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Nato Nuclear Planning Group

Volume 122: debated on Tuesday 10 November 1987

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5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation nuclear planning group meeting in Monterey.

At the nuclear planning group meeting in Monterey on 3 and 4 November Ministers discussed a variety of security matters pertaining to NATO's nuclear forces.

In particular, we welcomed and fully supported the agreement in principle between the United States and the Soviet Union for the global elimination of land-based INF missiles above the range of 500 km and looked forward to an INF treaty being signed and ratified in the near future.

We also reaffirmed that the strategy of flexible response would remain the basis of the Alliance's security and stated our determination to take whatever measures might be required to safeguard the effectiveness, responsiveness and survivability of NATO's nuclear forces, while maintaining only the minimum forces necessary for credible deterrence.

A copy of the official communiqué for the Monterey meeting has been placed in the Library of the House.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the impending INF deal represents a triumph for NATO's dual-track approach? Does he also agree that it would not have been possible if the approaches that were advocated by the Labour party had been pursued?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct on both points. This represents a triumph for the dual-track approach which was devised by NATO and put into effect against tremendous opposition from many circles, particularly the Opposition. If it had not been for that stand, we should not now have the agreement. It is an absolute vindication of the policy that we have been following since 1979.

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is very little point in negotiating away ground-launched cruise missiles, only to bring them back again in an air-launched or sea-launched form? Does he also accept that there is a powerful case for improving the effectiveness of NATO's manned aircraft by providing them with a stand-off weapon that would ensure greater penetrability against Soviet air defences?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's second point. As for his first question, the objective of all the negotiations and of the agreement that we very much hope is about to be signed is to reduce the number of nuclear warheads in Europe. I am convinced that the agreement will achieve that aim. When that has happened we shall have to make sure that our remaining armaments are credible and that they hold together as a coherent weapons system.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the presence in Europe of 326,000 American servicemen is the best guarantee that we shall not become decoupled from the United States? Does not this extraordinary agreement, which changes the defence landscape of Europe, make it even more important to start to address the imbalance between the Warsaw pact and NATO forces—in particular, its 2:1 preponderance of tanks and its 3:1 preponderance of artillery?

My hon. Friend is correct on both points. The presence of American forces in many guises in western Europe is not only a guarantee of United States solidity with its European and free world allies against any threat, but shows that the United States takes the view that the first line of defence of the United States is in western Europe. The Government fully support what we hope will he the next stage—a START agreement on a reduction of up to 50 per cent. in strategic systems. During that period we hope that a major start will be made on dealing with the conventional imbalance and our long-standing demand for a worldwide ban on chemical and bilogical weapons.

The Government have consistently maintained that the reason for the deployment of cruise missiles was the Soviet Union's deployment of SS20s. Under the INF agreement the Soviet Union will give up three times as much nuclear weaponry as the West. May we now take it, therefore, that we shall hear no more nonsense about compensatory adjustments in the wake of an INF' agreement? I hope that the Secretary of State will make it absolutely clear that there will be no gap in NATO's defences.

There has been no so-called nonsense from me about compensatory adjustments. There are two separate strands here. One is the implementation of the decisions that were taken four years ago at Montebello for the modernisation and bringing up to date of the existing nuclear weapons that are part of the West's armoury against attack. That process is only half completed. It must be completed as soon as possible.

We fully support the INF deal. and once it is concluded it will be normal and natural for NATO to review its weapons systems to ensure that they make sense, are coherent and hold together. Any necessary changes will have to be put forward as proposals to the allies before they are agreed.

I welcome the present negotiations, but will my right hon. Friend remind the House of Sir Winston Churchill's words in his last speech to Congress in, I think, 1951, in which he said that we should never abandon our atomic weapons until we were certain — indeed, more than certain — that we had other methods of defending ourselves?

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. The object of the arms reduction process is to reduce the number of atomic weapons and warheads on the ground in Europe on both sides. At all times we must ensure that our security is preserved. For that reason we must ensure that we have a credible, flexible response to offer to any attack at low or high level, and that is our objective.