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Nato Ministers (Meetings)

Volume 974: debated on Tuesday 27 November 1979

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10.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his meeting with NATO Ministers at the nuclear planning group in mid-November.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on discussions of medium-range nuclear missiles at the NATO talks, and on the British proposals made there.

At the meeting of the nuclear planning group on 13 and 14 November I reaffirmed the Government's strong support for a programme to modernise NATO's long-range theatre nuclear weapons and a parallel arms control approach to the Soviet Union. A copy of the communique issued following that meeting is in the Library.

What convincing reply can the Secretary of State give to the Dutch Government, who have argued a formidable and detailed case to the effect that the proposed missile deployment under discussion would be more, and not less, dangerous for Europe?

There has, of course, been considerable debate within the Alliance about this proposal. All sorts of problems in connection with it have been raised and discussed. It so happens that the Netherlands Government have perhaps as great a domestic difficulty with it as any country, but there have been problems for all countries. At the recent nuclear planning group meeting all these issues were fully debated and discussed. That was the purpose of the meeting. Its purpose was not to reach decisions but to go over the ground in preparation for that decision. The points made not only by the Netherlands Government but by other Governments were fully considered, and we will, of course, be returning to them next month.

Have not the Russians recently offered negotiations on missile reductions.? Will not the plan to have an increased number of missiles on British soil worsen the prospects for negotiation?

It is our opinion that the opposite is the case. The reason why this programme has been designed, discussed and, hopefully, decided upon, is that the increase in both the quantity and quality of nuclear missiles in the Soviet Union is of such a character that, in our opinion, it would be dangerous for us not to have adequate strength. We think that we must negotiate from a position of strength. If, as was said a few minutes ago, the Soviet Union were to decide to dismantle missiles and not produce any more, no doubt different attitudes would be taken by the Alliance.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that during the last two years the Soviet Union has established, in Euro strategic nuclear weapons, a superiority of more than three to one? Does my right hon. Friend agree that even after the proposed theatre nuclear modernisation plans of NATO have been effected the Soviet Union will still enjoy a substantial superiority?

Yes, it certainly does seem to be the case that even after the modernisation programme that we are considering the Soviet Union will have a substantial preponderance of nuclear weapons. That is, of course, unless any other changes are made. As I said in reply to an earlier supplementary question, it is not our intention to increase the proportion of nuclear capability. What we are sure is right is that we should see that our nuclear capability is a genuine, effective and credible deterrent.

Did the Secretary of State see yesterday's leading article in The Times? Does he accept that that leader, expressed in very clear terms, represents a sensible policy for the future?

I cannot recall that leading article in detail, but I have set out the position of the Government.