Orders of the Day — Overseas Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th November 1963.

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Photo of Mr Emlyn Hooson Mr Emlyn Hooson , Montgomeryshire 12:00 am, 15th November 1963

I am sure that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his four points. I intend to say something about the fourth point with which he dealt. I want to take up the time of the House for a very short span this afternoon to deal with the question of N.A.T.O. Recently I had the privilege of going as a delegate from the House, as did the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West, to the meeting of N.A.T.O. Parliamentarians at Paris. This does not give me any justification or excuse for setting myself up as an expert on N.A.T.O. It was my first visit. What it did for me was to enable me to concentrate my mind for a time on the problems of N.A.T.O. and to consider its efficacy and its future in this troubled world.

There is no doubt that N.A.T.O. has been a remarkable achievement. Not only has it been the shield of the West. It is perhaps the most formidable example of collective security that there has been in this century, probably in any century. The impression I had already gained from reading was heightened when I was there, that we are approaching a remarkable crisis of confidence in N.A.T.O. This may not be particularly important at the moment, but it could be of extreme importance. Indeed, unless arrested, it could lead to the partial disintegration of N.A.T.O. itself.

At Philadelphia just over a year ago, on 4th July, 1962, President Kennedy made a famous speech in which he spoke in optimistic terms of the possibility of the integration of Europe and at die same time of a partnership of the Atlantic peoples. But, looking back over the past year, the whole process towards the gradual integration of Europe and an Atlantic partnership appears to have been halted. There seems to be a new desire manifest in Europe to break away from the converging lines of our common interest. This led to the breakdown of the E.E.C. negotiations, the lack of confidence in, or the doubts that have been expressed about, N.A.T.O. itself, and so on.

It is not difficult to find a reason for this. There is virtually a new manifestation of nationalism to be seen in Europe. Its great champion is France. We should deceive ourselves if we did not realise that, though France may be its most articulate champion at the moment, she is to a very considerable extent championed by our own country. Basically, France's attitude towards having an independent nuclear deterrent is exactly the same as ours. I think that this constantly emphasised determination to hold the ultimate control entirely in national hands is about as relevant to the threat of Russia as were the separate aspirations of the Spartans and the Athenians to the great threat and power from Rome which overwhelmed them all centuries ago.

France has adopted a policy which follows almost exactly our own policy. At the plenary session of the meeting of N.A.T.O. Parliamentarians the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West, and I heard the Leader of the French delegation, General Bilotte, put forward the French point of view. He quoted the British Prime Minister as justification for France aspiring to have her own nuclear weapons. What is the British Government's attitude towards this? Do they view with equanimity the emergence of France as a fourth nuclear Power? Would they view with equanimity the emergence of Germany in five or six years' time as the fifth nuclear Power? Can we look forward to the day when the leader of the German delegation to the meeting of N.A.T.O. Parliamentarians will quote the French President as justification for Germany having an independent nuclear deterrent?

Indeed, the French attitude is that France needs this prestige symbol. The French argue that, if Britain is entitled to sit in at the higher councils of the nations, so also should France. Surely this is a process of inviting country after country to aspire to membership of this club. Where does it end? In theory, certainly, this argument is the justification for Nicaragua having the bomb in order to have her place at the councils of the nations.

I do not for a moment belittle the power of the British nuclear deterrent. Compared with the American or the Russian deterrent, it is obviously very small. However, I think that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West, was right in saying that it might inflict upon a potential enemy—or upon an enemy—wholly unacceptable damage. I accept that. I am not concerned to argue the contrary. My argument is not a military one. It is the political argument with which I am concerned.

Not only did General Bilotte quote the British Prime Minister in justification of France's attitude. On 9th September, following an interview with the Minister of Defence, this passage appeared in The Times:in the field of nuclear weapons the British Government's policy remains unchanged. The official view which bears a remarkable similarity in essence to that of General de Gaulle is that the American guarantee of European security may possibly lose at least in Russian eyes its force and effectiveness at some time in the future. Until effective political union can be achieved either in European or Atlantic terms—and British defence planners believe the latter at least to be some way off—national nuclear capabilities are regarded as valuable. The Minister of Defence there equated Britain's own attitude to that of General de Gaulle. There is no other justification for it.

Where does this lead? Nobody in his right senses can contemplate Britain embarking on an adventure of her own involving nuclear weapons without the assistance of the United States of America, because clearly no country can use nuclear weapons—strategic nuclear weapons, at any rate—without there being an escalation to total nuclear war. What makes the Western deterrent credible is the American deterrent. Do we really contribute anything towards the solidarity of the West or the defence of the West by maintaining our own independent force? I have already said that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West, was right in saying that our nuclear force is still a considerable force in itself, though not when compared with the American force.

While our nuclear force is still not completely out of date, would it not be worth while for Britain to make an approach to France, for example, to see, possiblyusing our V-bomber force as a bargaining counter, if we can try to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries in Europe? Once France has it, as day follows night Germany will want it. Where will the process end but in a nuclear war? Is it not better for this country to concentrate on making other contributions to the defence of the West—conventional forces and so on—and using the money saved to make sure that our conventional forces are brought up to date?