HC Deb 03 February 1984 vol 53 cc578-84

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Major.]

2.36 pm
Mr. Richard Ryder (Mid-Norfolk)

I shall heed the advice of the great film director, D. W. Griffith, and cut to the chase.

In 1980 United States foreign policy, seen from western Europe, was tatty. It lacked line and shape. President Carter, devoured by doubts, sanctioned discordant signals from the State Department and the National Security Council almost daily. The uncertainty of the American approach bred anxiety and apprehension amongst many of its friends.

In 1984, United States foreign policy, seen from western Europe, is said to be unyielding and too self-assertive. The certainty of the American approach has bred another strain of anxiety and apprehension amongst many of its friends. So, in moments of despair, American officials and politicians are often heard muttering that those who please nobody are to be pitied less than those whom nobody can please. Their western European counterparts respond that, in the past, Americans seldom resolved whether they were interventionist or isolationist, concerned or indifferent, moralistic or self interested.

Now western Europeans, regardless of political persuasions, recognise that President Reagan's foreign policy has at least been consistent, although its conception and execution have ruffled a few feathers.

The gas pipeline, export controls, agricultural trade, deployment of Pershing and cruise missiles, robust rhetoric aimed at the Eastern bloc and a host of issues have generated tension between western Europe and the United States. It has resulted in distinguished men, several of whom have retired from active political service, such as Mr. Helmut Schmidt, whispering to the East about western Europe's desire to stand aside from the United States. Even serving Ministers in key posts, such as Mr. Cheysson, have talked inelegantly about "decoupling" and a "progressive divorce" in order to facilitate accommodation with the Eastern bloc. Is this the influence, inquire baffled Americans, of western Europe's unilateralists? Is it due to latent western European neutralism confirmed in opinion polls across the continent? Is it solely caused by President Reagan? It is plain old fashioned anti-Americanism, rooted in social and cultural disdain for the American way of life, or is it the result of America's blossoming interests in the Pacific basin?

All these factors, and others too, play their part. Yet a key reason stems from the growth of western Europe as an economic entity in the form of the European Economic Community. After 1945, the United States, armed with the mighty dollar, put western Europe back on its feet and offered protection during the cold war. Recently the EEC has challenged American supremacy in world markets and begun flexing its political muscles by sketching an autonomous foreign policy of its own. After all, this is the goal which many influential western European politicians and diplomats—some of whom are British—have been striving to achieve for years. The policy, in practice, is most apparent in the middle east where western European and American interests do not always coincide. But it is apparent elsewhere too—in central America and, to a lesser degree, in southern Africa.

Such attitudes are encouraged by evidence that a growing number of European voters, while still endorsing nuclear deterrence and multilateralism, regard America's military presence in Europe as a source of friction rather than security — an assertion, at its purest, based on ancient fears about Russian encirclement. That argument is difficult to resolve in a historical context, although we should ask how far frontiers have to be extended before encirclement is relegated to the obscurity of newspeak. We are still dealing with an expansionist Soviet empire which is constantly suppressing spasms of freedom among its satellite states.

The presence of the United States of America in western Europe helps to counterbalance Soviet power. If fewer western European nations were willing to share the burden and accept the obligations of the Alliance, the balance of power might prove inadequate. So an aim of Soviet policy is to convert America's allies to neutralism. That can best be achieved by influencing anti-American or Euro-nationalistic sentiments, especially in West Germany, to the point where American public opinion tires of its expensive western European ties. The Americans will simply say, "To hell with the Europeans, we will do things our way." It will not, of course, mean reverting to outright isolation as set out by Monroe, who declared: In the Wars of European powers in matters relating to themselves, we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy to do so". But it may mean sweet insularity rather than sour isolationism, in tune with a Jeffersonian doctrine which stated: The less we have to do with the amities or enmities of Europe the better".

The huddled masses, who later found sanctuary in Jefferson's United States, were victims of European famine, terror, poverty and persecution. Today most of their descendants enjoy prosperity thousands of miles from Hamburg and Naples. They cannot be expected to underwrite for ever the freedom of distant cousins by banker's order. They cannot be expected to underwrite for ever the freedom of distant cousins when appreciation is often grudging, or when cultural contrasts are stressed by leaders of western European opinion.

The concept of sweet insularity is dangerous. Yet it offers Britain a diplomatic opening to check its progress. That opening must be seen in this context. Whether or not the western Europeans like it, President Reagan is short priced favourite to win another term of office. The President's denigration by east coast leader writers and Georgetown hostesses should not delude his British opponents on the Left, and in other political or diplomatic circles.

Further afield, of course, some western Europeans scorn every American president. I dare say even Mr. Helmut Schmidt would attract a sniff of antagonism, in that post, from a few fellow continentals.

What can Britain do? First, we must ask whether the western Europeans, with their multiplicity of political groupings, can argue with a single voice in any event. After all, on defence, they cannot decide whether the biggest threat is nuclear or conventional, or indeed whether one exists at all.

Secondly, we can resist neutralism and anti-Americanism as ingredients of western European foreign policy more actively than hitherto. This is no easy task. For the simplest course of action for western European foreign policy makers is to say, "Let us look at the United States and see how we can differ." Here the British are on uneven ground. For we are constantly accused of lacking the spirit of Europeanism. Sympathisers with that charge, wracked with guilt, lurk in crevices of our decision-making structure. They must not prevail.

Thirdly, the Anglo-American relationship is unique. The Pilgrims, Ditchley and other institutions provide platforms for us to convince the Americans that the Atlantic pillar of our foreign policy is intact and strong.

Fourthly, the main reason for its strength is that, despite hiccups, the underlying personal relationship between the Prime Minister and the president is based on shared perceptions. It would be tragic if the executives of British foreign policy believed otherwise and acted accordingly. Here, my fears are assuaged by the presence of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. His attachment to Anglo-American relations is long and close, and I have never doubted his powers of persuasion.

Fifthly, as my hon. Friend knows, British diplomats in Washington can perform key roles. Lord Franks's relationship with Dean Acheson was remarkable. So, too, was Lord Harlech's with the Kennedys, and Peter Jay's with members of the Carter Administration has been underestimated by others. Only history will relate whether special relationships of this kind exist at present. I hope, but doubt, they do.

There is stress and frustration between western Europe and the United States. These features were borne out earlier in the week by the remarks of Mr. Eagleburger.

But in a process where emphasis and attitudes are crucial, the British and American Governments should use their unique relationship to reduce the sources of irritation. In doing so, perhaps both might bear in mind some words of Robert Service: Ah! the clock is always slow; it is later than you think.

2.47 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ray Whitney)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Ryder) on giving the House the opportunity of holding such an important debate. I am only sorry that it is not to be listened to by a wider audience. I wish that the enthusiasm of some Labour Members in pursuing vendettas over the GCHQ affair could be transferred to the important subject of Anglo-American relations, which my hon. Friend has outlined so effectively.

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the stress and frustration, as he described it, which is the worry of a number of people about the state of Anglo-American relations. However, without any danger of seeming to be complacent, I hope that during the next few minutes I shall be able to assure him that the Government intend that the present good state of Anglo-American relations will be maintained and developed.

We fall easily into an acceptance that there is something fundamental and simple about Anglo-American relations that will always be there. We misunderstand the immense complexity and sensitivity of the relationship. It seems that there is a tendency to think that there was a happy, golden age when all was sweetness and light, when no dissensions or divisions were present across the Atlantic. As my hon. Friend will be the first to admit and recognise, that was never the position.

Even in the heady and optimistic days of the post-war relationship, there were still problems. I refer, for example, to the time of Winston Churchill's Fulton, Missouri, speech. There was the presidency of Mr. Truman and the immense generosity of the Marshall plan, which launched the recovery of western Europe. Even at that time, there could always be found problems and worries. I suggest that it is the very success of western policies over the past 35 years or so which has created the climate of concern to which my hon. Friend refers. When the western nations were faced with the pressure of war, the intensity of our relationship was recognised virtually by all. With the success of NATO, we have been able to relax that pressure.

Let us recognise that, in historical terms, the NATO Alliance is an extraordinary achievement. There has surely never been such an enduring and successful alliance. It has allowed our citizens and countries to develop, in peace, their healthy democracies and economies. Whatever problems we face at present, and will face in cycles, there can be no doubt about the incredible post-war economic achievements of western countries and the benefits that they have brought to our people.

Of course, the diversity and verve in our democracies create their own problems. We know that only the bad news is carried and that no one carries news about happy agreements or arrangements working satisfactorily. The same is true of the transatlantic relationship. Sometimes, we get the impression that things are much worse than they are. Whether in commerce or politics, we read headlines every day about the problems that exist.

We must recognise that the changes in our relationship, which must continue because it is an evolving relationship, have been marked, particularly, by the significant evolution of the European Community. I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk accepts that there need not be a clash between any nation's commitment to the European ideal and a healthy transatlantic relationship.

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Ryder) seemed to put great stress on the bilateral relationship between Britain and the United States. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that perhaps the most useful contribution that Britain could make to the unity of the Western Alliance would be to ensure that our influence in Europe is employed to secure the convergence of European views with American views?

Mr. Whitney

My hon. Friend makes an important point which I should like to pursue if I had more time.

We believe firmly, and successive American Governments have accepted, that the unity of Europe and the development of an economically and politically powerful Europe must be in the interests of all of us who share the common ideals that are the basis of the western relationship.

It would be Panglossian and excessively complacent to ignore the fact that our different perceptions of a variety of issues need careful handling. The Government give them that careful handling and are determined to continue to do so.

There are underlying verities of our relationship. Many go well beyond the spheres of Government. I could not do justice in this debate to the deep cultural links and the personal links that have been built up over many generations. However, I shall touch on the economic links. British investments in the United States total about $23 billion and United States investments here amount to $30 billion. Trade between our two countries last year reached nearly £16 billion. These are enormous figures which sum up in arithmetic a vast network of relationships.

The same is true of the excellent personal relationship at heads of Government level which extends the whole way down so that not a day passes without governmental contact at quite senior official level.

The same is true of defence. The incredibly effective American commitment to European defence which so often seems to be forgotten by those who are of a neutralist persuasion is matched by Europe's own commitment. Of the armed forces in Europe some 90 per cent. of the armoured divisions in NATO are European in origin, and some 80 per cent. of the combat aircraft and some 70 per cent. of the fighting ships are provided by Europe. That is right. That is the co-operation that is necessary.

Our relationship is good but, as my hon. Friend rightly emphasised, there is much work to do and always will be. We would also be wrong to expect perfection because of the differences between us, some of which were touched upon in a significant article which appeared in The Economist on 21 January and which I detect from his remarks my hon. Friend also read. Its author pointed out: The American view of the world is different from the European view, because the American's history has made them into a different sort of people.

He refers to the strong moral element which often appears in American political attitudes, domestic attitudes and in terms of international diplomacy in the management of their foreign affairs. At one stage he describes it as "moralising romanticism."

I do not suggest that I necessarily accept that definition, but there is no doubt that we are different. So, too, there are differences between the British, the French and the Germans because of historical relationships and backgrounds. That does not mean that we cannot and will not continue to co-operate effectively with our European partners, just as we co-operate effectively with our American partners. To expect total harmony of view, harmony of perception and a total identity of interest is a trap into which many of us fall.

Most Government supporters do not fall into the other trap of attempting to drive wedges between the members of the Western Alliance. My hon. Friend referred to the aim of Soviet policy being to convert American's allies to neturalism. We see many manifestations of that policy, and it must continue to be one of the tasks of Governments and of all right-thinking people to combat that effort. It must also be the task of us all to combat not neutralism in itself in the sense that we all wish for peace—we combat neutralism but we are not against peace. We are against the subversion of the concept of peace by those who would sacrifice western values and interests.

We have a powerful task because of the growth of the unilateralist movement which, although checked at the polling booths, continues to have a significant impact and stimulation is given to it by many sections of the media.

When we talk about developing and maintaining Anglo-American relations, we have to remember that this is very much a two-way task by the United States Government and people and the British Government and people. We must combat those who seek either blindly or perhaps even maliciously to sow dissension and use misrepresentation to damage those very important relations.

I refer especially to that most vital issue of all, the issue of peace, the management of our relations with the Soviet Union and arms control. It is saddening and alarming to witness the denigration of the efforts of the United States Administration—I quote the words of President Reagan on 16 January— to establish a constructive and realistic working relationship with the Soviet Union. President Reagan went on to say that: If the Soviet Government wants peace, then there will be peace. The reaction of too many people, however, including Opposition Members, has been to dismiss that statement as a mere electoral propaganda ploy for the presidential election.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)


Mr. Whitney

I shall give way in a moment. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to consider the comments of the Leader of the Opposition whose forays into foreign affairs seem even more alarming than his forays into domestic affairs. On 17 January he said of President Reagan's speech: I do think it's more intended to influence potential Democratic voters in the United States than to influence the Kremlin.

Mr. Anderson

Would not even the Minister harbour some scepticism about that speech bearing in mind the fact that it followed the speech about the powers of darkness and the evil system in the Soviet Union? Does the Minister not have some reluctance to accept President Reagan's speech at its face value in view of the surprising change of attitude that has occurred in such a short time?

Mr. Whitney

I greatly welcome the hon. Gentleman's intervention as it entirely proves my point. The Opposition deliberately ignore the policies and clear statements of the United States Administration. For example, as long ago as last June Mr. Shultz said: we have a fundamental common interest in the avoidance of war. This common interest impels us to work toward a relationship between our nations that can lead to a safer world for all mankind. We have heard nothing about that from the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) or the Leader of the Opposition. The Opposition ignore such statements but, as the hon. Gentleman has just done, pick up examples merely to sow dissension. Those are precisely the efforts which we must combat as they do much harm to our joint endeavours.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East has just returned from El Salvador and Nicaragua. In a curiously entitled epic—"Kissinger's Kingdom?"—he ignores the efforts which the United States made, during the first 18 months of the Sandinista Government, to offer about $200 million in aid. There was not a word of that in the 80 pages of the hon. Gentleman's work.

Mr. Anderson

Does the Minister do Anglo-American relations any good by adopting a tone of totally mute acquiescence in whatever the United States Government do? For example, the Central Intelligence Agency is at this moment financing and arming counter-revolutionaries on the borders of Nicaragua. They are trying to destabilise a Government which, on any estimate, enjoys the support of a great majority of the population. The CIA is doing that against all the canons of international law. There has not been the merest peep of protest from the British Government about what the United States Government are doing with regard to the Contras.

Mr. Whitney

If the hon. Gentleman had been listening he would have heard me say that there is by no means a totality of interest between the British and American Governments or any other nation. However, his selective use of examples gives the lie to his attitude. That is the danger which we must face. Those who are interested in good Anglo-American relations understand that.

I confirm my hon. Friend's assertion that Britain has a role to play in developing the relationship. It remains an essential element of British policy, just as does the Atlantic Alliance which has served us well for a long time. Despite the attacks of people such as the hon. Member for Swansea, East, it remains and will continue to remain a cornerstone of British foreign policy under the leadership of the Conservative Government.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at four minutes past Three o'clock.