Orders of the Day — Defence Estimates
Mr Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
That is to a large extent true. It would certainly have strengthened our negotiating position.
Six years ago some of us were warning that a British scuttle from Aden was likely to endanger peace in the Middle East. We have been proved right on two counts. First, Aden is now the centre for attacks on the still friendly State of Muscat and Oman, and there has been the blockade of the mouth of the Red Sea. Six years ago some of us argued that we ought to maintain a presence on the Isle of Perim. If we had done so it would have been a great deal easier to bring an international force into being at the foot of the Red Sea, where the danger of a blockade is currently a major threat to peace. I do not believe that we should have abandoned our military positions in the Middle East.
We meet under the shadow of the NATO Military Council meeting. Perhaps we should be thankful that that meeting has not produced even more violent explosions. Many people seem to believe that the disagreement that has grown up between the United States and the European allies in NATO stems largely from the Middle East. Alas, I believe that the disagreement was there before fighting broke out.
I believe that the root cause of our divergence of opinion is money. When Europe was poor America was prepared to pick up a large part of the financial bill, but when Europe grew rich—when the dollar was constantly devalued against the deutschemark and the franc—it was only natural that a weary and divided United States should look to Europe to carry a greater share of the defence burden. This is not at all surprising.
We ought to have taken the lead in trying to bring into existence a new method of burden sharing within NATO. We certainly managed to give the impression to our American partners that we were wholly opposed to this and were taking a lead in encouraging the Europeans to resist it. That may be wrong, but I fear it is the impression that has been given and it has done much to jeopardise the old "special relationship"—now, I think, called the natural relationship—between ourselves and the United States. It has lasted for 30 years. We have benefited enormously from it in the defence area. The time has come when we must give our highest priority to trying to repair the breaches in this alliance.
I have been critical of both the Opposition Front Bench and my own Front Bench. I am glad to be able to congratulate the Government on their considerable achievement in Ireland. I was glad to hear the tribute that the right hon. and learned Gentleman paid to the rôle which our forces have played in Northern Ireland, in at least laying some foundation for future political stability. But the danger has not vet passed. In some ways it is more difficult to bear the burdens of discomfort and long hours when the pressing danger seems to have passed and when one has slipped out of the headlines and away from the television screens.
I hope that the lowering of the temperature in Northern Ireland will not lead to any reduction in our efforts to improve accommodation and amenities for the troops. I hope, too, that in the course of the next few months we shall be able to thin out the number of soldiers serving there. If we can move to a situation in which soldiers are not expected to serve in Northern Ireland on emergency tours for more than 12 or 18 months a great deal will have been done for the re-engagement and recruiting figures. I am sure that we continue to owe an enormous debt to our soldiers in Northern Ireland—a debt we have not begun to repay.