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Zone Of Peace: Indian Ocean Proposal

Volume 414: debated on Tuesday 4 November 1980

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2.52 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will propose in the United Nations Security Council that an initiative be taken to secure the neutralisation of the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace.

No, my Lords. We believe that the United Nations Ad Hoc Committee on the Indian Ocean, which is already considering a proposal for the Indian Ocean to be declared a zone of peace, is the right place for further consideration of this idea.

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether, if the Government are seriously concerned about world disarmament, as they say they are, they can give serious consideration to this proposal? Is not the situation becoming worse by the visit of the Soviet naval head to Ethiopia to establish great port bases, by the action of the United States in approaching Somalia and Kenya for bases and by the united exercises by the USA and the United Kingdom? Would the noble Lord consider this question arising from his Answer? What are the prospects of a conference on the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace at Colombo next year, as proposed by the first committee of the United Nations, supported by France, the whole Commonwealth, India and all the littoral states of the Indian Ocean, with the exception of Oman?

My Lords, we shall, of course, give careful consideration to attending any conference which has broad international support. But we have to consider the proposal of a zone of peace in the light of a number of criteria, perhaps the most important of which is whether it would, in fact, enhance our security.

My Lords, while totally agreeing with the last sentence of the Minister's reply, may I ask whether the attitude of the Government does not reflect rather a complacent and negative attitude to a situation which is in itself really very explosive?

My Lords, the situation in that part of the world is, indeed, a dangerous one. But the principal threat comes—does it not?—from the Russian invasion of Afghanistan just a few miles to the north.

My Lords, may we take it from the Minister's original Answer that, during the course of the discussions at the United Nations on this most important issue, the British Government will use all their influence in order to establish a zone of peace in the Indian Ocean?

My Lords, we would of course wish to see this vital area in the world remain stable and independent. That is in the interests of the countries in the area, as well as of the West as a whole. But the countries of the region should not be allowed to feel threatened by Soviet expansionism.

My Lords, would the Minister consider the more limited objective of the Americans agreeing not to proceed with the construction of bases in Somalia, on the grounds that the Soviet Union and the Cubans would agree to withdraw from Ethiopia?

My Lords, we will consider any proposal that enhances the security of the region, but I am not sure that that one does.

My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that if any nation, or group of nations, had known how to secure the neutralisation of any zone as a zone of peace, then there would never have been any wars?

My Lords, that is a fairly profound supplementary. My noble friend may well be right.

My Lords, is it not the case that the Soviet Union is actually supporting this proposal? If it is insincere in doing so, would it not be good for our Government and the West to test it by calling it to a conference to consider the proposal.

Quite frankly, my Lords, Soviet support of this proposal makes it all the more suspicious.