The Gulf

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:34 pm on 11th December 1990.

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Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester 7:34 pm, 11th December 1990

I declare an interest in the debate as a member of the Territorial Army.

A few years ago Mr. Gorbachev challenged the world to a new order—it was not a challenge of war, but of peace. He proposed to change the very nature of peace itself, from a peace of nuclear deterrence to a peace of detente—to allow for the institution of the international rule of law. Now, that new peace of detente faces its first great challenge by an international pirate, Saddam Hussein.

If Saddam Hussein is not brought to book, we must ask ourselves what other pirates will follow. If Saddam Hussein is not brought to book, what future will there be for the peace of detente, which will have effectively been killed at birth? If Saddam Hussein is not brought to book, what will remain of the threat he poses to the middle east, particularly as he is likely, within the next year or two, to gain a nuclear capability? In short, the international rule of law is now on trial.

In the interests of peace, the allies now in the Gulf simply must succeed, whether by sanctions or by the use of force. I believe that our Government are trying hard to find a peaceful solution. But the choice of whether it is a peaceful solution or one involving the use of force clearly lies in the hands of Saddam Hussein.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who is not present now, suggested that we should have more discussion. He gave as an example an incident in the Cuban crisis of the 1960s involving John F. Kennedy and Mr. Khrushchev. He made a powerful case. However, he ignored the essential differences between the Gulf crisis of the 1990s and the Cuban crisis of the 1960s, which is that Mr. Khrushchev was acting legally on the high seas. His action may have posed a great threat to the United States and world peace, but he was acting legally on the high seas. That is not so with President Hussein, who is acting as a pirate having used armed aggression. Saddam Hussein's human rights transgressions, which occur daily, are so dreadful that they have to be seen to be believed. Therefore, I see little similarity between the Gulf crisis of the 1990s and the Cuban crisis of the 1960s.

We all know that war, if it happens, will be terrible, with many people killed and much suffering. But the pain and suffering would be less, probably considerably less, than the pain that would be suffered if we allowed such international piracy to be seen to succeed, especially with the spread of nuclear weapons to countries such as Iraq.

If there is a war, the balance of power in the middle east will surely be changed for ever. If there is a war, the battle may be quick, but its effects and implications for the allies are likely to be long term. For instance, if Iraq were neutralised, it would leave Israel as the only local super-power in the middle east. In such circumstances, we must prepare for a long-term commitment.

At the very moment when we are asking our young men and women to risk their lives, "Options for Change" and the peace dividend policy are actively pursued. I wonder what effect such talk has on the British Army of the Rhine, where people are being asked actively to study "Options for Change" at the same time as men and women are being posted from BAOR to the Gulf. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House this evening that "Options for Change" will be shelved, at least until the middle east crisis is clarified?

It amazes me that, while we call for volunteers from the Territorial Army and the reserves and deplete other units to reinforce those in the Gulf, we still have a cap on recruiting to the very regiments and corps being sent to the Gulf. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that recruit capping will be lifted, at least for those regiments and corps likely to be deployed in the Gulf?

Deployment to the Gulf has been a great success, particularly from a logistics angle, over extended lines of communications. Sincere congratulations are deserved for a job well done. However, I noticed a strange system of reinforcement for some of the line units. It is a system which worries me. We all accept that line units on peace-time establishment in BAOR must be considerably increased in number to put them on war establishment. BAOR is well used to the flexible deployment of combat teams from one regiment or battalion to another. But the first line of reinforcements to our units first deployed in the Gulf was effected by attracting experienced, highly trained and highly motivated men from combat teams and deploying them as individual soldiers into other regiments. That smacked of our moving towards a corps of infantry. It broke up trained and highly motivated teams, and most importantly it divided men from their officers. I cannot see that that was good.

As an example I cite the experience of the first battalion Grenadier guards, from which 186 men were taken and deployed to a fine regiment of the line—but devoid of their officers. Although trained for four years at vast expense and highly successful, they were not teams any more. I ask my right hon. Friend to assure the House that the concept of a corps of infantry is not part of Army thinking; and to assure the House that future reinforcements deployed to the Gulf will be met by the transfer of complete combat teams, not by the assignment of individual soldiers from trained battalions.

We cannot be certain that the Gulf conflict will be short, so we must plan prudently for long-term commitment. Has my right hon. Friend taken all necessary measures comprehensively to support our armed forces in the Gulf for an extended war in the middle east? Furthermore, will he take measures to ensure job security for members of the Territorial Army and the regular reserve who volunteer in response to his legitimate call?

In this respect I must mention the band of the Royal Greenjackets from my constituency. Its members have been deployed as stretcher bearers, a tough and risky task. I need not remind my right hon. Friend that the Royal Army Medical Corps has more Victoria crosses than any other regiment or corps in the British Army and that it has the only two British double Victoria crosses. That is testimony to the sort of job that these people may have to carry out if war breaks out in the middle east. It will be tough, and I am sure that the House wishes them God's protection.

If Saddam Hussein chooses the military option, we must not flinch. The Government have done an excellent job under difficult conditions, and we must stand firm behind them. If we are seen to waver, that will encourage war. I believe—I am sure that this view is held by my right hon. Friend—that peace alone is not enough. What we demand is peace with freedom.