Defence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:28 pm on 1st July 1982.

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Photo of Mr Julian Critchley Mr Julian Critchley , Aldershot 6:28 pm, 1st July 1982

The victory in the Falklands was a marvellous feat of arms. I think that the whole House would agree with so obvious a proposition. We move on from that victory, however, to discuss the implications of that war and the lessons that we shall have to learn from it. As the Secretary of State and the Ministry of Defence wrestle with this problem and, one hopes, bring out their document by November or December, no doubt the rest of us in our own small way will contribute to the lessons to be learnt. Those lessons will be important, but I believe that they are on the margin. The Falklands Islands expedition was one off. It should not lead us to restate or rethink the fundamentals of our defence attitudes and policy, which I believe were more or less on the right lines before the Falklands crisis occurred.

The most interesting thing to come out of the Falkland Islands affair is the inquiry and the question of warning time and why warning was ignored or disregarded. Warning of surprise attack is invariably disregarded; historical examples are legion. We were in receipt of evidence that an Argentine attack was imminent. The extent of the evidence that exists is not important. What one does with the evidence one receives, looks at and makes recommendations upon is important.

There are many historical examples of people getting it wrong. The most obvious one perhaps is the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June, 1941, when Stalin believed, against all the evidence, that Hitler was not about to attack. As a good Marxist, Stalin believed that Hitler would not begin one war until he had finished the other. He deceived himself as to German intentions despite Soviet spies in occupied Europe and intelligence——which was extremely accurate—and the fact that Sir Winston Churchill sent Sir Stafford Cripps to Moscow with the information derived from ULTRA that the Germans were about to invade. We were in no position to reveal its source but, nonetheless, Stalin had plenty of information.

A second, and perhaps even better, example was 8 December 1941 when the Japanese attacked at Pearl Habour. The Americans could read the Japanese codes. They knew that an attack was imminent somewhere. They failed to alert the admiral in command of the fleet at Pearl Harbour and to instruct him to disperse the fleet. The Japanese sunk six out of eight of the American battleships. It was only by an act of God that the American aircraft carriers were away on routine exercises and that the aeroplanes failed to destroy the dry dock.

The third example took place in 1973 when the Egyptians crossed the canal and succeeded in surprising the Israelis—of all people—with their prayer books in their hands on the holiest of all days in the Jewish calendar. It was over-confidence in that case. Although the Egyptians had mobilised on three previous occasions and Sadat was always declaring war, the Israelis believed that it was bluff and could be disregarded.

In the same way, the statements of the Argentine junta that the British would not celebrate the 150th anniversary of the occupation of the Falkland Islands were disregarded by the people who were supposed to be listening to the information.

Join the club; it always happens. A surprise attack is successful nine times out of ten. Our failures in the past are not important but the implications for the defence of Europe are. If we cannot calculate what the Argentines will do with regard to the Falklands we have no guarantee that we shall get it right when the evidence comes from the Soviet Union about a possible attack in Central Europe. Does that keep the House awake at night?