Orders of the Day — Germany

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th June 1948.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Head Mr Anthony Head , Carshalton 12:00 am, 30th June 1948

I do not wish to detain the Committee long, and I propose to confine my remarks to the situation in Berlin. For that reason, I hope that the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) will forgive me if I do not follow him. I hope he will also forgive me if I say that it seems, even from this side of the Committee, that he has made a very valuable contribution to this Debate. He appears to be in the rôle of someone who is the acting leader of an underground movement to bring common sense into the industrial administration of Germany, and in that he has, I am sure, the sympathy of many Members on this side of the Committee.

I do not think anyone will quarrel with the general statement of the Foreign Secretary concerning the present situation in Berlin. It struck me that it was a most welcome reassurance that we in our policy so far as Berlin was concerned, would stand firm. My fears concerning the situation in Berlin deal not with the present so much as with the future and how events may develop. It seems to me that so often in the past we have had trouble through a lack of realisation or a refusal to face the way events may eventually develop. I realise that any decisions of policy in this matter are not for this country alone; they must be reached collectively by the Western Powers. I also realise that this is a most delicate matter which should be discussed with care. Nevertheless it seems to me that it is important that in these Debates in the House of Commons we should say not what we think we ought to think, nor what we want to think, but that we should state quite frankly the way in which we think events may run in the future. Accordingly my succeeding remarks will be directed towards how it seems to me that events may turn out. If they go well there is no problem, and what we are discussing about the situation in Berlin will disappear like smoke.

In order to discuss the future of this situation, I propose to make two assumptions. They are, of course, gloomy assumptions, but they are assumptions which we should be ill advised to ignore as regards the future. The first is that the Russians will remain obdurate in closing land communications to Berlin. The second assumption I make, without any specialist knowledge of the situation but based upon my own experience in the past, is that we cannot continue indefinitely to supply 2½ million people with food and fuel by air alone, especially with the winter ahead of us. Everything I know suggests to me that present stocks and concentrated foods may allow us to do that for a limited period but I cannot believe—and I believe it is wishful thinking to believe—that we can continue to do that indefinitely. It seems to me that the effort would be immense and that with the winter, unemployment and lack of fuel before us it will not indefinitely be practicable.

If those two assumptions are agreed upon, we cannot avoid coming to the conclusion that eventually we shall arrive at a period when the position of these 2½ million Germans in Berlin and our own position in Berlin will become intolerable. When that day arrives we shall be right up against a decision which will be forced upon us by events. That decision will either be to insist upon, or seize, a land line of communication or to get out. That is the ultimate crisis point, and in discussing the situation in Berlin I believe it to be wrong to turn away from facing that fact. We shall do good rather than harm by admitting the tact to ourselves today and realising that it may come to this.

It is easy, in the atmosphere which exists at the present time, to say that we shall stand firm, but might I ask the Committee to consider what the atmosphere is likely to be when this particular crisis point is reached? It seems to me that, as opposed to the comparative calm of today, we shall have a situation in which the population of Berlin will be cold, hungry, half starved and their morale very low. We shall have a situation where Russian propaganda will be pumped full bore at those Germans to assert that the reason for their discomfiture is entirely due to the obstinacy of the Western Powers. We shall have a situation in which a war of nerves will be in full blast; quite likely a certain amount of troop movements will be taking place. We shall have a situation in which the entire Russian bluff machine will be turned on in order to try to frighten us out of Berlin by representing that if we insist on a land line of communication there will be a war. It seems to me that if the ultimate decision has to be taken in that atmosphere, we shall be immensely increasing two risks. The first is that through the Russians believing that we are still bluffing, we shall blunder into a war which neither side wants. The second reason is that through the pressure put on us, democracy might once again show its almost inherent weakness by buying time at the expense of honour.

It is my feeling, and these are not pleasant words to have to say, that it is the duty of everybody in authority in the free countries of the world today to do everything they can to prevent that ultimate decision having to be made in that dangerous atmosphere, because I believe if it is left until then, the chances of either a conflict or a withdrawal will be increased. Hon. Members may well say, "Those are easy words but how could such a course be implemented?" I say again that I have no expert knowledge of the situation, but I feel most seriously that something could be done now to try to avoid the arrival of that ultimate crisis point. It seems to me that the staffs who are at the moment concerned with the feeding of Berlin must, on the assumption that no land-line communication is available, be capable of working out an estimate of the time when our position and that of the 2½ million Germans in Berlin will be intolerable. That situation may be a long way off or it may not, I do not know, but they must be capable of making a fair estimate of that, taking into account the advent of winter and the necessity of fuel as well as food.

If one takes that ultimate crisis point as Z-day, it seems to me that careful consideration should be given to whether or not the Western Powers should not now say to the Russians—at Moscow, not Berlin—that at a date at least a month, preferably longer, before that critical point arises, we, the Western Powers, demand that by our rights under Treaty, and in order to fulfil our obligations to those Germans, a land-line of communication be opened to us. In order to assist in that, there would, of course, be an offer of full facilities and technical aid. But let us fix that date well before we arrive at the moment of ultimate crisis. Then say, "If it is found impossible to clear the present technical difficulties of the land communications into Berlin, we shall consider it our duty, as part of our obligation to Germany, and by reason of our rights under the Treaty, to repair that land-line of communication ourselves." If that in turn is resisted then a very grave situation will have occurred which, it seems to me, cannot be viewed as anything but a casus belli.

These are grave words to use in this situation, but if Members say "This is irresponsible sabre-rattling," may I ask them to consider three points? First, the Western Powers, the democracies, have got into two wars in the past not through adopting a line like this, but through failing to adopt such a line. Secondly, it is my absolute belief that the Russians do not want war. From my experience, I think that for any country, however large, however dispersed, to consider going into a war in which there is the likelihood of unilateral atomic warfare is a crazy undertaking. If the Russians really want war, it is my fearful belief that there will be one. But at the moment it is my belief that they do not want war and that the greatest danger of war is that we should blunder into it by leaving the situation too late. Lastly, the third point which I bring to the notice of hon. Members is that if the easy course is adopted, and the easy course, especially with the American elections in the offing and the natural inertia of democracies, is in a crisis to say that we stand firm until the crisis point is reached, the dangers of blundering into a war when that crisis point comes are greatly increased.

I hope that the Foreign Secretary or the Under-Secretary will take these remarks in the spirit in which they are made, as an attempt to make some contribution to the Debate. I know that I have no special knowledge, but I suggest that some such line as I have suggested is worthy of consideration because the lessons of the past indicate that the dangers to democracies often lie in a failure to square up to the way events may shape in the future. The utterance of tough words in the present, has not in the past always been matched by tough deeds when the crisis arrives. All I can say in support of my intervention, whether my views are accepted or not, is that I am certain that every free man and woman in the world today has his or her eye on those in positions of responsibility in the Western Powers for two things—courage and leadership. I only hope that those in responsibility in the Western Powers will not fail them and will give those things to them, because I believe that their deeds in the past deserve them, and their hopes in the future demand them.