Skip to main content

Security And Disarmament

Volume 26: debated on Tuesday 29 June 1982

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Brooke.]

1.13 am

It is a great privilege to initiate this debate on steps towards greater global security and disarmament. There is no subject that is more critical to the survival of mankind. It rightly arouses great passion and argument.

There are those who feel that a nuclear war would completely destroy our world and that the only way to prevent this is through dispossessing ourselves of nuclear weapons by the fastest possible route. Those are the unilateralists. Others are convinced that there will be a nuclear war but believe that they can survive it and are training hard to do so. Those are part of the survivalist movement of the United States which now has about 2 million members. Despite different opinions about the total effect of a nuclear war, all those people share one feeling—the inability of our present world institutions to prevent the holocaust.

The world is becoming weary of war and its threat. In countries throughout the globe we are now seeing the growth of the so-called peace movement which, in some cases such as that of the United Kingdom, having been quiescent for 20 years, is now blossoming with a massive increase in membership. It is inevitable that, as a generation which has not experienced a world holocaust becomes politically articulate, there should be a great misunderstanding of why wars have been fought in the past and a cynicism as to any benefits that might derive from them. It is also inevitable that young people who live in the West and who do not know the tyranny of loss of freedom or denial of human rights should wonder whether such values are worth fighting for with consequent loss of human life. For many people, not knowing what it is like to be red, it is better to be red than dead.

Moreover, the so-called peace movement encompasses not just the young but also large numbers of those people who, having experienced war and its horrors, find the contemplation of another war too horrific, especially when there is the likelihood that it would be fought with weapons of mass destruction which could destroy the globe. In addition, there are those who join the so-called peace movement not because they delve deep into the philosophy of whether there should be multilateral or unilateral disarmament but simply because they feel that nuclear war and its threat which logically to them is enhanced by the retention of nuclear weapons, however small in number, is wrong.

Although the so-called peace movement is at its most sophisticated through the Green Party in West Germany, is developing in the United Kingdom and is emerging from its swaddling clothes in the United States, it would be quite wrong to think that these are national movements. On the contrary, this is an international force, the element of which can be perceived even in the countries of the Eastern bloc.

It is against this background that we must view the concept of deterrence and negotiations. There is the paradox that those in countries which believe in deterrence and multilateral disarmament find themselves locked into the position where they must constantly renew and update their nuclear arsenal in order to satisfy the former which then, through the idea of negotiation from strength, enables genuine disarmament to take place on both sides.

This raises the question of whether deterrence and multilateral disarmament are compatible as two goals to be achieved alongside one another. The greatest danger of all, in my judgment, is the complacency that can arise out of a sense of equilibrium and uneasy peace. How many of us claim that it is due to the nuclear deterrent that we have had peace in Europe for such a long period? To accept this, and to adopt it as satisfaction of the goal of peace, is to disregard completely the facility with which such equilibrium can be upset.

Wars are caused by the unexpected, the miscalculation of another person's intentions and by the elevation to power of military dictators lacking adequate restraint in their own countries and convinced that military options are viable. No doubt they have all read the works of von Clausewitz? Recently, we have seen war in the South Atlantic containing two of those elements—the miscalculation by both sides of each other's intentions and capacities and the unyielding nature of a military dictator with whom one is unable to negotiate in the same way as with a parliamentary democracy.

The concept of deterrence, however, is based upon the maintenance of an equilibrium, or at least forces in sufficient strength to persuade any potential aggressor that he could not hope to profit from attacking. The argument, as articulated in a pamphlet published by the British Foreign Office entitled "Peace and Disarmament—A Short Guide to British Government Policy", goes on to state:
"the strategy of deterrence has held firm, despite the increasing international tensions of recent years, because it would be madness for either side to launch an attack on the other."
This, of course, neglects to anticipate the unexpected; in other words, that one side will be motivated through madness! So there is frustration with the efficacy of deterrence as well as the seeming ineffectiveness of its partner, multilateral disarmament.

A recent delegation of leading politicians from five continents organised by Parliamentarians for World Order visited both Washington and Moscow to impress upon the leaders of the super-Powers that there must be effective disarmament. While agreeing that that was a worthwhile aim, the United States has poured cold water upon the idea of a nuclear freeze as this would leave an imbalance in their judgment, and the Vice President of the USSR, while agreeing that disarmament was a worthwhile aim, frankly told the delegation that it was not just around the corner. So we ask ourselves, is this a realistic way forward? The USSR seems uninterested in the idea of the zero option for Europe and, indeed, was reluctant to take part in the Geneva talks. The MBFR talks in Vienna have been grinding on for years but with no success, and the only real achievement has been through SALT and, hopefully, now with START.

In fact, a great deal has been achieved in the sphere of major arms control and disarmament agreements, but as these talks are long and tedious and success is undramatic as well as limited, these do not arouse much public interest or comprehensive knowledge.

There is another point, that once an agreement has been reached on one weapons system, the public's attention focuses on the next and tends to disregard what has been achieved already. The fact remains, however, that since 1925 the Geneva protocol prohibiting the use of poison gas and bacteriological weapons in war, there have been 14 subsequent agreements, 12 of those since 1963. These have included banning nuclear weapon tests in the outer space and under water; establishing a nuclear weapon-free zone in Latin America; preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to further countries; prohibiting the emplacement of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction on the sea bed; banning the development, production and stockpiling of bacteriological and toxin weapons; banning the use of environmental modification techniques for military or other hostile purposes; and restricting the use of particularly inhumane conventional weapons such as napalm and mines.

There is certainly a need to publicise these successes to a greater extent, however limited they may have been, and I pay tribute to the part played by my own country in these achievements. I am particularly pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office in his place to reply to the debate. I know that he takes great care in these matters and that he advances them with much responsibility.

Much more needs to be done. Those who feel the sense of frustration that little is being achieved and that the enhancement of the nuclear arsenal goes on unabated wish to turn to more dramatic action. This usually takes the form of unilateral disarmament. It is essentially the answer of the impatient, the desire to see something done now rather than continuing the slow process of multi-lateral disarmament. Now is not the time to go into the arguments both for and against this concept, but Professor Neville Brown in a Fabian Society pamphlet published in May 1981 and entitled "A British Approach to Peace" said that a unilateral departure by Britain would heighten by perhaps a factor of ten the near-term danger of nuclear war especially if she renounced the Rome Treaty at about the same time.

Professor Brown went on to comment that if a nuclear weapon-free zone were created from the Atlantic to the Urals as proposed by European Nuclear Disarmament the effect would be one-sided because the accurate and mobile SS20 missile deployed on Soviet territory would continue to pose a threat to the countries of Western Europe on which they are targeted. Moreover, the idea of a Europe free from nuclear weapons takes no account of conventional forces where the existing imbalance, without the restraint imposed by nuclear weapons, would be a source of great instability.

There is no evidence to suggest that unilateral disarmament by Britain would greatly reduce the number of nuclear weapons in Europe or help to prevent further proliferation elsewhere in the world. The Soviets have made it clear that they are opposed to unilateral disarmament for themselves. In a recent analytical article, two Soviet policy makers said that the Soviet Union
"cannot undertake the unilateral destruction of its nuclear weapons (and indeed has no right to do so, as it is responsible to the peoples of the whole world for peace and progress). To do so would mean disarming in the face of the forces of war and reaction."
Nor is the Soviet Union concerned with ethical considerations. In the same article, the authors stated:
"While speaking against the use of nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union does not exclude the possibility of using them in extreme circumstances … Marxist-Leninists decisively reject the assertions of certain bourgeois theoreticians who consider nuclear missile war unjust from any angle."
Moreover, Marshal Sokolovsky has made it clear that Soviet strategists do not separate conventional from nuclear war but regard it all as one, unlike so much of the domestic civilian thinking in the West. It was Ramsay MacDonald in 1934, speaking of the world disarmament conference, who stated that disarmament by example simply does not work. He was proved correct by the policy of restraint in the 1930s against the growing militarism of Germany.

I am glad to see that I am taking my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) with me in this argument.

The greatest sadness in modern history is that the Baruch plan which envisaged the destruction of nuclear weapons and all fissionable materials being brought under the control of an international authority with no veto on its powers was not put into effect when the United States voluntarily offered to give up its monopoly possession of nuclear weapons in 1946. The USSR wanted the nuclear stockpile to be destroyed before the authority was set up and insisted upon a veto. In his famous speech in Strasbourg in 1979, which has been so badly misrepresented by some, the late Lord Mountbatten suggested that peace is most likely to be preserved if there is a military balance of strength between East and West.

There is no doubt that we must continue to preserve the delicate balance of power under the umbrella of deterrence and, in its shade, press for realistic multi-lateral disarmament. But is this really the way forward? Is this course the one that is most likely to prevent a future war?

During the 1970s, the steady rise in world military expenditure has been as much due to increased spending in developing countries—it has doubled in a dozen years—as in the developed ones. The developing countries have increased their arsenals of conventional weapons while the super-powers have broken new ground to develop missiles with multiple nuclear warheads. While the number of troops of the 31 countries designated as developed has remained reasonably steady since 1960, the number in developing countries has almost doubled.

While the super-Powers are arguing about arms reduction talks, proliferation of nuclear weapons in smaller countries is going on apace. The Third World War could start in the Third World. This is the nub of the problem. The nuclear holocaust is far more likely to start as a result of a smaller nation using nuclear weapons leading to an escalation rather than the two super-Powers undertaking a conflict of mutual destruction. One wonders how General Galtieri would have threatened to use a nuclear weapon in the dispute over the Falklands Islands if he had possessed such a weapon, which Argentina may well do in the near future.

The answer to greater global security has to be through preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. However, that will be done only when such nations feel that the international regime is such that their grievances can be satisfied without recourse to force of arms. The greatest lacuna in international law is its lack of enforceability, as has been demonstrated again by the Falkland Islands crisis and the complete impotence of the United Nations to implement Security Council resolution 502 which demanded an immediate withdrawal of Argentinian troops. It should never have been a British task force that was engaged in the Southern Atlantic but a United Nations standing force which should have ensured that international law was complied with.

The Falklands and now Lebanon exemplify the inability of the world community to act as international policemen, leaving countries to act as judge and bailiff in their own cause. The United Kingdom was able to despatch a task force, but a smaller country with inadequate defences could not have done that. What hope is there for these countries which become victims of aggression?

It is because of my belief that world security is so dependent upon the enforceability of world law that I belong to the Parliamentary Group for World Government which has as members many distinguished right hon. and hon. Members of both Houses of Parliament, including several past Prime Ministers. They follow in the footsteps of those who have expressed belief in world security law, such as Winston Churchill, Nehru, John F. Kennedy and U Thant.

Our group is affiliated to the international Parliamentarians for World Order, a body of more than 600 members in 22 parliaments whose honorary president is our Mr. Speaker. Quite unlike the Inter-Parliamentary union which spreads its net wide over a whole range of issues, and to which many of our members belong, PWO is an organisation of parliamentarians with one specific goal of world peace through world law.

In its two short years of existence the PWO has gone from strength to strength with two well-attended parliamentary fora in the United Nations in 1981 and, just recently, before the opening of the second special session on disarmament.

Our object is to continue to hold a parliamentary forum alongside the United Nations to which individual members of parliament throughout the world, representing its citizens rather than just Governments, can contribute. We see this as the germ of an idea which might well grow in a similar way to the European Parliament which has proved that an international assembly can work.

At the meeting in New York at the beginning of June we presented a call for global survival to the United Nations, asking for negotiations on a world treaty for simultaneous, balanced, verifiable and enforceable disarmament which must include first, disarmament by all nations to the level of arms required for internal security; secondly, an international inspection organisation able to monitor disarmament, using both satellites and on-site inspection; thirdly, a world peace force able to enforce disarmament and prevent international aggression, the members of which should be individually recruited, thus owing their allegiance entirely to the international force and not to any national contingents; fourthly, an effective system of world courts and arbitration tribunals; and fifthly, a world development fund through which a fixed proportion of the resources made available through disarmament would be devoted to development in the poorest nations.

There is nothing really new in such a call. Indeed most of it coincides with the joint statement of agreed principles for disarmament negotiations, known as the McCloy-Zorin agreement, signed by both the USA and USSR on 20 September 1961 and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly as the foundation for future negotiations towards general and complete disarmament. If they could agree then, how much more important that they should agree now.

Finally, we are not dreamers, although we have a vision of a more secure world. We are realists, aware that it is only when countries have confidence in the fair arbitrament of their disputes at the hands of international tribunals, and when they can be satisfied that a breach of international law by force of arms will be met by a response in force from the whole international community, that they will feel able to disarm and the world will become a better and safer place in which to live.

Our parliamentary lives would not be in vain if only we were able to bring that one step nearer to reality.

1.28 am

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) on his choice of subject, and on the way in which he has introduced the subject. As he rightly says, there is no issue that is more important. I recognise the sincere work that he and many others do—as he pointed out—in the parliamentary group for world government, and particularly in Parliamentarians for World Order.

I found very little to quarrel with in my hon. Friend's able analysis at the beginning of his speech. It is natural that in any thinking democracy many people will be anxious and articulate about the horrors of nuclear war. However, from now on there is no great need to emphasise those horrors, because they are well known and undeniable. The question is not whether they are horrors—they obviously are—but how to avert them. We believe that until now they have been averted by the policy of deterrence that my hon. Friend referred to. Despite his polite criticism, I hold to the quotation that he made from the Foreign Office pamphlet. That policy of deterrence will have to be maintained. It is wrong to argue that the policy is in danger of breaking down because of modern developments and it is wrong to try to persuade people that we are in imminent danger of a holocaust. My hon. Friend was careful not to do that, and chose his words skilfully, but others are arguing themselves and others into a state of anxiety that is not justified by the facts.

I agree with my hon. Friend—and this was the main thrust of his speech—that deterrence by itself is not enough, for two main reasons, which my hon. Friend mentioned. Unless we can also achieve arms control and disarmament, we shall find ourselves devoting more and more resources to more and more sophisticated and expensive weaponry. The effect will be harsh on all the other things that we, and particularly the poorest countries of the world, are trying to do. It is worth noting that although democracies such as ours are much better at producing wealth than the dictatorships of the Soviet bloc, they are much less ready to vote that wealth for defence purposes. Hence, the proportion of our wealth that goes on military expenditure is less than half of the Soviet bloc.

The second reason that my hon. Friend noted, and that may not be sufficiently understood in Britain, or in the international community as a whole, is the danger of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I do not believe that there is any great danger of nuclear war taking place between the existing nuclear Powers as a result of some accident or madness. However, the danger becomes real when other countries possess nuclear weapons. My hon. Friend gave an apt example, when he mentioned ex-President Galtieri.

We believe that deterrence is not ideal, and together with our NATO allies we have launched an ambitious programme of negotiations to try to reduce East/West armaments and the tensions that exist, particularly in Europe. The Prime Minister spelt out that programme in her notable speech to the United Nations special session on disarmament last week. These proposals include a substantial cut in United States/Soviet strategic weapons. The START negotiations, designed to bring that about, opened in Geneva yesterday with our full support, and after extensive consultation within the Alliance. The programme also includes the elimination of United States/ Soviet intermediate-range nuclear forces, and mutual and balanced reductions in conventional forces in Europe—the MBFR negotiations. Although my hon. Friend is right to say that they dragged on for a long time, that is no reason to despair of them. The Western side is now in the process of working out new proposals and ideas in the hope of giving them a new impetus.

The programme also includes a European disarmament conference to negotiate confidence and security-building measures on the basis of proposals put forward by France.

Before leaving the subject of the mutual and balanced force reductions, will my hon. Friend say a sentence more about the timetable for the proposals? When will there be some impetus? We rather feel they have been left lingering, wandering about as locusts to die, for a long time, and perhaps it is high time that there was another initiative.

I cannot give a timetable because the details have not been agreed, but there is now a new emphasis on the conventional side in the discussions.

We are active in all the efforts. We are more interested in making progress on serious negotiations than in making empty proposals for the sake of one day's headlines about a British initiative. We are often pressed to do that. The pressure would be eased if we bounced up and down making proposals that last only one day, like a butterfly, because they have no substance. That is not satisfactory and we therefore put our effort into making serious contributions to the negotiations.

Where there is a need for new ideas—and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) has mentioned one—we are ready to supply them, as we have in the discussion on chemical weapons. We put forward a paper on verification, which is where the negotiations must start. If our paper is accepted it will unlock that door and bring nearer an agreement to abolish chemical weapons. That is an illustration of the quiet, practical work on which we believe the British Government should concentrate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey is right to stress the link between peace and security based on respect for international law. That link is often neglected in discussions. Two wars are raging in the Middle East and one war has just finished—we hope for good—in the South Atlantic. Elsewhere are dozens of areas of tension, acute dispute and bloodshed. I cannot help feeling that it would be better and more fruitful if some of the energy spent worrying about an imminent clash between the super-Powers—which I believe to be most unlikely—were spent on studying and finding ways of settling the conflicts that occur mostly in the Third world and which are now causing misery and slaughter.

The United Nations is the instrument created for that purpose. The United Nations charter is the best solution yet of hopes in that direction. My hon. Friend outlined his group's proposals. He said that they were not dreamers. It is worth remembering, when considering such proposals, that the existing United Nations charter provides, in chapter 7, for enforcement. The trouble is that it is a dead letter. It has never been put into practice. It is a dead letter because the Soviets prevented it from becoming a reality.

The charter also offers a peacekeeping role to the Secretary-General—and we look forward to welcoming the present Secretary-General on a visit to London next month. Again, we come up against a deeply entrenched Soviet view—that the Secretary-General should operate only when specifically requested by the Security Council.

Given the Soviets' attitude, one must ask whether it is likely that they or their friends would fall in with the type of proposals described by my hon. Friend. I am not one who despairs of the UN because it is clear, in dispute after dispute, that what the UN can do can be done by no other body. That does not mean that it can do all that is required, as we discovered in the Falklands dispute. But it is the best organisation that we have and we should build on it, starting with the realities of the UN today.

We support the Secretary-General's role. We are painfully aware of the need to strengthen the UN's role in the peaceful settlement of disputes. Over the years our Armed Forces have gained considerable experience of UN peacekeeping. The general subject is covered in our military staff courses and specific training is given when required. Our policy is to try to respond helpfully if we can, whenever requests are made for help with UN peacekeeping forces. My hon. Friend probably knows that we are the largest single contributor to the UN force in Cyprus. We provide one third of the force and all the logistic support. That is quite a contribution. We also provide logistic support to the UN force in the Lebanon, whose future is to some extent in doubt but which, until the final Israeli invasion, did undoubtedly useful work in checking trouble.

It is too early to be sure, but there has been a tendency to shift peacekeeping operations outside the UN framework. We have seen, for example, the Sinai force, which is outside the UN, to which, again, we contribute because we believe it is worthwhile. We have seen the Organisation for African Unity's peacekeeping operation in Chad. It may be that such regional steps will grow in future. That would not contradict my hon. Friend's aims and articles 52 and 54 of the UN charter envisage and allow for regional arrangements in matters of peace and security. I have been carefully reading the Palme commission report on the subject and it, too, puts an emphasis on regional arrangements.

That does not mean—and we would not wish to see—that there will be any downgrading of the UN peacekeeping role. We believe that the charter and the office of Secretary-General are unique and will on many occasions in the future prove useful. I think particularly of the Middle East and Cyprus where, in different ways, the UN is already entrenched.

We have to build patiently on what we have both in the area of multilateral disarmament negotiations and in the area of UN peacekeeping and peacemaking. It is the job of Her Majesty's Government, and the Foreign Office in particular, to protect and advance British interests, but, as my hon. Friend said, the overwhelming British interest in the world is that of peace. We have the task to use our diplomacy to help to put out fires across the world and prevent fresh fires igniting. Increasingly, we do this with our European partners. That, again, is a technique that has proved useful in increasing our influence, as the several statements issued today from the European Council meeting in Brussels illustrate.

We live in a world of more than 150 nation-States, many of which suffer from the disease of excessive nationalism, which can so easily breed war. While this is not perhaps emphasised at the moment, it is part of our duty, not only to protect the immediate, obvious and specific British interests but, as part of that wider British interest in world peace, to try to leave the world m which we live a somewhat safer and more decent place than we found it.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at seventeen minutes to Two o'clock.