Defence

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th March 1978.

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Photo of Mr Julian Amery Mr Julian Amery , Brighton, Pavilion 12:00 am, 13th March 1978

The hon. Member for Farn-worth (Mr. Roper) concluded by stressing the importance of reaching disarmament agreements. I think that the whole House would agree with him that if they are properly controlled and reciprocal there is everything to be said for going ahead with them. But over the door which leads into the main conference chamber of the Palace of Nations in Geneva are inscribed the words of Lord Robert Cecil: "Disarm or perish." Those words were interpreted unilaterally between the wars. We disarmed, and we damned nearly perished, so this time let us be careful to see that it is a mutual and reciprocal process.

The hon. Gentleman talked about defence expenditure over the next 10 years. I only hope that we have 10 years. I am not so sure. Having watched the defence scene from several posts in Whitehall, and having been in the House for more than 27 years, I have a feeling that we are getting very near, nearer than we have been at any time since the war, to the point of no return.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) put his finger on the problem when he said that the White Paper revealed a Maginot Line mentality. Of course, it is right that we should concentrate on the defence of Europe and the NATO area. That is where our life is at stake, where the immediate threat to our survival arises. Unless that line is held, there is nothing to be preserved.

But the threat does not come only from the Warsaw Pact forces aligned against us in Europe. In the last war we faced the danger of invasion but the greatest danger came from the U-boat blockade. The oil crisis through which we have lived since 1973 should have taught us some lessons. It brought about not only serious social and economic dislocation in our countries but serious political and defence complications.

The defence cuts made by this Government, cuts which we have been attacking, have been justified by and predicated upon the economic crisis resulting from the oil recession. The political developments in Italy and France also have, to some extent at least, their origin in that crisis.

By and large, the producers of raw materials, whether the oil producers or the producers of minerals in Southern Africa, have been well disposed to the West. But suppose our sources of oil, on which every war machine as well as every industrial machine depends, and the minerals, on which our armaments industry as well as other sectors of our economy depend, were to fall into hostile hands.

The supposition is not all that remarkable when one thinks that in Angola and Mozambique the Soviets are within easy striking range of the minerals of Southern Africa, and in the Horn of Africa and Aden they are in easy reach of the oil of the Gulf. Suppose these sources of vital raw materials were to come into hostile hands. The survival of Europe, of Britain in particular and indeed of Japan, would be threatened. The Americans would be faced with great difficulties as well.

There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that the takeover of those sources of raw materials is one of the options considered in Moscow as an aim of Soviet strategy. There has been plenty of evidence of that, and there has been recent testimony from the Head of State of a country which until November was a close ally of the Soviet Union with whom, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), I had the opportunity to talk the other day. I refer to the President of Somalia, who told us—I have no reason to doubt the genuineness of what he said, and others better qualified than I who have also talked to him confirm this view—the plan which the Soviets put to him and in which they assigned to his country a particular role.

The plan was this. In return for giving naval facilities to the Soviet Union, Somalia was to be active in destablishing and taking over Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia—that was before the Ethiopian revolution—and in helping to bring about what was called "Socialist" hegemony of the Horn of Africa. Following this, the Sudan and the two sources of the Nile would then be under Soviet control. The two sources would be brought together and Egypt would be destablished. Meanwhile, across the Red Sea, with the co-operation of Aden, a threat would be posed through Oman to the Gulf area and through North Yemen to Saudi Arabia.

That was as much of the plan as the President was brought into formally. But he was also given to understand that the longer-range goal was the takeover by Soviet influence of Iran in the north and the South African minerals in the south.

Let us face it. The process is already far advanced. The Soviets are firmly established in Angola, with their Cuban satellites, and are building facilities in Mozambique. From these they are fomenting and guiding the guerrilla war against South-West Africa, Namibia, and against Rhodesia. There is no secret that at the end of the day they would like to put their hands on the raw materials of South Africa and the southern approaches to the Indian Ocean.

All that is still in the realm of guerrilla war, but in the Horn of Africa we have been witnessing large scale military operations. It is pretty certain that unless drastic steps are taken in the next few weeks the Soviets will gain control of the northern approaches to the Indian Ocean and the Gulf, and in addition, through Ethiopia, the two sources of the Nile through the Sudan and Egypt.

The White Paper has almost nothing to say on this subject. The Secretary of State mentioned it in passing, and paragraph 121 of the White Paper contains the following statement: Beyond Europe recent developments in Africa, for example, have shown that the Soviet Union is ready and able to deploy military resources rapidly in support of its political interests in the Third World". It is right to pay tribute to the capability of the Soviet Union. Certainly, I do. The operations into Angola and into Ethiopia have been remarkably well conducted and very daring. The tribute is deserved, but there is no attempt in the White Paper, and there was no attempt in the Secretary of State's speech, to assess the strategic importance and the defence implications of what has happened in those two African countries.

What is done by the Soviet Union is not done simply in pursuit of Soviet political interests in the Third World". It is vital to the Western interests involved. The indication of Soviet capability is interesting enough, but what is happening represents a major shift in the world's strategic defence balance of power. I should not be surprised if a future Creasey were to suggest that Angola and the Ogaden were among the decisive battles of the world.

I wish to say a word about the Horn of Africa. The fact that I spent four days there does not make me an expert on the subject, but it has concentrated my mind upon it. I should like to state briefly the conclusions that I reached.

At the beginning of last year the Soviet Union was virtually in control of—it was certainly a dominant influence over—the whole of the Horn. It was well in with the Somalis and with the new Mengistu regime in Ethiopia. It was also in good contact with the Eritrean liberation movement. Then its clients fell out and the Mengistu regime was threatened with collapse under pressures from the Somalis, the Eritreans and the anti-Soviet Ethiopian Democratic Union.

The Soviets had to undertake an agonising reappraisal. They plumped for the Mengistu regime, and they plumped in a big way. Let us not underrate the scale of the intervention. They have pumped in 400 modern tanks. According to the White Paper we have only just under 600 in the whole of BAOR.

The Soviets pumped in 50 or 60 MIG 21 and 23s; we are not sure of the number. They pumped in some of the most up-to-date equipment—helicopters capable of carrying tanks—and there are not many of those, even in the Soviet Union. They did so against Somalia and Eritrea. But it was not just equipment. They put in 15,000 Cuban regular soldiers on top of the 2,000 or 3,000 Soviet officers and technicians. There were also a number of technicians from Bulgaria and Eastern Germany and also South Yemeni units. These were not used against Somalia but against Eritrea. They came from the Aden-South Yemen Soviet territory.

Their decision presented the West with a great opportunity to break the Soviet hold on the Horn of Africa. But what did we do? We repeated in an extraordinary way the pattern of Angola. First, the West blew hot and then it blew cold. Through intermediaries and even through individual Americans—it may have been through the British as well—we encouraged the Somalis to believe that if they ousted their Soviet advisers they could count on Western support. They did, and ordered them out. They went. The Somalis then turned to the West for arms. First, there was a delay. Then there was a refusal. The Somalis were told by the State Department, and by the Western Governments, that they were the aggressors because they had inarched across the Ethiopian border into the Ogaden. They were then pressed to withdraw. The Russians, Cubans and the others were already pushing them back with their modern equipment. The diplomacy of the West came to the help of the Russians in urging the Somalis to pull out. Under American pressure the Somalis decided to withdraw. Since then they have been told from Washington—I dare say from elsewhere—that they could not expect help unless they gave an assurance to abandon their claim to the Ogaden.

I do not know whether any Somalian Government can do that and survive, particularly a defeated one. I do not know whether we have thought of the humanitarian consequences of our policies, but it is right to bring this up even in a defence debate. Not far off 1 million Somalis live in the Ogaden. In insisting that the Somalis withdraw their regular forces from the Ogaden, and in saying—as the United States has said—that it is "dangerous" to continue the guerrilla war in the Ogaden, we are handing over the Somali population to the tender mercies of the Mengistu regime. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that President Idi Amin is a liberal compared with Mengistu.

But in seeking to force a withdrawal without some United Nations or other force going in to safeguard the area, in forcing the Somalis out and in demanding that the guerrillas stop fighting, we are now condemning the Somalis to a fate not so different from the fate we had in store for the victims of Yalta when we ourselves insisted on their repatriation after the war.

I return to the defence aspect. Will the Soviets halt at the border? I do not know. There is an irony in the fact that it was Moscow which first gave the assurance that the Ethiopian war would stop at the border. What better confirmation that Ethiopia today has Soviet colonial status? Moscow gave the assurance first and Havana gave it second. It was only after they had both given such an assurance that the Quisling Government in Addis Ababa gave the assurance, too.

I do not know whether they will stop at the border. The Somalis do not believe it They believe that the old imperial Ethiopian general staff plan to push through to Hargeisa and Berbera still holds good. Certainly the Soviets want to have control of the sea board. They are more interested in the sea than in the mountains.

But, equally, it is perfectly possible that they will stop at the border and seek to exploit the disillusion of the Somalis with the West and the hostages whom they have in their hands. Through their control of the Somali population in the Ogaden, they might bring about a change of Government and a return of Soviet influence to the whole of Somalia.

Meanwhile, the railway line to Djibouti is about to be reopened. Hitherto, Djibouti has been living on French and Arab subsidies. But once the traffic starts, Djibouti will be a ripe fruit for Ethiopia. Then the combined Soviet and Cuban forces could deal with Eritrea, whether by negotiation or by force. Eritrea, with its ports—Assab and Massawa is, if anything, strategically more important that Berbera in the Horn itself.

I was able to see all this the other day when my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and I flew from Djibouti through the Bab el Mandeb straits—the narrows between Aden and the Horn. As we flew out from Djibouti we were told by Aden on the one side "Do not come an inch closer" and Ethiopia was also saying the same thing. We realised how complete the Soviet control was.

Only drastic steps now can prevent Soviet hegemony over the whole of the Horn; but I see no signs of these steps being taken.

Why is it that the United States and the West have missed this opportunity to regain control of a vital strategic area? The argument has been put forward about the OAU attachment to the sanctity of frontiers. I understand that great importance should be attached frontiers between independent African countries. But we are not talking about independent countries. Ethiopia is no longer an independent African country. It is a Soviet colony.

We have heard about this being a matter for the OAU and the Africans to settle. What is the use in saying that when there are thousands of Soviets and Cubans in the country? I would have thought a sensible policy would have been to help the Somalis check the Soviet-Cuban onslaught, to ask for the with- drawal of Soviets and Cubans from Ethiopia, then the withdrawal of the Somalis from the Ogaden, and to introduce a United Nations force to help the area while negotiations took place through the OAU. Instead of that, Western diplomacy has helped the Soviet-Cuban onslaught by procuring the withdrawal of the Somalis.

Another argument concerns Kenya. The Kenyans have a natural reason for fearing the strengthening of Somalia but Soviet preponderance in Ethiopia is a far greater threat to Kenya than anything the Somalis could ever do, particularly a Somalia detached from the Soviets.

What the Kenyans really wanted was a Western guarantee of their northern frontier. I do not see why we should not have given such a guarantee in return for any support that we gave to Somalia.

All these were excuses and pretexts. The reason we did nothing is the following, and I raise it in defence debate because it is a defence issue. I believe that the United States and the Western Governments are determined to avoid any confrontation with the Soviet Union in the Horn of Africa, and in other areas, whatever the consequences. That is the real reason. They are not prepared to confront the Soviet Union, however aggresive their intentions, and whatever the danger to our own vital interests.

Why are they so timid? I do not think that the Soviets have any overwhelming strength world-wide. They are very strong in the NATO theatre but, taking account of their overall strength, the Western Powers, their allies and friends could easily match any intervention which the Soviets and the Cubans could make in Ethiopia. Besides, we have other reserves—the ability to cut off food supplies, loans and technology.

It is not fear of the Soviet Union that motivates us; it is fear of the electoral consequences for the governing parties in the United States, here, and to a certain extent on the Continent of Europe. The Prime Minister recently has been likened to Mr. Baldwin. In one respect it is an apt comparison. Students in history of that period will know that Mr. Baldwin said—and it has since been held against him—that he would have advocated rearmament earlier had he not been afraid that it would have cost him the Fulham by-election.

We have suffered a major defeat for the West in Somalia and the consequences will be felt by our friends in the Sudan and maybe Egypt, as in Oman, North Yemen and up the Gulf. It is idle to comfort ourselves with the argument that the Africans will get fed up with the Soviets and push them out. The tide may well go down but before it does it may have engulfed us first. It may be like the case of the Turks at Vienna. Someone might have said that there was no need to worry because they would go away in the end. They did eventually leave the Balkans—500 years later.

We are pursuing a policy of calculated cowardice for the sake of personal and party advantage. It reveals a terrible lack of faith in our democratic system and values. The same thing is going on in Central and Southern Africa. In Angola we have allowed the Soviets and the Cubans to consolidate their position. Not a word has been said from the Government Front Bench or from Washington in support of the guerrillas of the FNLA and UNITA who are fighting against the new Soviet imperialism.

The Foreign Secretary has expressed sympathy with SWAPO and the Patriotic Front and he has told us that although he has not given them arms, he has sent them non-lethal weapons. The motives for the Foreign Secretary's crush on Mr. Nkomo are the same as his motives in relation to the Horn of Africa. Curiously, these are revealed in the minutes of his conversation with Mr. Sithole which have just been published. Here may I say a word in parenthesis? It was a supreme arrogance of the Foreign Secretary to presume to warn Mr. Sithole against the slip-periness and deviousness of Mr. Smith. Mr. Sithole was in prison for years under Mr. Smith. He was convicted of trying to murder him and he was active in nationalist movements long before the Foreign Secretary was doing up his fly buttons. He knows more about Mr. Smith than the Foreign Secretary can ever hope to.