HL Deb 10 December 1986 vol 482 cc1229-42

8.15 p.m.

Lord Kennet rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether it remains their view that the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty should be strengthened, and if so, how.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we now pass from an almost wholly unbearable subject, where it is difficult to see any light at the end of the tunnel, to an only moderately unbearable subject, where there is indeed light to be seen at the end of the tunnel, and we shall try to explore it together this evening.

Early in 1983 the President of the United States had a great vision of a shield that could be built over that country and its allies which would exclude incoming nuclear missiles and thereby, in his words, make nuclear weapons themselves impotent and obsolete. It is often said that that vision of the President is now defunct and that the Strategic Defence Initiative is going ahead on another and more reasonable basis. But as recently as this year's United States Defence Department Report to Congress on SDI, which came out in June, it was repeated that the President had called for SDI with the ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by nuclear ballistic missiles. Therefore it is still there, and we have to face that fact.

This ultimate goal is a bad idea for two reasons. First of all, if it were to prove possible—and it might; this is what causes so much fear in the world—the first side in the arms race to get it would then be in a position of absolute security to issue nuclear threats to the other side and require its compliance with whatever order it might wish to give. Consequently the moment when one side was about to get it would be one of almost unimaginable danger and instablility for mankind.

The second reason is that if the purpose is to get rid of nuclear weapons, or just nuclear missiles—and it is a good purpose—the best way to reduce the number of nuclear missiles that can hit your country is to reduce the number in existence, and that can be done through agreed multilateral disarmament at no cost and with great saving.

Not too long after that the Prime Minister went to Washington at Christmas 1984 and agreed with President Reagan their famous four points, one of which was that the deployment of SDI would have to be a matter for negotiation. Those points have been reaffirmed from time to time by the Government, with the support of all parties in this country, and they have from time to time been torn up by members of the American Administration, most notably the Secretary for Defense.

Soon after that, in January 1985, Messrs Schultz and Gromyko, the latter then Soviet Foreign Minister, met in Geneva and agreed to negotiate to prevent an arms race in space and to terminate it on earth. Her Majesty's Government have repeatedly, and rightly, endorsed that agreement.

In October 1985 Mr. Schultz struck a new note. He said: Any SDI deployment will have to be the subject of discussion and negotiation as approved with the Soviets, in accordance with the ABM Treaty.". Note, it would have to be "the subject of" negotiation, not "subject to" negotiation. Here is the first appearance of weasel words in this matter, because in any case the signatories had in that treaty agreed not to deploy, so there is nothing to negotiate about "in accordance with the ABM Treaty". You can hear a new term here. Nevertheless, in March this year Her Majesty's Government rightly soldiered on.

Sir Geoffrey Howe said that one of the keys to progress at Geneva could be acts to strengthen the effectiveness of the ABM Treaty; confidence as to the relationship between offensive and defensive weapons might help to encourage big cuts in nuclear missiles. Again in June this year Mr. Renton in the House of Commons said: We would like to see the ABM treaty reaffirmed and strengthened.". As recently as 14th October, Mr. Renton again, at the First Committee of the United Nations, said: The 12 underline the importance of existing arms control agreements—including the ABMT of 1972—being strictly observed.". I underline the word "strictly".

I come now to the reason for my question. We are now hearing a new tone, not only from the United States Administration but from our own Government. After her meeting with the President on 15th November, three weeks ago, the Prime Minister, in relation to SDI research which is permitted under the treaty, was asked, "What do you mean by research which you agree with the President is legal?". She replied this: You're still researching when you go right up to feasibility. If you don't know whether a system will work, you still research to find out.". She suggested the establishment of a special committee "to resolve problems of interpretation" of the treaty, apparently forgetting that such a committee already exists.

If the United States SDI is to be developed and tested to "feasibility", the Prime Minister's word, the United States will be breaching the ABM Treaty. I do not know whether the Prime Minister had appropriate advice right beside her when she used this word for the first time in her press conference. Testing to feasibility is not allowed in the treaty unless one is to twist its meaning in ways our system of law would certainly not allow.

It was for that reason that I listened with pleasure and reassurance to what the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said on 18th November when he was answering questions on his repetition of the Prime Minister's Statement from the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and from myself. He said: Lord Cledwyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked me to put a gloss on my right honourable friend's statement of what she means by 'up to feasibility'. Do they really expect me to come to your Lordships' House and try to put a gloss on my right honourable friend's statement? If my right honourable friend says 'up to feasibility', it is up to feasibility so far as I am concerned, and I do not know what else I am expected to say. So I shall not say anything at all, which seems to be the obvious answer to that question".—[Official Report, 18/11/1986; cols. 148–49.] That is a prime piece from the noble Viscount and it is to his skill with such answers that he owes his great success and beneficial effect on British political life. However, we can all see what lay behind his caution.

Another element is now coming into the talk of the British Government on this subject. I quote the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, himself on 13th November: the Soviet Union is insisting on severe new restrictions [on SDI research] while its own … activities remain unacknowledged".—[Official Report, 13/11/86; col. 117.] This new line is as if the ABM Treaty did not restrict Soviet activities as much as United States activities. It is exactly the same both ways.

Sir Geoffrey Howe a little later said that the Soviet Union appeared to be demanding a super-restrictive definition—more probably a revision—of the ABM Treaty and a veto over any future deployments before questions about their feasibility are answered—as if the treaty did not exist precisely to prevent deployment.

I should like to turn for a moment to the new developments which are taking place. They are quite new and not very much is known yet about research into anti-tactical ballistic missile defence, ATBM defence, for short. This is a better, more worthwhile military activity. It makes sense. If ATBM defence is deployed within certain limits it is not destabilising and not against the hopes of mankind. The ABM Treaty limits the transfer of technology to non-signatories, in ground-based ABM, I would point out, as well as space-based ABM. That would include anti-tactical ballistic missile ABM. Experiments for the development of ATBM, ground based, would be legal anywhere—in the United States, Europe or anywhere else in the world.

Some millions of dollars from the SDI office are now going into it in Europe under the present European architecture studies by our Ministry of Defence and others. This research is also going on as government research in Israel and by consortia of firms in Germany, Italy, France and perhaps in Japan. Perhaps we could hear more about that. All this is to be dovetailed into SDI next year to become an "integrated and interactive system within SDI". At that stage will any future developments rely on United States space-borne C-3? If so, will they not themselves be illegal since space-borne C-3 will be illegal? I fear this may be the case.

Of the present stage of European Architecture studies, Richard Perle last week said: this is the ground floor of a very large structure that will be built over time". We recognise our old friend. Aviation Week tells us further: The European Theatre defense will use both improved versions of existing air defence equipment such as the Raytheon Patriot and technology derived from the United States Strategic Defense Initiative for use against intercontinental ballistic missiles. In other words, if the technology is transferred to European firms and governments it will be so transferred illegally. If it is not transferred our firms and governments lose out, and so we are on a hook.

In the second stage, which is to start next year, how much control of European firms in this matter will pass to United States firms and departments through the consortia which will have arisen? Could ATBMs themselves be a terminal, endoatmospheric stage of anti-strategic ballistic missiles in the United States, which in increased numbers would be illegal? That is a question to the Government. Shall we be asked to make them for the United States? Already two sizes are being talked of: 5,000 metres to intercept and 15,000 metres to intercept, which begins to sound more like the stage of an anti-strategic ballistic missile.

Answering a Question on 21st October the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said that the architecture study we are doing: will examine from a UK perspective, the threats with which a strategic defensive system would have to cope in the European theatre".—[Official Report, 21/10/86; col 260.] How does that cloudy language relate, if at all, to what is now going on? What threats; threats to what target in Europe?—only ballistic missile threats obviously, not air-launched threats in general. What Europe? —United States assets in Europe obviously. What else? All this is or is not illegal under the ABM Treaty. How is that to be decided? The United States Administration have refused to release the negotiating record of that treaty to Congress, although the Senate has a judicial role in the administration of treaties. A Joint Consultative Committee exists between the United States and Russia. The United States prefers rather to complain about it than to use it. It is constantly being attacked by the Administration instead of being used and, with the United States withdrawal from SALT II, which has effectively happened, it is presumably to be killed off together with the agreed mutual tolerance of satellite spying by "national technical means".

I turn now to what can be done. On 13th November, my right honourable friend Dr. Owen wrote a letter to the Prime Minister in which he said: As presently drafted, the ABM Treaty already contains effective means of avoiding new competition in defensive arms; it need not be amended and it would help if you made it clear that you believe it should neither be broadened, nor narrowed. According to Article V of the Treaty, 'each party undertakes not to develop, test, or deploy ABM systems or components which are sea-based, air-based, space-based, or mobile land-based'. It does not mention research yet both sides implicitly accept the legitimacy of research. There is no disagreement that the continued development, testing and deployment of a single,fixed, ground-based system by each side also is permitted. The problem is to identify the demarcation between permitted 'research' and prohibited 'testing and development' of ABM systems and their components, particularly those that would be deployed in space. Surely President Reagan should be willing to describe the specific activities which the United States plans over the next ten years. The Soviet Union could then specify which of those activities it would consider to be in violation of the treaty. At the same time the mirror-image of this process could be carried out: with the Soviet Union specifying its planned activities, and the United States identifying which of those activities it considered to be permitted and which prohibited by the Treaty. Through such an interactive process, the two sides hopefully would come to a precise understanding of the specific meaning of the Treaty's key provisions and there would then be no need to use the term 'laboratory' [which was then the vogue word] which is clearly too restrictive to allow any agreement.". In the Prime Minister's reply, she, in effect, dismissed this constructive approach to the problem.

Now, let us try to put things together. The Government know that Mr. Reagan wants to deploy a shield. The Government know this is impossible, as does everyone else—including, apparently, even Dr. Teller himself, who first suggested it. The Government know that much of the serious work is being done on point defence systems to protect retaliatory forces, and C3 and decision centres—which can be sound deterrence. But it is not what the President wants.

The Government know that tests of ATBMs are useful for testing terminal ASBM systems as well: if we did them, they would not be in actual breach of the treaty but they would be a clear circumvention of it. The Government know that European prime military targets are vulnerable to aircraft and to air-breathing missiles and not only to ballistic missiles. The Government know that these European acrhitecture studies are only about defences against ballistic systems, all the same.

As the German Government—and presumably NATO as well—have pointed out, "Extended Air Defence" is what we need and what in any case we, and our NATO allies, have got to find money for. Neither propping up Mr. Reagan's vision of a shield, nor spending money to support the US Army Strategic Defense programmes, let alone spending it to shred the SALT II and ABM treaties is our Government's or NATO's business or interest.

The Government know that when the European architecture studies are completed next year, all at American expense, the next stage of programme definition and development is intended by the United States to be at our expense—financial and scientific.

The Government know that the productive deployment of our scientific manpower—a limited and infinitely valuable human resource, trained at the taxpayers' expense—is a national interest. Yet, here, without public discussion and without, apparently, a moment's thought, this manpower is being hired out to work on a "strategy" as misconceived in purpose as it is fanciful in application. The Government know, just as well as the Reagan administration knows, that Assured Survival—as they like to call the deployment of strategic defences against ballistic missiles by the United States and the Soviet Union—depends entirely on Soviet co-operation.

And they know that that co-operation is most unlikely to be forthcoming—which is why the President wants the United States to be allowed to deploy ABMs anyway and wants to get all his allies to help him. SDI is no longer just research; it is active United States Government policy; and so, necessarily, is withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. The Government know this and should stop prevaricating about "only a research programme".

In its last two years, the American Administration is doing all it can to "create facts"—that is the phrase—and now our Government are aiding and abetting it in part by "creating facts" which will be beyond the reach of Congress. The Government know that SDI "Battle Management", the European part of which our Ministry of Defence is now to work on to the tune of 3.3 million dollars, depends on the total integration of all the relevant systems with as much "interception" as possible in the "boost phase"—which requires the "assets" (as weapons are now becoming called) to be over the target area the whole time. This the Government know and are in fact working to bring about, not to prevent.

The Government also know that the logic of all these schemes is the inextricable integration of Britain's and Europe's efforts and territory in a United States system at a necessarily low, or subservient, level. The "Battle Management" of the system our MoD is now being paid to study will not be in SACEUR's hands or in the North Atlantic Council's hands. It may well not even be in human hands at all.

All this is being conducted outside NATO in a series of bilateral deals so that there can be no NATO political control. The Government know also that the United States centre of political gravity is moving away from Europe and that at the same time these plans aim at integrating United States allies ever more closely with the United States military structures and activities.

I believe that things are now beginning to go through as routine in the Ministry of Defence which would not have gone through at all in Michael Heseltine's day—things leading to all that I have just described. How far do the Government intend to suck us in?

This brings me back, my Lords, to my Question, which seems to me the best formal way of putting it: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether it remains their view that the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty should be strengthened, and if so, how".

8.38 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Birmingham

My Lords, it seems to me that the Question which has just been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is of enormous importance, and I should like to thank him for raising it in this House. I agree with most of what he said but I want to put my arguments in a slightly different perspective.

The meeting at Reykjavik between President Reagan and Secretary Gorbachev very nearly brought renewed hope for mankind by means of an epic agreement to limit nuclear weapons and to end the terrible nuclear arms race which is eating up our resources so badly—resources that are needed for creative purposes—and which is causing fear to darken the world. But that meeting at Reykjavik was a disaster. People sometimes try to dress up disasters as successes. This was a disaster and the cause of the disaster was the deep disagreement between the USA and the USSR on the subject of SDI.

SDI is contrary to the intentions of the ABM Treaty. The objective behind SDI is to build up a system of defence against nuclear missiles of such a character that even if not all missiles are shot down, so many of them are that the advantage of first strike, the shield, is removed. Never mind that some say that this would only cause a potential enemy to build more missiles if fewer are going to get through; never mind that some people say that you could never trust the computer system on which SDI depends; never mind all the other objections that could be brought against it; never mind if it belongs to a dream world. If that dream could, peradventure, be translated into reality, it would be contrary to the spirit of the ABM Treaty agreed between President Nixon and Mr. Brezhnev on 26th May, 1972.

The preamble of that treaty runs as follows: The USA and the USSR, proceeding from the premise that nuclear war would have devastating consequences for all mankind: Considering that effective measures to limit anti-ballistic missile systems would be a substantial factor in curbing the race in strategic offensive arms and would lead to a decrease in the risk of outbreak of war involving nuclear weapons; Proceeding from the premise that the limitation of anti-ballistic missile systems, as well as certain agreed measures with respect to the limitation of strategic offensive arms, would contribute to the creation of more favourable conditions for further negotiations on limiting strategic arms etc … agrees as follows". That is the preamble; and so the ABM Treaty is based on the view that the deployment of ABM systems increases the nuclear arms race beyond those permitted in the treaty. President Reagan's SDI plans proceed on the opposite assumption, that ABM systems could in themselves produce an adequate defence against nuclear weapons and so render the nuclear arms race futile.

The principles are contrary, and so the question arises: what is the view of Her Majesty's Government towards the stated aims of the ABM Treaty? I know that this country has not signed it and, in that sense, it is not our business; but it has been signed by our closest ally, with whom we are said to have a special relationship, and so we really want to know what view is taken of the principles of this treaty by Her Majesty's Government. I look forward to the noble Lord the Minister making that clear. Does it remain the view of Her Majesty's Government that the treaty should be strengthened, and if so, how?

Like the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, I should like to ask a question about feasibility. The Prime Minister said when she returned recently from a visit to President Reagan that she had agreed that SDI should be tested up to feasibility. Not being able to find an adequate description of what that word meant in this House or in the other place, I took refuge in my dictionary. I see that the word "feasibility" is derived from the Latin facere (to make) and so it should mean "up to practicability". Is it right to interpret this as meaning that SDI should not only be researched in laboratories but also developed and tested up to the point at which it would be practicable? This is such an important matter that I hope the noble Lord the Minister will at last be able to enlighten us; otherwise we are in confusion, and that is never a desirable state to be in when discussing defence strategies.

The matter is of peculiar importance for pressing reasons. In the first place, President Reagan, in his speech to the United Nations in September, acknowledged the Russian concession that laboratory research into SDI is permissible under the treaty, but he offered a new package which included a less restrictive view of research, to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has referred. Instead of the 15 years' notice of withdrawal proposed by Gorbachev, Reagan proposed seven and a half years' notice—only half the period. But he coupled with that the proposal that should either side after that time decide to deploy ABM systems it, would be obliged to offer a plan for sharing the benefits of strategic defence and for eliminating offensive ballistic missiles". Two years, he said, would be allowed for such negotiations and if after that period there was no agreement—and it seems highly probable that after those two years there would be no agreement—either side would be free to deploy its ABM systems after giving the six months' notice at present required by the treaty of 1972. That is an important proposal, and as the chief ally of the United States of America we should like to know the view of Her Majesty's Government about such a proposal.

There is another reason why this matter is so important. That is to be found in the phrase used by President Reagan, to the effect that during the initial seven and a half year period, each side should be free to research, develop and test strategic defences in accordance with the treaty". And so the question to be asked is: how can such research and development be in accordance with the ABM Treaty? Do Her Majesty's Government agree, or do they not, with this interpretation of the treaty that this is permitted under the ABM Treaty?

We read in Article V of the treaty as follows: Each side undertakes not to develop, test or deploy ABM systems or components which are sea-based, space-based or mobile land-based". That seems clear enough. It seems as though the development and testing proposed by President Reagan is expressly forbidden by the terms of the treaty. However, Professor Lawrence Freedman, Professor of War Studies at King's College, London, has drawn my attention to Agreed Statement D, which is attached to the treaty. That reads as follows: In order to ensure the fulfilment of the obligation not to deploy ABM systems and their components … the parties agree that in the event of ABM systems based on other physical principles and including components capable of substituting for ABM interceptor missiles, SBM launchers or ABM radar being created in the future, specific limitations on such systems and their components would be subject to discussions". I am told that statement was included in 1972 in order to ensure that Russian lasers, then being developed, would be included in negotiations; but now it would seem the United States of America is using it to insist that it has the right not only to research but also to develop and test ABM systems if they are based on new physical principles, because those lie outside the treaty. In 1972, it seems, the Agreed Statement D was included so that lasers might be included. Now it seems that it is being used so that they can be developed and tested outside the treaty.

If they lie outside the treaty, there seems no restraint to their being not only developed and tested but also deployed. Secretary of State Shultz had earlier said that the USA would abide by what was commonly thought to be the interpretation of Clause V, that they were forbidden. However, President Reagan, in his address to the United Nations seems to be redefining the position of his country not by Clause V in its obvious meaning but as interpreted by Agreed Statement D.

What position do Her Majesty's Government hold over this? Are they still in favour of strengthening the treaty or do they side with President Reagan in weakening it by regarding potential future SDI components of ABM systems as being based on new physical principles and so outside the scope of the treaty?

I ask these questions with some anxiety. Recent events have shown USA international strategies to be in some "confusion and disarray". I take that phrase from the USA. We cannot afford confusion in matters where a terrible nuclear arms race of potential unimaginable frightfulness is at stake. Agreement at Reykjavik seemed so near and yet so far. The influence of allies at a time of confusion and disarray cannot be without effect; and in any case I am persuaded that the citizens of this country would be more reassured if they could be clear about the views of Her Majesty's Government upon these important matters. I look forward with much expectation to the enlightenment that I hope the Minister will be able to give on this important Question, which I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for raising in this House.

8.50 p.m.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for giving us this opportunity for debate, even if it is rather late in the evening. The ABM Treaty was a product of the Salt I talks and was signed on 12th May 1972 by both superpowers. The treaty was ratified in September 1972 by both parties, and instruments of ratification were exchanged in October 1972. The treaty was reviewed in November 1977 by the US-Soviet Standing Consultative Commission and was found to be operating satisfactorily and therefore required no amendment.

The Labour Party in its document Defence and Security for Britain 1984 said: Labour strongly supports the existing Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. It is opposed to any action to undermine its provisions, including development of the so-called 'Star Wars Strategic Defence Initiative by the United States". I gave a very full critique of star wars in the speech I made to your Lordships' House last Wednesday night. I do not intend to bore the House with another effort.

I think that there are two main issues tonight. The first issue is SDI and the interpretation dispute. In October 1985, President Reagan, supported by hardliners such as Richard Perle, Assistant Secretary for Defense, put forward the idea of an alternative interpretation of the ABM Treaty based on a new reading of Agreed Statement D. The motivation for the new interpretation was to pre-empt criticism of SDI on the grounds that it violated the ABM Treaty. NATO allies including Great Britain protested, and Mr. George Shultz persuaded the President not to persist with the proposals. However, according to an article by Lawrence Freedman in The Times of 16th October, President Reagan was still trying to convince Mr. Gorbachev of the correctness of the new permissive interpretation.

Mr. Gerard Smith, chief negotiator of the treaty, attacked the new interpretation in The Times in October of this year and said: This new version of the treaty has drastic implications for the survival of the treaty and indeed of the whole arms control process.". John Rhinelander, who was also involved in the preparation of the treaty, said that the attempt to place SDI outside the treaty was, a dishonest and disingenuous interpretation of the treaty". Those are hard words about his own government by an American who was a negotiator. Rhinelander was also quoted in the New Scientist of 28th October as saying, All but one of the American negotiators present at the 1972 talks agree that the new definition as argued by the Reagan administration is 'absolute rubbish' ". He also said: It looks to me that Reykjavik foundered because the Russians were trying to make an interpretation of the treaty tighter than in 1972, while the United States was trying to make it much looser.". As these Americans say, we ought to get back to and stick to the terms of the treaty. In any case, it is essential that an agreement on the meaning of the treaty be reached as quickly as possible so that it may underpin discussions on arms control.

The second issue tonight is that of alleged transgressions. Washington has long accused the Soviet Union of violating the treaty by the building of the radar system at Krasnoyarsk. The force of these allegations is weakened by two things. First, it is far from certain, in the view of a number of British analysts, that Krasnoyarsk is a violation. It could in fact be what the Soviets claim it is—namely, a radar for tracking manned space flights as claimed by the Observer on 24th March 1985. Secondly, Britain and the United States last month signed an agreement to modernise the early-warning radar system at Fylingdales in Yorkshire. Both Gerard Smith and Rhinelander claim that this system, plus an American system at Thule in Greenland and the Krasnoyarsk system, are all in violation of the treaty.

In October 1985, the Soviet Union offered to halt the building of Krasnoyarsk in exchange for the non-modernisation of the Yorkshire and Greenland systems. This offer was dismissed by the United States on the grounds that since Fylingdales and Thule existed at the time of the agreement they were therefore not bound by the treaty. Scientists have argued that the British and United States radars are not being modernised but that they are being replaced and therefore do fall within the scope of the treaty.

It is imperative that agreement should be reached. I should like to know what Her Majesty's Government are doing to help to reach such an agreement. I should also like to know why reference has not been made in this matter to the US-Soviet Standing Consultative Commission which was set up for this very purpose.

As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said very recently, the trouble is that there is too much distrust. I believe that if we are to make progress, both in settling the dispute and in arms control, we must trust one another a great deal more than we have done.

8.57 p.m.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is an indefatigable questioner on arms control and disarmament matters. I make no complaint about that. But the line of the noble Lord's questions seems to indicate a fear that Government policy is somehow flawed. I hope I can persuade him that that is not so.

I have listened with great attention to what has been said this evening. What I say in reply will perhaps not come as a surprise to your Lordships. The reason is that the basis of the Government's policy has been clearly stated and explained to your Lordships on several occasions. Many of the issues raised in the course of this evening's debate and also raised more generally by others outside this House are simply questions which are not susceptible to rapid and easy answers now. The strategic and political issues raised by the strategic defence initiative and its relationship with the ABM Treaty will be with us for a number of years and will need constant re-assessment with the passage of time.

As your Lordships well realise, Her Majesty's Government are not a party to the 1972 ABM Treaty. But it remains our policy to contribute towards the maintenance of this treaty. We regard it as one of the basic components of the current strategic relationship. The drafters of the treaty had as their objective the creation of a stable and predictable strategic environment, one in which neither side was able to develop defensive systems capable of undermining the equation that had hitherto prevailed. But it is often held that this perception and the situation of mutually assured deterrence which it brings about is immoral. The argument runs that it is wrong to base one's security on the risk of massive potential destruction.

Accidents could occur. A madman could trigger off a crippling first strike or a conventional conflict could escalate into an all-out nuclear exchange which would result in the nuclear holocaust.

The Government do not underestimate these concerns. The comprehensive arrangements to prevent the accidental release of nuclear weapons and for the closest political control over their use in practice make the possibility of accidental use or use by a madman vanishingly small. And the awful destructive power of nuclear weapons, with the certainty of massive destruction which they bring, provides the best guarantee against their use. Deterrence works and has been seen to work over the last 40 years. Nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented. That is why we hold to the ABM Treaty which provides the framework of stability and predictability in which nuclear deterrence can be managed and further arms control agreements sought.

The question then arises of how to ensure that the ABM Treaty continues to provide this framework. Strict compliance with the ABM Treaty remains essential. United Kingdom concerns are well known. We believe that existing arms control agreements should continue to be observed scrupulously by signatories to them. That is why we have said that we believe the construction of the Soviet radar at Krasnoyarsk raises serious concerns which the Soviet Union should answer.

May I now say a few words about the United States SDI research programme. Many would have us believe that the SDI represents the main threat to the ABM Treaty, and that by participating in the programme Her Majesty's Government are contributing towards undermining that treaty. But such a belief is mistaken. First, the United States Government have given repeated assurances that their research will be conducted in accordance with the existing treaty obligations, including the ABM Treaty. The US Government publishes every year an extensive report to Congress on the SDI. This includes a comprehensive discussion of compliance aspects, including those affecting Allied participation in the programme. A copy of this document is in the Library of your Lordships' House and I commend it to noble Lords who have concern over this matter. I wish I were in a position to commend to noble Lords a similar document about the compliance with the ABM Treaty of Soviet research into strategic defences.

Secondly, many—and some noble Lords are among them—forget that the SDI is a research programme investigating the feasibility of strategic defences. That has always been the aim. The ABM Treaty permits research. Of that there is and can be no doubt and it is clearly right that the United States should conduct its own research programme in the light of the Soviet Union's own activities, which have been explained to your Lordships on many occasions. But, until it can be clearly demonstrated that the SDI holds out the prospect of something better, we shall continue to rely on nuclear deterrence. Churchill's words have often been quoted, but they bear repetition: Be careful above all things not to let go of the atomic weapon until you are sure, and more than sure, that other means of preserving peace are in your hands. The Government adopt the same view with regard to the ABM Treaty. We should hang on to it as a stable element in a changing world.

A number of points were raised during the course of this evening's debate. I think the answers to many of them are well known, but perhaps I can help your Lordships just a little further. I first repeat the basis on which the United Kingdom and the United States see the strategic defence initiative. Your Lordships know of the four points that were agreed between my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and President Reagan in December 1984. Although those points have been often referred to in your Lordships' House, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I repeat them again, because I believe that they deserve more study than they have perhaps so far enjoyed.

The first is that the United States and the Western aim is not superiority but balance, taking account of Soviet developments. The second is that SDI-related deployment would, in view of treaty obligations, have to be a matter for negotiations. Thirdly, the overall aim is to enhance, not to undermine, deterrence; and I hope the right reverend Prelate will bear that point in mind. Fourthly, East-West negotiations should aim to achieve security with reduced levels of defensive systems on both sides. That is the position of the United Kingdom Government. It is the position, too, of the United States Government, as they have reaffirmed on more than one occasion.

I turn now to the ABM Treaty itself, which is of course the subject of the noble Lord's Question. Her Majesty's Government have advocated strengthening the treaty through reaffirming and clarifying it. We believe that United States detailed discussion of SDI compliance with the ABM Treaty and attempts to discuss treaty compliance more generally with the Soviet Union are consistent with this approach. We also note, as Mr. Nitze told Congress last week, that the United States want, and I quote his words, to continue to discuss with the Soviets our view of what is permitted by the ABM Treaty". That is the response to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who suggested that that should take place. Indeed, I think he was quoting a letter from Dr. Owen to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister; so that is the answer to that point.

It is a matter for regret that the Soviet Union is apparently unwilling to engage in detailed discussion about compliance of their own strategic defence work with the ABM Treaty, or to meet United States concerns in this area. The Soviets seem more interested in re-writing the ABM Treaty or, as they have put it, hardening the terms.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked particularly about the word "feasibility", which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, and others, have used. I must say that I was much attracted to the definition of that word which my noble friend the Lord President of the Council offered to your Lordships not so long ago. However, I would add to that in this way. I think that I would take the commonsense view of what is meant by that word. Research is pointless unless pursued to the point of demonstrating whether the devices concerned are going to work. It has long been stated that the purpose of the SDI research programme is to investigate the feasibility of strategic defences. Feasibility must be assessed before taking the decision whether or not to move to the next stage.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way at this point. He is weaseling again. We all agree that the treaty permits research into feasibility or into anything else you like. What the Prime Minister said was that she looked forward to testing feasibility, and we all ought to agree that the treaty forbids testing.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think I have already answered that question.

Lord Kennet

No, my Lords.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord referred also to the answer that my noble friend the Lord President gave a few weeks ago. I do not think I have anything to add to those two comprehensive replies.

I have been asked about the position of the radars at Krasnoyarsk and Fylingdales. I have already referred to one of them. The ballistic missile early warning system at Fylingdales was there long before the ABM Treaty, which does not prohibit modernisation of existing radars. Modernisation of RAF Fylingdales will be fully in accordance with United States obligations under the ABM Treaty. Fylingdales and the new large phased radar under construction at Krasnoyarsk are not comparable. That was fully explained to the Soviet authorities early this year. As I said earlier, we have repeatedly urged the Soviets to respond to legitimate United States concerns on the Krasnoyarsk installation.

At a meeting with President Reagan in December 1984 my right honourable friend the Prime Minister agreed with the President an overall approach on the strategic defence initiative, and I have recited the four points which emerged from that meeting. That document has stood the test of time remarkably well. It tackled the main issues which needed to be addressed and will need to be addressed for some time to come. That approach remains valid and was indeed reinforced by the recent meeting between my right honourable friend and President Reagan again at Camp David. Their agreed statement on their most recent meeting said: We also agreed on the need to press ahead with the SDI research programme which is permitted by the ABM Treaty". The complex issues raised by the relationship between strategic offences and strategic defences are being addressed in the bilateral Geneva nuclear and space talks. That is the forum, together with the specialised forum established by the ABM Treaty itself—which has been referred to this evening—in which treaty issues should be addressed.

The sixth round of the Geneva talks ended on 13th November. They resume on 15th January. Inter-sessional talks took place in Geneva last week. I hope that in a further round of talks progress will be made even before the main negotiations resume in Geneva. The statement issued following the meeting at Camp David last month set out clearly what the priorities are. But we look to the Soviet Union to address seriously the issues which the Americans have sought to discuss with it over a number of months.

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