Orders of the Day — Defence(Nuclear Deterrent and Nassau Agreement)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd November 1964.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Konni Zilliacus Mr Konni Zilliacus , Manchester, Gorton 12:00 am, 23rd November 1964

The answer to the question posed by the Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) is the one which has been given by the previous Government, his Government, by the French Government, by the American Government and by the Soviet Government, that the money saved on armaments should in part be used, through a central fund and through international machinery, to give technical and financial aid to under-developed countries, thereby increasing two-way trade with those countries.

I do not regard money spent on armaments as an economic advantage. It is economic waste. It is one of the main factors in the balance of payments crisis. The more we can plough back resources of money, manpower and scientific personnel into productive purposes, the better off we shall be economically. This is without touching the question of security; I am touching only the economic side of the question. Of course, it means organising the economy. It means the kind of plans which have been put forward from this side of the House for greatly developing trade with the underdeveloped countries, East-West trade on mutually planned lines, and so on. This, I believe, is the way to think of the future.

I regret that this debate was started at the initiative of the Opposition on the issue of defence. I should have much preferred the Government to put down a Motion on foreign policy or to have reserved two days for a broad debate on international affairs in every aspect so as to give the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence a send-off when they went to Washington and a mandate to go ahead with the Labour Party's policy for breaking out of the vicious circle of the cold war and the arms race and starting the business of making peace before it is too late.

I regard with gloom the prospect of the first international act of the Labour Government being to go off to Washington to sign on as "Tail-end Charlies" in an American nuclear bomber with a German co-pilot, whether one calls the contraption an Atlantic Nuclear Force or "Fred Karno's Nuclear Navy", which was James Cameron's name for it in the Sun the other day.

I do not see the necessity for strengthening N.A.T.O. at present. What we should do in the present situation—this has been advocated in the United States by people like Walter Lippmann, who is a very responsible middle-of-the-road man—is to say that the present situation does not call for any immediate measures to strengthen N.A.T.O. but, rather, it calls for sitting down and reviewing the whole field of international affairs. This review should take place not from the point of view of how to step up war preparations but from the point of view of how to get on with disarmament and negotiations for a peaceful settlement, doing nothing in the meantime which would make this primary task more difficult. We have got our priorities wrong in this business. We are putting the cart before the horse. I only hope that my right hon. Friends do not come back with schemes which will prove to be a serious obstacle in the way of carrying out the policies for making peace to which this Government are committed and which will start a further round in the cold war, stepping up the already colossal defence budget until it breaks clown our attempts to do what we have promised to do at home. I say all this bluntly because I believe that someone ought to say it from this side of the House and because I know that a great many people feel it.

I turn, briefly, to the so-called British independent deterrent delusion which confuses hon. and right hon. Members opposite. In the first place, it is not British because it is made in the United States. In the second place, it will not be independent. It never was and it is not likely to be. The V-bombers are independent, but they are obsolescent, too small to matter. The question is whether the Polaris submarine missiles provided by the United States will be under our sole control. During the election, the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) put it picturesquely by saying, "If I buy a hat or a pipe, it becomes my property and I can do what I like with it." There is a slight difference between nuclear weapons and a hat or a pipe. I am supposing for the sake of argument that the right hon. and learned Gentleman might go stark staring "bonkers" and jump on his hat or smash his pipe. The man who sold him these articles might not mind. He would probably think that it was good for trade. But if the automatic result of such an impetuous act were that the man's shop would be burned to the ground and that he and his family would be reduced to atomic dust, he would think twice about letting other people possess such things.

This is the position of the United States, which has no idea of letting any of her allies dispose of nuclear weapons provided by the United States. Until now, such weapons have always been under dual control. Part of the President's case against Senator Goldwater lay in his insistence that the President alone should take the decision. So long as the Polaris missiles, which are being sold only on the condition that Polaris submarines are integrated in a N.A.T.O. fleet under United States command—except for the reservation under Article 9—remain in a N.A.T.O. fleet under United States command, the electronic locks will still be on and can be released only by coded signal from Washington under the orders of the President. Ex hypothesi, if we had a Government who wished to use them independently, they would have to argue the toss with the United States as to whether those electronic locks would be released in order to start a nuclear war against the wish of the United States, which inevitably would be involved. I do not believe that it would ever happen. Anyway, that position is past.

We hear talk about possession of the nuclear deterrent giving us independence and authority in the councils of the nations. I remember what happened over Cuba. The United States brought this country to the verge of a nuclear war without even consulting us. We were not at the conference table because of our 2 per cent., by grace and favour of the United States, nuclear force. We were at the possible receiving end of annihilation without representation. The former Government took that lying down. They were perfectly happy about it.

So much for the side issues. Let us get down to the real issue—the crisis in N.A.T.O. The crisis is being brought about by the fact that the United States wishes to appease the West German desire for nuclear weapons by admitting Germany to participation in a multilateral nuclear fleet. The reason why Germany has got to the point where she is pressing her demand for nuclear weapons is that by degrees she has become the strongest Power in N.A.T.O., in terms of conventional forces, next to the United States.

How far this process has gone was set forth clearly and in rather alarming terms in the January number of the Foreign Affairs Quarterly by Mr. George F. Kennan, former United States ambassador in Yugoslavia and the U.S.S.R. and former Chief of the policy planning staff of the State Department and one of the founders of N.A.T.O. This is what he writes: When it comes to the military factor…the Western Powers, over a period that now runs back for several years, have committed themselves more and more deeply against anything in the nature of a military disengagement in Europe. Not only do they reject the possibility of any extensive withdrawal of foreign troops from the western part of the Continent, even if this were to be by way of reciprocation for a similar withdrawal of Soviet forces, but they appear to have set their face, in present circumstances, against anything in the nature of a European pact or a nonaggression pact between the N.A.T.O. and Warsaw Pact members.They are also adverse to any sort of arrangement for the de-nuclearisation of the European area, even, again if this were to be on a reciprocal basis.Finally, they give no very convincing evidence of any disposition to place effective limits on the rearmament of Western Germany, where one restriction after the other, established in earlier years, has quietly gone by the board, and where the Germans are now, in the view of everybody in Eastern Europe, well on the way to becoming in all respects a full-fledged nuclear power. Yet at the same time the Western powers, with the exception of the French have been unwilling to recognise the finality of Germany's eastern frontiers; and the West German Government, with the blessing of the others, still persist in a policy of total irreconcilability towards the East German State.Behind all this and connected with all of it is the heavy extent of the Western Commitment, and particularly the American and German commitment, to the eventual destruction of Communism generally. Mr. Kennan draws attention to the folly and danger of this policy of arming Germany while leaving her free to cherish her nuclear ambitions and her territorial claims, with the impact that all of this must have on Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

The fact is that the price being paid for the preservation of N.A.T.O. is the rejection of peaceful coexistence in any reasonable sense of that term, and a repudiation of every one of the major items of policy to which the Government of this country are committed—Labour's policies for disengagement, disarmament, a non-aggression pact between the N.A.T.O. and Warsaw Alliance Powers, the unification of Germany by stages within this kind of framework and a provisional Berlin settlement. That is the price that we are asked to pay for keeping N.A.T.O. going. And in spite of all this N.A.T.O. is now faced by a crisis which may well prove its finish.

President de Gaulle is not accepting what he regards as an American take-over bid for Western Europe through the multilateral fleet and through German inclusion in it. Whatever else one may think of President de Gaulle, he is not a man to be bullied and by-passed with impunity. France is the key country in Western Europe. We cannot go on with any successful European policy, certainly not with any West European policy, in defiance of the will of the French, who are a proud and courageous people and who will not be overridden or set aside by the United States. It is not our job to join in any attempt to do anything of the kind.

We should take our stand on the United Nations Charter, not on the military alliances, and we should show at least as much consideration for French views in these matters as we do for American and German views. In some respects French views are closer to the policy of our Government than are either the American or German views.

The French have said all along that Germany should recognise her present frontiers. So do we. The French are for recognising and bringing China into the United Nations. So are we. The French say that South-East Asia should be neutralised, and for a long time that was our policy. I hope that it is still our policy, because I do not see us trailing behind the Americans in their war of intervention in Southern Vietnam, which, apart from being a violation of the Charter and half-a-dozen other treaties, is a losing affair. Some hon. Members may remember the remark by Colonel Lawrence of Arabia that fighting revolutions is a slow and messy business, like eating soup with a knife. That is more or less what the Americans are doing, only they are shedding a lot of blood in the process. We should not be mixed up with that or countenance it in any way.

In all this, I have no hope whatever from right hon. and hon. Members opposite, because, with a few honourable exceptions, they are prepared to take anything whatever in the cause of strengthening the military alliance. We on this side have a different approach to this matter.

On the specific issue of the inclusion of Germany in any kind of international nuclear force, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has twice told the House, on 31st January, 1963, and on 3rd July that same year, when he repeated it: We have a right to ask where the Government stand on these proposals for a European deterrent, including the nuclear rearmament of Germany. I make perfectly clear now where we stand. We are completely, utterly and unequivocally opposed, now and in all circumstances, to any suggestion that Germany, West Germany or East Germany, directly or indirectly, should have a finger on the nuclear trigger or any responsibility, direct or indirect, for deciding that nuclear weapons are to be used."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1963; Vol. 670, c. 1246.] The first time the Prime Minister said that, he described it as a "categorical statement". The next time, he said he had used exactly the same words in Washington and Moscow, and that was the policy of the Labour Party. It is still, I hope, the policy of the Government, because in this statement there is no fine distinction between a German finger on a nuclear trigger or a German finger on the safety catch. What is condemned with equal force is, on the one hand, a finger on the nuclear trigger, either directly or indirectly, and, on the other hand, any part of Germany having any responsibility, direct or indirect, for deciding that nuclear weapons are to be used. That was not said just for fun. The Prime Minister explained in the House on 3rd July, 1963, in some detail that to admit Germany to any form of participation in any kind of international nuclear force would be regarded by the present leaders of Germany—and he quoted their Defence Minister, Kai-Uwe von Hassel in confirmation—as a halfway house to Germany acquiring nuclear weapons of her own. The Germans believe, he pointed out, that the present American veto in the M.L.F. cannot last, and they also believe that membership would strengthen their demand for medium range nuclear weapons on German soil. Indeed, I understand that the Americans are starting to promise the latter.

My right hon. Friend then explained that, strong as our objections were to this, they paled into insignificance compared with the vigour of Soviet objections. He said that his talks in Moscow had convinced him that the Russians equated German participation in a multilateral nuclear force with Germany acquiring nuclear weapons of her own. That step, he said, would mean the end of any chance of relaxing tension in Europe and could prove the point of no return on the road to the next world war.

He used the strongest possible language and gave the direst warnings. He was perfectly right. He was certainly right that this is the feeling of the Soviet Union. This is not a question of whether or not this is a European deterrent. The Russians would not care a bit if de Gaulle's nuclear force, which is independent but does not exist, and ours, which, although it exists, is very small and is not independent—not if we were to get Polaris missiles—were combined. They are worried about Germany joining an international nuclear force—a European organisation, an Atlantic organisation, whatever it might be called and whatever its shape might be. If anybody doubts if that really is their position I urge them to look at the recent Tass communiqué which was scrappily reported in our Press. I have translated the relevant parts from the Pravda report of 15 November. This is what the Tass agency said: The plans for constituting a multilateral nuclear force in any form whatsoever are a matter which concerns not only the members of the North Atlantic group. The carrying out of plans of this nature would affect the security of the whole of Europe, of all European states, and of other states. The result would be the aggravation of the nuclear weapons race and a further dissemination of nuclear weapons, allowing access to them of those whose whole policy depends on keeping up international tension and using force to change the existing world situation. One would have to be blind not to see that the result would be fresh and almost insurmountable obstacles on the approaches to disarmament, and the wrecking of the patient work of many countries and governments, to improve East-West relations and consolidate peace. It went on: The Soviet Government has frequently warned against the danger resulting from the plans to set up a multi-lateral or a multinational nuclear N.A.T.O. force. These plans jeopardise the security of all countries and peoples. Naturally the Soviet Government and her allies would take counter measures to strengthen their defences, concluded Tass. In other words, we should be in for a fresh round of the arms race.

All this illustrates the truth of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in the House on 31st January last year: When defence becomes the master of foreign policy, as it sometimes has in recent years, vision and realism alike are banished from our counsels."—[OFFICAL REPORT, 31st January, 1963; Vol. 670, c. 1246.] My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence said on 4th March last year: The first principle of defence is that defence should be the servant of foreign and colonial policy. Finally, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his first speech as Shadow Foreign-Secretary, said in Birkenhead on 31st December, 1961: From now on instead of putting defence first in our minds, weapons and means of destruction, I think the important thing is to put foreign policy, particularly a Socialist foreign policy, first. He went on: Then all other things will fall into place. I hope that the Government will keep to that principle and have the courage to apply it in the present situation. Because today we have an enormously strong bargaining position. That was pointed out by a very good Tory indeed, a well-informed and intelligent Tory, although that is not to say that the majority of Tories are not informed and intelligent. In the Sunday Telegraph of 8th November an article written by Peregrine Worsthorne, who was recently in Washington, stated that the Americans were concerned over the post-Khrushchev possibilities of Russia and China re-forming a united Communist front.

I understand that one of the reasons why Mr. Khrushchev lost his job—by methods that we all deplore—was that he was thought to be too soft towards the West and too tough towards China. The Russians thought that they had better mend their fences in regard to China in order to improve their bargaining position vis-á-vis the West. Mr. Worsthorne goes on: It is vitally important, therefore, for the United States to avoid doing anything which would strengthen those forces in the Kremlin who oppose a Russo-American détente.This means, in effect, that Mr. Johnson dare not press ahead with his cherished plan for bringing Western Germany into the nuclear club, unless it is done in such a way as to minimise Russian fears. So long as Khrushchev was in power the Americans discounted Soviet opposition to the M.L.F., since it was assumed that his quarrel with China was so irreconcilable that the Russians had no alternative but to maintain good relations with the West.Now that this assumption can no longer be made the Americans have been forced to reconsider their whole policy towards Western Germany's nuclear participation…This is where the British rôle becomes crucial. It is now accepted in Washington that there can no longer be any question of pressing ahead with a bilateral German-American nuclear force. Such a development, with its dramatic upgrading of the German role in Western defence, would have a disastrous impact in Moscow. The Americans now recognise that British participation has become much more than merely desirable. It has become absolutely essential. If our participation is essential, we are in a strong enough position to put forward what we want and what we think should be done, including our ideas of priorities in this business—particularly as we shall have a good deal of support in the United States. The multilateral fleet, and pushing ahead with it at the risk of cracking up N.A.T.O., disregarding France and boosting German militarism, is by no means popular in the United States. It has been described very sarcastically by Walter Lippmann, amongst others, as the work of professors disguised as strategists. The whole thing is not a scheme to which the United States is 100 per cent. committed.

What we ought to do is to apply our own principle, and say to our Allies, "The first thing to do now is to sit down with the Russians at the conference table and find out on what terms we can negotiate an agreement with them on the political settlement of Europe and on disarmament. Only after that, and in the light of the results of such a conference, can we look at N.A.T.O. and see whether it needs strengthening or winding up." We ought to go further, and say, "Since N.A.T.O. comes into operation only in the case of unprovoked aggression, so long as our Allies pursue policies that we regard as provocative they do not have the right to expect us to come to their assistance if they get into trouble, and they will not get it."

And unless and until Germany agrees to accept her frontiers, and abandons her policies of total intransigence, we should he totally opposed to any more armaments for Germany, and to putting any more good money into keeping our troops there. We should give notice, that failing agreement with our allies within a reasonable time on how to make peace, and so long as they go on with policies that we consider provocative, such as the M.L.F., we will start pulling our troops back from N.A.T.O., pushing out United States bases here, and using the money we save for our economic and social programme at home. If we took that line, we should have plenty of bargaining power and plenty of prestige. We would fulfil the hopes of those who elected Labour to power to save the peace, and get such support from the people of the Western Powers and the United States that we would carry the day.