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Orders of the Day — Disarmament

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd July 1957.

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Photo of Mr Julius Silverman Mr Julius Silverman , Birmingham Aston 12:00 am, 23rd July 1957

No, we have never been told why, as was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker). That makes one wonder to what extent these Governments are serious about the problem of disarmament. We have been told time and time again that the atom bomb is necessary as a deterrent against the Russians because of their enormous manpower and their great Army. Along came the Russians and said, "We will reduce this manpower to 1,500,000 for us, the same for America, the same for China, and smaller forces for Britain and France." That removes the threat of the Russian masses, about which we have been told ever since 1945; but what happened to that? It was rejected by the Western Powers—again we have never been told why.

What is quite amazing is the attitude of this country. We were told in the last White Paper on the subject that this country proposed unilaterally to reduce its conventional forces to 375,000 men, yet for some reason or another it stands by the Americans in refusing to accept this reduction of conventional weapons. Under those circumstances, the use of the hydrogen bomb as a counterbalance to conventional forces becomes entirely meaningless.

Let us face the facts about atomic weapons. We are still using outworn words which have no meaning today. We talk about defence and have debates on defence, but there is no such thing as defence today. Today, if there is aggression there is a war and the hydrogen bomb is exploded. It means the end, not only of the aggressor, but the end of humanity—certainly the end of this country. Defence used to have a meaning. It meant that one repelled the enemy. One might suffer damage and loss, but one repelled the enemy and survived. The object of defence was survival. Now it is not defence, it is mutual destruction and suicide, yet we talk about it as defence.

We talk about security and say we must be very cautious about how we deal with this matter; we must not give away too much because we shall part with our security. What sort of security is this which threatens to destroy the whole of humanity? We are talking about our hydrogen bombs yet anything could go wrong. Who knows that it cannot go wrong? We call that security and the Government are completely complacent about the situation. We are facing a most dangerous situation in the history of humanity. Sometime, in some country, some madman may obtain control. Sometime fear may light the match, but Governments say, "We are secure. We have got the hydrogen bomb and it affords us security."

We talk about a deterrent. Is not it really nonsense to do so? When we have a deterrent against a criminal the criminal is punished—the criminal may be destroyed—but here what is threatened is not the punishment of the aggressor, but the destruction of society. To use the word "deterrent" is completely meaningless nonsense in the context of the world today. Again I say that the problem is one of establishing confidence. We do not trust the Russians, but please remember the Russians also do not trust us. The problem is how we can break that impasse.

Let us take one of the practical problems which have arisen in this disarmament conference. We have proposed that there should be a cessation of production of bombs from fissile materials. What do the Russians think about that? They say "That is all very well. You are proposing stopping production of further fissile material for use in bombs by March, 1959, nearly two years ahead. By the end of that period, large stocks of fissile material will have been accumulated on both sides, sufficient probably to destroy the world several times over. These provisions still allow a continuation of the production of bombs from that point and there is no provision whatever, except the most woolly one, about dealing with accumulated stocks." The disarmament agreement will allow for gradual destruction of those stocks.

The Russians say "That is all very well. You want to send in your inspectors to look at our factories and get blue prints of them. How on earth can we allow that if you are to retain this huge stock of hydrogen bombs?" I am not suggesting for a moment that that is the intention of the Western Powers, but here again we see this crisis of confidence. The Russians then say, "We want you to accompany this by a renunciation of the use of the hydrogen bomb on which the Western Powers rely." It is easy to understand this. The West replies, "It is all very well talking about renunciation of the use of the hydrogen bomb, but how do we know that you are not going to deceive us and cheat us?"

We have this crisis of confidence in which neither side trusts the other. We have suggested that one of the ways of breaking it is to enter a limited agreement on the suspension of nuclear tests. At any rate, it could form a basis for confidence.

We should then have tried out some control arrangements to see how they worked and to see whether both sides played the game, and we should have established confidence. But if we continue to attach one thing to another and to attach the ending of atomic bomb tests to a long, difficult and complicated procedure of stopping production and the control apparatus involved, together with a limitation on conventional arms and with certain other conditions which I understand that the Americans at present attach, then no progress will be made. I am told that certain unspecified political conditions have been attached to the reduction in armaments, conventional and otherwise, and I shall be glad to hear what is the attitude of the British Government. I shall be glad to hear that this is not so.