§ 5.16 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD rose to move, That this House takes note of the situation in South-East Asia. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion Standing in my name on the Order Paper. Certain Members of your Lordships' House were anxious to have a debate on recent events in Cambodia and Vietnam. Although there was a debate in another place last week, the Government thought it right that a similar opportunity should be provided for this House to debate this subject, and that it should take place on a formal Government Motion. The Motion asks the 754 House to take note of the situation in South-East Asia; but my opening remarks will be confined to the continuing tragic war in Vietnam and the consequences arising in Laos and Cambodia.
§ I know that recent events in Cambodia have aroused very strong feeling among many noble Lords. I recognise the depth of this feeling and I respect its sincerity. Her Majesty's Government deeply regret any intensification of the fighting and any increase in the suffering of which there has already been all too much in this long and cruel war in Indo-China. But I think it is essential to see recent events in Cambodia in perspective against the background of the wider picture. It is not possible to view them, or pass judgment upon them, in isolation. They have to be seen against the background of developments in Cambodia itself and in Indo-China and South-East Asia as a whole.
§ I believe that it is for the countries of South-East Asia to decide on their own future without outside interference and to develop their economic resources for the benefit of their own people and of the area as a whole. There are increasing signs that the spirit of collective development and of working together to tackle their own problems is developing throughout the area. The initiative by a number of Asian countries to tackle the problem of Cambodia is an important instance of this. In the economic field the countries of South-East Asia are likely to continue for some time to look for help from more developed countries outside the region. We recognise their right to expect such help and we, for our part, are doing our best to supply it within our existing resources.
§ The main obstacle to peaceful progress in the area lies in the situation in Indo-China. Until a settlement is achieved there, it will be difficult for any real advances to be made. Equally, the form of the eventual settlement can be expected to have far-reaching effects on the pattern of events throughout the area. If the outcome were to be a Communist takeover in South Vietnam against the wishes of the majority of the people, then the implications would be clearly understood by other Asian countries. But if a fair settlement can be reached, as I 755 believe it can, then the way to peaceful regional development will be open.
In Cambodia, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong have long made use of Cambodian territory as an area of sanctuary to which they could withdraw from the fighting in Vietnam, as a base area where they could keep their stores, conduct training and launch offensives across the Vietnam border, and as a supply route through which the bulk of their supplies were brought for the southern half of South Vietnam, the area around Saigon and the heavily populated Delta area. I think we need to be clear about this. It would be quite wrong to think that in the past Cambodia has been allowed to be neutral in the true sense of the word. The Cambodian army was not until recently engaged in hostilities and there was no fighting on Cambodian soil. However, there was this North Vietnamese and Viet Cong activity. The former Head of Slate of Cambodia, Prince Sihanouk, himself complained about the illegal Communist presence in his country. On leaving Paris on March 13 for Moscow and Peking, he said:
I intend to ask Moscow and Peking to advise their friends at Hanoi and in the Viet Cong to put a brake on their interference in Cambodian domestic affairs, …
While in Moscow, he sent a message to his mother, the Queen, which was subsequently published. The message said:
I should like to affirm to my fellow countrymen that I will never tolerate either the infiltration of the Viet Cong and Viet Minh or their interference in our affairs, because ours is a sovereign country. Yesterday, I informed the friendly Soviet leaders of this matter.
§ The fact that until now there was no fighting in Cambodia should not lead us to overlook the threat this illegal presence represented to South Vietnam. It was in this situation that South Vietnamese and American action across the border into Cambodia against these North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces took place. I would say again that I do not intend to pass judgment on this action because I do not believe it would serve a useful purpose to try to do so. I think, as I have always thought, that in Indo-China it is no use looking back. The important thing is to look forward and to try, and keep on trying, to work 756 for a way to bring the war to an end. This is the only way that all the suffering and misery can be stopped.
§ My Lords, the root cause of the troubles in Indo-China, whether in Vietnam or in Cambodia or in Laos, lies in the Vietnam war. I have described how the situation in Cambodia is inextricably linked with what is going on across the border in South Vietnam. In Laos it has been impossible to apply properly the 1962 Geneva Agreement because, in violation of the terms of that Agreement, the North Vietnamese have maintained a large number of troops in the country. They do this partly to support the Pathet Lao, the Communist movement, but perhaps their main interest in Laos is in keeping open the Ho Chi Minh trails, the complex of jungle trails running through South-Eastern Laos through which men and supplies pass from North Vietnam for the war in the South, particularly in the Northern half of South Vietnam. So long as the war in the South continues, the North Vietnamese will want to keep this route open, and I do not see how any real, basic settlement, involving the implementation and full application of the 1962 Geneva Agreements, can be expected, because this would mean the withdrawal of all foreign troops—that is, North Vietnamese troops. And so long as they believe that they still need the Ho Chi Minh trails, I am afraid that the North Vietnamese are not likely to accept this.
§ We had hoped that it might have been possible to reach a degree of limited agreement which would at least mean an improvement in the situation. Her Majesty's Government welcome the recent contacts between the Prime Minister of Laos, Prince Souvanna Phouma, who deserves all praise and support for his long and courageous efforts to preserve the neutrality and integrity of his country, and the leader of the Pathet Lao. Her Majesty's Government hope these contacts will develop into talks and that these may lead to a measure of agreement which will make possible a limited improvement in the situation in Laos until, as we must all hope, the eventual end of the Vietnam war makes possible a really comprehensive solution which will enable Laos to live undisturbed as a unified country on 757 the lines which were agreed by all concerned eight years ago in Geneva.
§ In Cambodia too Her Majesty's Government had hoped that progress, even limited progress, could be made in direct talks between the Government in Phnom Penh and the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. I regret the fact that the North Vietnamese broke off these talks and declined the Cambodian Government's invitation to renew them. As a Co-Chairman of the Geneva Conference we have conveyed to the other Co-Chairman, the Soviet Union, the urgent request by the Cambodian Government for the early return of the International Control Commission. We believe that the Commission has still a role to play and we therefore give support for its return. Unfortunately the Soviet attitude is not the same as ours.
§ In Vietnam itself the war goes on. We can perhaps find some comfort in the fact that although there are from time to time upsurges in the fighting, the general level of hostilities is well below what it was during, for example, the heavy fighting in the offensives of 1968. We must be thankful for even limited improvements in the situation: but there can be no end to the killing until there is a proper comprehensive settlement including a cease-fire. While the war goes on, there is always a danger, at any time, of an intensification of fighting, either in Vietnam itself or across the border in Laos or in Cambodia.
§ My Lords, I venture to suggest that the situation in Cambodia would not be what it is to-day if both sides of the Vietnam war had displayed an equal will to end it. We have over the past years, publicly in this House and in another place, and privately, in particular through those whom we hoped had influence in Hanoi, urged upon North Vietnam the wisdom and humanity of negotiating seriously for an end to the war. Equally often we warned them that by not negotiating they would both continue the dreadful toll of human lives and also risk an intensification and extension of the war. We have repeatedly exhorted them to match the many steps, concessions and attempts made by the United States to initiate serious negotiations, both in Paris and elsewhere. Her Majesty's Government had hoped very 758 much that when the four parties principally involved agreed to sit down together at the negotiating table in Paris, an agreed settlement might at last be in sight. Il is very difficult for outside parties to help towards a settlement unless and until those directly involved can themselves start making some progress even if it is limited progress, in this direction. It is a great disappointment that so far this progress is lacking.
§ The Americans have for their part repeatedly made it clear that they are prepared to join in serious negotiations at any time, subject to only one condition: the right of the Vietnamese people to determine their own future without outside interference. I do not think that anyone can dispute in principle this right. There may be disagreement about how it should properly be implemented, what sort of electoral process there should be and what sort of supervision is necessary to ensure that the result is a fair one which really represents the wishes of the people of the country of South Vietnam. This is a matter which in my view could properly be discussed. But I do not think that the American insistence on this right can possibly be represented as an obstacle to negotiations taking place.
§ The Communist position is that they still insist on two pre-conditions for serious talks: first, American agreement to complete an unconditional withdrawal; and secondly, the setting up in South Vietnam, in advance of any elections, of a coalition government from which the present elected South Vietnamese Government would specifically be excluded. It is a matter of opinion whether these are justified requests or not. But to insist on their acceptance, as the North Vietnamese do, before talks have even begun seems to me completely unhelpful and unrealistic. This is what the talks themselves surely must be about. I hope that if they cannot specifically withdraw these two pre-conditions, then at least a way can be found to put them to one side for the time being so that real talks can start.
§ President Nixon has repeatedly made it clear that a negotiated settlement is and remains his primary objective; and I think this is absolutely right. We have always said that a negotiated political settlement is the only one which can last 759 and which can do justice to all the parties concerned. This will mean concessions by both sides, and I am under no illusions that it will involve a long process of hard bargaining. But I believe that such a settlement could be worked out, and every day that the start of negotiations is put back means another day before the war can be ended.
§ So long as a negotiated settlement is not possible, President Nixon has his alternative plan of Vietnamisation. This means essentially turning over responsibility to the South Vietnamese for their own defence on a progressive and phased basis. It is a second best, as the President himself recognises, but at least it is a way of making progress; and his recent announcement that another 150,000 American troops will be withdrawn by next spring is a further clear indication that he intends to press on with it. This means that by next spring nearly half the total number of American forces in Vietnam will have gone. In the light of this, I do not see how it can reasonably be argued, as some people have suggested, that the Americans want a long-term continuing military involvement in Indo-China. The evidence is that they want exactly the opposite.
§ The North Vietnamese, for their part, seem to have no constructive proposals or plans other than reiterating their unacceptable pre-conditions. I am reluctantly forced to the conclusion that they are not interested in the free expression of the will of the people in the South, but that they believe that if they keep the war going long enough, they will get all they want without having to make any concessions in exchange. I hope that I am wrong about this, and that they will yet be willing to take part in the give and take of real negotiations. But their behaviour so far has given no sign of this.
Recent events in Cambodia, with American and South Vietnamese forces moving across the border in strength, have caused grave concern throughout the world. It has raised the question: is this an intention by the United States to escalate and extend the area of fighting in the long term, or is it a tactical exercise to relieve pressure on South Vietnamese and American forces in Vietnam? Is it, as was clearly stated by the United States Government, an intervention limited in
scale and in time, and will it prove so? As to the intention, we have the words of President Nixon on the 20th of April, and of course subsequently; namely, that the decision to enter Cambodia had been taken
to protect our men who are in Vietnam and to guarantee the continued success of the withdrawal and Vietnamisation programmes".
He went on to say:
We have made and will continue to make every possible effort to end this war through negotiation at the conference table rather than through more fighting on the battle field.
For my part—and I think that of this House—I would take these words as a denial of a change of policy by the United States authorities, and an expression of their continued desire for a negotiated settlement.
§ As regards our attitude towards specific actions such as that now taken by the Americans in Cambodia, I have explained why I do not think we should pass judgment at this time. President Nixon gave an assurance on television last Friday evening that the great majority of all American units will be out of Cambodia by mid-June, and all Americans, including advisers, by the end of that month. Concern must, however, remain, for as a consequence of this action there must be the possibility of counter-action which would make the efforts for a negotiated settlement even more difficult.
§ We have a specific concern in the problem of Vietnam and the associated questions of Laos and Cambodia in our capacity as Co-Chairman of the Geneva Conference. Apart from this, however, we have a wider general interest in the establishment of peaceful conditions throughout the area, where we have substantial trade and investment. We have long made it clear that we are ready to help in any way which the parties concerned believe could be useful. There could be another Geneva Conference or a Geneva-type conference, or it could take some other form. What is essential, and so far lacking, is an indication that those principally concerned are prepared to take part. Until we have that, there cannot be any prospect of success.
§ In the past we have on numerous occasions, both publicly and privately, urgently called upon the Soviet Co-Chairman to join with us in recalling the Geneva Conference. In so doing, we 761 have acted in the knowledge that South Vietnam, the United States and their Allies would heed such a call. We had hoped that the great and powerful influence of the Soviet Union could have the same effect on the other side. We have never been successful. But, my Lords, we must try again. On the 1st of May the Secretary of Slate asked the Soviet Ambassador to pass on a message to Mr. Gromyko expressing the hope that the Soviet Union could now give its agreement to a new conference. He repeated that call urgently last week.
§ We welcome and support the call made by the Secretary-General of the United Nations for a fresh effort to bring this war to an end. We should naturally have welcomed it if action could have been taken in the United Nations context to try to help achieve a settlement in Vietnam. But the North Vietnamese have consistently maintained their attitude that this matter is no concern of the United Nations, and this has always frustrated any progress in this way.
§ In the absence of an international conference, we look to the parties primarily involved to make more headway either in Paris or elsewhere. If this could be done, then perhaps the conference could be called to develop this and draw up an eventual settlement. We hope also that progress can be made in contacts between the parties in Laos and perhaps Cambodia. There is an obvious limit to what these can achieve because of the external factors which I have described, but nevertheless I believe that any progress should be welcomed.
§ Her Majesty's Government welcome also initiatives such as those now being taken by a number of Asian countries to tackle this problem. We believe that this reflects the growing sense of identity in South-East Asia. It is wholly in accordance with our belief that the way to make progress is by consultation. We wish the Conference soon to begin in Djakarta every success. Any move by Asian countries directed at achieving a settlement of the problem will have our support.
§ In short, I believe that we should keep trying to explore any possible way to make progress. We are constantly in touch with our Russian Co-Chairman and with other interested countries to this end. We try to avoid any rigid preconceived 762 ideas. We recognise that the countries involved have genuine misgivings and very real fears, and that they may well be reluctant to commit themselves to a solution which in their view would jeopardise their essential interests. But I still believe that a solution could be worked out which would safeguard the essential interests of all concerned. If we can in any way help towards this, we stand ready to do so.
If I were to sum up the views of the British Government, which I hope and believe will have the support of this House, I do not think I can do better than draw the attention of the House to the concluding remarks of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on May 5 in another place when he said this:
First, that the House gives its full backing to the actions of the Government, in this new perspective of danger, aimed at convening a conference capable of ensuring that ail these questions can be resolved round the conference table.
Second, that, as a matter of urgency, all the efforts of Her Majesty's Government, together with all those whom we can influence or persuade, should be directed to securing the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the soil of Cambodia.
Third, for the very same reason, and because it has been the policy of Her Majesty's Government, of the American Government, of the Soviet Government, and, I believe, of practically every Government throughout the world, the withdrawal of foreign troops and foreign intervention from Vietnam itself, as soon as we have secured the elements of a lasting and honourable settlement which assures to the people of Vietnam their own inalienable right to decide for themselves their own future.
Fourth, that the Indo-Chinese territories, areas from which peace has been a stranger now for the whole of a quarter of a century since war ended in Europe, should have the right of peaceful development free from foreign interference. For this purpose they should have the right to declare their neutrality free of foreign interference, and to have that neutrality respected by international agreement.
Fifth, and in a wider sense, the whole House recognises the undeniable very much wider fact, which overlies all conflict in Asia, that the conflict of South-East Asia, and every manifestation of that conflict, cannot be decided on a world scale without the representation on a world scale, at the United Nations, of the Chinese Government and the Chinese people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 5/5/70; col. 266.]
These five points, at the end of this debate, represent the basis on which Her Majesty's Government intend to work for a solution to this tragic problem. I have
no doubt that the House will endorse those views and intentions. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the situation in South-East Asia.—(Lord Shepherd.)
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I do not want to be ungracious to the Government, for they have given us some time in which to debate this Motion, but I feel bound to say that it is rather a pity that a debate which has 17 speakers, and which is on an issue as important as this, should be held as second business in this House after a Bill of some magnitude. I tried to persuade the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip of the error of their ways, but I failed and so I will say no more about it. In any event, if rumour is true, it may be that for the next month or so I shall not be agreeing with anything that noble Lords opposite say, but on this occasion I agreed with almost everything that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said. So I will leave it at that. In any event, I do not intend to detain your Lordships very long.
Although the terms of the Motion are to call attention to the problems of South-East Asia, it is, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has pointed out, the recent developments in Cambodia and Vietnam which are the immediate cause of this debate. Since on the outcome of what is happening in Vietnam may very well depend the whole future of South-East Asia, it is an important and timely debate. We in this House have waited ten days or so before we could have a debate. Consequently, we can look with rather less passion and more knowledge at the actions of the United States Government and the consequences which will flow from what has happened. So far as I am concerned, it is still a good deal too early to say whether the advice on which the Americans decided to enter Cambodia was right; or whether the gains that they have made in captured material, food and ammunition outweigh the propaganda advantages which their opponents have undoubtedly seized.
I do not think fat least I hope not) that the Foreign Secretary would wish to alter a word of the speech that he made in another place a week ago. It 764 seems to me that what he said was fair and reasonable. We do not know on what advice the American Government acted, and we ourselves are not directly concerned in a military way, and therefore we should not be too hasty in condemning actions about which we are not fully informed. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly true that the American action in taking the war on to Cambodian soil caused grave misgivings to a large section of people. It seems to me that they fall, broadly speaking, into two classes: there are those who believe that the Americans should never have been in South Vietnam in the first place, because in their view the war there was unwinnable and, consequently, in the end the Americans would have to leave with their main purpose unfulfilled. Allied to that, although with a slightly different angle, there are those who believe that force of any kind is not, in this situation or, indeed, in the latter part of the twentieth century, the right way to settle anything, and they are as critical of the Viet Cong as they are of the Americans; and as critical of the Russians in Czechoslovakia as they are of all situations in which force plays a part. I can respect and understand these points of view, although I do not necessarily share them. I want to say something more about that later on.
There is another class of people who oppose the Americans and who, it seems to me, have done so for wholly different reasons. They are basically anti-American; basically anti-West and basically opposed to our way of life. They would much rather that the Viet Cong succeeded in their military conquests of South Vietnam than that the South Vietnamese should be allowed to decide their own fate. They have a double standard in which no criticism is made of the Viet Cong for their aggression, or for their use of Cambodia and Laos in the war in South-East Asia.
In the view of these people only one side is wrong, and that side is always wrong, regardless of whether it uses force, or has force used against it. While decrying the use by the Americans of force in Vietnam, they will applaud Russian actions in Czechoslovakia; and while deriding American imperialists for using force, they will turn what is often a peaceful demonstration into a violent 765 one, using the very violence in their own cause which they so deplore in other people. I do not say that they are a very large section of the population or, indeed, a very large proportion of those who were concerned at the American action. But that attitude of bigoted intolerance is an ugly phenomenon which none of us can afford to take too lightly, and it never seems to occur to those people that their behaviour leads ultimately to the danger of over-reaction by those whose restraint they are now abusing. We have seen what they did last Sunday, in the demonstrations in Grosvenor Square and in the West End. We have seen how they howled at and shouted down the Foreign Secretary, and I hope we have noted what their motives are, why they are doing it and how they are doing it.
My Lords, I do not start, as they do, on the assumption that everything the Americans do is wrong. On the contrary, when I look back over the last 30 years and see what America has done in getting Europe on her feet again, with Marshall Aid; in her generosity in coming to the aid of underdeveloped countries and in the way in which she has shouldered the lion's share of the defence of the Free World, I do not question American motives. On the contrary, I think they are likely to be generous and high-minded.
There may be differences of opinion about whether it was wise for the United States to get into Vietnam. There are some who think—and with hindsight I wonder if they are right: I do not know—that as the French were unable to complete their war satisfactorily in Indonesia it was hardly likely that the Americans would do so either. But whether the Americans were right or wrong to go into Vietnam, nobody can deny that their motives were entirely honourable. They went into Vietnam because they felt it their duty to help a small country which was being subverted and invaded against its own wishes, and they thought that if this were allowed to continue without any kind of response on the part of the United States—the most powerful country in that part of the world—then the whole credibility of the Americans as champions of the Free World would be undermined. They may have been wrong, but they certainly were 766 not dishonourable. After all, in rather different circumstances, because we were responsible for the administration of the country we fought in Malaysia against subversion from inside and outside, and we succeeded, though at times the position was very black, in defeating that subversion and in handing over a country stable and prosperous to a freely elected Government.
My Lords, these decisions about whether or not to intervene are very hard decisions to make. It really is impossible to know at what stage a successful enterprise such as the British operations in Malaysia becomes an unsuccessful, or at any rate, a partially unsuccessful, operation such as Vietnam; and it is difficult to say whether it is better not to try at all. Those of us who are friends of the Americans have watched with the greatest sympathy the appallingly difficult decisions they have had to take: the decision to bomb in North Vietnam; the decision to stop short of really effective bombing; the decision to stop bombing in North Vietnam, so that negotiations with Hanoi could take place, and then the complete lack of response from Hanoi to those overtures. Although both President Johnson and President Nixon have made it quite clear that successful negotiations would entail the complete withdrawal of American troops, there has been no indication of any change of heart from Hanoi. On the contrary, the war has continued, and ever-increasingly the territories of the neutral States of Cambodia and Laos have been used by the Viet Cong and Hanoi to fight the South Vietnamese and the Americans. During the whole of this time America has been fighting this war with one hand tied behind her back, unable to use her full military power and unable to trespass on the soil of the neutral States from which land attacks were mounted and provisions supplied. And in everything they have done the Americans have had to weigh up the effect on their neighbours, for a withdrawal that looked like a defeat could lead to shattering the morale of their friends.
Here it seems to me that we, a country with enormous interests in South-East Asia, both in trade and in investment, have ourselves to take a view. South-East Asia has been in a very unsettled state ever since the end of the war, and 767 I myself believe that, but for British presence and American presence, the map of South-East Asia would look very different to-day from what it does. What would have happened to Indonesia had not the British stood with the Malaysians in their confrontation policy? What would have happened to Malaysia itself? Where would Thailand have been; and, indeed, what is happening there now—when we know there is considerable subversion in the North of that country—and what would have been the consequent effect on the remaining free countries in that part of the world?
It seems to me that the credibility of America and of the West is critical in safeguarding the independence of those countries, and if, as a result of what happens in Vietnam, American credibility is damaged then the safety of South-East Asia is to that extent diminished. Smaller countries will begin to look round and say, "In the event of trouble we don't see anybody who in the last resort is going to be our friend and stick up for us." There may be some who ask, "Does that really matter?"My Lords, I think it does matter. I think it matters for the people in those countries themselves, who have no wish to be subverted or to become Communist. I think it matters for our kinsmen in Australia and New Zealand, and I think it matters ultimately for the safety and the peace of the whole world.
I do not think I would forecast, or have the knowledge to forecast, whether or not the Americans are likely to reach a successful military solution in Vietnam coupled with an acceptable peace. It may be that the operation in Cambodia, by its capture of the vast quantities of ammunition and food, may shorten the war and make withdrawal easier. But so far as I can judge, an outright military victory is very unlikely. Consequently, there must be an alternative to the continuation of the fighting, and the only possible alternative is some form of negotiation, and some form of negotiation which is helped by the Big Powers. And I agree wholeheartedly with what the Foreign Secretary has said and with what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has just said.
It may be that there does not seem to be much likelihood of making progress, 768 and I think we must say that, at any rate so far, the attitude of the Russians has been very discouraging. But I remember very well how discouraging the omens were for my noble friend Lord Avon, when he was Foreign Secretary—and perhaps I might say at this juncture how very pleased the whole House will be to see my noble friend here. This is the first occasion since his recent operation on which he has taken part in any public debate, and it is very nice to see him back in this House. He, when he was Foreign Secretary. was faced with just as difficult a situation and yet, after the most strenuous and prolonged negotiations, he managed to get the Geneva Settlement.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that I do not believe, even now, that it is impossible for us to do the same. I am quite sure that every one of us in this House would, and will, do everything in his or her power to help to achieve such an outcome. It seems to me that is the way in which we in this country can be useful—not by condemnation of the Americans or by passing resolutions or by demonstrations, but by a determination to continue, however difficult and however discouraging we may find it, the efforts we have made so far to find a peaceful solution to the Vietnam problem.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ LORD GLADWYN
My Lords, I should like to start by associating myself completely with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and saying how much we welcome the presence among us to-day of the noble Earl, Lord Avon, than whom no one knows more about the situation in South-East Asia or produced more in the way of constructive proposals for arriving at a peaceful settlement.
My Lords, the action of President Nixon in ordering American troops into Cambodia has given rise to a large number of rather violent accusations, most of which seem to be entirely unjustified. In the first place, there has been the accusation that this was violating the neutrality of Cambodia. That frankly is absurd, for the reasons so well deployed by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and which I naturally will not repeat, beyond saying that, in a way, it was father extraordinary, given the great 769 build-up of arms and ammunition the other side of the non-existent Cambodian frontier, that the Americans had not done this kind of thing before.
So we come to another accusation which is that the President has been guilty of an act of aggression under the United Nations Charter. This is equally absurd. If any State has been guilty of an act of aggression it is North Vietnam, which from 1954 until now has not ceased to try to overturn the Government of South Vietnam by force of arms, because it believed, on ideological grounds, that its own form of national Communism was something which was, so to speak, the wave of the future and therefore bound to impose itself in the interests of the human race. But though ideology may explain, it does not excuse, aggression. It is in the concept of an act of aggression as such, and not on the ideology of the wave of the future, that the security system embodied in the United Nations Charter, as we all know, has rested, and will rest for so long as the United Nations retain any significance.
We hear that President Nixon ought nevertheless, before invading Cambodia, to have brought the whole issue before the United Nations. But, my Lords, what issue? In any event, the North Vietnamese, and their powerful Chinese backers, are not members of the United Nations. Nor is there the slightest suggestion that either the Security Council or the General Assembly of the United Nations would be able to deal satisfactorily with the problem. After all, the United States has a veto in the Council, and if there were a large majority in the Assembly, as there very well might be, for the immediate and total withdrawal of United States troops, that would certainly not help, either. Resolutions of the Assembly have, of course, no binding force from the legal point of view on non-signatories.
Considerations of the same sort apply to the possibility of taking part in a conference convened by the co-chairmen of the Conference of 1954; namely, Britain and France. It is not (perhaps this has been said already but certainly it ought to be repeated) President Nixon who would refuse to take part in such a conference: it is the Russians who are objecting to doing so at the present time 770 —not, I repeat, the Americans. In any case, the position is more difficult now than it was in 1954, because then the Chinese were prepared to come in and it is very doubtful whether they would do anything of the kind now.
Should the President, then, have consulted his NATO allies before crossing the nominal jungle frontier? I believe somebody said in another place in discussion of this matter that this would almost have been equivalent to discussing the devaluation of a currency before actually announcing the fact. If there is anything in the theory that the enemy's main command posts were in the so-called Parrot's Beak, then it would have been folly to have risked a leak which would have resulted in its withdrawal, and perhaps demolition, before the troops arrived. Finally, it certainly cannot be said that the President by invading Cambodia has in some way sabotaged the direct negotiations that have been going on for so long in Paris. What has happened there is that the other side, in spite of the desperate efforts of the Americans, have simply refused to play, because they are convinced—they are at the moment, anyhow—that the Americans are on the run. Let us hope that they will be disillusioned. They therefore do not want to make concessions now which they feel they may have for the asking later on.
What, then, are the legitimate criticisms, if any, of the President's action? Here I think my analysis may differ slightly from that presented by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, though in a general way I agree very largely with what he said. The real criticism, I feel, is not so much about the invasion of Cambodia as such; it relates to the conduct of the war during the last fifteen years or so in South-East Asia as a whole. What really gave expression to the tremendous outburst of protest in the United States of America, and indeed to profound disquiet in this country, not least among the friends of America, was the fear lest the invasion of Cambodia might be the prelude to an indefinite extension of an already disastrous war.
Happily, after the declaration of Mr. Nixon at his Press Conference on May 7, it seems that this is not so; that having, as may be hoped, destroyed the resources of the adversary in the Cambodian "sanctuary" (as it is called) 771 all American troops will be back over the border by the end of June; that is to say, before the monsoon may be expected to break. If that happens, it will be shown that the whole gesture which has dismayed the world and divided America was only designed to assist the originally announced purpose; namely, to withdraw the bulk of American troops from South Vietnam by about the end of the present year, or next spring. And, if the second 150,000 are moved then, more than half of the original American Army will have been withdrawn. If, therefore, this process of withdrawal is resumed, and it is seen that the destruction of the "sancturaries" is helping the forces of South Vietnam to put up adequate resistance to the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese, then the whole Cambodian operation might be justified, and Mr. Nixon at the end of the year might even be receiving the congratulations of some of his allies and—who knows?—the congratulations of some of his domestic political opponents as well.
But it is at this point that a certain doubt seems to creep in. Can the American Army really be brought out of South Vietnam without grave loss of face unless they really have ensured the future of some independent Government in South Vietnam? Even if it is, might not all the countries of South-East Asia, including South Vietnam, "go Communist" (as the saying is) in accordance with the well-known "domino" theory? Above all, will the situation at home become sufficiently revolutionary to force the Ad-, ministration to act against what it may believe to be the interests of the State, and, if it does, what will be the effect on the maintenance of United States' forces in Western Europe, to say nothing of the maintenance of a pro-Western attitude in the Government of Japan?
Well, there must be very few in this country who believe that the huge military commitment of the United States in South Vietnam has been anything but an error of the first magnitude. I think it has already been said that most of us would give the Americans the credit for good intentions, and there is no reason to believe that the whole thing was a plot on the part of the Pentagon or the CIA. The tragedy is that the entire philosophy of the "containment of Communism" has 772 been vitiated, as it were, in Asia by the rise of nationalism and the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that the Western World, by the mere fact of its vast technological superiority, is trying to fasten a sort of neo-colonialist hegemony on the people of the so-called "developing" countries, who number about two-thirds of the population of the world. The paradox is that the country in which Communism started is increasingly being associated, in the minds of the developing countries, with the West.
It follows that a military victory in an area of the world such as South-East Asia is simply not possible; and unless they are uselessly to pour out even more treasure and sacrifice even more American lives, the United States of America will eventually have to recognise that fact. The inhabitants of the Vietnams, of Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and Malaysia will thus one day have to be left to their own devices—and they may not be very pleasant devices. Certainly one or the other may be friendly, or not so friendly, with one or another of the super Powers, who may well continue to supply one or the other of them with arms and advice. But what is certain is that no super Power will be in a position to impose itself in the area by direct military means. And if, by the force of things, none can in practice impose an hegemony, then, with luck, there will eventually be formed in the area that famous "Asian balance of power" of which Mr. Enoch Powell talked in one of his more regenerate moments when he followed my own lead on the desirability of the liquidation of our own military bases East of Suez.
But the main danger is that if the legions are withdrawn without at least a seeming success in leaving behind an independent South Vietnam, not only will great bitterness spread over the whole of the United States, thus further dividing an already divided nation, but the failure of what was generally regarded as a "peace-keeping mission" or a "crusade against Communism" will make it more difficult for any American Government to continue to undertake the defence of Europe. This would be illogical; for whereas the South-East Asian jungle is quite unlikely to be occupied, or indeed to come under the direct influence of China, a highly urbanised Western 773 Europe could quite easily be occupied or, more likely, come under the direct influence of the Soviet Union. In other words, the world balance of power need not be gravely upset by a withdrawal of the American power from South-East Asia: but it certainly would be greatly upset if that power faltered, or even vanished, in Central Europe.
So, my Lords, what should we do? In the first place it is obvious that we should not be led by emotion into publicly condemning the President whose action, as we have seen, may in any case prove to be justified in the event. The screaming hysteria of the hundred young men and women who prevented the Foreign Secretary from speaking at the Oxford Union the other day is something which, one would have thought, would be condemned by the vast majority in this country, irrespective of their age groups, outside the "loony bin". Mr. Nixon may not be a popular character. His chief defect—which, after all, is not a fatal defect—seems to be to want to please everybody at once.
But far from publicly condemning him, we ought, I suggest, to try to influence this complicated and difficult man; and perhaps one of the best means of influencing him in practice would be, as I said yesterday, to suggest that in Western Europe we, with our European friends, are from now on prepared to take a little of the load off the perplexed and discouraged Americans' shoulders. At any rate it is not evident what we could otherwise do which would influence him one way or the other in the slightest degree. As for advice, which he will certainly not ask for and which I imagine our Ambassador would be rather reluctant to proffer, we should, no doubt, continue to express, as in the past, our grave concern about the possibility of an extension of the war in South-East Asia generally. Nor should we hesitate to say in private that, in our view, the only hope for him, and indeed for all of us, is the withdrawal of all the American forces from South Vietnam well before the end of his first Presidency at the end of 1972. Further than that I do not think we can possibly go.
If the progressive withdrawal from South Vietnam is really held up, perhaps at the behest of the Pentagon, or possibly 774 the C.I.A., it may be that we shall have to think again. If the Administration, on the other hand, yields to the pressure of the revolutionary students and professors—which I must say seems to me to be quite unlikely—then we might have to think again in a contrary sense. Much will depend on whether America gets out of its present economic difficulties, and some people suppose she will not get out of those difficulties until she has also got out of the terrible paddy fields of Indo-China.
My Lords, all wars are horrible. It may be that the war in South-East Asia is more horrible than most, but I doubt it. The bombing of little towns in Cambodia and North Vietnam may properly seem to us to be dreadful; but what did we think, at the time, of the bombing of Dresden and the burning alive of vast numbers of defenceless refugees? It seems to me indeed that we are about the last people who ought to condemn bombing barbarities on the part of others. What is true is that the Vietnam war is the only one in history which has actually been seen and observed physically by countless millions in all the countries of the Western world. It may be that this will result in a wave of total pacificism, at any rate among the young. Or it may so brutalise us all that we are prepared to accept anything. Who can tell? But one thing is certain: everything that we can do—that is to say everything that is not counter-productive—we should do in order, in the first place, to avert any extension of the Vietnam war involving the Great Powers; in the second place to assist President Nixon to withdraw entirely from Vietnam in the reasonably near future, and in the third place to draw all the necessary conclusions from the fact that, whatever happens in Cambodia, we are probably in for a period of rather diminished American leadership all over the world.
My Lords, it is indeed not really Cambodia which underlines our uneasy discussion this afternoon: it is the uncertainty in our Western World about the general aim of our industrialised society. The great ground for hope is that, unlike the situation beyond the Elbe, this discussion still takes place in the open and people are not sent to gaol or to appalling prison camps for the mere expression of 775 opinion, or even for demonstrating in the streets. The danger is that any war which gives rise to intense patriotic emotions, perhaps more particularly among what used to be called the working-classes, may produce a strong reaction against the so-called permissive and ultra-liberal society favoured by students and professors, which could even result—perhaps not here but certainly elsewhere—in a sort of police state. Demonstrators of all kinds against what is thought to be the wickedness of Mr. Nixon or the Pentagon ought to be aware of this. It is certainly not the populations of the developing countries who would stand to gain by the emergence of totalitarianism in any countries of the Western World. More than that, we might even be well on the way to World War III. Children should, after all, more especially in a nuclear age, be warned by their parents that it is dangerous to play with fire.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF AVON
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friends for their kindly welcome back. I was anxious to be here this afternoon to offer, if I could, one or two suggestions in this very tragic and disturbing situation which continues to confront us, unfortunately, in South East Asia. I have no criticism to make at all of the statement the noble Lord made just now from the Government. My attitude is a little different. I should like to comment on one or two of the recent military developments and also to suggest one or two possible methods of approach to try to bring an end to these long-drawn-out hostilities.
It seems to me that if we are to make a useful contribution to this debate we have to consider both recent events, as the two last speakers have done, in the Indo-China war—because unhappily it is an Indo-China war once again—and also the international background against which those events have to be set. For some months past there has been an important development, or so it seems to me, in the Mekong Delta, the richest and most thickly populated part of South Vietnam. There are now no American combatant units at all, I am informed, in the Mekong Delta. That does not mean that there has been no recent fighting, but 776 it is notable that the South Vietnamese forces have been able to contend with increasing success against enemy incursions there. Perhaps this success has been in part due to the fact that the attacking forces have of late mostly been composed of North Vietnamese rather than Viet Cong. I notice that Mr. Secretary Laird has estimated that three out of four of the Communist forces in South Vietnam now come from the North. If this is true, and I have no reason to suppose that it is not, it could explain the improved South Vietnamese military performance against an enemy less familiar with the terrain than the Viet Cong had been.
I mention all this—the House will see this at once—because the importance of this turn of events is that it could have had its influence upon North Vietnamese military planning recently. However that may be, there can be no doubt that by the invasion of Laos and of Cambodia and by the establishment of new bases in Cambodia, North Vietnam has tried to disrupt the pacified area of the Mekong and to turn the United States withdrawal into a rout. That was the object of the exercise. But I think they would have done better not to attempt it. As they have attempted it, can we with any justice condemn President Nixon or the United States Command for taking action to counter that attempt? I do not think we can. Personally I dislike very much the policy which is called "search and destroy". It is generally bad tactics, because it makes enemies where it should have the purpose of consolidating friends. But in this instance, when aimed against an underground complex of ammunition and stores, accumulated in invaded territory to attack South Vietnamese and American forces in the flank and in the rear, a military counter-action to destroy that build-up then appears, to me at least, to be not only excusable but well-nigh inescapable.
The joint American and South Vietnamese thrust into Cambodia does not seem to me to be evidence of an American intention to delay the withdrawal of their forces from Vietnam, still less to try to settle the conflict by military means alone. We all know that cannot be done; the Americans know it perfectly well, too. I see the thrust rather as evidence that the United States was not prepared 777 to see its plans for withdrawal delayed and the work of Vietnamisation disrupted from bases established during the North Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, against which, as the noble Lord mentioned, Prince Sihanouk had himself earlier and frequently protested.
However, much more important than debate about the motives for the action in combat of either side is to consider whether this turn of events opens up any possibilities of negotiation. I think it might. But before considering these, something must be said about the position in Laos, because it affects the negotiations, if there are to be any. The 1954 Agreement left Prince Souvanna Phouma at the head of a neutralist government in Laos, all parties at the conference, China included, having agreed to the establishment of the French military missions to train the Laotian Army. Then followed what was an unhappy interlude. Unwisely, as we and the French thought, the United States Government at that time did not approve of the neutrality of Souvanna Phouma's Administration and they refused it aid. That Government fell a year or two later and was succeeded by a Government further to the Right, which, despite American training and equipment, fared badly. A prudent attempt by a newly appointed American Ambassador to bring the neutrals and the anti-Communists together was not supported in Washington. By the end of 1960 Prince Souvanna Phouma had fled to Cambodia, while, as a result of all this, the Pathet Lao had gained strength in Laos. Then, after more years of negotiation, a neutralisation agreement was signed in the summer of 1962.
I retell these events to show that the faults have not all been on one side in this Indo-China business. I have personally some sympathy with the comments of General Ely, who I know is known to some of your Lordships, the last French commander in Indo-China and a friend both of the United States and this country, as well as a soldier of real distinction. General Ely wrote sadly of Laotian affairs:Nowhere else perhaps did France and Great Britain find themselves in such constant opposition to the United States about the policy to be pursued.However, the agreement of 1962 was a declaration of the neutrality of Laos, and 778 it was endorsed by all the members of the earlier Geneva Conference, including Soviet Russia and China and the United States. This was an undertaking to respect the neutrality of Laos; and no one can deny that Prince Souvanna Phouma represents both the spirit and the fact of that neutrality.
Yet in recent years there have been continued North Vietnamese attacks on the Laotian forces in Laotian territory, which attacks have only been made possible by abundant Russian supplies of weapons and equipment, every piece of which is sent in direct violation of the agreement which Russia herself signed in 1962. Of course, it is true that American air attacks recently have been made on North Vietnamese forces in Laos, but surely the blame for that must lie on the attacking forces which have invaded the territory in the first instance and thereby violated their agreement.
So now we come to our most important consideration: what can be done to get serious negotiations going again over the whole Indo-China Sea. As we were told again this afternoon, Her Majesty's Government have rightly made frequent approaches to the Soviet Government, as their co-chairman under the 1954 Agreement, in an attempt to re-summon the Geneva Conference. I am sure that Her Majesty's Government were right to do that, and to persist in it, but so far, as I understand, they have met with no response from the Kremlin.
I suspect that a principal difficulty for the Soviet Government—and having nothing to do with any Government I can speak frankly in this business—rests in the present relationship between Moscow and Peking. It has never been worse, and I can conceive that representatives of the two countries might not wish at this particular time to sit down at a table in the company of others. A significant example of the fierce hatred that the leaders of the Soviet Union and China can feel towards each other is to be found in the remarkable exchanges (they have not been published in this country, but no doubt the Government have them) between these two countries during what should have been an amicable period, the Lenin Centenary celebrations. The Chinese celebrated this event by comparing the Kremlin leaders 779 to Hitler, and denouncing them as the successors of the Russian Czars with the same goal of world hegemony.
When Moscow answered a few days later, the reply took the form of a quite incredibly vitriolic attack on Mao Tse Tung. I should not care to repeat it in this House in any circumstances. I truly believe that your Lordships would be shocked if I did. But I have read the text, and I do not believe that any country in the Free World has ever used language like that about the Communist leader. Of course, we all know that totalitarian States can change their language and their attitude towards each other with lightning speed. We have had some of that before: we remember Hitler's about-turn towards Stalin, and vice versa.
Dealing however with the present situation, as we must do, I notice that the New York Times quoted these exchanges and drew some comfort from this exchange of amenities, commenting that:with such hatred and fear separating these two giant Powers, neither side is likely to want to get involved with any other major Power.My Lords, this may be so. I hope that it is so. But for the purpose of getting negotiations going about the Indo-China War, this condition of Russian-Chinese relations is an added complication. It is certainly true that we could not have got the Agreement of 1954 without the help of Mr. Molotov, the Russian Foreign Secretary.
If Russia cannot or will not help, as co-chairman to-day, is any other method open to us? I would suggest to the Government that they should consider an approach to the French Government, to see whether they could not jointly evolve some proposals which might be put to both sides. Recently the French Government made a move on their own account to try to secure the re-calling of the Geneva Conference. They did not get far, but I thought they were right to make the attempt. France still has contacts, however unofficial, with Hanoi, and there are reasons why Hanoi would be wise to consider negotiations now. One of these is the strained relations between Hanoi's two principal backers, China and Russia. That cannot be altogether a cosy state of affairs for North Vietnam, 780 and it could become a great deal more uncomfortable still. Moreover, there are terms which could be worked out which could bring peace to Indo-China and which also could be not entirely unwelcome to China and Russia.
I have always been convinced that China's main concern in South-East Asia has been to see the withdrawal of American forces, which the Chinese fervently believe are aimed ultimately at them. If the history of the China lobby in the United States is recalled, that is perhaps not altogether surprising. But Russia, for her part, no doubt derives some satisfaction from seeing the United States divided and in trouble. One can imagine the Kremlin purring from time to time about that. On the other hand, the policy of Russia's present rulers is evidently to push at every door, regardless of cost in finance and equipment, so long as this can be done without the certainty of confrontation with the United States. Even so, the Kremlin no doubt must weigh from time to time the advantages of a settlement in Indo-China. This would at least bring an end to that troubled area's ceaseless and costly appeals for supplies, and reduce a cause of future difference between Russia and China. Faced with deteriorating Soviet and Chinese relations, Russia ought to welcome some reduction of commitments elsewhere; and there is, most unhappily, no sign of any Russian preparedness for reduced commitments in the Middle East.
The solution to be aimed at in Indo-China is the one which we attempted at Geneva but did not effectively reach then, the guaranteed neutrality of the territories. This is what Laos and Cambodia not only want but positively yearn for. How could it be applied in Vietnam? It would mean that neither side would win. It would mean that for a long period—I would say for at least ten years—South and North Vietnam would have to remain separate, divided on their existing borderline, which would have to be ensured by a revived and strengthened international commission such as the noble Lord at the opening of this debate said he looked for.
At the end of that period, all foreign forces having been phased out, the two countries would decide what their future relationship should be. It is possible that by then, with the energetic development 781 of the Mekong Delta on behalf of all the countries bordering it—Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand—the prospect would be calmer, and ideological differences would be less important. One cannot tell. But in the interests of an Indo-China, which has suffered too much, the attempt ought to be made.
To sum up then, if the Geneva Conference cannot be reconvened there is much to be said for an Anglo-French initiative such as I have suggested. I am not inviting the Government to make any comment about that, because if this negotiation by us and the French is to have any success it must essentially be secret. We have to repeat the kind of technique we used with the Trieste business, when for eight months the negotiations proceeded in secret without anybody knowing anything about them. Publicised relations on this business will get absolutely nowhere, which is why the Paris Talks, alas! have so far failed.
It might also be helpful if Western European Union—why not?—were to examine the problem and seek to help to promote a solution either directly or through Anglo-French efforts. After all, the joint examination of international problems was what the Western European Union was originally created for. We wanted them to do this, and it has not done enough of it. If it be argued—and it can be argued—that Indo-China is an important strategic area and that it is therefore difficult to make any agreement stick, I would reply that so were the Low Countries, yet an international guarantee held there for the best part of a century.
My Lords, I have one final general observation. Whether a renewed attempt at negotiations succeeds or not, the experience of Vietnam has seared the American mind. There will, for a time at least, be an increased reluctance in the United States to discharge responsibilities anywhere overseas. I do not believe for a moment that the Americans will abandon their interest in Europe, for after all the future of Western Europe is vital—to use a much-abused adjective in its correct sense—to both the super-Powers; but there is likely to be an insistent call for a reduced American military contribution. 782 We are now apparently much preoccupied with our internal political differences, and shall be for a while yet, I suppose, but as we indulge in that pastime none of us ought to forget that our own contribution, and that of other European NATO countries, is likely to have to be revised, unfortunately upwards. In 1955, I sought agreement across the Iron Curtain for an accepted reduction of forces on either side. I believe that we should pursue this, and that it is being pursued. But until that agreement is reached we have a responsibility which must be expected to grow heavier, for whichever Party has responsibility in this country, but which we must bear in stalwart fashion if we want our influence to be felt in the United States or anywhere else in the world.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ LORD RITCHIE-CALDER
My Lords, I have the great advantage in rising of following the noble Earl, Lord Avon, whom we are glad to see back and whom, of course, we respect for his achievements at the time of the 1954 Agreements on Indo-China.
My Lords, this is an occasion when I think that our discussions will have value only if they are frank, without recriminations, without bitter insinuations, but recognising what I think everyone of us at best realise: that this is a situation in which we are all involved. I say, with absolute conviction and sincerity, that I feel like an American in this situation. The only trouble is that I feel like an American professor or student in the kind of situation that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, was deploring. I feel that at least from these Back Benches, where we have not got to accept the responsibility—which I recognise—which the Front Benches have for the tactics of handling a very difficult situation, those of us who sense and realise what is involved should, in fairness to our American friends, speak out. I do not see that there can be anything but false friendship in condoning, or failing to be frank about, something which is manifest to all of us, and above all manifest to the American people.
§ LORD GLADWYN
My Lords, I was not suggesting that the noble Lord should not be frank; I suggested only that he might be cautious.
§ LORD RITCHIE-CALDER
My Lords, I am exercising the kind of caution that I did not learn in the Foreign Office but learned in journalism, where I learnt the great virtue and value of responsible frankness. I repeat, nothing is gained by simply ignoring the situation now manifest in the United States. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, said, "Don't let us look for the mischief of the C.I.A. or the Pentagon". I am not looking for the mischief of the C.I.A. or the Pentagon, but the American people do look for the mischief of the C.I.A. and the Pentagon, and it would be very difficult, in the circumstances of the United States to-day, to convince many of my friends—and they are good Americans—that in point of fact the deposal of Sihanouk was a pure coincidence. Therefore, if you have a situation in which not only the strategy but the motives behind the strategy are completely suspect, then I am afraid President Nixon is in the trouble—from the American people's point of view—which he is in to-day.
I submit to those far better informed people on this subject, that one of the tragedies of the situation in the United States, apart from the complications that have arisen, is the nature of the Constitution under which a President of the United States also happens to be the Commander-in-Chief of the forces of the United States. I think that is a very great mistake, because it involves the President directly and immediately in the manipulation of the situation, which is not his natural political function.
That situation has dragged three Presidents into this trap of South-East Asia. It dragged President Kennedy into it; it was the political suicide of President Johnson; and, with all the firmness we thought was manifest in President Nixon, he finds himself involved, just as his predecessors were, because of a military appraisal which he apparently had to accept because it was stated to be in order to protect the soldiers of the American Army. Every one of us wants to protect the soldiers of the American Army, but the situation now seems to me to be one in which that mission is not being fulfilled. Let us "wait and see", as noble Lords have said; but I guarantee that that mission will not be fulfilled in the terms of the military intention. The lesson is—and I think every noble 784 Lord in the House recognises this—that in the situation in South-East Asia, or in any guerrilla situation, a military solution of this kind is not possible. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said that, and I agree with him. There will be no military settlement, no military solution, in terms of any classic military approach we can think of.
The "silent majority" may not be silent, but in fact their support is not as vocal as the antagonism. In this situation, surely the best we can do, in supporting everything which the Foreign Secretary said in complete wisdom—in diplomatic wisdom, if I may put it that way—or the five points of the Prime Minister, to which I subscribe, is for a British voice to say, "We disapprove strongly of what is happening, because in fact you are walking into a trap which you should have seen". The political warfare consequences of this situation are far greater than anything that a short time would resolve.
§ LORD GLADWYN
My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting again, may I ask whether the noble Lord is suggesting that the Government should say this publicly, or that the Government should say this privately?
§ LORD RITCHIE-CALDER
My Lords, all I am saying is that when American professors, if you like in their folly, in their lack of caution, demonstrate at No. 10, Downing Street and say, as they did say, "We don't expect the Prime Minister to say' Nixon get out', or something like that", statesmen are, in fact, reinforced. Political wisdom is reinforced by public expressions of displeasure which strengthen the hands of the people who want to say firmly behind the scenes "This is a situation we disapprove of". That is not the act of a bad friend: I think it is the act of a good friend.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ LORD GORE-BOOTH
My Lords, in apologising to your Lordships for taking your time on two consecutive days, may I say that one thing has happened this evening which I never, in my wildest moments, conceived possible—that I should have the privilege of joining in a debate after the noble Earl, Lord Avon, of whom I was for so many years the "most obedient humble servant". I have 785 found it a very moving experience to have this opportunity, and particularly to listen to the wisdom and experience of one who by his persistence, by his technique, by his personality, managed in so many international scenes to retrieve situations that seemed hopeless and to promote peace where deadlock seemed the only possibility.
It will be my hope this evening, first to speak a little on a few of the arguments that have been deployed generally, and then perhaps to follow a little the lead given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, who, I am sure quite rightly, got us on to speculating about the future. The difficulty of making a coherent speech, of course, is that thoughts develop as the debate goes on and they do not lead to conclusions. One will therefore find oneself in some degree setting out ideas in a certain disorder, but I hope that the disorder may not be wholly unconstructive.
First, may I say that the professors have spoken, the British writers and artists have spoken, the statesmen have spoken, and perhaps there is a small place in the debate for a retired professional diplomat who has had a certain amount to do with the efforts, so far unhappily unsuccessful, to bring about peace, instead of the ghastly situation in Indo-China. Perhaps I may digress for a moment to say a word to the professors. Of course if you are living in somebody's else's country and it is a free country, you are perfectly at liberty to criticise in strong terms the Government of your own country; and I am glad that the professors have had the facility of speaking and demonstrating in our country. But the fact remains—and the professors should know this—that there is a fall-out. The fall-out is that if in another country you "knock" the Administration of your own country, you are to some extent "knocking" your own country as a whole. I think the professors should realise that there is a strain, over and above the strain as between them and their own Administration, which they can, if they are not careful, put on the relations between the two countries. I say this from experience and not from theory.
May I try now to deal rapidly with the Cambodia question from three points 786 of view: the moral problem, the tactical problem (if I may so call it) and then the political problem. On the moral problem a great deal has been said already, but there is perhaps one element to it which has not been sufficiently emphasised. Some of the moral accusers have said that the President has widened the war by extending it to Cambodia. In fact, the war has been conducted in and from Cambodia for at least four years. There is no question of "widening" it.
It may not be in the recollection of all of your Lordships that in 1966 Prince Sihanouk, being alarmed at what he thought was going to be interference with the sovereignty of his country, asked interested countries to combine to have the International Control Commission in Cambodia made effective. Naturally, he received support from us and from other Western countries; but from the Soviet Union nothing—not even a reply. So ever since then it has been a feature of Laos and Cambodia that the International Control Commissions have always been able to visit and move about in other parts of those countries, but never in the Communist-controlled parts. That is surely the answer to any suggestion that the Americans deserve a moral rebuke for what they did when, as we know, the situation suddenly became fluid.
Prince Sihanouk paid the price of trying to get something done by the gradual development of a policy which became known in Asia as "non-alignment anti-West". That is not a phrase that makes great sense, except that it happens. That process struck more and more at the roots of the real non-alignment of Cambodia. So he went off on his last desperate mission, as it seems, to persuade Moscow and Peking to help. At that point his countrymen had had enough, and they opted—perhaps foolishly but, let us admit it, courageously—for a different alternative.
There are two points that I should like to make on Cambodia. Perhaps nobody will speak on behalf of the Cambodians, so may I do so for a moment. In the first place, when the Cambodians overturned Prince Sihanouk and there appeared a likelihood of hostilities between them and the Viet Cong, a number of people rushed to Phnom Penh, found it a very simple city, and immediately said 787 that the Cambodians ought not to be so silly; they ought to make the best terms they could with the Viet Cong, North Vietnam and the Communists and, so to speak, not give anybody else any trouble. This seems to me to be a thoughtless denial of a great deal for which a great many people in the world have fought from one time to another. It is a denial that Mr. Dubcek had any right to support revolution in Czechoslovakia, it is a denial that the Yugoslavs had any right to oppose the Nazis in 1941—and then in 1940 and on backwards, as your Lordships will understand.
The second point about the Cambodians is this. There has been some careless and rather pompous talk over the air about a Cambodian Government in exile in Peking. Now that may be Prince Sihanouk's wish. But surely naivety cannot go much further, because all must recognise that in Peking Prince Sihanouk is the total servant of the Chinese Government and, whatever he wishes, there is nothing else he can do.
If I may now proceed to the tactical point, there is one matter which has not been mentioned. When you decide to take your decisions and your views on international policy on a basis of emotion, the first thing you must always do is to burn your map. If, on the other hand, you do not burn your map but look at it, you find some surprising things. Most people think that Asia is a place of vast expanses and immense distances, and they are mostly right. But, oddly enough, in this corner of Indo-China, that is not the case. Phnom Penh can be reached by a well-directed crow from Saigon in 130 miles only. The same crow travelling from Saigon to the frontier in the Parrot's Beak, as it is called, has to fly only 37 miles. If, then, the Americans had not taken the action which they have taken, they would have had to leave South Vietnam in due course, with some untampered with Viet Cong and North Vietnamese bases as far away from Saigon as Reading is from London, and that would have been that. So if one is inclined to question whether the American operation was right or wrong, one must ask oneself: if they had not undertaken it in the present fluid circumstances, and if they had left the South Vietnamese face to face with an organised 788 base in the hands of the North Vietnamese about as far away as Reading, would not the South Vietnamese have had some pretty fierce criticisms of their so-called allies? On the tactical side, one might even go further, and say that in any Realpolitik situation the American action could be described as inadequate, rather than excessive.
Of course this is not a legitimate criticism because, coming on to the political aspect of this situation, we all know that America as a whole is unanimous in the feeling that somehow and soon American armed forces must leave Vietnam. Therefore the real question about what the American Administration has done is whether it has put a more than tolerable strain on the American internal situation and a more than tolerable strain on the international situation. The latter I do not believe to be the case. I believe that, as so often at the present time, there is an excessive immediate reaction, partly emotional and partly promoted, to events like this, by some of the categories of people of whom the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, spoke. But the international community has a way of recovering from these jags, and the evidence of that, or at least part of the evidence of that, is the difference, I think, between the feelings behind our debate and the feelings behind the debate in another place. Even if there are deep differences of opinion, the atmosphere is not like it was a week ago. So I think that in the international sense one can say that, as the operation has developed, those of us who were able or who tried to keep a calm view of this matter find that it is developing in the way that President Nixon undertook that it would.
Internally in America it is more difficult to tell. This is partly because, as your Lordships are aware, views in America are held with very great intensity, and one has to have a considerable number of friends with differing views to work out what is the mean of American opinion. It is particularly difficult to tell because the two main East Coast newspapers have for many years been very much anti-Vietnam. It is also difficult to tell because one has alarming reports that 200 universities are in a bad state over this—without its being added that America has some 5,000 universities. So it is very difficult to make a judgment on the nature and deepness of the explosion.
789 One's guess would be that the American public policy now will wait anyway until the end of June before deciding whether what has been done is intolerable or whether in fact it was a wise piece of reassurance for the South Vietnamese, which is what we must believe it to be unless it is proved otherwise. I think, if I may say so, that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, somewhat exaggerated the extent of the implication that the President, being Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, is submissive to the influence of a body of which he is the direct head. After all, he is the direct head of a great many other things besides, including the State.
Now may I pass to the prospects and the question, what should Her Majesty's Government do? I attach the very greatest importance at this moment to commending (if this does not sound patronising) the record of Her Majesty's Government in attempting to get the parties in this dispute to meet and to get somewhere with negotiations, whether collectively or bilaterally. The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary made this very clear in another place; and I think that perhaps he understated what the Government have done in this repect. Speaking as a former professional diplomat, I would say that the Government have gone even further in this matter to the extent of doing things which were not (shall I say?) diplomatically credible in an effort to find an answer. And this is intended, I would assure the Minister, as a compliment and not a criticism or a reproach. Sometimes things which are not diplomatically credible turn out to be the right answer. In this tragic case they have not yet been so. But I am sure the Government have been right to try everything they legitimately could in using their position as co-chairman of the Geneva Conference to find a way.
I have no doubt also that they will be right to persist. But here, if I may say so very gently, I think the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, while extremely informative, was just a little bland. In the first place, we must be very clear—and the truth is rough on this—that a conference is a means and not an end. What a conference will be discussing is not amiable compromise: it will be discussing a deep conviction by the leadership in North Vietnam that it 790 was promised, and ought to have, South Vietnam in full sovereignty. The South Vietnamese will naturally contest this. This is the kind of bedrock of argument which will cloud the proceedings. It certainly always has been the case hitherto that negotiations with Communist Powers always start in the tradition of the Stalin policy in World War II, which is to go for the lot, and not to think of compromise. In face of that, you have to go on and on with your arguing, until suddenly, it may be, something breaks—and that is what one must hope for. But I think it is only right to be quite clear in one's mind how difficult it all is.
The noble Earl, Lord Avon, suggested that the conference might not occur in the former way because of the relations between the Soviet Union and China. I think this also has to be thought out very carefully. For instance, would it be worth while to have a conference including the Soviet Union and not including China? Probably it would. Would it be worth while having a conference with China but excluding the Soviet Union. Probably not. But, again, who knows? All these things need a great deal of thought and work.
Again, the noble Earl had the suggestion that we might work together with the French towards some form of progress. Here, one would have to express the hope that, whereas one could not have done this with the France of General de Gaulle, one might be able to do this with the France of Monsieur Pompidou. The reason for this is that the France of General de Gaulle would never have had the confidence of the Americans, whereas it is possible that the France of Monsieur Pompidou would. This again is no doubt worth very careful and also very confidential exploration, because it is true, as the noble Earl said, that the French still have something to say in Indo-China. On the other hand, I would, with great respect, differ from the noble Earl in the thought that the Western European Union could do anything effectively. If there was one thing that I learned in service in Asia, it was that whereas individual European effort is very often welcomed in any situation, corporate European effort is nearly always suspect. Again I cannot pretend that this is logical or rational, but I can assure your Lordships that it is a fact.
791 So the third alternative for making progress somewhere, which has also been raised in this debate, is one which I personally think is probably the most hopeful in the long run; that is, the Asian approach. It has become more productive in recent years to allow a region at least to start trying to solve its own problems. For instance, you can sometimes get progress in Africa through the Organisation of African Unity which you cannot get through a European or United Nations approach. It is possible that the meeting in Indonesia will point the way towards something Asian into which the rest of us could join at a moment of appropriate timing. One cannot be sure, but it is quite a possibility. But here again we come to these very difficult questions of American policy, because, as one noble Lord suggested, if the American position collapses too soon, then the Asians are bound to look elsewhere, to where the real, nearby power is. So that again, if we try to be too moral about individual American actions, we may in fact wreck the chances of a power balance which could be the way in to a South-East Asian peace.
I also agree that the Americans have not done everything right, and I would add as one of the extraordinary misjudgments the first bombing of Hanoi in the presence of no less than Mr. Kosygin. There have been these hideous errors of judgment; but at this present time I join with other noble Lords in sympathising with the United States in their present agonising situation and in hoping that they will be able to escape from it with an exit from Vietnam, but one which can at least in form and degree unite them. I am quite sure that Her Majesty's Government, in abstaining from rushing into condemnation, can continue to be of help, not only to them but also towards peace in the area.
§ 7.10 p.m.
THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, it is always a formidable task to follow the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, who speaks with such immense authority and long knowledge of many aspects—indeed of almost all aspects—of diplomacy. I should like to say how glad I am that he talked about the neutrality of Cambodia. When the charges were first made 792 about troops from North Vietnam being in Cambodia, I had the opportunity of travelling from Saigon to Phnom Penh. I made fairly full inquiries as to whether those charges were true. I am confident that at that time (and this was five or six, or perhaps seven, years ago) it was not true. I am satisfied that Prince Sihanouk himself would never voluntarily have allowed Vietnamese or Communist forces or, indeed, for that matter, the Communist Party to be in his State at all. In that sense, I believe he was fulfilling his task of heading a neutral State as completely as he could within his power. He said: "I have this great neighbour, China, on the one side, and possibly the Americans on the other. What would you do?". I believe that he pursued a policy which was as sensible for his country as it possibly could be.
I do not differ in general from what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has said, but I have some doubt how far to-day anyone is going to assume that the attitude of Her Majesty's Government in South-East Asia is very serious; whether they are really going to take a great interest in that part of the world. We had a debate yesterday on Defence. Neither of the statements from the Government made the slightest reference to the warlike activities in either Southwest Asia or South-East Asia. Your Lordships may remember that well-known statement in the Defence Paper of 1966:It is in the Far East and Southern Asia that the greatest danger to peace may lie in the next decade and some of our partners in the Commonwealth may well be directly threatened.Those words have never been copied; in fact, their obvious omission must be evident to anyone who wishes to see.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, the noble Earl is being a little unfair. It is not surprising that we did not discuss operations and policy in South-East Asia in the debate yesterday when we were going to be debating South-East Asia to-day.
THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, I appreciate that; but, none the less, it was, strictly speaking, a Defence debate; while to-day it is not a Defence debate; and many speakers referred to some of these problems.
793 1 think our attitude towards Southern Asia—with which we have not had much to do and which is a long way away—is understandable; but it is proper to remember that Indo-China, South-East Asia, is the centre of the world population. Within something like 2,000 or 3,000 miles of the middle of Indo-China lies half the population of the world. They are among the most intelligent and energetic people of the world and they are a people with a very long tradition of civilisation and indeed of the rise and fall of civilisation, which happens from time to time in their area. It is a place where probably nobody under the age of 50 remembers a time when war was not taking place.
I do not think we disagree about the fact that we should like those countries to develop stable and strong Governments of their own which could give them the status of efficient nation-States. It is all very well for the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, to say that they have been left alone. The development of the State is a very complex matter. It is much more than just ballot boxes and a mace and things like those. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, knows something about the educational requirements. There are a hundred-and-one other things required before a State can be built up to stand for anything in the world as it is to-day. There is really no alternative for this area. Either they are able to stand on their feet or they become satellites—satellites of some other big country. That is the central problem which we are trying to solve to-day. Not only were those countries seeking to form their own States and achieve independence, but there was a deliberate attempt by the Hanoi Government to undermine the Government of every one of them.
When I first went to Singapore in 1959 it was one of the first things that became known to us: that a decision had been taken in Hanoi to overturn the Government in Saigon. In the course of time, that has been extended to Laos and now further into Cambodia. I think there should be no illusions that this was a deliberate and calculated attempt by the Hanoi Government. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, made his comment on the Americans; but if he is going to be fair he should say that this was far 794 more initiated, directed and made inevitable by the action of the Hanoi Government. They have now reached the stage when two-thirds of Laos, about one-quarter of Cambodia and a rather indefined area of Vietnam have been taken over by the North Vietnam Government. This is not really a question of Communism; this is a question simply of imperialism. It is the imperialism of Hanoi, in the old sense of the word, which is being pushed at the present time.
I cannot see any point in dissociating ourselves from the Americans. I have been very worried ever since American troops went into the country in large numbers—anyone who knew the area would be—but no useful purpose is served by us, who are not concerned in this matter, saying that they are wrong in doing what the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, said was, tactically, probably essential. None of us knows the full details: but I should be surprised if it was not purely a question of the safety of their own troops that determined the action they took. They have probably taken certain steps to re-establish or do something towards re-establishing, I hope, the neutrality of Cambodia. The late Colonel Walter Elliot said that probably enough advice was being given to the Americans to run three worlds of equal size. One cannot blame them if sometimes they are a little indifferent to advice.
None the less I am going to make one suggestion. It is that I wish that the Americans could have a Presidential representative in Saigon; that the vital decisions affecting Saigon, Vietnam, Cambodia or elsewhere could be taken nearer the spot and not in Washington. In the present state of Washington, I should have thought it was a most undesirable atmosphere in which to take vital decisions affecting people miles away of an entirely different outlook and at a different stage of civilisation.
The second point I wish to make is in regard to a conference. I will not add anything to this. We have had an interesting suggestion from the noble Earl, Lord Avon, and the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth. May I add one point? He spoke about the Asian approach. That is important. Practically every Asian views a Western or European Conference 795 with the utmost suspicion. They think: "These Westerners are clever chaps. Watch them. Don't let them get away with anything. They are always trying to trick you." Any approach to a conference must be studied with the fullest sense of confidence and reality. I do not know whether one could suggest other Chairmen. I am bound to say that I thought it very surprising that the Chinese would sit under a Russian Chairman at the present time. The French might provide a chairman: or the selection of the Prime Minister of Singapore—if you want a chairman from Asia—might prove another solution.
There is one other point I want to make. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, "If we could help in any way". There is one way in which we could help. We could see that the Southern flank of Indo-China remains firm and that we do nothing to weaken the position either of the people of Singapore or of Malaysia. I suggest that we should take no action whatsoever to weaken that position while the very dangerous situation in Indo-China is being overcome. If we weaken that position we shall endanger the situation, and a much wider and more important conflagration might develop.
My Lords, I would end by saying this. I realise, of course, how anxious we are not to get involved. We have often said that we have to take risks for peace. I believe that to-day our objective must be to prevent wars rather than to win them. Our anxiety to-day should be to prevent anything starting which we cannot stop. I do not believe that in future anyone will win a war anywhere. It is for that reason that I ask Her Majesty's Government to be careful not to give the impression that they are washing their hands of South-East Asia. This area is vital, and I beg them to read again the White Paper of 1966.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ LORD BLYTON
My Lords, I speak in this debate only because recently I was in the war zone in South Vietnam, with a Parliamentary colleague from the Benches opposite, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell. I consider that the charge that the United States has escalated the war into a new area is a bit far-fetched and the negation of the truth. As could be 796 foreseen by anyone who had been there, because of the infiltration of the Viet Cong from Cambodia into South Vietnam, which has been going on now since the Tet offensive in 1968, it was obvious that some day America would have to take action against the Viet Cong operating against them from Cambodia. I am surprised at American tolerance over so many years. It was from Cambodia and from Laos that the Tet offensive was conducted against the South Vietnamese forces and the Americans in 1968; and it is an indisputable fact that Cambodia territory has been used by the Viet Cong and the Hanoi Vietnamese for attacks on American forces, and for the killing of American soldiers.
My Lords, why should America alone be denied the right to hit back against an enemy who has been hitting them for over two and a half years from supposed neutral countries? Why should the Americans be expected to allow mounting casualties to be inflicted by an enemy who could always get over the border into a sanctuary in which they were protected from attack? The Americans have gone into Cambodia to protect themselves against those who were operating from there and, having seen the area, it seems to me that they have done a sensible thing. President Nixon's decision to send his troops into Cambodia was obviously a very difficult one for him to make. Life is not easy in South Vietnam. There are Communists in South Vietnam who are farmers or workers by day and Viet Cong soldiers by night. You never know who is your friend or who is your foe. On top of this there is the infiltration from Cambodia of Viet Cong soldiers heavily armed, supported by their friends inside Vietnam, which has caused hundreds of American casualties in South Vietnam.
My Lords, the Americans are not there for a war of conquest or subjugation. They are there in the noble belief that it was their duty to help countries to avoid subjugation and choose their own Government. The declared policy of America has been to create a situation in South Vietnam in which the people could choose for themselves. Some may think this an arrogant belief, but surely it cannot be regarded as an ignoble one: and it does not make sense to suggest that the Americans want a long-term military 797 involvement in Indo-China. President Nixon wants to get out on honourable terms. He has committed himself to pulling out 150,000 more men by next spring—which means that by then his forces in Vietnam will have been cut by nearly half—and he wants to honour the undertaking that he gave to the Americans last year. He has described his involvement in Cambodia as having been forced upon him by the refusal of the other side to join in negotiations, and he has said that it is a short-term operation.
It is generally believed that the undertaking reached between the Americans and the Hanoi Vietnamese, when President Johnson stopped all bombing in North Vietnam, included a condition that major infiltration across the 17th Parallel Line from the North would stop. But Hanoi has got round that by using the "back door" through Laos, by using what are known as the Ho Chi Minh trails: and through Cambodia by the Sihanouk trails, and that is where the infiltration is now. The fact that the presence of the Communists is completely unwelcome to the people of Laos and Cambodia does not worry the Communists. The Hanoi Vietnamese and Viet Cong activities in Cambodia were in effect condoned under Prince Sihanouk, though from time to time he publicly condemned them. Perhaps he felt that he could do nothing about it. But the result for the Americans was that the other side had a haven and a safe supply line just across the border into South Vietnam. If the Communists had really respected Cambodian neutrality, President Nixon would not have been faced with the necessity to take the agonising decision that he has had to take.
I do not suggest, my Lords, that the South Vietnamese Government is perfect—far from it. But it was elected in free elections held throughout the greater part Of South Vietnam, in which more than half of those eligible to vote in fact voted; and at least that is more than may be said for the Government in Hanoi. It is said that America's action makes an honourable settlement more remote. Surely this is a matter for judgment, and no one can say what the result will be. What we do know is that negotiations in Paris have been bogged down for two years because of the North Vietnamese 798 insistence on two unrealistic pre-conditions for serious talks. One is that the Americans should leave Vietnam before there is any political settlement. The second is that the South Vietnamese Government should be replaced by a coalition Government before elections have been held to ascertain the people's wishes, and the South Vietnamese Government itself would not be allowed to take part in this coalition. These conditions were impossible, especially when it is remembered what the North Vietnamese did to the local people during their brief control of Hué during the Tet offensive of 1968. What they did here suggests that if they do get their way in the South, people who do not share their political views are likely to have a rough time.
During the past two years the Americans, in an effort to get negotiations going, have made a series of offers. None has been met with any response. During this time our own Government, and others, have urged the North Vietnamese and their friends to recognise that if they would not negotiate the war would continue indefinitely, and possibly with increasing intensity. Surely it is their responsibility that this is now happening. At the same time, President Nixon has made it clear that this need not continue, and that he would still prefer negotiations to end the war.
The Communists of Vietnam have followed the line that if they insist on something long enough the other side will give way, because they want to make progress and they hope that by conceding Hanoi's demands the way will be open for this. When the Americans stopped the bombing they believed that in return there would be real talks in Paris. In practice, this did not happen. All that happened was that the North Vietnamese presented some more essential demands, implying that once these, in turn, were conceded the way would be open to a settlement. All the gestures for peace and a settlement have so far come from the South Vietnamese and the American side.
Yet, despile all the difficulties, President Nixon is going ahead with withdrawing troops from South Vietnam, while the Communists do not even officially admit that they are there—and they are there in thousands. The Viet Cong attach a great deal of importance to opinion in 799 the United States and in third countries. The fervent hope is that this will yet force President Nixon to throw in his hand. I would say to those who demonstrated last week in London that, before condemning the President's latest decisions, we should remember that the result of doing so will be to encourage Hanoi in their belief that they only have to stick out and keep the war going long enough to get all their demands in their entirety.
My Lords, do not believe the Viet Cong myth that the great majority of South Vietnamese would willingly see a Communist takeover if it meant the end of the war. The South Vietnamese Government told us last year that they are going to spend 80 per cent. of their budget on defence, and they expect to have one million men under arms when the Americans withdraw their troops. Of course there are Communist among the people in South Vietnam, but there is no evidence that they represent the majority of the people, or anything like it.
America has stated clearly that as part of a final agreed settlement there would be complete withdrawal of United States troops from South Vietnam. I do not think it right for us to make a judgment on a military decision which belongs to a Power which is engaged in that area, particularly in the circumstances that I have tried to describe. For 25 years Europe has been free from war, and this is due to the solidarity of NATO. If it is once thought that America could not in all circumstances be relied upon to stand by her Allies and see it through, the deterrent Power of NATO would be gravely weakened and the security of the free world would be endangered.
I have spoken as I have to-day because the Americans are not out there to conquer Vietnam; that has never been their aim. I know that passions can be roused on this subject. Some of us have seen the horror in Vietnam. I saw the devastation in Hué by the Tet offensive; I went to the Mekong Delta and saw the horror and awful conditions there. I am all in favour of the sovereignty of South Vietnam, but that does not mean that I who take this view am in favour of horror and war. The ability to achieve peace rests in many places. The initiative for peace does not lie only with 800 America, but with the Governments of Hanoi, Russia, China and the United Nations. There has been a lot of progress in the Paris Talks in the last two years, and not many words have been uttered by supporters of the Viet Cong about the steady infiltration into neutral Cambodia and Laos, which has now been a compelling factor in the President's decision.
The only hope that I see is for a negotiated settlement—because there can be no military victory; and the only way this ghastly war can be brought to an end is by achieving a negotiated settlement at the conference table in Paris. My own Government over the last two years have done splendid work in trying to bring about a settlement. Though they have failed to do so, this does not detract in any way from the thanks that we owe them for trying.
On the military questions in Vietnam no decision can be made by this House, though what is happening will continue to be a matter of apprehension and anxiety to us all. I hope that the five points outlined by the Prime Minister at the end of the debate last week will be the basis of a policy that Governments of the world can pursue to see whether we can get peace in this troubled area. I believe that America could accept these five points. In conclusion, I believe that the whole Free World needs a strong, healthy and united America, and I hope that no comments of ours will make it harder to achieve that unity.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ LORD CACCIA
My Lords, as an ex-diplomat may I, with respect, say how rewarding it has been to listen to a debate in which Government and Opposition have been able to speak with the same voice on behalf of Britain in an area of vital importance, and perhaps all the more so because there are signs that mayhem may break forth on other fronts shortly. Secondly, I should like to say what a privilege it is, as the noble Lord. Lord Gore-Booth, said, to speak after the noble Earl, Lord Avon, whose henchman I was, at home and abroad, for many years. Indeed, if I have any right to intervene in this debate, it is because I was his principal adviser and official at the Geneva Conference in 1954, and later was Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office during the 1962 Laos Conference.
801 The noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, has spoken to your Lordships about the more recent history and that is more relevant to this evening's debate. Yet against a longer background in this long-drawn-out tragedy there may still be one or two things which could be said with advantage or emphasised. I say "emphasised" because two points to which I am going to refer have already been mentioned, either directly or by inference.
The first is that if we are to be helpful, and Britain is to have some part in this, we shall be unlikely to do that by public condemnation and moralising. Indeed, quite the contrary will be the likely result. The second point that I would emphasise from the longer past is that it would be extremely imprudent to be at all certain how things are likely to turn out militarily, or in any other way, in South-East Asia. Looking back to that Geneva Conference of 1954, I would say that if anybody there, on either side had been asked whether there was likely to be 15 years thereafter such independence as still exists in the States of South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, he would have been extremely doubtful. I do not know whether the surprise at the degree of success of that Conference in retaining the independence of these three States is greater on the side of the Soviet Union, China and North Vietnam than it would be among the still surviving participants on the Western side, be they British, French or American. Therefore, I would urge strongly that no one should conclude now that he necessarily knows what the results of military operations will be, even if the Americans carry out—as I sincerely hope they will—the policy to which they have set their hand: gradual withdrawal and, in the meantime, Vietnamisation.
In 1958—to give another such example of uncertainties—the Chinese made their last determined attempt, up to date, to get hold of the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu. These are so close to the China coast that you could almost play ducks and drakes to get a stone from the mainland to the islands. The Chinese did not succeed in their attempt in 1958, and they have not since renewed such an effort; and, as I understand it, the American Navy no longer thinks it necessary even to patrol the Taiwan Straits. I say this only to suggest that it is just possible that even when the 802 Americans have withdrawn and there has been Vietnamisation, that will not necessarily mean the total cessation of an independent State in South Vietnam.
If we are now in the process rather of looking forward than looking backward to what has happened in the past, and condemning the one side or the other for more of this or more of that, we must ask ourselves, as previous speakers have done, "look forward to what?". It you ask that question, it would be sad simply to answer, "There is nothing more that anybody can do. The best hope is that the Americans will carry out their policy of Vietnamisation and withdrawal in such an orderly manner as to give the stay-behind South Vietnam Government a chance of survival, and then this ghastly killing will just proceed until one side or the other triumphs or, alternatively, both are exhausted." The British Government, as they have made plain this afternoon, have no intention whatever of just letting that happen. If they are not to let that happen, I hope that they will think over very carefully what the noble Earl, Lord Avon, suggested about the difficulties of calling together a full-scale conference for the purpose of getting an arrangement. I would not begin to use such a big word as "settlement": that is probably long beyond any present hope. I would say rather an arrangement which might perhaps last, as the noble Earl, said for a ten-year period. That already would be a great achievement.
Are there means of doing this other than by trying to get a conference of the participants in Paris, such as the Americans have been involved in, or by getting together, or trying to get together, again a Geneva-type conference? I sincerely hope that there are, because we have seen in Paris that face to face the North Vietnamese are not yet ready to do business. It is just a spending of time. Nor does it look as if there is very much hope between American contacts with the Chinese in Warsaw recently starting up once more.
Does this mean that everything is hopeless? As the noble Earl, Lord Avon, suggested, perhaps not. In the case of Trieste, for instance, it was possible to have a long-drawn-out secret negotiation in which neither of the main participants met until, through intermediaries, an 803 arrangement had been virtually completed. But who could these intermediaries be? The noble Earl suggested that it might be the French, who have contacts in Hanoi, and ourselves. That is one possibility. The noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, has suggested—and the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has supported the idea—that it might be of advantage to bring in some Asiatic Power. This may be an alternative, and at least it offers some way in which contacts could be created between the North Vietnamese, the Americans and the South Vietnamese, without either of them having to meet fruitlessly in Paris or without having to try to get together a formal Geneva Conference again.
On that I should have thought the prospects would be gloomy. I gather from what the Government spokesman has said that there has been no response at all from the Russians to this recently. This has been a steady Russian position for some considerable time, despite a remark thrown out a few weeks ago. Mr. Khrushchev, for instance, in the brutal way that he used to express himself, told the Foreign Secretary of the day, when he visited Moscow in 1964, that if the British wanted to hang themselves up on the meat hook of South-East Asia, the Russians were not the least inclined to follow suit. Therefore I doubt whether we can hope for much from the Russians.
This brings me back to express the hope that the Government, following every possible means of trying to get an arrangement of some kind, will bear in mind the suggestion thrown out by the noble Earl, Lord Avon, and by other noble Lords that they will continue in the work to which they have set their hands, and will not tire in trying to reach some accommodation, thereby stopping the bloodshed that continues and will continue until, if these efforts are not successful, one side or the other is beaten into defeat, or both sides are so war-weary that they have to call a halt. In that case my fear would be that they would be calling a halt only in order to go at each other again as soon as they had got their breath back.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ LORD BETHELL
My Lords, I feel that I have some small contribution to 804 make to this debate, since like the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, who addressed your Lordships a few moments ago, I was in Vietnam last September and had the opportunity to meet the Vietnamese leaders and talk with officers of the South Vietnamese Army. I should like to give my reasons why I feel that the decision of President Nixon was, by and large, right, and why I see nothing inconsistent at all in his decision to go into Cambodia, into the Parrot's Beak, and his declared policy of gradual withdrawal from South Vietnam. It must surely be unprecedented for a country to tolerate, 50 miles from its capital city, a hostile base which has been used for years and years for assaults, for rest and recuperation, for supplies to a numerous enemy which has the avowed intention of the destruction of Vietnam. It must also surely be unprecedented for a great and powerful country such as the United States to tie its hands so tightly and to announce its intentions so strictly before embarking on a major military operation.
The President has been pinned down by his public opinion at home to only a few days of operation in Cambodia. He has been forced to declare that he will end his combat activity in that country by the end of June. And two days ago I heard that his Secretary of Defence had again pinned him down by saying that American troops will not go back into Cambodia. He did not say, "No matter what happens"—but I think it follows that whatever happens American troops will not go back into Cambodia.
This is really a very novel type of warfare, and I think it both explains and justifies a lot of American actions and redounds tremendously to their credit if they are successful—and I have a strong suspicion that this Vietnamisation policy will succeed. If, by the end of 1971, the Americans manage to pull out of South-East Asia leaving a viable country, not having defeated the Viet Cong but still leaving the country intact, it will not be a defeat but will, I suggest, be a considerable victory.
There are many people who claim that the Americans have lost the war since they have not been able to defeat the Viet Cong. That is really very far from the truth. There have been certain tendencies to compare unfavourably the American record in Vietnam with our 805 record in Malaya, where we won; but surely the differences are immense. In Malaya we eventually defeated a force of about 10,000 Communist terrorists. For each Communist terrorist we eliminated it took a million man-hours. We won this war only because we had the full support of the Malayan population to whom we had promised independence. We had really a pretty easy ride.
On the other hand, the Americans have to cope with 200,000 armed terrorists, very well supplied through neutral territory by two super-Powers. How could they possibly manage to eliminate 200,000 terrorists, even with a total allied force of 1½ million? It takes a whole police force to catch a gang of train robbers and to catch an escaped prisoner—200,000 people hidden in the jungle, well armed, cannot be defeated. I see it as no reflection on the American military record that they have been unable to defeat the Viet Cong; but I do have two small doubts about what President Nixon has done, and I should like to mention them.
The first is—and I hope I am not wrong—that it has been suggested to me that although President Nixon has undertaken to withdraw his own troops from Cambodia by the end of June, no such undertaking has been given for the South Vietnamese troops. It could happen that South Vietnamese troops will remain in Cambodia after the Americans have withdrawn, and naturally they will be supplied and equipped by the Americans. This may be a valid military decision to take, but it would be a mistake, I suggest, if these South Vietnamese regular soldiers were allowed to stay indefinitely in Cambodia as a force in the internal situation of that country. We know that the present Government has only recently come to power and is not particularly secure. There is a strong challenge from the ex-leader, Sihanouk, and it could happen that the new régime would be challenged. If American-backed South Vietnamese regular soldiers become involved in such an internal struggle for power this would be a very dangerous step, and I hope it does not happen.
My second worry is: what will happen if Vietnamisation does not succeed? I think we have to envisage this possibility. I hope and, on balance, I believe it will 806 succeed; but it is possible that it will fail There seems to be a rather sweeping assumption that if the Americans withdraw the North will simply sweep across South Vietnam and crush it. I see no reason at all why that should happen The South Vietnamese Army consists of nearly a million men: the Viet Cong of about 200,000. Of course, the Viet Cong can get the upper hand in guerrilla warfare, but I do not think they can sweep across the country and annihilate the Saigon régime. It is a different sort of fighting which leads to the conquering of major cities and the assumption of political power.
What is much more likely to happen is that the Viet Cong will make the Government of South Vietnam insecure. They may be able to restrict the Saigon Government and the people under its control to a very small area with a few cities, and to continue with their noxious policy of terror over the waverers. If this continues, I see a considerable amount of danger, and I believe that we and the Americans should discuss what will happen if Vietnamisation does not succeed, or if the Government of South Vietnam survives but seems to be slowly crumbling away, being slowly eroded or terrorised away. We should discuss what could be done in such a situation.
When I was speaking to South Vietnamese parliamentarians and political leaders last September, I was rather amazed at the breadth of political view that I found. Having read our Press, I had been rather led into the assumption that the leaders of South Vietnam were a group of corrupt mandarins with vast bank accounts in Zurich who were only waiting for the firing of the starting gun to catch the first plane out. Instead, I found a very wide range—even one or two Socialists of long standing.
§ LORD BETHELL
On one thing they were united: their view of Communism was a very violent one. To paraphrase it—and I am speaking not only of military leaders but also of army officers, of shopkeepers and of other people we spoke to—they said that Communists in Asia were not similar in character to the noble Lord who will be addressing this House after I resume my seat. I 807 was told that these Communists kill. These are the sort of Communists we have to cope with in Asia, and they are not the gentle, intellectual Communists that I, at least, meet and occasionally lunch with. So this is the situation which may become a terrible worry, not now, but in two years' time when the Americans have withdrawn and we are faced with a disintegrating and potentially bloody situation.
What the Government can do then or in the meantime is very little. I even heard one noble Lord say earlier during this debate that he saw no point in speaking in it at all because there was nothing anyone in this country could do. While admitting there is little anyone here can do, I still say that something can be done. I feel that that noble Lord would not have spoken as he did if he had visited the British Children's Hospital in Saigon, which we did. It is financed out of British Government aid, it turns no child away, it looks after many hundreds of Vietnamese children who have been terribly injured in this war and it depends on us for its survival. I suggest that this, possibly combined with an influx of young people in Voluntary Service Overseas, might well make a realistic and useful contribution to the situation in South Vietnam. Saigon is not a dangerous place—far less dangerous than New York. It is quite safe to live there, and I see no reason why young people from this country should not go out there to work and provide medical assistance.
There is another completely different point which I should like to mention and bring to the Government's attention. It may seem distasteful but it is an unquestionable fact that defence experts, both in America and here, are gaining a lot out of this war. A great deal of tremendously useful defence information is coming out of Vietnam, and any American senior officer would, I think, be pleased to have the war continued for a little longer. Certainly that is something we have to fight against, but while the war continues I see no reason why we should not get what we can in the military and defence field out of it. The service attachés in our Embassy are well trusted by the Americans, but their movements are somewhat restricted by, 808 I believe, instructions of a political nature from Whitehall. It is felt unwise that they should go along on military exercises or military operations with the Americans or the South Vietnamese; it is thought to be politically inadvisable. That is surely a piece of hypocrisy. We know which side we are on and there can be no reason why Service attachés should not, in a passive, observer capacity, find out what is happening in the war.
The main course the Government can pursue is to continue their efforts with the Russians and, as the noble Earl, Lord Avon, said earlier this afternoon, with the French. That must be our role, and my only hope is that the Government will not be put off by face slaps, by half promises which are retracted a week later, by the Russians' difficult situation, by the fact that they at present have little influence with North Vietnam and less with China; but that the Government will persist and carry on until this war is over.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask whether he could tell the House what is happening about the Australian and Empire troops who are fighting with the South Vietnamese? Are they going to be withdrawn in proportion with the American withdrawal, or not?
§ LORD BETHELL
My Lords, I feel that that is hardly a question for me but rather a question for the Australian High Commissioner.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ LORD MILFORD
My Lords, many speakers have spoken about Vietnam, the Americans, President Nixon. I do not want to continue on that note at all. My aim is to examine this war to see how we can avoid its ever happening again. These countries of South-East Asia are very ancient civilisations, far older than most European civilisations, but they fell into stagnation under a rigid feudal system and were colonised by the West. When the last World War broke out the colonisers were defeated. Japan swept in, and Japan was defeated; and the French colonisers tried to come back again. If one were a Vietnamese and had seen all this happen, it would be natural for one's patriotism to be 809 aroused; one would want to get rid of colonialism for ever and would be against a feudal society which had even collaborated with the invaders. So there was after the war a tremendous surge of patriotism and liberation; a feeling of, "Let's get rid of the feudal system, once and for all, and go forward into a more modern world." That is what really started the whole trouble in South-East Asia.
The resistance movement against the French and the Japanese, and the French again, was a broad, popular movement. Yes, there were Communists in it—of course there were—but it was a broad, popular movement. It was not quite the subversive picture which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, painted. He spoke to-day very much about subversion, in a rather poisonous way. That broad movement hated the feudal, corrupt Governments of the Diems, Madam Diem, the Syngman Rhees and all those people. Does a movement have to be subversive because it wants to overthrow these feudal systems and go forward?
§ LORD GRIDLEY
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question? Is it not a fact that what that part of the world is threatened with now is Chinese imperialism, and although colonialism was done away with in that area another imperialism is going on? Is that not what has happened?
§ LORD MILFORD
My Lords, I am afraid I do not agree with the noble Lord at all. I think that this is a real, patriotic liberation movement. I urge that all such movements throughout the world should be understood. More and more of them are coming and I hope that our Governments, of whatever colour, and the Western world, will in future help countries with these patriotic liberation movements to get on their own feet, and will not just smear them as subversive Communists, and so on. They are people wanting to come forward into the modern world.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, himself said that developing countries must be helped and will be helped. I welcome that statement very much indeed. But when one is trying to help a backward country always the problem comes up: what kind of Government has the country got, or is it going to have? It is 810 only natural that people do not want to invest money in a country which is in a state of flux. Investors and financiers and the so-called helpers want to see a safe Government before they send their money in. Up to now that has always meant the Government of the status quo, or even more reactionary than the status quo. Any country that is in a flux and wanting to go forward—even having a revolution, perhaps—I am sure will not get the aid that a so-called safe country would get. In Vietnam they had a civil war—a civil war to get rid of feudalism, on one side, and, on the other, to try to keep the status quo. Why have we to interfere in a civil war to get rid of feudalism? We had a civil war in our country to get rid of our feudalism, and we got rid of it. So I say, "Good luck to them in getting rid of their feudalism!"
I ask the question, my Lords, what is the way out for a backward feudal country to come forward into the modern world without a great deal of strife, and perhaps a civil war? And are we and the Western World always going to stamp down on that civil war and be on the side of the status quo? It seems that is what modern history is all over the world. This situation may arise, perhaps in South America to-morrow, or somewhere else. If it does are we always going to take the side of reaction? I hope not. I am worried about one thing in regard to what is happening in Vietnam. There has been a very efficient, modern, well-equipped army formed in the South of Vietnam under Vietnamisation. This will be one of the most powerful armies in South-East Asia and the people behind it are not conspicuous for their democracy or their outlook for the future—what they want. I think that unless somehow we have control in the future over this army it may be a very dangerous thing that has arisen in South-East Asia.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ LORD MONSON
My Lords, I think it is time that the sincere and well-meaning opponents of the American presence in Indo-China were made to realise the full consequences of what they are now calling for. If it were possible to spirit the entire American Army out of Vietnam and Cambodia tomorrow by waving a magic wand, there would be absolutely no question of the "peace in Vietnam" that they have been crying for. Quite the 811 opposite. Instead, we should see bloodshed and terror on a scale exceeding anything that has gone before. To be accurate, we ourselves should probably not see it, given that the colour television cameras which dwell so lingeringly upon the misdeeds perpetrated by the allied side, to the virtual exclusion of those committed by the enemy, would tend to be withdrawn at the same time as the American Forces. So all those who are urging a precipitate American withdrawal would be spared the sight of the horror that such a withdrawal would unleash.
As the leading article in last Sunday's Observer puts it:It is arguable … that the best thing now would be for the U.S. to get out as quickly as possible. If this is true, it has also to be recognised—as few of Mr. Nixon's critics are willing to do—that the result must mean abandoning the anti-Communists in South Vietnam to their fate.It goes on to say:They may not all be massacred "—which is some consolation, I suppose. My Lords, I hope most of us would agree that the motives for the original American intervention were essentially altruistic, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has mentioned, whatever objection there might or might not be on practical grounds. Essentially it was all part and parcel of the late President Kennedy's pledge, which I shall have to paraphrase as I cannot remember the exact words. It was to the effect that: "We shall defend the cause of freedom wherever in the world it may be threatened". Certainly there may have been subsidiary and less altruistic reasons involving prestige and an abstract desire to keep Red China in her place, but basically the motives were noble ones. America, after all, stood to gain nothing in the material sense; on the other hand, she stood to lose quite a lot in terms of lives and money, even if the American intervention had gone according to plan.
Having established this, one cannot deny that many errors of judgment appear to have been made in the actual conduct of the war on the allied side, chiefly by the Americans—excessive use of fire power and over-reliance on bombing, causing unnecessary civilian casualties; the policy of defoliation and the like—but opponents of the American 812 presence ought to realise that none of these faults in American strategy and tactics were inherent in their original decision to aid South Vietnam. If the Americans had sought the advice at an earlier stage of Sir Robert Thompson, based on our own experience in Malaya; if they had emulated the example of their Australian and South Korean allies and fought more of an infantry war and less of a campaign based on the massive, and inevitably indiscriminate, use of fire power, we should have had less in the way of civilian casualties and material destruction on the one hand, and quite possibly greater military success, and certainly more long-term civilian cooperation, on the other. However, this is all past history and we have to deal with the situation as it exists at the moment.
Now, my Lords, what might be called the "peace at any price" lobby are citing the fact of this excessive destruction and the civilian casualties in support of their call for an immediate American withdrawal. Their supposition is that these events have altered the political sentiments of the South Vietnamese people to such an extent in recent years that, apart from a few allegedly corrupt politicians and army officers, virtually the entire South Vietnamese population would be happy to acquiesce in a Communist takeover, some of them enthusiastically and others with no more than mild grumbling. Peace and harmony, under a mild, Dubcek-like régime, would then prevail.
My Lords, I think this is an utterly false assumption. A few years ago, expert opinion estimated the political affinities of the South Vietnamese people to be divided in the following proportions: 15 per cent. convinced Communists; 15 per cent. strongly anti-Communist; and 70 per cent. non-Communist but essentially indifferent to politics provided that they were left to cultivate their land and get on with their businesses in peace. The first two groups are unlikely, given the course of the war, to have altered their opinions. So for a start we have a staunchly anti-Communist minority of 2½ million, who cannot all slink away to hide for the rest of their lives in the jungle, even if they were prepared to do so. But that is not all, because some of the 70 per cent. in the middle must have come 813 down off the fence. No doubt a few will have been driven into the Communist camp because of clumsy and un-selective use of fire power by some of the allied forces, but I suggest that; far more will have been driven in the other direction by systematic and deliberate Communist terrorism.
All of us, my Lords, are horrified by the incident at My Lai—this uncharacteristic aberration—and of course it is right that the fullest publicity should have been given to that incident and to any other crimes which may have been committed by our side—by "our side" I mean the Western side: but I think it would assist people to form a balanced and accurate appraisal of the Vietnamese situation if the various news media throughout the Western World would give proportionate space and time to the far more numerous Communist atrocities. Perhaps I may give your Lordships a few of the sordid details. By the end of 1964, according to Sir Robert Thompson, the Viet Cong were liquidating villagers loyal to the central Government at the rate of 6,000 a year. During 1965 and 1966 this terrorism spread into the towns and cities. Initially the murders were basically semi-political, with the victims lending to be in the category of village headmen, estate foremen, the wives and children of soldiers, and anyone else con nected with authority, however remotely. But this policy did not work; so the Communists started killing completely at random, in order to create an atmosphere of fear and panic. Bombs were planted in Saigon restaurants, in theatres (in one theatre incident, 108 people, including 24 women and children, were killed), in school playgrounds and even school bicycle sheds. Grenades were thrown into crowded country buses and at young people riding motor scooters—all the victims being people whom the Com munists were allegedly "liberating".
These attacks were stepped up during 1967 and reached their peak in the first week of December that year, when 252 Montagnard villagers at Dak Son were massacred with flame-throwers. That same week, incidentally, 118 civilians were murdered elsewhere in the country. The next year, 1968, started fairly quietly, with only a few score peasants being killed by bombs placed in Mekong Delta market places. Then came the Communist 814 occupation of Hué, which the noble Lord, Lord Blyton has mentioned. One Buddhist monk claimed that 8,000 people were executed by the Communists during their brief occupation. Nobody can yet verify the exact number, as mutilated bodies are still being dug out of mass graves. Subsequently, the Communists started firing rockets indiscriminately into Saigon—no question of military targets being involved—killing about 25 civilians a week, on average; and more recently there have been deliberate bomb attacks on children's hospitals. And this is not by any means the whole list, my Lords.
After so much truly Stalinist savagery, it would be astonishing if anti-Communism in South Vietnam was not stronger than ever. Remembering that, in addition to this, as many as 2 million people were said to have been killed in North Vietnam after Ho Chi Minh came to power, one can imagine how the declared anti-Communists must feel about the prospects of the United States Government being panicked by the abuse hurled at them from all sides into withdrawing from Vietnam before they (the anti-Communists) had been fully armed and trained to defend themselves, not only against the indigenous South Vietnamese Communists, who of course form a relatively small part of the population, but against the full might of the North Vietnamese Army. To give an idea of the dangers, which although they are fully appreciated in this House I do not think are appreciated in the country at large, the population of South Vietnam is about 16½ million, and even if the declared anti-Communists still number no more than 15 per cent. of the whole, there must be 2½ million of them. The population of Israel is 2,770,000, about 90 per cent. of which is represented by the Jewish community, who therefore also number about 2½ million. Contemplate the terrible consequences if Israel had been overrun by the Arab Armies in June, 1967, and one begins to get an idea of which could happen in Vietnam.
Another, and supposedly slightly more humane, suggestion is that the Americans should delay their departure by just long enough to impose a coalition Government upon the South Vietnamese, with the idea that passions will abate somewhat before the inevitable Communist takeover in a 815 year or two's time. I doubt whether that would produce the desired outcome. In the Czechoslovakian elections of May, 1946, rigged as they were, the Communists managed to get only 38.1 per cent. of the vote. A coalition Government was therefore formed under the premiership of Gottwald. Within 21 months the Communists had infiltrated the police force and staged a coup d'état; a month later Jan Masaryk was dead and Czechoslovakia became subjected to the full rigours of Stalinism. In the Vietnamese context at this particular time I do not think an imposed coalition would last two months, let alone 21; and I believe that the ensuing deaths would not be numbered in hundreds, as in Czechoslovakia, but in hundreds of thousands.
If it were simply a question of the South Vietnamese facing the prospect of a tyrannical but relatively non-bloodthirsty Communist régime, like the majority of those in Eastern Europe to-day, the Americans would have every moral right, if the Senate and Congress so decided, to say to the South Vietnamese, "We are sorry, but we do not feel we can protect you any longer. Your freedom has to be weighed against the continuing loss of life of our sons and husbands and brothers and the appalling drain on our economy. We have done our best, but it has not worked, and now we have to say goodbye", and with those words remove themselves from Vietnam as fast as they could.
But it is not like that. The situation is that large numbers of people, who have been encouraged to come out openly and to take the risk of committing themselves publicly on the side of the free world, are not just facing a police state or enslavement but are literally in mortal danger. If the United States were to abandon these people without warning, she would place herself, to use another analogy from the 1940s, in the same moral position as the Russians, who, at the beginning of August, 1944, specifically called upon the people of Warsaw to rise against the Nazis, and then stood by in the Warsaw suburbs for two months while 240,000 Poles were killed and Warsaw razed to the ground. Thank goodness! I am fairly confident that the United States, when it comes to the 816 crunch, would never let her allies down, however bored they may have become with them, in this particular way.
Unlike many experienced noble Lords who have spoken, I have no particular qualifications for suggesting a solution, but I take note of the well-known Asian Communist saying, "Power flows out of the barrel of a gun". Paradoxical it may be, but I am convinced that it is only if both sides possess an equal number of guns, to put it at its simplest, and an equal number of men trained to use them, that you are going to get—bearing in mind this saying—a genuine balance of power in Vietnam, and with the balance of power a genuine prospect of peace. When both war-weary sides realise that neither can dominate or exterminate the other without many years more of bitter fighting, then I believe you will get, if not a happy and equally balanced coalition, at least a modus vivendi which rules out genocide and will allow for the gradual restoration of the economy. For that reason, I fervently hope that the Americans will not be browbeaten into getting out of Vietnam before the year or so which it will take to train and equip the allies they are leaving behind has been allowed to run its full course.
§ 8.28 p.m.
THE EARL OF GOWRIE
My Lords, with the permanent Left "scrubbed" in the form of Lord Brockway, the temporary Left is left high and dry. I feel like an allegorical emblem of isolation, the Ancient Mariner or the man who gave instructions for the charge of the Light Brigade, because seldom since I have been in your Lordships' House have I heard such a magnificent example of the politics of consensus. I am a little alarmed when I recall my own years in America and what happened to an earlier politics of consensus there. I will not attempt to make debating points. I would just say that the small doubts of my noble friend Lord Bethell are my large doubts.
I believe Mr. Nixon when he says that he is going to withdraw from Cambodia. I think it may be extremely dangerous to leave a South Vietnamese force in there, for obvious historical and local reasons. I am glad Malaya was mentioned and the important point made that there the British, at considerable cost, did have the 817 support of the local population. That has not been true of America. My burden is very simply this: I do not believe that the health of NATO or the future security of Europe depends on a perpetual and self-perpetuating uncritical support for the senior partner of the alliance, or for the wealthiest member.
In introducing to-day's debate the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, wisely reminded us that foreign affairs generate heat and strong feeling. As a teacher, I feel especially strongly about the Vietnam war because two pupils of mine whom I liked and admired were killed on duty there. Their deaths were especially poignant because both entirely disapproved of the policies behind their own country's commitment. They felt equally strongly, however, that there are times when dissent can be a luxury rather than a right, and so they refused to take the many opportunities open to them to "dodge the draft". I am also, by the way, perhaps the only Member of your Lordships' House who has been investigated by the F.B.I. for suspected draft evasion. In the end, I was also suspected of being too old, too married, too academic and too English for the war, and so let off.
But I am not on the list of speakers in order to air feelings necessarily subjective and unhelpful. I want to be as brief and precise as possible, because we are all waiting for the end. Last week, after kindly allowing a Private Notice Question which he was understandably uneager to have to deal with, the noble Lord the Leader of the House said that we should have to await the debate in another place on President Nixon's intervention in Cambodia to find out the Government's attitude to it. Since then we have heard, or read, some of the Foreign Secretary's remarks on May 5, and marvelled at the intricacy of the Prime Minister's counter harmonies. If only that virtuosity could be applied to the form of issues and not to their appearance!
We had a very full debate here yesterday on Defence, and we have had to-day what we must face as being the luxury of debating the war's extension—luxury because even the most distinguished among us can hardly suppose that anyone is going to pay a great deal of attention. England, we hear it argued, 818 is fortunate to be on the sidelines of this particular foreign affair: let her not abuse her own luck and the misfortunates of her most important ally by indulging in recriminations which are liable to be abstract and ill-informed and which will, in any case, have no effect on events as they turn out.
The only reason why I want to take up your Lordships' time for a few minutes is that I believe that this line of thinking is not only fallacious in its own right but is dangerous to the improvement of this country's relations with other Powers. What I want to add to our discussion is this. The two major political Parties in this country have, in my view, a curious attitude to the problems of conducting military alliances in the post-nuclear world. They seem to believe that all a Power of the second rank—I intend this in no way as a description of value; I mean second in terms of manpower, gross national product, resources available, and so on—can do is to attach itself to one or other of the great nuclear Powers, back its policies morally to the hilt, and materially as far up the sword as you dare, and then hope for the best.
That seems to me to be a policy of "shut your eyes and think of America", to adapt the advice which Major Thompson's mother-in-law gave to his wife. Thus, we have the extraordinary spectacle of the leaders of a Socialist Government and the leaders of an Opposition whose whole point, as I see it, is to blend a traditional and still vibrant patriotism with the challenge and excitement of the Continental venture, permanently lending support to American Asiatic policies. I know that there are the Prime Minister's "buts", but I think we all know for whose ears they were intended.
We also, almost without a murmur, support policies which, to put it mildly, not only cause misgiving to almost every intellect of consequence in America, to almost every political scientist of international standing there, but which also are proving to be the most fertile seeding ground imaginable on anarchic and irresponsible dissent of the sort that my own students would have no truck with. Do noble Lords of both Benches really believe that America has no friends on this side of the Atlantic except noble 819 Lords and right honourable gentlemen? Does the less than ecstatic support from Italy, France, West Germany and Sweden token the "growing division between the United States and the Western World" which worried Mr. Maudling in the Commons last week? Is it not that these European countries, as well as being more alive to the standing of the affluent West in the Third World (you cannot get away from the fact that in Indo-China a very rich country is causing the greatest damage and disruption to the peasant populations of two very poor ones) are also, in their different ways, alive to the fact that the future of Western Europe's relations with the countries of the Warsaw Pact lies with Western Europe herself, and that a too great reliance on America can be as dangerous as a too great separation from her? Moscow is a fact of Europe; Marxism, and Leninism are Europeanisms. When these "Marx Brothers" go East they change their spots, as your Lordships hardly need me to remind you after the acute and authoritative speech of the noble Earl, Lord Avon.
I do so regret that my noble friends, whose Leader in another place is a true European, appear to have visions of snow-on-boots at the least suggestion that NATO be itself an organism capable of flexible response. By that I mean of response to a Power bloc whose policies, however out of line with our ideals or those of America, are surely not comparable to Fascism and do not present such easy analogies to yesterday's diplomacy.
I am not, to lapse into the patois of the 'fifties, trying to be "soft" on Communism; rather I am speaking in the deepest protest at the idea that the best way to oppose Russian Communism in Western Europe is to support American attempts to discourage Chinese-style competing Communist nationalisms in the Far East. Sometimes I wish that Swift was still with us. Any of my noble friends who think that there are Conservatives of my generation who can be hoodwinked by Communism may perhaps find consolation at my second last point. In my view, it is only a piety—a needed one, perhaps—to iterate and reiterate that peace in South-East Asia will, must, can, only be achieved at the negotiating table. You cannot negotiate with people who do 820 not believe that there is a possibility of more than one side to every question.
I do not believe that an insurgent Far Eastern Communist nationalism would honour any agreement with America, with any Western Power, for an hour longer than it might find expedient, or for an hour beyond whatever temporary breathing space it might desire. So far as Hanoi is concerned, the conference table is a green baise jungle where guerrilla warfare can be extended by other means. I believe that the West must itself adapt to such tactics, however it may go against the grain to say so. I believe that America has already adapted in this way; that Dr. Kiesinger, whom, fortuitously, I know well, perhaps feels that President Nixon will succeed with a military stop-go policy: war, war one moment, jaw, jaw the next. It is a quite credible, indeed orthodox policy. Its failure, which, contrary to the views of my noble friend Lord Bethell, to which I always attend with respect, I would rashly hazard is already complete, is due to the phenomenon which most thinking Americans recognise, which most European Governments recognise, but which Mr. Stewart does not recognise, Mr. Maudling does not recognise, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, does not recognise, and which my noble Leader seems to me to pretend not to recognise—the fact that America herself knows that she cannot indefinitely guarantee Vietnamisation and that the world knows that she knows.
Finally, the reality we face is not so much that America has suffered a defeat in South-East Asia as that victory and defeat are volatile notions the world over, as open to hallucinations now as they have ever been. In a dangerous and difficult world let us abandon the domino-like notions of black and white, absolute good and absolute evil, absolute friends and absolute peace. Only in this way can we recognise the intelligent, the truly flexible, response which is the mark of a creative humanity, the will as well as the wish for peace.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ LORD GRIDLEY
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for more than about seven minutes in what I have to say. But I think the speech to which we have just listened gives an indication of how difficult it is for some of us to 821 understand the opinions held by the youth in this country to-day. From all my experience of having served in South-East Asia, and after having listened to what the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, said about our influence abroad, I should have thought that it was still considerable in our territories overseas where we have had some influence and where we were listened to when our advice was sought. On those points I disagree with everything the noble Earl had to say.
I should like, at the outset of my speech, to pay my tribute to the words of my noble friend Lord Carrington, and particularly to his reference to how we met and overcame the Communist Chinese insurrection in Malaya. From my experience of South-East Asia, and Malaya in particular, I agree with the noble Lord's perceptive analysis of the Communist threat to that area and to the area generally, and I also agree with many of the speeches that have been made to-night that we must still, nevertheless, no matter what we may think of Communist imperial aggression, persist with our consultations, although we know, as has been stated by other noble Lords, that our attempts to negotiate and consult with these people have now gone on for many years and with practically no success anywhere. From my own experiences of this Communist insurrection, I have a personal hatred of Communist aggression and insurrection, and I have no illusions whatever of what this means, and what it might mean if it were to extend its sphere of influence over various parts of the world.
It would be quite out of place if I did not, at this stage, state that I am sure noble Lords feel they have been honoured by the presence in your Lordships' House of the noble Earl, Lord Avon, who from his tremendous experience has made proposals as to how it might be possible to obtain peace in that part of the world, South-East Asia, which we have been discussing to-night. I feel certain that consideration will be given to the proposals which he made. May I refer to one other speech? I felt that the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, certainly injected some realism into the threat that faces that area to-day.
When I was a cadet in the Colonial Service in Malaya in 1928, a friend of mine came into the office with a map of 822 China on which Malaya was incorporated as the thirteenth province. I say no more. He had been in Canton studying Chinese. This was a perfectly genuine map, purchased in Canton at that time, 42 years ago. But Malaya is not yet the thirteenth province of China. From 1928 to the Japanese attack of 1941, there was comparative peace in the area and considerable prosperity for the peoples of Indo-China under the French, and for the Malaysians under the British in Malaya. But by the Japanese attack in 1941 all that was changed; as far as Far Eastern eyes were concerned, the white people were seen to be vulnerable, a fact which had not been realised up to that time.
After the war was over, nationalism in the area supplanted the old colonialism. As was so ably put in words which I cannot echo better than by repeating them, the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said that it is in this void that the peoples of those areas are struggling at the present time to find their own democratic form of government. But while this has been going on there has been another danger to the area through the expansion of Chinese imperialism, which has been trying to establish its sway in the area. I have no illusions whatsoever about Chinese imperialism, which is expansionist and has as its ultimate aim the domination of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. And if that happened there would be inherent dangers to Thailand, and probably to Malaysia. If Communism were to succeed it would mean the imposition of a Police State, secret trials, confessions by torture, on the peoples of South-East Asia and on the countries I have mentioned.
It is a question, in my view, of where you stop all this, or where it does stop. For if this expansion were to extend to Malaysia, then Australia might well be threatened, and then Britain could conceivably be involved in a war in coming to the assistance of Australia. Of course what we all hope will happen in the interim is that the free countries of South-East Asia will find their own forms of government, and that they will be strong enough to defend themselves. But—and this is where I would say I pay my tribute to the Americans at the present time—it is my view that the Americans are helping that area by an intervention which gives the peoples of 823 that area a breathing space to find their own form of government, and their own way of life.
I should also say—and from what I know particularly of Malaysia I would submit—that there is considerable evidence from among the majority of the peoples of South-East Asia that they utterly and completely reject the Communist doctrine. Nevertheless—and I think this is an aspect which we must never forget—it is a system which, I know, recruits young people into its militia at the point of a gun, and it is also a system which maintains its order at the point of a gun. I wish all these facts could be placed in intelligent fashion before that minority of students at our universities and those who demonstrate under the banner of "Anti-Vietnam war" and the "South-East Asia solidarity campaign".
I ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House, who will reply, if the time has not arrived in this country when we ought to insist that the truth should be told at our universities, and elsewhere, of the practices under a Communist ideology. There is plenty of propaganda against our democratic way of life; let us tell the truth about the ideologies of other ways of life in some parts of the world. I am simply not convinced that the truth about this matter is getting through in the universities or the schools, and I ask the Government to give consideration to the proposal that I have made. On this last point—and I am now closing—I again agree with my noble friend Lord Carrington about people with double standards who persist in doing harm to our country and who make no constructive contribution to solving problems facing the peoples of South-East Asia, and who, in their antics over here, appear ridiculous to the many friends of this country overseas.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (LORD SHACKLETON)
My Lords, I think this has been one of the most interesting and one of the best debates that I have heard in your Lordships' House, although many of our colleagues have had to leave. The noble Earl, Lord Avon, who is not well (and we were particularly appreciative of his coming up), apologised because he was under doctor's orders. The noble 824 Lord, Lord Milford, delivered a surprisingly moderate speech, I thought, and I am sorry that he is not here now to be able to hear that compliment.
There has been a very wide range of views. If I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I think it was right to put this debate on at the time we did. It was a satisfactory debate, and I think that even if we had started it at 3.15 we should still be ending at this moment. One or two of our colleagues have dropped out; I have not heard any great lamentations about that. I think that most of the speeches that have been made, have been greatly enjoyed—and I think I have heard nearly every speech that has been made. I am afraid that I missed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, but then he is missing mine—no; I see that he is coming back. I was going to apologise to him, because I know he made an interesting speech.
If I may say so to the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, it was as a result of his initiative, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Milford, that we decided after consultation that it was right to have this debate. I think it was a right decision. Quite frankly, in many ways it is better, when we get the opportunity, to discuss a subject properly rather than in the rather gladiatorial conditions of a Private Notice Question. But, as noble Lords know the decision whether or not to allow a Private Notice Question is one that I have to take wearing not my Government hat, but my Leader of the House of Lords hat.
If I may say so to the noble Earl, Lord-Gowrie, who delivered a brilliant speech, he always places himself in a very strategic position. He claims to be a member of the Conservative Party, but he could be one of the Young Liberals. With great respect, he made a rather brilliant, if slightly studied, speech. Many of us also feel very strongly. I sympathise with his feelings, but I think he underrates the extent to which political leaders both in his Party and in mine, recognise the issues. He seems to think that we do not recognise them. But we recognise them all too well. I think we sometimes bring a little more humility than one sometimes finds among people who are accustomed to expressing views charmingly, intelligently and stimulatingly in academic circles.
825 But, in contradistinction, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Gridley—and I know the strength of his feelings and his experience—that I really think it would be rather counter-productive if the Government were now to start some strange sort of anti-Communist campaign in the universities. On the whole, I should regard that as as dangerous an operation, from a democratic point of view, as one could think about.
I shall speak only very briefly indeed. I do not think your Lordships will want, or indeed expect, a much greater clarification of the position of the Government. I am quite sure that it is right that we should proceed moderately and cautiously in this matter. That is not to say that we have not very much welcomed the frank speeches that have been made this evening, whether by my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder or, indeed, by my noble friend Lord Blyton. I am only sorry that more of your Lordships were not here to listen to his very forthright statement on the facts of the situation. It really was an admirable speech—and in any case, I am delighted to see my noble friend Lord Blyton here on a Thursday night.
May I also say that one of the good fortunes that we always have in this House is the presence of some distinguished ex-diplomats. Unfortunately, one of the few speeches that I did not hear last night was that of the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, I heard that it was very good and I thought that his speech to-day was extremely good. As the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, said, we cannot look for clear-cut formalised approaches to these problems. I hesitate to repeat those easy phrases about "calling people to the conference table" because, as was pointed out, there are difficulties in getting certain of these people to the conference table; and, though we may regret it, it would be foolish of us not to understand the obstacles which they may feel in their way. None the less, as the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, said, the Government have pursued, albeit without success so far, every opportunity, including some which were regarded (and the noble Lord used diplomatic language) as not diplomatically credible. There were, in fact, some rather unusual ones which were derided, but they were worth the effort.
826 The noble Earl, Lord Avon, made a number of suggestions, and we shall obviously consider them. Certainly I think that his point in relation to Anglo-French co-operation is very valid, and we all hope that that degree of co-operation which in the past has existed between ourselves and France will be strengthened. As the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, and others said, France still has a special influence in these areas. I am afraid that at the moment the chances of promoting a conference do not look very bright, but I am absolutely certain that, in one way or another, we must go on pressing for this. It was particularly notable to have the noble Earl, Lord Avon, here to-day. I think there was a degree of experience which was reflected in the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, who, with his wide experience in South-East Asia, touched on a sensitive area when he talked about the flanks of the present conflict.
I feel that I was a little unwise to jump up and say that we did not debate the subject yesterday, because we were going to debate it to-day, which has rather exposed me now when I am not proposing to follow up his suggestion. But in a sense his suggestion about holding the flanks illustrates the nature of the whole problem, the dangers and the difficulties in which America finds herself to-day. And I think that one message, particularly, informed all the speeches in our debate, and that was sympathy and anxiety about the United States of America. I happen to believe, and I think most noble Lords believe—we certainly made this clear yesterday—that American co-operation in the Free World and in Europe has been both generous and essential. It is therefore very much in all our interests, as well as in the interests of the United States, that some of the agonies through which the American people are going at this moment should be resolved.
It is worth noting—and I offer this thought to noble Lords who somehow believe that there is a determination on the part of the American nation to go on waging some war of aggression—that some very clear statements were made as recently as yesterday by Mr. Rogers, that in fact from next year American combat troops would no longer be engaged in Vietnam. I think that that 827 shows a little more clearly—and now that this debate has taken place things are a little clearer—what American policy is intending. It would perhaps be unwise for me to comment on whether or not it will work, but at least it is more intelligible to-day, and there is the assurance that South Vietnamese forces will take over all ground-combat responsibilities at about the middle of next year.
My Lords, I am sure we are all very grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and I do not think there is anything I can usefully add to what has been said. Of one thing I am quite certain: that we should not have rigid or preconceived ideas as to how progress can be made towards achieving peace. Nor should we overrate our capacities in this matter. But the Government and, I am sure, all responsible political leaders would greatly welcome any initiatives from anywhere to solve this problem. A fair settlement in Indo-China that would enable the peoples of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to live in peace in a way of their own choosing could really usher in a new era on earth. It is appalling to think of the agonies that are being suffered in that part of the world while we in this country live in comparative peace. And while the war drags on, there will be no stability or certainty there.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Shepherd (and I did not think his speech 828 was quite so bland as the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, suggested), my right honourable friends in the Foreign Office and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will continue to bend all the efforts which are open to us to help in any way at all.