HC Deb 03 May 1983 vol 42 cc1-3
1. Mr. Meacher

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether the North Atlantic Alliance has reduced the size of its short-range nuclear battlefield weapon stockpile in Europe as a result of the review to which he referred on 29 March, Official Report, c. 168.

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

The Alliance is committed to maintaining the number of shorter-range nuclear weapons at the minimum consistent with effective deterrence. The stockpile is being and will be kept under review to that end. NATO has already withdrawn 1,000 nuclear warheads from Europe and has announced its intention of withdrawing one additional warhead for each Pershing II or ground-launched cruise missile deployed in Europe.

Mr. Meacher

Is the Minister aware that about 1,200 short-range nuclear weapons are still deployed in Europe by NATO, and about 950 are deployed by the Warsaw Pact? As NATO will not give a "no first use" commitment for those weapons, and as, anyway, strict political control over their use cannot be guaranteed once hostilities begin, do not those weapons constitute the gravest possible threat of unleashing an uncontrolled nuclear exchange and subsequent escalation? What steps is the Minister therefore taking to respond to Soviet proposals for an extended nuclear-free battlefield zone in central Europe?

Mr. Blaker

The hon. Gentleman's supplementary contains many questions. I have explained before the disadvantages of a battlefield nuclear weapon-free zone, and those disadvantages are still valid. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about a "no first use" declaration, NATO has a much better policy than that of the Soviet Union, and that is no first use of any weapons, nuclear or conventional. We will never use any weapons unless attacked. On the numbers of battlefield nuclear weapons, the hon. Gentleman was approximately right when he said that the Russians were building up their nuclear capable artillery fairly rapidly, according to our assessment.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is a perfectly respectable defence case for scaling down the number of tactical nuclear weapons that we have in western Europe, many of which are very elderly, and spending some of the money on improving our conventional capability? However, will my hon. Friend assure the House that one of the reasons why we deploy tactical nuclear weapons in the first place is that the Soviet Union and its allies have a massive preponderance of conventional forces?

Mr. Blaker

There may be a case for reducing the number of our battlefield nuclear weapons. It is a question that we are carefully reviewing. It is a complicated question on which it will take some time to come to a conclusion. However, I should point out that if we aim at abolishing our reliance on nuclear weapons, which, I understand, is the policy of the Opposition—indeed, if they could, they would persuade NATO to abolish a deterrent policy based on nuclear weapons — all our conventional weapons, however big, would have the value of scrap metal.

Mr. McNamara

I am not quite certain what the Minister thinks he is talking about. That is certainly not Labour party policy. In view of the developments of modern technology on the changing battlefield environment, and as it could lead to a complete disavowal of all battlefield nuclear weapons, should not the Government pursue such a policy more vigorously? Has not such a policy widespread support in the whole of the Western world, from such diverse people as Monsignor Bruce Kent and the American Catholic hierarchy?

Mr. Blaker

If the hon. Gentleman is questioning what I said about Labour policy, I shall quote the Labour party policy document, paragraph 198: We wish to see NATO itself develop a non-nuclear strategy". On our general reliance on conventional weapons, I repeat that, however strong our conventional weapons, if we had no nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union had even half a dozen nuclear weapons, we should be in the same position as Japan in 1945.

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