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§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
I am pleased to have obtained this debate on the nuclear arms control negotiations. The current negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union are certainly the most important international negotiations taking place at present. I welcome them and want them to result in a deal that will see a large number of nuclear weapons on the scrap heap. Such a deal, if achieved, looks likely to be only a small step towards ending the nuclear threat that hangs over mankind. It is important that a deal should be achieved and that Britain should work for its achievement. However, beyond that, it is crucial that all our efforts are directed to carrying on the impetus further to reduce and then eliminate nuclear weapons from the world.
Nuclear weapons are a threat to the very existence of mankind. However, that is still not fully understood by some of the Colonel Blimps who are in political and military positions around the world. Among them, I am afraid, is the Prime Minister. The message has still not got across to them that, unlike pre-atomic weapons systems, nuclear weapons have the potential to destroy or blight all life on earth. They leave little opportunity for controlling the situation or for second thoughts.
Mr. Gorbachev, in his February address to the Moscow Forum, said:The development and subsequent stockpiling of nuclear weapons and of their delivery vehicles beyond all reasonable bounds have made man technically capable of terminating his own existence. The simultaneous accumulation of explosive social material in the world, and attempts to continue tackling forcefully, with stone-age methods, the products of problems of a cardinally altered world make catastrophe highly likely in political terms as well. The militarisation of mentality and of the way of life weakens and even removes altogether any moral inhibitions with regard to nuclear suicide.We have no right to forget that the first step, which is always the most risky, has already been made. Nuclear weapons have been used against human beings, and used twice. There are dozens—I repeat dozens—of recorded and acknowledged moments when the possibility of using such weapons against other countries was seriously considered … The question stands like this: either political mentality is geared to the requirements of the times or civilisation and life itself on Earth may perish.The author, Martin Amis, in his "A Blast against the Bomb" essay, published in The Observer on 19 April 1987, put it in an even more startling and brilliant way. He said:Nuclear war is seven minutes away, and might be over in an afternoon. How far away is nuclear disarmament? We are waiting. And the weapons are waiting.What is the only provocation that could bring about the use of nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. What is the priority target for nuclear weapons'? Nuclear weapons. What is the only established defence against nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. How do we prevent the use of nuclear weapons? By threatening to use nuclear weapons. And we can't get rid of nuclear weapons, because of nuclear weapons. The intransigence, it seems, is a function of the weapons themselves. Nuclear weapons can kill a human being a dozen times over in a dozen different ways; and, before death—like certain spiders, like the headlights of cars—they seem to paralyse.We must break that paralysis. That is what the people of the world want. The circumstances and the arguments have changed.
In the same article Amis compared his and his father's view—his father representing the outdated Tory notions still prevalent in his House. He states: 836My father regards nuclear weapons as an unbudgeable given. They will always be necessary because the Soviets will always have them and the Soviets will always want to enslave the West. Arms agreements are no good because the Soviets will always cheat. Unilateral disarmament equals surrender. And, anyway, it isn't a case of 'red or dead.' The Communist world is itself nuclear-armed and deeply divided: so it is a case of 'red and dead.'Well, Dead, at any rate, is what this prescription seems to me to promise. Nuclear weapons, my father reminds me, have deterred war for 40 wars. I remind him that no global abattoir presided over the century-long peace that followed Napoleon's discomfiture in 1815. And the trouble with deterrence is that it can't last out the necessary timespan, which is roughly between now and the death of the sun. Already it is falling apart, from within.When I say that America is as much of a threat as the Soviet Union my father categories me as somone who takes democracy lightly, who takes freedom lightly. But of course it is the weapons themselves that are the threat.The deterrent myth has also been hammered. Nuclear weapons have not deterred conventional attacks from Vietnam to the Falklands. They could not be used in such circumstances without wreaking enormous destruction and loss of life and without risking a chain reaction which could lead to nuclear retaliation, invoking the Chernobyl effect of mass radiation affecting the whole world—as someone crudely put it, "Peeing into the wind as the effects return to plague all of us."
Mr. Gorbachev has hammered the deterrent myth. He pointed out that the viewpoint which underlies the doctrine of nuclear deterrence wasan evil necessary to prevent a greater evil—war … First, even if we stick to this doctrine, we would have to admit that the 'nuclear safeguard' is not 100 per cent. effective and not termless. It may any time become a death sentence to mankind. The bigger the nuclear arsenals, the less chance they will be kept 'obedient'. Proliferation; increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons systems, a greater transportation scale and the constant risk of technical error, human failure of malice are all chance factors on which the survival of mankind depends … deterrence … is, in fact, a policy based on intimidation … When threat is a political means, the natural wish is that each such threat should be taken seriously. For that, one has to always hack up threats by definite action … In a historical context that does not reduce the risk of military conflict. In fact, it further increases the risk … the more nuclear weapons there are, the greater risk of a fatal malfunction.That is the new realism in the Soviet Union based on the need to act now to avoid a nuclear holocaust in future. Because of that new realism, a deal seems possible at least to lessen the overkill and make a start on a downturn in the nuclear arsenals rather than crazy expansion. Arms control negotiations are very slow and easily get bogged down. They require a serious political will. It is source of sadness and of concern that there has been no deal in President Reagan's period of office or during the Prime Minister's eight years on the central issue of achieving nuclear arms reductions.
An opportunity for an agreement exists now. That has arisen not from strength, but more from glut. There are 50,000 nuclear warheads with 1 million times the power of the Hiroshima bomb. The Gorbachev initiative provides the opportunity. I hope that the deal will not be thwarted deliberately by some dinosaur-thinking, pro-nuclear vested interest. Such potential deals have been sabotaged before. The House of Commons Library briefing paper put it succinctly:Arms control, because of its emotive aspects, is always vulnerable to political abuse, when Governments use the forum of Arms Control to pursue other aims or distract attention from actual deployment programmes.837 There must be no political abuse in this case. On the contrary, the deal should be nurtured as top priority. That should be the British Government's insistence. The deal must also not be used as a cover or excuse to expand under the guise of modernising nuclear weapons in the categories outside the deal. There are signs that that could happen. The Government do not appear to have clean hands in that respect. The Government and some NATO dinosaurs appear to me to be in the process of trying to cheat on the deal, even before it has been agreed. I will refer to that later.
The deal will almost certainly be limited. It is called zero-zero, but that is a misnomer. That does not mean zero nuclear weapons on both sides. It is unlikely even to meet Mr. Gorbachev's aim, proclaimed before the Reykjavik summit, of zero European theatre nuclear weapons in five to eight years, excluding the British and French capability. That exclusion alone would not have meant zero. For a start, that deal would be restricted to Europe. Secondly, British and French submarine long-range nuclear weapons would be untouched. The deal will cover only intermediate nuclear weapons—the shorter-range intermediate forces in the range of 500 km to 1,000 km and longer-range intermediate nuclear forces in the range of 1,000 km to 5,500 km. Missiles outside those ranges will not be included in the agreement. Battlefield nuclear artillery, airdrop nuclear weapons and short-range missiles up to the 5,000 km range are not included. Strategic intercontinental weapons over the 5,500 km range are not included and space nuclear weapons—star wars—are not included. A lot is not included. However, even within the intermediate nuclear weapons range, the West German Government have been screaming for the exclusion of Pershing IA missiles. They have a range of 740 km, right in the middle of the shorter-range intermediate nuclear forces category which is supposed to be zero. Those missiles are German, with United States warheads, under a dual-key arrangement.
The NATO Foreign Ministers, at their meeting which culminated on 12 June, sought their exemption. They said that the agreement should apply to all United States and Soviet land-based short-range intermediate nuclear forces missiles. The reference to the United States provides for the exclusion of Pershing 1A, because that missile is nominally West German. But the limitation to land-based missiles opens up a huge loophole which, in my view, would subvert an effective agreement. The exemption, if in the agreement, would not mean "zero" in intermediate nuclear forces. In fact, it presents the opportunity to expand sea and air-launched nuclear weapons as a replacement for the land-based ones. The restriction suggested by the Foreign Ministers actually clears the way to the modernisation and increasing of nuclear weaponry. It means a new generation of nuclear weapons replacing the old lot.
The Government have been preparing for this. The Defence Secretary has already talked of moving cruise to Holy Loch and converting it to be sea-launched. Other cruise weapons may well be air-launched, as more F111 and B52 nuclear bombers are brought into Britain. More emphasis is being placed on battlefield nuclear weapons below the 500 km range. The United States has been reported as giving consideration to converting Pershing 2 into shorter-range missiles. There has also been talk of 838 replacing NATO's Lance missiles with new longer-range ones, of expanding the nuclear weaponry over the 5,500 km range and of placing yet more emphasis—along with British involvement—on the star wars programme.
Those developments could seriously undermine the opportunities opened up by an INF deal for a permanent reduction in the number of nuclear weapons. What assurances will the Government give that, if an INF deal is achieved, they will not use it simply to deploy more nuclear weapons in a different category? The Government seem to have been very active in this respect, planning for loopholes and for the replacement of missiles which have to leave Britain. I understand that the official parlance is "compensatory measures". The Government proclaim themselves as being one of the main architects of the deal. That is a falsehood. They are still busy expanding Britain's nuclear weaponry, particularly outside the range of a likely deal. They are introducing a new generation of battlefield nuclear weapons—nuclear cels, with a neutron bomb capacity; and purchasing Trident, which represents a huge upgrading of Britain's strategic nuclear arsenal. The number of warheads on each submarine is boosted by two and a half times, from 48 to 128, with a capacity for expansion to 224 per submarine.
This is at a time when a 50 per cent. cut in strategic offensive weapons is one of the Government's proclaimed aims, mentioned in the Queen's Speech. That seems to be interpreted as cuts in everyone else's missiles, but not in our own. Trident is a hindrance to a deal between the two superpowers, especially one to achieve a nuclear-free Europe. It also prejudices the climate for disarmament. Furthermore, it undermines the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Along with the Prime Minister's notorious Moscow statement that nuclear weapons are the only means of allowing a small country to stand up to a big one, it gives the green light to proliferation—to every small country obtaining a nuclear bomb.
The Tory record, when examined for substance rather than rhetoric, is quite thin on achievement. The Prime Minister's "nuclearphilia", as the Russians called it, puts nuclear disarmament in Europe out of reach. The Prime Minister is very much a part of the problem; she is no part of the answer to it.
Britain should be doing much more. A high profile in international diplomacy, especially for general election purposes, is no substitute for the achievement of real nuclear disarmament. Britain should be prepared to close the loopholes and to renounce expansion. Britain should be prepared to make a bilateral deal with the Soviet Union, whatever the outcome of the INF negotiations. We should join the call for a nuclear-free Europe.
Zero-zero is not what it pretends to be. It is a misnomer. It is a step forward, but only a first step. There are many others, and the Government should be using the Gorbachev impetus to place them on the agenda. For example, battlefield nuclear weapons should be drawn in to the deal. It should be made into a triple-zero option. The Government should be pressing for a longer-range nuclear weapons agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union and for the scrapping of many of those missiles.
The Government should also ensure that a comprehensive test ban treaty is put back on the agenda. The Soviet Union's self-imposed moratorium was wasted. Britain still 839 objects, on the basis of inadequate verification. The United States has dropped that objection, but wants tests to continue so that new nuclear weapons can be developed.
We should be backing a new test ban treaty. We should not do anything and we certainly should not encourage anything that breaches the ABM treaty. Outside Europe, we should stop stalling. We should sign the 1985 Rarotonga treaty, which aims to restrict the testing, deployment and use of nuclear weapons in the south Pacific. Britain should withdraw from the star wars programme. Its alleged rationale—as a shield against all ballistic missiles—is obviously flawed. Its potential is much more offensive than defensive, and it has a massive first strike capacity. It will reduce stability between the superpowers.
Britain should also refuse to accept chemical weapons on its soil. We should seek their complete elimination worldwide, and also a reduction in conventional weapons. Britain should grasp the opportunities that an INF deal would provide. We should not invent ways to circumvent it. For the future of the world, we must not lose this opportunity.
§ Mr. John Browne (Winchester)
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) on drawing this place in the debate, even though I do not agree with much that he said.
As always, our aim must be peace, but not peace at any price. It must be peace with freedom. If we want peace with freedom, we must be prepared to defend ourselves not with a minimal capacity but with a credible deterrence capacity.
Approximately 5.2 per cent. of our gross domestic product is devoted to defence. It acts as an insurance policy against aggression. This level of spending is a little lower than that in the United States, where it is between 6.5 and 7 per cent. However, we depend critically upon alliances. We must be careful not to make any moves on nuclear arms control that would split those alliances. They are an essential part of our defence strategy.
The result of the defence policies of the last 40 years under both Labour and Conservative Governments has been peace within NATO. This 40 years of peace within NATO has not been in a peaceful world. There have been hundreds of conflicts since 1945. That is what makes the peace within NATO so special. The hon. Member for Leyton referred to the Falklands battle. It did not escalate because of the nuclear deterrent and the super-power balance. We have enjoyed a period of peace and we now have the highest degree of freedom and human rights in history. It is not a bad bargain; it is something about which we should be pleased and we should look for the reasons for that success.
In all of our policies we must continually re-evaluate and examine the sectors in which the world is moving and adapt accordingly. We must not gamble our national survival on mere whims or vague assumptions. We have empirical evidence and a track record from which to draw. We must not gamble on unchecked proposals on nuclear disarmament, for example, from the Soviet bloc. We must check because those proposals are not always what they appear to be on the front cover. When one looks at the details one finds that a different nuance is thrown upon them.
We must be creative and flexible and push for peace with balanced disarmament. However, to maintain peace 840 we must be vigilant and always look for substance in the reaction to proposals. We owe it to our citizens, not only those who are alive today but to future generations, to ensure that verification is as certain as it can be and that any reductions are balanced, not only in nuclear forces but in biochemical and conventional forces. Defence should be looked at as a completely integrated system. It would be wrong to allow even a balanced reduction in one arm of defence that leaves us more exposed in another. In other words, it would be wrong if we had a reduction to zero in nuclear weapons but left ourselves with a deficit in biochemical weapons. That would be to leave ourselves wide open and it would not be in the best interests of either our country or of world peace.
We should remember the Carthaginian wars when, in the interest of trade, Carthage suggested disarmament and unilaterally disarmed. Today, historians argue about the location of Carthage, and that was before the days of gunpowder. There was a complete annihilation by Rome, the side that did not disarm.
The outlook today is exciting. There are great economic prospects. One only has to look at what is happening in agriculture. There are also great financial and social prospects as well as those for peace and disarmament. There are prospects of turning the dream of nuclear disarmament into reality. We are at that threshold, but we should not take options at their face value. It is vital important for our leaders and politicians to look at the details. There will be a need for that in the future unless we are to create a catastrophe in terms of peace with freedom.
A bright future is in prospect and that has been arrived at not by weakness in the western position but as a result of strength. It is also due to other pressures on the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union has enormous economic problems. They are more understandable, if one compares the strengths and weaknesses of the free democracies and those of the totalitarian states. It is difficult for Governments of free democracies to sustain any form of hot war when there is no open threat to the mother country. The reverse is true of a totalitarian state. It has little chance of generating real wealth in relation to the enormous wealth generation in the free democracies. The Soviet Union faces that problem.
The Soviet Union's economy is still basically in the heavy industrial age. It has not progressed across the board into the light industrial, let alone technological, age. The Soviet Union has problems in generating the wealth necessary to maintain the trappings and influence of a super-power. It also faces tremendous internal challenges. Sixteen per cent. of GDP is spent on armaments. With interchanges with the free countries in the Western world, consumer demand is growing at the grassroots for what we consider basic products, such as jeans.
The Soviet Government also face problems with the technological revolution. The root of power in the totalitarian state is the control of information. How can a technological revolution be achieved without decontrol of information by the extension of the use of personal computers?
The Soviet Government must also face external challenges, of which China is one example. It was predicted that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister could not do a deal with a Communist leader over Hong Kong, but the deal was done. The Communist Chinese 841 Government are not communising Hong Kong so much as capitalising China, with tremendous results in terms of economic growth and productivity. China is entering world markets as an exporter of rice and other goods, which it previously imported. That worries the Soviets, if only because of a possible challenge for the leadership of the communist world.
Another external challenge comes from the other superpower, the United States. The Soviet Union is falling further and further behind in terms of wealth creation and the technological sophistication of weapons systems. It is losing the race, and the distance between the two nations is growing. The most graphic example is the strategic defence initiative, to which the hon. Member for Leyton alluded. This is a new aspect of defence in space, on which the Soviets had a monopoly in the 1960s and 1970s. The United States has now entered the arena. The entry ticket, just for research, is some $15 billion to $20 billion. The key element of the SDI is computer power, the ability to make some 40 million calculations a second. The Soviet Union is furthest behind the United States in terms of that industry and technology.
The SDI has had a tremendous impact on Soviet thinking. I was privileged to be a member of our delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting in December 1984 and to escort Mr. and Mrs. Gorbachev to various functions, which included showing them around the House. The overriding impression I gained was that the Soviets are desperate to negotiate an end, or even a halt, to the SDI. The SDI has given the Western negotiators an ace card. It has brought the Soviets to the negotiating table for the first time in decades to talk seriously about negotiation on nuclear and conventional arms. That is a very important factor.
There has been a great change in the Soviet stance on arms control. We must ask how there could be such a change, bearing in mind the old pattern and the resistance of the Soviet elite or Nomlakatura to any form of change, and especially to any leader with charisma.
In the first day of debate on the Queen's Speech, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary mentioned the impact of Mr. Gorbachev. He was right to do so. The why and the how of Mr. Gorbachev's succession is intriguing and will occupy historians in interesting research for years to come.
As I have said, I met Mr. Gorbachev when he came here. Much has been written about him, which I will not repeat. However, certain of his characteristics are important with regard to arms control.
Mr. Gorbachev has obvious charisma, Western-style charisma which he is both able and anxious to exploit over our Western media. He does not pay for air time or coverage but still manages to get into every room with a television set and on the front page of major newspapers every day of the week. What a change that is from the previous style of Soviet leadership. It has had a tremendous impact on the Soviet Union and the rest of the world. It will have a tremendous effect on the motivation of work force and management within the Soviet Union. It will enable them to export in major markets for commodities of which they were previously huge importers. It will have an immense effect on commodity and financial markets and upon arms negotiations.
842 Mr. Gorbachev will increasingly use his charisma to talk to people in the free world over the heads of our leaders and negotiators. That provides new challenges for us when trying to keep our people behind our policies.
He is a formidable negotiator and will exploit potential rifts between the allies. The difference between zero-zero Europe and zero-zero global is just one example of this risk. He will be able to lull the West into a false sense of security and allow us to fall into the trap of unbalanced, unverifiable arms reductions. We must remain vigilant at all costs.
§ Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan)
I am having some difficulty following the trend of the hon. Gentleman's logic. On what does the hon. Gentleman lay greater stress, the alleged superiority of the West in intermediate weapons, which I understood to be an inferiority of 9:1 and 6:1 in medium and longer-range intermediate nuclear weapons, or the charisma of Mr. Gorbachev? Which has been the critical factor which has brought the Soviet Union and the United States together?
§ Mr. Browne
I myself did not say that there is superiority. It is impossible to tell which is the more important. We must accept the facts, and the fact is that we have got where we are through strength—SDI is just one indication of that—but Mr. Gorbachev's influence is also important.
The third of his characteristics that is important is his self-confidence. It is based on a tremendous track record of his own promotion and his own proven ability. That leads to two interesting points. First, people with that sort of self confidence can afford to be more flexible, and with more flexible attitudes they are able to be more creative. This has an important impact in terms of nuclear arms negotiations because no longer is it exclusively the West that puts forward the initiative and is told "Nyet, nyet" by the Soviets. We saw a classic example of the Soviets putting forward royal cards at Reykjavik, for which the West had been negotiating for years, and suddenly the West walked away without accepting them. The Americans, the great public relations experts, were beaten to the post.
I know that the hon. Member for Leyton will not agree with me, but I think that President Reagan showed tremendous integrity in saying that he would not accept those royal cards on their face value and that there was a lot more to nuclear arms negotiations than just looking at the face of a card. He had the integrity to come back, having refused what looked like an irresistible offer. The Western press tried to make him out as the warmonger in those first two days.
§ Mr. Browne
I do not believe that he is. One main point that I want to stress is the risk that the new Soviet style can make Western leaders appear to be warmongers. That is a great risk because it demands tremendous integrity and leadership on behalf of the Western negotiators.
Under Mr. Gorbachev the Soviet goals have not changed, but their style and methods have. Out goes the brutal Russian bear and in comes a reasonable, responsible, even a reassuring Russia—a nice bear that smiles when it shows its teeth; it does not growl. That change is difficult for Western leaders to convey. It is a real threat to the population as a whole. Soviet hands at the 843 negotiating table are clean. All the activity is done under the table by surrogate nations, and that is something about which we must be well aware.
I welcome the new Soviet approach beause it creates a tremendous opportunity in terms of nuclear and other arms negotiations, and trade. However, it also presents tremendous risks.
One risk is unity. As I said. our deterrence policy is based on alliances. There is a risk of the splitting of Europe from the United States, or of Britain from France, in different interests, even in just the specific nuclear part of the arms control and arms negotiations. There are risks that we can be wrong-footed, as I think to some extent the West was when the Reykjavik talks took place. There is the risk that our leaders can come back from those talks and appear as the warmongers because the Soviet package looks so great. It is difficult to unravel the nitty gritty details of arms negotiations on television because it does not give one the space in which to do it.
It is a difficult new challenge that the Western leaders must meet. At the same time the Western leaders, will face tremendous temptations. There are enormous stakes to be played for, and the opportunity to come back as the so-called greatest peace-maker of the century will be difficult to resist. What a deal one could strike apparently on the surface, but what a selling short could result for the West and for world peace if one took only the popular decisions. For example, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, there is the zero-zero Europe option which allows for 100 residual missiles on each side, not able to strike each other because they would be removed from the West of the Urals and not be deployed in Alaska on the American side. However, the Soviet SS20s are relatively small misssiles on mobile launchers with a reload capacity and are able to strike into Europe.
Why is it not zero-zero global? The zero-zero Europe option means that down the road the European interests become different from the American interests, thereby decoupling the key alliance of our defence and of our peace and freedom. Therefore, zero-zero Europe is a very different thing from zero-zero global. Yet, in the newspapers it is just referred to as zero-zero. When one starts unravelling the details it is a very different thing.
I would like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister, who is being very patient, whether he would update us on the nuclear planning group. the spring meeting of the NATO defence Ministers and the EEC Foreign Ministers with regard to nuclear arms reduction, just to put us in the picture more than we were before the election campaign and more than we have been over the past two months. It is a fascinating subject and I would be grateful to him for that.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister urge my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and fellow Members of the Government to persevere with their patience because it will take enormous patience both to negotiate with the Soviet Union and to explain the real details and the effects of those details to our own people? Will he urge them to persevere with the vigilance that was stated by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, to consider the details in terms of substance and to ensure that our Government and other Governments know the importance of integrity in terms of accepting the risk of appearing to be the warmonger? They should not accept at face value superficial royal cards on the other side that would mean the dissolution of one arm or 844 another of our integrated defence system. We must accept the need for change, for updating and the need for arms negotiations. I would strongly welcome such negotiations. In fact, it would be obscene to go on if we could think of a way of not spending all that money and of not putting the world at such risk. At the same time we must be vigilant and ensure that arms reductions are genuine. Let us hope that the peace we have enjoyed for the past 40 years will progress for 40 years in the future and beyond. I wish my hon. Friend the Minister well in that tough endeavour.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
The House should be grateful to the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) for putting this subject on our agenda, although at a late hour, which is not the hour of his choosing. It is time that we had some discussion on this subject, albeit a fairly brief one.
I share many of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Leyton and some of his conclusions, although not all of them and not all the direction of his argument. I parted company with him when he said—giving the game away as to the difference between his standpoint and mine—that it might be possible or necessary to have a bilateral deal between Britain and the Soviet Union if the current global discussions broke down. That is the point at which we would be abandoning any attempt to have a NATO strategy and deciding that we can simply negotiate some minor adjustment in Soviet weaponry to compensate for the removal of all the nuclear weaponry that is in the United Kingdom. I watched the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) making such an offer to Mr. Gorbachev when he and I and the noble lord Lord Whitelaw were in Moscow. Mr. Gorbachev was, understandably, most receptive and offered reductions in strategic weaponry and changes in the targeting of Soviet weaponry if the policy of the removal of all American bases from Britain and the removal of the British deterrent could be accomplished.
That is not the way in which we will make Europe secure at the same time as reducing the total of nuclear weapons in the world. For those two objectives to be accomplished, we need an agreement that draws together NATO and the Warsaw pact. I am adamant in my determination that that should be achieved by NATO acting as an alliance. It cannot be achieved bilaterally.
Nuclear weapons exist and cannot be disinvented or removed from the scene without negotiation between countries. We do the world no service if we merely detach ourselves from the system by which we are defended in a gesture that may marginally reduce the total of nuclear weapons in the world but threatens the security of the West and does not achieve those major reductions for which so many people are looking.
As the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) pointed out, this is a time of great promise for global arms negotiation prospects. We have seen a much more realistic approach from the Soviet Union, coupled with a recognition by the United States President of the value of an agreement, although we sometimes wonder whether the United States President remains in control of United States foreign policy. Perhaps we shall know tomorrow, when Admiral Poindexter takes the stand, just how much the President knows or does not know. It must be a matter of genuine concern that there should be doubt as to who 845 precisely is running United States foreign policy. There is no doubt that the President has become convinced of the desirability of reaching agreement and has some personal commitment to it.
What should the British Government's contribution be in the circumstances? Surely it should be to facilitate and to urge on the reaching of an agreement. The Prime Minister is fond of saying that it is all because of cruise, Polaris and Trident that the Soviet Union is coming to the negotiating table. But, of course, for decades the West has been strong relative to the Soviet Union at any given time. We have had areas of strength, and there have been areas in which we have been concerned that the Warsaw pact was stronger than we were, but our overall position has been one of defensive strength.
The Soviet Union did not then come to the negotiating table in the same spirit as it does now. It is obvious that the change in the Soviet leadership and its perceptions has changed the climate. One may speculate as to the reasons for that change. They are a balance of two factors: first, the economic factor to which the hon. Member for Winchester referred—the mounting cost that would be involved in the Soviet Union matching anything like the American strategic defence initiative, particularly in its offensive capabilities; the impossibility of meeting the legitimate demands of the Soviet people for a better standard of living, against a background of higher and higher arms expenditure. That is clearly a major factor.
Secondly, General Secretary Gorbachev has a keen appreciation of the dangers of nuclear war and a genuine desire to achieve peace. That is a harder matter to assess. Like any Soviet leader, he will not do that at the expense of what he sees as Soviet security. Perhaps it is more prudent to place reliance upon economic motivation for the stand that he is now taking. Either way, he is taking a more realistic position about the need for global nuclear disarmament than any previous Soviet leader did.
In recent months, Britain has too often been seen as holding back the superpowers from arriving at a deal, with apparent opposition to an INF agreement, and apparent hesitation at almost every stage. Indeed, it was only in the immediate prelude to the general election that it seemed to become clear that the British Government were supporting a deal on the lines that seemed to be in prospect and were no longer placing obstacles in its way. I take that now to be the case. I make no quarrel about the circumstances in which it arose. If the election influenced it, that is well and good. That is what elections are for. The Government may have sensed the general desire among British people to see progress towards multilateral arms negotiations. Indeed, some British people are suspicious of one-sided disarmament but are anxious to secure multilateral disarmament.
The Government cannot at one and the same time appeal to the opposition to one-sided disarmament and fail to meet aspirations for effective moves to multilateral disarmament.
§ Mr. Beith
The hon. Gentleman took quite a long time to make his speech. Other hon. Members wish to speak. Whereas I would readily give way, I feel constrained by that fact. I wish to put some questions to the Minister who is to reply.
846 What is the United Kingdom Government's attitude now to Pershing IAs in West Germany? Do the Government see them as a potentially insuperable obstacle to the achievement of an arms deal? Do the Government reflect upon the divisions that exist in the West German Government about an issue which is of understandable importance to many people in West Germany but is much more important for its political significance than for the real defence value of the weapons about which we are speaking? What is the United Kingdom view of the suggestion referred to by the hon. Member for Winchester that the remaining 100 missiles on either side should be removed because it would make verification so much easier? Do the British Government have a view on the total zero-zero option?
Has the Prime Minister abandoned the view she expressed at one stage that Europe might have to increase its short-range missiles to match those of the Soviet Union? It is difficult to see the point of such an exercise, as many of these missiles, by their very nature—certainly those stationed in the United Kingdom—could only be fired at our European allies.
These matters can be resolved. There are real prospects of agreement on the zero-zero option, but other issues must be debated, such as battlefield nuclear weapons, which present the dangerous prospect of easy escalation into nuclear war. We must make more strenuous efforts to control and limit those weapons and remove them from a significant sector of any potential European battlefield.
There is a need to press ahead for a comprehensive test ban treaty and to continue towards limitation of strategic missiles, which has implications for Trident. It remains possible that we could reach the stage in this Parliament that the weapons system the Government have chosen might fall within the limits which the super-powers want to set on strategic missiles.
The strategic defence initiative seems to carry the United Kingdom Government's support against all the evidence and all the sensible arguments. Nobody I have talked to from the United States really believes that it can work as a total defensive shell, the leak-proof astrodome of President Reagan's dreams. If it does not work in that way, it becomes potentially a very large offensive capacity, but one which offers no real protection to Europe at all.
If Britain is protecting Europe's interests in this argument, it is difficult to see why it should be offering any support to SDI at all. I say to all Ministers, particularly the Minister who is new to his responsibilities, that they should go back and read the speech of the Foreign Secretary, which gave 18 different reasons to doubt the viability and value of the SDI project. That speech remains as sound as it was when it was first made.
The Government are currently addressing the issue of a chemical weapons treaty. We send our good wishes to the negotiations in which the hon. Gentleman's colleague, the Minister of State, is engaged today. I welcome the fact that the Government are taking an initiative in this field. We are reminded of the dangers involved and some of the frightening aspects of it by the current publicity given to the experiments involving servicemen at Porton, testing our ability to deal with any kind of chemical attack. They are extremely worrying instances—although they are not the hon. Gentleman's ministerial responsibility—and are a reminder of the terrifying evil of chemical weapons and the urgent need for a proper international ban on them.
847 Successful arms control must mean that each side feels that it will be secure under the agreement that is being arrived at. No arms control agreement which leaves one side feeling insecure offers any sound prospects for the future. That must be the basis for any sensible multilateral agreement. But to reach that position involves both sides making adjustments of old ideas of what constitutes effective security. It has happened on the Soviet side and it must happen on the Western side. It involves constant assessment of the implications of new technology, and questioning of our old assumptions of what we depend upon for our security.
At the end of the day, both sides must feel that the agreement leaves them secure from any realistically imaginable threat they could face. It is possible to retain that dimension of practicality while having the vision to press ahead to the kind of arms agreement which so many people want to see.
The determination of people to prevent the awful cataclysmic destruction of our civilisation by a nuclear war is there and it is the responsibility of Governments to give it practical expression. Governments which are found wanting in doing so will have to answer not just for the fate of the people of this country but also for that of future generations throughout the world.
§ 2.5 am
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) on initiating the debate and on his efforts in raising, in this House and elsewhere, the questions of arms control and peace. Those matters should be at the forefront of our debate rather than, as we hear from Conservative Members, the eternal search for conflict and war. They maintain that there is the possibility, even the likelihood, of a war, and that, therefore, it is necessary to arm to prevent that. Frankly, I reject that philosophy. Anyone who believes that nuclear weapons provide any form of defence should look back to what happened in Japan in 1945, when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were devastated by nuclear bombs. In those areas people are still dying from cancers resulting from those bombs. They should also look at what is happening in western Europe at the moment, and recognise the increase in cancers that will result from the Chernobyl disaster a couple of years ago. They may then begin to realise that nuclear war knows no boundaries, frontiers or limitations.
As soon as a nuclear war begins, it is anhihilation, in one form or another, for both sides. It will be either instant death in the fire storm and nuclear winter that follows a nuclear attack, or slow, progressive cancer deaths for decades and decades. A number of excellent films on the subject show that a limited nuclear war conducted in Europe will result in what remains of life in this country being put back to medieval levels of production and living standards. Those would be the consequences of nuclear war.
Therefore, the search for peace and for freedom from nuclear weapons is important. However, also important is the search for peace and for freedom from war by conventional weapons. Hon. Members often claim that there has been peace in Europe for the past 40 years. There has not been an armed conflict, but I would not exactly say that the expenditure levels of both sides on arms, both nuclear and conventional, have maintained complete 848 peace in Europe, not had an enormous effect on the social expenditures that could have taken place in Europe or have not been part of the export of war to other places.
I wish briefly to refer to the terrible conflict between Iran and Iraq, in which 500,000 people have already died. That conflict has been fuelled by arms sales and loans frorn western European and American banks, and chemical weapons are being used in that conventional war with all its horrors. There must be a search for peace. Those who say that arms expenditure by the superpowers does not have an effect on the rest of the world are, quite frankly, deluding themselves. One of the major reasons for the United States budget deficit is its vast level of arms expenditure. Estimates are given for the levels of expenditure by one side or the other, but there are also hidden levels of expenditure. Education expenditure in universities in the USA goes, to some extent, on military research. A large degree of corporate expenditure, in one form or another, also goes on military research. There are large areas of so-called civilian expenditure in the USA and this country which, in reality, go on military expenditure.
The question worldwide of the consequences of the arms race must be examined. The real danger of nuclear proliferation way beyond those countries that hold nuclear weapons now, with the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons and delivery systems, is growing all the time. It is important that there is some positive contribution towards nuclear disarmament discussions. That is one of the reasons why this debate is so important.
When I hear generals pontificating about nuclear deterrents on one side or the other and mutally assured destruction—it is called madness by them and everyone else—it is time to think and call a halt to what is going on. There are enormous possibilities for a real reduction in and the removal of nuclear weapons.
I am unapologetically in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament for the United Kingdom. If we were to remove all nuclear weapons and bases from this country, we would no longer be the nuclear aircraft carrier of the United States. That must be the first step. Our lead would be followed by other European countries. The peace movement would be invigorated in other places and that would assist the overall nuclear disarmament process.
Secondly, we must examine what has gone wrong and right in the peace negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union. Considerable progress was made at Geneva when the Soviet Union submitted a number of proposals. A communiqué was agreed and it was resolved to meet again. Eventually there was the meeting at Reykjavik, and the proposals advanced by the Soviet Union were, in essence, the ones that the United States arms negotiators had been asking for in the past.
Why did the Reykjavik proposals not come to fruition? Why did they not provide a springboard for a real reduction in nuclear weapons on both sides? The answer lies partly with the stubbornness of President Reagan, who refused to put back star wars research and to cancel some of the research programmes. The pressure that was put on him by political cronies in the arms manufacturing and high technology industries in the United States undoubtedly had a major effect on his decision not to interrupt any aspects of star wars. That decision was both bad and dangerous. It has meant that the star wars research programmes continue and that the likelihood of 849 a computer-controlled war, or a computer-controlled nuclear attack, comes nearer, is more real and is ever more dangerous.
An enormous amount of money is being spent on star wars research. It is said that star wars is creating jobs when in reality it is destroying them and destroying hope and life. The claim is nonsense and it must be exposed. The idea that Britain is benefiting from star wars in some way is so ludicrous as to be barely believable. Conservative Members often talk about jobs that are being created in the defence industry, but I ask them to consider the loss of jobs that is caused by capital-intensive defence programmes and the development of research programmes in the United States. This part of the world is being treated as a sort of colony for the United States arms industry. If the Conservative party is seriously interested in creating jobs, it should consider socially useful expenditure and the problems that people face. Housing problems are not solved by star wars, nuclear weapons or the construction of more tanks. Education and Health Service shortages are not met by that activity. We must address ourselves urgently to decreasing all forms of military expenditure so that more money is available to spend on social programmes.
The role of the Government in stoking up nuclear arms race and supporting the United States is grossly underestimated. There are more cruise missiles destined for this country than for most others in western Europe. There are 30,000 American troops here, and we give them legal immunity through the Visiting Forces Act 1952. American troops are allowed to act with impunity when escorting cruise missiles around Salisbury plain and elesewhere. We allow the unacceptable denial of civil liberties to those in areas where cruise missiles are based and to those who seek to oppose their presence on the roads.
We accept all that because, apparently, we are prepared to accept that the United States can use this country as a nuclear aircraft carrier. We also apparently accept the expenditure of £10 million to buy Trident missiles for this country. Those missiles will mean that we have a whole new generation of nuclear destruction heading for our shores. Apparently we are happy to pay for those missiles. We are also prepared to say that we support President Reagan in not promoting peace between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The Government should carefully examine what has been put on offer by the Soviet Union. Those proposals include the zero-zero option, the withdrawal of missiles to more than 100 km from the frontier between east and west Germany. They also include proposals for the verification of the removal of those missiles. There is a whole host of proposals that could be considered and could lead to the possibility of the start of rapid disarmament.
We can go down the road of negotiation and peace or the road of massive expenditure on star wars, increasing expenditure on other forms of nuclear weapons, such as Trident, and the escalation of the military arms race. Do we want that? Do we want to look for peace?
The effect of the nuclear strategy is enormous. The Government's Defence Estimates for 1987, volume II, reveal that total defence expenditure from 1981–82 to 1987–88 has risen from £12.2 billion to £18.7 billion. The total defence budget has increased by about 50 per cent. 850 during that period, but the nuclear strategic force expenditure has increased by 150 per cent. during that same period. That appears to be the trend that the Government wish to follow.
The House should consider the Camp David text that the Prime Minister agreed in November 1986 after the Reykjavik summit. That text said that priority should be given to an INF agreement and a 50 per cent. cut, over five years, in United States and Soviet Union strategic offensive weapons. It also said that an agreement had been reached on a proposal to ban chemical weapons.
However, that text did not specify that the main negotiating stumbling block is the obsession of the President of the United States and of the high technology and arms industries of the United States to develop a strategic defence initiative. That initiative will lead us to the horrors of nuclear war in outer space, a computer-controlled set off of nuclear destruction and the appalling prospect of total annihilation.
We have a choice before us. Either we go down the road of nuclear madness, nuclear war and nuclear annihilation—the obsession of some to spend greater resources on nuclear weapons will mean that poverty in the world will increase—or we can look in the direction of peace and clasp with both hands the possibility of reaching an agreement, rapidly and quickly.
I hope that the Government will seriously consider the possibility of getting genuine peace negotiations under way with the hope of obtaining nuclear reductions at the earliest opportunity.
§ Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)
It is customary to congratulate hon. Friends who have been fortunate enough to secure an opportunity to sponsor a debate. I am a wee bit dubious about congratulating people on having debates at this time in the morning. However, this is an important subject and it is one which, at any time of the day or night, should ensure that there are people interested enough to participate. I believe that we have heard a representative section of opinion this evening.
We must return to this subject because although it featured in the debate on the Gracious Speech events are continuing apace. It is important that we keep the subject under review. That is especially important because whenever there is a prospect of advance or the possibility of a coming together, the Government immediately try to open up the divisions once more.
It is a source of regret that, in a country where there is precious little common ground, certainly among the Opposition parties, there is a consensus—if I may use that word—in respect of seizing the opportunities that Reykjavik and the post-Reykjavik situation have afforded. Sadly, when we look around for the Prime Minister to enter into that consensus, we see her acting out a role that is not dissimilar to that of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), where other consensuses or confusions seem to be evident. It would appear that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has been endowed this evening with the full authority of whatever remains of that small alliance to express the views of his party.
Labour Members' view of the Government during the past eight years is that they have done precious little to promote nuclear arms control and disarmament, and much to hinder it. In fact, following Reykjavik we saw the 851 Reagan and Gorbachev discussions inching closer together. However, no sooner had the discussions ended than the Prime Minister, who was not invited to Reykjavik—a testament, it would appear to the weakness and irrelevance of Britain—immediately tried to get into the act by going to Washington to attempt to weaken the resolve of the American Administration. It is certainly true to say that, had the full agreement been secured at Reykjavik. the prospect of the Prime Minister obtaining Trident and satisfying her lust for nuclear weapons would have been greatly restricted. It is almost certain that a wider agreement from Reykjavik would have prevented Britain from going down the road that we are presently travelling to secure about an 800 per cent. increase in the number of nuclear warheads that we would be able to train on potential enemies.
We know that the escalation in Britain's nuclear capability comes at a time when many people—in fact, the overwhelming proportion of the population, according to opinion polls and the like, about 79 per cent.—favour a nuclear freeze. Therefore, Trident and the maintenance of the independent deterrent, fly in the face of those attitudes. The implications of almost any improvement in or upgrading of our nuclear deterrent would result in the contravention of the 1967 non-proliferation treaty.
It was significant that in what was a thoughtful speech the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed omitted any reference to his party's position—or rather his interpretation of his party's position—in respect of minimum deterrence or the upgrading of that deterrent and its consequences for any non-proliferation or test ban treaties to which he would wish to commit his party. It is clear that Britain's adoption of any forms of nuclear weaponry will require testing, if not by the United Kingdom, at least by someone producing such weapons. If that were to be by the French—perhaps the most enthusiastic testers of all—or by the Americans, either way we should have to benefit from what is clearly a violation of what has hitherto been. at least by Labour Members, regarded as an inviolable international agreement.
However, from the Government side, we have heard from the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) all the old chestnuts about the 40 years of peace and how that is attributable exclusively to nuclear weapons, and perhaps partially to NATO. The Government have yet to consider the negotiations towards an international convention which would forbid the use of nuclear weapons against a state which neither possessed them nor had them stationed on its territory. We have yet to see any expression from this Government of a willingness to accept the doctrine of no first use.
Certainly, the consideration of the use of nuclear weapons against another nuclear power in retaliation is still at the forefront of the British Government's thinking on deterrence. Certainly, it is somewhat unclear whether Britain would be prepared to come out firmly against the use of its nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. Certainly, if we could get such a declaration it would provide assurance to those who are at present non-nuclear and who may consider the acquisition of such weapons.
One of the present problems is that many nations are on the verge of or capable of obtaining nuclear weapons and they must be discouraged from following that road. It is hypocrisy for a country such as Britain to say, "It's 852 okay for Britain to have nuclear weapons, but not for any other country to have them." We must go further than simply hiding behind treaties which had some substance when they were first agreed but which in many respects over the past 20 years have become almost irrelevant, given the ease with which relatively poorly developed countries can now obtain nuclear power.
This evening we heard from the hon. Member for Winchester about the problems of securing a zero-zero agreement and we heard that such an agreement would be virtually unacceptable in any form to the Prime Minister. But we have since heard that perhaps it could be reached. The Government's approach seems to be to say, "We may support what is happening because at the end of the day we do not have much say in it", or, "We leave it to the Americans", or, "We have had a go at the NATO planning; groups and elsewhere and at the end of the day the Americans will probably know best." They might say "Certainly, all the long-range nuclear weapons and" indeed, the short-range ones are American. They will be decommissioned when the Americans decide." At present the British Government take whatever line they wish so long as Britain can retain some sort of fig leaf.
We in the Opposition are not satisfied with the Government's arguments so far. We recognise that many opportunities may arise for the NATO powers and we urge the Government to seize those opportunities. We recognise that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary is present in place of the Minister of State; the hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), who is participating in talks on a chemical weapons ban. Certainly, we would welcome any agreement on that. I agree with the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed that there are many problems regarding chemical weapons, some of which were identified this weekend in the press. It is strange that a Government who claim always to adopt the role of peacemaker can at the same time test dreadful nerve gases on their own people in a form which no other member of the Alliance is prepared to do.
We live in times when there are tremendous opportunities for peace. We recognise that in their own confused ways, both the Soviet Union and the United States are beginning to appreciate that. On the one hand, we see the sophisticated Gorbachev and on the other the naive and confused Reagan. They are both coming to agreement, but on the sidelines this Government appear to be wilfully and maliciously trying to frustrate everything that those powers want to achieve. We hope that the Minister will give us some hope of a change of attitudes this evening and I ask him to give us the opportunity of seeing that hope meet reality tonight.
§ Mr. Eggar
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to reply. I also thank the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) for giving me at least a brief chance to respond to this interesting debate which in true form has been initiated by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). It was nice to be reassured by the presence of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). I 853 thought that I was to miss out on our debates that usually take place on central America, but I was delighted to see that he had his central American clothing with him even if he did not have the usual text. It was also nice to realise that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) can take some time off from his fratricidal strife to fight the battle on a wider canvas.
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne). I am afraid that my classical scholarship does not extend as far as his with regard to the Carthaginian wars, but I am sure that he will be able to take me aside after the next debate—as I will be seeking Mr. Deputy Speaker's permission to speak yet again—to give me the classical side of the story.
It is only to be expected that Opposition Members will criticise the Government for not doing enough in this area. However, it must be depressing for them to have to continue to play the old gramophone record which may represent a convenient concensus as the hon. Member for Clackmannan stated, but which is a gramophone record that was rejected and thrown into the wastepaper basket for the second general election running by the voters. It was clear on 11 June that the voters throughout the country supported the Government's policy on defence and not that put forward by any of the many opposition parties that have now reappeared.
One of the foundation stones for these policies is the recognition that arms control negotiations, and nuclear arms control in particular, are about preserving security, even if we seek to do that by reducing the number of weapons on both sides. This Government will not compromise on that basic point. We do not believe in arms control which does not meet that basic criterion of reinforcing security. If that means that progress in arms control negotiations at times seems slow, that may be an inevitable consequence of the complexity of the issues with which we are dealing. To call for greater speed in the negotiations ignores the very real need to understand fully what is involved before committing ourselves to an agreement which is binding on the Alliance.
Another of the foundation stones of this Government's approach to arms control is the commitment to full 854 consultations within the Alliance. I remind the House that we do not participate in the main nuclear arms control negotiations, the Geneva nuclear and space talks. Those are bilateral negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union, but in recognition of the consequences that nuclear arms reductions agreements will have for the security of the European Members of the Alliance, the United States has engaged in the most exemplary process of consultations within the Alliance. I remind the House that NATO is a free association of 16 democratic nations. We must all be given the opportunity to express our views on the conduct of the negotiations affecting our security.
Some may attempt to portray those consultations as European obstructionism, or European blocking of major agreements. Let me say frankly that it far better to resolve all the difficulties within the Alliance before the agreement is signed than to try to do so afterwards. That is what the consultation process is designed to achieve.
The Alliance is wholly committed to achieving an INF agreement, and in that context it continually assesses its nuclear capabilities. It does what is necessary to maintain deterrence. The United Kingdom is not holding back an INF agreement; on the contrary, we are a principal architect of such an agreement.
The House is rightly concerned about nuclear arms control. However, we should not forget the massive threat from Soviet chemical weapons—a threat that has built up despite the United Kingdom's unilateral renunciation of its own chemical warfare capability in the 1950s, and the unilateral United States moratorium since 1969. The dangers from those weapons are spreading. As two hon. Gentlemen have mentioned, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, is currently in Geneva, and will be making major new proposals to move the negotiations forward with the practical steps that are necessary to make a chemical ban effective. I am delighted that we have received support from both sides of the House for what is a major British arms initiative.
Finally, the British Government——