

Mr. Heseltine

The right hon. Gentleman will notice that in the White Paper I have included the British Polaris system in the balance between the Soviet forces and the NATO alliance. The important point is that we have included it under the heading of strategic systems, not under intermediate range systems, to which the Geneva talks are directed.

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