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5.16 p.m.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, by custom, and to my pleasure, it falls to me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, on his maiden speech on behalf of the whole House. He and I have quite a lot in common. We both started life, more or less, in the Foreign Office and I see from the invaluable pages of Who's Who that we

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are both sailing people. I know that this House will benefit as much from his clarity and realism as the House of Commons has over so many years.

I shall take up a thread where the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, left it. We sometimes forget that the UN Bosnia operation has been working. There has been a rough peace, and justice is more likely to emerge from even an unjust peace than it is from a resumed war. To us that is clear. But in the United States, labouring under its eighteenth century constitution, in another continent, with little awareness of Balkan history, and little care for other peoples' body bags, the plight of the Bosnian Moslems has touched a national nerve.

For some time now the United States has been inviting the Moslem countries of the world to help the Bosnian Moslems. The Moslem countries--Iran, Saudi Arabia, and so on--send the money or the weapons to Croatia, which keeps half and passes the rest along to the Bosnian Government. The United States itself has made many overflights and airdrops into Bosnia which were not requested by the UN and not accounted for afterwards. Most recently it has sent military missions directly into Bosnia, the latest one being led by General Galvin, a former Supreme Allied Commander Europe and former Chairman of the US Chiefs of Staff. Bosnia seems in fact to be now more or less run by the Americans.

Now, we have to face the US decision to break the UN embargo on direct arms supplies, and thus revive the war. This poses no problems for the Moslem countries which have troops there--Turkey, Bangladesh and Malaysia--but for us in Europe, and especially those of us in the contact group--France, Germany, Russia and this country--it poses the sharpest dilemma we have faced for years.

What are we to do now that the United States has explicitly disregarded a Security Council resolution? The question is: can we keep the contact group in existence at all, and NATO, and even the Security Council itself, come to that? We also have to bear the horrible unease that a people must always feel when we see our soldiers out in front, vulnerable, and put at risk by someone else's politics. I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, had to say about pulling out. It cannot be otherwise. There is much more trouble to come in former Yugoslavia, and there is perhaps some obscure consolation in the fact that an office still exists in Vienna which is winding up the affairs of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Two new and quite amateurish proposals are being pressed on us Europeans. One is an enlargement of membership of NATO eastwards. It is not appropriate for a country outside this continent to presume to lead us in this matter. We Europeans must work out for ourselves the relationship we want between NATO and the European Union, and between both and CSCE, as part of the whole Maastricht security think-through. Until we have made up our minds, there should be no disconnected political developments in NATO. We must remember that the new Russia cannot even keep the lights on in Siberia. Nine hundred thousand people have evidently simply fled south again, undoing two centuries

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of history. We will better protect the central Europeans and Balts by ensuring good relations with this weak Russia than by pushing a military alliance, which we formed against it all those decades ago, right up to its frontier.

The second amateurish proposal is the one year-old Defense Counter Proliferation Initiative. This is a Pentagon wheeze to persuade us all to spend gigantic sums on developing and buying a new two-pronged force. Prong one: anti-missile missiles that US space-based computers would activate for us when they, the computers, decided that some country--for example, Libya--was launching an attack on us. Prong two: earth-penetrating weaponry with which to destroy other countries' weaponry before it is launched, when that is deemed "proliferation" according to some preset criterion by American equipment in space.

NATO has been persuaded to examine these proposals and is doing so in a committee co-chaired by the United States and France. That committee is to report next month. How comes it that the Government have allowed this thing to go so far without telling Parliament anything about it? I said "a Pentagon wheeze", but perhaps that is too simple. It might be more accurate to say that it is a wheeze of civilian techno-strategists in the Pentagon with powerful defence industry backing. It is in the bad old tradition of Star Wars and the multilateral force. I trust that the Government are very well informed about whether the US military and intelligence people really believe in it.

What would be far wiser would be to consider the possible proliferation of the niftier kinds of weapons of mass destruction into the hands of small groups and even of individuals. That is not an unreal nightmare. The most harmful arms race in the world, in my opinion, is now that between Massachusetts and Texas. In one of these states they build the missiles which might attack another country, and in the other state they build the anti-missile missiles which could shoot down such missiles. From time to time one of them gains the advantage over the other, and so obviously the other has to have a new generation of development.

Let us have a debate on this Counter Proliferation Initiative on the basis of a proper and frank government statement. Meanwhile all sane people must, for once, put their hopes in the Treasury that it will turn this absurd expense down flat, and that the military indecency of putting Europe's security in the brittle hands of American computers in peacetime will make the European chiefs of staff and ministers of defence also turn it down flat. Remember that it was the computers of the United States ship "Vincennes" which shot down the Iranian airbus on a scheduled civilian flight, and that the various "friendly fire" events have been computer-led.

Most of us now know--and I cannot believe that the Government do not--that proliferation today is a political problem, and that military threats do not persuade governments that they do not need weapons of mass destruction, but precisely that they do. How could they not? That is the lesson from Israel, from North Korea in the past year, and of course from Britain in 1945.

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So where does our best future lie? Henry Kissinger's great book on Diplomacy has warned the United States of the dangers that it brings on itself by shying away from anything that smacks of a balance of power or of compromise, and by its pursuit of hegemony even where that is impossible. But we still see the repeated threats of unilateral action against North Korea, Iraq, Libya and Haiti and the desire to set up arms depots all over the globe and to fill available space with satellite networks better to oversee the rest of us--and all this without regard to international law or even to the "decent opinions of mankind".

The arrival of a Republican Congress can only make things worse. I wonder whether the United States is not now going to turn--if it is not perhaps already turning--into an isolationist power subject to short bursts of intervention. We have seen Panama and Somalia and so on and so on. We must remember that the major landing on Haiti--the US-only one that did not happen--had been in preparation for 14 months and was to have been the largest airborne assault since Nijmegen in Holland at the end of the Second World War --larger than anything in Vietnam.

If cycles of inertia and convulsion are likely, then we must think quickly. We cannot be honorary Americans. Membership of the North American Free Trade Area is not open to us. We cannot be half-Europeans: Europeans for business, not Europeans for social programmes, environment, national security, and everything else. We could choose to be remote North Sea islanders whose territory and skills others will be glad to use, but on their terms and not ours. That is what will happen if we continue to bicker over the choice down the corridor and in this place. It is in fact already beginning to happen.

Of course we must remain on good terms with our largest friend and historical ally, but it is time to end our present military dependency and rise up from our political deference. Dependence and deference inspire contempt, and that is already happening, too. If we fear the loss of intelligence, let us at last rejoin France and Germany in the European Space Agency. We should be very welcome. At the same time let us explain to the United States--perhaps our Government would be better placed than any other in the world to do so--that the post-cold war world does not live happily with American "exceptionalism" any more than it will live happily with any other country's claim to unique leadership status. Great wealth and great armaments do not confer the right to lead. Under the law the United States is one among many.

5.28 p.m.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, most of the speeches from the Back-Benches in this debate will concentrate on some particular aspect of foreign policy or defence. I should like to adopt a different approach and to draw the attention of the House to the contrasts which I notice between the contents of the Government's policy, as explained in the gracious Speech, and the current attitude and mood of the nation as a whole. I find this contrast rather disturbing.

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To be effective, the foreign policy of a state must focus on the longer term and engage issues which serve its interests over a lengthy period. Looking at that requirement on a global scale, it is clear that we have witnessed many profound changes over the past few years. Indeed, the landscape has changed in such a fundamental way that we find it hard to comprehend the totality and extent of what has happened.

Since the beginning of this decade in particular we have seen the collapse of the Soviet empire, the disappearance of a menacing military alliance and the fragmentation of the communist world into a number of separate states. Empires do not often fade away so completely or so rapidly as that. We do not yet know the ultimate shape of its successor systems in eastern Europe, the Baltic states, central Asia or the Russian far east. No doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, will have some cautionary words for us on that subject a little later. I believe that if we are far-sighted, deliberate and wise, we have an opportunity to influence what happens if we act in conjunction with others.

There are perhaps equally significant changes taking place elsewhere. As other noble Lords have said, in Africa we have witnessed, and in some measure have helped to bring about, the end of the pernicious system of racial intolerance in the republic of South Africa. In the Middle East, there has been a welcome thaw in the relations between Israel and its neighbours although that has been matched by the development of a movement known as "fundamental Islam" which has produced a new atmosphere of apprehension and alarm throughout the region. Indeed, those anxieties have spread to southern Europe where governments in the European Union now call for massive aid projects financed by us, the member states, intended to defuse the rising social tensions in the Maghreb that are caused by "fundamental Islam" and to keep the growing population of North Africa at home rather than emigrating across the Mediterranean.

I am no kind of expert on far eastern affairs, but the pace of Chinese economic change (and its invariable consequence: social upheaval) appear quite extraordinary, even when considered in the context of China's long and tumultuous history. I noted the reassuring words of experience in the skilful maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blaker; but I ask myself whether those processes in China can be carried through without some major acts of repression and violence. That seems to remain an open question.

So it is clear to me at least that in dealing with these problems, and in trying to assess them and to prepare appropriate policies in response, Europe has an essential part to play. Perhaps we have the key role. I notice that our traditional allies and most influential friends in other continents are not at present in a very strong position. The United States--we have to say it--is passing through a difficult period, with the weakest president in office for a good many years. To use their own metaphor, the Americans are in "political gridlock" and seem likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. The country's constitutional arrangements--of 18th century origin, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, reminded us--

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for so long admired around the world seem to be showing their less adequate aspects at present. Japan, the economic superpower, is also undergoing its largest political upheaval in a generation. Japan's political system seems to be changing course although it is taking rather a long time.

All that points clearly to the need for European activity and leadership. Much of the burden will fall on the current German Presidency of the Union, and in the New Year, on its French successor. I have no doubt that those two nations are fully conscious of their responsibilities and that they will exercise them in close collaboration with each other, as always in the recent past.

But in this country, by contrast, it is much more difficult to detect any general awareness of our role in those affairs, or indeed much interest in them among the public at large. As so often in the past when military danger was seen to recede, we react by cutting our defence budget and turning our attention to domestic affairs. That is of course a natural reaction--perhaps particularly so in a society like ours with its strong parliamentary tradition, where our lack of international ambition is so evident and where the belief in national independence is so strong. As some of your Lordships may recall, an extreme example of that occurred in the summer of 1809 when, at a critical stage in our struggle against Napoleon, the Parliament of this country devoted two crucial summer months to debating the matrimonial affairs of the then Duke of York. I hope that we shall be able to learn something from that example of past insularity.

The purpose of those remarks is to draw attention to the dangers that we incur by indulging in parish pump politics on the scale that we have seen lately. The issues which so excite and inflame, whether presented by television or the press, bear little relation to the questions which will determine the future prosperity and peace of our nation. The European issue, which has attracted public attention lately, is that of the pending legislation which would increase the Union's own resources, a matter which was decided in principle by the governments, although not by the parliaments, at the Edinburgh Summit two years ago.

Of much greater importance surely is the result of the recent referendum in Sweden and the accession in the new year of at least three of the four states taking part in the current enlargement of the Union. The future of the Union in Europe will be determined more by its composition and membership than by any other single factor. If we also take into account the likelihood that several other states in central Europe will accede in the next decade, it is clear that the whole scale and range of the European Union and its activities is undergoing a great change. That is a policy for which successive British Governments have striven for so long, and as a policy it is working, but it is odd that so little public notice is taken of that success. It will affect the opportunities that are open to all members of the Union in a fundamental way.

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One incidental effect which is much on my mind today is the future of the Irish question. With the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland together in the Union as wholehearted partners, that common task is greatly facilitated. Without it, the whole enterprise looks immeasurably more difficult. That is just one example of the way in which our commitment to the Union is so important.

I believe that a conscious effort is needed to put aside, as far as possible, the domestic squabbles in which we indulge at present and to concentrate more on the broader issues of world concern which are basic to our long-term security and prosperity and to the cause of world development, about which a number of us have spoken today. If we fail to meet that challenge, I fear that future historians will point to this period as the moment when the British finally lost their sense of direction and purpose, as so many once great nations have done so often before us.

Of course, the mood of the nation is not something which the Government can or should seek to control. It evolves with its own peculiar, even mysterious, chemistry. But in this House I suggest that we should notice what is happening and use whatever influence we have to recall to the minds of our fellow citizens, and perhaps particularly to those who own, control and edit newspapers and television programmes, the opportunities and responsibilities that we have in a world which is changing so much and so rapidly.

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