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Strategic Defence Initiative

Volume 79: debated on Wednesday 22 May 1985

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1.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has made any further representations to the United States of America about the strategic defence initiative.

We remain in extremely close touch with the United States and our other allies about the strategic defence initiative research programme. We have made clear our support for United States research, which is necessary to balance Soviet efforts in this area.

Will the Foreign Secretary take the next opportunity available to him to impress on the Americans that he has some sympathy with Mr. Gorbachev's recently expressed view that the star wars programme increases the risk of nuclear war and sharply reduces the chances of reaching any accord on disarmament issues?

I shall not take the opportunity to put the point that the hon. Gentleman raises. I shall emphasise that the purpose of the United States in this respect is to achieve not superiority but balance, and in doing so to take account of the substantial Soviet programme for research of this kind. The Soviet Union has extensive ballistic missile defence programmes, has deployed the only anti-satellite system, has the only active anti-ballistic missile system in the world and has been undertaking research of this kind for a long time. For that reason we understand the United States' research programme.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that since the beginning of time man has looked for ways of preventing weapons systems being delivered, that it is normal to research this programme, that there is nothing unusual about it, and that it is simply a continuation of what has gone on since wars began?

I agree with the general analysis offered by my hon. Friend. Against that background I stress the points that I made about the scale and nature of Soviet research into such matters. It is equally important to bear in mind that all aspects of arms deployment need to be considered in the context of the search for an arms control agreement that can be sustained.

Will the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that the development of these weapons is destabilising, as seen from the Soviet perspective, especially in the so-called transitional phase? Is there not a genuine danger that pressing ahead with the SDI could lead to the failure of the Geneva talks?

I cannot emphasise too strongly and too often the fundamental fact, with which I answered the first supplementary question, that research into defensive space systems of this kind has been undertaken for many years on a large scale by the Soviet Union. For that reason we support the research being undertaken by the United States. We also welcome the attempts by the United States to discuss these matters with the Soviet Union, and its clear statement that any SDI-related deployment must be a matter for negotiations. That is the right way to approach these matters.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the research programme holds out the prospect of a non-nuclear antidote being found against the firing of a nuclear weapon? If that prospect is realised, surely it will be to the eternal benefit of all mankind?

It has been made clear that the research programme is bound to take many years be fore one can reach any conclusions about what it is likely to produce. Obviously, one factor to be taken into account is that it may offer prospects of enhanced defence. It is important to bear in mind that the United States' research is consistent with treaty obligations. We regard the treaty obligations as an important element in preserving peace and stability. In that framework, the whole matter should be considered.

In view of the Secretary of State's reply to an earlier question, what representations has he made to the American Administration about the repeated statement of the American Defence Secretary to the effect that the United States will not negotiate the deployment. of the space defence system if it proves feasible? Is that not a clear breach of the understanding reached between the Prime Minister and President Reagan in December?

As to the research programme, since the Americans have made it clear that they are monitoring Soviet research and have published a list of experiments which they plan to carry out in this area, would it not be sensible to kill the thing at birth by seeking a ban by both sides on all space defence-related experiments, which could be verified, and already have been?

The right hon. Gentleman must refrain from over-simplifying the matter. Although some research has been identified as taking place, including the nature of the deployment undertaken by the Soviet L nion, both sides believe that a system for the monitoring of research would, in practice, be unattainable. The important feature to notice is that the United States has repeated many times that any SDI-related deployment must be a matter for negotiation. The Americans emphasised that not just in the Camp David points, but during the Prime Minister's visit to Washington in February and on several ether occasions.