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Nato (Discussions)

Volume 115: debated on Tuesday 5 May 1987

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2.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has any plans to meet the Soviet Union Defence Minister to discuss deployment of nuclear and conventional forces in Europe; and if he will make a statement.

I have no plans to meet the Soviet Defence Minister. The United Kingdom plays a full part in the multilateral negotiations and discussions aimed at reducing conventional forces in Europe and, together with other members of NATO, consults closely with the United States on the bilateral negotiations with the Soviet Union on nuclear and space issues taking place in Geneva. We also play a leading role in the conference on disarmament, which is concerned principally with achieving a global ban on chemical weapons.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and welcome all the initiatives being taken in furtherance of negotiations to reduce armaments. Does he agree that the security of Europe will rely on the nuclear deterrent as long as the Soviet Union and its allies have massive superiority in chemical weapons and in conventional forces?

I agree with my hon. Friend that deterrence combined with a flexible response certainly is, and has for some time been, the basis of the NATO Alliance's defensive posture. That has been supported by successive Governments. We should be very careful that these desirable developments in arms control do not put that at risk, and the Government intend to exercise that care.

Is the Secretary of State aware that while the Prime Minister and Chancellor Kohl go on dragging their feet over the zero-zero option there will be pressure on this country to accept balancing increments of nuclear weapons, not merely at airfields in Oxfordshire and in East Anglia, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) has warned, but at Holy Loch? Does he think that public opinion will stand for that? Does he want that exposed in the coming general election?

Those appear to be the hon. Gentleman's proposals, which certainly have nothing to do with me. I have no doubt that public opinion would stand whatever was put to it as a tenable case in these matters by the hon. Gentleman or by anyone else. The hon. Gentleman asked about balancing. These weapons systems must be looked at as a whole to see whether they enhance or degrade our deterrent posture, combined with flexible response. We must do nothing in haste to put that in danger.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm once again that Trident represents very good value in terms of its deterrent effect? Will he tell the House once again exactly what the unwise cancellation of Trident might mean if the money were devoted to upgrading conventional weapons, and how little that would mean in terms of the overall imbalance of conventional forces in Europe?

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. There is no way in which the vital deterrent effect of the present Polaris and the future Trident programme could be replaced by the expenditure of any realistic sum of money on conventional weapons instead. It is simply not possible. On cancellation costs, it is very difficult to calculate in the abstract what would happen if this were done. Apart from losing a vast amount of jobs, there would probably be only a certain amount of the Trident money left to spend on other matters. Even if all of the money was used, it could provide only about one extra armoured division, which would make no detectable difference to the huge conventional imbalance that we presently face.

While it is perfectly correct that in the future NATO's deterrence must rest on a mix of nuclear and conventional capability, does the Secretary of State not accept the view of his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs that if we were to remove all the intermediate range nuclear weapons, NATO would retain over 4,500 nuclear warheads in Europe? Is that not quite sufficient on which to base nuclear deterrence?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point, but that is a considerable development on anything that my right hon. and learned Friend said, although I did notice something like that was said by Richard Perle recently. It is not possible sensibly to look at only that aspect. It is important to look at the whole range of weapons that would be available to the Western Alliance to maintain flexible response. It is the flexibility of the response that is the strength upon which NATO's strategy is based.

Assuming that my right hon. Friend, with responsibility for security, is aware that I was in Hungary last week, is he aware that during an interesting discussion with the mayor of a town called Gyula, which is on the Romanian border, and in the light of his earlier comments about Mr. Gorbachev, I asked the mayor whether he could envisage the day when Hungary might, of its own volition, leave the Warsaw pact. The mayor replied that even if such a delightful situation were to arise, it would be meaningless because the Soviet border was merely 160 km away. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that that is the chilling reality of life in Eastern Europe?

I confess to my hon. Friend that I was not following his travels in Hungary with great closeness, but he makes the valuable point that it is no use letting our enthusiasm for arms control, great though that is, blind us to the effects of any changes that are made. It is our responsibility to make sure that the reductions in those weapons systems that we hope will take place will not remove NATO's ability to deter attacks flexibly.

When the Americans are negotiating on behalf of Her Majesty's Government with the Russians, will the Americans be confirming on behalf of the Government that no decision has yet been taken on the replacement of the existing 155 mm nuclear artillery rounds deployed in Europe? If the Americans are to say that on our behalf, are his right hon. and hon. Friends going to sue Peter Kellner and The Independent for accusing them of telling lies in this House? If they are not going to sue, will they apologise to the House for making material inaccuracies on a matter of such importance?

I am not sure to what the hon. Gentleman is referring, but no such statement has been made and no such decision has been taken. Sueing people is not a matter for me.