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Nato (Discussions)

Volume 115: debated on Tuesday 5 May 1987

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1.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with Defence Ministers in other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries; and if he will make a statement.

I have regular collective meetings with my ministerial colleagues in NATO as well as, from time to time, bilateral visits and meetings. A wide range of subjects of mutual defence interest are discussed at such meetings.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there could yet be a sting in the tail in the new climate on nuclear arms reductions? Does he agree that if all short-range and medium-range nuclear weapons were removed from Europe now, NATO would be left facing the Warsaw Pact in a position of great conventional inferiority? Would that not increase, rather than decrease, the risk of war? If my right hon. Friend agrees with me, will he ensure that his fellow Defence Ministers realise that as well?

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. In considering the recent proposal by Mr. Gorbachev we need to bear in mind NATO's overall deterrence requirements in the light of the totality of the threat that is facing us. I shall certainly take up that matter with my NATO colleagues when next I meet them.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what is the evaluation of the Secretary-General of NATO of the Soviet proposals on cuts in nuclear missiles in Europe? Is there any difference between the position of the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry and that of the Secretary-General of NATO? What progress can he report to the House on the matter'?

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's concern about this issue. The Soviet proposals to extend the zero option further down the scale from the longer range intermediate missiles are being carefully studied throughout NATO. I certainly hope that agreement can be reached in this area in the near future. It would be an historic agreement if we could get it. It is most important to examine all the implications. All our allies are doing so, and we shall be doing so with them.

What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with his colleagues about the gross disparity in chemical weapons in Europe? Is he aware of the considerable feeling that in any future conflict the forces of the West would start with a great disadvantage? General Rogers has mentioned the possibility of the Soviets firing one chemical weapon on the front at each corps, and the effect that that would have. What new proposals will NATO come up with?

My hon. Friend is correct, in that the existence of large Soviet stockpiles of chemical weapons is a serious threat to our forces and the balance of forces between East and West. We have made it clear that that matter will have to be addressed, along with the imbalance of conventional forces if further proposals for arms control are to be considered.

In view of the Government's indications that the West should have the power to match the numbers of Soviet short-range nuclear weapons, do NATO Ministers have any plans for the manufacture of such weapons? What will they cost, and in which countries will they be deployed?

There are no such plans at the present time, but of course this is one of the factors that will have to be considered by the allies when considering the suggestion by Mr. Gorbachev that we should look for a zero option lower down the scale from the intermediate nuclear weapons.

Do my right hon. Friend and his colleagues agree that while hopes are justified, euphoria is certainly premature, and that it is absolutely essential that unity is maintained, because lack of it would be fatal?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The recent move by the Soviet Union shows that it has at long last come to the same proposals as the West has been pressing upon the Soviet Union for several years. That is solely because we did not listen to the siren voices of the Opposition and other people who would have had us give up these negotiating cards before they were of any use. My hon. Friend is right in saying that we have to be careful that before we agree to any deal we make sure that it works.

Does the Secretary of State not agree that since the Russians have a 3:1 superiority in medium-range weapons, that is SS20s, cruise and Pershing IIs, and a 9:1 superiority in short-range weapons, it is in the West's interests to agree to these proposals, subject to suitable verification, because such an agreement would enhance our security? Will he deny press reports that as a kind of macabre compensation for that scheme the Government intend to have more F111s at Upper Heyford and Lakenheath and more hydrogen bombs as a result of that agreement?

In reply to the right hon. Gentleman's latter point, we have no plans of that kind. On his former point, he is right to consider the question of imbalances at lower levels as well as at higher levels. It is not as simple as he says, in that one can take each category of weapons totally separately from any other. Therefore, that is why the new proposal by Mr. Gorbachev that we should look at a zero option below the intermediate range-long range level must be studied very carefully by all the NATO allies. We shall play our part in that.