East-West Relations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:52 pm on 28th January 1980.

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Photo of Mr Kenneth Warren Mr Kenneth Warren , Hastings 7:52 pm, 28th January 1980

The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) frightened me with what he said, as did several other Opposition Members who have spoken during the debate. They are so capable of seeing every side of the argument that I fear they will still be in the House debating when the Russians are at the gates of Westminster.

The speed with which the Russians struck in Afghanistan should indicate to every hon. Member not only that time is not on our side in facing up to the reality of Soviet aggression but that the Russians have, over the last decade, introduced into their armoury vast new capabilities of moving forces by land and air at a fast rate and with a power which can devastate a country within days. It proves to me that, if the Russians can get into Afghanistan as quickly as they have done, they could also do what President Carter expects them to do—and what, I think, the House wants them to do—which is to get out of Afghanistan just as quickly.

The parallel use of armoured and airborne forces in the invasion of Afghanistan has shown that the Russians are quite willing to take military action as and when they wish. This debate is taking place after the action. During my brief contribution I hope to demonstrate that we need to get ahead of the problems which the Russians pose by facing the reality of what that country can do to us.

Recently some British newspapers have referred to "tiny Afghanistan". I am sure that it is appreciated that the land area of Afghanistan is equivalent to the whole of he land mass which NATO seeks to defend in Western Europe. What happened with the penetration of relatively limited Russian forces—the 105th Russian airborne guards plus the 40th army headquarters air-lifted straight into Kabul across 200 miles of what could have been hostile territory—is surely a salutary demonstration of what the Russians can do in a hurry when they want to.

Furthermore, the subjugation of most of Afghanistan was achieved by relatively small forces acting amongst a hostile population. Besides the airborne units that went into Kabul, it has been made clear that the Russians crossed the border at only two places—Tamez and Kushka—and with only three motorised rifle divisions. They were very small groups, by world standards, to conquer such a large territory.

I know that the loyalty of the Afghan army was divided, which caused it to be of no worry to the Russian invaders, but the alacrity with which such a small force could occupy such a large land mass must cause glee in the Kremlin and, I hope, some sleepless nights at NATO headquarters.

As we concentrate our eyes on South-East Asia and the consequent threat to the oil for the West, let us not fail to recognise what the salutary lesson of Afghanistan can be for us in Western Europe. I regret that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) has left the Chamber, but the Warsaw Pact nations outnumber us by two or three to one in most of the important categories of defensive material.

What it amounts to is that the United Kingdom, left by the previous Government with only 74 operational fighter aircraft, can no longer take up the challenge of another Battle of Britain. I am delighted that the present Government are seeking to do their best to rearm us. I remember meeting some delegates from the Frunze military academy in Moscow and asking them what they thought about Western technology and the ability of NATO to defend itself in Western Europe. They said that they admired NATO tremendously and, as amicably as they could, they said they thought that if they ever had to make war against the West they would have to fight a war of attrition which could last as long as five days until we ran out of sleep.

The reality of Afghanistan and the demonstration the Russians have given us there of swift and decisive mobility mean that Russia could capture the prize of Western Europe—this country—by swift attack overnight. That is no longer a theory; it is a possibility. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) conveyed the impression that Afghanistan was a long way away and we could do nothing to defend it. We must be sure that we tell the Russians that there is a line beyond which we are not prepared to allow them to step if they want to avoid a world war.

I shall now mention briefly what I believe could be some of the motives for the Russian aggression. First, it is essential to cast out of our own beliefs thoughts that the Kremlin leaders think as we do about the future of world power balance. It has become almost a tradition of our thinking about Russian history of the twentieth century in the West that successive leaderships have turned towards the warm waters in the Indian ocean. One can go back even further and see that it has been a tradition for even longer in Russia that the rulers have sought to turn the eyes of their people outwards and away from the problems of their own country and to make them believe that forces outside can strike at the standards, poor as they may be, within Russia.

Over the last 60 years, the appalling failure of Communism in action in Russia, in terms of living standards and personal freedom, has merely become a demonstration of how the Russians at Government level must look outwards to contain their own people. At present in the Kremlin the reign of Mr. Brezhnev is drawing to a close. But the gerontocracy of the Kremlin is steadily reforming its ranks. Mr. Yuriy Andropov, the head of the KGB, has been waiting in the leadership wings for a long time, supported by that dialectical materialist, Mikhail Suslov. I think that the pair of them are prepared to give Russia and the West a very hard time in the years ahead.

I believe that the Russians are behind schedule in moving outward from their frontiers to secure objectives other than those which have been accepted and identified in SALT's perambulations. SALT was about the neutralisation of one form of offence by a similar form of offence. The Russians' need, which has been identified by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), is access to oil, and access in a hurry.

Since the first Communist coup in Afghanistan, the Russians knew that they were losing the battle to hold that country. About four-fifths of the country had fallen to rebellious forces opposed to the puppet regime. I believe that the Russians simply could not hold back and watch that land disappear from their grasp. They felt that they were losing the chance to look down from the high ramparts into Southern Asia.

One must doubt, even in Olympic year, that the Russians really wanted to frighten the West and the world generally. But I believe that they are behind schedule in getting to the oil that they must have. In three years the Russians will start to become net importers of oil. The oil resources of the world will not grow in that time. Without oil, Russian Communism will collapse and the country's economy will wither from within. SALT I and SALT II have now been replaced by Oil I.

In Yugoslavia there was a clear statement on 4 January in one of the smaller newspapers, Delo, which illustrated the way in which the non-aligned nations felt an agony of conscience and reality of fear over the invasion of Afghanistan. That paper said that Russia's invasion had destroyed the balance of forces in the crisis crescent from Somalia to South- East Asia. Afghanisation has shown the non-aligned world that nobody is safe from attack and that non-alignment is merely an open invitation to Red aggression. It is a pity that the non-aligned nations did not read their history earlier. Not only was it well known that the Russians had this outward-looking foreign policy, which mounted aggression as opportunity arose, but there was some handy reading as far back as 1919 from Mr. Trotsky, who, in a secret memorandum to the Russian Communist Party's central committee, said: We have up to now devoted too little attention to agitation in Asia. However, the international situation is evidently shaping in such a way that the road to Paris and London lies via the towns of Afghanistan, the Punjab and Bengal. For too long we have failed to face up to the fact of Russia's long-laid plans. We have reacted after Russian actions. It is time we got ahead. If we did not believe it before, we all know now that the Russians really seek world domination. We can thwart them by keeping ahead, but we need to do this by using the talents that we have in the West. We must develop our defence and improve living standards for everybody in the world. We must deploy the talents of our technology, in which we have years of leadership.

I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister tell us that she proposed to limit Russian access to our science and technology. I hope that this will include the removal from this country of the many Russian students who are here, sponsored by the British Council.

Faced with an oil crisis of gathering dimensions, the free world must receive from the prime technical nations of the West the technology to provide new fuel sources, the ability to replace scarce traditional raw materials with new ones such as carbon fibres, and the development of new resources of pharmaceuticals and food, derived from genetic engineering. We have not yet used our talents to look after the interests of freedom. We can and we must prove that brain is superior to brawn.

The future of freedom is once more at the gates of decision. Our courage is needed to sustain freedom in the West and, above all, to sustain those who seek freedom but who cannot speak for themselves behind the Iron Curtain.