Foreign Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 7th April 1987.

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Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down 5:45 pm, 7th April 1987

I was obviously not clear. My point was that with the disappearance of the intermediate range ballistic missiles from the picture we should be back again with the strategic exchange—that very exchange between the heartlands of the two nuclear giants which underlay the inherent incredibility of the whole nuclear hypothesis.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), however, is in line with the Prime Minister—I make no complaint about that—for the Prime Minister arrived at a remarkable conclusion. She said : we simply will not stand for the denuclearisation of Europe."—[Official Report, 2 April 1987: Vol. 113, c. 1229.] What a remarkable conclusion. After all these endeavours at disarmament as a detente, the Prime Minister is forced by the inherent implications of British defence policy into a declared assertion that she will not stand for the denuclearisation of Europe". The reason is obvious. It is because she is confronting the collapse, or evaporation into the upper air, of the nuclear hypothesis itself. That hypothesis never had a realistic basis. It never was a rational assumption. It is not entirely accidental that closer contact between this country and the Soviet Union has helped to mature that perception.

The Prime Minister constantly asserts that the nuclear weapon has kept the peace in Europe for the last 40 years. It is an article of faith repeated by her in a manner that shows how conscious she is of the weakening foundations upon which it now rests, not only in people's minds generally, but in her own perception. After all, she has, for the first time, formed some conception of the nature of that extraordinary people, the Russian nation, whom our difficulty in understanding is exceeded only by their difficulty in understanding us.

Let us make a test. Let us go back to the middle 1950s or to the end of the 1940s, and let us suppose that nuclear power had never been invented, that no such advance had taken place in science or technology, but that everything else was the same. I assert that in those circumstances there would still not have been a Russian invasion of western Europe. What has prevented that from happening was not the nuclear hypothesis, not the incredible threat of an incredible act—I use words already used this afternoon by the Opposition spokesman—but the fact that the Soviet Union knew the consequences of such a move, consequences which would have followed whether or not there were 300,000 American troops stationed in Europe.

The Soviet Union knew that such an action on its part would have led to a third world war—a long war, bitterly fought, a war which in the end the Soviet Union would have been likely to lose on the same basis and in the same way as the corresponding war was lost by Napoleon, by the Emperor Wilhelm and by Adolf Hitler.

It was that fear, that caution, that understanding, that perception on the part of Russia and its leaders that was the real deterrent against Russia committing the utterly irrational and suicidal act of plunging into a third world war in which the Soviet Union would be likely to find itself confronting a combination of the greatest industrial and economic powers in the world.

There is no particular mystery about the fact that peace has existed in Europe over the past 40 years. It is due to the fact that the Soviet Union, and indeed the Soviet Union's enemies, have not intended to face the consequences of a third world war waged between the major powers on earth. In the minds of the Russians the inevitable commitment of the United States in such a war would have come not directly or necessarily from the stationing of American marines in Germany, but, as it came in the previous two struggles, from the ultimate involvement of the United States in any war determining the future of Europe.

There never has been a rational basis for that upon which we have founded the defence policy of this country for the past 35 years, and the defence policy of this country is necessarily linked ultimately to its foreign policy. For of course a logically irresistible conclusion followed from the creed that our safety depended upon the nuclear capability of the United States and its willingness to commit that capability in certain events. If that was so—and we assured ourselves for 40 years that it was—the guiding principle of the foreign policy of the United Kingdom had to be that, in no circumstances, must it depart from the basic insights of the United States and that any demand placed in the name of defence upon the United Kingdom by the United States was a demand that could not be resisted. Such was the rigorous logic of the nuclear deterrent, a logic under which not merely the defence, but the foreign policy of this country has lived for more than a generation.

It was in obedience to it—we are indebted again to the Prime Minister for her candour; sometimes it is the candour of the Prime Minister which is most revealing as well as her choice of words—that the Prime Minister said, in the context of the use of American bases in Britain to launch an aggressive attack on Libya, that it was "inconceivable" that we could have refused a demand placed upon this country by the United States. The Prime Minister supplied the reason why : she said it was because we depend for our liberty and freedom upon the United States. Once let the nuclear hypothesis be questioned or destroyed, once allow it to break down, and from that moment the American imperative in this country's policies disappears with it.

A few days ago I was reminded, when reading a new biography of Richard Cobden, that he once addressed a terrible sentence of four words to this House of Commons. He said to hon. Members : "You have been Englishmen." The strength of those words lies in the perfect tense, with the implication that they were so no longer but had within themselves the power to be so again.

I believe that we now have the opportunity, with the dissolution of the nightmare of the nuclear theory, for this country once again to have a defence policy that accords with the needs of this country as an island nation, and to have a foreign policy which rests upon a true, undistorted view of the outside world. Above all, we have the opportunity to have a foreign policy that is not dictated from outside to this country, but willed by its people. That day is coming. It may be delayed, but it will come.