Foreign Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th April 1959.

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Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale 12:00 am, 27th April 1959

Where does that get us? I am not at all influenced by the fact that Mr. Khrushchev thought it might be a good idea. We are not Mr. Khrushchev's spokesmen. I think that if he were tempted by the Prime Minister to accept that proposal, we ought to try to un-tempt him, because when we are so near to reaching a wide agreement, why should we have this?

Why should we accept such a proposal as that? It would not discharge the obligations that are required for self-assurance, because, as we understand it, what is wanted is that we should be quite convinced that if nations have agreed to suspend tests they are, in fact, carrying out their word; and that assurance surely would not exist merely because a number of inspections have been agreed.

I cannot for the life of me see how such a contribution makes any progress at all. Of course, it has one merit, and this I grant at once, that if we began to have some inspection teams they would have some experience of the operation, and co-operation might bring about a more tolerant attitude and the inspections might be extended more widely. That I grant. But as far as I can gather, we are not so far apart as to justify accepting so minimal a conception as that, and I should have thought that we ought to pursue the major objective. Therefore, I most earnestly hope that the Government will not allow themselves to be weary in well-doing in this respect, because we attach to this the utmost importance.

May I ask: why tests at all now? I agree that we are discussing controls, but I am coming to that. Why further tests? I am not speaking only about the Government's position, the United States and Russia, but about any other nations which are thinking about wishing to make these tests. We understand that the United States and Russia between them, with Great Britain following behind afar off, possess among them enough weapons to blow mankind to smithereens. I understand that the only thing that may separate nations is the capacity to deliver these hideous things, but I imagine that each nation will soon catch up on the other, even in that respect. For what, then, do we want further tests?

It has been suggested, I have heard, by some highly placed generals, that we want these tests in order to be able to produce a less hideous hydrogen bomb with more precision and less destructiveness. If the intention is to have only weapons of less destructiveness, we need not go this roundabout way of doing it at all. We can discard them one by one until we get back to the bow and arrow, the javelin and the stabbing spear. We do not really need to go about it in this way. So I myself would have thought that the time had come when nations should have a little bit of courage to see if they could reach decisions which are original perhaps, but which, nevertheless, might start mankind marching off in a different direction.

Therefore, we want to say from this side of the House that if our party is returned to power we shall stop all hydrogen bomb and atom bomb tests at once, and we shall not be influenced by the technical or political situation that we shall find when we assume office. It is a solemn undertaking from which we shall not flinch. We do not consider that any nation is entitled to poison the world's atmosphere in the pursuit of its own defence. We consider that position to be indefensibly immoral. It was, I think, President Roosevelt who said, "If a neighbour's house is on fire you ought not to spend your time arguing who set it alight, but lend him your fire hose." We reverse that position. We wait until our neighbour's house is alight to find out the effectiveness of our own fire hose. It seems to me to be an utterly indefensible position.

We would ask, even now, that the Government should declare that so far as the United Kingdom is concerned they are not proposing to hold any further hydrogen bomb tests. Supposing we said this. what would be the position of the U.S.S.R. and the United States? I am not now dealing with the fact that we would still have possession of the hydrogen bomb; I am dealing only with the tests themselves. It would be extremely difficult, I think, for the United States to hold back public opinion there. I am certain that it would want to follow the British example. The U.S.S.R. has already offered to suspend tests unilaterally, and did so for a time. Of course, I know that. having said that, we have not dealt at all with the problem of inspection and control. But a very great deal of inspection and control exists now.

I am quite certain that if that were done, and if we all said this at once, or if we said it first and the rest followed suit. that very declaration itself would facilitate agreement about hydrogen bomb control teams and test inspections more than any other single factor. This is, after all, a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis of trust. I think that we ought to take the initiative in saying that we will trust other nations and stop these tests ourselves. I conclude that part of my remarks merely by saying that I think that when future generations come to read our discussions in the House they will not be able to understand our mentality.

We are told by men who know much more about this than we do that the effect of these tests is quite unpredictable and may have the most disastrous consequences for the future of the human race. I was speaking to Mr. Oppenheimer, in the United States recently, and he said to me that one of the things that caused him the greatest possible apprehension was the fact that a very small number of people in the world possessed, between them, sufficient knowledge to destroy the whole of mankind. He said that what was even more distressing to him was that this knowledge could not easily be communicated to the rest of mankind and he went on to say that the specialists themselves were building such walls between themselves that before long they might not be able to communicate even with each other.

I said to him, in those circumstances "What is your solution? What would you do? What is the answer?" I got from him what might appear to be a platitude, but which impressed me enormously at the time. He said, "You know, Mr. Bevan, what is needed in the world is a little more kindness. There is nothing kind, there is something appallingly cruel, in sending up these explosions and bringing down radioactive dust in ways which we cannot possibly control."

It was only the other day that the Minister got up at the Box opposite and said that one of the reasons that there was an increase in radioactivity recently was that there had been an increase in the amount of rain. Really, that is kindergarten nonsense. I know that the reply was put into his mouth. But it is not raining all over the world at the same time with equal intensity, is it? I am not an authority on these matters, but I should have thought that if it rained a lot in one place it was likely to be raining a little less somewhere else; I do not know.

It may be that the Minister has more knowledge and that it rains with equal intensity all over the world at the same time. Surely we have reached a point where we ought not to play with such dangerous toys as these; that we ought really to call a halt. I would myself hope that Great Britain is able to reach the moral stature to give a lead to the rest of the world, and to say, Whatever anyone else does, we are going to stop it." I am quite certain that it would send a thrill of enthusiasm throughout the country if the Prime Minister got up at that Box this afternoon and said, "Yes, we will stop it; let others follow our example."

The Foreign Secretary told us very little about the summit talks. I did not expect that he would. He reminded us, quite properly, that the present exchanges have their origin in Mr. Khrushchev's Note about Berlin, last November. I do not know what lesson he drew from that. I should have thought that the lesson was that we had been drifting along all the time, with no initiatives of our own, and we were suddenly brought into these discussions by the roughness of Mr. Khrushchev's Note. We have been drifting on, month after month and year after year, as though the drift was likely to bring us to some destination more satisfactory than the position we are at now, yet everybody who had examined the situation knew that the drift was leading us to much more difficult conditions.

Germany was becoming more and more armed. It is true that she has no nuclear weapons at the moment, but I understand that her armies are being trained in their use. We know from the speeches of certain people in Western Germany that, as the displacement of Western Germany in the N.A.T.O. Alliance grows heavier, the German elements are demanding a greater and greater voice. My right hon. Friends and I were told, when we went to Paris recently, that we must, of course, expect that, as the German forces grow in number, the Germans must be given a greater position in the N.A.T.O. organisation; it would naturally follow that they would.

I am not seeking to indict the whole of Western Germany. I am one who has never, in all his life, indicted whole nations. I do not believe in it. Nevertheless, I say with the utmost seriousness that we should be making a tragic blunder if we did nothing at all to pacify Western Europe but imagined that the safety of this country consisted in building up the military strength of Western Germany. Hon. Members, when they hear me say that, must not imagine that I am engaged in anti-German propaganda. This is the view of millions of Germans themselves. In my opinion, it is a tragic blunder on our part, against the wishes of many Germans, to insist upon Western Germany becoming an important part of the Western armament. I therefore beg and plead that, when these negotiations are entered upon by our representatives, our representatives should have much more ambitious plans than those disclosed in the sentences of the right hon. and learned Gentleman this afternoon.

We, equally with the party opposite, believe that the people of Western Berlin are entitled to our support. They indicated without any ambiguity in recent elections that they desired to retain their connections with the West. We believe that the people of Western Berlin are entitled to enjoy their freedom. Accepting all that, we do not believe that the most satisfactory way of preserving their liberty is to consolidate the present situation. We earnestly believe that the future of Berlin is best secured by a united Germany, but we believe that a united Germany is not possible except in a European security system.

The Prime Minister has given indications of moving in this direction. Unfortunately, as he travelled throughout the world, he appeared to throw many things overboard. When he left Moscow, he had agreed with Mr. Khrushchev earnestly to study the proposals for a limitation of armaments in Western Europe. Apparently, he did not make himself so clear to Dr. Adenauer nor, apparently, to General de Gaulle, and the United States was a little cold about the subject. We do not know what the present situation is.

The New York Herald Tribune, on 28th March, stated: Mr. Macmillan implies that there will be a summit meeting no matter what happens at the proposed conference of Foreign Ministers in May. General de Gaulle says (and Chancellor Adenauer would agree with him) that the Foreign Ministers must 'uncover the elements of agreement on important points' before a summit meeting could usefully proceed. President Eisenhower places himself somewhere between these two viewpoints. He wants only a 'voluntary' summit"— I do not know what a "voluntary" summit means— that is, a meeting without bluff or blackmail, yet one which recognises the fact that it is useless to deal with anyone in the Soviet Union except Mr. Khrushchev himself. There is a lot to be said for that point of view.

We take the view that it would be an excellent thing if the Western Powers would declare that, no matter what is the outcome of the Foreign Ministers' meeting, there must be a summit meeting. In the first place, from the very beginning, the Russians have demanded that there should be a summit meeting. I think that it would be a corrective to many of the rumours now going about if it were possible to say that, no matter what happened to the Foreign Ministers' meeting, there must be a summit meeting. Otherwise, there will be a suspicion that someone or other at the Foreign Ministers' meeting will create artificial obstacles so as to prevent a summit meeting ever being held.

I should have thought, therefore, that, as a matter of procedure, it would be good to say now that there will be a summit meeting no matter what happens at the Foreign Ministers' meeting. Of course, it would be an excellent thing if there emerged from the Foreign Ministers' meeting agreement on points of substance or, at least, the disclosure of concrete points of disagreement on which the heads of Government could eventually arbitrate and come to their decisions. But it would be a very great mistake, and create an unfortuante atmosphere, perhaps uncongenial to agreement, if the Foreign Ministers met leaving it to be assumed that whether or not a summit meeting is held will depend upon the outcome of the negotiations between the Foreign Ministers themselves.

Nor do I think that Mr. Khrushchev. if he is prepared to make any concession at all, would be ready to do it vicariously. I should have thought that, if there was anything to be given, he would like to be the donor. Perhaps, in this respect, his psychology is more egocentric than that of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, but my own experience of statesmen is that, if there is anything pleasant to be done, they do not want their rivals to do it Therefore, in my view, we ought to take it for granted that there must be a summit meeting, and I think that it would be a very good thing to say so at the very beginning.

Our position on this matter has been frowned upon by the right hon. and learned Gentleman this afternoon and described as entirely unrealistic. He says that no one, not a single nation belonging to N.A.T.O., has said a single word in favour of the disengagement plan. Of course, we do not know how he described the disengagement plan. He said that there had been some agreement about limitation, but limitation of arms is a part of a disengagement plan. We have always said that. I put this point to the Prime Minister for his consideration. If one is to have limitation of arms in Central Europe, with inspection and supervision for limitation, one might as well have the limits low as high.

In fact, it is better to have them low. If they are to be low, as would be desirable, then the area would have to be guaranteed. It may not be at the beginning of the term, because we agree with a great deal of what has been said about the necessity of going ahead by stages. I should have thought part of the plan would be the withdrawal quickly rather than slowly of foreign forces from the centre of Europe. That is why we have always looked favourably on the Rapacki Plan. It has elements which we consider to be advantageous.

The Poles are anxious that there should be no recrudescence of German belligerency. They want the Oder-Neisse Line to be guaranteed and they do not want a united Germany. Of course they do not, but I am certain that if we had disengagement in Europe, an area called a vacuum—why it is called a vacuum I do not know—in Central Europe, disarmed, or disarmed to an agreed limit, consisting of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Eastern Germany and Western Germany, there would be no threat to Poland. Poland would have no need to fear that she would once again suffer the fate that she has had to endure so frequently.

Why is this proposition so untenable? What are the arguments that have been advanced against it? I dismiss the argument about a vacuum, because I do not know what it means. It is one of those question-begging phrases which no one tries to define. If there were an area guaranteed by the great Powers, a peaceful area with its own arms to the extent that was agreed, where foreign forces do not exist, unfettered and free-based, one could call it a vacuum. Is it a power vacuum we are speaking about? If it is a power vacuum that would exist, we are still dealing in the old terms of power organisation and we have not learned anything at all. We are back where we were.

General Norstad has knocked it down and says that it is just ridiculous nonsense. If one reads his speech it will he seen that, after having said that disengagement is ridiculous, on the old soldier's argument that we should always be as near as possible to the enemy to find out what he is doing, he says we must never lose contact with the enemy and it would, therefore, be a good thing to be up against the frontier watching what the enemy was doing. This is an argument which belongs to the First World War. It did not even belong to the last war where open fighting was on such a considerable scale.

In the war of the future, where intercontinental ballistic missiles will be part of the order of the day, contact with the enemy would be one of the things I would be anxious to avoid. But, having said that disengagement was quite useless, he then went on to contradict himself by saying that if there was an effective system of supervision and inspection right up to the agreed frontiers it would be a different question.

That is precisely what we have been saying. We have said all along that part of our proposal is that the armies should be withdrawn from each other pari passu with the building up of an effective system of supervision and inspection.