HL Deb 27 March 1985 vol 461 cc1115-38

8.52 p.m.

Lord Gladwyn rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they agree with President Reagan that the principle of "Mutual Assured Destruction" (MAD), hitherto tacitly accepted by both sides as a background to all nuclear arms limitiation talks, no longer holds good, having been replaced by "Mutual Assured Security" (MAS): that is the gradual construction, by both sides, of leak-proof and space-based systems of anti-ballistic missile defence.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in this country we do not normally pay much attention to theory when it comes to the discussion of foreign affairs and defence. We often, and quite successfully, tend to muddle through. But at certain moments we really should pay attention to theory; and with your Lordships' permission, that is what I propose to do tonight.

The nuclear bomb was first used in war some 40 years ago and has not been so used since. Both the super-powers, more especially the Soviet Union, have piled up enormous stocks of nuclear weapons of all sorts and descriptions, ranging from those of a fraction of a kiloton to many megatons; that is to say, bombs which are 2,000 to 3,000 times as powerful as the original bomb which blotted out Hiroshima. It is likely that the use of such weapons may have at least been contemplated by the super-powers in the past: for instance, in 1950 against China by the United States; in 1962 as between themselves over the crisis in Cuba; in the 1960s by the Soviet Union against China, when China established her own nuclear weapons centre at Lob Nor; and in 1969 by the United States against Northern Vietnam.

But, in fact, they never have been used. Why is that, my Lords? Presumably, it is because their use by one side or the other would have resulted, in one way or another, in inflicting as much damage on itself or on its interests as on its adversary. Even when America had a monopoly of the bomb after 1945, she never used it. And when, round about 1960, the Russians acquired the unquestioned ability to destroy United States cities, it was evident that America could not, in practice, employ it against the Soviet Union even if she would. The so-called balance of terror, or deterrence, had arrived and Mutual Assured Destruction, which is commonly known as MAD—that is to say, the assured ability to inflict unacceptable damage on the adversary by a second strike—necessarily became the order of the day.

Within this tacit arrangement, reasonably successful agreements were then negotiated, limiting the number of weapons which each side might possess—the principle of equal security and parity applying so far as reductions went—the chief being SALT I of 1972, in which year was also concluded that one great triumph occurring under the conception of MAD; namely, the anti-ballistic missile treaty precluding the use of nuclear weapons in space, and indeed the construction of any overall ABM system other than a "single point" deployment, the Russians making use of this to cover Moscow—though how far this would protect Moscow against a determined nuclear assault is debatable—and the Americans not making use of it at all, though if they wanted to they still could make use of it. Everything seemed to be propitious for a second SALT agreement and this was, in fact, signed in 1979 but never ratified by the United States, chiefly, as we all know, because of events in Poland and the inexcusable invasion of Afghanistan.

A new administration took over in Washington in 1980. It was of a very different complexion, determined to reverse many, if not all, of the policies of the preceding Carter regime, associated, rightly or wrongly, with failure in matters relating to foreign affairs and defence. It immediately embarked on a very large increase in military expenditure, predominantly nuclear, with the general object of seeing to it that no theoretical advantage should be permitted to exist on the other side. The Russians, it was thought—indeed with considerable justification—had been endeavouring to build up some kind of predominance, at least in Europe where it had already been agreed that measures should be taken to counter the effect of the increasing number of Soviet IRBMs trained on European cities. Generally speaking, before anyone knew of negotiations on arms limitation, it was thought, I think, that the Russians would be confronted by a countervailing display of force.

Reluctantly, the actual deployment of cruise missiles and Pershing Its was, owing as we know to the intervention of the European allies, made in some way dependent on negotiations. But in Washington there was little expectation that they would succeed. American confidence that new negotiations on strategic nuclear weaponry, known as START, would succeed was likewise conditional on a major strengthening of the United States position. The Russians would surely only see reason, so the theory ran, when the vast new nuclear array had come into being—a whole new Trident fleet of nuclear submarines, the deployment of large numbers of new super-bombers with the Stealth technology designed to circumvent the Soviet radar, many of the new and immensely powerful and accurate MX and strategic missiles, thousands of cruise missiles for use on various platforms, some hundreds of Pershing IIs, and on top of all this as it eventually emerged, a fairly advanced project more promising than its Soviet equivalent for shooting down Soviet space satellites on which the whole Soviet system of command in war would necessarily depend.

Yet all this accumulation of strength, which as I have already said was to some extent, given Soviet actions and continued piling up of weapons, a comprehensible, even if perhaps a rather exaggerated, reaction, was still represented as something consonant with a serious attempt to reach agreement with the Russians on arms limitation generally, it being understood, and indeed explicitly said, that the object was not to establish any kind of superiority, still less a first-strike potentiality, but simply a position in which both sides could more easily achieve deep cuts in their nuclear panoply, while retaining sufficient nuclear strength to deter the other side from ever first using or even threatening the use of nuclear weapons. So far what I have said is I think non-controversial; but as I shall now seek to explain Star Wars has changed that entire conception.

In an interview on 20th December last Mr. Weinberger, who in the opinion of some had already repudiated Mrs. Thatcher's agreement with President Reagan that deployment of the SDI—if it ever came to that—would never be carried out except after negotiation, that is to say, presumably in agreement with the Russians, stated categorically that the whole original conception of Mutually Assured Destruction was "flawed".

He went on to maintain, on a barely credible assumption, that the Soviet Union, despite the appalling damage which it would presumably suffer on a second strike—even after the very doubtful elimination of all United States silo-based missiles—might well still indulge in a "first strike" against the United States, and that therefore there was in effect only one course open to his country. That was to build up not a perfectly good second strike capacity but a comprehensive and overwhelming system of strategic nuclear defences, though how this could be distinguished in practice from a "first strike" capacity—at least by the Russians—is the reverse of clear.

With even greater authority, the President himself some two months later—I think it was 12th February—expatiated on this, after all, fundamental point as follows: Even if an agreement were reached to eliminate nuclear weapon s"— he said, according to the New York Timesthe United States will want to develop a space-launched defence system against offensive weapons. Research (on "Star Wars") would consequently proceed, independent of whatever agreement might be reached with the Soviet Union on reducing offensive nuclear weapons". Any prospect of in some way bargaining "Star Wars" away against concessions by the Russians, however considerable, and however far reaching, during the coming negotiations was therefore, on the face of it, out. Indeed, it would seem that Mr. Reagan was himself opposed to anything beyond a purely academic discussion of such matters during the forthcoming negotiations on arms limitation at Geneva. What, indeed, would be the point of such discussions if the Americans were in any case going to proceed with the devotion of nothing less than 26 billion dollars to "research"? The only qualification which he thereafter made was that, before deploying"— the new system— he would be willing to negotiate with the Russians on whether it would be possible to 'internationalise' such defence systems". In short, said the President, begging the whole question as I think, the only weapon we have is MAD; why do we not have MAS (mutual assured security) instead?

But what on earth is actually meant by this magic formula? Having reached a point, apparently, when the proposed great platforms can actually be tested in space, would some future American president really say to the Politburo: "My friends, we don't want to steal a march on you. Before definitely installing our new system in space we are quite willing to assist you—always supposing you have not installed a similar one of your own by that time—in your efforts to get level with ourselves. Let us, therefore, in effect, jointly repudiate the ABM treaty of 1972 and each enjoy complete immunity from bombardment from the other. If you are thus, with our help, fully protected from bombardment by us we can, if necessary, settle our differences, if any, in the Middle East or elsewhere by having resort to non-nuclear weapons only. And, incidentally, we are prepared to extend similar facilities to the Chinese".

My Lords, you have only to consider such an "internationalisation" of the SDI for a moment to see how nonsensical it is. Does anybody really think that, having arrived at a point at which the United States might be immune from nuclear attack, the Pentagon, or Congress, would agree to hand over this vital secret to the great adversary—the "evil empire" of Mr. Reagan's imagination? Of course not. And would the Russians ever believe that they had been given the full secret anyhow? No. Once in a position to set the thing up in space, the Americans would set it up, negotiations or no negotiations, ABM Treaty or no ABM Treaty, and thereby achieve that what you might call the American subconsciousness is no doubt secretly longing for, namely, a return, with no danger to the United States, to 1945, the United States again becoming the top dog and the Russians nowhere, possibly having broken their economy in a futile attempt to keep up. It is to this basic emotion that the great populist so splendidly reacts.

Of course, the Americans, however improbably, could here and now give the Russians a solemn pledge that the new system would never be "deployed" without Soviet consent. But what would such a pledge be worth towards the end of the century, and how could it commit any subsequent Administration?

Would SDI, however, ever work? Teller, the great ex-Hungrian physicist, and so-called father of the hydrogen bomb, beavering away in his Californian laboratory with his devoted assistants, may believe that it will, and naturally the thousands of scientists who will profit enormously from the "research" together with the firms employing them, or firms connected with them, must believe it will, too. But a large number of highly qualified and non-committed American professors believe, and have published detailed studies showing, that it could not possibly work even after the expenditure on it of anything up to 1,000 billion dollars.

And if that is a considered estimate of the unlikelihood of the Americans, with a vast scientific potential at their disposal, ever achieving SDI, how much less likely is it that the Russians will ever be able to achieve a similar objective? Why, therefore, the assumption—always made by Mr. Richard Perle— that the Americans must proceed with SDI because otherwise the Soviets will get there first?

No matter, seem to say Mr. Weinberger and Mr. Perle. That is hardly the point. The great thing is to get public opinion behind us, and get Congress to vote the necessary credits, on the assumption that we shall be working not for war, but for nuclear "peace"—indeed for the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons altogether, all this under the image of the bright new symbol of "MAS"—so different from the seemingly rather murderous and suicidal "MAD". In the meantime, we can get on with the real job, which is to make America so strong in all respects that there can be no chance of the Soviet Union launching out into some preventive war which otherwise it might conceivably be tempted to initiate.

There is also the matter of whether the whole apparatus, once installed—if it ever is—really would be able to prevent at least some Soviet nuclear missiles—quite enough—from devastating Western Europe. How low trajectory ballistic missiles or even shells fired from submarines in the Baltic or a few kilometres over the border can be intercepted is even more difficult to understand than how the great space platform with direct energy weapons could intercept all or nearly all the Russian strategic missiles accompanied by thousands of decoys or cruise missiles fired from submarines off the American coast. It is asking us to swallow a lot when we are assured that cruise missiles and bombers can be dealt with in Europe in accordance with the great plan which, we are informed, will assuredly shield us from all nuclear assault.

In sum, there is no reason why the Western European members of the North Atlantic Alliance should agree to this new and politically dramatic change of policy, this aberration, as I myself would say. Nor can they be accused of being anti-American if they object. The project is strongly opposed by many important Americans. "Destabilisation", that fashionable word, can mean almost anything. But what can be said is that to go into major negotiations on arms limitation, subject to a condition that the Soviet Union must reject—namely, an effective refusal to discuss the possibility of avoiding the militarisation of space—is something which can only result in redoubled tension and a further increase on both sides of nuclear weapons.

We should at this point recall the wise words of the Prime Minister last summer when she said: If each side"— and I think she must have meant one side— of the Iron Curtain goes on to the next stage of research, the next stage of weaponry, the other will surely follow. We might see space turned into a new and terrible theatre of war, the only way of avoiding this being 'mutual restraint and negotiation'. Of course, that was before she had her celebrated conversation with the President at Camp David, I think it was.

There will be much the same result if there should be no negotiation on the joint withdrawal of all existing anti-satellite devices from space, but rather a preference to hang on to any technical advantage in this respect which it seems the Americans now have over the Soviets.

In short, what it comes down to is that, for whatever reasons, and pending total nuclear disarmament, the abandonment by either side of MAD is madness, irrespective of the policies of the adversary or the quantity of nuclear weapons that he possesses. It does not matter how many missiles your adversary has, provided you yourself are certain to annihilate him on a second strike for the simple reason that if you do, he cannot use them. True, if eventually some leak-proof ABM system is constructed in space by one of the contestants, this would not be so. But the attempt would be at once ruinous and quite unlikely to succeed, arms limitation, pending its development, becoming out of the question and tension becoming more and more unbearable.

I do not say that such acute tension would necessarily result in general nuclear war, though it might. But it could result, God forbid, in governments in Western Europe who might prefer the risk of "Finlandisation" to that of "atomisation". That is a very real danger which I doubt whether the Californians round the President are fully conscious of.

I have said that an attempt by either side to abandon MAD would be madness; so that naturally applies to the Russians also. If, as alleged by Mr. Perle, though the evidence is very doubtful, they are themselves embarking on some kind of general SDI, then the Russians should, like the Americans, surely be prepared in the forthcoming negotiations to abandon such preparations as part of the general agreement not to proceed with them. For instance, they could in return for suitable corresponding American assurances, such as the cancellation or diminution of the credits for "research", dismantle, to a large extent anyhow, their famous installation at Krasnogarsk, apparently installed, though this again is questionable, in violation of the ABM treaty of 1972—something which would be perfectly verifiable.

Equally, they could halt their ASAT programme, provided the Americans did likewise. That could be largely verifiable, too. I would certainly recommend this intelligent policy to Mr. Gorbachev.

We have probably reached the stage in these hideous and complicated developments at which complete and absolute verification of every undertaking is not physically possible. So, if agreement is ever to be reached, there must be a minimum of trust; and why not? After all, it is simply not in the interest of either side to build up such vast nuclear panoplies. I repeat, perhaps for the hundredth time, all we want under MAD is sufficient assured capability to knock out the adversary on a second strike. MAD, short of general disarmament, in other words, is, pending disarmament or a political settlement, the only sane principle on which we can still rely.

Beyond a handful of Stalinists, nobody on this side of the Atlantic wants the Soviet Union to have any advantage over America. On the contrary, almost everybody here would like the Americans—in association with their European allies—to be as strong as possible and in any case in a position, pending disarmament, to resist Soviet pressure wherever it may be exercised; notably, on the conventional side.

But to weaken the alliance generally by devoting what may soon be hundreds of millions of dollars to a project that is probably unrealisable, and if realisable, then certainly undesirable, does not seem to many of us to be anything except an apple of discord which they can only hope our great ally will not, on consideration, throw into the ring.

Perhaps further reflection in the State Department will eventually prevail over Mr. Weinberger—or perhaps we should more accurately say, over Mr. Perle—and gain the ear of the President in the never ceasing inter-departmental Washington battle, thus causing him to have a spectacular change of heart, as happened over the Lebanon and the Siberian oil pipeline.

I revert to my original question: are Her Majesty's Government really going to say that they prefer MAS to MAD? In the light of the recent wise words of the Foreign Secretary—somewhat removed, as they seem to be, from the Prime Minister's touching and reiterated faith in the President's original assurance on no deployment without negotiation—I can scarcely believe it. But if so, the Government must surely come out against MAS, at least in the sense of insisting that research on Star Wars should somehow be bargained away at Geneva in return for real Soviet concessions on nuclear arms limitation, thus enabling us all, pending disarmament, to stay with MAD and, on this tried basis, to negotiate an increasing reduction in all such nuclear weapons including, I need hardly say, our own.

Supposing, therefore—as I should devoutly hope— that such a common attitude is adopted by all the European members of the Alliance, would there be much chance of persuading the Americans to agree? I cannot say. What I am sure of is that there would be more chance of so influencing Washington if the Europeans agreed at the same time to spend more on conventional armaments, which we ourselves might well do if we abandon Trident. This would perhaps be all the more likely if we in Europe made a great effort to streamline the production in common and subsequent deployment of our own conventional weapons and devices.

As it seems to me, we are approaching a period of very considerable danger, if not of war, at any rate of a possible rift in the Alliance, and we can only hope that good sense on both sides of the Atlantic will prevail.

9.16 p.m.

Lord Reay

My Lords, several of the assumptions in the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, are themselves very questionable. First, it is doubtful whether it can be claimed—and it certainly cannot be asserted—that the Soviet Union has ever accepted the doctrine of mutual assured destruction. If it had done, it would surely have refrained from taking the defensive measures which it has in fact taken. Unlike the Americans or any other NATO country, the Soviet Union has invested extremely heavily in civil defence; also in anti-aircraft and anti-missile defence, in deployment as well as in research. It is generally believed that the Soviet Union spends as much as one half of its military budget on defensive as opposed to offensive weapons systems. Mr. Robert McFarlane, the President's national security adviser, and Lord Carrington, NATO's Secretary-General, are both on record as saying they consider that the Soviet Union has violated the 1972 ABM treaty.

On the offensive side, the Soviet Union has vastly increased the number and the quality of its intercontinental ballistic missiles, which now have so great an accuracy that the Americans land-based retaliatory capacity, which is meant to ensure Soviet destruction, has itself become vulnerable. So the Americans are forced to rely more heavily on their submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which are less accurate and can be more easily defended against by the rapidly developing Soviet missile defence system.

American bombers and cruise missiles would already find it hard to get through against Soviet air defence. So it is an unhelpful simplification to put it into people's minds that we moved from a secure and stable situation to a dangerous one the moment President Reagan introduced his proposals for strategic defence. The fact is that the apparent stability of a system that relies exclusively on the deterrence of retaliation has been slipping away because the capacity to retaliate has been eroded by the growth of the Soviet Union's defensive and offensive systems.

The United States in those circumstances obviously could not allow the Soviets to put increasingly at risk their own nuclear retaliatory capacity. They could not conceivably let the Soviets go on stealthily researching and deploying their own strategic defence in case one day they should find that the Soviets had acquired an unreachable advantage and had wholly escaped from the shackles of an ABM treaty which still bound the United States. Consequently, they were and are obliged to introduce their own defensive proposals; at present at the level of research but in the future, if need be, to the point of deployment.

At present, the Soviet Union is not so much seeking to negotiate with the Americans over strategic defence as to stir up American and European opinion by means of an almighty campaign of threats and warnings, of false accusations and blandishments, in order to force the Americans to abandon strategic defence unilaterally. It must be said that European governments have not so far tended to act very wisely in the face of this situation. They should have better co-ordinated their response. At the moment European policy seems to be set by the next European Foreign Minister, President, Chancellor or Prime Minister to make a speech on the subject. Moreover, the speeches have sometimes given hostages to our opponents, even to our enemies. I hope that thought will be given to using the reactivated machinery of the Western European Union better to co-ordinate European response, since the European Community will not touch defence matters.

I must say that I do not follow the argument that a limited defence is more dangerous than none, as was implied by the Foreign Minister in his metaphor of the Maginot Line. If partial defence secured greater invulnerability for retaliatory forces, then it could enhance the credibility of deterrence. Anyway, as my noble friend Lord Carrington said, someone is going to benefit if a missile is shot down, even if we do not know who it is.

As far as the chances of a negotiated settlement are concerned, the Soviets will first have to appreciate that the Americans are not going to abandon strategic defence unilaterally—neither its research nor, if necessary, its deployment. The Americans, on the other hand, will have to develop the confidence that they can negotiate an agreement with the Soviet Union which will not act to their disadvantage; this is what they feel was the result of the ABM treaty. To reacquire confidence, the United States will have to find ways of dealing with the problem of Soviet noncompliance with treaties, which has done such damage to the ABM treaty. The Soviets do not comply simply because there is nothing to oblige them to comply. The Americans will also have to deal with the related problem of ambiguity, where the Soviets insist that a system of theirs which can plausibly be held to have a permitted function under a treaty has only that function when, in fact, it could also have a function which is banned by the treaty.

I do not think that these problems need be insoluble in future treaties. Morevover, I am certain that economic considerations make a series of uncontrolled arms races in all fields an extremely daunting prospect for both sides. So I would not regard eventual agreements limiting offensive weapons, together with agreed deployment of strategic defensive systems, as outside the bounds of possibility. The one thing I should regard as virtually inconceivable is the unilateral survival of the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction.

If this is the case, then how should the Europeans react? However alarmed Europe is by the thought of change, it will have to march with the times. If computers and automatic decision-making are on the way, then they are on the way, however much the Foreign Secretary or anyone else laments the consequent loss, or threat of loss, of political control. Moreover, to complain that SDI will give no protection against, say, cruise missiles is like complaining that a cure for cancer is not also a cure for AIDS.

Europe should bear in mind two things: first, her limited influence on future American strategic decisions; secondly, that the credibility of a United States nuclear response to a Soviet attack on Western Europe under existing conditions of total United States exposure to Soviet nuclear retaliation has been dwindling rapidly. With those reflections in mind, European statesmen will do well to try to build constructively on the basis of perceived American intentions, rather than at all costs to try to resist change.

9.25 p.m.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I should like to reply to one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Reay. He said that robot control of nuclear weapons, ipso facto, meant robot control of everything that we do, say, hear, read and listen to. If that should become true, life would not be worth living and there would not be much point in trying to save this world. It would be the most appalling world that one could imagine.

But we must face this fact. Can we stop forms of thermonuclear bombs travelling around this world? I refer to bombs that can be controlled not by Foreign Secretaries, as the noble Lord has said, not by discussions, not by treaties, but by robot. That robot could then control every mortal thing we do, and the quicker then that this all ended, the better it would be. But I do not believe that that is the fundamental point that we ought to be discussing at this time. If it is, there is no need to have any further discussion.

At this stage I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for asking the Question and for the somewhat fulsome and detailed manner in which he did so. I am sorry about noble Lords who objected to my asking a little Question this afternoon. I thought that the House would have been crowded out. I notice that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and the Leader of this House of Peers are not here, despite their objections. I think that ought to go on the record, too.

Whether we are concerned about mutually assured destruction or mutually assured security, we must be certain what we are talking about. We are compelled to a degree to accept what is being said by those who created these things as to what the next creation might be. They say that neither MAD nor MAS can guarantee any security system whatsoever. Despite the research going on now with regard to mutually assured security, we are given to understand that it will be on trial by 1987. That is not so very far away.

We should examine this question in depth. I endeavour to read as many newspapers as I can in my own language, in German and in a few other languages. One is amazed at the massive pressure exerted on the free West by the Americans. This massive propaganda is causing some dismay. Whether he is right or wrong at this stage, I believe that the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, must be thanked at least for challenging whether the Americans are right. The Times newspaper and all other sycophants believe that whatever the Americans say, we have to bow down and agree.

Let us say this for the British Foreign Secretary. He does not belong to that band of people who immediately the Americans say something reach for their knee pads to crawl either before them or after them. In so far as our Foreign Secretary is deeply concerned at the implications of SDI and is not prepared at this stage to give the United States a blank cheque, on the grounds that it would be extraordinarily expensive and very dangerous, I believe it is now up to the Americans to put to their allies what kind of answer they have to our Foreign Secretary. We ought not too eagerly to condemn him for what I consider to be his intellectual courage and example that he has given to us all.

Indeed, West Germany's Dr. Kohl and Herr Hans Genscher have supported the British Foreign Secretary's call for European support in asking the Americans to let us see and examine in some detail what precisely they are proposing. On the one hand the Americans say that it is only research, that they want us to help them in this research. Then when it suits their purpose they say they will be ready to complete in three or four years' time. To me, that seems just as dangerous a threat as anything the Russians have.

In so far as MAD is protection, by being prepared to kill millions of other people, of course that is objectionable. If we can only find some other way of doing away with that it will be a massive step forward. It is equally true, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has said, that at one time when the United States had a degree of predominance they never used or took advantage of that predominance. However, neither have the Russians. We are constantly told about—indeed, Mr. Heseltine, Britain's Secretary of State for Defence has caused to be issued a pamphlet to show—the massive dominance in nuclear weapons and in conventional weapons now held to great advantage by the USSR.

One has to ask the question—what are they waiting for? Are they waiting for the Americans and the British to catch up before they launch any form of war or invasion? Of course, we must condemn what the Russians have done in Afghanistan. We should also condemn what the Americans have done in Grenada. How silent the Americans have remained when we have read, year in and year out, of the appalling atrocities inflicted on Arab peoples by the Israelis in the Middle East. They have done very little to stop anything like that, other than pour in arms to help to increase those appalling atrocities. No, even the Americans are not by any means pure and blameless in everything they do. I say that, acknowledging full well that we have to find a modus vivendi and work with our American allies. But they in turn have to find a modus vivendi to work with us.

Here again, I think the noble Lord, Lord Reay, was wrong. We realise that whatever these weapons may be, whether attacking weapons or defending weapons, the Geneva talks of 1972 tried to limit and did limit, long-range nuclear weapons, medium-range weapons and totally ruled out space weapons. That agreement was signed by the Americans as well as by the Russians. Therefore, if the Americans go ahead, it is they who will be fundamentally breaking the 1972 agreement. We have a right, as our Foreign Secretary has done, to point that out.

What is this anti-missile missile? It is a shield of arcane items like laser beams and giant mirrors floating in space. I really cannot take in exactly what that means. I do not know. It sounds horrible, and probably is. However, I think it is remarkable to understand this. Nobody seems to say this in any newspaper that I have read. But in some German newspapers, it is pointed out that at Sary-Shagan in the Soviet Union Russia has a very well-advanced system of laser beams which might be able even to outdo the Americans with their SDI. Surely this ought to be examined as well to test whether or not it is a fact. The information comes from the Americans. The Americans say that is why they are carrying on with their anti-missile missile. All these matters can and should be examined.

It has also been pointed out that the anti-missile missile, made of these arcane things, could be beaten by missiles taught to spin and to elude. Therefore, what some people regard as the perfect means for stopping nuclear war, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has pointed out, could prove not so successful as we imagine. It is not impossible, according to the experts in the United States, for this particular antimissile missile procedure to be beaten by missiles taught to spin and therefore elude detection.

I believe, as I have said previously in the House, that we have to try to work for some fundamental, foolproof system of verification. In so far as the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty was an encouragement along these lines we should pursue it. We need on-site verification whereby our top technologists and scientists, together with those of the United States, go to all parts of the Soviet Union where the missiles are based. We should make available everything that we have and allow the Russians to inspect our sites where we have weapons. This seems the only sensible way to stop a thermo-nuclear war starting deliberately or by accident. When one considers all the great minds which devised the Sputnik, the moon landings and the possibility of thermo-nuclear war, is it not also possible that there are minds somewhere which can devise a system of verification to give us peace of mind in this troubled world? With mutually balanced force reduction verification, we could make this a reality.

I should like to quote as the ideal of what I have been saying, no less than the late President Eisenhower, who, in his farewell address, said: The conference table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield. Disarmament with mutual honour and confidence is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn now to compose differences not with arms but with intellect and decent purpose". It seems to me that there is an enormous amount of fear about, particularly in the West. We do not know much of what is going on in the Soviet Union, I admit. Probably there is fear there, too. That seems to be the case. Fear is a bad adviser. Its companion is hate. They are the parents of cruelty and intolerance. We should make transparently clear to the Americans and the Russians that they, the super powers, have to realise that we must all win—every one of us, every nation—or we all lose. We can talk about democracy, capitalism and communism. If this thing does take place, there will not be any form of democracy, capitalism or communism. Nor will there be any honour. All these terms cease to be meaningful because honour implies a relationship between a man and his social code. But if society itself, Russian, American, British, French, Italian or whatever, throughout the world, is destroyed, nothing, either honourable or dishonourable, will be left. There will not even be anyone left to moan about the idiocy of our present activities.

We have to look carefully at whatever is proposed by either super power. We must not relinquish our right to examine and where necessary to criticise. Let us hope that our criticisms can be constructive. I should like my country to concentrate upon on-site examination and verification. It is the only hope that is left to the disturbed world in which we now live.

9.40 p.m.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I think there was some truth in what the noble Lord, Lord Reay, said—that the European governments reacted spasmodically and uncertainly to the President's initiative. He will agree with me that the initiative is of the greatest importance to Europe, and is also very controversial. Would he not go further and agree with me that it really was extraordinary for the President to launch this initiative without any consultation at all with his European allies? It really was extraordinary.

The speech which he made in March 1983 is now, I think, universally agreed to have been unrealistic and over-ambitious. But increasingly we find—and it throws a disturbing light on American decision-making and on its methods of handling its allies—that it is becoming clear that the President took his decision and made his speech without any of the proper consultation. It now appears that the speech was unknown to the Pentagon's Director of Defensive Systems, to the President's own scientific adviser, to the Pentagon's leading expert on missile defence and to the Pentagon's Director of Defense Research, Advanced Projects. I am informed that the chiefs of staff were consulted, but they did not consult the leading officials I have quoted; nor did they recommend in favour of the line the President took. It really is a most extraordinary situation, and I can hardly think that the noble Lord, Lord Reay, is being fair in complaining about the disarray among European governments when they are treated in this disgraceful manner by one of their major allies. If I may say so, this has been made worse by the methods now being used by the United States Administration to whip the European governments into line.

The Foreign Secretary's speech was, I think, widely supported in this country. It is widely supported, I think, among all parties. It should have formed the basis for a serious debate inside NATO about this initiative. Instead, what has happened? What have the United States Government done? They have sent a high-ranking official, Mr. Perle, to Britain to rally Right-wing opinion here against the Foreign Secretary. That is not the right way to go about it. The content and tone of Mr. Perle's speech, and the forum in which he made this speech, were all thoroughly objectionable. The forum was a group of extremist Right-wingers known as the Committee for the Free World. I understand it is financed by a wealthy American businessman, which is the traditional way in which the CIA launders its subsidiaries.

It drew in people of impeccable respectability, but it is indeed a very questionable organisation. Among those of impeccable integrity attending the meeting was the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, whom we all know. I was amused to read that he stated at the conference: We are not just a band of disgruntled defeatists and counter-revolutionaries. We are not just White Russian taxi drivers in Paris". I like that. Of course, that would be a very unfair description of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. But I am not at all so sure about his fellow participants. The executive director of this outrageous organisation, who is called Miss Midge Decter, is quoted as declaring that she hoped and prayed that the Geneva arms talks would fail so that we could get back to the real job of turning the tide against the Soviet Union.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, that is what they want.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I seriously doubt whether one would hear nonsense of that kind from a White Russian taxi driver in Paris. I think that would be an insulting suggestion. A White Russian taxi driver, unlike Miss Decter, Mrs. Kirkpatrick, Mr. Perle and others attending this strange conference, would at least be able to see the Soviet Union and the Soviet challenge against some historical background. He would be aware that, although the international conduct of the Soviet Union under Mr. Gorbachev is bad enough, it is a good deal better than it was under Stalin, and that was a good deal better than it was under Lenin. It is quite comforting and interesting to understand these matters because they encourage us to believe that, if the NATO countries keep calm and firm and reject the hysteria of the so-called Committee for the Free World, we may be able to master the Soviet challenge without war.

There is one question only that I wish to ask the Minister tonight, but I believe that it is an important one. Will the noble Lord clarify No. 3 of the four points agreed between the Prime Minister and the President in Washington—namely, that deployment would require negotiations? At first sight this seems to be perfectly straightforward and reassuring. It suggests that, as the anti-ballistic missile treaty forbids deployment, there must be negotiations before deployment. But I want the Minister to clarify this.

In the first place, at what stage are these negotiations to take place? Are they, as I think the Americans assume, to take place after the research stage? One can argue that it is no good having negotiations until research has shown that the project is practicable. Alternatively, are they to take place at the stage which I believe the Russians have in mind and which they will put to Europe—namely, currently in the Geneva negotiations, so that the Russians and Americans might now discuss a mutual agreement not to re-negotiate the anti-ballistic missile treaty? That is what the Russians will put to us. When we hear from the Prime Minister that it is agreed that there will be negotiations before deployment, will the Minister say at what stage those negotiations will take place?

Secondly, and finally on this point, will the Minister say what happens if the negotiations fail? Obviously the impression given by the Prime Minister's statement is that these negotiations must succeed, and in his speech the Foreign Secretary said that we have to be confident that that formidable task of negotiation could be managed on an acceptable basis. I take that to mean that we have to be sure that we can get the Russians to agree.

However, that is not the American view. It has been made perfectly plain that the Americans will not allow failure of negotiations about deployment to stop deployment. The President will not let his cherished project, in effect, be vetoed by the Soviet Union. Therefore, when the Prime Minister made this statement, did she mean what the Foreign Secretary evidently means or did she mean what the President means? Because if we are to take it as meaning what the President means, then this reassurance is negatived—there is no value whatever in the assurance that the Prime Minister received from the United States. If it is true, then we are faced with the situation that the Americans will, if the research is successful, go through the motions of negotiations with the Russians, and when those negotiations fail they will deploy. That is really the truth of the matter.

There is a great deal more to be said about this and a great deal more that will be said, but what is quite plain is that the Foreign Secretary was asking a number of very pertinent questions in his speech, questions that have to be answered before the Government start discussing co-operation. I entirely agree that the European governments must get together. I entirely agree that at the moment they are at odds with each other. It is time for the European governments to get together and in the politest possible manner and privately to let the Americans know that in their view this should be solved by negotiation at the Geneva talks between the Soviet Union and the United States, so that they mutually agree not to attempt to re-negotiate the anti-ballistic missile treaty and not to deploy these weapons.

9.50 p.m.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and other noble Lords in complimenting the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, on taking what I am tempted to call his own SDI, his Strategic Debating Initiative, tonight. It was, I thought, a timely initiative when he tabled his Unstarred Question and it is even more timely now, partly in view of the speech (which has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and by my noble friend Lord Molloy) of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary last Friday week to the Royal United Service Institution—and I shall return to that speech shortly.

In considering the Unstarred Question of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, it is right that we should remind ourselves of the definition of "mutual assured destruction". I had been proposing to attempt a definition of that myself. However, I shall not repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has already said, but will rest upon it. As we know, too, it has been said that the Russians have never accepted the concept of mutual assured destruction—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, in his speech. But I would agree with the implication in the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, that both sides had, at least tacitly, accepted the principle. I think, anyway, if I may say so, that the argument about whether or not the Russians had accepted it is not particularly illuminating in present circumstances.

The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, was also right to mention this background because I believe that it is important to be clear about what it is that we are being invited to abandon before we embrace something else. It is the case that one of the prime arguments in favour of policies followed up until now—whether we call it deterrence, the balance of terror, or mutual assured destruction—is that deterrence as we know it has succeeded because the peace has been kept for some four decades. Indeed, some might almost attempt to say that mutual assured destruction is, in fact, mutual assured security. We need to be very sure indeed about any new or successor policy before we abandon something which has been so widely accepted as successful, in many quarters at any rate, so far. That is why I believe that the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary has performed such a valuable service—and here I very much agree with what my noble friend Lord Molloy and the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, had to say—in opening up the debate and posing just the sort of pertinent questions that he has in his recent speech.

Before coming back to some of his points—and I think that it is worth going over some of them in a little detail in a moment—I want to say this about President Reagan's Strategic Defence Initiative itself. First, it appears to be the case that research is not ruled out by the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972; and I am assuming that most of us would accept the value of the treaty. Secondly, whether or not the Soviet Union has violated the treaty—and differences of view have been expressed in our debate here tonight—it seems quite clear at any rate that it has itself been carrying out its own researches and investigations at the very least.

But, my Lords, the question which has to be asked on research is: where does research end and development begin, let alone where does production, procurement or deployment begin? We need to be very clear indeed about this. There is no use in glossing over it or allowing ourselves to be swept beyond the point of research into something of substance. We need to be very clear about where research ends and something beyond it begins.

It is pretty obvious that production and deployment are way beyond it, and no doubt the development of a prototype weapon and certainly its testing are, too. We need to be certain about that, not only because of the very pertinent points which the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has made tonight, but also because it is at that point, the point at which research moves into something else, at which the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is threatened or violated and at which, therefore, I would take the view that stability, as we have known it, is also threatened. So we need to know whether that point is reached when you leave the laboratory experiments—whatever we mean by "laboratory experiments" in this context—and go beyond those; whether it is when you engage in weapon experiments with testing and so with manufacture. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, can give us clear guidance about that tonight.

Here I come to some of the points in Sir Geoffrey Howe's speech and the very pertinent and probing questions he raised. He was reported in The Times on 22nd March, in a fuller version than had appeared the day after he made his speech, as asking: …what should happen if and when decisions are required on moving from the research to the development stage…. We shall need to ask ourselves some very basic questions about the future nature of Western strategy … how best to curb rather than stimulate a new arms race. At that stage the judgments to be made will only partly depend upon technical assessments about the feasibility of defences. Even if the research shows promise, the case for proceeding will have to be weighed in the light of the wider strategic implications of moving down the defensive road". At this point I thought I was going to have to depart from the views of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, because I felt that those were questions which needed to be asked and answered now and which could not wait until the research was over; but at the point at which I was in danger of underestimating him, he came up with this: Can we afford even now to wait for the scientists and military experts to deliver their results at some later stage? Have we a breathing space of 5, 10 or 15 years before we need to address strategic concerns? I do not believe so". This is still Sir Geoffrey, not me. The history of weapons development and strategic balance shows only too clearly that research into new weapons and study of their strategic implications must go hand in hand. Otherwise, research may acquire an unstoppable momentum of its own…". Indeed, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, was right to say that these were matters which needed to be raised in the Geneva talks themselves.

Sir Geoffrey went on to pose a whole series of questions which really must be answered, and he raised questions which exercised noble Lords in the debate instituted by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, on the Strategic Defence Initiative, on 30th January, including some which particularly concerned the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, in, if I may say so, his most powerful speech, and coming from that, as we know well, very informed and very experienced source. Sir Geoffrey said that we had to be sure that we were not developing what might prove to be only a limited defence.

We bear in mind that no one has yet suggested that it is possible to create an anti-ballistic missile system which is foolproof. On the estimate of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in the debate on the 30th January, at best it could be only 95 per cent. effective—and I repeat "at best". We can imagine what devastation could be caused even if only 5 per cent. of missiles got through, let alone the fact that cruise missiles and aircraft—a point which has been made tonight—would fly lower and avoid the system and so be deployed in greater numbers. That was one of the points which most concerned the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, in his contribution to that debate last January.

Not surprisingly, the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary went on to question not only whether the anti-ballistic missile defences would work but whether they would be survivable and, as he said, cost-effective. While acknowledging the enormous technological expertise and potential of the United States, he went on to point out, in what I thought was a most graphic and perhaps telling remark, that, There would be no advantage in creating a new Maginot Line of the 21st century, liable to be outflanked by relatively simpler and demonstrably cheaper counter-measures". Here, my Lords, I must differ from the view taken by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, upon the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary's contribution on that point. Perhaps I may say, too, though not on this specific point, that I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when he spoke of the Strategic Defence Initiative, was reported as being overwhelmingly enthusiastic about it, either. Indeed, he raised a number of quite critical and probing questions and doubts about it.

Then the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary wondered whether we might be in danger of losing political control over both nuclear weapons and defensive systems and find that the peace of the world depended solely upon computers and automatic decision-making. This is one of the points which my noble friend Lord Molloy made. The right honourable and learned gentleman asked whether there might be more cost-effective and affordable ways of enhancing deterrence, and whether it might be better to use available funds to improve our ability to oppose a potential aggressor with a credible, sustainable and controllable mix of conventional and nuclear forces.

I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, would agree with The Times assessment, in its leader of 18th March, of his right honourable and learned friend's speech, that it, may have done untold damage to the cohesion of the Atlantic Alliance"— and was— mealy-mouthed, muddled in conception, negative, Luddite, ill-informed and, in effect if not in intention, a 'wrecking amendment' to the whole [SDI] plan … more appropriately … described as the `Gorbachev amendment'. Or can the Minister confirm that that speech of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary does, indeed, represent Government policy?

To be fair to The Times, it carried a fairly full report of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary's speech the day after he made it and then, following its leader on 18th March, on 22nd March gave a more extensive report of that speech which I found thoughtful, reflective and helpful as a major contribution to the discussions in which the world is now involved.

Whatever answer the Minister is able to give on the specific point raised in the Unstarred Question tonight, I hope that he will at least give us some guidance on the question about the point at which research moves into something beyond research, and at least some assurance that the questions posed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary are being discussed with our United States allies, even if no definite answers are yet available. I look forward with interest to what he has to say and I hope he will confirm that, whatever else might be done, nothing will deflect us and our allies from aiming for real progress on disarmament at Geneva and elsewhere.

10.3 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, perhaps I may add my thanks to those of every noble Lord who has spoken this evening to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for raising this matter and for giving me a chance of clarifying the Government's position on these important issues. It is without question that the existence of nuclear weapons and their possession by both sides dominates our strategic thinking today. Their enormous destructive power renders traditional concepts of military victory redundant and, indeed, the very concept of defence as it has been known over the centuries becomes obsolete.

The problem for defence planners in the West is now not how best to defend ourselves in the event of war, for nobody can "win" a nuclear war in any sense of the term, and, indeed, even a small number of these weapons can inflict a degree of damage which would be quite catastrophic. The problem is how to ensure that such a war never occurs in the first place. The defence policy of the NATO Alliance is therefore intended to make it clear beyond peradventure that the risks involved in any act of aggression against any of its member countries are such as to outweigh any possible gains which might thereby be achieved and thus to deter that aggression.

Now this approach is not without its difficulties, and against the background of the basic concept which I have outlined, NATO's military strategy has developed to meet changing circumstances. In the 1950s, when the United States had a substantial superiority over the Soviet Union in nuclear weapons, it was credible to deter by saying that any form of aggression would be countered by the immediate and large-scale use of nuclear weapons—the so-called "massive retaliation" or "trip wire" policy.

When, however, the Soviet Union, by the early 1960s, had developed and was expanding its own forces to the extent that the United States itself would be at risk from Soviet nuclear weapons, then this policy began to look less credible, and so NATO evolved the strategy of "flexible response". The essence of this approach is that NATO possesses a range of response options so that it retains the flexibility to respond, not according to some predetermined blueprint, nor according to one specific military plan which may in the event not be suitable, but flexibly, appropriately, according to the circumstances at the time. It is this strategy which currently provides the basis of NATO's policy of deterrence.

At one level the success of this strategy depends on our ability and readiness to defend ourselves against aggression by conventionally armed forces (and I would remind your Lordships that it is all too easy to underestimate the quite appalling scale of death and destruction which so-called conventional warfare can cause). At another level it also depends on the ability to retaliate against the aggressor by the use of nuclear weapons. In the final analysis it is our ability and our preparedness to inflict on the Soviet Union a level of damage which would be considered unacceptable by any standards.

This is a position with which many find some difficulty on both ethical and practical grounds. There are those who argue that a security policy which includes this sort of threat is totally unacceptable to a civilised country such as our own. We recognise these concerns; but we form different conclusions. We believe that we are right to have as the central aim of our defence policy the prevention of war; and we believe that if this aim is to be achieved both the possession of an effective nuclear capability and a declared readiness to use it are indispensable.

The practical difficulty is put forward by those who argue that it is unsafe to rely for our security against a nuclear armed adversary merely on the threat of using nuclear weapons. We readily recognise that deterrence, and the resolve to use nuclear weapons which is an essential feature of that policy, is not an easy concept, particularly for us in the West with our special respect for individual life. But those who criticise deterrence have yet to propose an alternative on which it would be prudent to rely. As your Lordships will be aware, the Government see no future in the arguments of those who say that we should for our part abandon our own capability without any form of reciprocal action by the Warsaw Pact. No responsible Government can sensibly base the security of the country on the goodwill or neutrality of a foreign power whose hostility to our way of life is well-known, and whose record of aggression is clear for all to see. We do not intend to follow such a course. Our duty—indeed, the duty of every Government—is to take those measures which are necessary to ensure the security of our country; and this Administration will continue to do so.

The policy of deterrence which I have outlined has served us well for nearly four decades. Whatever the difficulties of East-West relations during that time it has provided an effective and stable framework for the conduct of our affairs, and an essential basis for ensuring the peace with freedom which we have enjoyed. It remains at the heart of NATO's approach to these matters, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has referred to this as the principle of mutual assured destruction. I do not care for the word "destruction", which forms no part of our policy. Our strategy is deterrence.

The noble Lord also referred to the concept of Mutual Assured Security whereby the deployment of defensive systems would in due course replace the threat of retaliation which is implicit in deterrence. He referred in particular to the Stategic Defence Initiative launched by President Reagan. That has been at the heart of many of the remarks this evening.

When he launched this initiative in 1983 President Reagan made it clear that he wished to explore the technical possibilities for, Rendering those nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete". That statement, as the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, mentioned in our short debate on this matter on 30th January, is "not ignoble in intention or spirit". But it remains an aspiration, and one for the distant future. The SDI is no more than a research programme intended to investigate the technical feasibility of defences against ballistic missiles. It should moreover be viewed against the background of Soviet efforts in this field. They have in service the only operational ABM system anywhere in the world and this they are modernising and improving. They have an extensive and long-established research programme into a range of technologies applicable to strategic defence. In these circumstances, it is not only logical but necessary that the United States should conduct its own research and ensure that it is not left behind.

We do not know what the results of this research will be; nor indeed how long it will be before we can begin to gauge the extent to which it will he possible to produce firm results. What we do know is that the technical matters which are being explored are very complex, and it will be a formidable task indeed to accomplish the objectives which the United States have set themselves; namely, to establish what is feasible.

As to the way ahead, this was of course one of the subjects discussed by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister when she met President Reagan in December of last year. At that meeting the Prime Minister issued a statement outlining the specific points of agreement between the two leaders on their approach to the SDI: 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 current 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, and indeed were confirmed when the Prime Minister visited the United States again in February.

The speech of my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary on 15th March, was also firmly based on and was wholly consistent with these four points. Your Lordships have referred to various reports of that speech which have appeared. Perhaps noble Lords will permit me to place a copy of it in the Library so it can be studied in full. The SDI raises a number of important issues, and my right honourable and learned friend's speech was a contribution to the debate, within the alliance, about those issues. As the speech made clear—and I would ask noble Lords to study it—the questions it raised were not a prior judgment.

I find nothing in these observations that suggests the imminent demise of the structure and policy which has provided the basis of our security now for nearly 40 years. On the contrary, it is a reaffirmation that both the United States and the United Kingdom, in collaboration with our NATO partners, are committed to the fundamentals of deterrence which have served us well in the past.

May I pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, about space weapons in particular. They are of course already a central feature of the US-USSR arms control talks which are currently taking place in Geneva. It is clearly too early to speculate on the outcome of the talks or to answer the hypothetical question of what would happen if they fail. But as President Reagan has repeatedly confirmed, SDI research is consistent with present treaty obligations and neither side has signalled any intention of breaking the ABM treaty.

I believe that this has been a useful and stimulating debate. Perhaps I could conclude by emphasising the essential continuity of the fundamentals of NATO policy. The concept of deterrence remains at the heart of NATO's approach to ensuring its security. There has been no discussion of any changes in this concept; nor do we see any need for such discusssion. The policy has served us well in the past and will do so for many years in the future.

It provides us with the basis of stability against which we can work for progress in the reduction of nuclear weapons by both East and West and in the promotion of improvements to East-West relations. Our efforts are geared towards sustaining and maintaining deterrence; they will continue to be so directed.