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Foreign Affairs

Part of Orders of the Day — Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st July 1961.

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Photo of Mr Christopher Woodhouse Mr Christopher Woodhouse , Oxford 12:00 am, 31st July 1961

May I resume by thanking the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) for calling that count and increasing my audience, however temporarily. I was going to say that there is simply no alternative to negotiation because nothing can stop Mr. Khrushchev from signing this peace treaty, handing over the remaining powers to the East German Government and then, as the hon. Gentleman for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) pointed out, the only consequence of refusing to negotiate with Mr. Khrushchev would be that we should have to negotiate—or at any rate to deal with—the East German Government.

It needs saying again by the Government, and frequently, because through no fault of the Government or of President Kennedy, or anyone else on our side, unfortunately the Press in recent weeks has been giving the misleading impression that we are mare interested in sabre rattling than we are in preparing for negotiation. I am sure that this is not true, but it is impossible to say it too often and it needs to be said in a way which even the most sensational newspapers can take in.

If we must negotiate, on what basis are we to do so? The Government have stated the three minimum conditions from which they will not retreat. The three essential minimum conditions are the right to be in Berlin, the right of access to Berlin and the right of self-determination for the West Berliners.

My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal was pressed to say what was negotiable. He was entitled to refuse to say, because a Minister cannot be expected to show his hand in advance in public before entering negotiations. Hon. Members have, however, a right to put forward ideas of matters on which, in our view, negotiation is possible. Some things are obvious and some would not cost very much. They would cost us very little, but they are seemingly extremely desirable to the other side. They are so desirable to them that we are apt to overlook how much they would cost us and to insist that they are not negotiable simply because they are so desirable to the other side. I should like to indicate two or three of the points I have in mind.

There is, first, the possibility of a reduction of the scale of our presence in Berlin. I speak only of a reduction of scale; I do not mean the combat troops which are in Berlin. They are no more than a token force already. They could stand up to a coup de main by the East Germans. They certainly could not stand up to a war in defence of Berlin, and they should not be reduced further. Behind them, however, or perhaps above them, there is a large superstructure of chairborne staff and administrative civilians who are looked upon by Mr. Khrushchev as nothing more or less than a basis for espionage and a reduction of which would, in my view, be a small sacrifice on our part. It is intensely resented by Mr. Khrushchev that there should be so many of these people on top of and behind the combat troops. We could do a little good to our balance of payments by reducing their numbers, but we could do a great deal of good psychologically in our dealings with Eastern Europe.

My second and third points go together, and at least one of them has been mentioned already. The second is a reiteration in, perhaps, a more emphatic and more convincing way than has recently been done of our guarantee against placing nuclear weapons under exclusive German control. The third point concerns the recognition of the Eastern frontier of Germany, the so-called Oder-Neisse line. I take these two points together, because it is impossible for any honest person to visit Eastern Europe without coming back with an impression of the sincerity of the fear, however mistaken it is—and, I believe, it is mistaken—on these two subjects. Neither of them would involve us in any major concession in things which we either have the power to withhold or that in the long run we would want to withhold. The guarantee concerning nuclear weapons is already written into the W.E.U. treaty, and nothing more is necessary than to reaffirm it as emphatically as possible.

Chancellor Adenauer has already stated that he would never use force to alter the eastern frontier. Since it is inconceivable that that frontier could ever be altered in any way except by force, that is tantamount to recognition of it. That implicit recognition should be made explicit on the part of all of us.

These are small things, but in Eastern Europe it is believed that these would be new commitments on our part. It is not true that they would be new commitments. They are things we are already committed to, but if the East does believe that they would be new commitments, why should we boggle at giving them?

The fourth and last point I want to make concerns the possibility of some further degree of recognition of the D.D.R., the East German State. I do not mean diplomatic recognition; I do not mean signing a peace treaty with the East Germans; I do not mean admitting them to the United Nations; but they are already in fact recognised by us and even by the West Germans for all sorts of practical purposes, administrative purposes, commercial purposes, sport and so on. Their Foreign Minister was even present as an observer at the Great Power Foreign Ministers Conference in 1959. There are undeniably today two German Governments just as there are two Chinese Governments. Despite the objections of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), I think the Chinese case does provide a parallel in that we have today in the China we do not recognise consular representation as well as diplomatic representation in the China we do recognise.

If that were considered going too far in the case of Eastern Germany, again I cannot see the objection to our being willing to treat them as agents of the Soviet Government for the purpose of administering and controlling transit to Berlin. In any case, there are many kinds of intermediate status between full diplomatic recognition and totally declining to acknowledge the existence of a people, and I feel sure that it is possible to find some position along that spectrum a little further forward than we stand at present.

It may be said that this involves abandoning all hope of the reunification of Germany. I am not sure that that is a valid argument for two reasons. In the first place, there is no hope of reunifying Germany in the present situation: there is no hope to abandon. In the second place, it seems to me conceivable that reunification might eventually be brought a step nearer to the kind of degree of recognition—"acknowledgement" let me say rather than "recognition"—which is implied in what I have said. It may indeed be that this new degree of acknowledgment is the only way of getting the reunification of Germany, and the fact that Mr. Khrushchev says this is so is not, in my opinion, sufficient reason for our saying that it cannot be so.

None of these four points I have made involves conceding anything which we intend to hold in the long run or to withhold in the long run or that we could withhold in the long run. The first is a mere token, the size of our presence in Berlin; the second, nuclear weapons, merely affirms an existing treaty; the third is the Oder-Neisse line; the fourth, the acknowledgment of Eastern Germany; which are things we could not alter without war, and obviously we do not want to.

I have many times asked those who should know, why are we not prepared to concede any of these things, any one of them? The answer always is that they must be held as bargaining counters so that we could get something in exchange. It seems to me that now is the time to get something in exchange, now is the time to cash some of these bargaining counters, none of which is in itself substantial to us, but which are apparently extremely substantial to the East. Why should we not take the opportunity to bargain them for something which is substantial to us, the security of West Berlin and peace in Europe?

It is no good saying, as will be said, that the Russians would not keep their word, because if we say—and I think that even the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, East made this mistake—they will not keep their word there is no point in entering into any kind of bargain with them at all, and we are left simply with either retreat or war as the only possibilities.

If we believe that the Communists always break their word—and I might say in parentheses that I have some experience of negotiating with Communists—we cannot negotiate with them at all. We can only ignore them or fight. I do not believe that it is the case that they always break their word. What I believe is the case is that very often they mean totally different things by their words from what we mean.