Foreign Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:41 pm on 7th May 1981.

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Photo of Mr Denzil Davies Mr Denzil Davies , Llanelli 10:41 pm, 7th May 1981

We have had a long and full debate, as befits the importance and seriousness of the subject. As has been said, we have seen over the past few years a considerable increase in world tension, particularly between East and West, an increasing polarisation of attitudes and the virtual collapse of attempts at arms limitation and disarmament.

Perhaps we are witnessing, as was suggested in the debate, one of the most dangerous phases for world peace since the end of the Second World War. There are many reasons for the increase in tension, and I am not equipped to present them all, but one can be traced back to the sudden and substantial increase in the price of oil in 1973. The instability created by that upheaval was considerably exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the election of the new Government of the United States whose main foreign policy objective seems to be a simplistic anti-Communist crusade, which has not contributed to a lessening of tension.

The increase in the price of oil may have been the catalyst which led to the fall of the Shah of Iran and the Islamic revolution in that country. It made the Gulf even more important because it quadrupled the value of its assets. The changes in Poland, though welcome, have created more instability and their catalyst may have been the economic recession in Western Europe caused by the events of 1973.

The position in Western democracies has been made worse. There is greater instability, tension and intolerance because of the lack of growth. The less developed countries, especially those without oil, have found themselves deeper in debt and the prospect of hauling themselves out of grinding poverty has been made even more remote. That has created tension which we see in the attempts at a North-South dialogue, the recommendations of the Brandt report and, we hope, attempts to solve the problems at the conference in Mexico in the autumn.

One of the most profound effects of the oil crisis on the foreign policy of the West may be the realisation forced on the United States that it was no longer self-sufficient in oil and other resources. It realised that it had ceased to be the dominant world economic power that it had been during the first 20 years after the Second World War.

The Pax Americana, if one may so describe it, of that period was to a great extent sustained because the American President was much less constrained than the leaders of most other countries in pursuing a global foreign policy by domestic economic considerations. Under President Carter and President Reagan we have seen more and more that American foreign policy initiatives are now determined largely by the need to secure Congressional support for domestic economic policies. The royal prerogative of the President in foreign policy has become increasingly limited. That is understandable because America is not the economic Power that it was. Foreign policy is being limited by the need to secure domestic programmes. Whatever the merits or demerits of the decision on the sale of wheat to Russia, I do not believe that the issue was raised for foreign policy reasons. The intention was to secure the votes of the farming lobby in Congress and to get the budget through. American policy in the Middle East, and especially towards the Gulf States, seems often to be determined primarily by the price of gasoline in Winnetka, Illinois or Boise, Idaho.

The lesson for Britain and for the Prime Minister, judging by her attitude, remarks and trips around the globe, does not seem to have been learnt. The lesson is that it is not very often right or sensible for us slavishly to follow the foreign policy poses of an American President, especially when his actions are increasingly determined by domestic economic factors, many of which have little relevance to our own position. With our self-sufficiency in oil and in energy we are now in a better position than at any time since the war to pursue a more independent foreign policy throughout the world.

The danger of the present attitude of the Reagan Administration and the support seemingly given to it by the Prime Minister is that it is based on a view of the world as it was in the 1950s and the early 1960s, when American power was bolstered by economic self-sufficiency. During the Prime Minister's visit to Washington she went out of her way to give support to this rather simplistic view of the world, a world which has changed considerably since the 1950s. She accepted quite symbolically something called the Wild Bill Donovan award, which I am told is named after a gunslinging American ambassador in Guatemala in the 1950s. We should remind the Prime Minister—perhaps the Lord Privy Seal will do so—that the world of Wild Bill Donovan has been dead for a long time, even though it seems that for the Prime Minister his prizes go marching on.

The change in the world economy that was caused by the world price rise has meant that the international monetary system and the international financial institutions that were set up after the war are not now adaptable enough to deal with the new problems. This is referred to in the Brandt report. That applies especially to the less developed countries. The Government have made a belated response to the call to try to recommend some of the proposals in the Brandt report. I hope that when the Prime Minister goes to Mexico the Government will make some constructive proposals. I hope that the right hon. Lady will not hector and lecture the poor countries of the world about their PSBRs, their monetary policy and about the need, as she puts it, to put their own houses in order and to cut their cloth according to their means.

The one area in which we can put forward constructive proposals is that of the structures, the statutes and the accountability of the International Monetary Fund and of the World Bank. Whatever contribution they may have made in the first 20 years after the war, they are now not relevant to the problems of the 1980s. I hope that the Government will try to advance some constructive proposals. The world of Wild Bill Donovan is dead and so is the world of Bretton Woods. Unless the countries of the South are given a greater say in the organisation of the international financial institutions, they will become increasingly alienated from the industrialised northern countries. The best guarantee that the countries of the developing world will remain non-aligned, both economically and ideologically, is if the Western democracies are not only sympathetic to their problems but are genuinely and sincerely prepared to share some of our economic and financial power with them and give them a stake in international economic order.

The second reason for the increase in tension has been the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. That invasion has cast severe doubts on the intentions of the Soviet Union. I do not know the reason for the invasion—perhaps even the Kremlin is not quite sure—but, whatever it was, there is no justification for it. Afghanistan may be a feudal country and large sections of its population may be illiterate, but that does not justify the invasion of a small country by the might of the Soviet Union when the Soviet Union was not threatened in any way.

Many reasons have been given—or guesses made—for the invasion. Some suggested that it was an attempt by Russia to secure bases close to the Iranian border in case the Americans invaded Iran. Some say that it was because the Government of Afghanistan had lost control at the time and was deeply unpopular. Some said that it was the fear of Islamic revolution. Some believed—I think, not many—that it was part of a deeply-thought-out plot to take over the oilfields of the Gulf. Whatever the reasons—and they may be more than one—the invasion shows that Russia is prepared to act with total ruthlessness in what it considers to be its own interest, even though that action may appear to the rest of the world to be morally reprehensible. Despite that invasion, I still believe, as, I think, do most hon. Members, that it is in the interests of Britain and the West to maintain a dialogue with the Soviet leaders.

I understand from press reports that when the NATO Foreign Ministers met this week the American Secretary of State, General Haig, gave the impression that the United States Government might, some time this year, have preliminary discussions with the Soviet Government about a form of arms limitation. That was the impression that was given, and that is the impression one gets from reading the British newspapers. If that is so, we welcome that small movement. However, one gets a different impression from the New York Times yesterday. Its headline read: NATO hardens view on Soviet activities. Questions detente. Allies move towards Reagan". The article said: The North Atlantic Alliance moved today towards a harder view of East-West relations presenting an analysis that de-emphasised detente and cast the Soviet Union as a force increasingly lacking in restraint or responsibility". I realise that, for political reasons, there are lobby briefings of one kind in the United States and another kind in Europe, but that is not what I understood from reading the newspapers. I hope that the Minister of State will tell us whether the British accounts are closer to reality than the account that I have just quoted from the New York Times.

There is also the problem that the American Administration do not always speak with one voice. The Secretary of Defence, Mr. Caspar Weinberger, does not always seem to be entirely in accord with General Haig, although I was pleased to read in the newspapers that there has been a peace offering between the two whereby Mr. Weinberger presented General Haig with a signed and autographed copy of the United States constitution. We do not have a constitution, but perhaps the Prime Minister could present the Lord Privy Seal with a signed and autographed copy of the complete works of Milton Friedman, and the Lord Privy Seal could reciprocate with a signed copy of his Cambridge weekend speeches. The possibilities are limitless, especially for this Cabinet.

There is another reason for having a dialogue with the Soviet Union. I do not accept, as was suggested by one or two Conservative Members, that the Soviet Union is completely evil and is entirely bent on world domination, and that it is such a powerful force in the world that it cannot be resisted and will march on to world domination. That is not a correct analysis of the situation. If our foreign policy were based on that analysis, there would be serious repercussions for world peace.

The Soviet Union, with a gross national product of only 65 per cent. of that of the United States, spends 12 per cent. of its GNP on defence whereas the United States spends 5 per cent. of its GNP on defence. Despite the Soviet Union's virtual self-sufficiency in oil and raw materials, its economy must have suffered in the world recession. Its agriculture is in a mess. Its satellite States are also suffering economically. It is worried about the security in Eastern Europe and on the Chinese border. It has 80,000 troops in Afghanistan. Its attempts to extend its influence in developing countries have not been successful, despite the panics. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said, there is bound to be a change in leadership in the Kremlin. Despite the highly centralised and undemocratic nature of the Soviet Union. The Russian leaders must be worried about their domestic economy and their external security. We should negotiate with them on that basis and try to reduce international tension.

Out of the invasion of Afghanistan was born the rapid deployment force. The Prime Minister has endorsed that force with, perhaps, too rapid a deployment of thought—although other members of the Government do not appear to have done so. One of these days, because apparently there will be a British contribution, however small, we should be told the thinking behind the establishment of that force. We should be told what it is about. We have not had arty answers. Is the intention to stop a conventional Russian attack on the Gulf or to rescue a national Government who are under internal threat? Alternatively, is it intended to revive the old Dr. Kissinger idea of an intervention to secure the Gulf oilfields? The House should be given an answer to such questions because we are to contribute to the force.

Another question is perhaps even more important: what is the basis on which the force will be used? I assume that it will not enter another country unless it is invited. However, the Russians, who know a thing or two about rapid deployment forces, have said that their rapid deployment force entered Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan at the invitation of the internal Government. Who in a country where there is no parliamentary democracy decides to call in the rapid deployment force? Will the force go in at the invitation of a corrupt, crumbling regime which has lost the people's confidence? Will British troops enter another country at the invitation of a regime whose popular base has disappeared? We need answers to such questions.

Tension between East and West has not been lessened by the statements and attitudes of the new American Administration. The main policy of the United States seems to be anti-Communist throughout the world with little regard for human rights and dignity. Apparently, if a Government or country is anti-communist it is on our side, despite its being oppressive, corrupt and showing little regard for human dignity and the rule of law.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick, the new United States ambassador to the United Nations, proclaimed her support the other day for "moderately repressive autocratic Governments" which are friendly to the United States. She did not define "moderate" in that bizarre context.

The Spectator of 28 March reported a United States State Department spokesman as saying that United States policy was to frown on the violations of human rights which were committed by what he described as "totalitarian regimes" because they were committed in secret, while similar crimes committed by what he described as "authoritarian regimes" such as those in Latin America were less unacceptable because they murdered their citizens in the open.

That is the type of tortuous reasoning or rubbish that results from basing policy not on the principles of the rule of law and human rights but on trying to provide a spurious justification for supporting regimes which we in the Western democracies should not support.

I am sorry to say that President Reagan, in an interview on television with Mr. Walter Cronkite on 3 March, when asked about South Africa, said rhetorically: Can we abandon a country that has stood beside us in every war that we have ever fought?