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Weapons Reduction: Summit Meeting

Volume 491: debated on Monday 11 January 1988

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2.53 p.m.

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will take an initiative to bring about a NATO-Warsaw Pact summit meeting with the aim of verified mutual reductions in conventional weapons.

My Lords, we already play an active part in informal discussions between NATO and Warsaw Pact representatives in Vienna, seeking to agree a mandate for conventional stability negotiations in the Atlantic to Urals area. Progress has been reasonable and we hope that formal talks can begin later this year. The elimination of the conventional imbalance in Europe is one of the Government's central objectives.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. Will he also accept that that formality ought not to be too long in coming and that perhaps we might even surpass the agreement initiated by the Soviet Union and the USA in starting real negotiations about nuclear weapons? Perhaps we in this country may now give the lead in getting reductions of the type indicated in my Question.

Yes, my Lords. I share the noble Lord's concern. It should be possible to proceed with formal negotiations in due course in order to achieve greater security and stability in Europe at lower levels.

My Lords, although the governments, in the plural, are now on the right track, will the Government agree that for two reasons there is some urgency about the matter? First, the further nuclear disarmament goes, the more urgent it becomes for conventional disarmament not to lag behind; secondly, and perhaps less generally appreciated, a conventional qualitative arms race between the super-powers could break out, and may already have broken out, which, of its nature, is likely to be highly and very dangerously destabilising.

My Lords, there is of course the risk which is implicit in the second part of the noble Lord's question. However, as to the first part, I think that the noble Lord is right when he says that the spotlight will increasingly turn to the conventional, after the INF negotiations have been ratified.

My Lords, is it the case, as the noble Lord said, that Her Majesty's Government now take the view that the talks on conventional armaments should cover the huge extended zone from the Atlantic to the Urals? Secondly, what view do Her Majesty's Government take of the proposal by Chancellor Kohl that the talks should cover not only conventional arms but battlefield nuclear arms as well?

My Lords, on the question of the area, I can tell the noble Lord that an exact definition of the geographic zone of application has not yet been agreed in the mandate talks. The Allies' view is that negotiations should cover conventional forces of the participants, based on land within the territory of the participating states in Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.

As regards tactical nuclear weapons and their inclusion, no, my Lords, the establishment of a conventional balance and the global elimination of chemical weapons are a prerequisite for further nuclear reductions.

My Lords, I greatly welcome the provisionally expressed Russian intention to withdraw their 160,000 troops from Afghanistan. Is my noble friend aware that if those troops are merely diverted to strengthening the Russian forces on the European front, it will not add to the peace of the world?

My Lords, I certainly share my noble friend's hope that the Soviet Union will pull out of Afghanistan. However, on the question of the Soviet Union's attitude to reductions, such as is implicit in the Question, Mr. Gorbachev acknowledged at the Moscow Peace Seminar in February 1987 that it was for the side with the numerically superior forces to reduce rather than for the weaker side to catch up. There was also evidence at the Washington summit of further Soviet acknowledgement of existing imbalance in Europe.

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that there was great merit in the proposal of Mr. Gorbachev to extend the reduction zone to the area between the Urals and the Atlantic? Can he say what is the difference between that and the definition of the zone he gave in answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn?

My Lords, I am not able to tell the noble Lord that because an exact definition of the geographic zone of application has not yet been agreed in the mandate talks. It really must be up to them to decide precisely what that zone should be.

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that one of the fundamental issues which should encourage formality in discussions with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact is the very fact that on the nuclear element there was such remarkable agreement apropos verification? In my judgment, verification is fundamental and perhaps with the accuracy which now exists we should stride forth and try to get some agreement with regard to conventional weapons with the same element of checking and verification as was in the nuclear agreement.

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. Any proposals which may eventually be adopted will of course need to be rigorously verifiable.