HL Deb 28 July 1965 vol 268 cc1305-16

3.8 p.m.

LORD CARRINGTON rose to draw attention to the international situation, and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is customary, just before the House breaks up for the Summer Recess, for your Lordships to have a debate on Foreign Affairs, and my noble friends and I thought it right and proper that this year should not be an exception, for there is certainly a great deal to talk about. Not only does this occasion give us an opportunity to talk about the issues which most immediately concern us, but also it enables us—and I think that this House is particularly fitted for this—to discuss rather more widely the direction of British foreign policy and British interests. We are so often preoccupied with the difficulties of the moment that we sometimes tend to overlook the longer-term trends and shifts of emphasis.

If, in what I say, I do not refer to disarmament, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, will not think me discourteous and will not think that I do not believe it very important; but, as he himself has said, he is going to make a speech and explain the problem later on in the debate and therefore I do not intend to comment on this except to say that if the noble Lord and Her Majesty's Government succeed in achieving a non-dissemination discussion in Geneva they will have done a great service to everyone in the world, and they certainly have the best wishes of all noble Lords in all quarters of the House, But my noble friend Lord Dundee will be speaking later on in the debate, and no doubt will have some comments to make on what the noble Lord has to say.

There has, I think, been in the last ten years a gradual but quite marked shift away from a Russian/American confrontation and the probability of all-out nuclear war. And with that change I think that we must start rethinking some of the policies and principles which have for so long guided us. Ever since the last war we have been conditioned to thinking in terms of Soviet aggression, particularly in Europe. This has been very natural, because for many years after the Second War there was a real danger of another world war resulting from the Russian Communist philosophy of world revolution.

However, in the last ten years there has been a significant change. This has come about for three reasons: first, I believe, because the Russians, whatever they may say in public and whatever boasts they may make, are very well aware of the enormous superiority of the United States in nuclear weapons and their delivery. The relative mildness of their reaction to the United States moves in South Vietnam and to the bombing of North Vietnam is evidence of this. Though it is undoubtedly true that in the smaller international problems the possession of nuclear power does nothing but inhibit the country which possesses it, since it is almost unthinkable that it could be used against a relatively defenceless country. Yet it still remains true in world affairs that power counts and power rests in the hands of the United States.

Secondly, there has been in Russia a gradual shift away from the doctrine of world revolution by military means. With the death of Stalin and altered priorities has come an improved standard of life in the Soviet Union, which has brought with it a much less aggressive attitude. Those who have nothing and have nothing to lose are much more inclined to aggression and much more easily led to war than those with a higher standard of life. And the increasing material wealth of the people of the Soviet Union is a most welcome factor in international affairs. Thirdly, there has been the emergence of China as a world Power and, with the emergence, the clash of Communist philosophy between the Soviet Union and China. This leaves the Soviet Union not only with an ideological problem, but also with the military problem on the vast frontier between the two countries. No doubt all your Lordships will have heard tell of the many incidents which have been reported along that frontier.

If, then, I am right in suggesting that open aggression by the Soviet Union has in the last ten years become more and more unlikely and that a world war arising from Soviet aggression is extremely unlikely, except by a series of appalling miscalculations on both sides, then we should look very carefully at our strategic thinking. I am glad to think that there is to be a review of NATO strategy. I am sure that we must not be afraid to adjust ourselves to new facts and, in conjunction with our allies, make a tactical reassessment of our interests. But the enigma lies in the attitude and direction in which Communist China is likely to move. I shall add a little more about this in what I have to say later about South Vietnam.

Another of the trends which has taken place since the war has been the emergence and dominance of the nation with the big population and the large industrial capacity. Before the war, it was perfectly possible for a country of as little as 20 million or 30 million people to be in the van of technological development, to produce sophisticated goods over a very wide range and to have a powerful army, navy and air force, though not, of course, numerically as strong as the giants. But since the war, with the increasing complexity and sophistication of almost everything that we use in our society, and with the fantastic advance in weapons and equipment, and their phenomenal costs, it is no longer possible even for a medium-sized nation to be in the same class, industrially or militarily, as countries of the size of the United States and Russia. And I should have thought that everything we had seen since the war would lead us to suppose that this trend is likely to continue. Though we in this country may be able to surpass the United States in inventiveness and research in a particular field, it is not possible for a country the size of Britain to compete over the entire range of industrial and military output. I must say that I sometimes wonder whether it will in the future be possible even for the United States to do everything in the military sphere, without relying in certain respects upon her allies.

Three new factors, then, have to be taken into consideration: first, the tacit acceptance by both United States and Russia that a war in Europe is a most unlikely event; secondly, the increasing dominance of those large countries with their vast industrial potential; and, thirdly, the emergence of China as a world Power. How do we in Britain fit into this changing scene? What are we to do, if we wish to maintain our standard of life and exert our influence among the great nations? I am not one of those who believe that it is possible for a nation to influence events, except in a very minor way, unless it is economically strong and industrially powerful. At the same time, I am quite certain that what we have to say in this country, the experience that we have gained over the centuries and the interests and welfare of the people of this country demand that we should be influencial in world councils. What are we to do? And where do our interests lie?

There is, I think, a school of thought among some members of the Party opposite—though not those in Government—that, now that we have no Empire and the Commonwealth is a rather loose association, we should, so to speak, opt out of world affairs; that we should reduce our military expenditure, opt out of our miltary commitments outside Europe and concentrate on being a sort of rather larger Sweden. I suppose that the 75 Socialist Members of Parliament who signed the letter in Tribune the other day represent, by and large, this point of view. I must say, however, that, much as I admire the Swedish people, I do not find that an attractive proposition for Britain. I do not think that that is either the best or the only alternative.

Some noble Lords opposite, at the time of the last British attempt to join the Common Market, thought that association with the Commonwealth would be an alternative. I do not know whether office has made them a little more realistic; or perhaps the last Prime Ministers' Conference has opened their eyes to reality. For the Commonwealth cannot be a military bloc, a political bloc or an economic bloc. One has only to look at the diversity of its members and their interests to realise that anybody who seriously contemplates an economic tie, even of the loosest character, does not understand what is happening in the Commonwealth to-day. Though I am a great supporter of the Commonwealth—and I think that your Lordships must have heard me speak about it on many occasions—I do not see it developing in that way. We could, I suppose, associate ourselves much more closely with the United States, in some sort of Customs Union and trade area. If we did so, however, I do not think that we should last very long as a sovereign State.

We are therefore, I think, left with the alternative of an association with Europe. The Conservative Party declared at one of its annual conferences that it was in favour of joining the Common Market, and nothing that has happened since that day, in spite of the veto of General de Gaulle, has made me think that we were wrong. One may argue, of course, about terms, and there has to be a realisation on the part of the Six of the economic difficulties of such countries as New Zealand; but it still seems to me that it would be good for Britain to be closely associated with Europe, and good for Europe if that were to come about.

The economic bloc which would then emerge would be of a size capable of holding its own among the giants of the world. The domestic market which it would produce would be large enough to support the most advanced and sophisticated industries, and it could operate, in conjunction with the United States, as a powerful and vital force in world affairs. Indeed, I do not see why it should not in the foreseeable future greatly increase its contacts with Russia, and more particularly, in the short term, with the countries of Eastern Europe, whose political pattern is changing very rapidly. I hope that the Government may take vigorous steps to increase our contacts and our trade in what are known as the satellite countries. If I am right in thinking that co-existence and a certain friendliness and appreciation of each other's problems is much more marked between Russia and America, then a powerful economic bloc in Europe will of itself lead to a lessening of tension and better relations throughout the Western World.

Of course, there is at the moment a dispute in the Common Market countries between France and the other members. Reaction by some people has, I think, been one of amused detachment, together with a secret feeling that, because the French vetoed our entry into the Common Market, it would be entirely fitting that France should break it up. For the reasons I have already given, I believe that a Europe economically strong and powerful is of vital interest in the balance of power in the world, and anything which weakens Europe must necessarily be bad. It is quite wrong that any of us should rejoice at the present dispute in Europe: for if Europe is weakened, then the West is weakened. It would, I believe, be a great mistake to think that this dispute is anything other than a temporary setback. The Common Market has gone so far, and been so successful, that I do not believe any of the Six are likely to throw away the many achievements and advantages which they have gained. Some accommodation will be found which will be acceptable to all parties. It may take a long time, but it will be found. And certainly it is in the interests of Europe and ourselves that it should be so.

Generally speaking, the foreign policy that the Government have followed since taking office has been very similar to that of their predecessors. In Vietnam, Malaysia, Cyprus, and in their attitude to East/West relations and their adherence to the Anglo-American Alliance and NATO—in all these things our policies are virtually indistinguishable; and a very good thing, too! But in what I am saying about Europe, I am not at all sure that I carry the Party opposite with me. If I do not, there is a strong divergence of view. The Socialist Party have, of course, gradually been coming nearer to the concept of some sort of association with Europe. The Foreign Secretary and others have been gently edging Labour Party opinion towards that end, but not by any means all noble Lords opposite are convinced that it would be a good thing.

The five conditions which are a prerequisite of Socialist adherence are still, so we are told, holy writ. If the noble Earl the Leader of the House will allow me to say so, it was difficult to discover from his Delphic words on the occasion of our debate on the Common Market, a few months ago, exactly what the policy of Her Majesty's Government was, or, indeed, what the opinion of the noble Earl was. Perhaps we shall learn in a few moments—or, should I say, in a few hours?—when the noble Earl comes to speak. But one thing I hope he will not do. I hope that the noble Earl will not talk about building bridges between EFTA and the Six, because that is completely unrealistic. The two organisations are entirely different concepts: one is purely economic, and the other is economic and political. The Government and the noble Earl, if he does speak on these lines, will be misinterpreting the objects of both organisations and misunderstanding their purpose. But at any rate I hope that the noble Earl will be able to explain in rather more detail what is the Government's attitude towards Europe.


My Lords, at the risk of bringing a little premature heat into the debate, may I ask the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition whether he would explain what is the attitude of the Opposition to joining Europe? Would they embark on negotiations now?


I think the noble Earl ought to be able to do a little better than that, so early in the afternoon. May I suggest that he reads the speech made by my right honourable friend Sir Alec Douglas-Home in another place only last week? I am sure that he has already done so, but if he reads it again, I think that he will have the answer to his question.


My Lords, if I may interrupt once more only before midnight, when I think I shall be speaking, may I say that surely we have not reached the point in this House where we have to be told that we must read speeches made in the other place rather than be told the policy of the Opposition here.


No. But we have reached a point in this House where we do not have this repetition. We nearly succeeded, as a Government, three years ago in joining the Common Market. Let us not, in the meantime, before we can try again, do anything which will make our subsequent entry more difficult; and let us resolve to try to join at the earliest opportunity.

I come now to the problem of China. Broadly speaking, there seem to be two views about China. There are those, such as the Americans and others, who think that China is expansionist in both a military and an ideological sense. They observe what is happening in South Vietnam, and the encouragement given to it by the Chinese. They read what is said by Chinese leaders and in Chinese newspapers, and they take the view that China is potentially a bigger threat to world peace than the Soviet Union. They see the emergence of China as a nuclear Power, and reason that within a few years, when larger nuclear weapons and their means of delivery are available to them, the balance of power in the world is likely to shift very substantially. They also feel that the possession of these weapons in the hands of the Chinese may be a very different thing from the same weapons in the hands of the Russians.

The other point of view, held by General de Gaulle, as I understand it, and by some others, is that China is not expansionist; that it is very largely the presence of Europeans in South-East Asia which is causing these difficulties, and that if all Europeans withdrew and left the region to its own devices there would emerge a number of States independent of Communist China, though I suppose possibly Communist, a situation which would bring peace and stability to the area. In other words, they believe that China is not interested in military expansion.

My Lords, I think at this stage it is very difficult to judge which of these two concepts is the right one; and particularly is it difficult to judge whether the second one is right, since the only way of putting it to the test is by complete withdrawal from Vietnam, Malaysia and elsewhere and waiting to see what happens. This is not, I suggest, a very appetising suggestion.

I remember ten years ago paying a visit to the Far East for the Eden Hall Conference, which used to take place every year in Singapore, and speaking to a number of those most concerned with our policy out there—the Chargé d' Affaires in Peking, Sir Robert Scott, who was then Commissioner-General, and many others very experienced in Far Eastern matters —and they took the view at that time that the Chinese leadership were not really aware of the devastating consequences of nuclear war. I remember that I wrote a Minute to my noble friend Lord Avon, who was then Prime Minister, on the subject. Your Lordships will remember that this was some years ago before the days of long-range rockets and the vast number of megatons which it is now possible to deliver. But those who had seen a nuclear explosion and knew the effect of it at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and heard of much bigger explosions which were then taking place in the United States and the Soviet Union, were absolutely convinced that a nuclear war was unthinkable. The Chinese, in their vast-ness, had no experience of this, and it was thought that they considered the size of their country and its vast population rendered them largely immune to the effects of nuclear warfare.

If that was true then, is it true now? I should have thought not. The Chinese have detonated their first atomic device. They have knowledge of what these weapons can do. In ten years the size and potential destruction and means of delivery have all increased in power, in range and in sophistication. I do not think the leaders of any country in the world can now suppose that they can be even partially immune from nuclear war. I should not, therefore, have thought it likely that the Chinese, knowing their immense inferiority to the Americans, are likely to risk a global war.

But whether or not they are expansionist militarily—and they may well calculate that it is possible to expand without the dangers of nuclear war—they are certainly expansionist in their ideology. It is the avowed intention of the Chinese to ensure the spread of Communism, and one has no reason to doubt that they intend to do so. One has no reason to doubt, also, that the sort of Communism that they want to see is the Chinese type of Communism. Therefore, I am bound to say it seems to me that the more likely effect of a withdrawal from South Vietnam and South-East Asia is the emergence of Communist régimes on the Chinese lines, and dominated politically, if not militarily, from Peking.

If this is so—and I accept that there are two views about it—what would be the immediate consequences of American withdrawal? The South Vietnamese Government would collapse at once—there can be no doubt of that—the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation would disappear; no confidence would remain among its Asian members. Thailand's morale would be greatly, if not fatally, shaken, as would that of her neighbours who wish to remain neutral. American prestige would suffer such a serious blow that the whole of their world-wide policy of resistance to Communist aggression would suffer and be suspect.

I do not for one moment imagine that the United States intends that any of these things should happen, nor can she afford to see them happen. The Americans are deeply committed in South Vietnam. They cannot afford to lose, and they do not intend to lose. This very important and salient fact should be clearly understood by those in Hanoi and in Peking who imagine that total victory for them in South Vietnam is possible. It would be idle to deny that the Americans are facing great problems, not least of which is the uncertainty of the political situation in Saigon. Whatever one may have thought of Diem and some of the methods he employed, he was undoubtedly having a certain amount of success in consolidating the South, in making the villages secure from Viet Cong, and making it clear to quite a lot of people in the South that it paid to support the régime. Since then there have been a series of disastrous Governments with no popular backing and producing no results.

When we talk of the war in South Vietnam we must remember that in one way or another the South Vietnamese have been fighting for over twenty years, and not unnaturally they are thoroughly fed up with it. And they are even more fed up when it appears that the results of fighting for successive South Vietnamese Governments do not seem to lead to peace and stability and the safety of their wives and families. The war in South Vietnam, as we know, is not a war in the ordinary sense of the word. There are no fronts, and no armies marching here and there. It is a war of movement at night, of sabotage and raids. As one sleeps at night in the British Embassy in Saigon, one can hear the mortars and guns of the Viet Cong. Yet during the day it is impossible to find them as they hide among the rivers and marshes of the area.

All this leads to great uncertainty, and it is essential for any political leader of South Vietnam, if he is to have any popular support at all, to show results, and to show them fairly quickly. This is the problem which faces General Ky and his American advisers. In my view, it is certainly one of the most important problems at the present time in South Vietnam. We know from our own experience in Malaya how a few men can disrupt the ordinary life of a country. We know at first hand of the problems and difficulties of fighting in jungle and paddyfield. It took us a very long time to win in Malaya, and it may take the Americans, or the South Vietnamese, a long time to stabilise the position in South Vietnam. But I have no doubt of the American ability to do this, and the impossibility of an American defeat.

Of course, it would be much better if we could bring this war to an end by negotiations, and reach a settlement which is acceptable to all the parties. All of us share the Prime Minister's wish to do that, but I think the difficulty at the moment is that the North Vietnamese seriously believe that they are going to win, and are therefore not in a mood to receive peace missions or to think of negotiations. I am afraid that at the present time we shall not be able to shake them in this belief. But I also believe that, as the monsoon nears its end, and as American military power and determination become even more apparent to the North Vietnamese, there may well be a change. It is then that we should do everything in our power to see that the negotiations are resumed. It is then that we should use our influence as Co-Chairmen of the Geneva Agreement. It is then that we should seek to influence events by such methods as the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Mission, but having taken the precaution of preparing the ground beforehand.

I do not believe that there is an easy or a quick solution to this problem, but I think that it is possible, towards the end of the year, that we shall find a different climate of opinion in North Vietnam and Peking. Let us devoutly hope so, and that in that solution to the problem Britain may play an important and constructive role. I beg to move for Papers.