Orders of the Day — Defence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st March 1960.

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Photo of Mr Konni Zilliacus Mr Konni Zilliacus , Manchester, Gorton 12:00 am, 1st March 1960

The Warsaw Pact was a reply to N.A.T.O. and I am for winding up both. That is what the Russians have suggested more than once, if I may say so.

In the latest defence White Paper we are told that N.A.T.O., CENTO and S.E.A.T.O. are necessary to defend us against "the continuing military threat of Communism." On 25th February I asked the Prime Minister please to supply a little corroborative detail to support this otherwise bald and unconvincing assertion. The right hon. Gentleman refused to do so. He said that the military threat had been made amply clear by the Communist leaders themselves. That, of course, was an echo of a more elaborate pretence on the same lines brought back by Sir Anthony Eden when he was Prime Minister, in the shape of the Washington Declaration of 1st February, 1956. It had been penned by Mr. Dulles and signed by the President and himself, and this is what it said: The Communist rulers have expressed in numerous documents and manifestos their purpose to extend the practice of Communism, by every possible means, until it encompasses the world. To this end they have used military and political force in the past. They continue to seek the same goals, and they have now added economic inducements to their other methods of penetration. On 14th February I asked the Prime Minister to give dates, titles and authors of the documents and manifestos in which, according to the Declaration of Washington, Communist rulers have announced their intention to spread Communism over the whole world by military, among other, means. The Prime Minister replied: The hon. Member must be well aware of the facts of Communist doctrine and propaganda, and I see no need on this occasion to reproduce them all in a White Paper."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 14th February, 1956; Vol. 548, c. 2169–70.] I am familiar with the facts of Communist doctrine and propaganda. I was intelligence officer for two years with the British Military Mission in Siberia, and for nineteen years in the League Secretariat in Geneva my job, among other things, was to follow Soviet affairs. So I know the position. It simply is not true that any Communist leader has said anything of the sort. On the contrary, what they have said—this has been corroborated by people like George F. Kennan, an authority on Russian affairs—is that in their view Communism is to be spread by the workers in each country actuated by the example of the Soviet Union.

Communism, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), is a social challenge not a military threat. There was a rather remarkable article in the Sunday Times on 2nd August last by its Washington correspondent, Henry Brandon, who had just returned from a visit to the Soviet Union The article said: As to the basic question whether the Soviet Union would be prepared to use her military force for ideological purposes, all foreign observers… note that, "all foreign observers". In Moscow that means the diplomats and journalists stationed in Moscow, who are the men on the spot, the best source we can get— agree that she will use them only to protect her national security. … Mr. Khrushchev believes that Russia's growing prosperity and power will become sufficiently contagious to promote world revolution by peaceful means. That is what I have been saying for a long time repeatedly in this House. I have quoted all sorts of people like George F. Kennan in support of my view. Brandon goes on to say: But with the growth of Soviet power the Russians' concept of what engages their national security has also grown. In the Syrian-Lebanese crisis, for instance, Mr. Khrushchev used his military power to halt developments which he believed could have injured Russia's national interests. In the same way, Russia intervened in Hungary. On 19th December, 1956, I condemned that in the House on exactly the same grounds on which I later condemned our intervention, on very much the same plea, in Jordan, although there was no bloodshed as in the Russian case. This was a matter of power politics and national security, in the conditions of the cold war. The tensions of the cold war had been considerably increased by the Anglo-French attack in Suez. What I am saying now is not that Soviet foreign policy is any better or any worse than any other country's foreign policy or that its readiness to use national military power to defend its own view of vital national interests is any less reprehensible than the similar conduct of any other great Power.

The crucial point about this is that if Soviet foreign policy were ideological and they were really thinking of imposing Communism by force of arms on other countries, there would really be no alternative to the policies of N.A.T.O. and the rest. But if it is true—as I have contended all along it is true— that they are thinking in terms of national interests, it is possible to make arrangements which will safeguard their national interests and our own.

In the Middle East, for instance, the Russians have themselves proposed policies, which are very close to those proposed by the Opposition, of co-operation through the United Nations in controlling the traffic in arms, in keeping peace and giving joint economic and technical aid to Middle Eastern countries. In Europe there are the policies of disengagement, the Rapacki Plan, the Soviet proposals, the East German proposals, the German Social Democratic Party plan for Germany and the Labour Party disengagement proposals. There is a strong family resemblance between them all, and it is certain that on these lines we could work out an agreement which would involve the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Poland and Hungary.

In other words, if what is between us is national security considerations, we could meet that by international political arrangements, by compromise and negotiation. All this hullabaloo of piling up arms is entirely irrelevant, indeed counter-relevant, because it creates fears and tensions which make negotiations increasingly difficult. Against this background let us look at what the Government mean by defence. We get nearer to the Government's meaning by studying the Defence White Papers. The 1955 Defence White Paper said: The consciences of civilised nations must naturally recoil from the prospect of using nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, in the last resort, most of us must feel that determination to face the threat of physical devastation, even on the immense scale which must now be foreseen, is manifestly preferable to an attitude of subservience to militant Communism. … Two questions arise from that in connection with what the Government mean by defence. In the first place, what arrangements to end the cold war and the arms race do the Government reject as constituting "subservience to militant Communism" and therefore, manifestly a fate worse than atomic death? Contrariwise, in defence of what causes are they prepared to expose the people of this country to atomic death?

In Europe the Government have rejected any form of disengagement whatever and have stuck firmly to the policy outlined in the N.A.T.O. Foreign Minister's Report of last May, which insists on a united Germany being free to join N.A.T.O. The Government know, and we all know, that it is utterly impossible to get any agreement on that basis.

Again, in the Middle East they are equally categorical about rejecting any form of co-operation through the United Nations with the Soviet Union. They stick to what remains of the Bagdad Pact, re-christened, since Bagdad dropped out, "CENTO". The Government have rejected any possibility of an agreement which would wind up, and insist on arrangements which will perpetuate, the cold war and the arms race in that part of the world. Finally, in the Far East the Government have shown they are prepared to underwrite the status quo created by the United States in Formosa, Quemoy, Matsu, Vietnam, Laos and Southern Korea, a status quo which I regard as a state of chronic United States cold aggression against the peoples of those countries and against the Chinese People's Republic.

For what are they prepared to risk war? I have just said for what they are prepared to risk war in the Far East. When the Labour Opposition demanded that the Government should warn the United States that we would not support a war over Quemoy, the Prime Minister refused to give that warning and said it was better to be wrong with America than right and standing alone. In the Middle East we know exactly what the Government are prepared to risk war for by studying the Defence White Papers. In the 1955 White Paper it is stated that in order to discourage the indirect approach of Communism through infiltration and subversion we must, in parallel with our effort to develop the deterrent and prepare against a major war, strengthen by all means at our disposal, including where necessary the maintenance of adequate conventional forces, our defence against this method of attack. This means we are to use conventional forces in the Middle East against what the Government describe as the … indirect approach of Communism through infiltration and subversion … Of course, too much resistance to this would be met by the threat of strategic nuclear weapons. The 1956 White Paper made that a little clearer. It said that we want conventional weapons in the Middle East to deal with subversion, whether overtly Communist or masquerading as nationalism. That leaves a good wide field open. The 1957 White Paper confirmed that in the execution of this policy: British forces in the Middle East area would be made available. … These would include bomber squadrons based in Cyprus capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Now we know why the Government want bases of their own in Cyprus. They want them in pursuance of this policy of using armed force to intervene against what they describe as "Communist infiltration and subversion".

We have seen it in action. First we had the Suez affair, which was straight aggression against the Charter and condemned as such in the United Nations. The Government are quite unrepentant about that and still consider that they were entitled to do it. Next, there was the American invasion of Lebanon at the request of the President of Lebanon, who was an American puppet and who made his request unconstitutionally, because under the constitution the Lebanese Assembly must approve any such appeal to a foreign Power, and this was not done. The American action was taken, too, in the teeth of the Report of the United Nations Commission on the spot, which said that all the stories about massive infiltration from outside were untrue.

Next, we went into Jordan at the request of a king who at that time had two-thirds of his population against him, according to the report of The Times correspondent on the spot. This was followed on 17th July, 1958, by the Prime Minister's amazing claim in the House that there was nothing in the Charter to forbid the Government from going to the assistance, by armed intervention, of any Government which asked for such assistance on the ground that it was a victim of Communist subversion. As the Spectator pointed out at the time, this indicates that what the Government mean by defence is a policy of armed intervention on behalf of régimes so dictatorial that they cannot be removed by democratic means, so oppressive that their own peoples rise against them, and so unpopular that when the rising occurs they cannot even rely on their own armed forces and have to call in foreign forces to see them through. On top of that, this whole policy is contrary to the Charter, which certainly is not a licence for armed intervention in the internal affairs of other countries, but which, on the contrary, expressly forbids such intervention.

What the Government mean by defence in Europe has a family resemblance to the other forms of defence. We are heading for another crisis over Eastern Germany. The Government stick to the policy of not recognising Eastern Germany and not recognising the Polish frontier. I see that the Americans are taking the bit between their teeth, have refused to recognise the new form of identity cards issued by the Russian authorities and have resumed high flights to Berlin in the teeth of Russian protests. All this is boiling up to the sort of crisis which we had two years ago when there was talk about being ready to start a third world war rather than give in on those points.

If we go into the Summit Conference with a policy which makes agreement impossible—and that is the case as long as we stick to the N.A.T.O. Declaration of last May—then the failure of the Conference will be followed by a peace treaty with Eastern Germany by Russia, and that again, if the Government mean what they say, will result in our being in an atmosphere of diplomatic crisis with threats to peace and all the rest of it.

When it comes to the more basic issue of what the Government mean by N.A.T.O. in that part of the world, we have the declaration made on 12th December, 1955, by the present Prime Minister, then Foreign Secretary. This was confirmed by the present Foreign Secretary on 4th December, 1957, as constituting Government policy. The Prime Minister claimed in 1955 that the westward march of Communism had been arrested by N.A.T.O., covered by the protecting shield of American atomic power. Now the Soviets are held in the West. … We believe that they may, with steady pressure upon them, be forced sooner or later to give ground in Eastern Germany."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1955; Vol. 547, c. 827.] That is an echo of the policy of rolling back Communism, and it is a muted echo of Dr. Adenauer's policy, which is, frankly, to hold up any settlement over Germany until such time as he is strong enough to extort a settlement, with the support of his allies, he hopes, which will give him frontiers far better for Germany than the existing frontiers.

The interesting point is that in the recent Foreign Affairs debate no attempt was made on the Government benches to refute the facts and arguments about the growing danger of arming a Germany with irredentist demands, and a more and more reactionary and militarist régime, with nuclear weapons. This is a repetition of the old policy of making an ally of German nationalism, militarism and irredentism against the Soviet Union, using Germany as a bulwark against Communism. If we swallowed Hitler, then why strain at Adenauer now? He is no Hitler, of course, but in his internal policies he is something like a combination of Stresemann and von Papen, and in his international policy he is a European Syngman Rhee. He is becoming a danger to peace, and he is certainly an obstacle to any political settlement. On the Foreign Secretary's principle that if we take a decision we must accept the logical and natural consequences of it, then if the German Government are capable of the kind of initiative which they have taken in Spain, I wonder what they will do after they get nuclear weapons. I think that it will be a very serious business.

In conclusion, I propose to deal realistically with that Ark of the Cold War Covenant, N.A.T.O. In the first place, I believe that the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) was quite right when he claimed in the House, on the day that N.A.T.O. was formed, that it was logically carrying out the policy which he had outlined in Fulton in March, 1946.

For all practical purposes, the decision to treat the Soviet Union as a potential enemy after the war was taken before the war was over. It had nothing to do with post-war Soviet policies. I do not want to weary the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "You have done."]—by giving the evidence, but I must point out that Lieut.-General Sir Leslie Groves, who was in charge of the Manhattan project manufacturing the first atomic bomb, testified in the Oppenheimer loyalty trial in 1954 that within a fortnight of taking over his job in September, 1942, he was quite clear in his own mind that the Power against which the atom bomb was being manufactured was not Japan but the Soviet Union, that that was the true object of the operation.

For the first period after the war it was believed that the atomic bomb was the absolute weapon which had reduced the Soviet Union to a second-class Power and enabled the West to impose their will on her. Professor Blackett, in his book "Atomic Weapons and East-West Relations", published in 1956, gives a very clear and detailed picture of the development of that delusion, its gradual perishing and the reactions of the Russians to it.

The reactions of the Russians were, first of all, to increase their land forces. They then went in for an atomic programme. When the Americans started on an H-bomb programme, the Russians went in for H-bombs. When the Americans built strategic bombers, the Russians built a strategic bombing force. The Russians then went over to rockets before the Americans did, and they have now achieved a considerable lead in rockets. We are far worse off than when we started this business. In addition, the Russians tightened their hold on the satellites for military and security reasons as part of that operation.

We had some confirmation of this in Mr. Khrushchev's speech in the middle of January when he said that after the war Soviet forces had been reduced to 2,874,000 and then, as a result of the formation of the aggressive bloc of N.A.T.O. and atomic bomb blackmail at a time when we did not have the bomb, the Soviet Union was forced to strengthen her defences and by 1955 had increased her forces to 5,763,000.

That is how it looked from Moscow. As the Observer defence correspondent pointed out on 7th December, 1958: In the past, the deterrent strategy of the West has been absolute because it represented a one-sided mortal threat to the homeland of the U.S.S.R. From our point of view that looked like defence. But from the other fellow's point of view it looked like something a little different.

N.A.T.O. was born of the policy of negotiation from strength. When N.A.T.O. was introduced into the House I rejected it. I spoke against it, and I voted against it. I said of N.A.T.O.: It scraps the Charter and returns to the balance of power. It commits us to a new arms race". That is exactly what happened. I rejected the claim that this policy was necessary because there was danger of an attack from the Soviet Union. I said: The argument from necessity depends for its validity upon the view that every possible means of reaching agreement by the methods prescribed in the Charter has been exhausted, that the Soviet Union is solely to blame for the deadlocks, and, thirdly, that the Soviet Union has aggressive intentions. I cannot accept any one of these contentions. I do not believe that Soviet statesmanship has been any better inspired than our own; indeed, sometimes, it has been less well inspired. But I do not doubt the Soviet will to peace any more than I doubt that of the United States or of this country"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May, 1949; Vol. 414, cc. 2079 and 2081.] I stand by that declaration. I think that time has brought out its truth.

The practical conclusion I draw is this. I believe that we are coming to the end of the policy of building up nuclear strength and nuclear deterrents. The means are so terrible that they are swallowing up any possible ends they could achieve, and there is greater and greater scepticism about whether all the tremendous effort and fearful danger represent any rational need whatsoever.

The time has come when we must say that we shall reject the risks of hydrogen-bomb power-politics and the balance of power in our relations with the Soviet Union, and we accept the risks of basing our relations with that country on the Charter of the United Nations. We have a common interest in preserving peace and dealing co-operatively with threats of war. Through the Charter we can work out policies and arrangements to correspond to that and to underpin disarmament.

However, the choice must be made right at the beginning. We must decide whether we want to defend this country against what I regard as the mythical danger of a deliberate attack, or whether we want to defend ourselves and the world against the real and increasing danger of an accidental clash between these hair-triggered deadly defence systems.

If, as I think that we must, we make the latter choice, obviously anything which diminishes the danger of an accidental clash increases the strength of our defence against war. We should deter war by political East-West arrangements, and not by rival military alliances.

That consideration arises when speaking of any control system. If the view is taken of the motives of the Soviet Union that they are fearful and suspicious, but that basically they want disarmament and peace, the same as we do, obviously an imperfect control system which will enable us to stop tests and end the weapons race is much safer than to demand perfection, which is unattainable as between sovereign States and means going on with the arms race. There can never be a completely effective control system. Any form of control can always be opposed in the name of perfectionism. Anything of the sort I have suggested is a first step in advance.

Similarly, anything which will withdraw troops who are in danger of clashing with each other increases safety all round and is a defence measure—a deterrence of war measure. Whether it is the modest step that the Prime Minister proposed in Moscow and later dropped, whether it is the wider proposals of the Rapacki Plan or any of the others I have mentioned, these are the steps to be taken. Eventually it means that regional agreements based on the Charter will replace, swallow and wind up the rival military alliances, as an integral part of the process of disarmament and disengagement.

The best contribution this country could make today, instead of going on being a bad, and increasingly bad, third in the nuclear weapons race, an impoverished country member of the suicide club, would be to put ourselves at the heads of the nations who stand for civilisation and sanity, who desperately want to put an end to all this nonsense. We should say that we reject the policies of fear and reject all considerations based on the statecraft of the balance of power. We should say that we will take the risks of basing our relations with one-third of the world, headed by the Soviet Union, on the principles, purposes and obligations of the Charter. That means that we must be prepared to give a lead by unilateral action.

I want us not only to renounce nuclear strategy, but to get rid of nuclear weapons as well. We should do this not merely as a moral gesture, but as a political act, as the beginning of an independent foreign policy based on the Charter. We should make it clear that we do not fear aggression from either Russia or from the United States, and therefore we do not need American protection against the Soviet Union any more than we need Soviet protection against the United States. That is a radical policy, but I believe that it is the policy which we must follow. The sooner we do so, the greater will be our prestige, our influence and our leadership in the world.