§ 5.50 p.m.
§ The Earl of KIMBERLEY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to replace Britain's existing nuclear deterrent. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I raised this Question in May 1978 and I make no apologies for raising it again tonight. Last May—18 months ago—there were five or six speakers; tonight we have 12, and it is a very distinguished list because we have two noble and gallant Lords; the only one missing is a Marshal of the Royal Air 1602 Force. In the last 18 months the situation has, if anyting, deteriorated because of the increased strength of the Soviets in both numbers and technology. If we are going to have our nuclear deterrent in the 1990s we do not have many months left to decide what it is to be.
§ Let us look into a crystal ball at a few possible situations which may happen in the 1990s. NATO may not exist, or it may exist in a much changed state. It is not even impossible that we may have some form of federal European defence. On the other hand, the United States might have an isolationist policy in ten years' time. They have had one before. One thing is certain, and that is that France will still have its own nuclear deterrent. Maybe there is an opportunity to think about doing some collusion and having some entente cordiale with France over this if we cannot afford our own. I just put that out as a thought.
§ We have to be prepared for the worst possible situation, and I do not want us to be impotent either strategically or politically at any future summit meetings. Therefore, we must be in a position of strength whereby we can establish ourselves not only as the leader, perhaps, of defence in Europe but simultaneously as a voice which is heard and paid attention to; a voice which is now, and will be, capable of exerting both influence and power in international affairs.
§ I am given to understand that my noble friend Lord Strathcona will probably stick very closely to his brief tonight. But it is a comforting thought that one of the many subjects my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is discussing with President Carter is this very subject. She is a brilliant negotiator, and so I hope that perhaps my small feelings of optimism will not be unjustified. I am not an expert able to decide which form our nuclear deterrent, if we have it, should take—whether it be Cruise missiles, or Tridents, or a mixture of both—although personally I would prefer the Trident, which I believe my noble and gallant friend Lord Hill-Norton favours.
§ I am sure that the noble Lords, Lord Ritchie-Calder and Lord Noel-Baker, will attack me rather in the same way that they did 18 months ago. I most certainly respect their views, but they are 1603 views that fill me with great alarm because I think they are completely wrong. We all know the horror of the Bomb, and that is why it is a deterrent and why we have had peace for 30-odd years. Eight days ago "Panorama" did a programme on this subject which I watched with great interest. I believe that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, was taken somewhat out of context in it, but I am not going to speak for him tonight. I watched this programme with great interest. I thought it was biased and, in some parts, quite despicable, particularly the interview with the unfortunate Commander of "HMS Resolution". I believe that my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing is going into this in greater detail later.
§ May I try to make myself perfectly clear: just because I maintain that we should have our independent nuclear deterrent in no way means that we should not also have comprehensive and strong conventional defence forces. I agree that all this costs money, but somehow we have to find the money, even if we have to tighten our belts. Even President Carter said the other day that he was going to increase his defence expenditure by 5 per cent.
§ To digress slightly, I can only approve wholeheartedly of the NATO decision to supplement our present defences with ground launched Cruise missiles and Pershings, because I personally do not put a great amount of faith in Mr. Brezhnev's propaganda in withdrawing tanks and troops. The balance in favour of the Warsaw Pact countries is still far too heavy. When he has removed his 1,000 tanks it will still leave him with 15,000, and NATO will have 6,500. The SS 20s and the Backfire bombers are what are needed to go. Let nobody be deluded, as some of the Dutch seem to have been, by the Soviets' pernicious and insidious propoganda. Let the Russians put their money where their mouth is. Let them start removing these implements of war which are not covered by the SALT 2 agreement.
§ Contrary to the belief that some noble Lords have about me, I assure them that I am not a warmonger. But I remember as a young man and as a young solider during the war what nearly happened to 1604 us in the 1930s. I do not want it to happen again. By all means let us have mutual and balanced force reductions, but in this instance "mutual" must be the operative word. Do not let us forget that SALT 2 does not cover the SS 20 and the Backfire. We in the West have the two most cherished possessions that the human race can have. We have freedom of thought and freedom of speech. They are sacred possessions, but they are not idly given to us. The powers of evil would dearly like to take them from us, and we shall keep them only by fighting unremittingly for them.
§ I appeal to my noble friend Lord Strathcona, when he answers tonight, to give our freedom-loving people the knowledge that the security of our country is uppermost in Her Majesty's Government's mind. I should dearly love to see a world free of military and police forces, but with our so-called civilisation of today that is not possible. Until such time as it one day becomes a reality, let us remain strong and retain our own independent nuclear deterrent.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, it is good that the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, should have succeeded in arranging for us to discuss what I believe to be the all important and even overriding question of our strategic nuclear deterrent, and that we should be concentrating this evening on that issue alone. Usually it gets mixed up with such things as pensions, the Territorial Army, the Highland Regiments, armoured personnel carriers, or even the uniform for the Brigade of Guards, in a debate on a general defence review, which is unsatisfactory. The real debate on nuclear weapons—of course outside closed Government circles—is conducted not here but in learned journals, in specialised groups and institutes, and even occasionally in the quality Press. The general public regard it as a sort of impenetrable mystery, unless of course they are pacifists in which case they are just against all nuclear weapons on ideological grounds.
The Liberal Party has for some time conducted its own inquiry with the advice of reasonably qualified persons, and has reached a conclusion from which I believe it will only be dislodged with difficulty. In its view the existing Polaris 1605 force, which may be supposed with luck to be to some extent effective until the early 1990s, should not be replaced, and the money which the Government seem bent on spending in order to replace it by Tridents—apparently about £6 billion, but in all probability much more—should be devoted for the most—
§ Lord GLADWYN
I said £6 billion, and in all probability much more—should be devoted for the most part to the improvement of our so-called conventional forces; that is to say, new tanks, new antitank and anti-aircraft weapons, adequate reserves of munitions, which is most important, new aircraft, new patrol vessels and new hunter killer submarines. The reasons for this conclusion—which must, given the time limits imposed on our debate tonight, be severely compressed—I will now give.
The existence of a British force of four submarines with nuclear weapons capable of reaching the Soviet Union, only one of which I believe is normally on duty at any one time, can in no way by itself deter the Russians from attacking the West if they are ever disposed to do so, for any threat to use it, unless the Russians halted their offensive would clearly be ignored, seeing that, if it were carred out, it would inflict only limited damage on the Soviet Union whereas the United Kingdom would cease to exist as a nation by reason of Soviet nuclear retaliation. The bluff, in other words, would be called.
The force can therefore deter the Russians only from themselves proceeding to bomb the United Kingdom directly, or to threaten to do so, on a first strike. But it is most unlikely that as things are the Russians in the event of war would do any such thing, preferring, after advancing to the Rhine, unless held up by "tactical nukes", to rely on a conventional sea and air blockade in order to bring NATO, or at least its European members, to the conference table. The existence of our strategic force might indeed deprive the Soviet Union of the possibility of then, in those circumstances, forcing the United Kingdom to surrender by the threat of nuclear action. It might deprive the Soviet Union of the opportunity of doing that, always supposing of course that 1606 surrender was not achieved by conventional means. But as I have said, conventional means would, always given the Soviet occupation of much of Western Europe, be only too likely to be effective.
It is true that in the terrible event of general nuclear war involving the two super-Powers, the British Polaris might be launched against the Soviet Union, but in that event they would add very little to the devastation presumably already created by the Americans which would no doubt also by that time have been extended to the United Kingdom. We can therefore conclude, I believe, that in practice the existing British nuclear deterrent is to a large extent merely a monument to Britain's departed imperial glory and great power status which includes a desire not to be thought inferior to the French who, whatever they may say, are in precisely the same boat as we are.
It might be added that, although the present Polaris force becomes obsolete, as I understand it, in the early 1990s—wear and tear, increasing noise and so on—it may well in practice become obsolete well before then, as might indeed any replacement, owing to some perfection of anti-submarine devices by the Russians who may eventually be able effectively to tail any British Polaris submarine as it emerges from the Holy Loch or even to interfere with its communications. Nor is there any reason to suppose that the replacement of the present Polaris force by Tridents would alter this situation very materially. Certainly a Trident force, more especially if it consisted of, say, five submarines, could do much more damage to the Soviet Union than our existing Polaris, but if it ever got as far as doing that we for our part would cease to exist. Knowing that we should know this, the Russians could still disregard any threat of the use of Tridents on a first strike.
The deterrent effect of its possible use on a second strike—always presuming it is not somehow taken out or immobilised by Soviet submarines before it could be operated—would admittedly be greater, but not significantly so in the general nuclear context if the Russians were to be in any way successful in advancing to the Rhine and thereafter organising a sea and air blockade of these islands. To spend £6 billion and, no doubt in the 1607 end, £10 billion in replacing the Polaris by Tridents would seem to me, for all these reasons, to be indefensible.
It would be far preferable to devote this large sum, or any portion of it, to increasing our conventional means of defence, preferably in common with our European allies, this in itself going a long way towards raising the famous nuclear threshold. And it would be all the more undesirable if, as no doubt we shall, we agree to the stationing of a certain number of mobile cruise missile launchers in this country as part of a NATO move to neutralise the Soviet SS20 missiles, if not, unfortunately I suppose, their Backfire bombers.
I know-because the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, explained this to us the other day—that under the present proposals the cruise missiles to be stationed in this country will be under the exclusive control of the United States. This, though it obviously increases the risk for us, is reasonable enough—though I believe it will not be regarded as reasonable by a good many people—seeing that, unless we do accept this additional risk, the Germans will no doubt not agree to the whole scheme coming into operation. We must assume, however—and this is something I would ask the Government in their reply to confirm or deny—that SACEUR would authorise the use of cruise missiles based in this country against the Soviet Union only in the event of the Soviet Union's making first use of its SS20s against targets in the NATO area. In other words, the use of tactical nukes by one side or the other in what is called the theatre of war would not in itself necessarily involve the operation from this country of what in effect would be strategic nuclear weapons. That is something on which I should like a reply.
The argument that ground-based missiles in this country would be sitting targets for a Soviet nuclear attack, though it must be taken seriously, is at least questionable. Theoretically it might, I suppose, be possible for the Soviet Union, entirely out of the blue and at one fell swoop, to take out all nuclear cruise missile launchers in Western Europe with its SS20 missiles. But that is surely 1608 quite improbable. How could the Russians be certain that at least some launchers would not already have been displaced, which could be done at very short notice? How could they be certain that there would not, in such circumstances, be some comeback? How could they be assured that the Americans would not make some riposte of some kind?
There remains the argument that the Russians might well after a few years be able to install an effective anti-cruise missile defence system. In the long run there is, I imagine, always a defence against anything. But a missile flying beneath radar screens in bad or foggy weather would, on the face of it, require a good deal of detection, and even if it was eventually shot down by a fighter it would presumably go off and kill many people somewhere on enemy territory, including the pilot of the aircraft, one would suppose.
Yet if all this is so, what exactly would be the deterrent role of any continuing exclusively British submarine-based nuclear force? Always supposing that in the last resort it would be the Americans and not ourselves who on some second strike would bombard the Russians from British bases, in what imaginable circumstances could we do the same on our own? Only, I suppose—this point was touched on by my noble friend Lord Kimberley—if the Americans had gone back to America and taken all their nuclear weapons with them. But in such distressing circumstances Western Europe would be indefensible. The Germans would have no option but to become neutral and do a deal with the Russians, and Western Europe, deprived of United States support, would then be at the mercy of a Soviet conventional blockade which neither we nor the French would be able to counter by the suicidal threat of nuclear action on a first strike. If this is not a logical deduction, then the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government will certainly tell me why.
Our conclusion, therefore, is that while there has up till now been at least some logical grounds for maintaining a so-called independent British strategic nuclear force, there is—always assuming that NATO is to continue in being and that strategic nuclear missiles of a "European" nature are going to be placed in these islands 1609 under the sole control of the Americans—no such impelling reason for renewing it at such vast expense. Moreover, if we decide not to do so, the chances of success in the SALT 3 talks are, I suppose, likely to be somewhat increased, while our abandonment of a bogus "Great Power" role, together with a great increase in our conventional strength, would surely result in our being a much more influential member of the North Atlantic Council. If the French want to persist with a policy of grandeur, that will be up to them, but there is no reason why it should hurt us very much if they do.
In taking this line I am well aware that there are some in my own party who will not share it, either because they are pacifist in inclination (and their views are to be respected) and thus against the possession by this country, or the stationing in it, of any nuclear weapons, or because they may still believe, as I think some do, that an independent British strategic nuclear force may have some validity, even if it is very small.
I suspect, however—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Peart, will tell us—that the Labour Party is much more divided on this great issue than we are, and I even wonder whether all members of the Tory Party are convinced, for the reasons that I have been trying to develop, that we should be well advised to go in for replacing the Polaris by the Tridents in the years to come.
My Lords, I have not touched upon the possibility of replacing Polaris by submarine or air-launched cruise missiles—referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley—both of which are reasonable alternatives, if you accept the need for replacing our present strategic deterrent at all. It is even arguable that we might at small expense buy some of the Cruise missiles, if we wished from the Americans and place them, I suppose, in suitably camouflaged small surface ships which could then, in theory at least, provide us inexpensively with a small, "independent" stategic nuclear capability. But if the main body of Cruise missiles are in any case to he installed on land in the United Kingdom under United States command, what could be the point of that?
No, in all the circumstances, and certainly not for any sentimental reasons, 1610 but only those dictated by what I believe is commonsense, I conclude, my Lords, that we should be well advised not to take any steps towards replacing our present strategic nuclear deterrent.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Lord RITCHIE-CALDER
My Lords, I take off exactly from where the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, left off. I adjure our friends—I hope that they are our friends—at least I adjure the Government to take this opportunity to get rid of something which is now becoming completely meaningless by any analysis, not just by sentiment. In this season of the year, if one goes around the toy shops one will be struck by the fact that all the toys now being produced for intelligent children are board games—Monopoly to train little capitalists, or war games to train militarists. But at least they are fun games. We are talking tonight about something that is not funny and is not a game, but you can do exactly what the children do: you can deploy, redeploy, you can toss dice, do this and that.
For 30 years now it has to me been competely meaningless that Britain should have an independent deterrent. It has no role. If, in wisdom, my own party in Government all those years ago had not decided to have the bomb at all, I should have been satisfied. In the 1950s it was manifestly plain that by no stretch of the imagination could Britain afford a meaningful deterrent. All we could do was what the French are doing—and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn: they have follie de grandeur; leave them with it. It was not evident then, as it is now, that in the grand strategy—I call it grand nonsense, by and large—of the whole nuclear game, we are going to be a minute part of a system in which all we are doing, by being that minute part, is attracting possible destruction.
But, apart from that, there is, I suggest, the humiliation of being the trigger-man in a situation in which, as in the case of the Cruise missile, we are not even the masters of the missile but are being asked to take the penalties, and, as in the case of involvement with a Polaris fleet in NATO, we ourselves have no ultimate initiative. What are we? We are the "hoods", hired by someone else, like the Hessians, in some sort of military situation in which 1611 we are acting as the instruments—and not only acting as the instruments but paying for the weapons which we are going to use. To me this is total nonsense. As the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, has pointed out, I am basically a pacifist. I make no apology for that. It is a very sincerely held view. But, apart from that, I am also rather adept at looking at the facts both of the nuclear content and indeed of the numbers game that we are all playing.
We are playing a numbers game. Let me put it to your Lordships quite simply. If we have our so-called independent deterrent, if we move into a situation in which we are hiring American technique (as we are doing with the pressurised water reactor), we are in fact putting ourselves rather in the situation we are in at the moment, when I gather that the Prime Minister is not only negotiating for the new nuclear deterrent but is actually negotiating for ammunition for the Royal Ulster Constabulary. As I say, the Americans can withhold it. Let me be quite clear. We should be, we must be, aware that if we replace the Polaris by a Trident force, it would cost anything from £6,000 million to £10,000 million.
§ Lord RITCHIE-CALDER
No, that has been recalculated. Inflation has taken place since last Sunday when that was published in the paper. We are talking of those orders of magnitude. Your Lordships realise that in that picture the component for which we are paying—four Polarises, possibly five Tridents—would mean that in terms of potential we should be about .01 per cent. of the Russian retaliation potential. Work it out, my Lords. You can do the numbers game; we all play it. It means, however you act, that you are putting up a little Roman candle in a sort of ultimate defiance, and it will not be noticed anyway because by that time the world will have moved to its ultimate destruction.
We are doing this with the most incredible short-sightedness. It is not just a question of what it is costing. First, let us be quite clear. There is nothing in the moves that we are making, nothing in the defiance by the French or in this symbolic defiance by the British which will ulti- 1612 mately impress the Russians, or indeed our American allies. I suggest that we are now in a position to look again at this colossal waste. This is not a cowardly position that I am taking. This policy is ultimately invoking the take-out—and it will be the take-out. If there is to be a first strike, the first strike will take out that minute fleet. As we pointed out, they will be trailed anywhere by the Soviet, or whoever is our potential enemy, both by ground and by satellite devices. We shall be taken out, and at that moment the British Islands will be taken out, too.
The second matter I would come to is the question of the Cruise missiles. I think this policy is folly. We have tried to say this in this House before, and we have discussed it before. I think it is folly, exaggerated by the fact that we have no say in it; that we are just the "hoods", we are just the "trigger men". It means that we have provided targets for all that assemblage of potential destruction which we are always hearing about and which could be released by the Soviet Union, presumably, in some mad moment of first strike, plunging the world into a nuclear war and then inviting reprisals. The only thing I have to say to your Lordships is that at that moment Britain neither will have the potential to reply nor will it exist to reply. Therefore, if we are going to play the numbers game, let us look at it clearly and sensibly, at least to this extent: by realising that in eventually misdirecting this vast amount of money from all these other things, as our Government keep telling us we must do, we shall not only be worse off but shall actually be extending an invitation to total destruction.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Lord HILL-NORTON
My Lords, it is obviously impossible in a discussion on an Unstarred Question to deal adequately with such a huge subject as that opened up by the Question so ably put by the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, and I hope your Lordships will agree that a subject of such overriding national importance deserves at least a Short Debate early in the New Year. I hope, further, that when this occurs this particular issue will not be confused with the problem of long-range theatre nuclear forces, which is of a quite different nature. The barest bones of the subject we are discussing today are starkly simple, it 1613 seems to me; but so much misinformation about strategic nuclear weapons appears regularly in the Press and on television from alleged experts that it is as well to be clear what are the real issues that the Government are now facing, and what options are available to them.
In essence, the heart of the problem is whether we are to continue to be a strategic nuclear power or whether we are to get out of the business which all our Governments have supported for the last 15 years. Put another way, we are not deciding whether to go strategic nuclear, but whether to remain so. The noble Earl's Question does not precisely differentiate between strategic nuclear deterrents and other nuclear weapons which may be deployed as a deterrent themselves, either within the European theatre or on the battlefield, but I take it from what he has said that he inquires about the strategic weapons. Surely, my Lords, there can be no reasonable doubt (with respect to the noble Lords, Lord Gladwyn and Lord Ritchie-Calder, with whom I warmly disagree in this particular matter, both in general and in particular) that what has been, since its inception, a vital cornerstone of our defence policy must be maintained for as long ahead as anyone can foresee. I personally have no such doubts.
It is clearly necessary to review the ways of maintaining it, having regard, above all, to the overriding need for it to be convincing and for it to be capable of deterring attacks on our own vital interests, on the one hand, and of making an important contribution to the Western strategic nuclear forces, on the other. There is not time today, nor is your Lordships' House the place, to rehearse all the advantages and disadvantages of possible solutions, running, as they do, the gamut of technological, economic, industrial and practical options. May I simply state, as the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, has suggested, that I have no personal doubt that a submarine-borne ballistic missile solution has no serious rival for this role on any of these grounds, although it would be wise not to repeat the cheeseparing which led to our Polaris fleet comprising only four submarines. Five are necessary, my Lords, on both political and military grounds. It is quite irrelevant what proportion four or five, or any other small number, is of the 1614 Russian force if we are talking about deterrence. We are not talking about a nuclear exchange.
From a technical and industrial point of view, and very likely from an economic and political point of view, too, there can be no doubt that collaboration with the United States over a new missile—but not over the warhead, nor the submarine—on the lines of the Nassau and Polaris sales agreements of 16 years ago must be the course most likely to meet the aim. I have read in the Press—indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, has just said—that the Prime Minister may have discussed these matters in Washington this week, and if this is so I, for one, hope that she was successful. It has been said, and it has been closely argued, that there is no need to decide to replace the Polaris force for a long time yet. I hope the noble Lord the Minister shares my view that this is simply not true.
It has also been said that we cannot afford to spend the very large sums involved. According to the best unclassified sources, we are talking about £400 million a year over a ten-year period. But history has shown that our country always has spent what has had to be spent on its defence, and I devoutly hope that this is not going to become the exception to that rule. It is perhaps 4 or 5 per cent. of the present annual defence budget; and, to put that in some perspective for your Lordships, it is quite likely that the total expenditure just for the Tornado aircraft for the Royal Air Force will actually be more. It has been argued, too, my Lords—and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has just argued it again—that such money would be better spent on conventional weapons systems, but this does not seem to me, at least, to be an option now before the Government, if the arguments for maintaining our strategic nuclear deterrent force intact are as compelling as I believe them to be. I would warmly agree that the maintenance of this ultimate sanction should not be at the expense of our conventional arms, for I believe them to be inadequate now. May I repeat, my Lords, that if some new money has to be found, so be it. It is the height of folly to let your life assurance policy lapse and to spend the money saved on a shiny new motor car which you may never live to drive.
1615 I have said nothing about the very involved and subjective arguments about deterrence and how best it may be achieved; nor have I touched upon the great importance of another strategic nuclear deterrent centre; nor the host of interlocking situations, such as time-pressure for a decision, whether we want the French to be the only nuclear power in Europe and whether our allies do, which have led me to my own conclusions. Should your Lordships wish, as I hope, to return to this nuclear scene, and perhaps to discuss the quite different long-range theatre nuclear force problems, about which the Government have happily already taken the right decision, it may be more appropriate to say something on those occasions.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ The Earl of CORK and ORRERY
My Lords, it is a fearsome matter to have to follow a Chief of the Defence Staff on his own subject. It becomes positively nerve-racking when one knows that another is to follow immediately afterwards. It would be agreeable to the nerves to be able to agree with both; but I suspect that it may turn out that they do not agree with each other. Therefore, I find myself compelled to disagree with one or the other. A certain boldness is needed to take this course and, luckily, I am feeling slightly bold, I believe, this evening.
Familiarity with one's surroundings has the effect of blunting the perceptions so that after a time we no longer see them as they really are. If year by year, one lives in one's own household surrounded by one's own people and their belongings, gradually its components and its members will begin to appear not at all as they really are or as they seem to an outsider or an infrequent visitor. Everything is so familiar and so precisely to our own liking that it may come as a shock to learn that anybody might be upset by the wallpaper or by the oleograph of Great-Uncle Fred. One may be offended, incredulous even, to learn that, despite our own impeccable good taste and ready wit, there are some who find our surroundings tasteless and depressing and us a bore.
As in the home, so it may be in the wider world, in the world of NATO, for example. 1616 Is it possible that we have lived in it so long and grown so used to it that we no longer see the realities of it as they truly are? It is possible that our vision has become clouded? I am sure this is possible and think it has actually occurred. If it has, we are living in a deceptive world, and, possibly, a make-believe world, and I hope that nobody imagines that that can be safe. We might test the matter by stepping through the Iron Curtain and turning to see what meets our gaze as we look back from the point of view of the Russians.
Let us now forget the analogy, my Lords. It has, I hope, enabled me to make the point that, if we wish to forestall or prevent any kind of nuclear adventure from the Russian side in our direction, we must make an appreciation from the Russian point of view. This is not an original notion but it is one that is all too often forgotten or overlooked. It might be easier to do it if we could get rid of one or two illogical attitudes, and irrelevant arguments. I rate highly among irrelevant arguments the frequently expressed belief that the Russians do not want war—the conclusion being that if they do not want war it is much less likely to happen. Of course, they do not want war. Hitler did not want it and I dare say Ghengis Khan did not want it. What we may expect the Russians or any other aggressively-minded people or nation to want is that they should be able to get as much they want without fighting for it. The way to get it is to make it plain that they are prepared to fight for it, if absolutely necessary, in the end and as a last resort. Only when this process is exhausted does war actually begin.
Before it does so, there comes the critical moment when the apprehensive world holds it breath—and a long drawn-out breath at that—while the aggressor is forced to make his decision, when he is faced with a line of reasoning that goes like this. He says to himself: "I have all that these people are going to let me have. To get the rest, I shall have to fight for it. The question is, 'Do I want it badly enough to take the risk?'." Then comes the key question. "What exactly is the risk?" The moment when a potential aggressor finds himself faced with that inescapable question is the moment when the intended victims' power of deterrence takes or does not take effect.
1617 In assessing the likelihood of an attack against ourselves from whatever quarter, we thus have to evaluate and balance, one against the other, the answers to three questions. The first is, what does the other side want? the second, how badly does he want it? and the third, what do we have to dissuade him from trying to get it? To the first question we know the answer. It has been proclaimed throughout the whole world long ago: the universal success of the Revolution, which means world domination, no less.
There is no need for me to weary noble Lords with any assessment of how far the Russians have gone towards achieving this aim. They have gone a long way and, equally certainly, they mean to go a long way more. What they are doing, I have no doubt, is to build up so powerful a force by land, by sea and in the air that they could expect no one to dare to withstand them. Thus, by the sheer weight of the threat, they will eventually be able to achieve their heart's desire without fighting. They will supply weapons and arms and "advisers" to other people, of course, and will stamp ruthlessly on smaller nations such as Hungary; but never at any serious risk to themselves that they can possibly avoid. Therefore, they are unlikely to attack NATO which holds the nuclear deterrent, the American nuclear deterrent.
Now, my Lords, if you were engaged in strategic planning on behalf of the Warsaw Pact powers and in drawing up an appreciation, what would your thoughts be as you gazed across the wall westwards in the direction of the United Kingdom? You would be looking at it with, what to us would be, an outsider's eye. What you would see would be a spectacle not quite the same as the sights familiar to us. You would see, I think, the strategic key to the whole situation: a large offshore island protecting, commanding and served by the European ports and the North Sea oilfields. You would see it also as the home of various NATO air bases and of numerous nuclear missile sites. You would observe also that it was virtually without means of defence and without means of defending its own civil population. "What a plum!" you would say. "What a prize!"—and, you might calculate, close enough to be overrun quickly and without too much difficulty from the west, from the seaward side, without interfering with any 1618 other country at all. And you might calculate that when you had control of it, you would be able to pick off, isolate or subvert the other European countries one at a time and at your leisure.
Of course, you would be unlikely to recommend such a plan to be put into effect immediately in the face of the terrifying nuclear threat from the United States. So your next step, I fancy, would be to work away at the problem of isolating Great Britain, step by step. At about this point in the argument, we come upon an example of what I have described as illogical attitudes. To a proposal that we should have our own nuclear deterrent, someone is certain sooner or later to ask, "Do we not trust the Americans?" It is the wrong question. The right question would be, "Do you think that the Americans are certain to fire their rockets as a first strike"—for a second strike is no good to us—"if they see that we are in danger?" The answer is, No. It is not a question of trust and, in my view, it is dangerous, not to say mischievous, to use this highly emotive word.
It is not a question of trust because the Americans have never undertaken to do any such thing. And we cannot, and must not, count on them to invite the certain destruction of their own cities and millions of their own people, in the hope of averting a disaster to our own small country. The idea is simply not reasonable. Indeed, it is far less reasonable than it would have been to have expected them to come hurrying across the Atlantic in August 1914 or September 1939. Whether it will seem more or less reasonable in ten years' time, we cannot now know. In any case, it is now that the decision has to be made.
So we must leave the American deterrent out of our calculations altogether in making the decision that we have to make at the moment: that is to say, the decision whether or not we shall have our own independent nuclear deterrent. What we are visualising now is a situation in which the whole of the Russian threat is visibly directed against ourselves—and ourselves alone. This is a situation which, if I were on the other side, I should he keen to bring about. If I were on the other side I might also think that there was not much point in trying to bring it into being if I knew that Great Britain had her own 1619 independent nuclear deterrent, and if, furthermore, I were convinced that the tiresome Islanders would use it rather than submit.
The next step we have to consider then is the solving of a somewhat knotty problem. How are we to convince the other side that we really would use these rockets, whatever kind they and their means of delivery may be? In addressing ourselves to this problem we should be as clear as possible about the situation. We are under a recognisable threat which is a threat to ourselves alone. It may therefore be a threat of anything short of nuclear attack. Even if we cannot be totally certain that the Americans would respond to such an attack with intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Russians, for their side, could be even less certain that they would not. Moreover, it would be egregious folly to drop rockets on Great Britain without trying to knock out the missile bases in East Anglia. That might not be difficult to achieve, but the attempt would be in fact an attack on NATO and invite the full United States retaliation—and that is not what I am talking about.
So we must be prepared to fire our rockets into Russia, not in a retaliatory second strike—since there will be no first strike to which to retaliate—but in a pre-emptive first strike of our own. Could we actually do that and could we convince a potential enemy that we would? Well, my Lords, I think we might. I think we could make it convincingly plain that in certain circumstances we would fire our rockets without waiting for any to be fired at us: and I believe, furthermore, that if we succeeded in doing that the deterrent would in fact work and we should be safe. There are lots of "ifs" in this situation.
So that, as I see it, is the only true argument in favour of our maintaining our own independent nuclear deterrent. The question is, my Lords, do you find it convincing? Have I shown that we ought to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent in one form or another of our own? If you think I have, my Lords, then I am afraid I must disagree with you, because I do not. I have done my best in the past to convince myself that we ought to maintain our own deterrent, 1620 using arguments that I have thought—and I believe thought rightly—to be valid, and I have failed. I have failed because I have recognised a vital flaw in my own reasoning. I daresay that other noble Lords have also recognised it.
I continue to believe that an independent deterrent would be useful to us in the case—and only in the case—of a threat to us alone. But, try as I will, I have totally failed to see how such a threat could possibly arise. It cannot arise overnight at a moment's notice. It must occur gradually; there must be a gradual working away at the foundations of peace from the other side which will be perfectly perceptible to all our allies as well as to ourselves. I cannot imagine any means by which, say, the oil supplies round the Cape could be disrupted without other nations being affected; how an invasion against our Western seaboard could be mounted quietly in isolation. We cannot, I believe, be detached from our allies in such a way that an attack could be made against us without its being clearly made equally against them, in which case the whole of the American deterrent operates, and our own independent one is so small as to be relatively of no significance.
Therefore I do not think there is any point in having this independent deterrent, simply because the situation does not arise. I hope that I may invite you to notice, my Lords, that there are certain arguments that I have not used. I have not used the argument, and do not use the argument, that we cannot afford it. I believe, with my noble friend Lord Kimberley that there is nothing that we cannot afford when it comes to defence. I have not used the moral or pacifist argument, although I have respect for these and indeed I believe in them. They are for individuals and they are not ones that can be used by governments which are responsible for the safety of their country. Therefore I conclude that the independent deterrent is not for us and we should not, when the Polaris rockets come to an end and the hull life of the submarines comes to an end, replace them by Tridents or by anything else of a long-range nature. I have only to add that I heartily endorse the wish expressed by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, that early in the new year we may have a Short Debate on the whole subject.
§ Baroness GAITSKELL
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him why he assumes that Russia will destroy us when in the last war she lost 20 million men fighting on our side? What makes him think that she now wants to destroy this island? It is ludicrous.
§ The Earl of CORK and ORRERY
My Lords, with respect to the noble Baroness, I think that I must wait until Hansard is published in the morning in order that I may read the report of my speech and discover the illusion to which she refers.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Lord NOEL-BAKER
My Lords, I rise to oppose the arguments of noble Lords who have urged that our Polaris submarines should be replaced in the early future by Trident submarines with Poseidon missiles. I want to argue that the NATO deterrent, and our contribution to the NATO deterrent, are enormously greater than that which is required for deterrents; are enormously greater than are required for any conceivable military purpose. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, and to my noble friend, Lord Ritchie-Calder, I think that they are very gravely underestimating the power of the submarine force which we now maintain. I state it as I understand it; if I go wrong the Government will correct me.
We have four submarines with 16 Polaris missiles each. The Polaris missiles are MIRVs. Each missile can deliver 10 weapons on 10 different targets with great accuracy. Each submarine has 160 weapons. Each weapon is four times as powerful as the bomb which destroyed the city of Hiroshima in 1945. Each weapon has 50 kilo tonnes in yield; the Hiroshima bomb was 12 kilo tonnes. Russia has fewer than 500 cities of 100,000 population.
In 1977—two years ago—I was at a conference in Hiroshima which considered a report by a commission of highly expert physicists, Japanese and others, on the effects of the first two nuclear bombs. The British member was Professor Joseph Rotblat, whose competence and authority are familiar to your Lordships. The commission found that the first atomic bomb which fell on Hiroshima did far greater damage and caused far greater loss of life than the governments 1622 had ever previously admitted. On the first day it killed no fewer than 140,000 people. Many, many perished in later years. Indeed, they are dying still. A committee of social scientists discovered that the life of the survivors was almost totally ruined: nearly all of them have declared that they have lived a living death. The bomb destroyed a city of 400,000 people—completely destroyed it—and Russia has fewer than 500 cities of 100,000 population. Six hundred and forty weapons, each four times as much in yield as the Hiroshima bomb—surely that would make even the Russians hesitate, if they thought of attacking us alone.
I venture to believe that so long as we rely on what we call "deterrents", our contribution is quite as great as it ought to be and that the NATO stock of deterrent weapons is overwhelmingly greater than is required. But I believe that the time has come not only to make that estimate, but to examine, to discredit and to discard the whole doctrine of deterrents.
What is the doctrine? It is that the nuclear war must never be fought. Noble Lords will have seen the marvellous documentary film prepared by Dr. Nigel Calder, the distinguished son of our distinguished colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, entitled "Nuclear Nightmare"—a collection of statements by staff officers about the possible use of nuclear weapons. Throughout the film there came the theme: "The war must never he fought. We must build up the stocks but each weapon must be labelled with the warning sign, 'Never to be used'." To prevent its being used, both sides in the nuclear arms race must maintain a massive power to strike the other, a power completely to obliterate the other. The policy is called Mass Assured Destruction, MAD for short, an onomatopoeic acronym of singular felicity.
Each side retains the power completely to destroy the other, and therefore the other will never strike. Therefore deterrence makes us safe. It is, I would venture to submit with respect, the most glaring non sequitur in the whole history of human debate. If you intend that weapons shall never be used, abolish them all. Let both sides agree. Noble Lords on all sides of the House will 1623 accept that proposition and say: "Yes, we all want it but it does not happen".
British Governments of all complexions since 1945 have been bound by dozens of UN resolutions. From the first resolution adopted by the first General Assembly to the final document of the Special Session in May last year, all British Governments have been bound to the policy of total nuclear disarmament. The UN is now engaged on the basis of that final document with two bodies of able statesmen of great authority—the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva and the UN Disarmament Committee in New York—working out the plans by which that total nuclear disarmament can be brought about. But will anybody think that Her Majesty's Government are taking that work seriously or have any genuine belief that they can help to make it succeed if we now decide to adopt Poseidon weapons and Trident submarines in 1990?
I believe that the doctrine of deterrence is a dangerous fraud. Will it ensure that the other side will never strike? It was President John Kennedy who said in 1961 that the future of civilisation hung by the slenderest of threads, which could be cut at any moment by accident, madness or miscalculation. There have been a lot of accidents with nuclear weapons, many of them classed by the Government authorities as serious. We have had madmen in power since Hitler and Mussolini. They were mad and they were in power not so long ago. If you want miscalculations by the General Staff, look at the Vietnam war. President Kennedy was stating three very real dangers.
His authority does not stand alone. I do not need to commend to your Lordships the words of Captain Basil Lydell-Hart. I was privileged to know him, and in 1961 he wrote a book called Defence or Deterrence. It was written to prove that if the weapons existed in time of war they would be used, and would lead to utter disaster. Captain Lydell-Hart said that any man who talked of winning the war with nuclear weapons was a danger to his country and to the whole of humanity.
Then there is the speech of the late Lord Mountbatten, which was delivered 1624 in May to the Scientific Council of the Stockholm Peace Research Institute. Surely the Government and the British people will listen to Lord Mountbatten. His speech was delivered with passion and he told his friends that he wanted to be remembered by that speech. He was speaking as a military man who had given 50 years' service in peace and war to his country in the armed forces: at sea, at the battle of Cape Matapan, where he was picked up after his ship had been sunk—he swam about in the Mediterranean, a Mediterranean covered with oil, for more than an hour with a friend of mine before they were picked up—and in the great retreat through Burma, which saved India from the Japanese. Lord Mount-batten had an unqualified record in high command and in every other form of military service. Speaking as a man with that record, he said:The nuclear arms race has no military purpose. I cannot conceive any use of a nuclear weapon which will not lead to escalation and general nuclear war".He quoted a Japanese journalist's description of what happened in Hiroshima, and followed it with his own terrible description of the collapse of civilisation when nuclear weapons were used. He then said:War cannot be fought with nuclear weapons. They only add to our perils".Let us suppose that it happens that the weapons are used. I quote the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who, talking of nuclear war, said in another place in 1965:Perhaps the Chinese will survive, perhaps Asia and Africa will survive, perhaps the United States and Russia, after suffering frightful damage, might survive. But this I know. We in this island will not survive".I venture to say to the Government, with this new disarmament negotiation going on in the United Nations in Geneva and New York, that their first task, before they think of replacing our Polaris weapons, is to give their power and their influence to ensuring that the proposals for total nuclear disarmament, which were put forward by the Special Session last year, shall now, and quickly, succeed. The second Special Session is due in 1982. There is not too long to make a preparation.
I turn, briefly I hope, to the nuclear deterrent which we have deployed with 1625 our army on the Rhine. NATO has 7,000 nuclear weapons in Europe. Some of them, it is said, are very small, as small as one kiloton, even half a kiloton—a battlefield weapon, which Lord Mount-batten said does not exist. Half a kiloton is one-twenty fourth the size of the Hiroshima bomb. Let me try to bring home to noble Lords who have some experience of war what half a kiloton really means.
In the first world war, the most powerful weapon in common use was the 12 inch or 300 millimetre shell. A 12 inch shell was a very formidable affair. I was once present when one such shell killed 60 men and wounded 120. I was once camped in a narrow valley where we had good shelter, but when we went out to do our jobs we were under gunfire. We had a lot of small calibre stuff. But once in a major battle we were bombarded by 12 inch mortar shells, 50 in a week, seven a day—not a very intense bornbardment—at irregular intervals. But the roar of their descent, the convulsion of their explosion on the earth, was such that it broke the nerve of some of my best men and I had to send them down to base. A half a kiloton weapon is the equivalent of 1,000 12 inch shells exploding at the same point and at the same instant together. If they were used anywhere near the line, it would drive the troops clean round the bend. They would retaliate with the largest nuclear stuff that they possessed. That is how Lord Mountbatten's escalation would come about.
Let us imagine that we really used our weapons to repel a Russian invasion of West Germany. Let us imagine that NATO used 500 weapons of the Hiroshima yield—12 kilotons. They would be among the smaller ranges of our so-called tacticals. Lord Mountbatten said that no nuclear weapon should be called "tactical", and when you remember that two such bombs put the Japanese out of the world war it is indeed an extravagant misuse of language to call a nuclear weapon "tactical". It is only a way of covering up, of trying to make it seem small and acceptable.
Let us assume that [...]500 Hiroshima bombs are used against the Russians. They are directed with great accuracy at enemy command posts, at airfields and 1626 runways, at rail centres, at road junctions, at telephone exchanges, at communications in general, at depots of arms and at manpower in barracks. Inevitably, most of those targets will be in towns and the towns of West Germany will be bombarded by Hiroshima bombs. Between the towns, there are great forests. The towns will be utterly destroyed and the forests will be burned from end to end, in fire storms that no one can stop. What will remain of West Germany? The invading Russian army will, of course, be destroyed, but so will our German allies. German society will virtually cease to exist, and when that battle is over we shall have 6,500 of our NATO stock of nuclear weapons still remaining in our hands.
I venture to submit that our nuclear deterrent is incomparably greater than is required for any legitimate purpose of deterrence and its danger, of which I have spoken—I hope at not too great length—is compounded by the fact that NATO strategic thinking, like Russian strategic thinking, like Herman Kahn's strategic thinking, like everybody's strategic thinking about nuclear weapons is in utter chaos. It was a United States minister, a deputy secretary of defence, Mr. Morton Halperin, who said:The NATO doctrine is to fight with conventional arms until we are losing, then to fight with nuclear tacticals until we are losing and then to blow up the world".That is the truth about the strategic thinking of the general staffs on nuclear weapons. The only answer is the total abolition of all nuclear stocks—and the time is very short.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Lord CARVER
My Lords, when one faces up to this very difficult question of whether and, if so, in which way to replace what is called "the British nuclear deterrent", one must answer three questions. The first is whether we should continue to maintain the capability to design, produce and maintain our own nuclear warheads. The second is whether we should continue to man the delivery systems which, in the case of the Army and the Royal Navy, and, in some cases, the Royal Air Force, are not designed or produced by ourselves. The third is whether we should continue to try to 1627 maintain a so-called independent strategic nuclear weapon system.
It is as well at this stage to define what we mean by that. "Strategic" means that it is designed to do very great damage to targets within the Soviet Union which are considered by the Soviet Union to be of such great importance that they are protected by their anti-ballistic missile system. And "independent" means that it is intended to he used by us alone when the Americans are not using theirs and that it must be capable of both penetrating the anti-ballistic missile system and carrying out the designed damage when nobody else is attempting to do it at the same time.
The answers which I would give to those three questions are the following. There are military and even stronger political reasons why we should continue to design, produce and maintain our own warheads. It is of considerable interest that practically all the evidence, if not all, given to the Select Committee of another place which began to consider this matter, was in favour of that.
I give an absolutely unequivocal "Yes" to the question: should we continue to man the delivery systems? I believe it is of very great importance to the solidarity of NATO that all its members should share both the responsibility and the risk of manning nuclear delivery systems and having them based on their own territory, whether or not they themselves man them.
But it is when I come to the answer to the third question that I believe there are considerable disadvantages and little advantage in our struggling to maintain an independent strategic system which is capable of penetrating Soviet anti-ballistic missile defences and inflicting very great damage entirely on its own.
I should like at this stage to make it absolutely clear that I am not against nuclear weapons as such. I believe that they form an extremely important part of NATO's armoury. They keep the risks of war high. It is as well that we have been reminded in such dramatic terms by the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, of what those risks are. But if we keep the risks of war high we keep the probability of war low. It is the great risk to both the Soviet Union and the United States of going to 1628 war which keeps the peace and which has kept the peace in Europe for so long—longer than in any other century.
My reasons for considering that there are disadvantages and little advantage in struggling to maintain an independent strategic system are these. First, whatever may be the sums, at 1979 prices, that have been bandied about today about the cost of such a system, I believe that it will inevitably have a serious effect on the equipment programmes, which I believe are of higher priority in the same time scale. I believe, secondly, that it fosters an undesirable concept that we can go it alone against the Soviet Union or against the Warsaw Pact. On military grounds alone I believe that this is very undesirable. Thirdly, in the circumstances in which the temptation to go it alone arose, I believe that it would produce very considerable pressure on the Prime Minister and Government of the day to employ that capability. And if that capability were employed, I believe that the retaliation would totally destroy this country and almost all the inhabitants in it.
For some 21 years I have been concerned with this subject—ever since I was Director of Army Plans just after Suez. In those days it was the Royal Air Force which manned the so-called independent strategic system. At that time the Royal Navy were quite critical of the arguments which the Royal Air Force produced to justify it. Now the boot is slightly on the other foot, although the Royal Air Force are inhibited to a certain extent in their criticism by themselves having previously used the same arguments. Over the years the arguments have shifted, and I have heard them all; but in that time I have never heard or read a scenario which I would consider to be realistic in which it could be considered to be right or reasonable for the Prime Minister or Government of this country to order the firing of our independent strategic force at a time when the Americans were not prepared to fire theirs—certainly not before Russian nuclear weapons had landed on this country. And, again, if they had already landed, would it be right or reasonable? All it would do would be to invite further retaliation.
Let me deal, if I may, with some of the arguments that are produced in favour of such a system. The first I hope we can 1629 dismiss quickly. It is called the trigger argument. It is one which has been put forward at times both by the French and by ourselves but which I regard as totally irresponsible. It is that by having our own independent strategic system, we could, in circumstances in which the United States were reluctant to employ theirs, fire ours off and the Russians would not know whose it was that had been fired. They would have to assume that it was American, so they would reply, and we should have triggered off the global strategic nuclear exchange. That argument has been seriously used at times both by this country and by the French, and I hope that your Lordships will regard it as totally irresponsible.
The second argument, which I also reject, is that there could be some vital interest of ours in the defence of which the United States and our allies were not prepared to support us when we were threatened by the Soviet Union and that, rather than lose that vital interest, we should be prepared to threaten to use, and then perhaps would finally use our own system. Like the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, I have been unable to envisage what on earth that vital interest could be, or what a realistic scenario could be which would bring that about. The risk to ourselves would be total, while the risk to the Soviet Union would be great but only partial.
A more valid argument, although I would prefer to say a less invalid one, is one in which war had started in Europe, NATO forces were engaged but the United States feared escalation to the stage of strategic nuclear exchange and refused to authorise the use of nuclear weapons at all, or refused to escalate beyond either the tactical or the theatre. In those circumstances, would it be right, would it be reasonable let alone would it be likely, that the United Kingdom should decide to go it alone? It is very doubtful that we should have the support of our allies in doing so. Indeed, in those circumstances do we think that it would stop the Russians in their tracks? I believe that the answer to all those questions is "No".
Finally, the argument which we have heard in the House this evening is that it is a form of insurance against the withdrawal by the United States of her support of the defence of Western Europe, that it is 1630 an insurance against the breakdown of NATO and that our allies recognise this and welcome it. Well, one must envisage what the situation in Europe and the world would be if for some reason or other the United States had decided to withdraw its support for European defence.
Do your Lordships suppose for one moment that any form of Western Alliance, let alone NATO, would survive such a political situation? You have only to cast your eyes around who the other members of the European Community and of NATO are. Would the Scandinavian members, would the Mediterranean members, would the Low Countries, and would that key country of all, the Federal Republic of Germany, decide to stand all together, relying on the support only of the independent strategic nuclear deterrent of ourselves and perhaps, but not necessarily, that of France also? I do not believe they would. I do not believe that they could welcome a threat by us under those circumstances to employ nuclear weapons against Russia. I believe that they would consider that the risks to them would be too great.
It is often said that our allies welcome the fact that we have such a force. I have never heard an authoritative military or political figure of any of our allies welcome the fact officially that we have an independent strategic force. I have indeed heard them welcome the fact that we are in the nuclear business, because, whether they are Americans or European, they believe that the fact that America is not alone in this is of great political value. But it is not necessarily of military value.
A further argument produced—and we heard reference to it from my noble and gallant friend earlier on—is about the second point of decision. I have never seen the point of this second point of decision. If the decision is the same as that of the United States it makes no difference. If the United States' decision is yes, they will employ theirs, and our decision is no, we will not, it makes no difference at all to what happens either to this country or to NATO. The Russians would not be the slightest bit impressed that we had decided that we were not going to use ours. If the United States' decision is that they were not going to use theirs and our decision was yes, that is a situation I have already dealt with.
1631 Your Lordships will, therefore, I hope, appreciate that I do not regard the replacement of this force as a matter of high priority. I believe the Government are heading for the same trouble they had when they were last in office, when the equipment programme became seriously overloaded. When that happens when the programme of future defence equipment gets beyond the resources of all kinds which are going to be devoted to it, the inevitable result is a series of cancellations of projects which have cost a great deal to develop over the years, and this is extremely wasteful. The £5,000 million at 1979 prices, or something of that order, if that is what it is, which this force is going to cost is going to clash with the Jaguar Harrier replacement programme for the Royal Air Force, with the Chieftain tank replacement programme for the Army and many other important projects, and also some very sensitive projects for the Royal Navy.
Having said what I think the Government should not do, it is incumbent upon me to say what I think they should do. I believe they should regard our nuclear force as a theatre force, as most of our allies in fact do, and that they should look at our longer-range theatre force—I am separating this from the purely tactical force—as one; they should look at the aircraft-delivered force and the submarine-delivered force in the light of its being a theatre nuclear force, and look at its modernisation as one problem, one force. The options open to them are several in that case. One of them may well be—and I think it is a perfectly reasonable one—that the platform from which they would decide to deliver these things would be a submarine, but I do not believe that it would necessarily demand five of them. Another option could possibly be that we should offer to man some of the cruise missiles to be based in this country, and if the Dutch will not have them in their country we should offer to man them in this country.
The Americans are always saying their allies should do more, and they ought to welcome such an offer, though 11 do not believe they will. What I am sure about in my own mind is that it would be wrong of the Government, and not in the interests of this country, to commit so large a slice of future defence equipment 1632 programmes to a weapon system for which the principal justification is political machismo.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Lord KENNET
My Lords, it is very difficult indeed to follow not only the last speech by itself, of which I think much more will be heard in the ensuing weeks, but to follow both the last speech and Lord Hill-Norton's, because when a great sailor and a great soldier disagree so diametrically about what ought to be done the civilian has to stand back and leave the matter to be judged by the only authorities which can rightly judge it, that is the Government of the day and the people who put them in office. I do remark, however, that we are discussing mostly not how the Polaris force should be prolonged but whether it should be prolonged. I just want to make one point about that "whether".
It seems to me that all the old arguments of the late 1950s, when we first went thermo-nuclear, have changed very little, and it has been a surprise to me to hear not only Lord Cork and Orrery but also Lord Carver himself include among the arguments which they reject for maintaining our nuclear force the possibility of a first strike. Certainly I, and I think probably most of those in the Labour Party who have supported the existence of the British independent nuclear deterrent, have never done so on the basis of a possible British first strike. Such a thing does indeed seem very absurd in all lights. But we have done so, on the contrary, on the possibility of a British second strike; that is, the theory of posthumous or bee-sting deterrent; namely; that, irrespective of anything the Americans may be saying, we are able to say to the Russians, "We refuse to do this even though you should obliterate us, because you will not succeed in obliterating at least one of our submarines and with that we shall obliterate a highly civilised life in your country". This is the possibility which counts and this is the option the prolongation or otherwise of which should be discussed and decided, and will be.
Here I would like to add my voice very strongly to those who have called for an early full debate on the matter in the new year. In what follows I should like to sketch various points which I hope will 1633 be taken up in that debate. I think my old friend Lord Strathcona—we served together in the last war—is going to have enough to answer without going into the thick of the theory of deterrents.
It remains true that we have no right to call on the Americans to sacrifice New York and 40 other of their cities for something which may happen here in Europe. I prefer to look at it that way round. I do not like the arguments: Can we trust them to come in? The question to me is: Have we the right to demand that they come in? This question has been familiar to everybody who has been deeply into it for many years, and it has been decided by authorities as diverse as Mr. Macmillan, when he was Prime Minister, and Mr. Kissinger, speaking in Brussels just a week or two ago, that notwithstanding trust, whichever way you look at it, countries in Europe cannot be certain that the United States would incur the certain destruction of its own culture at the moment when the countries in Europe judged the best moment in their own interests during a war. That is the argument, and to my mind the only argument, for maintaining an independent nuclear deterrent.
In this respect I would point out, especially to Liberal colleagues, that the position of France is exactly the same as ours. I do not believe either the French or we do it for grandeur or gloire, which can be simply translated as grandeur and glory, and often are by the French. These are not our reasons. We do it for the same reasons that the Americans did it first and the Russians second. The Americans developed independent nuclear deterrents because they were afraid the Germans were doing so. The Russians developed them because they knew that the Americans had done so. Britain and France developed them because we knew that the Russians had done so and because we had not the right to pull in America. China developed them because they knew that the Russians had done so. So it goes down the line and independent nation States, without the discipline of disarmament, have done so and will do so. We are just the third.
I should like to make a few comments about language. In the major debate next time can we see whether we can get away from the words "tactical" and "theatre" in talking about weapons whose size has 1634 been terrifyingly evoked by my noble friend Lord Noel-Baker and the proximity of which to their targets is neither here nor there? It is surely not the nearness of a weapon to its target which makes it tactical or strategic but the effect that it has on the economy of a country when it goes off. There is no nuclear weapon in the world which is not grossly and a hundred times strategic. Let us not let the super-powers get away with the use of the word "tactical". Let us not use the polite word "theatre" which is used to describe the field of Waterloo, even the Battle of the Somme. Let us not use that polite word for an area stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals.
At this point I should like to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, who said that modernisation of the medium range nuclear weapons in Europe was a separate issue from the continuation of our SLBM force. May we raise in our debate that very relationship? I have in mind, in particular, the question of one key and two key. Mr Pym has said in the House of Commons, in so many words, that the Cruise missiles and Pershings are to be one key—that is, they are to be American owned and American controlled. He also implied in a discussion which took place in the House of Commons that there was nothing very new about that, that all the American nuclear weapons stationed in Europe in recent years have been one key—that is, under single American control—without anybody else's finger on the safety catch, without a British, German, Belgian or Italian finger on the safety catch. I should like to ask the Government whether, after consideration, they can give a fuller statement on that, perhaps in our debate or perhaps in some other forum.
In the old days we had the Thor missiles in this country which were withdrawn at the time of the Cuba crisis. They were dual key. I think that when the Pershing force was first set up on the Continent of Europe—Serjeants and Pershings—they were all dual key. When did the system become one key? Now we are told that the Cruise missiles and so on are to be one key—well and good—and we are also told that there is to be a consultation mechanism about whether they should be used or not. I think that there is also a consultation mechanism about whether the British Polaris force 1635 should be used. We know, of course, that it rests on American rockets. It is British housed, it has British warheads but American rockets. We know that the same formula is proposed for the Trident force: British housed, British warheads and American rockets. There is, therefore, an American interest if not hold, over the use of that British weapons system.
Will the Government after consideration again compare on the one hand, the degree of influence we shall have over the use of the American Cruise missiles stationed in this country, with the degree of influence that the Americans will have over the use of our Trident force when it is operational? Will they be equal? If not, will the degree of influence in the one case be greater than in the other and, if so, which way round? If they are not equal, will the British Parliament and people be content? If it is really true that the Cruise missiles are a complete one key force, are we not approaching George Orwell's famous era when Britain was "Airstrip I"? I shall not remind noble Lords of the context, but they will remember that it comes in 1984, which is about the year in question, is it not?
I should like briefly to take up the theme enunciated so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Noel-Baker—namely, disarmament and arms control. When the Ministers adopted the NATO modernisation programme in Brussels the other day they also launched a so-called arms control programme. This country is adopting a new, independent strategic missile system. We are, after all, still the third nuclear power in the world, both historically and in throw weight. We therefore have the third best right in the world to make disarmament proposals and we are in the third most hopeful position to do so.
The Ministers in Brussels the other day launched a package of arms control proposals which was very weak. It lay about all over the place. It was not co-ordinated, but simply said that we must try to do better than we ever have before in all the disconnected fora of discussion, ranging from the special sessions, referred to by my noble friend Lord Noel-Baker, through the Disarmament Conference itself, the permanent 1636 one, to SALT; to the MBFR discussions in Geneva; to the Review Conference of the Helsinki Act, with the next one in Madrid; to the Review Conference of the MPT. There are about eight or 12 of them and most of them have run right into the sand. There is no reason why they should do any better. They have run into the sand because they are insufficiently connected. What is needed is not merely a promise to do better in a series of disconnected talking shops, but a plan to connect them all. Why should this country not produce a plan?
I am sorry that he has left the Chamber, but until a moment ago the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, was listening to the debate. I do not know how many people remember that, with the single exception of a praiseworthy, but very minor proposal about chemical disarmament made by Mr. Fred Mulley when he was Minister of Defence some 10 years ago, this country has proposed no disarmament in the international scene since the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Home, in 1962. It is a matter that bears thinking about. By "disarmament" I mean the destruction of weapons; I do not mean the withdrawal of weapons, or the inspection of weapons or arrangements for keeping each other happy about what we are doing. I mean precisely what the word says—dis-armament. No British Government, whether Labour or Conservative, has proposed any disarmament since 1962. Is not this a good juncture to do so for both reasons—the NATO modernisation and the new generation of the British independent deterrent?
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Lord ORR-EWING
My Lords, I think that we all owe a debt of gratitude to my noble friend Lord Kimberley for having initiated this debate. It will clearly be one of the subjects which the Prime Minister will be discussing in Washington. I do not myself want to go deeply into the pros and cons, because I ought to make a short speech and this ought to be a short debate. Basically, I feel that we should not allow the United States of America to be the only free nation, totally isolated from the rest of us in having a strategic nuclear deterrent. On the other hand, I am attracted to the viewpoint put by the noble Lord, Lord 1637 Carver, that, in the next generation, it may be more economical, and therefore more cost-effective, to have a missile which can penetrate the defences; and to decide later whether it should be on a platform—a submarine platform, a merchant ship platform; possibly a platform from a V-bomber with an extended life; or even a large container lorry which might be the most effective and cheapest version of all, and could move about the country undetected and unidentified. I would agree with noble Lords that not enough discussion takes place on this extremely important issue. One must recognise the fact that today millions of people take their cue, their knowledge and their information not, regrettably, from this Chamber—because the high calibre of this debate reflects the expert opinion we have here—but from the television service.
In particular, I want to direct my short remarks to the "Panorama" programme broadcast on Monday, 3rd December, because I felt that that programme did not produce the balance which should be mandatory under the BBC Charter. In recent months Monday's fare has become more and more loaded. The Charter says that the BBC must produce balance. My friends who saw this programme were indignant and I was very surprised. Being unable to obtain a transcript of the programme, this afternoon I sat through a video tape on it and my surprise became even greater.
The programme was produced by Tom Mangold. I believe that it was slanted in the selection of subjects and personnel. I concede that much of the documentary was excellent, but between those excellent slices there was pure prejudice and slanted production. Mr. Pym did his best as the only man upholding the British and NATO viewpoint. In parenthesis I would say that he was exceptionally badly lit; he looked as though he was about to die. I also reflect that when the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, was Prime Minister he was also badly lit as to appear like a death mask. One must recognise the fact that, if one wants to produce a result on television, one can do it by lighting as well as by cutting the tape to suit one's viewpoint. Curiously enough, the best picture of the Minister of Defence was when he was in an aeroplane flying to 1638 Brussels for the great debate on this nuclear deterrent. Then he appeared quite healthy and likely to live for many years, in contrast to the pictures of him in the studio which made him look very, very pale, if not green.
I found that the introduction was slanted and that some of the statements were totally untrue. In referring to Britain's nuclear deterrent, the programme said that the successor would cost about £5,000 million of expenditure, but, of course, it did not mention at that stage that that would be spread over 10 years. Then it went on to say that it was a deterrent "which NATO commanders think unnecessary". It did not tell us which NATO commanders, when they said it, or where. The programme then complained about lack of debate in both Houses of Parliament. Your Lordships' House is always in advance of the other place, as we were on advocating both radio and television, so at least we are trying to set some of that right.
Then a series of spokesmen were presented, and it is the choice of these spokesmen which I want to highlight. The programme started with Dr. Rotblat, a distinguished physicist. I have known of Dr. Rotblat and his writings for some 25 years and he has always been of the extreme Left or Marxist viewpoint. As long as that is known, that is all right. I felt that after him we would get a different viewpoint. He, of course, used all the emotional terms: vomiting blood, bowels exuding blood—every emotional term that could possibly be used. However, I accepted that as long as the other viewpoint might follow.
Next, we did not have anyone from West Germany or France, who might have been allowed to put a viewpoint on behalf of NATO, but we had someone from the Polish Foreign Ministry. That is another viewpoint. I wondered who would follow. The next spokesman was an East German. wondered who was to follow him.
§ Lord KALDOR
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, but does being an extreme opponent of nuclear weapons or nuclear warfare make one a Marxist? My noble friend Lord Noel-Baker made a very passionate speech against nuclear warfare. Does the noble Lord expect him to be classed as a Marxist?
§ Lord ORR-EWING
My Lords, no; I did not seek to say that everyone who preaches peace—and we have had two excellent and moving speeches today from pacifists—is a Marxist. I know them not to be. One of them, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, is a very good friend of mine. However, I am quoting people whom I believe to be of extreme Left-wing views. I do not mind a Left-wing view—that is liberty; it is what we fight for—provided the other side of the case is put. Therefore, after those spokesmen I expected a spokesman from a different viewpoint. But the next spokesman came from Isvestia. Is that political balance? Is that in accordance with the Charter?
Later we had Mr. Frank Barnaby. He was described as an ex-Aldermaston scientist. I do not know when he left Aldermaston, but I know that for some years he has been working in Stockholm at the International Peace Research Institute. That is not a government organisation; it is a private body which receives much financial help. It is anti-defence; it believes in unilateral nuclear disarmament; in fact, it believes in unilateral disarmament.
I have given a series of people. By no stretch of the imagination could anyone say that that is a balanced presentation of the case which we are now discussing. This list shows that "Panorama" has become biased, despicable and very heavily loaded. In these interviews none of the Marxist interviewees was interrogated by the BBC spokesman. That was done only in the case of the Minister of Defence, who put forward a very well-argued and balanced reply. The BBC commentator said that the Dutch Parliament has refused to allow the Cruise missile on its soil—This has shattered NATO's unity".That is both incorrect and totally inaccurate. What the Dutch said was that they would reconsider this in 1981—and there is no need to make a decision before then—when they have seen the progress with the Soviet Union in talks towards disarmament.
The whole slant was that Britain's deterrent was insignificant. I think that many years ago before Sir Harold Wilson came to power he described it as a pea on a mountain. That was both before he and Mr. Callaghan had 11 years' 1640 responsibility for retaining and updating that nuclear deterrent. But it is not as described. Two or three, and perhaps very occasionally four, of our nuclear submarines will be at sea in a period of tension. Each one has 16 missiles; each missile has three separately targeted nuclear bombs. So each boat has 48 nuclear bombs; two boats have 96 and three have 144. Each bomb has more than 20 times the power of those delivered on Japan. Therefore, this is not to be lightly set aside, and the USSR would think many times before receiving that blow. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, mentioned that this was only one ten-thousandth .01 per cent. of what the Soviet Union could deliver. I think that he has his figures wrong. Like myself, he is a physicist, but if he reflects and takes ten thousand times 144, he will come to 1.4 million nuclear weapons. I do not think that even the Soviet Union has that.
I would add that, throughout the whole of its 50 minutes, the programme made no reference to the French nuclear submarines, of which five are operational; they are-now building a sixth. Each has 16 missiles and each has three separate nuclear heads. Do we really—and this is the argument which the noble Lord, Lord Carver, advanced—want the French to have the only long-range independent nuclear deterrent in Western Europe? If you add the French and ours together you will get a total of nearly 400 nuclear bombs, each with 20 times the power of the Japanese bomb. I submit that that is a considerable deterrent to any group of people sitting in the Kremlin. I would contend that the anti-ballistic missile systems, some of which are deployed, would find it desperately difficult if it was decided to launch that number. That total would still be for many years an effective deterrent.
I generally watch "Panorama". It has been easier recently because the House of Lords has not been sitting on Mondays. I find it to be an excellent programme, but I have noticed in recent months that it has tended to become anti-American in concept and anti-NATO, and in fact anti-Shah, too. The hijackers in Teheran seem to get far more publicity, and the Americans very little support. It is not an American problem, as is sug- 1641 gested, it is a world problem and needs to be reflected as such.
I believe that at the moment Ian Trethowan, the Director-General, has suffered a heart attack, and I am sure that the BBC miss him as much as we do. We were going to have him at a meeting of the Conservative media committee tomorrow, and now he cannot come. I cannot help but feel that since he has been away there has been a drift away from the objectivity and balance which has been the BBC tradition. Perhaps it can be said that when the cat is away the moles will play. May I suggest that the BBC should regain their balance, should honour their Charter, and should strive to re-establish the balance which is their tradition and the nation's right.
§ Lord KENNET
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, as we say, may I ask him to accept that he is mistaken about three points? First, Professor Rotblat is not a Marxist. Secondly, the Swedish International Institute for Peace Research does not have a corporate view in favour of unilateral disarmament. Its director, by the way, is called "Barnaby", not "Burnaby". Thirdly, 144 times 10,000 is not 1.4 billion.
§ Lord ORR-EWING
My Lords, if Doctor Rotblat has switched away from the extreme Left I am delighted that he has seen the light. What was the second point?
§ Lord ORR-EWING
If the noble Lord does not want an answer, my Lords, perhaps I could see him later. If I was wrong in saying that, I apologise.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Lord PEART
My Lords, I think we ought to get on. I promise to be extremely brief, and I always keep my promise. I think it is good for the House, because I once moved a Motion that we should keep our speeches under 15 or under 10 minutes.
§ Lord PEART
The noble Lord has made a very good speech and I think he might spoil it by wanting to speak again. If he was sensible, he would leave it as it is. He made a good speech, and I was going to refer to it. May I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, for introducing this debate. We are all indebted to him. It has been a good debate, conducted without any passion or ill feeling, and with analytical speeches. May I say how much I enjoyed our two distinguished servicemen, Lord Carver and Lord Hill-Norton. Both in their own way made tremendous contributions. I feel humble, as a very junior officer in the Army during the War, but I am glad to say that today we have heard two excellent speeches. I nearly converted to Lord Carver's point of view.
I have always believed in the nuclear deterrent. When we talk about the nuclear deterrent and NATO we are really talking about the American deterrent and strategy which we have accepted. I am glad that there has been no anti-American feeling in our debate—sometimes we get that from both Right and Left—because our American allies played their part in helping us to save Europe in the best sense. I think of General Marshall with Marshall Aid, and men like that. He was a military commander who had great responsibility, and who really rescued Europe in a very difficult period.
This debate has emerged because of the defence Statement we had the other day. Many noble Lords questioned the Minister on that. There were two major decisions: first, to participate with NATO allies in the stationing of 572 new American missiles in Europe, and secondly, a decision to acquire a successor to Polaris as Britain's independent deterrent. I understand from a reference sheet which has been obtained from the Library that it is expected that the Prime Minister will raise matters about the independent strategic nuclear deterrent, its effectiveness, its operational life and its cost. No doubt when the Prime Minister returns to this country there will be a major Statement in another place, but I hope there will be another debate in this House as well—I mean a much larger debate; a full day's debate, although this is no reflection on the debate we have just had.
We have been thinking in terms of a plan to modernise NATO's European 1643 missile force. This stems directly from Russia's deployment of the SS 20, which is the new rocket capable of striking targets throughout Western Europe from mobile bases in the Soviet Union. Here is a question of whether we have new NATO weapons; whether they be American owned and operated; whether they will have an equivalent capacity; whether they will help to prevent the creation of a military imbalance. The main importance from the point of view of NATO is that it strengthens America's commitment to defend Europe and is a warning to the Soviet Union not to attempt a military venture.
However, one must ask questions. I understand that it will be three years before the missiles approved at Brussels can be built and deployed. What is the cost going to be? After all, the present Government are seeking to curb unnecessary expenditure. Will a decision be taken on this matter because of that? Will there be diversion of funds to a new nuclear missile programme? This, after all, could seriously affect our resources for conventional defence. I think that was the main theme of Lord Carver's speech; that our effective conventional defence could be seriously damaged.
We are committed to a 3 per cent. increase in the year's defence budget. I understand that we are now just beginning to fill the gaps—according to reports in the Press and from elsewhere—which existed in the equipment and manning of our conventional forces. Will there be a diversion of funds to a new nuclear missile programme? Can it really mean only a reversal of the programme I have mentioned and which is emphasised in the Defence White Paper? Can we really afford an independent deterrent? Having listened to the arguments, I must say that I am beginning to think that we just cannot. I am prepared to look at it again in the light of this debate. I have wrestled with it in my mind. I have listened to the reasons.
The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, made a powerful opening speech. He asked me the views of the Labour Party. The views of individual members of the Labour Party on this subject are varied, as indeed they are with all parties. No 1644 one has a monopoly here. My party has always played its part. We have had a much better defence record than Conservative Administrations over the years, but that is not the argument. I believe that we are going through a period when we have to rethink and reconsider. That has really been the message today. We must try to achieve détente in the best sense. Both Conservative and Labour Governments have recognised the principle of détente; the need to have a reduction; the need to get the Soviet Union to the table; the need to discuss expenditure and the type of weaponry to be used. This is all known to noble Lords.
If one goes carefully through the White Paper on defence policy one finds that throughout it says that steady progress has been made in the negotiations between the United Kingdom and the United States on a comprehensive test ban in order to secure a properly verifiable multilateral treaty banning nuclear explosions in all environments. That is one example. Other arms control and disarmament measures are listed in the White Paper. The emphasis is spelt out, even though we agree with a nuclear deterrent, with that policy protected by the United States, and there is still a desire to have discussions with the Soviet Union.
The noble Lord, Lora Orr-Ewing, was critical because in a way I defended the Soviet Union in respect of SALT 2 and SALT 3. He said I was trusting people who could betray their position at a later stage. If one goes into negotiations in that spirit one will never achieve anything. I think it is right and proper that we should make more effort in relation to SALT 2 and SALT 3, along with our desire to have a larger conference which will enable us to try to achieve what has been suggested by many noble Lords today. I respect my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder and, after all, he may be right. Probably he is a pacifist; he may be a realist. But for the present I believe that we must have defence and therefore I take a different view. But I think that in the long term inevitably we shall have to come to terms with this matter and have agreement with the Soviet Union.
This debate will, I am sure, be read and studied by people who are interested in our policies and in the variety of emphases which noble Lords have placed. I hope 1645 too that many of our colleagues who are not here today will read Hansard and note carefully the speeches of all who have spoken. This has been a good debate and I hope it has revealed that the House of Lords is at its best when talking about defence and other matters of scientific impact.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, MINISTRY of DEFENCE (Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal)
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, alluded to the delicate position in which I find myself owing to the timing of this debate when the Prime Minister is discussing this among other subjects during her visit to Washington. But the noble Earl can be proud that at the very least we have had this evening a series of well-informed and cogently argued speeches which have focused the arguments and have demonstrated that nuclear strategy is not only a very complex matter but a contentious area of policy involving a number of theoretical as well as practical considerations. Almost the only thing we can agree about is that there is no consensus on this matter as yet.
The hypotheses and analyses of nuclear deterrence involve the consideration of profoundly important matters touching the futures of citizens of this and other countries for many years ahead, beyond the lifespan of most of us here. The burden of these decisions is borne by this Government in full awareness of the responsibilities that we thereby assume, and I agree with the many noble Lords in expressing the hope that we can return to this in a full debate as the relevant decisive criteria emerge as the argument develops. Meantime, this debate provides me with the opportunity to set out briefly the rationale of the Government's belief in the need to maintain the independent strategic nuclear deterrent.
Throughout this discussion let us never lose sight of that last word. Our purpose is not to match a potential great Power adversary and to be able to win a slogging match, what the noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, called a "nuclear exchange". We seek above all to avoid a nuclear conflict by removing the temptation of trying to score an easy victory over us without fear of retaliatory damage. First 1646 let me once again reiterate our general policy. We aim above all else to ensure that the security of this country is never imperilled, but we urgently need to divert as few as possible of our national resources into channels which make little direct contribution to the national standard of living. Also, few noble Lords would disagree that the proliferation of armaments represents a danger in itself, and that is probably the only point on which I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker. We do not want to engage in an arms race; I have said that before and I say it again. Indeed, we are seeking to achieve the greatest degree of security at the lowest possible level of armament compatible with that security.
We believe that a realist has to recognise that the search for security involves the maintenance of a balance of forces between East and West and the promotion of detente on the basis of that stable relationship. Our whole defence policy is designed to preserve peace and, if that fails, to prevent the use by any party of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. This implies that the level of armament that we must sustain must be directly related to the threat which we face, exactly opposite to the view expressed by Lord Noel-Baker. We need to maintain our capability to respond across the whole spectrum of deterrence—conventional, theatre nuclear (I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for that phrase) and strategic nuclear—and we need to preserve the close links between all the elements in the spectrum. In order to avoid the possibility of political blackmail, the Alliance must not allow itself to fall into a position where it would be unable to offer a credible response at any level of conflict.
It has often been claimed that the USSR military doctrine postulates that any conflict between the major powers will inevitably escalate to total nuclear war. I cannot believe that the Soviet Union would not go to great lengths to avoid conflict at that level and there is much evidence in the arms control field to support that view. We therefore believe that there is real value in continuing to try to contain a conflict at the lowest possible level.
Apart from conventional forces, the Alliance must maintain its ability to 1647 respond at the theatre nuclear level also, for, as many in this House will be aware, the Soviet Union has made major improvements to its long-range theatre nuclear forces with, as several noble Lords have mentioned, the introduction of new, highly accurate SS-20 missiles and the Backfire bomber which can strike targets throughout the whole of Europe. Furthermore, these new Soviet deployments are occurring just at a time when NATO's own long-range theatre nuclear forces are relatively small and are getting older. This was why, as I explained to the House on 13th December, the Alliance has decided to modernise NATO's long-range theatre nuclear forces by deploying new United States land-based systems in Europe. As I said then, the planned deployment will be comprised of 108 Pershing II launchers and 464 ground-launched cruise missiles.
The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, asked me about the nature of our influence of American control. This is one of the details that will need to be worked out in the agreement. That was a point also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and I think I shall have to write to him as to the exact nature of the single key or dual key control of the existing missile systems.
I now move to the strategic nuclear level. My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence have made clear in another place that the Government intend to maintain the effectiveness of the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent into the 1990s and for a long time thereafter. The United Kingdom's strategic deterrent, consisting of Polaris nuclear submarines, has fulfilled its assigned role with distinction for many years now, and we will ensure that it continues to do so into the 1990s. Ministers have made clear that as far as a successor system is concerned the Government are considering a number of options, but we are not yet in a position to come to a conclusion.
May I now take the opportunity which the noble Earl's Question provides to emphasise the value of our independent strategic deterrent to the United Kingdom and to the Alliance as a whole. The deterrent effect of NATO's forces is directly related to what we can term an 1648 uncertainty factor; that is to say, that their credibility, the extent to which they are seen to dissuade an aggressor, is reinforced if the number of risks that an aggressor must take into account is high. Any planning by such a potential aggressor is made considerably more complicated by the existence of a wide range of uncertainties.
It is a principal function of the United Kingdom's strategic deterrent to increase these uncertainties and thereby to reinforce the credibility of the Alliance's deterrent posture by providing a second, and independent, centre of decision-making within NATO. This enhancement of the deterrent is a vital ingredient in plans to maintain peace in Europe. The second major reason for the United Kingdom's possessing an independent strategic deterrent is that in doing so we can provide an ultimate guarantee of our own security now and in the years ahead. Although they do not participate in the integrated military structure of the Alliance, the French, with their own independent strategic nuclear deterrent, also provide a further decision-making centre in the political framework of NATO.
In conclusion, let me return to my opening remarks. The aim of all defence expenditure, and the reason for the retention of all armaments, is to enhance our security. We want to see greater stability in the military relationship between East and West, and thereby a greater sense of security for all nations. Certainly we want to see a lowering of the number of nuclear weapons possessed by both sides, and we want to see further progress on the long road to general and complete disarmament.