N.A.T.O. Countries (Tactical Atomic Weapons)

Oral Answers to Questions — Ministry of Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd April 1958.

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Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East 12:00 am, 2nd April 1958

asked the Minister of Defence whether it is the present policy of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation that all forces under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation command should be equipped with tactical atomic weapons.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

It is obviously desirable that the forces of the Alliance should be equipped with whatever weapons are most appropriate to discharge their tasks effectively. With regard to tactical atomic weapons, the military authorities of N.A.T.O. are at present considering what advice they should give to the Governments concerned.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

Is it correct that it is part of the present N.A.T.O. policy that all N.A.T.O. forces, including German forces, should be trained in the use of such dual-purpose weapons as the Matador, which can have either conventional or nuclear warheads?

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

I do not think the hon. Member is correct. The position is as I stated it. It is the policy of N.A.T.O. that the forces should be equipped with whatever is most effective for their task in the particular area in which they are. The question as to whether they should use atomic weapons is one in the first place for the Supreme Commander and his staff and is then subject to agreement by each of the Governments of the countries concerned. The hon. Member referred to Germany. Germany is one of our allies in N.A.T.O. and, subject to the military considerations to which I have referred, we want her forces to make the most effective contribution possible to our common defence.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee West

If, as the Minister says, the North Atlantic Council is still considering this matter, was it not rather unfortunate that the Supreme Commander should have recently made a statement which seemed to prejudge the question as to whether German forces were immediately to be armed with these weapons?

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

Generals make so many speeches that I cannot follow them all.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

Does not the Minister agree that the question of supplying nuclear weapons to Germany is not purely military but also political? Is he aware that on this side of the House we feel very strongly that no further action should be taken in this matter until at least after summit talks have shown whether there is any possibility of disengagement in Europe?

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

Disengagement is a geographical question. [Hon. MEMBER: "Oh."] I think the right hon. Gentleman understands. The question of the supply of weapons is a different matter. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the supply of weapons, the equipment of forces in Germany with weapons. That does not include only German forces. The problem of disengagement and the schemes which have been discussed have included the question not of just whether German forces should have nuclear weapons, but whether there should be nuclear weapons in Germany, even though operated by forces of other nationalities. That is an issue wider than that raised in the Question.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the assurance that no decision has yet been reached by N.A.T.O. on the question, and that the military advice has not yet been tendered? Will he give an assurance that the British Government will at least take into full consideration the political dangers, at this important moment of negotiations between East and West, of providing the German forces with nuclear weapons?

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

This is a very prickly question, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. I should not like to give an answer off-the-cuff on a matter of that kind.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

Would the right hon. Gentleman make this point clear? Apparently, General Norstad, the Supreme Commander, did make a statement to the effect that tactical atomic weapons would be supplied to Germany for the use of German forces, but the right hon. Gentleman has said in reply to a previous Question that this was a matter to be determined by the North Atlantic Treaty Council. Is there not some contradiction there, and do we understand that when General Norstad made his statement he made it entirely on his own responsibility and did prejudge a decision by N.A.T.O.?

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

No. I have not got the documents in front of me, but I think I am right in saying that a decision in principle was taken by the N.A.T.O. meeting of Heads of Governments last December in Paris to the effect that N.A.T.O. forces should, where the Supreme Commander thought it appropriate and subject to the agreement of the Governments concerned, be supplied with nuclear weapons. Since these, in fact, will all be American nuclear warheads, the warheads will be controlled by the United States commander concerned.