HL Deb 30 January 1985 vol 459 cc688-720

5.31 p.m.

Lord Mayhew rose to call attention to the political and economic implications for global stability and peace of the Strategic Defence Initiative of the United States Administration; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as the controversy about cruise and Pershing dies down we are faced with a new dispute about the Strategic Defence Initiative. This can also have a divisive effect on East-West relations and between, and within, NATO countries. However, the critics of the Strategic Defence Initiative, among whom my noble friends and I must count ourselves, must concede a number of points to begin with.

First, the project aimed at destroying incoming nuclear missiles is in human and moral terms much to be preferred to a project aimed at destroying cities and people. No one can fault the initial statement made by President Reagan when launching this initiative in moral terms. He said: I call upon the scientific community who gave us nuclear weapons to turn their great talents to the cause of mankind and world peace: to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete". Even though the statement has since been shown to be wildly utopian, it is not ignoble in intention or in spirit.

We must also concede that the initiative helped to persuade the Russians to resume arms control talks. We must admit, too, that the Russians are already well advanced in anti-ballistic missile defence. Indeed, they are the only country in the world with a system in place and operational at this time, and they started major research in space-based weapons defence as well. Pentagon officials have estimated that within a few years the Soviet Union could be able to destroy about one-fifth of incoming American missiles.

Finally, we must bear in mind that SDI, like cruise, presents the Russians with an admirable opportunity of dividing the West; of exploiting differences of opinion between hawks and doves throughout the Western world. This does not mean however that to preserve the unity of NATO the critics should remain silent. When the Prime Minister met President Reagan to discuss this it was announced: The Prime Minister was able to tell the President, as she had earlier made clear to Mr. Gorbachev, that we would not allow others to create divisions between ourselves and the United States on these important questions". I take this to mean that critics will not be inhibited from pressing their strong views on the United States but simply that they would do so in a manner acceptable between allies.

It would have been reassuring at that time if the President had felt able to make a similar statement that he will not allow his strong support for SDI to create divisions between the United States and the other NATO allies. The fact that he did not do so is another unwelcome reminder of the rather one-sided nature of Euro-American relations within NATO.

All the President has committed himself to, of course, is a research programme, admittedly on a vast scale and at vast cost. Nobody can be sure at this stage what is, and what is not, practicable in anti-ballistic missile defence. But we know that the Americans have succeeded in intercepting and destroying a missile on re-entry a hundred miles up at a closing speed of six kilometres a second.

Those who, like I did, attended the recent elaborate presentation of star wars by the High Frontier Organisation in London are probably disposed to believe that by miracles of skill and organisation, and at vast cost, the Americans will equip themselves, or can equip themselves, before the end of the century with a capacity to intercept and destroy a proportion of incoming ballistic missiles. What the project cannot do is to protect the United States population.

Last year the United States Office of Technology assessment declared that the prospect of leak-proof defence is so remote that it should not serve as the basis for public expectation or national policy". We need not doubt the estimate of the Union of Concerned Scientists that penetration by only 5 per cent. of current Soviet warheads would result in 60 million American deaths. These calculations, of course, only refer to ballistic missiles. There is nothing whatever in SDI which obstructs the obliteration of the United States, especially its vulnerable Eastern seaboard, by submarine launched cruise missiles, which the Soviet Union could develop easily and quickly and at a fraction of the cost of the Strategic Defence Initiative.

Therefore, we are not talking about protection of the United States; we are talking about protection of a proportion of American missile sites and other key defence installations. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether building up this capacity is worth it for the United States, Europe, the rest of the world.

The first objective, it seems to me, is that to the extent that this initiative is effective and is not balanced by a similar Soviet project, it is destabilising. By partly protecting American first-strike capability it would give the Americans a nuclear edge over the Russians. In the West, as sensible people, we are quite confident that the Americans would never launch a first strike against the Soviet Union, but the Russians are not so confident. Their first official reaction—though of course it should not be taken wholly at its face value—no doubt reflects a good deal of genuinely held opinion in the Soviet Union. At that time Mr. Andropov stated: The strategic offensive forces of the United States will continue to be developed and upgraded at full tilt and along quite a definite line, namely that of acquiring a first nuclear strike capability. The intention to secure the possibility of destroying, with the help of the ABM defences, the corresponding systems of the other side, that is of rendering it unable to deal a retaliatory strike, is a bid to disarm the Soviet Union in the face of the United States nuclear threat".

No doubt there is a lot of propaganda in that. But for people brought up from their earliest years on the doctrines of Lenin, Marx and Stalin—doctrines that capitalism in its death throes will lash out against the socialist enemy, and other dangerous rubbish of that kind—those fears, though ridiculous to us, can be genuine, and we have to take them into account. At best therefore the star wars concept will increase East-West tension, and at worst it could persuade the Russians to contemplate pre-emptive action of a disastrous kind.

There is a further objection, and it is this. Granted that the initiative could give some protection to some American missile sites, what protection could it give to missile sites such as cruise and Pershing in Western Europe? It appears that last year Mr. Weinberger informed the European Defence Ministers at a meeting of the Nuclear Planning Group that a full-scale American ABM system would partially protect Western Europe, but the primary burden of deploying European terminal defence would have to be borne by the European members of NATO. That is not a very attractive prospect. I hesitate to ask the Minister what provision there is in the British defence budget for anti-ballistic missile expenditure? I think it would be foolish even to ask him. It is not a very kind question.

But the fact is that SDI will not protect much of the United States, but it will protect more of the United States than of Europe. It therefore undermines that concept of equality of risk which lies at the heart of all good alliances and it presents us in a new form with the old and dangerous problem of decoupling.

We can be sure that if the initiative goes ahead the Soviet Union will react in two ways. First, it will modify and increase its offensive nuclear capacity. Secondly, it will redouble its efforts to develop its own ABM capacity. Like the Americans, no doubt, it will be unable to cope with a full-scale nuclear attack. But by the end of the century it seems very likely that it will be able to intercept and destroy a number of incoming missiles. How many it is hard to say; quite possibly, though, as many as could be launched by the British independent nuclear deterrent.

The Secretary of State for Defence was arguing yesterday in the other place that Trident will be deployed before the Soviet Union can make it obsolete, but we would be paying a very large sum for very few years of operational effectiveness. When the Secretary of State went on to talk about the finance of Trident it became clear that, even though Trident might be deployed before being made obsolete, it will be made obsolete long before we have finished paying off the capital cost of the product. It is plainly time that the Government started to respect the opinion of all well-informed people and scrapped the Trident project. This is absolutely clear.

A further serious objection to the initiative is that its development and deployment would breach the 1972 ABM treaty. Mr. Weinberger stated that the Americans are prepared to abrogate or renegotiate the treaty if it were to stand in the way of the initiative. But this treaty is one of the rare successes of multi-lateral arms control negotiations and to destroy it in this way is another important objection to proceeding with the initiative.

Finally, this is only a research project. It does not deal with development, procurement or deployment, but is due to cost 26 billion dollars and is bound to produce a reduction in the United States defence resources committed to NATO; fewer tanks, fewer aircraft and fewer ships in Europe, a lowering of the nuclear threshold and, I suppose, an even greater American deficit on the budget and even higher American interest rates.

To sum up, therefore, on the one hand the aim of destroying incoming ballistic missiles is not ignoble and within strictly limited limits is likely to prove practicable and the initiative has helped to persuade the Soviet Union to resume negotiations. On the other hand, it cannot protect more than a proportion of American missile sites; it cannot protect the American people; it cannot protect either the missile sites or the people of Western Europe. It is politically divisive both between the United States Government and NATO Governments and within NATO countries. It would worsen East-West relations, increasing the Russians' morbid suspicions of American intentions, and would persuade them to develop counter-measures of a substantial scale. The testing and deploying of the missiles would breach the 1972 treaty and, finally, the cost is immense and will weaken NATO and lower the nuclear threshold.

Can proceeding with it be justified on bargaining grounds, a bargaining weapon in arms control negotiations? Since neither the American nor the Russian research project is even remotely verifiable bargaining about research will be extremely difficult. But testing and deployment could be verifiable and here results are possible. The two nations might agree to renounce testing and development of space-based ABMs, and perhaps in exchange the Russians might be willing to offer something more. That would be a worthwhile achievement, but is this the aim of the United States Government? I particularly ask for a reply on that tonight. This is where we need reassurance. Do the United States Government regard the Strategic Defence Initiative as a bargaining weapon or as a moral and strategic imperative?

Last Sunday, the New York Times published a full length feature on the Strategic Defence Initiative written by three distinguished Americans. It took an optimistic, indeed a propagandist, view of the possibilities of strategic defence. It took an entirely defeatist view of the possibilities of reaching agreement on arms control. The authors concluded: We favour energetically pursuing arms control negotiations and seeking to achieve credible deterrence, but these options by themselves are unfortunately not as likely to provide a more secure future as the alternative strategy of mutual security combining defence against missiles with retaliatory offence". In other words, SDI is likely to provide more security than arms control. A disturbing feature of the article is that one of those authors is Mr. Max Kampelman, who has been placed by President Reagan in charge of the arms negotiations. We are driven to the conclusion that the chief American negotiator on strategic defence would prefer those negotiations not to succeed.

However, let us suppose that President Reagan ignores the views of Mr. Kampelman and decides to bargain seriously about SDIs. The question arises: will he be able when the time comes to withstand the immense pressures built up of powerful political, scientific and industrial interests urging him to go ahead with the project? This is where we expect action from Her Majesty's Government and the European governments. The initiative has immense implications for Europe, and European governments must insist that the Americans take these negotiations seriously. They might start by requiring proper machinery for consultation.

Why were the European governments not consulted when this initiative was launched? In what form is the European view of the initiative being formed and expressed at the present time? What assurances have we that the United States Government are genuinely committed to reaching agreement banning the testing and deploying of space-based anti-ballistic missiles? In the months ahead the Government will be increasingly pressed by Parliament and by the public to give clear answers to these questions. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.48 p.m.

Lord Birdwood

My Lords, I shall be exceedingly brief. This is not the time to restate the arguments for and the principles of nuclear deterrence. I note from my records that the last three times I have spoken in this House I have gone through those principles. Even so, I should like to remind your Lordships that these arguments of deterrence are complicated, long, and logical and they work.

The SDI has its place in such arguments and does not introduce new unstable options. We shall certainly be hearing later from far better-informed individuals than I about the technologies, the political tensions or the impact on USA-Europe relations.

As an aside, I should like to comment on the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that the SDI risks a decoupling of USA-Europe relations. It is a word that is going around. He then went on to give objective evidence of the fact that decoupling has taken place in all but name, and I suggest that this process has been going on for at least the last five years. Consultation is fine. I do not think that we have been consulted. I think that there is a hard lobby in America that America should go it alone. I have read numerous articles in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post to this effect and I think that this is getting through. I think that the French have been extremely realistic about decoupling; and that has contributed to the present French nuclear posture. I am particularly looking forward to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who, I hope will be exposing the fraudulent accounting of the groups ranged against the SDI development. I hope that he will also detail the effect that SDI has had on bringing the Russians back to the negotiating tables.

In no way could I suggest that I can put things more logically than the leader writer of the Economist; and I propose to quote briefly from that periodical: It is also necessary to understand"— this was published on December 22nd— the main lever by which Russia might be prised out of its preference for more warheads and unsafer ones. This lever, though the anti-nuclear movement will hate the thought, is Mr. Reagan's plan for an American anti-missile system. The full version of Mr. Reagan's…project—a missile-proof roof over the whole of the United States—may be beyond the capacity even of American technology, and of America's purse. But a more modest version, protecting the American missile silos, is almost certainly workable". Paraphrasing the remainder, the mere possibility that America might create such a system but would abandon or modify it if Russia were more reasonable about warhead numbers is the most powerful card in the West's negotiating hand, because the Russians do not yet have a similar card of their own. I agree with every word of that.

We shall be hearing, certainly from later speakers, that the scheme is money wasted because no system can be truly leak-proof. I suggest that that is irrelevant to going ahead with the scheme itself. We will hear the most plausible arguments against SDI and it needs a conscious effort of will to distance oneself from those. I should like to propose that we would not be debating this at all if we lived in a society whose defence technology was developed in secret, a society which did not have to vote funds; and neither would we be debating it if it had not been announced as a single homogeneous package, if the development had continued in small, even increments spread out over the time-scale, as has been suggested, of five or six years.

This is to some extent a by-product of the freedoms of democracy. Funds do have to be voted, people do have to be persuaded and won over, projects have to be talked through in the blaze of publicity and I propose that this reflects well on us. I am glad that we are able to debate it, but I am also concerned that once again in this House we have heard the reluctance to pressure the tender sensibilities of the Russians, to whom such a debate would be incomprehensible.

I want to make just two points. The technology of SDI, out of all military technologies contemplated in recent times, has the most bearing on peaceful uses. Power storage in space, propulsion systems, communications, systems management—all of these spill over into the next thrust of exploration for mankind itself. This has not escaped the Americans and it is a matter of observable fact that it is a great deal easier to vote to retain funds for defence projects than for non-defence uses. Like it or not, we occupy a technology escalation. We cannot "not invent" the cross-bow. It was inevitable that missiles would become more accurate as the guidance systems improved—and again I have touched on this in the past, pointing out that increased accuracy brings the use of nuclear armaments closer to battle decisions rather than political decisions. It is inherent in technology that if something is conceived somebody will make it reality. There is no way back. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, was gracious enough to concede that this is a 100 per cent. shielding system. Dr. Edward Teller has remarked that we now have swords only. Surely, it is slightly more civilised to suggest that we have swords and shields.

If I had not been already convinced that SDI is not only desirable but inevitable, there was a brief piece in yesterday's newspapers—it was very brief—which would have cemented my belief. The crew of Soyuz, as an experimental manoeuvre, were recently put in charge of a Russian battle group. It is highly logical. Any general's idea of perfection is occupying the high ground. The idea that through lack of will and through timidity in negotiation we should hand over on a plate, as it were, the impregnability of battle command and control to a potential enemy is unthinkable. That little item describing how as an experiment the crew of Soyuz were given a battlegroup to command was reason enough for me to give my personal support to the principle of High Frontier.

5.59 p.m.

Lord Zuckerman

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for having introduced this debate. It is a most important matter, and I am sure that we shall hear about it again—and it may be we shall also hear various views about it. I apologise to your Lordships if, despite my wish to remain to the end the debate, I fail to do so.

Since President Reagan's speech in 1983 this subject has generated an enormous amount of debate and literature. I have followed the arguments very closely. I have a considerable library on the subject, and I must confess to your Lordships that I added to it only last week in a big review in the New York Times Literary Review.

Much of what has been written has been highly critical of the SDI programme, and that has been indicated in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. One needs to ask why this is so. After all, what the President has in mind—and it was a promise to the American people—is the noble aim of providing a defence which would prevent any nuclear missiles ever hitting US territory, with the ultimate aim of making nuclear missiles, as he says, "impotent and obsolete". There is nothing wrong with this aim, and we should all be grateful to our Prime Minister for having been given the assurances which she sought from the President: first, that the United States was not embarking on a fruitless effort to achieve so-called nuclear superiority; secondly, that if it ever came to deployment the United States would negotiate with her allies; thirdly, that nothing would be done to undermine deterrence—a most important point—and, finally, that East-West negotiations should have as their aim the preservation of mutual security at a reduced level of nuclear armaments.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has dealt with some of the political implications of the subject, and I shall not burden your Lordships with the technological arguments. As most know, the idea is that the United States should devise a three-layer defence. In the first, Russian missiles will be attacked as they blast off from the ground by lasers or particle beams from space platforms. In the second, the multiple warheads and the decoys of those missiles which would not be destroyed in the launch phase would be attacked in the course of their ballistic paths outside the atmosphere. Finally, in the third phase, those warheads which managed to penetrate the atmosphere would be dealt with by a terminal defence.

Little of this technology is possible today, and we would be deluding ourselves to suppose that it is. That is why we are dealing essentially with a research and development programme. But the basic argument is whether any part of the system could ever be achieved in a way which makes stategic sense. I have read much and had many discussions with those who are directly concerned with this problem. I believe I must say here that Mr. McGeorge Bundy, Mr. Kennan, Mr. McNamara and Mr. Gerard Smith, who negotiated the SALT I and then, fruitlessly, the SALT II agreements, were justified when they wrote in a recent article that those technical experts on the subject who have neither been silenced (and I quote) nor "muted by co-option" are convinced that there is no possibility that the research programme will prove successful.

The issue, therefore, is not whether the separate components of a possible system can work in isolation. Reference was made to the fact that a single missile was knocked down by an anti-missile. That is not the point. What matters, as was the case in the technical discussions in the 1950s and 1960s about the feasibility of defensive systems against aircraft, is whether the separate components can work when combined into a single system.

A second critical point is whether any part of the system could become effective given that the USSR were to decide, as they almost certainly would—and here I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew—to take precautionary counter-measures. And, indeed, they have already published what they would propose doing.

In addition to Mr. McNamara, who associated himself with Mr. Bundy, Gerard Smith and Kennan, two previous Secretaries of Defense, Mr. James Schlesinger and Dr. Harold Brown, have powerfully attacked the SDI concept as being impossible of achievement. Of all the holders of that distinguished office, it would be fair to say that Harold Brown, with whom I have had close relations for some 25 years, is far and away the most experienced scientifically, technically and managerially. As a young man he ran one of the two big nuclear weapons laboratories. For years he was America's Director of Defense Research and Engineering; then he became Secretary for the Air Force; then he became President of the California Institute of Technology—all this still at a pretty youthful age—and then he served for four years as Secretary of Defense.

In a recent address he acknowledges—and this is important—from his personal dealings with the five Presidents whom he served, how much the fact of American vulnerability has eroded the confidence which its political leaders have in United States nuclear policy, and how it affects (and there I quote). all of our national security policies and limits our military and diplomatic behaviour. But, having analysed the technical issues—and he took his time—he concluded (as also did Mr. Schlesinger in another outspoken address which I had the opportunity to hear in the middle of a meeting opened by General Abrahamson, the director of the programme) by saying that, the combination of limitations—scientific, technological systems engineering, cost, and especially the potential counter-measures, make the prospect of perfect or near-perfect defences negligibly low. Like others, Dr. Brown also draws attention to the fact that, since it was made, the idealistic goal of the President's challenge to make nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete has taken on a new complexion, should the USA deploy, active defences with more limited objectives and capabilities so as to enhance mutual nuclear deterrence, so as to generate uncertainty about retaliation, so as to restrain the arms race.

While not so forthright, Dr. Brown here agrees with the conclusion stated by Schlesinger and by Bundy and his colleagues that this goal is also unattainable. The nuclear arms race will go on if SDI goes on; for no one supposes that the Russians will stand still as the SDI R & D programme gets under way. They are going to devise ways to defeat the defences; they will increase the size and variety of their offensive forces so as to overcome defence systems. And everyone admits, including Mr. Weinberger and General Abrahamson, that some warheads will always get through, and any warhead would cause immeasurable damage. There can be no stragically effective defence of cities.

The one thing which has not changed in the whole of our debate, in the 25 or 30 years in which we have been dealing with nuclear weapons, is the destructive power of a single nuclear weapon. The danger, therefore, is that the SDI R & D programme will lead to counter R & D. That means destabilisation, and that, I understand, is what our Prime Minister was concerned about. That is why I was heartened by her determination to get an assurance from the President that nothing would be done to undermine, as opposed to enhance, deterrence.

Mr. Weinberger has been given the difficult responsibility for the research programme. He, like General Abrahamson, who is in executive charge, now recognises that no anti-ballistic missile umbrella could keep out cruise misiles or aircraft. Not surprisingly, therefore, we have heard in the last few days that he has decided to reinforce what he hopes will emerge from SDI R & D by updating the radar installations and other defensive components of the air defence system which the USA largely abandoned some years ago when it became clear that the main threat was from missiles.

Obviously, research and development is going to go on; and so it should. But as it does, nothing should happen which is in defiance of the 1972 ABM Treaty. This the President has promised; and one must hope that his promise to the American people that they can be defended against nuclear attack will not enhance the unreal fear which so many hold that the Russians would deliberately launch a first strike. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, is correct in believing that the Russian leadership might be mad enough to do such a thing. It knows that from the moment the USSR and the USA developed a triad of nuclear forces the whole concept of a first strike became totally irrational. They know that whoever struck first would be struck in return.

Ever since 1957 we in this country have accepted that there is no defence against nuclear attack, that we are defended by the fear of an adversary that we could retaliate. In the abstract, one might say that part of the price we pay for being defended in a nuclear age is the prospect of annihilation. So be it. One cannot evade the facts of nuclear hardware: they have no political edges.

The stand-off environment of mutual nuclear deterrence is infinitely safer than what would happen if we entrusted our security to an automatically-operating imperfect complex of artificial satellites, lasers and computers, in which there was neither place nor time for the exercise of human judgment.

We must remember that the nuclear arms race is, and always has been, a race in R & D. The technological people who work in weapons laboratories—whether American, Russian or our own—are not going to slow it down. The race can be slowed down and monitored only by political decision. America's allies should use whatever leverage they have, in order to see that the race does not get out of hand. If it does, there will be nothing to hope for.

6.11 p.m.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, who for so long has devoted his scientific and philosophic mind to these problems. It is also rather intimidating. I must also thank the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for initiating this debate. My speech will be rather a pale, thin echo of his speech. Where he is confident, I merely ask questions. I am also looking forward to the speech, which follows mine, of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who I think is less sceptical than most people are about the Strategic Defence Initiative.

This SDI, this ballistic missile defence, poses a series of questions that it is impossible to answer now and may indeed remain unanswerable for the rest of time. The first question, however, is whether R & D is feasible, and the second is: if it is feasible, is it desirable? If it meant the end, or approaching the end, of a nuclear war, it would be most desirable. But nobody imagines that ballistic missile defence could ever be perfect, or indeed could ever be universal.

The current nuclear logic is difficult enough to grasp and is certainly imperfect. It works best at its most simple, at its most crude. It is the view of the man in the street: If they have nuclear bombs and we have nuclear bombs, they will not destroy us, because they know that we could destroy them in return, and we cannot destroy them, because we know that it would mean destroying ourselves. So we get to the paradox which so many find disturbing, that both sides are spending vast fortunes on more and deadlier weapons, whose use would be suicidal for both the aggressor and for the defender.

As Mr. Brzezinski and his colleagues put it in an article in the New York Times which the noble Lord quoted, and which the International Herald Tribune reproduced on Monday—it is available in the Library—the conventional view is that nuclear stability is based on two contradictory pursuits: the acquisition of increasingly efficient nuclear weapons and the negotiations on limits and reductions of such weapons. But the argument that these writers are using is that, as there is a profound unease in the world, that in itself undermines stability and we all see this unease reflected in the strength of the various peace movements which may yet, I fear, undermine the Atlantic Alliance.

Part of the unease is moral; part of it is based, I think, on rational and technical grounds. The problem of arriving at an effectual arms control agreement becomes more difficult as mobile weapons of greater precision and with multiple warheads are developed by both sides. So these distinguished writers quoted in the New York Times believe that we should look beyond deterrence and examine the idea of basing security on the ability to defend, which of course means anti-ballistic missile defence.

But, of course, the concept is still in its infancy. It is still in an early phase of research—not just research, but an early phase of research—and though we are most aware of it in the United States of America, it is also apparently going on in the Soviet Union, if the reports which were given to us a few months ago at the North Atlantic Assembly are correct. We have no idea whether or not the Russians are ahead of the US in their experiments and there is no certain way of finding out. What one fears is the start of a new, expensive and impoverishing arms race with defence as part of the race.

In some ways, the problem is not unlike the one which was posed all those centuries ago when men discovered gunpowder. Was it possible to devise armour that would withstand the new weapons? I think that we have been trying to do so ever since, and we came up with the tank. But the search for anti-tank weapons has been successful and today the tank is probably as vulnerable as the original body armour was against the first bullets. It is one of the arguments of the philosopher-scientist that as fast as ways of destroying nuclear missiles are found, new ways of frustrating the defence will be found. We shall perhaps be starting on another and interminable arms race.

President Reagan, either with considerable political skill or with holy simplicity, or a combination of these things, certainly started something in March 1983 when he called on the scientific community to give him the means of rendering nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete. But we are not only very far from that; it is most doubtful whether it will ever be reached. Even if the theory is successful, as noble Lords have pointed out, the difficulties of proceeding to an operational system will be very great.

It looks, even to many people who want to go ahead with this, as though it will be possible only to protect certain points or even limited areas at the most. But to defend a country! That is a problem of so much wider dimensions that it seems to be absolutely impossible and hopeless to think of that. Counter-measures in the new no-man's land of space would add to the already enormous difficulty of detecting, tracking, finding and intercepting.

The optimists believe that the deployment of BMDs would allow the world to embark on a transition to a new kind of stability, as mutual assured destruction was replaced by mutual assured survival. The optimists, or rather the opponents of BMD, see it as destabilising. Even with a 99 per cent. Effective defence, the super-powers could still inflict terrible damage on one another through the gaps in the defensive screen and by the use of non-ballistic delivery suystems, such as cruise missiles and even bombers. And there will be a temptation in times of crisis to eliminate the BMD defences orbiting in space.

The hypotheses, the questions, that all this arouses, are endless and unanswerable. It looks, however, as if it is impossible for scientific man to be deterred. He will go ahead with research and, as the problems of feasibility are being solved, we must be examining the dangers of deployment.

There is also the delicate question which the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, raised of the effect of BMD on the alliance, which even today is less strong and more disturbed than it should be. If the Soviet Union and the US felt more secure behind BMD, would they exercise less self-restraint? Would it increase the chances of a conventional war in Europe?

I am sorry that my noble friends who speak in this House for CND have not taken part in this debate. It would have been extremely interesting to hear their points of view on these subjects. Perhaps they might have dared even to suggest what somebody has suggested, which I hardly dare to repeat, that perhaps one happy day the Soviet Union and the United States will share one another's secrets of missile defence.

6.20 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, has told us why it probably cannot be done and my noble friend Lord Mayhew has told us why it should not be done even if it could be. I am going to give a few more reasons in support of my noble friend.

We are still talking, and we must never forget it, about the original High Frontier concept, the great balloon in the heavens, which it is hoped in due course will prevent any and every ICBM from hitting the United States or any other country it is destined to protect. We have also to observe that at the same time the United States is going hell-for-leather for anti-cruise missile defence and is greatly upgrading its defence against bombers. The policy from the top is still the maximum one. At the same time we have to notice that the United States is developing no fewer than six new means of offensive strategic delivery of nuclear weapons; MX and Midgetman—both ICBMs; Trident D5, which we know all too well to our cost; and two bombers—the B1 and the so-called "Stealth"; and lastly long-range cruise missiles.

Let us go back now for a moment to President Reagan's original speech of March 1983. He said: I clearly recognise that defensive systems have limitations and raise certain problems and ambiguities. If paired with offensive systems, they can be viewed as fostering an aggressive policy, and no one wants that". These words seem to have been forgotten. They are "paired with" the development of "offensive systems" and they are "viewed" by the Soviet Union "as fostering an aggressive policy". But it seems that some people, including the President himself, still want the full SDI.

Now, of course, the Soviet Union is also developing about six new offensive strategic delivery systems. It is also researching into ABM. Here we have no alternative, boring as it is, but stand back a little and look at the history of the matter over the past few years. In the 1960s, as I reminded the House, I think, the last time we debated it, the Soviet Union thought that the general canopy of ABM would be a good idea to protect its people, and it was talked down out of this high folly by the United States, which pointed out that it might look like a first strike capacity. They then negotiated on the matter and in 1972 they signed—thank God; and it is perhaps the greatest achievement yet of arms control between the super powers—the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the ABM Treaty, which, incidentally, allows research.

In the 1970s, notwithstanding that, the Soviet Union did some interesting research into ABM. They did it hoping to avoid detection, but they did not avoid detection. They were caught out, playing grandmother's footsteps. In 1981 and 1982 the United States began to think what it ought to do about the fact that it had caught the Soviet Union out playing grandmother's footsteps. An American general called Keegan took the lead in urging extreme responses. Throughout those years and until now, the Soviet Union has carried on quite slowly, although now it is seen all the time by the United States, doing what it was doing; the most obvious example being the famous radar array at Krasnoyarsk in Siberia.

Between 1983 and the present day the United States has begun to gallop in research at perhaps the greatest speed and at the most rapid expenditure for any element of the arms race which has yet taken place. It can look only as though it will be ready to develop before that vast research programme is finished. I strongly suspect that there is development in it. There is the ability to procure within that 26 billion dollar, four-year programme. The Soviet Union is already beginning to respond to the American gallop by going into long-range cruise missiles—it has said so in so many words—and other counter-measures, and of course it will in the future, if it has not done so already, be jacking up its expenditure on ABM research and development. When the Soviet Union does this, the United States will no doubt deem it a reason for calling upon the extreme national interest provisions of the ABM Treaty and abrogating it. We shall then be in a full-blown ABM arms race by both sides, at which point, as Lord Zuckerman has eloquently put it, there will be nothing to hope for.

This moment is a snapshot of the arms race taking a violent upward spiral. We should ask this of our American allies: if the Soviet Union acquired a high frontier ABM system first, would the Americans not be alarmed at the first strike capability that that would give them; because an effective High Frontier would enable you to knock out any retaliatory rockets which might come at you, and would thereby give you perfect security for a first strike? Would the United States not be alarmed by the Russians getting there first?

Does the United states plan to get it first? If so, it is up to them to explain why the Soviet Union should not be equally alarmed. The acquisition of this capacity by the two sides will not be simultaneous unless they agree to make it so; but if they can agree that, they can agree to call the whole thing off and save the billions.

I have read that the world is now spending 1 million dollars a minute on arms. Any noble Lord with a calculator in his pocket can work out at 26 billion dollars in four years how much a minute the United States will be spending on this research. It is quite a perceptible portion of that. I come back to the question: can this be all research? Must there not be development tucked away in it in the later phases? What we have to do, and what I hope European statesmen will do, is to help those in the United States Administration who are trying to talk the President down from his High Frontier, which is destabilising, to an increased hard point ballistic missile defence in protection of retaliatory capacity which is, if anything, stabilising. Some of the research needed would be the same as for the great destabilising programme.

The Prime Minister went to Washington recently and came back with her four points. The more I reflect upon these four points, the more I think that they were a remarkable achievement of diplomacy and will have a profoundly beneficial effect in lessening the dangers of the next few years. I commend to noble Lords who may not have seen it an article by John Barry in The Times on 24th January, the third of three pieces, in which he spelled out what is not visible to the layman's eye—namely, the full diplomatic effects, the extremely binding diplomatic effects, of the Prime Minister's four points. We are lucky she got them; and if we want to know how lucky, we should read John Barry's excellent article.

We are told that the Russians are or will be splitting us; that they will be trying to drive a wedge between European and United States NATO. They have not done much about it yet, but maybe they will. Before reacting to that, before making our judgments about that phenomenon, we must see what it is that we think is true. We must ask ourselves, "Is SDI a good idea? Is it a better idea in one form than in the other form? Does it contain dangers? What in our view is the truth of the matter?"

If we find that what we consider to be true is also considered by the Russians to be true, that does not stop it being true. I believe that the alliance will not be split on this matter, any more than it has split during the many difficult moments it has already lived through. All of us are old enough to remember the multilateral force, when the United States was wrong. There was sharp disagreement, but it did not split the alliance. We remember the neutron bomb, when the Soviet Union was wrong. We remember the Soviet SS20 deployment, when the Soviet Union was wrong. We remember the dual track decision of NATO, when the whole alliance was at least half wrong as regards Pershing 2—although it may not have been wrong as regards the cruise missiles. We remember the Soviet walk out from the Geneva negotiations only last year, when the Soviet Union was wrong.

It is with those memories—and sure in the confidence we have that, if those matters did not split the alliance, this will not—that we have to face the SDI, where, if we look at its major version, the United States is unfortunately wrong.

The alliance will not split but it is imperative that we and the other European countries should put our weight behind those of the President's advisers who are trying to talk him down from his high dreams to the relative safety of deterrence conditioned by treaties—namely, SALT I and the ABM treaty, with possibly some increased terminal hardpoint ballistic missile defence, with consequent treaty changes to be agreed in Geneva.

It is not enough for the American Administration and for the friends of High Frontier to tell us that we shall favour it when we fully understand it. We are still awaiting their explanations. They have not come, and it seems to me that they have not come because they are not there. I believe that the European governments and parliaments have understood the arguments which have been forthcoming and have rejected or are rejecting High Frontier—but are accepting those arguments which point solely to hardpoint BMD.

I believe that the alliance will survive this Administration, although I am not sure that the Initiative will do so. After all, it is a vast piece of Keynesian expenditure for the benefit of the arms industry; will Congress approve it?

In conclusion, I should like to quote from a statement by General Abrahamson, who is the commander of the Strategic Defence Initiative programme. He has said that the industrial spin-off possibilities could help the SDI programme to pay for itself. He speaks of, applying production-line techniques to satellite manufacturing, probably driving costs down exponentially; production of multi-purpose satellites, differentiated and customized through use of plug-in modules; long distance, low cost transmission of energy by laser beams; rockets powered by particle beams; space-based solar cell arrays for generating power to remote or under-developed areas; miniature, parallel processing computers; and a low-cost nuclear waste disposal system made possible by ferrying the waste to harmless destruction around the sun". All this, he says, can become practical reality. So too"— he continues— perhaps, can Krafft Ehricke's"— whoever he is— novel concept of subdued terrestrial illumination, including street lighting, through use of bands of space-based mirrors". So we have not only $26,000 million of public expenditure on research, but the United States also wishes to conscript capital investment by private industry in what is probably the first part of the arms race to be overtly privatised.

6.34 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, before I make my brief contribution to this debate, it would be proper to remind your Lordships' House that through my business directorships of a multi-national computer company, a London merchant bank and a business consultancy, I have close associations with defence and aerospace industries in the United States, in Western Europe, and in the United Kingdom. This I know will immediately qualify me in some quarters for the description of merchant of death, but perhaps in compenstion I might claim that it does give me a fairly detailed and up-to-date knowledge of some of the technological developments which are taking place at this moment in areas such as the Strategic Defence Initiative which we are debating this evening.

This is, as the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, has said, not the time—nor have we the time—for detailed technological analysis. I will make just a few general points. First, I will emphasise that we are talking about a research programme only. If we can all bear that in mind then some of the more apocalyptic visions of the results of the Strategic Defence Initiative might be somewhat mitigated.

The research programme does not breach any existing arms control treaty. It is not in breach of the anti-ballistic missile treaty of 1972. It is not in breach of the outer space treaty. And it is not in breach, as some have claimed, of Article 6 of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

If there were to be development as a result of the research, that position would be changed—but we are not talking about development. As noble Lords have already said—and made much of it—the agreement which the Prime Minister secured in her discussions with President Reagan at Camp David included the undertaking that there would be no such development without further consultations with the allies. So my first point is that we are talking specifically about a research programme and that we are not yet contemplating the possibility of development, procurement, or—least of all—deployment. If those moments should come then the debate would be in an entirely different dimension.

I come now to the aspect of the debate which was most eloquently highlighted by my noble friend Lord Zuckerman. I feel somewhat reluctant to take issue with my noble friend because on many issues of this kind we tend to agree. But when he quotes such authorities as McGeorge Bundy and Harold Brown, and other distinguished Americans, as saying that there is no possibility that this system can be successful, then I have to point out that President Reagan assembled 50 distinguished American scientists and put them to work for several months full time simply to decide whether a programme of research offered any possibility of success.

The conclusion of those scientists was that a successful system was possible. They did not say that it was certain to be achieved or even that it was probable; they said that it was possible. I am more inclined to take note of people who say that things are possible than of those who say they are impossible.

For almost as long as technological history relates, people have been saying that this or that is impossible. Television was once thought to be quite out of the question. A distinguished British scientist said once that placing a man on the moon was a ridiculous concept. I am deeply sceptical of people who, in an age of explosive exponential technological development, say that this or that is impossible. However, let us again return to the fact that this is a research programme to find out whether the system is possible or not. It would be foolish at the beginning of such a programme—which is still going to be undertaken, however much we may debate it—to say that the system is impossible, especially when faced with the evidence of 50 distinguished American scientists who say that it is possible.

My next point concerns the frequently rehearsed argument about vast costs. We hear this argument being used continously. I think it perhaps derives from some of the arguments and conclusions put forward by a body called the Union of Concerned Scientists in the United States of America which published a report on the strategic defence initiative and which was conspicuous largely for its extraordinary number of inaccuracies, tendentious statements and false assumptions. If the concerned scientists had been more concerned with the facts they would not, for example, have said that a strategic defence would require thousands of satellites, because it will not. It may require hundreds, but it will not require thousands. They would not have said that you would have to put a 42,000 tonne vehicle into orbit—clearly an attempt to bring the whole concept into ridicule—because you do not need anything of that size to place in orbit even the kind of advanced technological weapons now being discussed.

The fact is that when we talk about a 26 billion dollar research programme that is not an inconsiderable sum of money, but when one considers that over the same period the United States will be spending on its space and military budget alone between 2 trillion and 3 trillion dollars—that is, my Lords, a figure of three with twelve noughts on the end of it—the question of vast cost comes somewhat more into perspective. So far as the Americans are concerned this is an expensive project but one which they believe, if I may use the modern jargon, to be cost effective. Before we start using phrases like "vast cost" we should try to put the whole matter into its proper perspective.

I come now to this argument about the so-called leak-proof defence. It is important to recognise two things about this. First, what we are talking about in strategic defence is not a war-fighting capacity. We are not talking about fighting a nuclear war in which "X" number of missiles will get through. We are talking about a concept of improving deterrence and making it less likely even than it is now that war will ever occur. The way of doing that, according to the concept of strategic defence, is to prevent as great a proportion of attacking missiles as possible from getting through—which must, as everybody says, make practical sense as well as good moral sense—but also to retain a residual retaliatory nuclear capability.

In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said, we are not talking about a totally leak-proof defence, a total protection of the United States against nuclear weapons. Whatever President Reagan may have said in his original speech, or what he may have said since, the scientists of the United States who are working on this project at the moment do not contemplate anything like a leak-proof defence. What they contemplate is a layered defence, in four layers. Perhaps I may put a gloss on the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, and say that they are working on four layers, whereas the noble Lord mentioned three layers. They have divided the mid-course into early mid-course and late mid-course. They contemplate the possibility—the possibility only—that in each of those four phases if one can gain a 50 per cent. interception rate of offensiveness, a simple sum of arithmetic will show that, at the end, one will get 95 per cent. success, give or take a percentage point. If one can do that, surely the deterrent effect of having that must improve the deterrent posture of the United States and the West very considerably.

I come back to the point which I want to make, which seems to have been missed in most of the debate. What we are talking about is not an attempt to disarm the Soviet Union but an attempt to do what we have always tried to do—to deter the Soviet Union from attacking us at all by restricting the number of their options, complicating their calculations, and therefore making it less likely even than it is now that they will resort to military force as an instrument of foreign policy.

We have had, too, a good deal of argument about the Soviet reaction to this. We have heard that it will create a new spiral in the arms race. Yes, my Lords, it might. If the Soviet Union decided that its reaction to this was so to improve its offensive capability that it could saturate this kind of defence, that would indeed be a spiralling of the arms race. I suspect, and I suggest, that it would be an extremely unwise and unproductive option for the Soviet Union to take. What I think the Soviet Union is much more likely to do is to increase its strategic defence initiative. Indeed, your Lordships will recall that President Reagan said—I think somewhat quixotically, but he said it—that if strategic defence research turns out to be successful, he is willing to share it with the Soviet Union. If the Soviet Union goes in for this kind of strategic defence I entirely fail to see why we should be so worried. As the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, said, surely mutually assured survival is preferable to mutually assured destruction, which is the posture we are in at the moment.

There is no doubt that, however much we may debate the rights and wrongs and the possibilities and impossibilities of this initiative, a good deal of future strategic thinking must take place in the context of space. In that respect, I congratulate the Government on the recent announcement that they are to set up a British National Space Centre. In my view that is a long-overdue policy decision. I also congratulate the Government on their activities inside the European Space Agency because I believe that what we should now be doing, inside the alliance, is calming down our rhetoric about arms control, instability, spiralling arms races, and so on, and collaborating with the United States of America in discovering whether or not this research is feasible.

Space is already militarised. Those who say that the Strategic Defence lnitiaitive will militarise space seem to forget that of the 8,000 or so pieces of hardware, pieces of ironmongery, whch have been put into orbit in space since the first one was launched, the vast majority are there for a military purpose. They are reconnaissance satellites, surveillance satellites, navigational satellites, weather satellites, targeting satellites, and as the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, said, more recently there are the satellites used to house, activate and control the command and communications of Soviet land forces. Space is already militarised.

I conclude by saying that these are extremely complicated matters. It is in a way sad that we should commit them to a 2½ hour debate in your Lordships' House. I only say at this stage: let us not prejudge the results of this research. We have had, as I said earlier, too many examples of people saying this or that is impossible. Moreover, let us not be besotted with the idea of arms control as an end in itself. Arms control is only desirable if it increases our security. If it does not do that, it is not desirable. I believe that we should now be organising our minds in the context of this initiative so that we begin to abandon and cast out outmoded habits of thinking and recognise that the inexorable advance of technology is going to revolutionise military strategy in the twenty first century; and we had better be ready for it.

6.50 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, we have acquired, perhaps unintentionally, a new measuring rod for the interest which the public at large is likely to take in our debates. That is provided by whether the cameras are switched on or switched off. This afternoon we have seen them switched on for a debate about drug abuse in this country—a serious problem for government and for society—and switched off for a discussion of events which, on some apocalyptic judgments, might mean the end of humanity as a whole, when even drug abuse would cease to concern us.

I believe that the broadcasting authorities were thoroughly right in their judgment, for this reason. When, earlier this afternoon we were discussing drug abuse and the measures to take against it, we were discussing something which is, at any rate, within the reach of government. By taking measures outlined to us by the Minister, by spending more money as was urged by some other noble Lords, our own Government can at least hope to handle the drugs problem. But when we talk about the Strategic Defence Initiative it is of course true that it affects diplomacy and that we can, to some extent, as allies of the United States, perhaps make some difference as to what they do, but it is not something for which either our Government or this House is or indeed can be responsible.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, when introducing this debate, particularly in view of the divisions that have emerged over the technologies, was probably right to concentrate on the political implications of such research. However, as I often do, I find it somewhat difficult to follow parts of the noble Lord's argument about the Alliance. I think that he cherishes a view which is understandable but Utopian. That is the view that in an alliance, properly conducted, risks must be equal. In my view risks cannot, in the nature of things, often be equal, and in the Atlantic Alliance they are not equal at all.

In order to illustrate my point, let me suppose for a moment that the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, is wrong and that somehow or other, by some breakthrough which cannot at the moment be foreseen or understood, this kind of total defence—which is what the President first talked about—was achieved by the United States (and, if achieved by the United States, clearly also by the Soviet Union). Let us suppose that by a fortunate chance (as they might both see it) they simultaneously arrived at this position of total defence. What would then be the position of the world in the strategic sense? Surely it would be that the preponderance of the Soviet Union in conventional forces and in other forms of warfare, which, at the moment, while threatening, is not a dire threat to our security, would become one. That is because the nuclear weapons of the two sides cancel each other out; we would be left neighbours of a highly-armed Soviet Union, and the United States would be on the other side of the Atlantic.

This is to put it only in its most graphic terms, but it is an inescapable, geographical fact that Europe is the neighbour of the Soviet Union and, except in Alaska, the United States is not. It is also an inescapable fact, as I have ventured to remind your Lordships before, that the interest of the United States in the defence of Europe—in, let us say, keeping Europe out of "Sovietisation", or even "Finlandisation"—is diminishing, and is bound to diminish with the change in the interests of the United States. The Pacific Basin is, more rapidly than one would have thought, replacing the Atlantic Basin as the focus of American attention. In these circumstances, the arguments for treading very carefully to avoid American susceptibilities seem to me arguments for prudence which, on this occasion, have been observed by the speeches of the noble Lords but have, on some such subjects, not been wholly observed in the past.

The question I should like someone to answer is this. As has been said—and I think no one has so far denied it—the Soviet Union clearly has the capacity to embark upon research of this kind, and probably, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennett, says, has made some steps towards anti-ballistic missile defence. Whether or not this amounts to a formal defiance of the treaty is perhaps a matter for argument. In the light of this, what interests me is what the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, perfectly correctly said. That is the fact that we have to admit that the announcement of the Strategic Defence Initiative was an important fact or, perhaps conclusive, in bringing the Russians back to the negotiating table at Geneva. Why are they so worried about this development if they themselves have the capacity to match it?

It can hardly be—and this would be horrific—that they seriously think that this is a prelude to an American first strike, because there is no conceivable reason why any sane person should believe that. Is it because they feel that to embark competitively on the development of systems of this kind would, for economic and financial reasons, cripple them to an extent to which the more expandable economy of the United States would not be crippled? What is the reason? What is the reason why, after having rejected opportunities—after having, indeed, rather put themselves into a corner by saying that they would never discuss arms controls so long as intermediate-range missiles were poised in Western Europe—they have suddenly come round to this?

I think we must keep asking ourselves what is the Soviet position on matters of this kind. I think this raises questions upon which one should like to have a feeling that more information existed. I do not know what is the answer. I find it difficult to work out potential answers, even, other than the economic one which I have mentioned and which I am inclined to dismiss on the ground that the Soviet Union has always given (and, in my view, so long as it continues under its present régime, will always give) priority to political considerations over economic ones.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, this is not to answer the noble Lord's question, but would he bear in mind, when thinking about it, that the announcement from Washington of SDI took place many months before the Soviet Union even left the negotiations, let alone before they came back?

Lord Beloff

My Lords, yes, that is an interesting comment, but it somewhat undermines the position of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, which I was exploring. That is because he said that he thought that this was the effective reason for the Soviets returning to Geneva.

I think it is important, perhaps, to keep in mind both the susceptibility of the Soviet Union to worries about its security—which I am sure are genuine—and also the difficulties which it finds in backing up its willingness to discuss arms control in terms of hardware with any kind of what one might call ideological arms control. We have seen this recently in the divergent preparations being made in Western Europe and the Soviet Union to commemorate the end of the war in Europe. It is rightly urged upon us in this country to choose it as a moment for reconciliation and for remembering the contribution of our allies. It is used in the Soviet Union to deny the importance of the contribution of the Western Allies and to place it in the context of alleged American expansionism.

In the light of this, and in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, said—that, on the whole, history suggests that people will go on probing the balance between offensive and defensive weapons—I think that all I could say in conclusion is, "Let us tread very carefully. Let us discuss this, but let us discuss it quietly and not too often".

7.1 p.m.

Lord Caccia

My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for bringing forward this subject, even if only in a short debate, and particularly for the terms in which he started it. The noble Lord pointed out clearly that there was nothing ignoble in the President's original thought. Indeed, in another part of the speech which he made on 23rd March 1983, the President said: The human spirit must be capable of rising above dealing with other nations and human beings by threatening their existence". I do not think that, on the moral side, we have anything to complain of. I gather that this is also the view of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, of the President thinking in these terms. We then come to the question, "Was this thought likely to be practical?" Here, I think, for the non-scientifically trained, it is perhaps difficult to come to a final conclusion. We have had two slants on this matter from my noble friends sitting on this Bench. They have their counterparts in the United States.

As the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, the President set up a team of 50 distinguished scientists. At the end of their deliberations, the scientific adviser to the President, Dr. George Keyworth, concluded that the system "probably could be done". No sooner had he come to that conclusion, than, on the other side, Dr. Hans Bethe, a distinguished Nobel laureate in physics, said bluntly, "I don't think it can be done". Very soon after this he was backed by a report, to which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has referred, sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and a little later by a report prepared for the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) of the Congress.

I have listened most carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman said. I should, however, be grateful if the Government felt able to comment on this divergence of scientific advice in the suggested development of laser and neutral particle beam technology. It is not only on scientific advice that divergencies have arisen. The financial burdens to achieve the results have been as marked in their differences. For instance, the UCS report sought to show, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, that the number of satellites needed to protect the USA would be "in the thousands". This report, at first, put the precise number at 2,400 satellites which would cost in the trillions of dollars. Per contra, the careful computer studies done at the Livermore Laboratory claimed that 90 satellites would survive or even, in certain circumstances, maybe 45. That would cut the cost from many trillions of dollars to a level that could be met with the amount already earmarked for spending on American strategic forces during the next 10 to 15 years.

In sum, it seems that we are inescapably faced with a debate of what to do in circumstances, totally or quite seriously unclear and about which there can be no immediate finality. If that is anything like the situation we are faced with, I would have agreed entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. Is it not wise to tread a little cautiously before going in and accusing the United States of risking the three Ds for danger—the risk of decoupling, destabilisation and the diversion of resources?

And would it not be more prudent at this stage to rely on the assurances that the Prime Minister has achieved in her latest conversations with the President of the United States? I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, say that he welcomed these assurances. If the state of science and the costs involved are as uncertain as I have sought to show, surely that is all that, at the moment, it is reasonable to expect from the President of the United States.

7.7 p.m.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, as noble Lords may conceivably be aware, I have publicly expressed my dislike of the whole idea of star wars ever since it was first proclaimed by President Reagan in March 1983, so it follows that I agree entirely with the criticisms of the project advanced by several noble Lords, notably my noble friends Lord Mayhew and Lord Kennet, and also Lord Zuckerman, and, perhaps, to a certain extent, too, by the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick. My short contribution to the debate will therefore be chiefly concerned with what I believe to be the ill effects of the apparent abandonment by the United States Administration of the whole concept or philosophy—call it what you will—of what is technically known as mutual assured destruction. For this concept, more popularly referred to as "deterrence" or "the balance of terror"—it all comes to the same thing—is, as I shall hope to show, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, simply not consonant with SDI, as I see it. Therefore, what is it exactly? And why is its maintenance so important?

Well, ever since the Soviet Union achieved in the early 1960s what is known as nuclear equality, there has been, pending general disarmament, a tacit recognition of the fact that since each side already possessed the assured capability of inflicting totally unacceptable damage on the other side, even on a second strike, there should be no attempt by either side, in the first place, to achieve any kind of nuclear superiority—a fact, I think, recognised by the Prime Minister—by building up sufficient nuclear weapons to eliminate all the strategic weapons of the adversary on a first strike, or, in the second place, to construct any overall anti-ballistic missile system capable of destroying all, or most of, such missiles before their target is reached. This understanding, sometimes, as I say, known as the balance of terror, accompanied, and was fundamental to, such notable achievements in arms limitation as the Treaty on Outer Space of 1967, the famous ABM treaty of 1972, SALT I of 1972 and SALT II of 1979. It is quite true that the Russians—possibly through fear of being dominated, though conceivably as the result of a desire to dominate—have been building up, over the years, a nuclear armoury that far surpasses that required for any reasonable nuclear security under the concept of the balance of terror; and that this fact, coupled with a series of disastrous acts and policies about which we all know, eventually resulted, not surprisingly, in the emergence in Washington of a régime resolved to stand up to the Soviet Union in all fields, and notably to embark on a very large rearmament programme, more especially nuclear.

We, the European members of the North Atlantic Alliance, as is known, went along with this tendency by agreeing, in principle, and pending negotiations, to the stationing of nuclear weapons in Europe capable of countering, to some extent, the Soviet SS 20s, which might otherwise, I suppose theoretically, obliterate at least the Federal Republic, without any particular comeback, always supposing of course that the two super powers decided not to indulge in an exchange of strategic nuclear missiles as between themselves.

The trouble has been, I suggest, that while the Russians, for whatever reason, have certainly been endangering the balance of terror, the Americans, by overreacting, have lately been endangering it too. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, dwelt on this to a considerable extent. Still, until March 1983, though endangered, the famous principle of the balance of terror remained very much alive, seeing that both super powers undoubtedly retained the assured ability to destroy each other on a second strike, even if, idiotically enough, each was able, and each is able, so to destroy the other many times over, once presumably being quite enough if the theory of deterrence is to continue to operate.

Here, however, we do come up against the President's celebrated dream, or, as some malign sceptics might possibly say, his brainwave. How intolerable, he seems to have said to himself, for the world's greatest nation to cower permanently under the threat of extermination and to allow its freedom of action to be in any way curtailed by such a threat. Can we not break out of this insane embrace? Why, yes. All we have to do is to get our scientists to think up a system which will protect us—and our allies, too, if possible—from any nuclear assault of any kind. Since American resources are practically unlimited, this can no doubt be achieved, in time. And, after all, it will in no way be a case of warlike preparations. Oh, no. If no missiles can threaten America, and since America, being pacific, will never threaten anybody, then we shall all be at peace and humanity will be saved from the present threat of extinction. Surely, therefore, all right-thinking people must welcome such a great idea as this.

Given a prospect, for many years ahead, of work on world peace and not on war, it is not very surprising that at least some qualified scientists assured the President that, contrary to the views of others, there was at least some likelihood, by the end of the century, of placing great platforms in space from which Soviet missiles could be shot down by laser beams shortly after leaving the ground. Needless to say, the project, or at least the devotion of 26 billion dollars to research, was also welcomed by the universities, the research centres and the business interests involved. But what real validity is there in the claim that SDI is the key, or a key, to world peace? Alas, very little, for the following reasons.

Supposing—first assumption—that, with their far greater resources, the Americans do achieve complete, or almost complete, nuclear immunity by the end of the century and the Russians do not. Is it not obvious that in the event of war, or the threat of war, the Americans, if they so desired, would have the capacity to inflict unacceptable damage on their great adversary without fearing any substantial retaliation? Would they not, in other words, have the Russians at their mercy? We might ourselves be quite happy with such a development, but is it not obvious that the Russians will do everything possible to prevent what from their point of view would be a calamity? And it is also pretty obvious what they might do if they really felt that they were going to be cornered.

Supposing, however—second assumption—that the Russians, as the result of inconceivable and no doubt crippling effort, were more or less simultaneously to achieve nuclear immunity. What then? Would peace break out? Hardly, for, apart from the whole problem of proliferation, it is really impossible to imagine that SDI would be able to cope with short-range cruise and very low trajectory weapons or shells, nuclear shells. Thus, Western Europe would still be devastated by the Soviet Union when the Soviet Union itself would be immune from nuclear attack. However—and this is a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff—even assuming that Western Europe could be adequately protected against any nuclear assault, what is to prevent its being at the mercy of some great Soviet superiority in conventional weapons? We might all, under this hypothesis, therefore, be involved perforce in conventional hostilities, with the Soviet Union in a strong position to win.

In spite of poor prospects of success, would the Russians then still feel obliged to catch up with the Americans on ABM? If they did, the effect on their already ailing economy would be pretty devastating, I should have thought, and that is, I am afraid, what at least some of the advocates of SDI, more particularly perhaps in America, have in mind. Might not the Soviet Union, in effect, disintegrate under the strain, leaving the West, and notably the Americans, as the equivalent of victors in a third world war?

This would surely be a most dangerous assumption on which to base Western policy. Nor would it be compatible with any serious effort to arrive at arms limitation, always supposing that that is desirable. We have every reason to dislike and distrust the Soviet régime, but it is there and it is quite unlikely to go away. We should therefore at least try to imagine how the Politburo would react in any given circumstances and not despair of eventually arriving at some acceptable form of co-existence; that is, if it is indeed our intention to avoid and not, perhaps unconsciously, to promote some ultimate recourse to force, which, in a nuclear age, can no longer be held by any sane man to be, as the Romans said, the ultima ratio regum, or the final choice of princes.

I do not know whether, in a necessarily very compressed statement of a case, I have carried any conviction with your Lordships. So I would end by saying only that if Her Majesty's Government are by any chance persuaded that SDI, even in its early research phase, is a dangerous project, more especially because of the accompanying demise of deterrence as the guiding principle in East-West relations—a point which was so successfully brought out by the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman—they would surely be well advised to rally their European partners in friendly opposition to it and then to explain to the Americans what exactly our common apprehensions are and how desirable it would be to bargain star wars against some real concessions in arms negotiations by the Soviet Union, which I think would be quite possible, given that the Soviet Union has obviously come back to the negotiating table because of fear of star wars going ahead.

I suggested in my own last speech on this subject, on 16th January, that if we were able to combine our remonstrances with some offer to increase and strengthen our own conventional defences, notably, as I should think, and as my noble friend Lord Mayhew would doubtless think also, by abandoning Trident, that would no doubt add very greatly to the persuasiveness of our arguments.

In conclusion, I would add only that I should not of course expect the Government to reveal the cards which they will no doubt soon have to play in a difficult and perhaps even a dangerous game. I would only ask them not to dissent publicly from the belief that the principle of mutual assured destruction—the balance of terror—though naturally not ideal, is still something that, pending general disarmament, cannot safely be abandoned, least of all by the Western Europeans, who might well be the first, and possibly the only, victims if it were abandoned.

7.21 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmondon

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and his party have rendered a service to the House and I believe also to the Government in using some of their precious time—and party time is very precious in the House—to expose some of the questions which arise from this latest phenomenon as regards defence and security. Many who are taking part in this debate also took part in the debate on 16th January. Therefore, many of the matters raised on that occasion must still be fresh in our minds. I am sure that we can all recall the previous debate which took place within a week of the conclusion of the Geneva talks. There was an air of optimism. Some might have been sceptical, but there was an air of optimism among those who took part in the debate and I certainly played my part in injecting some optimism into the matter at that time.

We need to ask the following question. Is it only three weeks since the Geneva talks? I recall the powerful and thoughtful speech in the debate on 16th January by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, to whom I always listen with respect, and indeed to whom I listened with respect again tonight. Early in his speech, at column 983, he confessed that we did not know enough about the Strategic Defence Initiative to condemn it. I suggest that nor did we know enough about it then to endorse it. However, the noble Lord did so tonight. So he has used the last three weeks very fruitfully indeed.

I trust that we can acknowledge that the SDI has at least the merit of refocusing our attention on what the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, underlines—namely, global stability and peace. When we discussed a defence matter in the House the other day the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, used the expression, "a jaundiced view". He said that he took a more jaundiced view that I did. Jaundice is contagious. I must tell the noble Lord that his strain of jaundice has spread horizontally to the Labour Front Bench as regards this particular issue tonight.

I take the view that the SDI has already served a major purpose in helping to create the climate which led to the Geneva talks. That strong possibility was referred to not only by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, but by others in the debate. The potential, the value or the importance of those talks was such that the Russians felt compelled to begin the dialogue once more across a wide range of defence and security matters, after breaking it off when the West proceeded to place its cruise missiles in situ earlier.

Bluntly, I shall need a great deal of convincing that in time the SDI will be seen as other than the latest initiative to be probed, got round, improved or broken in the same way as other initiatives over these past 40 years have inexorably led to the circumvention of the latest wonder ingredient in the search for parity, balance or domination. The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, made the same point, and he made it most effectively.

The Motion before us calls attention to the political and economic implications of SDI. These are important and worthy of the time of the House. The extent to which the SDI can sow dissension—and this was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew—is well illustrated by John Barry's articles in The Times that were quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I have with me the article that appeared on 24th January. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and all others interested, will know that he was talking then about the Camp David talks and their aftermath. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, highly praised the shrewdness and perception of this series of articles and I would certainly agree with him. However, in my view we ought to examine a little more closely what John Barry said in his article. He said: The agreed statement made after their meeting was a masterpiece of ambiguity. In return for very partial blessing of Reagan's present plans. Mrs. Thatcher was able to announce agreement on four policy guidelines which mean as much or as little as either side wants". Earlier in the same article he was very perceptive in posing one of the problems that was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, about sowing dissension in the West. John Barry wrote: Ronald Reagan's power as a political leader is his ability to persuade the American people to share his dreams. Right now, as his inaugural speech once again showed, he is in thrall to his vision of a world made safe by anti-missile defences. And he presides over an economy rich enough to pursue it. Margaret Thatcher, by contrast, leads a country inclined by nature and history to manage the status quo rather than seek some dramatic new order, and her frugal soul is appalled by the mountain of money the Americans propose to gamble in search of one". He goes on: President Reagan was genuinely saddened to learn of her doubts at Camp David". As regards Mrs. Thatcher, John Barry said: She talked and talked, lectured him about her worries. And he realised she was just a European like all the others". So we can see the opportunity for mischief between the alliance. I use that as one of the threads of the political implications of the SDI talks that have been referred to in this debate.

I am conscious of the fact that we are long on questions and short on answers. I make no complaint, no strong, positive assertion; but again I find that the SDI gives us cause for reflection and re-examination. The fact is that both sides need to spend less money on defence, but Russia needs to do so even more than America does. It is a certainty that Mr. Chernenko's problem is that, with an economy half the size of America's, he has to spend twice as much per Russian on defence just to keep even. The squeeze on the Russians' hopes for a better standard of life will become worse when their generals demand for the Soviet Army the new precision weapons that America has already developed.

The depressing economic consequence of the SDI is that every dollar, every pound, every rouble that is spent even on research is a dollar, a pound or a rouble less to spend on hospitals, homes and factories. We know that Geneva came forth with a package of initiatives, but in the meantime, until we reach that happy state when there is universal agreement to reduce and eliminate arms of all kind, current programmes are scheduled to proceed without let or hindrance.

Yesterday in the Commons the Secretary of State for Defence told us that the cost of Trident has now reached £9.285 billion. That was calculated on the basis that the pound was worth 1.38 dollars. We all know that that calculation is a patent nonsense—the rate is now 1.12 dollars. I can share the optimism that the pound will rise. But my honourable friend Mr. Denzil Davies was spot on when he recalculated the Secretary of State's figures to show that the sum is now in excess of £10 billion and rising. What an economic body blow that programme is? For all the many reasons that were outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, I certainly share the noble Lord's view on the future of Trident—which is that it ought to have no future at all.

In this debate we are trying to examine consequences—political and economic—which are largely guesswork and based on a premise: the Strategic Defence Initiative, which has yet to be researched. We have to hang on to the fact that we are talking about a research programme, a point so effectively made by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont.

We are in the earliest days after Geneva. Both Russia and America have acted with commendable speed. Teams of negotiators to take the next steps forward have already been announced and a date to begin negotiations has been set. I remind your Lordships that the aims for those talks have much to commend them. They are to work out effective agreements aimed at preventing an arms race in space; to work out effective agreements to terminate the arms race on earth; and to reach an effective agreement designed to achieve the complete elimination of nuclear arms everywhere.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has taken his own initiative in so ably leading us in this debate tonight. It has served a good purpose and we are all the better informed for it. The noble Lord deserves our thanks and I give them to him without reserve.

7.31 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, I add my words to those of other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, not only for giving your Lordships the chance to discuss this matter, but for giving me the opportunity to explain the Government's policy towards the United States Strategic Defence Initiative, a subject of such obvious importance that I hope your Lordships will allow me to return to some of the points which my noble friend Lady Young addressed on 16th January in response to the noble Lord, Lord Molloy's Motion on disarmament. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, also referred to some of those points.

On that occasion my noble friend mentioned the very thorough and extensive discussion of the prospects for arms control which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister had with President Reagan last month at Camp David. During the course of that discussion they naturally touched on the subject of this debate, the Strategic Defence Initiative.

It is not surprising that a large measure of agreement emerged from that meeting, and my right honourable friend was able to tell President Reagan, as she had earlier made plain to Mr. Gorbachev, that there is no question of allowing wedges to be driven between the United Kindom and the United States on this subject. She also made clear that the research into defences against ballistic missiles being conducted under the SDI programme is of course permitted under existing treaties between the United States and the Soviet Union; and, as your Lordships are aware, the Soviet Union already has extensive and long-established programmes of its own in this field. Indeed, it should be remembered that the Soviet Union already has in service the only operational ABM system anywhere in the world.

Four specific points of agreement emerged from the Camp David meeting: first, that the aim of the United States and the West was not to achieve superiority, but only to maintain balance, bearing in mind developments in the Soviet Union; secondly, that in view of treaty obligations, any SDI-related deployment would have to be a matter for negotiations; thirdly, that the overall aim behind the SDI was to enhance deterrence and not to undermine it; and, fourthly, that the aim of East-West negotiation, including the forthcoming arms control talks between the United States and the Soviet Union, should be to achieve security with reduced levels of offensive forces on both sides. These four points are the basis of Her Majesty's Government's approach to the question of the SDI. They speak for themselves and I shall not seek to elaborate on them.

I should however reiterate the welcome we have given to the negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union, which are due to begin on 12th March in Geneva and which will address the whole range of nuclear and space arms. Her Majesty's Government fully share the objective agreed by Mr. Shultz and Mr. Gromyko on 8th January: To work out effective agreements aimed at preventing an arms race in space and terminating it on earth". The prospect of serious negotiations, coming after so long an interval in which the Russians simply refused to talk, is a clear vindication of the steadfastness with which the alliance has sought a resumption of the East-West arms control dialogue. There are certainly grounds for satisfaction but not euphoria. As President Reagan has said, the need for patience and perseverence will be as great as ever if this fresh opportunity for arms control is also to prove a positive turning-point in arms control history.

Yet listening to some of the criticisms levelled by several noble Lords this evening, I feel bound to rebut the charge, apparently laid at the Government's door, of complacency in the face of this historic challenge. I can assure those of your Lordships who fear the development of an arms race in space, that the Government's concern on this score is by no means new. Our view has often been made clear that such unrestrained competition, taking the arms race quite literally into a new and infinite dimension, would benefit no one. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister herself stressed the need for negotiation and mutual restraint if the urgent challenge posed by costly new space technologies is to be met.

Lest any of your Lordships should think that this is little but a belated recognition of developments that have only in recent months begun to attract extensive public and parliamentary interest, I would recall the speech made by my honourable friend, the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Arrairs, Mr. Luce, to the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, as long ago as October 1983, in which he amply brought out the complexities involved in arms control in space. He said: Much attention has rightly been paid to the problem of arms control agreements in space. The argument that progress in arms control is easier to achieve when the weapons concerned have not yet been fully developed, let alone deployed, is a good one, which the history of disarmament to some degree endorses. But we must not forget that in outer space some military developments can have a positive effect on international security. The use of satellites to monitor arms control agreements is an obvious case in point; and there are others. We should therefore beware of the quick fix, the easy option which could complicate rather than resolve the issue. That however is no excuse for ignoring obvious opportunities for agreement which would truly enhance security". In parenthesis, I should add that much confusion in the debate about arms control in space is caused by those who call glibly for the total "demilitarisation" of space or blanket bans or moratoria on "space weapons". A more rigorous approach that acknowledges the beneficial nature of some military uses of space would save us from some of the intellectual blind alleys with which discussion of this subject is afflicted; it would permit a better appreciation of what arms control measures might truly benefit international peace and stability. In the propaganda campaign that will no doubt accompany the Soviet return to the negotiating table clear-sightedness will be essential.

Nothing could be clearer, despite Soviet propaganda, than that the Strategic Defence Initiative will be on the table in the negotiations along with everthing else. President Reagan said so in those very words on 9th January. Britain has welcomed on numerous occasions United States readiness to discuss with the Russians research programmes on strategic defence. To catalogue those occasions, when the American offer appeared to be falling on wilfully deaf Soviet ears, would be tedious.

But as I have pointed out, United States undertakings are not limited to current SDI research: at Camp David, President Reagan and the Prime Minister were in full agreement that, in the hypothetical future event of any SDI-related deployment, in view of treaty obligations this would have to be a matter for negotiations. Anyone who is inclined to confuse the SDI research programme with the script of "Star Wars" should reflect on the following extract from a statement issued by the White House on 3rd January this year: Developments of defensive systems would most usefully be done in the context of a co-operative, equitable and verifiable arms control environment that regulates the offensive and defensive development of the US and the Soviet Union.". Those are not the words of an administration hell-bent on taking war into space. As for the present situation, I am sure your Lordships will recognise that a measure of Western research into defences against ballistic missiles is prudent insurance against the possibility of a unilateral Soviet breakthrough in this field. To ban or constrain laboratory research through international arms control agreement would clearly not be an easy matter. Nor is it certain that such an intrusive approach would be welcome to the Soviet Union, given its activities in this sphere and its past attitude to verification.

The question of "linkage"—between ballistic missile defence and offensive nuclear arms—is a complex one and fundamental to the forthcoming negotiations, which will address both areas. There is a clear and logical connection between the two, which last year the Russians sought strenuously to deny but which they now openly acknowledge. Sufficient unto the day, perhaps, is the propaganda thereto. Undoubtedly the SDI has been a factor in persuading the Russians back to the negotiating table. The Americans have made clear that the SDI is intended to complement efforts to reduce nuclear arms. But we must not be misled into seeing it simply as a crude negotiating level or bargaining chip. A creative and imaginative approach by both negotiating partners to the interconnected problems of nuclear and space arms ought, we believe, to lead to progress in both areas, and would help achieve what both we and the Americans have long been pressing for—enhanced security with greatly reduced levels of forces on both sides.

The maintenance and enhancement of deterrence, prudent research into ballistic missile defence, balanced and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons—these are surely uncontentious aims. Naturally we are determined to preserve the greatest possible cohesion of the Western Alliance in support of these objectives. We shall do everything necessary to achieve this. Divisions between us on these important issues would serve the interests of no-one but our adversaries. The United States continues to consult its allies about SDI developments. Critics of the alliance would do well to heed the Prime Minister's warning against attempts at wedge-driving, which cannot succeed in the face of effective consultations among free allies.

Some of your Lordships have rightly drawn attention to inherent features of the SDI programme that have been the subject of hot debate on both sides of the Atlantic. One such feature is the technical feasibility of the basic aim under investigation—in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, and others this evening—to defend against ballistic missiles. On this, I would only say that President Reagan himself acknowledged in his original SDI speech of March 1983 that the technical task was indeed formidable and would take decades of effort to accomplish. The technical problems involved, which include that of likely countermeasures, are obvious, and present research is designed to do no more than to establish what may be possible and desirable. It will be several years before decisions are taken on whether or not to proceed from there.

The same applies to the question of cost, to which the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has referred. At present all that can be said is that the United States Administration is engaged in requesting Congressional approval for research funds of 26 billion dollars over a five-year period, of which very little has yet been approved and allocated. As the SDI proceeds, cost factors will need to be carefully weighed. Were an extensive system of anti-missile defences, if feasible, ever to be deployed, it would undoubtedly be very expensive.

May I turn now to one or two of the points which have been raised during the course of this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, asked particularly about the effects upon the United Kingdom nuclear deterrent. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence pointed out in another place as recently as yesterday, Trident will be in service long before any deployment of comprehensive ballistic missile defences, assuming of course that such defences prove feasible. In short, Trident will provide the best possible means of ensuring the continued effectiveness of our national nuclear deterrent well into the future, regardless of Soviet ABM programmes. No comparable expenditure on so-called conventional weapons could possibly prove of the same deterrent value.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, referred to the cost of Trident 2 following the announcement of my right honourable friend yesterday. I would remind him that the great bulk of Trident expenditure will fall several years from now, and I am simply not in a position to anticipate what the dollar exchange rate might be, for example, at that time. Therefore, any calculations which may be made on today's rates, or rates which existed recently, are not likely to have much relevance when the time comes.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, if it is not possible to calculate the future dollar/pound ratio, what was the basis on which the 1.38 dollars figure was arrived at in order to make the present calculation?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think that was the rate applying at the end of June last year. It has been the historical fact that we have always published the revised costings based on the rate at the end of June of the previous year. There was nothing unusual about that.

I was pleased that several noble Lords drew attention to the continued need for nuclear deterrence whether or not we acquire a ballistic missile defence. The United States leaders have explicitly recognised this. As the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, pointed out, President Reagan reaffirmed it at Camp David.

With respect to the noble Lords, Lord Mayhew and Lord Kennet, the SDI should not be confused with High Frontier ambitions of replacing deterrence with defence, leak-proof or otherwise. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked me, too, about the timescale of SDI. I think the noble Lord had it in mind that the SDI programme would move into the hardware procurement stage within the next four years. I think that that is extremely unlikely. The programme is, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, rightly pointed out, a research programme only at this stage. Development, let alone production, could not begin, on the most optimistic assessment, for very many years yet.

Finally, I must address perhaps the most serious aspect of the SDI—its implications, in the words of the Motion, for "global stability and peace". In this context, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, signed in 1972 by the United States and the Soviet Union, is of clear relevance. The Government have repeatedly said that we regard the treaty as an important element in preserving international peace and security, and as a fundamental part of the current strategic situation. It is therefore important to note that neither side has signalled any intention of breaking the treaty. It should also be clear that the treaty permits research into defences against ballistic missiles, and, therefore, that United States research, as President Reagan confirmed on 9th January, is consistent with existing obligations.

But stability goes beyond the question of treaty compliance. To those who argue exaggeratedly that SDI research implies the overthrow of current strategic doctrine, I would reply that the Americans, including President Reagan, have repeatedly stressed that their aim is not to undermine or erode deterrence but to enhance and strengthen it. This was explicitly reaffirmed at Camp David and is a point of paramount importance. I know that some of your Lordships remain unconvinced by the evidence of their own experience of a generation of stability, but the fact remains that deterrence has helped keep the peace for forty years. Whatever prospects—good or bad—that may exist for expanded defences against ballistic missiles, and however fruitful or otherwise SDI research proves to be, there is no doubt that we shall need to sustain and strengthen deterrence into the foreseeable future. That, my Lords, is fundamental to the strategic stability on which both East and West depend.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this interesting debate. I thank the Minister for setting out the position of the Government in his usual careful and accurate manner, treading his usual narrow path between the platitude on the one hand and the indiscretion on the other.

I cannot resume my seat without one further brief comment. I thought until this evening, after more than 30 years of experience in Parliament, that I had suffered every humiliation to which a parliamentary speaker can be exposed. This evening, however, in the middle of my speech, the television lights went out. I attributed this to a technical fault or possibly union restrictive practice. I can think of no other credible explanation! I am most grateful to the broadcasting authorities for broadcasting the first half of my speech, However, I would offer them one word of advice. They do not have to televise the speeches in extenso of noble Lords, but if the television lights are on when a noble Lord begins speaking they should still be on when he resumes his seat.

My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.