§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Lord Reay rose to call attention to the threat posed by chemical weapons, and the case either for a balanced and verifiable ban on such weapons or for the possession by NATO of a credible chemical deterrent; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. History indicates that chemical weapons are used only when the user does not fear retaliation by the enemy. So early in the First World War they were used on a large scale against Russian troops; between the wars they were used in Abyssinia; they have recently been used in Iraq, apparently in Afghanistan and possibly in South-East Asia. Their use petered out in the First World War as both sides became prepared to wage chemical warfare, though not before severe casualties had been caused.
§ In the Second World War both the allies and the Germans, when at different stages tempted or urged by certain of their leadership to use chemical weapons, were always deterred by the fear of retaliation. There can be little doubt that, if NATO policy were to possess a strong battlefield capability in chemical weapons, this would act as a powerful deterrent against the use of chemicals in an enemy attack. It would also equalise the disadvantages of fighting in an environment in which the use of chemicals has occurred or is expected.
§ At the moment, it is certainly assumed that the Warsaw Pact armies would use chemicals in the event of an attack. All NATO troops have protective clothing and decontamination equipment, and noble Lords who have attended NATO exercises will have seen what a serious impediment to fighting capacity the need to wear and use this equipment constitutes. An incomparable advantage lies with the side—if there is only one side—who is free to choose when to use chemical weapons. Only the aggressor knows which chemical weapon has been used and, therefore, what its effect will be and how it can be neutralised. The 1153 chemical agent can be persistent to deny an area to the enemy, or non-persistent to kill the defenders and allow in the aggressor.
§ It can be used to trap enemy troops in pockets when they can be annihilated by other means. It has great potential for early use against tactical nuclear weapon launching sites, airfields, seaports and other installations. It can be used to any depth against military or civilian targets. It can be used against ships at sea. A modern attack on Western Europe would, in all probability, be a blitzkrieg, in which the aim would be to reach the Atlantic before the war could escalate to the strategic nuclear level and in which the use of chemical weapons, perhaps even on a vast scale, could play an essential role in achieving the degree of speed, surprise and shock that would be required.
§ It is not contested that the readiness to use chemical weapons forms an integral part of Soviet military doctrine and organisation. There are 100,000 Soviet chemical troops, whose task is decontamination, guidance of combat troops and so forth—not the use of chemical weapons themselves. Estimates of the amount of chemical agents stored in Eastern Europe vary considerably; indeed, they must be impossible to estimate with any certainty. Her Majesty's Government say that they exceed 300,000 tonnes, although other estimates run much higher. The wishful thinkers, of course, put them lower. But at least it is known that the Soviet Union has never ceased to continue manufacturing and modernising chemical weapons and their delivery systems.
§ Former Senator John Tower, now one of the heads of the negotiating team in the Geneva arms control talks, then chairman of the Senate Committee for the Armed Forces, writing in 1982 in the Washington Quarterly, said that United States intelligence indicated that approximately one-third of the Soviet shells, rockets, warheads and bombs stored in Eastern Europe carried a chemical payload. He acknowledged that other estimates put this as high as 50 per cent. He also quoted an unclassified United States intelligence report that the Soviet Union had 106 chemical plants in operation, of which one-half were either producing or were capable of producing the latest war gas.
§ Against the arsenal of chemical weapons, stored and distributed ready for offensive first use, which the Soviet and Warsaw Pact armies must be assumed to have; in the light of their known military interests, doctrines, capabilities and character, and of their ceaseless activity to pursue the extension of their power on all fronts at the same time—against this might what do the NATO allies have at their disposal?
§ No NATO country, apart from the United States, has stocks of chemical weapons. Britain destroyed hers in the 1950s and dismantled her only production plant, after long disuse, in 1977. The United States has some 35,000 tonnes of chemical warfare agents, all manufactured prior to 1969 when manufacture ceased, and of which only about 10 per cent. is stored in Germany. Much of the remainder is held in bulk in the United States; that is to say, not yet incorporated into ammunition. What ammunition there is is unsuitable for modern delivery systems. The ammunition is largely in 105 mm shells, yet former Senator, John Tower, wrote in 1982 that there were 1154 then only eight 105 mm howitzers left in Germany. All the chemicals are dangerous to transport, unlike modern binary chemicals which are relatively harmless until fired, and therefore a better deterrent. It is reckoned that within five years or so the entire United States stockpile will be unserviceable. It can therefore safely be concluded that fear of chemical retaliation would not in the present circumstances be a factor that would weigh heavily in Soviet calculations in the event of war.
This Motion suggests that NATO needs either a credible chemical deterrent, which it manifestly does not have at present, or a verifiable and comprehensive ban on chemical weapons. The Government have been urgently pursuing the latter in the context of the special ad hoc committee of the multilateral disarmament conference which has now been sitting for 15 years in Geneva. The Minister of State at the Foreign Office, Mr. Richard Luce, wrote an article for The Times in June last year which was headed: "Weapons that must be outlawed now." He concluded with these words:
The disarmament conference must now make an energetic and sustained effort to resolve the outstanding problems. If it does so, we will be in sight of our goal to banish chemical weapons from the face of the earth.
Recently Her Majesty's Government tabled new proposals at the conference. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, will be telling us about those.
§ But how realistic is it to hope for a comprehensive and verifiable ban? Scepticism is surely understandable. In the first place there is the problem of verification. We have already seen how little idea the West has of today's Soviet chemical stocks, distributed as they will be in shells, warheads and bombs which are indistinguishable from those with an explosive payload. How could we be sure that all stocks would have been traced and destroyed, and those destroyed not replaced? We saw how in Iraq, out of nowhere and as a by-product of pesticide production, chemical weapons were produced and used. How could 100 chemical factories in the Soviet Union be controlled, and what about those in client states of the Soviet Union? And what about factories on new sites?
§ The second obstacle to an agreed ban is one of Soviet incentive. For as long as the Soviet Union possesses the battlefield, advantages it currently enjoys, surely its interest is to do everything in its power to prevent NATO establishing an adequate retaliatory capability; and what better means could there be of doing so than to keep on talking, all the while giving the illusion of progress although never allowing apparent progress to reach its conclusion in a treaty that would amount to an act of unilateral disarmament by the Soviet Union—and as Andropov once said, the Soviet Union is not such a naive people as to disarm unilaterally.
§ Thirdly, even if a verifiable ban was agreed, what would the West do in the event of a treaty violation by the Soviet Union? The answer should be that the West would then chemically re-arm itself. But recent history of Soviet arms control treaty violations suggests that, rather than do that, the West would get bogged down in a dispute with the Soviet Union over whether or not a violation had taken place. Moreover, it would be 1155 difficult for the West to re-arm having previously announced triumphantly the end for all time of chemical warfare. Would it not therefore be better to proceed now to modernise our chemical capacity?
§ The answer, I suggest, is that it would, and that this is what indeed would now be happening if the American President was getting his way with Congress. But Congress, perhaps not feeling the urgency of meeting a threat which seems unlikely to touch the American continent, has not been ready to vote the necessary funds. Moreover, the United States is discouraged by European scruples. The right to use chemical weapons even in retaliation has been renounced by Denmark, Norway, Germany and Italy. Norway and Denmark go so far as to prohibit the storage on their soil of chemical weapons. Even this country has no stocks, no plans to manufacture, and knows that there could be a political storm were it to change its policy.
§ No wonder that John Tower, in the article I have quoted, complained that the European allies had not demonstrated a realistic attitude toward chemical preparedness, that they relied on the credibility of the American chemical deterrent to prevent the outbreak of chemical warfare in Europe, and that they were unwilling to face the domestic political heat that would be involved in maintaining their own chemical deterrent or in deploying any significant part of the American retaliatory stockpile on their soil. It was above all to give an opportunity for another European voice to be heard, of those who are unhappy about the present situation and who do not want Europe in this field as in others to jeopardise her own future by turning away her face from reality, as well as to give an opportunity to the Government to state their policy, that I put down this Motion. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Reay, my namesake, with, it appears, more differences with me than just the "y", for providing us with this useful opportunity to debate this very important topic. But as with the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, yesterday, I find myself rather disturbed by the form of words he has used. Is he not saying in fact: "Ban these weapons or else"? This is surely a rather subtle form of blackmail, suggesting that if the USSR or the USA does not comply with the requirements of the other in the negotiations for banning these weapons, we should give up hope of an agreement and initiate or join in another and particularly nasty extension of the arms race. I can hear some people saying, "The Russians listen only to arguments backed by strength"; but to me the concept of "arm to disarm" is fallacious and has never worked to my knowledge. I should be grateful if any noble Lord could give me an example from history of where it has worked. But let us consider what might happen if NATO were to deploy these weapons.
It is of course possible to argue, as the noble Lord, Lord Reay, did, that deployment would make it less likely that they would be used against us. He might have cited the example of the 1939–45 war when neither side used the stocks of weapons they held, for 1156 fear of retaliation. He did point this out. Against that I would argue that as Europe is most likely to be the theatre of the next war, the USSR or the USA, who might initiate the use of these weapons, might feel that their homelands were relatively safe from attack. Nazi Germany, on the other hand, was in a very exposed position of retaliation. In a war in which nuclear weapons were used it would not be a very big step to compound the horror by using chemical and bacteriological weapons. If, on the other hand, they were used in a conventional war, the sense of outrage and shock by the victim might lead it to use nuclear weapons. In other words, we are talking about substances which are not only very unpleasant in themselves and can ricochet on the user, but which might trigger off something worse.
In a conventional or a nuclear war stocks of these weapons could be hit by a bombardment, releasing their contents on the surrounding population. But even in peacetime I am uneasy about the existence of stockpiles of these weapons. Terrorists are ingenious and desperate. They could either steal or otherwise obtain stocks with which to hijack whole cities or countries, or they could master the technology of their manufacture. Already proliferation and use of these weapons has occurred, as the noble Lord, Lord Reay, has pointed out.
If we begin to regard chemical weaponry as a normal part of our military armamentarium, the next step would be the development of biological warfare, with the use of bacteria or viruses, or worse, genetic engineering, to decimate adversaries—a veritable Pandora's Box of future horrors.
But all this is jumping the gun—if noble Lords will excuse my use of a sporting rather than a military phrase. It is necessary to look at where the negotiations for the banning of chemical and biological warfare have reached so far and what further progress might be achieved. I am not so pessimistic as the noble Lord, Lord Reay. The United Kingdom has played a useful and honourable role in these negotiations to date and I feel that we can still act as an honest broker.
As far as I can ascertain, the progress of negotiations seems to be as follows: and here I am indebted to Dr. Sean Murphy, a lecturer at the Open University, for a résumé of the story:The 1925 Geneva Protocol did not outlaw the production of chemical weapons and nor did it define in any detail what the agents are. For example, are incendiaries, tear gases and defoliants to be considered as chemical weapons? The USA says not: witness their large-scale use in South-East Asia in the 1960s and 1970s.In 1968 talks between governments on chemical and biological disarmament began within the Geneva Conference of the Committee on Disarmament. A comprehensive biological weapons treaty was duly agreed in 1972 (the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention). Agreement on a chemical weapons treaty has still to be reached. Western governments have always maintained that the sticking point is on verification".That was a point well made by the noble Lord.
The résumé continues:The British government's view in January 1982"—according to the Arms Control and Disarmament Research Unit of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—was that: 'whereas Western States have offered to accept all kinds of verification measures necessary to ensure that parties to arms control agreements are not cheating, the Soviet Union has 1157 traditionally rejected them, and in particular has resisted any sort of on-site inspection arrangement'. However, in June 1982 at the UN Special Session on Disarmament, Foreign Minister Gromyko submitted a draft text for a convention outlawing the possession of technical weapons in which provision was made for on-site Inspection.Early in 1983 Britain took the lead and outlined a procedure for verification. Chemicals would be classed as having degrees of toxicity. Supertoxic chemicals would be heavily policed but less toxic agents (such as phosgene and cyanide which are used widely in the chemical industry) would not be.With the collapse in 1983 of all the major disarament talks between the USA and the USSR after the deployment of Cruise missiles in Europe and the shooting down of the Korean civil airliner, the only talks still continuing were those on a chemical treaty. Early in 1984 the Soviet Union again stated that a chemical treaty could be secured. USSR negotiators offered to permit permanent international inspection teams on Soviet territory to supervise the destruction of existing stocks. The USA said that this was insufficient. The British proposed a 'right to challenge' feature to verification but the USSR complained that there was not enough flexibility in the attitude of Western governments. Vice-President Bush was sent to Geneva with a draft treaty in April 1984.Under this proposal the USA and the USSR would be free to inspect each other's top-secret military facilities. This proposal is unacceptable to the Soviet Union. The Soviet chemical industry is State-controlled, whereas that in the USA is largely private and these companies can claim 'unreasonable search of private property' under the USA Constitution. However, the USA stance is seen as a negotiable position and not as a 'take-it-or-leave-it' treaty".In conclusion, I believe that all this indicates there is room for more constructive work at the conference table. I am sure we can play a valuable role before any plans for deployment of these inhuman weapons are made.
§ 5.24 p.m.
My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend Lord Reay for initiating a debate on a subject which is little discussed and about which many people know so little that they do not realise its importance. Chemical weapons and nerve agents are arguably as awful as nuclear weapons. I offer no apology for repeating much of what I have said over the past three years, as I feel more strongly than ever on the subject.
A minute amount of nerve agent if inhaled or in contact with the skin will cause death after appalling suffering. The chemical can be formulated so that it persists on the ground for several days. Protective NBC clothing is very inhibiting to a fighting man and certainly is no substitute for a deterrent of a similar chemical capability. Incidentally, I have heard of no suggestion to provide the civilian population with NBC clothing. The civilian population of this and other NATO countries is just as vulnerable to a chemical attack as are the front line troops, the airfields or the rear echelons of the NATO forces.
I have previously expressed the view that NATO could be expected to hold on for a period if the Russians attacked using conventional weapons only. I have little hope of their ability to hold if Russia used chemicals in addition and if we had no capability to retaliate in kind. Short of surrender, our reply would have to be the use of theatre nuclear weapons, and where might that lead?
For three years the Government's answer to my plea for a chemical deterrent has been that they are hopeful of an agreement on chemical warfare at a 1158 disarmament conference and that a deterrent is therefore not necessary. I suggest that in an imperfect world treaties are only valid so long as it suits the top Russians. Much was made of this point in yesterday's debate in your Lordships' House.
I suggest three reasons why a worthwhile agreement is improbable. First, there is the matter of verification. One cannot see from a satellite what is being made in a chemical factory. Regular inspection of such factories would be essential—but can your Lordships envisage the Russians allowing an inspector into a chemical factory in Russia when he knocks on the door? Secondly, many industrial and agricultural chemicals are in any event lethal and not dissimilar to those intended for use in war. I am no chemist, but the opening or closing of a few valves might quickly change the end product.
Thirdly, and most importantly, why on earth should the Russians be prepared to surrender their 300,000 tonnes of military chemicals when we have none and the Americans have a much smaller stock of aged chemicals of doubtful value?
Very senior American and British officers—namely, General Rogers and General Sir Martin Farndale—have both publicly stated fairly recently that from the military point of view they would like to have "a chemical capability". It is therefore a political decision which denies us this deterrent. A decision in favour of a chemical deterrent will not win votes, but it would be a responsible decision. The party on whose Benches I sit prides itself on being responsible; sometimes it has to make unpopular decisions. It faced up to the decision to maintain our own nuclear deterrent, and it faced up to the decision to allow the Americans to base cruise missiles in this country.
When he comes to wind up, will my noble friend the Minister tell this House how much longer the Government are prepared to let the present negotiations drag on before they make the decision to provide a chemical deterrent, or better still, a joint decision with one or more of our ancient alies?
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, there are a number of special reasons for being grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Reay, for introducing this subject. First of all, I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Fortescue, that this subject is far too little debated. It is extraordinary to contrast the amount of discussion and debate that there has been on nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament compared with the equally apocalyptic concept of chemical warfare and the need for disarmament. We should also be grateful because there are a number of points of straight information which the Government can give us, and which we need. There are a number of grey areas in this sphere which need clearing up. I look forward to some specific answers to specific questions from the noble Lord when he winds up.
The only complaint that I have against the noble Lord who introduced the debate relates to the terms of this Motion:To call attention to the threat posed by chemical weapons, and the case either for a balanced and verifiable ban on such weapons or for the possession by NATO of a credible chemical deterrent".1159 This was a very balanced and statesmanlike statement, but his speech was quite a different speech. His speech was the case for despairing of the disarmament discussions and for building up a large new chemical warfare capacity by NATO. I did not agree, and I do not think my noble friends would agree, with the balance and basic meaning of the speech of the noble Lord.
Yet I must say that there are a number of points of information which will need clearing up before we can reach quite definite conclusions. As I understand it—and the noble Lord, Lord Reay, did not suggest this—the question is not whether Britain should manufacture its own chemical weapons. I do not think anyone suggests that at this time. Certainly the Government have given fairly definite assurances that this is not their policy. I note that quite recently it was stated by the Government, "We have no plans to acquire chemical weapons". Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister will reaffirm this. Possibly he can reaffirm it in a more definite manner, because on the question of biological weapons the Government stated, "In no circumstances would we consider developing, possessing or using biological weapons", which goes a long way further. Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister can guide us on this point.
Perhaps the noble Lord can also guide us on the facts that there are no plans to store in this country new American chemical weapons. I do not think this was raised or recommended by the noble Lord who introduced the Motion. The Government can and should give us an assurance on this point.
The British reply to these American representations is very important. Recently, we have had a visit from a high-level commission sounding out European Governments as to how far they support or oppose the plans of President Reagan to increase the chemical warfare capacity of the United States. With Congress divided on this—on three occasions in the past Congress has turned down the President on it, and it is coming up for a fourth time quite shortly—there is no question at all that the reply of the British Government to the representations made will be extremely important. When the noble Lord the Minister winds up, will he tell us what the reply was of Her Majesty's Government to the United States visiting commission? We are entitled to know this. It is a matter of great importance.
It is argued, and it is true, that the Soviet Union has a sizeable chemical warfare capacity. How great again we do not know. The figure of 300,000 tonnes was mentioned by the noble Lord, I think, but we do not know. Making the point to the noble Lord and to the noble Earl, if it is so impossible to discover the details of chemical warfare capacity in Russia for verification purposes, how do we come to have this figure of 300,000 tonnes? Perhaps the Government could tell us what is Her Majesty's Government estimate of the Soviet capacity for chemical warfare.
I say this with regret as a supporter of NATO and the Atlantic Alliance, but we must recall that on major issues of arms control and disarmament and the military balance we have been badly misled by United States information in the past. I do not know how many speeches in favour of NATO I made in the 1160 1960s and the 1970s based on a totally false American intelligence report of the number of Soviet divisions in Eastern Europe. No-one denies now that this was grossly exaggerated. Similarly, we all know now—
My Lords, will the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, allow me to say that the figure of 300,000 tonnes was the figure given in last year's Defence White Paper.
§ Lord Mayhew
Yes, my Lords, and I am asking the Government to explain it. I believe there was one estimate of 700,000 tonnes and another of 300,000 tonnes, and a median figure was taken. Would the Government assure us that this is not the kind of basis upon which they have reached the figure of 300,000 tonnes? We were told about the use of poison gas by the Russians in Afghanistan and by the Vietnamese Government in South-East Asia. This had a considerable impact on public opinion. I was myself influenced by that. But I now think that was untrue. Those statements were put forward by the President himself, and were untrue. I ask the Government again: what is the view of the Government? Do the Vietnamese Government use chemical weapons? Are the Russians using them in Afghanistan?
We sent out a committee of British experts from Porton Down to look into these allegations. This expert committee has never reported. It was sent out two years ago. Why has it not reported? It did not take long to establish the use of chemical weapons in the Gulf. This is another question which the Government can and should answer. We hope it will be answered this afternoon. Why has the committee of experts which went to investigate these allegations not reported? When will it report?
§ Viscount Trenchard
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, knows very well the difficulties of a Government in stating their sources and estimates. Does the noble Lord recall that since 1981, anyway, to my certain knowledge—having answered for the Government on this question—the estimates have been above 200,000 tonnes, of which a great deal is stored forward, and have now risen to 300,000 tonnes? I think the estimates have been completely consistent. The noble Lord knows as well as most people how carefully those Government estimates are prepared.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, let us hope that the Minister will show us the basis on which the estimate is made: not the source, but the basis.
The second point made by the noble Lord was that this was only modernisation, and modernisation is needed. That, it is said, is what it is. But we need to look a little closer, first of all at the existing American stocks of chemical warfare weapons. I think it is agreed that they are holding about 30,000 tonnes of chemical weapons in Germany at this time. It is true that this is old, and that the most recent was made in 1969, as the noble Lord said. But that is not to say it is not an effective deterrent.
A high-level United States committee went into this matter in 1983. It went into the amount of it and into the condition of the stock, and it came to the conclusion that it is a credible deterrent. After all, if it is a credible deterrent, that is as much as is needed. 1161 There is no case for building up stocks of chemical weapons in the same way as has been done with nuclear weapons—far beyond the need for an effective deterrent. Therefore, is it not self-evident that these stocks will for many years continue to perform the function, which the noble Lord asked for, of an effective deterrent?
I recall the word "modernisation" often being used by the Soviet Union in connection with the SS.20s. "Oh", they said; "we are just modernising our intermediate range nuclear weapons". What they were doing was replacing obsolete intermediate range weapons with weapons of a vastly superior kind. It is the same case here. These new weapons are a major chemical change. They are a big escalation in the nature of chemical warfare. To dismiss it simply as modernisation is very misleading.
The noble Lord's final argument was that we needed to modernise our chemical warfare capacity as a motivation for the Russians to negotiate seriously. That may well be so, and I have often argued in favour of it. One of the major arguments against unilateralism is that one must give a motive to the other side to negotiate seriously. Yet the objections, the stumbling block, in these disarmaments negotiations comes from the Soviet resistance to intrusive inspection. No doubt it is often used as an excuse, but the fact is that in the whole range of disarmament and arms control discussions it is the intrusiveness of proposed inspection methods which stops the Russians from agreeing.
It may be that they are also not seriously negotiating because they think that our chemical warfare capacity is weak. That is not true, but that may be their reason. Frankly, I think it is more likely that it is the Russian paranoid dislike of people intruding into what they regard as secret. As the noble Earl said, they will never agree to people knocking on the door of their chemical factories. That is nothing to do with the so-called weakness of the NATO chemical warfare deterrent: it is, I agree, an old Russian habit of not liking foreigners and not liking them prying around. Therefore, we must take with a certain reserve the argument advanced by the noble Lord that we would be increasing Russia's willingness to make concessions by going ahead and increasing our chemical warfare capacity.
This is a very difficult subject and I am certainly not going to be dogmatic about it, but there are one or two aspects which seem clear to me. First, if there is to be a Western capacity for chemical warfare it ought to be a NATO capacity. It should be commanded by NATO and not by any individual NATO country. It is anomalous that there is no NATO chemical warfare capacity. It is a strictly national capacity for the United States. That is very strange, and it was stated by, I believe, Mr. Stanley in another place last month. I ask the Minister: what is the authority for the United States national stocks in Germany? It does not arise from the NATO treaty, and certainly not from the German Treaty. By what authority does the United States hold its stocks there?
I noticed that the legal right of the United States to hold stocks in Germany is being contested by the West 1162 Germans in the German courts. I should like the Government to explain the basis and the authority on which these stocks are held, because it should be a NATO capacity with political consultation within NATO about the use of chemical weapons. The use, or threatened use, of chemical weapons is a matter of catastrophic importance to all the European countries. Indeed, it is of more importance to the European countries than to the Americans. As the noble Earl pointed out, the United States is not so vulnerable as Europe to these horrible weapons. Therefore, why is there no political consultation before the use, or threatened use, of these weapons?
I notice from this morning's papers that SACEUR, General Rogers, is quite rightly demanding—and I entirely agree—that this should be a political decision to be taken after political consultation by NATO members and not by himself, as military commander, and not by the United States independent of its allies.
The next aspect that seems clear to me—and I have touched on this point already—is that if there is to be a NATO chemical warfare capacity it must be the minimum deterrent needed to deter. On no account must it be looked upon as a substitute for conventional weapons, and on no account must it be considered as a kind of small step of escalation between conventional weapons, on the one hand, and nuclear weapons, on the other. The use, or threatened use, of these weapons would have an immediate escalatory effect.
I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rea, that it is far too early to despair of the discussions in Geneva. I swear that I am not being naïve about this. I think that the noble Earl will find that the Government will have a good answer to the arguments he produced about verification. It is precisely on those difficulties of verification about which he talked—the difficulties of ensuring that commercial stocks are not used for military purposes—that the British Government have done exceptionally well in putting forward proposals for verification which would cover the points made by the noble Earl. I congratulate the Government. They have done extremely well in these discussions and negotiations about chemical warfare.
Our representative, Mr. Luce, has shown remarkable patience and skill. He has won a well-deserved reputation among the neutrals, and, I believe, with the Russians, for his conduct at these negotiations. For heaven's sake do not let us prejudice the efforts we are making there. If Britain now takes a tough line—with great respect, the kind of line which the noble Lord, Lord Reay, took in his speech—we shall be prejudicing what is a constructive and still a possible proper way of handling the matter. Despite his speech, I am sure the noble Lord will agree with me that it would be much better to have a watertight, verifiable ban on the use, production and storage of chemical weapons. That is what he would like, and I beg him not to despair too soon.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Viscount Mersey
My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Reay for initiating this so far exceptionally interesting debate; and it was particularly interesting to hear the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. In my book, at least, the facts of life about chemical 1163 warfare have already been well rehearsed by my noble friends Lord Reay and Lord Fortescue. The massive Soviet capability, however big it might be—I agree that estimates vary—against NATO's inability results in a missing link, as it were, in the flexible chain of response, and in turn results in the near certainty that any attack on Western Europe will be a chemical attack. That is a fact of life acknowledged by all ranks down from SACEUR through to every lance-corporal. It is the one example of unilateral disarmament practised by the West and it has not worked.
But my Government are on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, to put it crudely, there are no votes in chemicals; but on the other hand, protection against hostile chemical attack is expensive and inefficient.
My noble friend Lord Trefgarne knows better than I that, as my noble friend Lord Reay said, the efficiency of a fighting man wearing a NBC suit is reduced by half. He knows too that decontamination of military equipment by steam hose is a process too laborious to be undertaken at the height of battle. He would I think agree with a marine gunner who said to me, "If it came to the crunch, we'd fight dirty. There'd be no time to do anything else".
Yesterday some of us were on Salisbury Plain and another inefficient element of the NBC suit was rubbed into us with a vengeance. A company of Grenadiers was under gas attack and the company commander yelled out, "Who is that idiot in the Land-Rover? Get him for me, Sergeant Major". The so-called idiot was in fact that company commander's forward observation officer from the Gunners. It would have been even more awkward for the company commander had it turned out to be the brigadier.
Seriously, yet another disadvantage of the NBC suit and gas mask is that it is next to impossible to lead men from within it, as it were. A leader must be able to communicate and he must be identifiable. Both of those are very difficult from behind a gas mask. There is too the disadvantage of the short life of the NBC suit. After only a few hours, I understand, it is ineffective and has to be changed. Presumably troops would have to be pulled out of the front line and re-equipped, which is a considerable logistic complication.
I think that all that could be avoided if we had chemical weapons. As the noble Lord, Lord Rea, has already said, both sides had chemical weapons in the Second World War and neither side used them. He elaborated and said that perhaps things would be different in a third world war. I beg to differ on that point but perhaps not in this Chamber. Maybe afterwards I could have a word with him about that.
As I said, I see the Government's difficulty. I can imagine the sort of press that they would get if they were to manufacture blistering agents and nerve gas. It would indeed be unacceptable to the British public at the moment. But I believe that were the public totally aware of the chemical threat they might accept a chemical deterrent, and surely there will be a golden opportunity to make them so aware in the Civil Defence exercise, "Brave Defender", this autumn.
I understand that the scenario for that exercise is a non-nuclear attack in this country. Surely the attack will include chemicals. It would be unrealistic if it did 1164 not. No one could seriously imagine the Warsaw Pact attacking with high explosive only, since it has nothing to lose at the moment by adding chemicals to the attack. I admit that I am not entirely clear as to the scope of "Brave Defender", and I should be grateful to my noble friend if when he comes to sum up he could outline the scenario for it.
But I should have thought that in order for "Brave Defender" to put across the chemical facts of life to the public the exercise should be nationwide and not confined clandestinely to military training areas. If it was nationwide, the public would see all over the country, soldiers in gas masks, surely the public would then ask, as my noble friend Lord Fortescue said, "What about us? Where are our gas masks? Where are our children's gas masks?". I think that the public would notice another strange inconsistency which would be that the troops would be wearing gas masks but the police would not and nor would the ambulance-men and the firemen. How would the public react to that? Perhaps people might ring the Ministry of Defence which would in all honesty reply, I believe, "Certainly, this is the position that we are in and this is what we think will happen as the Warsaw Pact has chemical weapons and we do not".
I can offer a tentative solution to my noble friend Lord Trefgarne on what I call the grave chemical dilemma. It is to use "Brave Defender" as a public relations exercise—as it were, to shout up and down the country that chemical unilateral disarmament has not worked and that the only solution open to us now is to have our own chemical deterrent.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, I do not think that it is necessary to go into the Soviet capability because that is well enough known. I do not think that it is necessary either to go into the NATO lack because that is also well enough known. The question is: would chemical weapons be used in a war that we envisage? With training for chemical warfare by the Warsaw Pact, with the fact that it treats chemical warfare as conventional and with its stocks, the ranges at which it can deliver such weapons and the modernisation of its chemicals, there is no doubt in my mind that it would use such weapons as part of its enormous amount of offensive weaponry—far greater than it needs for its defence.
Nobody thinks that there will be a sudden attack on us tomorrow because no one wants war. We do not want it and nor do the Soviets. They want to achieve their objectives without war. But of course we come back to the political situation which we cannot foresee but when they might find themselves making a decision whether for a political reason that we also cannot foresee to go forward into Germany. If we do not believe that, we can disband NATO altogether. I believe that the chemical imbalance that exists would strongly influence them on any decision that they might make towards going forward. NATO could use only the nuclear response if it wanted to stop that attack, and that could so easily lead to escalation.
First, I believe that our lack of chemical deterrence increases the likelihood of a nuclear war. Obviously all politicians wish to do all that they can to stop wars and chemical war in particular, so we have for a long time 1165 been talking about an agreement. It is a nice thought to have an agreement that nobody uses chemicals. But personally I think that such an agreement, even if it were achieved, would be thoroughly dangerous. There is not the slightest doubt that if there was an agreement, both sides would make chemicals immediately during a war in case the other side broke its word, which it almost certainly would.
Anyhow, when has a weapon ever not been used because the other side has not had it or in consideration of the other side? One can look back to Hannibal who used elephants. He did not decide not to use them because the other side did not have them. In more modern times the United States used the nuclear weapon and was not debarred from that by feelings for Japan.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, the United States of course refrained from using nuclear weapons in consideration of the fact that the Vietnamese did not have any.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, I accept that; and we did not use nuclear weapons in all the affrays in which we have been involved; but the situation was utterly different, surely.
I do not think that there is any incentive whatsoever for the USSR to come to a bargain on chemical weapons because it has such an advantage. That is why the talks have been going on at what has been described as a snail's pace. I do not think they will ever mature. It is of advantage to the USSR to keep those talks going and achieve absolutely nothing. The British influence in those talks is negligible because we do not have any chemicals to give away.
Even if agreement was achieved, the question would then be verification. Would that be possible? As has already been said, chemical weapons are easy to produce in normal chemical factories with very little difference in the existing processes. They are quick and cheap to produce from standard chemicals. They are easy to conceal once one has them. Chemical constituents can be put into almost any weapon, whether it is a bomb, a shell or a missile. I think that such an agreement would be totally impossible to verify. It would be impossible to verify whether the stocks had been destroyed or whether there was lack of capacity to manufacture. There is a suggestion of random inspections, and I think that the Russians are suggesting a four-week warning. The idea is so ludicrous that it just is not true. Of course, even if that were achieved there would be no control over other nations. We see how Iraq has quickly made her chemicals. If we do not want chemicals to be used, and if we want to deny the Soviets of their advantage, it is far better to possess our own chemicals, to notify the Soviet Union and thereby deter them.
The noble Lord Lord Rea asked: when did armaments achieve disarmament? Are we really after disarmament? Surely we are after peace, not disarmament. Any agreement on verification would give a false sense of security and would be worse than useless, whereas if we possessed the chemicals we would then reduce the Soviet advantage and the risk of attack. It is very much better to have the chemical option than the nuclear one.
1166 The reason why we cannot have chemicals of course is that the general public will not stand for it. We have this dread as a result of the first war where there was that terrible slaughter of all nations through gas; but we must remember that that was with static trenches and with either no protection or else very crude protection. Memories are so awful that there is a quite reasonable public abhorrence and therefore refusal to countenance our own making or holding of chemicals. I think the situation is now totally different. The chemicals obviously are far more lethal, but we now have mobility which we did not have then; we have protective clothing which we did not have then; we have pressurised tanks; we have dispersal. There would be very, very many less direct casualties from the use of these more lethal gases.
A severe handicap in the fighting of the conventional war would occur whereby our supply dumps would be compromised, our movements would be slowed down, and just the threat of gas would have a serious effect on the performance of our troops who would have to fight in their "Noddy suits". Meanwhile, the USSR troops—the Warsaw Pact troops—would not have to fight in their suits unless they were actually going to use chemicals. Of course, if we had our own threat, then they would have to fight in their rubber suits. Their own rubber suits being not nearly so good as ours, they would suffer stress very quickly and would not be able to carry on the battle.
Furthermore, if one compares the damage of the chemical option with that of the nuclear, there is obviously far less damage with the chemical one. There is a far greater death rate with the nuclear option. With the chemical option you can at least eventually go and rescue people, whereas with the nuclear one there is no rescue. Without chemicals there is a very serious danger of escalation to nuclear. I think that the chemical option is not nearly so bad as the nuclear option on the battlefield. When our own troops are gassed and we are unable to retaliate, the general public will then say it was anybody's fault but their own; they will blame the politicians. The general public have to face the facts now before it is too late.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ The Earl of Cork and Orrery
My Lords, I join wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, in applauding the action of my noble friend Lord Reay in introducing a long-overdue debate on this enormously important subject, about which we have talked a great deal too little. It is also possible to talk rather too much, I suspect, and I will try not to do that—by which I mean that it is a mistake at this stage to get bogged down in details of technical minutiae about which I have the advantage of knowing practically nothing. I will confine myself to the broader sweeps of this matter and, goodness knows, they are broad enough.
My Lords, the Motion my noble friend has put down addresses itself to two alternative propositions: firstly, the verifiable treatment and agreement; and secondly, the credible chemical deterrent. This matter of the verifiable inspection and agreement has been referred to by almost every noble Lord who has spoken. It is one of the things that the Government go on about to an astonishing extent. I do not understand it. It is 1167 perfectly true that the Russians will always say "No" to anybody who comes in. I should, if I were a Russian myself and had people who wanted to inspect our factories, find it a great nuisance. Supposing suddenly the Russians were to change their minds. I understand that Mr. Gorbachev is a man with a sense of humour, to some extent. Supposing he were to see how amusing it would be to say "Yes, come and inspect our factories in which you think we might make chemical warfare agents. How many inspectors would you like to send?" My noble friend Lord Trefgarne might like to consider how many he would say in his answer. What would he say: three or four million?
Chemicals can be made in the bathroom almost, or in a potting shed at the bottom of the garden; they do not need vast factories as do tanks or aeroplanes. They can be made with the greatest simplicity over the whole of the Soviet Union, anywhere from Siberia to the Urals, from Moscow to Outer Mongolia. You can detect them in no other way than by going and looking at them. When you go and look at them what are you looking for? What do you find? The idea of inspecting any such thing is pure pie in the sky; it is absolute nonsense. I do not believe that the Government think it is on at all.
Unless the Government want to fall flat on their face, I hope they will not press the Soviet Government to the point of saying "Yes, come and have a look and see what you can do. Send us three or four million inspectors." Let us forget this nonsense about verifiable inspection; it simply is not on.
What then do we want instead? We want a credible chemical deterrent. There are all sorts of reasons for thinking this a good idea, but just one rather minor one which—perhaps needlessly but rather impishly—I should like to get out of the way. My noble friend Lord Mersey and one or two others have said something about the so-called "Noddy suit"—what the soldiers, sailors and airmen would have to wear. As my noble friend rightly says, this is the NBC suit which they have to wear, and it would be nice to get rid of it by not having to defend oneself against chemicals.
My Lords, NBC stands not for "no bloody chemicals" but for "'nuclear, biological, chemical" and if you do away with the "C" for "chemical", you still have to defend yourself against the nuclear and the biological attack. You continue to wear the suit as thought nothing had happened. There is no advantage in that.
On the general proposition of the chemical deterrent, I advance this point of view. Nobody else has said this and perhaps nobody will pay any attention to what I say, but I believe that the nuclear deterrent is the deterrent to all war, including chemical war. My noble friend Lord Fortescue has mentioned the possibility that if we had no chemical deterrent the chances of war escalating up to the nuclear stage would be increased. I believe that that is what he said. Yes, my Lords, we can all see that, and the Russians can see it too. The absence of a chemical deterrent on our side is itself an inhibiting factor against enemies using such a weapon: for the very reason that we have no deterrent against their use of chemical weapons, they know that our deterrent is that much more likely to turn out to be nuclear.
1168 Therefore, I do not think that we need a chemical deterrent. I think we have it against all wars. It is my personal belief that all war is out of the question anyway, for the simple reason that no nation, either deliberately or by accident, is ever going to go to war against another nation that has a nuclear capability.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, I have nothing very new to say after the excellent speech by my noble friend Lord Mayhew. However, I want to discourse upon one or two of the same facts, and especially the same questions. In yesterday's debate we were reminded of the immortal words of the Bellman:What I tell you three times is true".I have found another truth about this House: that what I ask you three times is more likely to be answered. I have a Question down in two or three weeks' time. I readily promise here and now to withdraw it if the Minister can answer it in this debate, as my noble friend Lord Mayhew has already asked him to. It concerns NATO control of chemical weapons in Germany.
General Rogers, of SACEUR, is quoted as saying, only a couple of months ago, the following words:NATO nations have not told me what role they want to play in the decision on using chemical weapons. Until they do, they receive only a copy of my request to the President and that is not right".Indeed it is not right. That is the sitution described from the horse's mouth at the moment. We shall know no more about the use or threatened use of chemical weapons in war than seeing a copy of SACEUR's request to the President. That is our fault because we have not asked any more. It is indeed time for a debate. It is time to air the subject; it is time to air it in all its ramifications. Our worry rests wholly on the supposition that the Soviet Union had a very large stock of chemical weapons and they are very modern. We know what the American one is like. We know it is nearing the end of its life. We know its size. We know that it is not being replaced. We are now invited to base our policy on certain alleged facts. Before we do so, we must assess the degree of certainty which attaches to those facts. It would be a grave mistake for the Government, even in this House, to seek to persuade by the mere repetition of "three hundred thousand tonnes".
Three hundred thousand tonnes of what? How many substances, of what proportions, are there in the total stockpile? Three hundred thousand tonnes carried in what munitions? What proportion in shells? Shells of what range? Rockets of what type? Bombs carryable in what kind of aircraft and dispersed where? What may be deduced about operational plans from the dispersal pattern? How old are the alleged munitions? What is the rate of replacement of the older munitions on the Russian side? Without knowing something about these matters, we cannot responsibly take any decision about our right course.
There is another, even more important, fact. In respect of the answer to each of those questions, what degree of certainty attaches to it? This involves an examination of the source of our information. It involves an assessment of the probable reliability of the original source, whether it is an agent on the 1169 ground or whether it is the interception of signals traffic, satellite observation, or other forms of remote sensing. If that information comes to us through means which are not under our national control, it involves an assessment of the degree of reliability of the informant in the allied government who has given it to us. All these matters have to be assessed and a result has to come up at the end.
The present environment is not one in which we can automatically rely upon American estimates of Soviet armaments. That is not only because they differ widely according to which part of the American administration is tapped but also because there is a suspicion that those who have good reason to believe that the level is x are often sat upon by their superiors and ordered to say that it is 3x.
The Government can help us greatly about this. They obviously do not know everything but they know a great deal more than anyone else in this country. They should divulge to the people what they know, together with estimates of possible error, before taking any further steps.
I went, as did many other noble Lords, on the great exercise, Exercise Lionheart, last autumn. I saw our troops running about in those appalling suits which prevent them not only from fighting but virtually from breathing, walking or thinking. I fully agree with the many noble Lords who have said that it would be idiotic to allow the other side in a war, even a confined conventional one, to call the tune about when we had to put on those suits without our ever being able to call the tune about when they put them on. They do not have to use the chemical weapons to make us put them on; they have only to look as if they will. Of course they will choose the trickiest moments to do so, when our troops are carrying out the most difficult tasks in the hottest weather. It gives them an immense tactical advantage.
A situation in which they were guaranteed that permanent tactical advantage, would be a militarily disastrous one. However, we are not in it. The American stock is still there. All we know is that it is smaller (we do not know how much smaller) and older (we do not know how much older) than the Russian stock. We are told that it will peg out in five years but we have been told many things about different weapons systems pegging out in x years which we do not always believe. We need more facts about that too.
President Reagan has not met with the instant approval of his own legislature in his plans to counterweight the Soviet stocks. As my noble friend Lord Mayhew has reminded us, he has been turned down three years running. He is coming up for his fourth attempt, asking for 1.4 billion dollars. Other presidents before him have been turned down, as, for example, in 1974; the process goes back that far. The American Congress now remains to be peruaded that it will be right to build up the United States stocks. Later on, it may be persuaded. However, at this stage in the attempt to reach an agreement, the American Congress remains to be persuaded. How much more will the Parliaments of countries which are likely to be gassed in a war remain to be persuaded that every stone has been turned in the pursuit of an agreement!
1170 There has been a recent flurry of activity. It has been alleged that in the long run there are American plans to build chemical warheads to place on the cruise missiles which are under United States control in this country. Will the Government say something about that? It is not quite enough for them to say, "We know nothing of it", or, "It is a hypothetical question". If they were to hear anything of it, what would they say? If they were asked to do it, what would they say? Can they say now that they would say, "No"? If not, why not?
One can go too far with the hypothetical question business in this war and peace planning. It may sometimes get up and hit us afterwards. If we have been saying that everything is hypothetical, we may find that we are overidden or outmanoeuvred by someone against whom we wish we had gathered our friends beside us earlier on. This can be done with a little frankness. On 11th April there appeared a now famous report in New Scientist about the visit of the so-called "blue-ribbon" commission, which Lord Mayhew also mentioned, the Stoessel Commission. That was set up by the American Executive in order to prepare the way for their renewed attempt to obtain the money from Congress. Much Congressional opinion is that it is packed with the friends of chemical weapon modernisation. This commission came to London. The New Scientist report said that at a working lunch British officials gave them a green light for the parking on our soil of a new generation of American chemical weapons.
The visit was followed by a flurry of denials. The United States embassy said it was absolute rubbish. The Government said that it was not so but, in their usual measured manner, said it was a hypothetical question to ask what was so. The story is still going round. I hope that we can tease more definite words out of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, this afternoon. It could only do good if we did.
I am not saying that the Government were wrong if they did give the green light. I just think we want to know. To use the immortal words, I think we should be told. Is it true, as has been alleged, that there is already a generic British commitment to holding—providing a parking place for—this new generation of binary weapons? Obviously, binary weapons are much better than the old sort. Anybody would want them, if we have to have the damned things at all.
Over the last two years, as many have said, the British Government have played a useful role. We have put down a whole succession of papers; the last only last week, going into every sort of detail about the constitution of the proposed international authority to supervise the banning of the production of nuclear weapons and the destruction of existing stocks with verification and all that. Everyone agrees to an agreement. The Russians agree to an agreement. All the countries agree to an agreement. But nothing happens. There is not even very much abusive propaganda about it. This is in marked distinction to the nuclear weapons reduction talks. The whole chemical weapons question is typical of the terminal convulsions of the nation state system, if you like. In some parts, you do not see the convulsions. It is a quiet 1171 area in the universal earthquakes besetting nation states facing a future of destruction or not.
It may not, in the long run, be very much more use putting forward beautiful detailed plans, launching model ships with every ventilator and every piece of rigging in place, if they do not come back again in some form. The Government, I believe, should tell us—this is what I should hope that we, my noble friend Lord Mayhew and myself, would do if we were in Government—what is their assessment of the fact that the Russians agree to an agreement, that we launch draft after draft and that we get nothing back. Are we pressing them too hard? Are the details simply alarming in their eyes? Or is the noble Lord, Lord Reay, right that they are playing it along in order to conserve their advantage as long as they can?
In conclusion, I should like to utter a plea to the Government—"Don't do it yet"—by which I mean, "Don't yet agree with the United States to park the weapons here if they build them. Don't agree to go along with the renovation of those stocks yet". It is wrong to answer deployment with deployment until you are perfectly sure that every channel of negotiation, secret, semi-secret, confidential, private, public, polite and abusive, has been tried and worn out. If anyone doubts the truth of that, I would say, "Remember the story of the installation of cruise missiles in this country." If the Government go to the British Parliament and people with a chemical weapons modernisation programme, even a NATO one, that is as ill-prepared as the one in respect of cruise missiles, they have only to consider the difference in public horror of chemical weapons and public horror of nuclear bases, of which we have experience, to realise how much greater are going to be the political difficulties.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Lord Boston of Faversham
My Lords, I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and all other noble Lords who have so far taken part in the debate in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Reay, has performed a very valuable service in raising the matter tonight, not least because it is clearly a good moment to do so with the resumption of talks on chemical weapons in the 40-nation conference on disarmament in Geneva earlier this year and the further initiative taken only last month on 12th March by Her Majesty's Government when the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr. Richard Luce, tabled his new practical proposals on verification. I am afraid that I cannot promise to agree with all that the noble Lord, Lord Reay, said. That he has provided a timely and very useful occasion for this debate is beyond question.
I have earlier had opportunities to pay tribute to the Government for the stand that they have taken so far on chemical weapons. It is right to do that again straight away tonight. I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that far too much pessimism has been displayed from the other side of your Lordships' House tonight. In fact, it is rather sad that not a single noble Lord opposite has given support and encouragement to their Government in the approach that they are adopting to this matter. I do not know whether it will embarrass the Minister, the noble Lord, 1172 Lord Trefgarne, too much to appreciate how fully noble Lords on this side of the House have rallied to his aid in this situation. In fact, if he came to ponder for a moment, I am almost tempted to suggest that he has within his grasp tonight possibly a return to consensus politics on international affairs. Perhaps if that was to be the approach, even on just one single aspect of disarmament and foreign affairs, it would be no bad thing.
It is because there has been this display of too much pessimism on the other side that it is right in our view to emphasise what has been done by the Government in furthering the aim of attempting to get international agreement on banning chemical weapons. As stated already tonight—the noble Lord, Lord Reay himself, I think, mentioned it—the United Kingdom abandoned chemical weapons in the late 1950s and certainly by 1959. We have neither produced nor possessed any since. In taking that lead unilaterally and in destroying our stocks and deciding not to produce these weapons, we placed ourselves, as a country, I think it is right to say, in a strong position by occupying what has been called the high moral ground in this whole argument. As pointed out by noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Rea, we were among the first to join as a nation in signing the 1925 Geneva Protocol to outlaw the use of chemical weapons.
More recently, since 1982 the Government have taken a whole series of steps aimed at eliminating chemical weapons. I shall come back to those steps in a moment. I want to mention at once, however, the step that the Government took just over two years ago in March 1983. It was a particularly significant new initiative in the Geneva talks when Mr. Douglas Hurd, then Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, tabled proposals that included a working paper on practical verification procedures. Despite what has been said on verification tonight by noble Lords opposite, it cannot be denied, I think, that quite considerable progress has been made over recent years in that direction. Then, in April 1984, the United States presented at the conference a draft convention aimed at banning the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. Last month, on the 12th, we had the Government's latest moves put forward by Mr. Luce. It is therefore the case that the Government have an excellent record in the stand that they have taken and the efforts that they have made to try to get agreement internationally.
I come at once to the nature of the threat. The noble Lord, Lord Reay, was right to stress the importance of this threat, as other noble Lords have done. The extent of the Soviet Union's possession of chemical weapons, the figure of over 300,000 tonnes of what was described in last year's Defence White Paper as nerve agent included in those weapons, has already been covered quite sufficiently. As the Defence White Paper also stated, the Russians are adding to their stockpile of chemical weapons. It is clear that this enormously outweighs the amount possessed by the United States. There have been estimates given tonight and estimates given elsewhere ranging between 30,000 and 50,000 tonnes. I agree with noble Lords who have made this point. It needs to be emphasised that these are ageing stocks and that the United States stopped manufacturing chemical weapons in 1969 when it 1173 brought in a self-imposed moratorium on production. I note, too, in passing that the Defence White Paper points out that the United States stocks are not declared to NATO. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, made a very valid point when he questioned how these various stockpiles of chemical weapons, whether on the eastern side or on the western side, are made up.
Whatever may be the precise figures, it is clear that there is an overwhelming balance in favour of the Russians. It would be interesting to know whether there is any recent evidence—in particular since 10th March 1983 when the Government tabled their proposals—that the balance between East and West has deteriorated materially further.
As noble Lords have pointed out, it is not surprising that, whatever view one takes on chemical weapons and the need for an agreement on them, some voices have been raised urging the United States to bring its chemical weapons up to date and, indeed, urging our own country to arm itself with chemical weapons as well. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Fortescue, and other noble Lords referred to the fact that the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Bernard Rogers, has been among those who have pressed for this; and so has our own commander of the 1st (British) Corps, Lieutenant-General Sir Martin Farndale. Moreover, as has been pointed out, attempts are also being made in the United States by President Reagan to get congressional approval of funds to be used for the production of binary weapons there. Therefore, it is true that there has been no lack of demand—and coming from commanders that is a perfectly understandable view for them to take.
However, I also think that it was perfectly understandable and right for the Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Heseltine, to make the observation—which he made from a political point of view as opposed to a purely military one—when he visited Exercise Lionheart last year that there was a military preoccupation with the use of chemical weapons. He was also right to add that our view in the West is to pursue an arms dialogue at the earliest possible moment and that in the meantime we must ensure that our own troops are protected against the threat.
As regards that last point which was raised by the Secretary of State, I should like to make one comment because it has been raised in this debate tonight by a number of noble Lords. It is right that defensive measures must be taken and that the fullest possible protection must be given to our troops. However, as has been indicated—and the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, mentioned this, as certainly did the noble Earl, Lord Fortescue, and other noble Lords as well—there are clear disadvantages about the NBC clothing which is being used. Therefore, it is clear that there is a potential threat. The question is: what should we do about it? It is here that I part company with the second solution put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, to equip NATO with, in the noble Lord's words, "a credible chemical deterrent".
If we were to abandon our own present position and start equipping ourselves once again with chemical weapons—and I note what the noble Lord says about NATO having them; but I shall deal with ourselves 1174 first—that would be the start of a new arms race. I agree very much with the point made by my noble friend Lord Rea on that matter. There are few things which would be more likely to cause an immediate deterioriation in East/West relations, few steps which would be more likely to damage the prospects for international disarmament, and few things more likely specifically to arrest the progress—slow though it may be, but it is there nevertheless—towards an agreement to ban chemical weapons. Indeed, that is quite apart from the belief that a step like that would be morally indefensible as well.
Similar considerations apply to a NATO chemical deterrent, too. I take it that that would mean basing them here as well as on the Continent. As we know, there are none here at present for it has been confirmed that no American chemical weapons are here in this country. Therefore, for me the solution does not lie there and I hope that the Government will once again confirm that their view remains the same and that they do not intend to go back on their policy not to produce nor to possess chemical weapons.
Where, then, does the solution lie? Here I must say that I expected to find myself much more in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Reay; that is to say, with the first arm of his Motion where he calls:for a balanced and verifiable ban on such weapons".However, I was taken aback as much by his presentation of that arm of his Motion as was the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, when he used the word "despairing" in relation to Lord Reay's approach to this problem. It is here that the Government have been commendably and particularly active. Since 1982 Britain has tabled five sets of proposals on aspects of verification, the most recent of which were those on 12th March last month, with new practicable proposals suggesting, in particular, how the monitoring arrangements envisaged in the earlier 1983 working paper should be applied in practice. I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will give us a report on the recent sessions of the conference and bring us up to date, for little has been heard since Mr. Luce's visit last month or, indeed, about the visit itself.
Last July this country tabled proposals to prevent chemicals made by the civil chemical industries from being diverted for illicit military purposes. Before that, in February 1984, there were Britain's particularly important proposals on inspections upon a challenge that the convention or treaty had not been complied with. However, I think that the most major set of British proposals were those tabled in March 1983, to which I have already referred and about which I should like to ask one or two questions. I am referring to the occasion when the then Minister of State, Mr. Douglas Hurd, presented his working paper called, Verification of Non-Production of Chemical Weapons. At this point, I should like to insert two somewhat more detailed questions. I hope that they will not be too detailed for the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, but these are matters as regards which one does sometimes have to get down to a bit of detail.
It was suggested in that working paper that members of the committee, or conference as it has come to be known, should supply information on the number of facilities within their own civil chemical industries for producing certain listed chemicals so that it could be 1175 shown that inspection of commercial facilities would not be too burdensome. I wonder whether the Minister can tell us how many and, if possible, which member nations have complied with that request. Incidentally, I note that Britain herself supplied that information about herself in an annex to the working paper at the very time it was tabled two years ago.
Again, it was suggested that the declaration of facilities for producing or storing such chemicals as hydrogen cyanide, for example, should present no problems. I wonder whether there has been any positive response to that idea. I am not asking the Minister for the names of countries but merely about the reaction to that proposal and whether or not it has been favourable. It would be useful to know, partly to get some flavour of the way in which the work is progressing—or not, as the case may be. Even if the Minister cannot answer these specific questions tonight, it would be useful to know whether or not the reception given to Britain's proposals has been generally favourable and positive.
However, before concluding, I should like to raise a much more significant and fundamental point referred to in that working paper and which has been touched upon by some noble Lords tonight. Right at the outset in the opening paragraph of that paper, it states that the discussions in the working group of the conference have shown that:it would not be practicable to devise verification procedures which would provide an absolute assurance that the convention is not being violated".Then it goes on to say:On the other hand, a chemical weapons convention must provide for sufficient verification to deter the would-be violator and to provide a degree of assurance against violation by one party which is accepted as adequate by others".That statement sets out a very important principle in calling for an adequate, but not absolutely perfect, system of verification. I should like to ask the Minister whether it still represents Government policy. I hope that it does. One of the great problems has been, as I think probably nearly all (if not all) noble Lords have acknowledged tonight, how to get an acceptable measure of verification without jeopardising the chances of success in the negotiations for a convention by insisting on something too close to perfection.
The point has been put very well by the Government's disarmament adviser in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and former head of the British delegation to the Committee on Disarmament (this very conference itself), Mr. David Summerhayes, in an article in the Armament and Disarmament Information Unit Report for November/December 1983, based on a paper he presented at an international conference in Leiden in September 1983, when he said this:Having stressed the problem of complexity I want to suggest that in the final analysis a [chemical weapons] convention will only be achieved by taking account also of the opposing principle of simplicity. If there is too great an insistence on perfection and strictness, this will make progress impossible. Those who insist on absolute verification or the widest possible scope may in effect be blocking the way to agreement. The difficulty for the negotiators is in finding a satisfactory middle path, where such exists, and then persuading their governments to be reasonable".I hope that that approach is the one which commends itself to the Government. I hope the 1176 Minister will say tonight that it does. And I hope that we can all look forward to speedier progress in the Geneva conference on disarmament and that there will soon be a successful end to the search for a chemical weapons convention.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, your Lordships will be grateful to my noble friend Lord Reay for giving us an opportunity this evening to debate the appropriate response to the threat posed by the existence of chemical weapons in the world today. Let us be under no illusions. Chemical weapons can be weapons of mass destruction and constitute a particularly abhorrent method of waging war. But they exist, and we cannot ignore them. Ever since they were first conceived, nations have sought to find ways of eliminating the possibility of their use in armed conflict.
Although they did not prevent the use of chemical agents during the First World War, declaratory statements upon the non-use of asphyxiating gases, poison and poisoned weapons can be traced back to the international peace conferences of 1899 and 1907. It was the experience of the horrifying effects of these weapons, which caused tens of thousands of casualties on both sides, which prompted the international community to return to the search for measures to abolish them during the years following the Great War. The result was the Geneva Protocol which was signed in June 1925 and which has since been ratified by over 100 states.
The protocol built upon the earlier pre-war conventions, and sought to prohibit the use in warfare of asphyxiating, poison and other gases and of all analagous liquids, materials and devices, but it did not prohibit the development, production or stockpiling of such weapons. The major powers of the time built up substantial stocks and many signatories, when ratifying the protocol, entered reservations, the effects of which limit it to a prohibition upon first use of chemical weapons.
The Geneva Protocol, coupled with the fear of retaliation in kind, did play a part in deterring the use of chemicals during the Second World War. Almost exactly 60 years later, however, chemical weapons are still with us and continue to pose a potent threat not only to NATO but to all mankind.
I should now like to turn to the specific threat to the Western Alliance. The Soviet Union poses a major chemical threat to NATO. It produces and stockpiles a variety of types of chemical weapon, including blood, nerve and blister agents. Stocks of nerve agent alone are believed to be more than 300,000 tonnes. Soviet troops are well versed in the doctrine and tactics of chemical warfare, and Soviet forces have a variety of means for delivering a chemical attack at sea, on the ground and from the air.
It is very difficult to make accurate estimates, but the United Kingdom assessment is that the Soviet Union, as I have said, possesses a stockpile of some 300,000 tonnes of nerve agent alone. For reasons of security I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, will understand that it is really not possible for me to explain how we arrive at this figure. That was a point raised as well by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, will the noble Lord give us as much detail as he can? Is there any hope that he may be able to attach figures about the margin of error, or the degree of certainty, to that figure of 300,000 tonnes? How certain is it?
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, it is as certain as I can make it, but I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not go into further detail. I am certain that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, with his experience in these matters, will understand the difficulty in which I find myself.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, I accept entirely what the noble Lord says, and I am grateful to him. Is this a British intelligence assessment, or an American one?
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, as I said just now, this is a United Kingdom assessment. There are some 90,000 or more specialist Soviet troops responsible for aspects of nuclear, biological and chemical warfare, and Soviet forces regularly train in a chemical environment using real and simulated agents. By contrast, of our allies, the United States possesses chemical weapons, but these are not declared to the Alliance. The United States has not engaged in production of chemical weapons since 1969 and, in consequence, it now has only a limited and ageing retaliatory capability.
So far as United Kingdom policy is concerned, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister stated in another place on 10th January, we abandoned our chemical warfare capability in the late 1950s. There has been no change in Government policy since then, nor is any change now proposed.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will bring out one point? He has been most courteous, and I shall not intervene again. The noble Lord told us that the United States stock is ageing, and that since 1969 they have not built any. Can he tell us anything at all about the age of the Soviet stock, or of any part of it? Can he tell us whether some is older than the rest and, if so, how much older, and that sort of thing?
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, my impression is that the Soviet stocks are current and modern, but I do not think I can go into greater detail than that.
As I said, there has been no change in Government policy since then—that was the late 1950s—nor is any change now proposed. At the same time we do of course keep our defence policy under constant review in the light of the massive Soviet offensive capability, both in chemical warfare and all others.
There is a further dimension to the problem posed by chemical weapons which we cannot afford to ignore. That is one of proliferation. Chemical weapons are not difficult to make and are relatively inexpensive to acquire, certainly when compared to other methods of mass destruction. Developments in biochemistry make possible ever more deadly agents and, as more countries acquire sophisticated chemical industries, so the threat of proliferation will increase unless effective controls can be worked out.
1178 The problem is compounded still further by the fact that some recognised chemical warfare agents, or their essential precursors, are produced in substantial quantities for legitimate and important peaceful purposes. The use of chemical weapons in the Gulf conflict has shown the ease with which industrial chemicals can be misused. Following the United Nations report on the use of chemical weapons in the Gulf during last year, the United Kingdom, together with some of our allies, imposed controls upon the export of certain chemicals. Although this has not apparently prevented the continued use of chemical weapons in the region, it has restricted the availability of precursors.
Time is not on our side. More than 12 states are now believed to possess a chemical warfare capability compared with about six a decade or so ago. Most of these new chemical powers are in the third world, Over the last few years there have been disturbing reports of the use of chemical weapons in South East Asia and Afghanistan and the confirmed use of such weapons in the Gulf war has been widely condemned. Her Majesty's Government strongly condemn the use of chemical weapons whenever and wherever it has occurred. We will continue to do so, but, as more countries acquire this capability, so the likelihood of chemical warfare and the problems of containment will increase.
While I recognise that there are those who, like my noble friend, believe that the present situation may justify the acquisition by NATO of a retaliatory chemical capability, it is the view of Her Majesty's Government and of our NATO allies that the best answer is to work urgently for a comprehensive and verifiable world ban on the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. I do not for one moment underestimate the difficulty of reaching agreement upon such a ban, but since the establishment in 1980 of an ad hoc committee on chemical weapons as part of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva progress has been made, albeit more slowly than we should have wished.
The United Kingdom has played a leading role in these negotiations, and we shall continue to do so. Noble Lords have already recognised that. Since 1982, we have tabled a number of working papers upon various aspects of possible chemical weapons agreements, most of which have been generally well received by all delegations. The most recent of these papers, which was tabled in Geneva on 16th April, proposed institutional arrangements necessary to ensure the effective implementation of the chemical weapons convention. My honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has addressed plenary sessions of the conference on a number of occasions. On 12th March he introduced further British proposals concerning arrangements to ensure that certain industrial chemicals are not diverted to covert military use.
Among the most difficult problems remaining to be resolved are key questions concerning verification. Confirmation, for example, that civil chemical products are not being diverted for illicit military purposes can only be provided by regular on-site inspection by international experts. There must also be arrangements for special "challenge" inspections in 1179 response to allegations that a party to the convention may not be complying with any of its provisions. We are not interested in any "quick fix" solution. Without adequate verification measures such as these as a guarantee of compliance, any ban would be meaningless.
Unfortunately, although the Soviet Union continues to express public support for a global ban on chemical weapons, and last year accepted for the first time the important principle of some form of on-site inspection of the destruction of declared stocks, agreement has not yet been reached on the more important issues of verification. Such counter-proposals as have been made by the Soviet Union—and these have been regrettably few and invariably unspecific—have been unacceptable to Western security interests. Nevertheless, given good will on all sides, none of these problems is insoluble and we continue to hope that the East will join us in showing the flexibility and determination necessary to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion.
In view of the record of earlier attempts to prohibit the use of chemical weapons, why should a global ban now be any more successful? It is because on this occasion we are seeking to ban not only the use of such weapons but also their development, production and stockpiling, and to provide for rigorous verification arrangements to ensure compliance. None of the earlier conventions attempted to do this.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene again, but how does that argument work? For 40 or 50 years we have been trying to do that. Why should it be a reason that, because we are now trying to do what we are failing to do, we are more likely to succeed than when we were trying to do what we did succeed in doing in the 1920s?
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I did not say that we were more likely to succeed. I claimed that the resulting convention would be more likely to be successful. Of course, we have an existing convention stemming from the 1925 Geneva Protocol which, as we have all seen, has not been particularly successful. It is that lack of success that we hope to correct.
Despite our commitments to a comprehensive and verifiable ban, we remain vigilant as far as the immediate threat is concerned. We place great importance upon the retention by NATO of an adequate defensive capability. Therefore, in parallel with our search for an arms-control solution, we keep defensive measures under careful review in the light of the massive Soviet chemical warfare capability. Substantial investment has been made over many years to provide our armed forces with defensive protection against chemical attack. Improvements are continually being made to keep abreast of developments in the threat, and new protective suits, respirators, prophylactic medicines, agent monitors and detectors are coming into service. Most current warships and armoured fighting vehicles have collective chemical protection arrangements, and our combat aircraft can operate in a chemical environment.
All three services train frequently in conditions which represent effects of a chemical attack. The most 1180 recent large-scale land and air exercise was Exercise Lionheart, which took place on the continent last September, when servicemen of British Forces, Germany, reinforced from the United Kingdom, practised operating under a constant but changing chemical threat. Indeed, a number of your Lordships, including the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, visited that exercise. Although an awareness of the threat, and individual and unit training to counter it, enable our armed forces to operate in a chemical environment, the wearing of protective equipment and the employment of other defensive measures, as many noble Lords have recognised, will degrade their effectiveness, whether or not chemical weapons are actually employed. This places NATO forces at a very distinct disadvantage compared with those of the Soviet Union, who need don their protective equipment only when passing through areas contaminated by their own attacks. Once again it is in our best interests to seek a total and verifiable ban, and thereby to remove even the threat of the use of chemical weapons.
May I now turn to some of the points that have been raised this evening. The noble Lord, Lord Boston, raised a number of points, and I am grateful to him for giving me notice of them. He asked first about the working party set up by my right honourable friend Mr. Hurd in March 1983. My honourable friend (as he then was) the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs tabled a paper in Geneva on 8th March 1983 on the subject of verification of the non-production of chemical weapons. The proposals contained in the further document on the verification of non-production tabled earlier this year (to which I have already referred) developed the ideas set out in Mr. Hurd's paper, which were further developed in another paper tabled on 10th July 1984.
As for the changes in the balance of forces between the East and West since 1983, as I have said, the Warsaw Pact continues to threaten NATO with a massive chemical warfare capability; and I do not think that I can really add to the figures that I have already given earlier in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet.
As for the response to the working party report, in an attempt to demonstrate that the scale of the inspection of commercial facilities would not be too burdensome, the paper proposed that parties to the negotiations in Geneva should provide information upon the number of establishments in the civil chemical industries which were producing a number of substances which were considered to be key precursors for super-toxic lethal chemicals. At the end of the 1984 negotiations session 11 countries had responded with this information, and when my honourable friend Mr. Luce addressed the Conference on Disarmament on 12th March this year he urged the other states to follow suit.
The noble Lord, Lord Boston, also asked about the degree of assurance provided by verification arrangements. The paper stated that the discussions in Geneva had shown that it would not be practicable to devise verification procedures which would provide an absolute assurance that the convention is not being violated. On the other hand, a chemical weapons convention must provide for sufficient verification to 1181 deter a would-be violator and to provide a degree of assurance against violation by one party which is accepted as adequate by the others. Indeed, my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, speaking to a conference in London in November last year, used these words:No system of verification can ensure 100 per cent. that the other side will live up to its obligations. What we need is agreements which ensure that if the other side does cheat or break the rules in a way that threatens Western security, we know this early enough to bring the offender to book and to take appropriate remedies".The noble Lords, Lord Mayhew and Lord Kennet, asked particularly about exchanges between the United Kingdom and the President's Review Commission which visited the United Kingdom recently. I can tell both noble Lords that the United Kingdom expressed its concern about the chemical weapon threat from the Warsaw Pact. We also emphasised our view that the Alliance should continue as its first priority to work urgently in the current negotiations at Geneva for a total and verifiable ban on all aspects of chemical warfare. We noted that United States moves towards modernisation would underline to the Russians the benefits of reaching early agreement on a total ban. In addition, we underlined the need to uphold NATO's deterrent strategy of flexible response.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, also asked me about the basing of chemical weapons in the United Kingdom. I can tell him in the plainest terms that no such request has been received. My noble friend Lord Fortescue asked me about the question of protection for the public, and I believe he was thinking of people other than members of the armed forces. The Government have made it clear in another place that they are examining this question and that Parliament will be kept informed of progress. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Elton expressed the same sentiments when he answered a Question put by my noble friend Lord Mottistone on 18th March last. I would refer my noble friend to Hansard, column 326, on that day, where the Answer which my noble friend then gave is set out in full. The noble Lords, Lord Mayhew and Lord Kennet, also asked about the lack of NATO chemical weapon release procedures, particularly in the light of recent statements by General Rogers. There are no chemical weapons declared to NATO. Political control of the limited United States stocks is therefore naturally a matter for them.
The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, also asked about the report, which he said has been kept quiet, or so he thought, about the consequences of trichothenes, as I think they are called, being used in South-East Asia. In that connection I would refer the noble Lord to an Answer which was given in another place on 27th February last (at column 206 of Hansard) by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, Mr. John Lee. My honourable friend was replying to a Question from Mr. Cohen—
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I have the Answer in front of me. The Question in fact went slightly wider than the point which the noble Lord put to me, which is why I did not read out the Answer, since it dealt with other matters as well. I will quote, referring to the particular point which the noble Lord raised, from part of the Answer. It read:Investigations into the alleged use of mycotoxins in South East Asia are continuing but we are not yet in a position to state when their results might be made available.My noble friend Lord Mersey asked about the scenario for the exercise Brave Defender, and whether it would be possible or desirable to include the simulated effects of chemical attack during the course of that exercise. Details for that exercise have not been finally worked out. Again, I answered a Question in some detail on the scenario for Brave Defender recently. Without wishing to go into the detail of that reply, I recall having to say at that time that most of the details were classified and therefore I fear that I am not able to help my noble friend very much this afternoon.
The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, also asked about the authority for deployment of United States chemical weapons stocks in West Germany. I do not think that he will be surprised when I tell him that it is not really a matter for me: it is a matter for the Governments of the United States and the Federal Republic. I therefore fear that I cannot help him in respect of that question.
In summary, my Lords, Britain abandoned its chemical warfare capability in the late 1950s and that policy has not changed. Nor is any change proposed. We are only too well aware of the dangers of proliferation of chemical weapons and the threat posed to NATO by the massive Soviet chemical warfare capablility. We are not complacent. The Government are convinced, as are our allies, that the best way in which to deal with the problem is to press for a comprehensive and verifiable ban upon these weapons and we shall continue to do everything in our power to realise it.
We shall continue to play a leading part in the negotiations taking place in Geneva. If we are unable to achieve our objectives in Geneva, NATO would have to consider what steps might sensibly be taken to uphold the Alliance's proven strategy of defence through deterrence. I do not think, however, that it is either sensibly or appropriate to speculate here upon what might happen should the Geneva negotiations fail. The achievement of a ban upon chemical weapons remains our aim. It can be achieved; but it will require a proper sense of urgency and dedication from all concerned. There can be no doubt about our commitment. In the meantime, we shall keep our policy under review and continue to take measures to ensure that the necessary protective equipment and training is provided for our fighting men.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, I should like to thank all those who have taken part in this debate. I have been very gratified by the general recognition that this subject has not been debated sufficiently and that to debate it on this occasion was timely.
1183 The noble Lord, Lord Rea, whose opinions differ from mine more markedly than does his name, nevertheless understood the point of my argument that chemical weapons were less likely to be used against us and against the populations of Western Europe in the event of a conventional attack if NATO possessed a credible deterrent of its own and, incidentally, we would be less likely to move to a state of nuclear retaliation if there were a credible chemical deterrent, as my noble friend Lord Fortescue argued.
The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, made a speech which I thought had certain complacent elements within it. He said that, in his view, chemical weapons had not been used in Afghanistan. There is quite a considerable amount of evidence in the recent United Nations Report on Afghanistan which if he reads it, may perhaps persuade him to change his mind on that matter. He quoted General Rogers, quite properly, with regard to the need for political control over the use of chemical weapons but, in the same report, General Rogers was also reported as having pointed to the urgency of the need to modernise the United States chemical deterrent. However, on that point, the noble Lord was not willing to follow General Rogers. He said that he was satisfied that the United States chemical deterrent was quite up to scratch. It is most unlikely to be so. There have been no chemical weapons manufactured in the United States for some 16 or 17 years now and the noble Lord knows perfectly well that there have been immense developments in delivery systems, and so on, during that time. His point of view that the chemical deterrent of the United States has remained adequate is simply not credible.
He made play with the fact that we do not know the exact figures of the Soviet chemical stockpile, which I must say will serve to do little more than encourage Soviet secrecy on the subject—not that the Soviets require much encouragement, of course. It seems to suggest that because we do not know, therefore we should do nothing. That is surely the attitude of the wishful thinker and it panders to the attitude of the wishful thinker.
The noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, said that he was sad to see that so much pessimism had been expressed on this side of the House by my noble friends Lord Mersey, Lord Fortescue, Lord Cork and Orrery and Lord Gisborough, and he commiserated with my noble friend Lord Trefgarne on the fact that he was not getting sufficient support from noble Lords behind him. In response to that, all I can really do is to repeat the words that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne himself quick-wittedly used in yesterday's debate, when he was interrupted in the course of his speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell. He said:My Lords, I can only say … that I have to take the world as I find it and not as I would wish it to be."—[Official Report, 23/4/85, col. 1032.]My view is not that the Government should not try for a ban on chemical weapons, but that they should not put all their expectations on being able to reach one. In the latest paper which the British Government deposited in the disarmament conference on chemical weapons, their introductory statement is as follows:The United Kingdom is committed to the achievement of an effective chemical weapons convention which will provide satisfactory assurances of compliance.1184 I do not see how you can be committed to the achievement of a convention when you can reach such a convention only if others agree to do so as well. It seems to me the danger in the Government's position that they put too much of their expectations on being able to reach an agreement.
Personally, I am not despairing, as the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, said, but I am certainly sceptical about the possibility of reaching an agreement and my view is that there will not be an agreement unless NATO proceeds to acquire a credible chemical deterrent. I know that these weapons are awful and inhumane and I entirely agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, feels so strongly about in their regard. I know also that to proceed to their manufacture would be a decision of great political difficulty. Nevertheless, I think that NATO should take it. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.