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Vote a. Number for Air Force Service

Part of Orders of the Day — Air Estimates, 1962–63 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th March 1962.

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Photo of Mr Konni Zilliacus Mr Konni Zilliacus , Manchester, Gorton 12:00 am, 12th March 1962

The hon. Gentleman may choose to believe that, but in a moment I shall tell him why he is wrong, and I shall give him reasons for scepticism and caution in accepting those rosy views and cheery assurances.

In the Observer yesterday there appeared a despatch from Washington saying High level Pentagon sources are saying that Britain may have been 'oversold' on Skybolt, the stand-off nuclear missile with which the British Government hopes to equip R.A.F. bombers by the mid-'sixties.One of the principal advisers of Mr. Robert McNamara, the Defence Secretary, said this week that it was not yet proved that absolute accuracy could be obtained from a nuclear missile launched from the side of a fast-moving high-level platform. He predicted that we should know better by the end of the year whether Skybolt was a dud—perhaps not even then. The Observer defence correspondent added the note: There has been nothing but trouble about and with Skybolt since the idea was first mooted, and there has been tremendous lobbying for and against its development. The latest estimated cost of developing it is £160 million—more than twice the original estimate—and it will be fitted to only one of Britain's V-bombers, the Vulcan Mark 2, and to the long-range version of the American B52H, only 130 of which have been ordered by the U.S.A.F. It continues: If the American Air Force wins its fight for the development of a strong force of B70 supersonic heavy bombers, its interest in Skybolt will tend to diminish. The B70 is not designed to carry Skybolt. This morning's newspapers report from Washington that Senator George Vincent—who, up till now, has been one of the strongest supporters of the President-has launched a vigorous campaign in the Senate Armed Services Committee for tripling the amount of 180 million dollars the President has assigned for producing the B70 manned jet bomber. If that comes about the Americans will not display a very enthusiastic interest in Skybolt.

That is something which the Administration does not want. It is described as part of a successful revolt against the Administration of the old alliance of Right Wing Republicans and Dixiecrats, and it is said that that is likely to continue. It corresponds to the powerful Air Force and aeroplane industry lobby in the United States. If I were the Government in Britain I really would not place too much touching reliance on the Americans developing Skybolt by 1965, or any other time.

I have dealt with the cost and the illusory character of this "defence" policy. I now turn to what, according to the Memorandum, this money is required for.

The Memorandum states, firstly, that the R.A.F. in Germany is to support N.A.T.O. by low-level nuclear attacks. Of course, that links up with—it is the air arm or the nuclear attack arm of—the general defence policy of N.A.T.O.I pointed out when we discussed the Army Estimates—I do not wish to weary the House by repeating but merely refer to what I said—that, in fact, N.A.T.O.'s so-called defence policy is directed to armed intervention against risings in various countries.

I also pointed out that such a policy was not defensive but interventionist and tantamount to aggression in violation of the Charter. By adding low-level nuclear attacks or any other kind of nuclear attack to conventional operations we are dead certain that outside interference in an internal upheaval will immediately escalate into a full-scale nuclear war. The Memorandum states: It is"— that is, the R.A.F.— the main nuclear striking force in support of CENTO. I pointed out in the debate on the Army Estimates that under CENTO we are committed to armed intervention in Middle Eastern countries when there are popular uprisings against the reactionary and dictatorial Governments there. If we are to do any nuclear bombing of any sort in such situations, not only will such action be of unparalleled barbarity, but it will bring about a full-scale nuclear war.

This is what Mr. Dulles wanted to do over the war in Viet-nam at the time of the siege of Dien Bien Phu. I am glad that Mr. Eden, as he then was, told him bluntly that if that happened and Ghana were brought in—as she undoubtedly would have been—we would not take part in fighting China. Under CENTO—and under similar obligations in S.E.A.T.O.—this is the kind of thing we are preparing to do with our nuclear forces, not only at the risk of starting a nuclear world war, but also with the absolute certainty that the population of this country would then be exterminated.

What makes it worse if possible is that we cannot start these things ourselves, even if we wanted to. These alliances are run by the United States. A Government Front-bench spokesman today referred to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on 1st March, 1960, in which he claimed that we must have nuclear weapons of our own in order to be independent of the United States and to be able to face emergencies by ourselves if the United States let us down—an argument which, I am glad to say, my Party has since, very sensibly, abandoned. It never made much sense. Today it makes utter nonsense. However, for some reason, the Government stall sticks to that idea.

In that same speech the Leader of the Opposition pointed out that Britain's position in N.A.T.O., without nuclear weapons and with America having the monopoly, was one of such unilateral dependence and subservience that we could not carry out any policy which was at variance with that of America, and America could commit us to war for policies with which we did not agree.

That is the position in N.A.T.O., whether or not we pretend to be a nuclear Power. The most extraordinary reason advanced by the Secretary of State for the Government's nuclear deterrent strategy—or their so-called strategy—was that this policy would impress both the Russians and the Americans that we were able and willing, if necessary, to go it alone and that this, presumably, would increase our bargaining power. Let us remember that all of this is on the strength of a 2½ per cent. production figure and of a bomber force which is obsolescent unless and until we get the American Skybolt—which is, anyway, a rather doubtful proposition and in any case, at the best, cannot take place until 1965 or later.

If one analyses that position one finds that it suggests that in some dispute with the Soviet Union the Americans might think that we were wrong. It would mean that they would advise us to change our line and accept some kind of compromise, negotiate and settle our differences by peaceful means. No doubt the United Nations would take the same line. But the Government's fanaticism would be so great that they would rather involve the people of this country in a nuclear war than abate their intransigence. They would rather do that than accept the civilized procedures for settlement urged on them by their allies in accordance with the United Nations Charter to which we are pledged.