I was in Washington at the time of the accident. The allegations to which the hon. Gentleman refers from the Russian media were transmitted in the American media. Rebuttals have been rightly issued by the Government, but does the hon. Gentleman think that it would be worth while if the Minister were tonight to deny that there was any British involvement?
I am sure that the Minister will take whatever action he thinks appropriate. I am confident that the MOD has stated from the outset that the allegations are claptrap, garbage and sheer invention. Worse, however, it is malicious invention, and it does not augur well for the future.
From the future, I refer briefly to the past. I have had a little tussle with the MOD over some time about the lessons that we might draw from the ending of the cold war in the way that it did. The tussle began when about
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two years ago I attended at Chatham house the launching of the television series about the cold war. It was a long series undertaken by Channel 4 and Jeremy Isaacs. I was concerned that at the launching the well-known KGB spokesman, Vladimir Posner, who now holds an academic post in an American university--perhaps appropriately--stated that whereas the Americans had had their Operation Dropshot contingency plans for a third world war with the Russians during the cold war, there had never been any Soviet plan to attack America or western Europe.
I was somewhat concerned about that, and I wrote to the then Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Robertson as he now is. I pointed out that it must surely be the case that, among the military archives found when the communist empire in eastern Europe and central Europe collapsed, there would be contingency plans showing precisely what was intended and thus showing that military deterrents, and in particular nuclear deterrents, had been effective throughout the cold war in preventing the conflict from breaking out.
I was fobbed off with a reply referring to security of documents of that sort. I believe that there is no legitimate reason why we should now, after the ending of the cold war, fail to examine the lessons that are shown by the access that we undoubtedly have to the military plans of the former Warsaw pact countries to attack NATO.
All we can do at present is to return to what evidence we can obtain unofficially as it were, via historians. I shall read a brief extract from the memoirs, which have recently been published in France, of Sergo Beria, the son of Lavrenti Beria, who as we know was the Himmler of Stalin's day. In something of a journalistic coup, the brilliant French Sovietologist, Dr. Francoise Thom, has interviewed him at great length and written a substantial book setting out what Sergo Beria has to say. The extract reads:
Our acquisition of the atomic bomb in 1949, far from pacifying Stalin, persuaded him that henceforth anything was possible and we could soon move onto the attack. Understanding that our totalitarian system had the advantage over the democracies of being able rapidly to concentrate maximum resources in one area, he hoped to use this temporary superiority to ensure himself a definitive victory, not only in Europe but globally.
The book reveals also that Stalin envisaged taking the whole of Europe hostage, gambling that the Americans would never dare to drop atomic bombs on Europe. Sergo Beria states:
My father did not share this vision.
Referring to Marshal Zhukov of second world war and cold war fame, Beria's son said:
I overheard the following conversation between him and my father in 1952: "The balance of power has altered. We now have anti-aircraft defences. We can win," said Zhukov. "Certainly", said my father, "and then? Our own Soviet territory would be devastated by American nuclear bombs, Europe would be destroyed. What would be the use?".
Helpful as it is to have such evidence of the efficacy of nuclear deterrence in the early years of the cold war, it would be even more helpful in fighting the battles that we will probably have to fight again, from whichever side of the House, for strong defences in a period of confrontation to have material that shows how justified
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NATO's nuclear deterrent policy was for the duration of the cold war and what a key role it played in winning that unfought battle.
Time is pressing--
Keep going. My hon. Friend's speech is good.
I am being encouraged to carry on. I shall reinstate a subject that I was about to cut out of my speech. I want to refer to a report by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on "Weapons of Mass Destruction." I inquired whether there was any prospect of it being debated in the Chamber, and I understand that there are no plans to do so at present. Therefore, it is legitimate to refer to three of its conclusions: one good, one bad and one rather contradictory.
The good conclusion is in paragraph 86, which states:
We accept the Government's statement that, with the reductions in nuclear capability it has made, the UK's deterrent "is the minimum necessary to provide for our security for the foreseeable future and smaller than those of the major nuclear powers." We recommend that the Government make every endeavour to bring about reductions by all nuclear weapon states to genuinely minimum deterrent levels.
That is a good conclusion because it shows that there is no fat left on the British nuclear deterrent. We cannot cut it any further without getting rid of it, and we must not get rid of it unless we are to unlearn all the lessons that the cold war taught us.
The bad conclusion is in paragraph 124, which states:
Britain as a nuclear weapon state, a permanent member of the Security Council, a leading member of the NATO and a member of the G8 and the EU has a key role and a key responsibility in trying to put all Weapons of Mass Destruction under international arms control regimes and in making progress towards their complete elimination. This must surely be one of the highest foreign policy priorities for the Government.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton:
As my hon. Friend observes, that is nonsense. It is dangerous nonsense.
It is garbage, to coin a phrase.
Indeed, it is garbage--the expression much used in the exchanges between the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan).
I shall not detain the House by pointing out yet again the dangerous instability that would ensue if we ever had a nuclear-free world, which would simply make the world safe again for non-nuclear viciousness and massacres of conventional warfare.
The confusing and contradictory conclusion is in paragraph 82 of the report, which states:
The five nuclear weapon states, including the UK, have given an "unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total abolition of their nuclear arsenals." Mr. Hain--
referring to the Foreign Office Minister--
regards this as a strengthening of the Government's commitment under Article VI of the
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non-proliferation treaty. The only trouble with that, as I have endeavoured to point out to the House on more than one occasion, is that article VI also requires general and complete disarmament of all weapons. Whereas I am happy to see nuclear weapons go when the world is such an idyllic place, such a wonderful paradise, such a trusting haven that we do not need weapons of any sort, the idea of getting rid of the one before we can safely get rid of the other is nothing but dangerous folly.
Later in the paragraph, there is something more encouraging, which I am sure the Minister will be much more relieved to hear. It states:
In the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) the Government made clear that it would include the UK's nuclear weapons in strategic arms talks "when we are satisfied with progress towards our goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons."
It was stated in the SDR that "while large nuclear arsenals and risks of proliferation remain, our minimum deterrent remains a necessary element of our security".
I am glad that the Minister endorses that position, although the idea of reaching a total elimination of nuclear weapons in advance of reaching a conflict-free world still fills me with alarm.
I have reached the blessed point that I promised at the outset, which is the moment when I shall refer briefly to the European security and defence identity, or policy, as it may now be transmogrifying itself. I have tried on numerous occasions to explain in the Select Committee on Defence that that is helping to recreate the uncertainties of the events that led both to the first world war and to the second world war.
In the run-up to those two conflicts, there was never absolute clarity about who would be brought into play if one country attacked another. Perhaps a third country would come in; perhaps it would not. Perhaps a country would stand by its treaty obligations, but then again, perhaps it would not.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton:
The real viciousness is that, as my hon. Friend observes, when England did that--
--when Britain did that, Hitler, who might have been deterred had he known that it would precipitate war with the United Kingdom and the British empire, was not deterred because he hoped right till the end that we could be persuaded to continue to dishonour the bilateral relationships and alliances that had already been dishonoured so deplorably in the case of Czechoslovakia.
The whole point about NATO was that it showed any potential aggressor that if it went to war with any of the member states, straight away it would be at war with the United Kingdom and, even more importantly, with the Americans. Anything that we do to construct something that gives the possibility that a conflict could break out and be managed, at least in its early stages, without the involvement of the Americans runs the risk of escalating out of control, so that a conflict that might
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have been deterred with the rigid network and superstructure of NATO properly in place could break out almost unintendedly by slow degrees and miscalculation.
That is a bitter mistake that was made in the 1930s, and it was an achievement of a Labour Government in the late 1940s which brought about the NATO alliance. It is sad that a Labour Government in the 21st century are undermining that important achievement.