HL Deb 15 February 1979 vol 398 cc1481-510

7.6 p.m.

Lord ALPORT rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a Statement of policy with regard to the developments now taking place in Asia. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it has been an unusual experience to be present at a Second Reading debate at the stage that the Bill do now pass; but I hope that I shall not detain your Lordships for too long in referring to a matter which is very far away from the subject that we have been considering.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper. In the debate on the Address last November, when we discussed foreign affairs, neither the noble Lord the Leader of the House, nor my noble friend Lord Soames from the Front Benches made any mention of the situation between the Red Sea and the Bay of Bengal as it was then developing. Since then, we have been hard put in this House to find sufficient legislative trivia to fill our Order Paper. Yet, day by day events are taking place in Asia which will alter the balance of power on which our security depends, which will have a profound effect upon the economic stability of the whole of the Free World and which, if things go awry, could germinate the seeds of a Third World War.

It is totally wrong that consideration of this matter at this time should be relegated to a Private Member's Unstarred Question in your Lordships' House. We have here a greater concentration of experience in international affairs—and particularly in the affairs of the half of the world with which this Unstarred Question is concerned—than any other Assembly in the West. If my fears (which are widely held) are wrong, then more knowledgeable speakers should put them to rights. If my fears are justified, then surely it is the duty of this House, within the limits of such influence as we possess, to make our warnings clear.

My fears are these: that the establishment of Russian control in Afghanistan has been the first step towards a penetration of Soviet influence into Iran with the object of gaining control over the oil areas of the whole of the Arabian peninsular. I shall not bore your Lordships with the evidence that exists of a prolonged Russian campaign of subversion in Iran, of the activities of the Tudeh party whose leadership is—or certainly was until recently—in Moscow, or of the Marxist part in the present violent revolution which is graphically depicted on our television screens and led to the assault on the U.S. Embassy yesterday.

I do not argue that an Islamic Republic in Iran, whatever form it now takes, will be Communist in the Russian context; but the facts, as I see them, are these: in the 1980s the Soviet Union will face an energy crisis comparable with that of the West. Since Stalin's day, and indeed long before, Iran and the Gulf have been regarded by Moscow as their direct sphere of influence, only denied to them first by American opposition since 1945 and, latterly, by the Shah's Government. Control over that area will not only solve for the Kremlin the mounting Russian energy problem but will also give the Soviet access to a warm water port from which their fleet can exercise domination from Singapore to the Cape of Good Hope. It will also enable Moscow to dictate the price and quantity of oil coming from that part of the world to the West. For Russia, frankly, control of that area is something of far greater importance than the achievement of nuclear superiority; it is the key to world domination on the cheap.

As I have said, I do not think the new Islamic Republic of Iran will become immediately a Soviet satellite like Afghanistan, but the situation there is going to remain unstable. Pro-Russian elements will be increasingly active. The new leaders of Iran are elderly. The taste for power by revolution in the streets is beguiling. The millions who shouted for the Shah two years ago and for the Ayatollah today—who may they be shouting for in two or three years' time? Your Lordships can be quite certain that over the next two or three years the security forces of Iran, the administrative services—slowly no doubt now being re-established—and economic life, particularly in the oil industry, will be penetrated by Russian-trained experts and Marxist sympathisers. How do I know this?—because it is as obvious as the vulnerability of the Shah's régime was obvious during the last five years to any experienced observer and even to somebody like myself. Nor is it insignificant that the first of the major Powers to recognise the new régime in Teheran was the Soviet Union.

With Afghanistan a Soviet satellite and Iran in turmoil, the next move will be to promote the de-stabilisation of Pakistan. Baluchi and Pathan irredentism are immediate cards of entry for the Kremlin. Also there is the fate of Mr. Bhutto. We do not like hangings in this country, and least of all of Prime Ministers who were educated at Oxford. I attended, many years ago now, an international conference in Karachi as a Minister in the old CRO. Among the Turkish delegation was the Turkish Prime Minister, Mr. Menderes. He was a very agreeable and very attractive character: he was later hanged with two other members of his Cabinet. Such, my Lords, are the hazards of politics in Asia.

What impresses me is that, whatever the fate of Mr. Bhutto may be, he has been tried by due processes of law—law which, I would remind your Lordships, is probably the greatest legacy we have bequeathed to the sub-continent. He has been judged by a Chief Justice who was one of the last entrants to the ICS and a judicial bench trained in the traditions of the British legal system. Contrast that, my Lords, with the revolutions in Afghanistan and the Yemen, where the heads of State, with the whole of their families and many of their supporters were brutally wiped out by coups in both places, manipulated by the Government in Moscow. I do not know what will be the outcome of Mr. Bhutto's case but, whatever happens, it must have a profound effect on Pakistan in the immediate future; and with the situation in Pakistan, as Vice-Premier Teng said quite recently in Tokyo, are bound up the political prospects of the whole sub-continent.

The success of Russian policy in Afghanistan has therefore opened the way for them and for their political invasion of the whole of Southern Asia, and I do not think it would be too far-fetched to assume that the planners in the Kremlin whose foresight, frankly, I admire, are looking forward by the end of the 1980s, and perhaps much earlier, to a linking-up of their three political fronts: the Yemen, in the West via Arabia, Vietnam in the East via Thailand and Iran in the centre. And all that can be accomplished without a single Russian division being moved from the Warsaw Pact forces in Europe and without a single division being moved from the Russian forces facing the Chinese frontier opposite Sinkiang—given time, of course, and the contemporary lassitude of the free world.

China: even two or three days in Peking last September confirmed to me the attraction which that country and its people have for the Westerner. Our flight over the first 100 miles of the Karakoram Highway, brought home the closeness of China and its importance and significance to the contemporary focal point in the conflict of interest between Russian and the Free World: Afghanistan, Iran and the Gulf. China is obviously a factor in the Asian situation, particularly after the American-Chinese detente. But we must remember two things: First, the new policy which has led to a sudden opening up of Maoist China is largely the creation of one remarkable statesman well into his seventies. Secondly, other undeveloped countries which have made a supreme effort to absorb modern technology quickly have found the strain too much and have collapsed in political confusion.

In surveys of this sort one could go on for hours. My aim has been to say to anyone who will listen, here or outside, that I believe the danger signs for this country and for the Free World are flashing, and that if nothing is done to stop the present development of Soviet imperialism now, sooner or later it will have to be resisted by force. I am not thinking in terms of the next year or two. It is perhaps a good thing that so many countries in the world are ruled by men whose lifespans have already exceeded three score years and ten. But when that generation leaves the stage we must surely ensure that the new generation of leaders inherits a balance of power that will last well into the 21st century. The foundations of that balance must be laid now by the policies and the efforts of this generation.

My questions to Her Majesty's Government are these: how far do you accept the basic arguments which I have offered to your Lordships? And, if they are accepted, what is the policy of the Government today? There are three more things I should like to say. My judgment is not influenced by my antipathy to Communism; it is conditioned by my understanding, rightly or wrongly, that Russian imperialism today is motivated by the same policies as it was under the Tsars. To some extent the methods are different and the ultimate objectives are on a global rather than a continental scale, but the fears I have expressed would be precisely the same if the developments in Asia were now taking place with the Romanovs still enthroned in Petrograd.

Secondly, it is difficult for anyone in the dominantly Christian West properly to evaluate the significance and the power of Islam over the millions of believers, deriving from the contemporary Islamic revival. There are some who argue that this great movement will confront and can resist the spread of the materialist religion of Marx. Its strength, so some believe, may produce the first fissures in the monolithic structure of imperialist Russia, through the Moslem millions whom the Tsars incorporated within its frontiers. I do not know. I believe, however, that we in the West should not allow our social prejudices or our historic memories to reinforce the barriers which time has created between this predominantly Christian country, and the millions of our fellow men and women whose faith imposes on them stricter disciplines and different social values to those we are prepared to accept ourselves.

Lastly, when Kipling's contemporaries were playing the "great game" and Lord Curzon occupied Government House, Calcutta, it was the responsibility of the British Government to contain the southern sweep of Russian imperialism. To this end, we fought three wars in Afghanistan and at least two in Persia. The memorials to our dead can still be seen on the Khyber Pass and beyond. We realise that, today, our mantle has passed to the shoulders of the Government of the United States—the super-Power of the free world. We no longer claim to be that.

But let me be quite frank. If the overrunning of its embassy in Teheran and the murder of its ambassador in Kabul are accepted by merely removing the remaining American citizens from those countries, if it appears to well-disposed Governments that the United States Government is prepared to kow-tow to mob revolution—Russian inspired—in areas of vital importance to America and to the free world and if President Carter plans to replace the energy resources of the Middle East with those available in Central America, then we are, indeed, engaged in what our transatlantic cousins would call a "new ball-game."

But if the United States with its power and wealth, if the newborn European community, if the Commonwealth, or many of the Commonwealth countries, have the will to take the risks and make the sacrifices which, over so many centuries, have represented the price which men must pay for freedom and fulfilment, then I think that the world may be made safe, not perhaps for democracy, but, at any rate, for a better life amid the infinite variety of belief and culture for the millions who may, in the next generation, aspire to enjoy the security, modest prosperity and influence over their individual destinies which mankind the world over has always sought to attain.

7.23 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, I am sure that the House would wish me to thank my noble friend Lord Alport for his extremely interesting and profound analysis of the situation which is facing many countries in Asia today. We are indeed grateful that we have had the opportunity to talk about this matter this evening, and to ask the views of Her Majesty's Government. It is undoubtedly one of fundamental importance in the geopolitical world situation, to which our attention has been sharply drawn by the current situation in Iran.

As my noble friend pointed out, events in Asia in recent years underline a change in the approach of the Soviet Union to acquiring world domination, which has always been their publicly and oft-repeated objective. We have only to think of Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, South Yemen and, coming further west, the Horn of Africa—in each case, there is evidence of the diverse tactical methods which are now being used, to which the term "leap-frogging over the West's defences" has been attributed. These methods cover three different types of activity, which are evidenced by these cases.

No longer is the military coup used, for that is replaced by diplomacy, and we can think of many treaties which have been signed and ratified by the Soviet Union, but which are not observed. Non-alignment, or anti-Western neutrality, has replaced the satellite State under the direct control of the Soviet Union. We no longer hear so much of armed threats by Russia; instead we hear of offers of arms and economic assistance. This, again, is a new way in which the Soviets are gradually infiltrating and influencing situations, particularly in Asiatic countries. These methods are being used efficaciously the whole time, while we still, apparently, accept the checkmate of détente.

My noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel, who very much regrets that he is not able to be here tonight, has written a few notes on this aspect which he has authorised me to quote. He mentioned the way in which the Soviet Union paid no attention to the treaties which they have signed and, if I may, I shall quote from his notes. He referred to the Control Commission Committee, which was set up in Geneva between the USSR, the United States, France and China. After 18 months of rearguard action, the Soviets agreed to a new Control Commission with strict control of arms to be used in the three countries—that is, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos—solely for policing.

The treaty was signed. Again, my noble friend says, from Day 1 the USSR began to cheat by piling in heavy arms. In 1971, yet another meeting was called in Paris. Again, a consensus was reached, but it made not the slightest difference to Russia's behaviour. They continued to subvert and rearm, and paralysed the Control Commission. That is one example which my noble friend has quoted to me, and it includes the period when he himself was in Government, so that he is fully aware of the facts of which he was writing.

He also draws attention in his notes to the tactics now being used in North Thailand. If North Thailand were to collapse, Malaysia and Singapore would be seriously threatened, and the Governments of the SEATO Powers should be giving help to Thailand in order to resist these incursions. I should like to ask the Government what initiatives they have taken, will be taking or might consider taking, with, in particular, the United States and France, to assist in sending arms to Thailand. As my noble friend pointed out, it is essential to preserve intact sea and air communications between Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. At the same time, the United Kingdom should be exposing Russia's behaviour in Cambodia. The thought comes, in relation to providing arms for Thailand which is implicit in my noble friend's recommendations, that the contracts with Iran which, presumably, will now fall to the ground, might be diverted to that part of the world.

It may well be that the different approach of the Soviet Union towards world domination was triggered-off as regards neighbouring States in the '50s, by the attempt of the United States to create a defence organisation following the decline in Britain's defence role in the Middle East—traditionally an area of British influence. Certainly, there are some of us who very much regret the withdrawal of troops from Aden and the Far East, which has considerably weakened the possibilities of either ourselves or our allies taking any action, or being a preventive threat to any incursions by the Soviet Union by whatever methods they may be using. The Soviets apparent support of the non-aligned against the West—though, in many cases, I believe the real economic and politic interests of those countries to be in closer relation with the West than with the Soviets—has gained a foothold in many of the countries which we are now discussing.

Another point which we have to consider seriously in relation to the reactions of the Soviet Union, and the speed with which they arc now acting in these countries, either overtly or under cover, is the reaction of China and its recent stronger approach to the West, in order to get arms and to shorten the time in which it was hoping to reach a certain stage of development. I believe that this was a legitimate act of China, but this approach to the West must have had some effect on the Soviet Union and speeded up its own activities in areas which would be very much influenced by a stronger, wealthier and more modern, in military terms, Republic of China.

I should like to mention a statement made by the Foreign Secretary which was reported yesterday in the Daily Telegraph. There is a short paragraph in that statement which refers to the new régime in Iran. We know, of course, that the Foreign Secretary is away, so I have not seen the text of his statement. Perhaps, however, I may quote from page 5 of the Daily Telegraph. The Foreign Secretary believed the new Government wanted good relations with Britain"— and this we certainly share and hope— and he made it clear he saw no 'activist Soviet role in the movement which brought about the Shah's downfall". This may not be a correct version of what was said by the Foreign Secretary, so I should be grateful if his statement could be made available to me or put in the Library. The information that is available to those of us who follow these matters is that undoubtedly there has been Marxist infiltration of a high order over a long period of time.

In connection with that, may I refer to a publication called The Campaign to Destabilise Iran, published by Conflict Studies in November 1978. Perhaps I could quote one example from page 7. The reference is to NAVID: NAVID provided in the summer of 1978 a remarkable insight into the Communist attempt to exploit the Muslim traditionalist revolt in Iran for their own purposes. A pamphlet produced by NAVID in June under the title of 'The Tudeh Party and the Muslim Movement' preached the necessity for an 'anti-dictatorial broad front' in which the mullahs were to play a vanguard role. 'We are ready to put at the disposal of our friends from other political groups all our political propaganda and technical resources for the campaign against the Shah' ". Admittedly, this is only one example, but this usually very well-informed publication, which can be proved to provide incontrovertible evidence, seems to me to be extraordinary, in view of the alleged statement made by the Foreign Secretary. Therefore, I should like that point to be clarified.

If the Soviet Union are influencing the situation in Iran in any way and are going to have a say in the kind of Government that is to be formed in the near future—because nobody knows whether the present situation will hold—it is clear that we are going to lose a key position in the defence of the West, for there is a 1,600 mile border between Iran and the Soviet Union. We have always regarded Iran as a bastion which protects the Persian Gulf and the flow of oil to the West. Not only would our oil resources be severely damaged; the future of a very considerable amount of Irano-British trade would also be jeopardised, to say nothing of the influence on the price of oil for industry.

We may well ask, as my noble friend is asking the Government, how the West should react. How do these events affect the West and what answers are we getting about detente? What measures should we in Western Europe, as partners of the United States, be taking in NATO, and what should we be requiring the United States to do? President Kennedy said that Europe should be the second pillar. I do not think that this pillar has grown very high since President Kennedy put forward that idea. What have the Government done to implement this policy? And do the Government share the view that Europe should be strong in defence and in its economy so as to preserve its vital interests?

What measures are the Government considering in connection with the availability of raw materials for the needs of Britain and other Western countries? Presumably we shall be looking for alternative sources of oil, or will the Government now proceed to the quicker development and establishment of a nuclear energy industry? We hope that close discussions with the United States and our other partners as to restrictive boundaries which confine the operations of NATO will be continued. Is it any longer reasonable to expect that the whole of Western defence should be limited to a certain part of the world when it is clear that all parts of the world are subject to attack by people who are a potential threat to our freedom and safety?

In view of its key position, I should also like to ask the Government what measures they intend to take to co-operate more actively with India in commercial, industrial and trade agreements. This country was not mentioned by my noble friend, but India is a fast developing country in terms of economic growth. We have very many friends in India—far more now, possibly, than we have ever had—and they frequently look to us for advice, aid and assistance, which we should be more ready to give.

My next point is a small but nevertheless an important one: How are the overseas broadcast programmes being organised by Her Majesty's Government? Have these overseas broadcast programmes been curtailed or shortened since the Think Tank review, or have they, hopefully, been increased? When the situation is changing so rapidly in the world, surely this is the time when the voice of Britain and of the West should be heard. The voice of Britain is understood by very many countries, since the language which is used in English. I am sure that the noble Lord, who travels a great deal around the world, will confirm that people of all races and conditions look to Britain in order to hear the voice of common sense, stability and standards—things which they themselves wish to maintain or attain. Although this is a small point in the overall context of world affairs, nevertheless it is important.

As a result of the situation in Iran, the weakening of CENTO is a problem which the Government will be considering. In this context, no doubt the Government will consider it to be essential to strengthen the position of Turkey and encourage it to co-operate as a member of NATO and fulfil its obligations, thus gaining benefits from maintaining its allegiance to its Western Allies.

Finally, it seems to me that the Government should look very much more closely at the kind of trade, industrial and commercial agreements that we have with the Soviet Union. Why is it that so much grain is always readily available for sale to the Soviet Union when its harvests fail? This is never used as a lever against the Soviet Union, but there are many times when the West could use this lever for its own benefit. Why is it, indeed, that we sell so much of our science, technology and know-how to the Soviet Union—so often, incidentally, by lending them money at a very low rate of interest: far lower than the rate at which most people in this country can borrow at today. Surely this is a matter which should be considered by the Member States of the Community. There should be a common policy on our dealings and our trade with the Soviet Union.

One of the great weaknesses of the West is that this Government have not always played a full role in the European Community. I think that concerted action with our partners would benefit both this country and the Western world. Every time that we give something away to Russia they take a bit more for themselves. This is not a particularly Communist approach; it is symptomatic of the traditional, historic line of Russian imperialist expansionism.

So, my Lords, what is happening in Asia is no longer only the sole concern of those who are suffering from invasion, from revolution, from imprisonment and from execution. It is not only the humanitarian concern of the West to see human beings being subjected to totalitarian régimes so consistently attacked by the Left when those régimes happen to be in Europe but hardly referred to at all if they happen to be friends of the Soviet Union. Also, these events concern directly our economic, political and security interests. So it is in our interests also to see that every effort is made to maintain peace in that part of the world, ensuring that the links that we have built up over so many years through our Empire, and afterwards with the Commonwealth, should be maintained and strengthened and so provide employment, safety and security not only for the people in Asia but for the people in Britain; because our livelihood and our security depend on the availability of resources, on world markets and on stability. Tonight we hope that the Government will give us an answer to at least some of the questions that have been raised this evening.

7.41 p.m.


My Lords, as I think he said, the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has implicitly raised the whole question of the future balance of power in the world. Who will control the "World Island" at the end of the century, is the question before us. I would have preferred to discuss this important matter not on an Unstarred Question with only two or three people in the House, and I rather hope that before long we shall have a debate on foreign affairs, perhaps concentrating on this overall subject which is of the greatest importance to every one of us.

I echo to some extent what the noble Lord, Lord Alport, said, and I speak with diffidence in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Brimelow, who I see is in his place and who knows everything about Russian motives—much more than I do—and perhaps afterwards he will tell me whether my analysis is at all correct. I suggest that there is no doubt that one of the factors in our speculations on this great matter must be the very strong desire or urge or whatever we call it of Russia, ever since the consolidation of her power under Peter the Great, to seek an outlet for her commerce, her industries and her people through what have always been termed "warm water ports", whether in the North, the West, the South or even in the extreme East. I suggest that it is rather useless to speculate on the reasons for that urge; they may not be altogether rational but rather instinctive. They may perhaps be based partly on some desire to defend the distinctive Russian culture against possible absorption by the West—the Slavophile tendency; they may simply result from the desire of a dynamic and gifted race to impose itself; they may even (as some say) be connected with the strange theory of the "Third Rome", the Cross which is possibly now substituted by the hammer and sickle waving over the top of the Church of the Holy Wisdom and Moscow in effect inheriting the empire from Constantinople.

The fact is that the urge exists: it is therefore a political reality with which we have to reckon. Given the opportunity—I repeat, given the opportunity, because the Russians are a cautious people—there is no doubt that Russia would try to exercise some control over the Finmark, the Sound and the Belt, the Dardanelles, the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Japan. If you want to look far enough into the future, you might also add the Straits of Gibraltar! Of course, this involves the whole future of the "World Island"; that is, Europe, Asia and Africa.

The urge was first evidenced by Peter the Great with the development of St. Petersburg; it was manifest in the Balkans policy of Catherine the Great; it became even clearer in the great project for a land advance towards India that came up in the talks between the Emperor Napoleon and the Emperor Alexander on the raft at Tilsit; it was near to partial achievement at the time of the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi in 1833, and although the trend was reversed by the Crimean War and what followed, it was entirely obvious in the Balkan wars and in the secret treaties of 1915; it was revealed in some detail by Molotov in conversation with Ribben-trop after the famous Pact of 1939; and it was certainly not forgotten after the Second World War, as witness Petsamo, Kars and Ardahan, the request for a mandate for Tripoli; the temporary occupation of Bornholm and Azerbaijan, the wish to retain Port Arthur, though then the need to placate America with her monopoly of the nuclear bomb resulted, as it were, in a discontinuance of these demands. And now the instinctive urge as I think has already been hinted at by a previous speaker, has probably been reinforced by a preoccupation with oil and gas.

The Western oil of the Soviet Union in Baku and around Tobolsk, I understand, is running down; the huge reserves in Eastern Siberia are, I believe, rather difficult to develop and indeed a desire to participate in the exploitation of the Gulf oil, no doubt by means of a North-South pipeline, would be quite natural, as would a wish to receive even more Iranian gas than Russia gets at present; and I believe at the moment she gets about £350 million-worth of gas through the existing pipeline. Anyhow, all this is an additional reason for what the Germans might call a Drang nach Süden.

For the last 300 years or so the West—that is, first the European powers (save when they were at each other's throats) and then the European powers plus America, have successfully resisted this instinctive Russian urge. Turkish sovereignty was maintained over the Straits and confirmed in the settlements after World Wars One and Two. The British in India for over a century warded off constant Russian attempts to advance their central Asian empire southwards and, backed by the Indian Army, a sort of intermittent Anglo-Indian protectorate was established over what might be called the "glacis" of Afghanistan and Iran. But since the independence of the Indian Sub-continent and the—here I differ from the noble Baroness—necessary evacuation of the Gulf and Aden by the British, this whole situation has become much more dangerous and the hoped-for local stability in the area has not materialised. For instance, of course, the disappearance of the Raj has now finally resulted in the establishment in Afghanistan of a Government which has signed a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union, even if it now seems that there are some difficulties between the present Afghan régime and the Soviet Government, and it remains to be seen how much trouble it will stir up along the passes among the Afridis and the Pathans or even among the Beluchis further South.

In Iran the régime has collapsed and no one knows what will now happen or even whether simple anarchy will be avoided. The danger to all Western interests, and notably to the continued supply of sufficient oil to the West is obvious, and there is not much that we can do about that at the moment, save wait and see. In Turkey—and this of course is important—the economic and social situation is very grave and more especially as a result of the row with Greece, even continued Turkish membership of the North Atlantic Alliance is questionable. CENTO of course is no longer operative. In a word, the cordon sanitaire, or what might even be called the gladiatorial approach of the Americans to a very difficult situation, has now demonstrably failed and therefore other tactics to achieve our ends will obviously be necessary. However that may be, it must be apparent to any informed observer that the Soviet Union is likely in the fairly near future to have considerable opportunity for giving effect to the secular Russian urge if it should want to. So the next question is: Will it want to and, if so, to what extent?

Here I do not know whether I am being too optimistic, but I do not feel quite so pessimistic as I think the two previous speakers have been. The successful emergence of any new régime in the Middle East, particularly if it is accompanied by some rather militant Islamic revival, could well have some destabilising effect on the Central Asian Republics and even eventually threaten the central power, the famous "Vlast" itself. As it is thought that by the end of the century—I may be wrong, but I believe this is so—the Asian population of the present Union may actually outnumber all the Great, Red and White Russians taken together, this is surely something which should recommend a pretty cautious Soviet policy in the Middle East. We know that for quite a long time the Soviet Government seemed to be backing up the Shah, and it is even now doubtful if it is really supporting the Tudeh Party in the cities of Iran. Of course, if by any chance any régime were established in Tabriz hostile to whatever régime prevails in Teheran, the Soviet Union would be sorely tempted to recognise it, and it is rather difficult to see what we could do if that came about. The same applies to any deal over oil, including the possible construction of a north-south pipeline, that may emerge from the present chaos. But, my Lords, this does not necessarily mean that Iran will be occupied by Russian troops, like the European satellites, or some of them. On the whole, I think the chances are against this, but I feel that certainly a Sovietised Iran cannot now be dismissed as impossible.

Even such a development would not necessarily lead to war between the Soviet Union and the West, headed by America. The Soviet Union in all likelihood will pause long before supporting, still less organising, any actual oil blockade in the Gulf. For though this might not result in a nuclear exchange, even a conventional war, resulting necessarily in a rupture of all trade relations with the West, could hardly be considered by any rational being to be in the interests of Russia. Even military domination of a ravaged Western Europe, or most of it, would hardly be thought to be a thing advantageous to Moscow, for it could easily give rise to problems that might be beyond its power to control. On the other hand—this I think, is a point we should realise—it is possible that Russia may eventually succeed in so playing the oil card, or arranging for it to be played, as to weaken the solidarity of the West and notably to dissociate Western Europe from America. I think this is perhaps the chief danger that confronts us, and of course it will be much increased if there is no solution other than war to the Israeli-Arab conflict.

What Moscow must surely want, and what it no doubt one day hopes to attain, is leadership of the "world island", becoming the most important, the largest, the richest and the most formidable political entity, all others revolving round her and adopting more or less similar—that is to say, totalitarian—social systems. Two things stand in the way of the peaceful achievement of such a long-term ambition, if it is their ambition: the will of the West, led by America, to maintain its own way of life, and the possible eventual emergence of a rival power bloc in the Far East led by China. At the moment the Soviet Union no doubt hopes, in the West, by means of the process known as d¹tente, to weaken the will of the Europeans and Americans to resist its advance towards what one might call premier world power status. Thus it hopes, I suggest, to use détente, in the first place, to diminish gradually the credibility of the United States strategic nuclear deterrent and, in the second place, by ever strengthening its conventional forces and acquiring bases for deploying them all over the world, to increase the likelihood of its winning a conventional war, should it come to that, or even a nuclear one if it were confined to Europe, In spite of protestations to the contrary, it may be—and this is a danger that I fear—that SALT II will do something to further the first aim, that is to say, the undermining of the nuclear deterrent of America. At the same time, some control over the Gulf, combined with a failure to find an answer to the formidable mobile nuclear medium-range missiles now trained on Europe, would undoubtedly further the second, that is to say, the likelihood of winning a conventional war if there were to be one.

Faced with recent developments in Asia, therefore, what should the Western European powers do? Here I very much agree with the suggestions made by the noble Baroness, which seemed to me to be very sensible, but in addition I would say that what they ought to do is to strengthen and harmonise their conventional armaments, develop and deploy such weapons as the cruise missile in Europe, and thirdly, and this is important, go slow on credits to the Soviet Union until such time as agreement is reached in Vienna on MBFR. But they must also be ready and willing to negotiate with any successor Governments that may emerge in Iran or elsewhere. I see no particular reason why we should not get on quite well with the new Government, if indeed it establishes itself as we hope it will. We shall, it is true, have to go very slow on arms exports, but I see no reason why we should not concentrate on helping with housing and agriculture, an alternative market which I should think would be extremely welcome to the Government of Ayatollah Khomeini or any successor. There is no reason why the Russians should have it all their own way.

Nor is there any reason to suppose that any new régime will want to abandon all idea of industrial progress on Western lines, as seemingly recommended some time ago by Khomeini. In any new situation the European Community must, however, pursue a common policy. Unfortunately, there is a danger that its members may simply seek individual advantage and thus play into Russian hands. Here I should like some expression of Government view. Is it not high time that there was a meeting of the European Council to discuss this very grave matter in all its implications?

As for China, there is no need to see her solely as an ally against the Soviet Union. But it is true that, as she advances towards the status of a world power—which it must be supposed in the absence of a nuclear war she will attain towards the end of the century—so the world balance of power will undoubtedly alter. It is true, and we must recognise the fact, that events in South-east Asia may possibly provoke an attack on China by the Soviet Union before any real progress can be made towards great power status. But on the whole I think we must regard this as unlikely; at least, I hope so. Otherwise we do seem, as 1984 approaches, to be advancing towards the sort of international set-up that the celebrated author foresaw, with "Eastasia", "Eurasia", and "Oceania" now actually coming into physical existence under our eyes.

To sum up, we are obviously approaching a time when the whole future of this country may well be called in question and great gifts of leadership will obviously be required. To enter such a period as a divided nation, rent by suicidal internal disputes and quarrelling madly about who does what, will only court disaster. We must, in other words, have somebody to tell us clearly what the "impending dangers", in our familiar language, are, and how in order to avoid them we must, as Milton said, Shun delights and live laborious days". Otherwise, it is not only our standard, it is our actual way of life that will soon be at risk. This is neither certain nor necessary, but, in the dangerous foreign field, we shall now, in order to keep our heads above water, have to be at least as clever and as undaunted as, in rather similar circumstances not so long ago, our ancestors were.


My Lords, I speak in this debate with a great deal of diffidence because my mind is overwhelmed with the complexity of the problems in Asia and the cross-currents which are so diverse. There is a hardly a single nation on the Continent where there are not disturbing internal problems as well as the problems of their relations with neighbouring States. I am venturing to speak only because I am Asian-born and have a very great sense of identity with its peoples. However, I begin by emphasising that the problems are so great that it ill becomes any one of us to speak with donmatism about them.

I always listen with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Alport. I sometimes agree with him, but he will not be surprised if I say that that is not the case tonight. I thank him for opening this debate and with him greatly deplore the circumstances under which it is held. I shall be following him, in great part, in the argument which he has advanced tonight.

He began by speaking about Iran. I am not sure that we yet understand the significance of what has happened in Iran. There was the Shah, almost an absolute dictator; there was an army at his disposal, which was an elite in the community; there was a continuous denial of human rights by imprisonment of those who protested against the régime; and there was a situation where the Head of State was able to make himself vastly rich at the expense of the people whom he ruled. In that situation we have seen a extraordinary development; millions of people protesting and marching in the streets—at the beginning without arms—were able to express the desire of the vast majority of the population, so that the Shah abdicated, the army was increasingly won over and a provisional Government without any constitutional power is now recognised as leading the country. That is an amazing occurrence.

I wish to say at once that I have little sympathy with an Islamic régime. Its prohibitions and punishments seem intolerable to a liberal mind—for example, a man can have five wives, but a woman who has two men is likely to be stoned to death. However, I am, before everything else, a democrat and there does not seem to me any doubt at all that the people of Iran desire the new Government which has now been established.

I took the view, and I stated it on the occasion, that our Foreign Secretary made a mistake when he supported the Shah of Iran. All developments have indicated that a mistake was then made in view of the desire of the great mass of people in that territory. I am asking tonight why the West and this country supported the Shah. There was an absence of democracy and human rights were destroyed. Everything for which a liberal Britain stands was denied in that territory. Yet, the West, which stands for a free domecracy, and our own Government, supported the Shah in those circumstances. There seems to me to be no doubt what was the reason. We did that because Iran was strategically important in the confrontation between West and East and because of the fear of the Soviet Union which has been expressed from the Benches opposite.

My argument is that a democratic Britain should reach a decision as to which nation or Government it supports on the merits of that State as reflecting democracy, human rights and social justice. This was not done in Iran only because we regarded it as strategically important in our conflict with the East.

If we turn to the other countries which the noble Lord, Lord Alport, mentioned, it will be found that exactly the same approach is made as was made in the case of Iran. The noble Lord mentioned China. I regard China as a more egalitarian State than the Soviet Union. It is a more Communist State than the Soviet Union. Yet, we have this extraordinary situation, that the West—for example, Mrs. Thatcher, the Leader of the Conservative Party, who is so opposed to Communism, and President Carter—is showing cordiality towards China, not because they believe in the Chinese system, but again only because of the East/West struggle and the hope that China may be a strong power against any expansion by the Soviet Union.

Let us take another illustration. Only four months ago, Cambodia was regarded as one of the most evil régimes in the world. There was denunciation of its oppression; denunciation of its absolute denial of human rights; and denunciation of the power of a small elite. When there were refugees, it was said, "Go to their aid". How the situation has changed! Now it is not Cambodia, but Vietnam—which was opposed to Cambodia—which is the villain. Once more this change of mind is entirely due to the fact that Vietnam has associated itself with the Soviet Union.

I believe that we have had very distorted reports of what has been happening in Cambodia. Those reports have come from Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong, often on the testimony of refugees who are not best able to give an objective view. I do not think that there is any doubt that the revolt against the Pol Pot régime began in strength from the people of Cambodia itself. There has undoubtedly been some support from Vietnam, but for months Vietnam sought to settle the border issue—making its proposals for acknowledging each other's borders. I have seen the exchange of documents, which were amazingly conciliatory. However that may be, the situation emphasises the point I seek to make; that is, that a decision on these issues is not made on the merits of the issue but on the attitude which one or the other takes to the confrontation between East and West, and its attitude towards the Soviet Union.

Afghanistan, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, is another illustration of this. We know of the serfdom and the power of the great landlords there; there is a revolt against it. One of the difficulties in the world today is that whenever there is a revolt by people against injustice—against their exploitation—it is always described as Communist. Because it is thought that is the Communist nations which stand behind those who revolt, the people in those territories are likely to turn their eyes towards the Communist States. Those of us who are Socialists and who are just as opposed to this exploitation as the Communists, have a great deal to blame ourselves for, in that we have not sufficiently identified ourselves with the peoples of the world who are revolting against injustice.

The plea that I would make tonight is that our policy should be decided on merits, on the ground of the extent to which a country is democratic, the extent to which a country recognises human rights, and the extent to which there is social justice in a country.


My Lords, if I may interrupt my noble friend—and he is a noble friend of long-standing—do the interests and the security of the United Kingdom and the 50 million people here count for anything in his opinion?


My Lords, certainly. In a sense it is beyond our debate, but even in our own country the fact that we are associated with one group of the great Powers, that we have American bases here and that we have nuclear weapons here, means that our people are in greater danger should a war occur than if we did not have those associations or those instruments in our midst.

I repeat that I urge that Britain should face these issues on the merits of a country's régime and not on the advantages of strategy in the conflict between East and West. I should like to see our country unaligned—not belonging to either of the great power blocs—but seeking, on grounds of morality, justice and freedom, to express in its foreign policy the principles of true democracy.

8.14 p.m.


My Lords, we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for introducing this debate in such a comprehensive and throughtful speech. We are indeed, in a period of great change in Asia, and much of what is happening will have a lasting impact on the rest of the world.

Events in China should be our first consideration because of China's size and importance. The Government welcome the intention of the Chinese leadership to modernise the economy of their country, and to play an increasingly active part in international affairs. This is important for world peace and security, and we particularly welcome China's willingness to begin to be associated with international disarmament. The indications that Chinese society may become more open and liberal are also to be greatly welcomed. But we are probably only at the opening scene of a period of China's history which may eventually change the balance of world relationships.

Even more immediate to our thoughts must be the developments in Western Asia. The situation in Iran has given all the friends of that country cause to grieve for the violence, bloodshed and instability of the past months. A new Iranian Government, headed by Dr. Bazargan, has now been installed and we have recognised that Government. It faces considerable tasks in restoring public order and economic activity, and in evolving a political framework which will reflect the aspirations of the Iranian people. It is in all our interests that they should succeed. We believe that it is for the Iranian people to decide their own destiny without pressure from outside or intimidation from within.

But there can be no escaping the fact that events in Iran have had a serious effect on the world economy. The reduction in oil output must inevitably distort the world oil market. Our own losses of important defence contracts and the difficulties our commercial firms now face in exporting to a dislocated country are matters which affect us directly; and for many firms and their workpeople this will mean a reassessment of their policies and a search for new markets. But we shall look to the time when political stability and effective government are restored in Iran and economic development will resume—perhaps not so fast and possibly with different priorities.

It is often tempting to regard Iran as only one part of what is now sometimes called the arc of instability in Western Asia. It is true that Turkey is at present facing problems of law and order and severe economic difficulties; and without effective solutions there could be a threat to political stability and indeed to Turkey's democratic institutions. It is true also that the influence of the Soviet Union has greatly increased in Afghanistan since the coup there in April 1978; and that this gives concern to the Government of Pakistan, itself a country facing great economic problems, and also facing political issues accentuated by the immediate question of Mr. Bhutto, and a country troubled by the relationship with its great neighbour India. But if some of the problems of these countries are similar, the circumstances are not.

Certainly the Russians have exploited opportunities that come their way to undermine legitimate Western interests. Some Soviet activities in the Third World—and not only in Asia—do not at all conform to our conception of detente as indivisible. There are many who believe—though not all agree—that the Soviet Union is pursuing a grand strategy to subvert Western Asia and thereby to threaten the Western source of oil and to dominate the India Sub-Continent. The balance of opinion is that this view has not been proved to be the case, but it is widely held. I agree with the noble Baroness that there is a wide range of opinion that this may well be so.

On the whole, the argument for that view is not conclusive. Of all the countries mentioned the only one in which the Soviet hand is clearly discernible is Afghanistan, and that country has been under a degree of Soviet influence for quite 50 years. In Iran the different interests, with the exception of the Tudeh Party and like-minded groups, have shown a distaste for Communist orthodoxy. This is markedly true of the Islamic movement; and the Soviet Union has not been the instigation or inspiration for the revolution there.

Turkey's problems offer little scope for Soviet manoeuvres. It is for the Turks to solve their own problems, but to the extent that that country's Western friends and allies can help we are anxious to do so, particularly to restore Turkey's economic fortunes. It would also be unwise to give too much weight to Iraq as a path of Soviet penetration to Middle East oil and towards the Gulf. Relations between these two countries—the Soviet Union and Iraq—have certainly been close, but there is no doubt in my mind that Iraqi foreign and defence policy is dictated entirely by that country's own interests. It is in no sense a Soviet client state.

Finally, I doubt whether many observers or Governments would accept that the degree of Soviet influence in India is indicative of a grand design. Robust in the resumption of democracy, India, under Mr. Desai, follows a genuinely non-aligned path, valuing relations with both East and West, and indeed its own influence increases thereby. I agree, however, with the suggestion that the Sub-Continent would gain much stability from the ending of the mutual wariness which unfortunately underlies the relationship between Pakistan and India. Recently there have been welcome signs of a closer relationship—the agreement to open consulates, for instance; even the visit of an Indian cricket team to Pakistan. All this is encouraging. But the crux of the problem remains Kashmir. It must be the hope of friends of both countries that the two Governments will ultimately draw together and negotiate a solution.

It is entirely right that more than one speaker in this debate should draw attention to the Islamic revival as one strand in the pattern of social, economic and political change in Asia. It is a phenomenon touching almost all the Moslem world. Its origins are not easily definable, but there may be something here of a reaction to the materialism which can accompany economic development; a reaction also to conspicuous and irresponsible consumption, and perhaps unease with the foreign communities who find it difficult to identify with their host country's beliefs and way of life. There may be, too, a new-found self-confidence derived from the economic and political strength of the Moslem oil producers.

Islam is both a religion and a way of life; it is neither revolutionary nor reactionary, and the impact of the revival on the countries of Asia is as varied as the countries themselves. For us, the emphasis in some places on severe physical punishment for wrongdoing may be repugnant, as my noble friend said. But our Task is to accept and understand the deep-felt motivation of this revival, not only because of the importance of the relationship between a relatively secular Western way of life and a very large section of humanity, but also because we must have regard and understanding for the beliefs of the Moslem community in our own country.

The House knows the Government's view of Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia. My noble friend referred to the fact, as he saw it, of Vietnam being opposed to Cambodia. It was an outright invasion by Vietnam of Cambodia, and as such in total contraversion of everything for which the United Nations' Charter stands. He will have noted the many public statements of my right honourable friend and his colleagues, and our actions in the Security Council when we supported the non-aligned resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of foreign forces from Cambodia. And well my noble friend knows who stood against that otherwise unanimous resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of foreign forces from Cambodia.

Whatever our abhorrence—shared by much of the world—of the inhumanities of the Pol Pot régime, there is no excuse whatsoever for Vietnam's violation of the territorial integrity of another member of the United Nations. We have made this clear to Vietnam, and our relationship with that country cannot but be affected. But it is of deeper concern, now, that the struggle inside Cambodia should not, by its continuation, threaten the stability of other countries or draw in the two large Powers, China and Russia, by inadvertence or miscalculation. It is imperative, above all, for restraint to be exercised on the border between Vietnam and China, where a misjudged incident might have consequences affecting many more countries than just those of South East Asia.

The responsibility for seeing that this restraint is exercised lies primarily on the Vietnamese and Chinese Governments, and we have recently strongly urged on both those Governments the dangerous consequences of any escalation. But the Soviet Government cannot escape a heavy responsibility also. It was they who took upon themselves to exercise a veto which prevented the Security Council from expressing universal condemnation of Vietnamese aggression. We look to them now to use their influence on the Vietnamese to avoid further action, for this could have the most serious consequences for world peace.

In all these aspects of the changing scene in Asia the Government's tasks are clear. We must recognise the historical and frequently social reasons for change, and where necessary adapt our political and commercial policies accordingly. Wherever possible in concert with friends and allies we must reinforce stability where it exists in Asia, with constant regard for the aspirations and sense of values of the peoples of Asia themselves. CENTO has made a valuable contribution to stability, but if the three regional members think it is no longer appropriate it is for them to decide on their own security needs. If we are wanted, we would consider how best to help. Equally, with our friends we must promote stability where it is fragile or non-existent. In Iran we must be ready to work with a new Government, and we must try to promote peaceful co-operation throughout the area, recognising that our own interests are not just with the oil lands of Iran and the Arabian peninsula but with almost all the countries of Asia.

This will not be easy, but there are encouraging signs. China is showing an increasing perception of world relationships despite the overwhelming predominance of the Soviet threat in Chinese thinking. The countries of ASEAN have stood four-quare and firm in the face of the alarming situation in Indo-China. India is, I believe, showing an increasing understanding of relationships with the other countries of the Sub-Continent, particularly with Pakistan—this is vital—and Pakistan is showing realism and wisdom in its continued relations with Afghanistan, a wisdom which we hope will also be seen in clemency for Mr. Bhutto.

In Iran it is significant that other countries have held aloof from the internal struggle; and we can hope that the Iranian people will now find a peaceful way out of their troubles. All over Asia we have had relationships which have changed and developed but have stood the test of time and sincerity, and this is the situation now.

I was very pleased to hear more than one noble Lord refer to the fact that in so many parts of Asia there is a great fund of goodwill for this country. It is true that many in Asia recall British colonial rule with resentment, but many more recall it with respect. The persistence and stability of the Commonwealth is proof of that. We should do everything within our power to transform the undoubted goodwill there is in Asia towards us into mutually beneficial commercial, cultural and political exchanges.

I will deal with some of the points raised in the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, asked what initiatives Her Majesty's Government were taking in regard to assisting Thailand in the maintenance of its security. Thailand, which up to two or three years ago was an ASEAN democracy, a parliamentary democracy, is now, under the leadership of its General, endeavouring to find its way back to democracy. The General and the Prime Minister of Thailand saw the Prime Minister and myself the other day when we discussed precisely these questions. I know that Baroness Elles and Lord Alport will not expect me to go into details, but it was, albeit far too short an exchange, a wide-ranging one and I think very satisfactory from the point of view of the questions raised by noble Lords about how we relate ourselves to the needs of Thailand.

Baroness Elles then asked about a statement, reported in the Daily Telegraph, by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I shall certainly make the text of what my right honourable friend said available to the noble Baroness. I do not have it with me but I recall that what he said in essence was that, while he did not believe the Soviet Union had been the instigation or inspiration for the revolution in Iran, that was not to deny the fact that the Soviet Union lost no opportunity to exploit instability to its own advantage.

The question was also raised about our attitude to India, and I am glad it was. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister, as the House will recall, paid a highly successful visit to India about a year ago, and Mr. Desai has since visited Britain with equal success. My right honourable friend's personal relations with Mr. Desai are excellent, as are the relations of this country with India. Indeed, I would suggest that our relations with India are better and closer today than they have been for many years. Here I join Lord Alport in what he said about the opportunity there is that, while we keep our guard up and examine and closely study the dangers, we should also identify the great sources of strength, psychological and practical, there are for us as a country, and indeed for Western democracy generally, in Asia. India is an excellent example of this. While I am speaking of India, which is of such importance, the noble Baroness will recall that by far the largest single item in our overseas aid dispensation is to India, and rightly so, because it is a vast country with vast problems.

On the question of overseas broadcasts and what has happened since the review, a working party is at present looking into the question. I entirely agree that the external services render great service in many parts of the world; they serve as the one dependable source of news in so many of the countries I have visited, and I have seen this for myself. I can therefore assure the House that there will certainly be no thoughtless cutting down on these essential services. There may well be examinations of certain vernacular pro- grammes which have perhaps outlived their effective life, and a transfer of resources, financial and otherwise, to more productive areas and purposes; but I think I can give the general assurance that the external broadcasting services will continue to be very high indeed in the priorities which this Government have in mind in projecting to the world a picture of Britain and its purpose.

I am most grateful to Lord Alport, who stands very high in the regard of this House both for his expertise and sincerity as one who has filled high offices of State with great distinction and who, whenever he speaks—and I am glad to say he speaks often in this House on foreign and commonwealth affairs—has something substantial and thoughtful to say, something that commands our attention at the moment and requires our study on the morrow.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister to answer my question as to whether this grave matter will be considered by the European Council at an early date?


My Lords, the noble Lord asked me about our plans for the discussion of the Iranian question, among others, in the European Council. I think that was his question.


And the surrounding dangers, my Lords.


Yes, and the surrounding dangers, my Lords. He and the House will know that since the beginning of the dangerous situation in Iran, the beginning of the revolution, there have been discussions in Western circles. I cannot tell the noble Lord whether there has been a formal discussion of that particular question in the Council of Ministers. Nor can I say that one is planned. However, I can say that when I speak to my right honourable friend about what has come out of this debate, one of the points I most certainly will make is the one the noble Lord has made; namely, that the West in the Council of Ministers and in the larger form available to the West should certainly consider the situation that is developing now in Western Asia.