HL Deb 12 November 1990 vol 523 cc116-7

2.55 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their latest estimate of the numerical strength of the Russian Army, the number of nuclear missiles and the tonnage of material usable for chemical warfare possessed by Russia; and whether these figures represent an increase or a decrease on comparable figures for five and two years ago respectively.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, our latest estimate of the current numerical size of the Soviet Army is 2.2 million; namely, a 20 per cent. reduction over the past five years. The number of Soviet strategic nuclear missiles is currently assessed at 1,398 intercontinental ballistic missiles and 924 sea launched ballistic missiles. These figures show little change since 1985. Finally, we continue to assess that the Soviet stockpile of chemical warfare agents is several times greater than the figure of 50,000 tonnes declared by the Soviets themselves in 1987.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for those somewhat disturbing figures, is not the inevitable conclusion that this country and its allies should be very cautious indeed about believing that this is an opportune occasion for a peace dividend?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, my noble friend is correct. Even disregarding Eastern European nations, there is no doubt that the Soviet Union alone retains a considerable advantage over NATO. That is why under our Options for Change: A Study, we are pursuing a policy of both caution and realism. The details of that are being worked on at present.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, while noting what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, is the Minister aware that we welcome the signing of the CFE treaty on 19th November? Taking account of the great changes in Europe, notably the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, is there not a case for proceeding with urgency towards a second CFE treaty?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords welcome the signing of the CFE treaty in Paris on 19th November which, as your Lordships will know, is next Monday. Furthermore, it is very much hoped that there will be follow-on negotiations almost immediately after that, mostly concerning manpower reduction levels.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, while acknowledging that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has asked a vitally serious Question, will the Minister acknowledge that in addition to the points made by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, in the past few months there have been statements by Mr. Gorbachev which are encouraging? Would it not be possible for our Government and our allies to make a direct approach to Mr. Gorbachev to make a reality of his suggestions as well as our suggestions?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, this Government in line with all NATO governments are continually striving to have and, indeed, are being successful in having negotiations with Mr. Gorbachev, such as the CFE negotiations and the CSBM negotiations.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will her Majesty's Government make it clear to Mr. Gorbachev that his peaceful intentions would carry a great deal of weight if he did not continue to impose on the struggling Russian economy that enormous defence expenditure for which no explanation has yet been given?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I understand very well the point made by my noble friend. Indeed, that point is being stressed to Mr. Gorbachev as frequently as possible in line with negotiations now taking place and future negotiations.