Foreign Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th March 1975.

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Photo of Mr Iain Sproat Mr Iain Sproat , Aberdeen South 12:00 am, 25th March 1975

We are holding this debate in the middle of what, by wide consent, must be, for this country and for its allies, one of the most sombre and depressing periods of foreign policy that we have known for many years. In the past few weeks alone we have been witnessing the erosion of western influence and the crumbling of policies that we support. Loss of control over events is taking place in a terrifyingly wide spread of countries.

In Portugal we are seeing changes so rapid, so far-reaching and so potentially undermining to Western security that we cannot yet assess the extent of the damage and the dangers. However, we know that they will, alas, be very great. The situation in Portugal is not yet completely lost, but who in this House would say with any conviction that in a year's time we shall not have another Communist dictatorship?

In the Middle East, as many hon. Members have mentioned, we have seen the collapse of Dr. Kissinger's present efforts and the triumph of the Soviet desire to frustrate them.

In Cambodia, Government and people are learning that they cannot rely on American promises to protect them against Communist aggression, while at the same time Communists and their allies are learning that they can rely on the Soviet Union to continue to support them.

In South Vietnam—a tragedy which has received all too little debate this afternoon—a Government which trusted the United States to protect them against the Soviet-supported North Vietnamese are learning, tragically, that that trust was totally misplaced. At the time of the Paris Agreement on Vietnam, Dr. Kissinger gave absolute commitments that the future of Vietnam would not be decided by force. Where are those commitments now? In effect, the Americans have deserted their allies in Indo-China; the Soviet Union has stuck by its allies.

Who now can believe, utterly and completely, in any American commitment, whether it be in Indo-China or—although the domestic circumstances are quite different—in the Middle East, or even in Western Europe? Nor is it the Americans alone who are in this position. The Soviet Union has given an estimated £1,000 million in military aid to the Iraqi Government, and most of that money has gone to crush the Kurds. The Kurds looked to the West and placed their trust in western-oriented Iran. Again, that trust has been tragically and brutally misplaced. Iran has withdrawn its support, and the Kurds face genocide. Once again the Soviet Union has shown that it sticks by its allies, and once again alliance with the Soviet Union has been shown to pay off.

The fact that Iran had other reasons for signing its agreement with Iraq, which may contribute to stability in the Middle East, the fact that Iraq is showing signs of wanting to get out from under the Soviet Union—and I hope that the United Kingdom will help Iraq to do so—will not blind uncommitted or threatened nations to the fact that in these last weeks alone, in Portugal, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Middle East, the western nations and their allies have lacked the will, the energy and the determination, to stand by those they promised to stand by.

At the same time as the causes supported by the Soviet Union are advancing, the United Kingdom, at a moment of financial crisis, is preparing, in effect, to lend money to the Soviet Union at a rate lower than that at which we are compelled to borrow to keep ourselves afloat. In the latest defence White Paper we are cutting our ability to defend ourselves, without any corresponding action by the Soviet Union. Furthermore, because the present Government are proposing a referendum on the EEC, we are a considerable way to backing out of the one major hope for ensuring the United Kingdom's security and influence in the future —namely, the EEC and, with it, the nucleus of a united Europe.

British influence has diminished and, alas, is still diminishing, but I wish to mention three specific areas in which we still can and must exercise some urgent influence.

I refer first to Iraqi Kurdistan. It now appears tragically pointless to argue the rights and wrongs of the breaches of the March 1970 agreement between the Kurds and the Iraqis, but, with General Barzani's 1½ million followers fearing genocide, with 300,000 Kurdish refugees, threatened by disease and starvation, trying to make their way to the safety of Iran by 1st April, I ask Her Majesty's Government to take action first, to intercede urgently with the Shah so that the border may be kept open for another month for the passage of refugees. If this does not happen, in the terrible conditions of travel in northern Iraq at this time of year many thousands of men, women and children will have no chance to reach the safety of Iran before the Iraqi cease-fire is over.

Secondly, I ask Her Majesty's Government to intercede with the Turks to open their frontier to humanitarian aid to Kurdish refugees. Thirdly, I ask the Government to use every possible means to persuade the international community, particularly the United Nations, to organise urgently a massive relief operation for the Kurds in their desperate plight.

In areas where we can still exercise some influence, and indeed must do so, I wish to mention the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. Like almost every other hon. Member, I am in favour of true détente between the Soviet. Union and the West. I want to see the areas of friction between us reduced. I also want to see an increase in trade and human contacts, a freer flow of information and greater confidence and co-operation between us, but I draw a distinction between true détente, substantiated by action, and a mere barrage of verbiage about détente, without much action to substantiate it.

To those who might become lulled by the euphoria of all the talk about détente, it cannot be emphasised enough that détente is no substitute for defence. I was surprised to hear the Foreign Secretary tell the House this afternoon that he had managed to persuade the Russians to change their definition of "peaceful coexistence". Does that mean that the Russians would not now march into Czechoslovakia? Would a new definition of "co-existence" completely change all that? I do not suppose that there is one hon. Member in the House who believes that. It does not matter about any scrap of paper relating to the Soviet Union's definition of co-existence. We know their aims and we know what they are out to achieve.

I say with some sadness that little has happened to persuade me otherwise than that at the CSCE the dominant aim of the Soviet Union—and that aim is different from the aims of other members of the Warsaw Pact, such as Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia—is to alter the balance of power in Europe in its own favour, pursued merely by means different from those of the past. The aim is to divide and weaken Western Europe, to strengthen the Soviet hold over Eastern Europe, and to reduce the risks for the Soviet Union in Europe as a whole. That is what faces the Russians in the light of their economic problems, their fissiparous ethnic problems, and the problem of China threatening their Eastern frontier.

Mr. Brezhnev wants a CSCE summit this summer. I do not subscribe to the view that just because he may be the best First Secretary we have got, we should therefore do all he wants. I hope that a summit proves possible this summer, but there must be no further erosion of the West's position at the CSCE. In particular, we still require better and firmer guarantees about military confidence-building measures, to which the Foreign Secretary referred, and a freer flow of people and ideas. I hope that the Government will say to the Soviet authority that without such guarantees there will be no summit conference this summer. It is better that there be no summit than a phoney one.

Finally, in the areas where we still can and must exercise some influence, I wish to mention the EEC. I said earlier that British influence in the world was, alas, continuing to diminish. That sorry process can be stopped. I believe that it can be stopped through, and only through, a united Europe, of which the EEC is the only credible present representative. After Easter we shall no doubt be having long debates on this subject. I shall therefore say now only that I believe that there is nothing in foreign policy more important than for Her Majesty's Government to help construct a strong, democratic and united Europe.