DANGERS OF A NUCLEAR-FREE WORLD – 7 June 2000

Dr Julian Lewis: The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr Savidge) is passionately committed to nuclear disarmament, but he also has an extraordinary sense of fairness. He has therefore curtailed his remarks to allow me to speak, for which I am most grateful. Doing that is typical of him, although he knows that I profoundly disagree with the thrust of his argument.

Before I deal with the points that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North made about the Non­-Proliferation Treaty, I want to consider the comments of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes). The hon. Gentleman and I have the privilege of sitting side by side on the Select Committee on Defence. We agree more often than most people would anticipate. This evening is one occasion on which I must endorse the hon. Gentleman's comments on Liberal Democrats' past positions on the matters that we are considering.

The hon. Member for Ilford, South is right that, in 1990, the Liberal Democrats called for

"a reduction of at least 50 percent in real terms in UK defence expenditure, phased in over the remainder of the century­­"

in other words, in 10 years. Piquancy is added to that statement by the knowledge that three days before the 1992 general election, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown) stated on "Newsnight":

"I don't believe a 50 percent cut is either likely or a policy; nor has it ever been a policy."

However, it was a policy, which was not reversed until the Liberal Democrat party conference of September 1994.

Mr Menzies Campbell: As the hon. Gentleman is conducting an interesting historical review, does he remember that when the Conservative Government introduced "Options for Change", they said that that was the last occasion on which they would cut the defence budget of the United Kingdom as long as they were in power?

Dr Lewis: When the Conservative Government made cuts in our defences at the end of the cold war and I was not a Member of Parliament, I believed that the cuts went too far. It is interesting to note that when Liberal Democrat or Labour Members are challenged about further cuts, they refer to cuts under the Conservative Government. If they believe that those cuts were too great, they should not advocate more. Yet they often do.

If the right hon. and learned Member for North-­East Fife (Menzies. Campbell) is not satisfied with the example that I gave earlier of the Liberal Democrats facing both ways, perhaps I could give another. The right hon. Member for Yeovil also stated:

"Britain's Trident deterrent is a monstrous folly which we should divest ourselves of as soon as possible."

On another occasion, he stated:

"I remain wholly opposed to nuclear weapons. I remain of the firm belief that Britain could afford to get rid of its nuclear weapons tomorrow and would not suffer in consequence."

Yet, again, three days before the 1992 general election in the same "Newsnight" report to which I referred earlier, the right hon. Gentleman stated:

"I never took the view that this country did not need an independent deterrent."

That shows that too much unilateralism can be bad for your memory.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan: The intervention of the right hon. and learned Member for North-­East Fife (Menzies Campbell) was disingenuous, because in 1991 he said that there was no intrinsic merit in defence spending. Does not that endorse Conservative policy?

Dr Lewis: I am shocked that the right hon. and learned Gentleman could have made such a statement, and I am even more shocked that I overlooked it in my researches. I feel thoroughly ashamed of myself and I thank my hon. Friend for drawing that to my attention.

Let me move on from the points of agreement with the Labour party to the points of disagreement. I intervened on the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office to point out the dangers that would accrue to international society and peace if we ever achieved a nuclear­-free world, heaven forbid. He responded by implying that I am a nuclear weapons fanatic. He knows all about fanaticism and nuclear weapons as he declared at the height of the cold war:

"Unilateral nuclear disarmament offers the only hope of an end to the arms race and the only hope of any chance for peace..."

Mr Bob Russell: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr Lewis: No, time is too pressing.

We did not have unilateral nuclear disarmament, but we did have peace. The hon. Member for Ilford, South thinks that that was all thanks to that marvellous Mr Gorbachev, but I remind him that he and his party were advocating that this country be stripped of its vital nuclear deterrent in the days of Brezhnev, of Andropov and of Chernenko – ­­years before Gorbachev came to power­­ – and that, had that been achieved, the prospect of Gorbachev ever leading the Soviet Union would have been infinitesimal because the hardliners would have beaten NATO. What mattered was that, during those vital years, Ronald Reagan in America and Margaret Thatcher in this country, with the full support of the Conservative party, stood firm for the nuclear deterrent and resisted the arguments that Liberal Democrat and Labour Members have at least had the honesty to admit they supported in those days.

Mr Savidge: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr Lewis: I must give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr Savidge: Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to propound the theory of history that Mr Gorbachev was brought to power by British nuclear weapons? I am a little puzzled.

Dr Lewis: I shall briefly enlighten the hon. Gentleman. When the cruise and Pershing deployments were being considered, the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties were, with the full support of their leaderships, trying to undermine those deployments. When Britain had to decide whether to replace its strategic nuclear deterrent, a battle was going on in the Kremlin between the hardliners and the reformers. If the hardliners had achieved the unilateral nuclear disarmament of NATO, which is what their measures were meant to achieve, the likelihood of the reformers taking power in the Kremlin would have been very significantly reduced.

Let me deal with the Non­-Proliferation Treaty, Article VI of that treaty and the nuclear-­free world. Article VI is often cited in relation to Britain's supposed commitment to nuclear disarmament. The preamble to the treaty states that nuclear disarmament should occur

"pursuant to" –

­­that is, in conformity with­­

"a treaty on general and complete disarmament..."

Article VI similarly commits the signatories

"to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date –­­"

which has been achieved­­

"and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control..."

Those last two commitments are about achieving not only a nuclear­-free world, but an arms-­free world. If people want to convince me and the majority, which I believe thinks like me, that it would be wise to have a nuclear-­free world, they will also have to convince me that they can achieve an arms-­free world. As I said in my intervention on the Minister, having the former without the latter would simply make the world safe once again for prolonged, full-scale conventional warfare between the current nuclear powers.

The other day, I had a letter published in the national press on this very subject. I posed a number of questions. These are the questions that I posed then, and these are the questions that I would be grateful if the Minister would consider answering. There are only five; it would be something if the Minister answered only one or two in his winding­-up speech.

My first question was this:

"If nuclear weapons had not existed, do they"

– advocates of a nuclear­-free world­­ –

"honestly believe that the Cold War would have remained stalemated rather than boiling over into a third global conflict?"

Secondly,

"If nuclear weapons ceased to exist, what would prevent the first nation to cheat from using secretly manufactured devices before such a temporary monopoly of them was broken?"

Thirdly,

"Why should a nuclear weapons-free world be achievable when, as President Yeltsin admitted in 1992, the Soviet Union completely flouted the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention by cheating for 20 years, while other countries disarmed?"

Fourthly,

"How would nuclear-disarmed countries deter attacks from states with other mass destruction weapons, such as biological agents and nerve gases?"

Finally, I asked – as I have this afternoon –

"Is not the recommendation for a nuclear-free world ... a recipe to make the planet safe for full-scale conventional warfare yet again?"

I waited eagerly for replies in the columns of The Times, but I waited in vain. I did not, however, wait in vain for any sort of reply, because one came, from Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat. Professor Rotblat and I used to exchange letters in The Times on these very topics throughout the 1980s, and I like to think that, while he won the Nobel Peace Prize, I won the argument. I did, because the nuclear weapons that he wanted to be disposed of are still there.

 

When Professor Rotblat and I traded arguments in the 1980s, I used to ask him to name a single country that would give up its nuclear weapons as a result of Britain's giving up hers. He was never able to do so. This is all that Professor Rotblat had to say in his reply to my five questions. He said:

"The proponents of a nuclear-weapon-free world have long argued that, if some states insist on keeping nuclear arsenals for their security, other states are bound to seek such security for themselves through the acquisition of nuclear weapons."

That is very good as a generalisation, but let him give me an example of a single state that would make the decision according to whether Britain kept her nuclear weapons.

 

Finally, the professor made an admission that goes to the nub of the issue. He said:

"I am not claiming that a nuclear-weapon-free world would be absolutely safe. There is no such thing as absolute safety. But there is no doubt in my mind that, of the two alternatives, a world without nuclear weapons would be safer than a world with them."

Professor Rotblat has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Those are exactly the arguments that were used for unilateral nuclear disarmament back in the 1980s.

 

I conclude, within the time that I was advised I could take, with a quotation that dates from the earliest days of thinking about nuclear weapons. It comes from another famous winner of the Nobel Prize. He did not win the Nobel Prize for Peace; he won the Nobel Prize for Science. His name was Professor Sir George Thomson, and he served as the Scientific Adviser to the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.

 

As early as October 1945, when the Chiefs of Staff were considering the impact of atomic weapons on the future nature of warfare, Professor Thomson wrote a short paper in which he said:

"the tendency in the recent past has been to wage war more and more unrestrictedly, and to press it more and more to complete conquest. It is just possible that the atomic bomb may reverse this trend."

He added:

"no nation can hope for such a chance unless it has power of retaliation against probable rivals, otherwise it will either have to surrender at discretion or accept destruction without even the satisfaction of damaging its enemy in return."

The truth is that just as the biological weapons convention has been wholly ineffective in removing biological weapons from the world, so a nuclear-free world would simply repeat what happened after disarmament in the 1930s. Disarmament was taken to new heights of complexity, but achieved only this: the peace-loving democracies disarmed each other and themselves, while the rogues, the villains, the bandits, the dictators and the tyrants re-armed in secret, threatened democracy and destroyed the peace of the world.