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Mr. Savidge: I am sorry, but when we talk glibly about missiles being defensive, we should always remember that--going right back to the days of castles, and irrespective of people are in armour or tanks--there has been a delicate balance in warfare. If someone has a lot of offensive power and also builds up defensive power, that can be seen as threatening. That can lead to problems.

On the whole, hon. Members have been extremely sensible about personality issues today. I am simply expressing disappointment at the fact that when Government and Opposition Front Benchers have debated the issue in the past, some Members have treated it as a

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personality issue, which cheapens the debate. Opposition Front Benchers have genuine convictions on the issue--especially the shadow Defence Secretary, who is committed because he fears the asymmetric threat.

I wish to caution against the Conservatives' position, which seems to be at variance with their traditional position. They seem to be moving away from a belief in deterrence and away from a professed belief in multilateral disarmament. If we speak about the 1980s, it should be remembered that in the 1980s the Conservative party opposed star wars 1 because it believed that that might undermine deterrence and multilateral disarmament.

I compliment the shadow Defence Secretary on his honesty in saying that he wants to see the cover of missile defence extended to the United Kingdom, and in arguing that we should buy into it. He has heard the same thing from Republicans as I have. When they say that they would be happy for the missile defence umbrella to be extended to the United Kingdom, it is on the basis that we would be prepared to spend millions of pounds for that to happen.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling said that he was glad that it was US taxpayers who were paying for missile defence, but he should realise that his own Defence spokesman said on "Today" just three weeks or so ago that he wanted British taxpayers to buy their way into it. I wonder how enthused British taxpayers would be by that idea, given that according to the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Ministry of Defence, the threat is remote.

What should the Government's attitude be? There will be voices, not just on the Tory Front Bench, urging us to accept that missile defence is inevitable. Some will say that that was the mandate on which Bush was elected, and that we must therefore accept it. I leave open the question of whether Mr. Bush was or was not elected; I assume that Florida's votes will be debated for many years to come.

More sensibly, some people suggest that there is a bipartisan consensus in the United States, so missile defence is bound to happen. However, I believe that the position is more complex than that. When the Missile Defence Act went through, the Democrats accepted it on four conditions: that it could be proved to be financially reasonable; that it could be proved to be technically feasible; that there was a justifiable threat; and that it did not cause diplomatic damage. Senator Daschle, the Democrat leader in the Senate, said that he intends to push those four tests. It should be remembered that at present the Senate majority depends on the casting vote of the Vice-President and on the longevity of a certain number of elderly and infirm Senators.

It has been said that the US Administration is determined--although the Canadian Prime Minister said that he found a degree of flexibility in the President's commitment or otherwise to missile defence. I do not know whether that is true, but views seem to be divided on how the US should pursue the matter. It worries me greatly that the division between, say, the Powells on the one hand and the Rumsfelds on the other seems to be moving in the direction of the Rumsfelds. I am extremely concerned about the Americans' attitude to North Korea.

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It is notable the South Korea is against national missile defence and is in favour of pushing ahead with diplomatic means of dealing with the North Korean threat.

The question of whether the more hawkish or the more consensual people win out in the United States may be influenced by the attitude of other countries. Others would say that there is a special relationship, so we must do what the United States wants. However, that relationship has never involved absolute subservience. For example, Britain did not send people to fight in Vietnam. The special relationship survived, and probably many British people survived as a result. As I said, Britain did not support the original star wars proposal.

I believe that there is fluidity in the United States, Russia and various other countries with regard to the issue. I concur with the Prime Minister, who said that the matter should be handled with care. We should take seriously the concerns of the United States, as the Prime Minister said, but, as the report suggests, we should try to persuade the United States to consider other ways of meeting the threats that it perceives.

There should be genuine dialogue with Russia and China. Making the anti-ballistic missile treaty a pluri-lateral or a multilateral treaty should be considered. In the millennium report to the General Assembly of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General, suggested that we should hold an international conference on nuclear dangers to which all countries, including non-signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, could be invited. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) referred to them. At such a conference, we could discuss threat assessment and enter into the deeper, careful, considered international dialogue that the Government proposed in their response to the report.

Let us compare that offer with an imaginary offer. Let us suppose that we were offered a short-term fix: the United States would back the European strategic defence initiative, thus ending all dissension in NATO; the missile shield would be extended to us without our having to pay for it, and we would get extra jobs; the special relationship with the United States would be promoted; and Fylingdales and Menwith Hill would never be used because sea-based missiles would be employed instead. Technical difficulties would mean that we would not have to worry about the matter for decades, because it would take decades to work--if not to undermine arms control. Russia would thus be forced into an ABM deal.

I am trying to conjure up the sort of seductive deal that Mephistopheles would offer Faust. The price would be our acceptance of national missile defence without further question or critical dialogue about its dangers. Would that be a truly Faustian pact? Perhaps not, because Faust was only asked to sell his soul, whereas we might be selling the future of every soul on the planet.

We must bear in mind that, unless we can find effective ways in which to reduce the threats that we face, absolute disaster could ensue in decades or perhaps centuries. We therefore have an awesome responsibility. A major nuclear war could destroy much of human life. The environmental aftermath, such as nuclear winter, could endanger the remainder. Is that the way the world ends--

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with bangs followed by gradually decreasing whimpers? That would be a terrible betrayal of all past generations and an even greater betrayal of future generations.

5.38 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): There are two possible approaches to debating the great issues of defence and disarmament. One can theorise in a vacuum about the present, or try to learn the lessons of the past. If we do not try to do the latter, we condemn ourselves to making the same mistakes and paying the same price time and again.

I am not alone in believing that it is important that the record of past debates should not be airbrushed or forgotten; the BBC agrees with me. Last year, when the so-called Greenham Common peace camp finally passed into oblivion, the BBC helpfully included a subsection on Greenham Common in the in-depth section of its website. Part of it was entitled, "Timeline: key points". It tracked every development, no matter how piffling, petty, detailed or irrelevant that marked the Greenham Common women's campaign up to December 1983, when, it rightly recorded, the women encircling the base held their last big demonstration. Then, something rather curious happened. The next entry was dated August 1989:

The implication was obvious. The women's demonstrations had resulted in the cruise missiles leaving.

For those of us who were involved, professionally as I was or as volunteers, in opposing and undermining the movement for unilateral nuclear disarmament by Britain, so epitomised by those wretched women, there was a curious omission in that jumping from December 1983 to August 1989. What had been left out? Only the fact that, in 1987, several years after any significant protest by the Greenham women had fizzled out, a multilateral deal was concluded--the intermediate nuclear forces deal; the zero-zero option deal--which had been on the table from the Americans since 1981, and the achievement of which had been delayed only until after it had become obvious to the Soviet Union that the campaign for one-sided nuclear disarmament had failed.

The BBC, in its wisdom, had sought to airbrush out of existence the multilateral deal, which was the vindication of NATO's stance, and which led to the removal not only of nuclear weapons on this side of the then iron curtain, but of large numbers of SS20 nuclear missiles on the far side of the iron curtain. It chose to suggest instead that it had been a result of the unilateralist protests, which had somehow miraculously led to this happy outcome--the removal of cruise missiles--three years after the protests had finished.

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