KOSOVO, RUSSIA, DETERRENCE AND THE EU – 1 November 2000

Dr Julian Lewis: As this debate is taking place so close to Armistice Day, I trust that the House will permit me if I do what I sometimes do in such debates, which is to relate a personal story. It is not from a history book; it is from a newspaper, as recently as Saturday, 28 October.

The story told is that of Mr Geoffrey Delaroy­-Hall, the son of a Jamaican father and an English mother, who left school in the second world war, became one of the only coloured pilots in Bomber Command, flew 47 missions over Nazi-occupied territory and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his skill, courage and daring. He is now 79 and the reason that his story was in the paper so recently was that his next­-door neighbour, a 30-­year­-old white, drug-abusing racist, had been given community service and two years' probation for persistently vandalising his property, waging a campaign of abuse against him and threatening to burn him alive as he slept.

Mr Delaroy­-Hall said:

"I was the only coloured chap in the squadron, but I never encountered any racism.

"We were all in it together and there was marvellous camaraderie. I never considered myself coloured – ­­I considered myself English and fighting for my country."

He explained that he would not leave his home, despite the continuing threat. He said that his neighbour

"was not going to get away with it. You have to stand up to bullies, otherwise they just get bolder and bolder and turn threats into actions."

How fitting it is that that gentleman­­ – to whom we should all pay tribute at this time of the year for what he did for our freedom in the second world war­­ – is still correctly applying the lessons that were learned at great cost in the run-up to the second world war. He is even doing so in the personal battle that, disgracefully, he faces today. I am not surprised, but I am sickened, by the fact that the racist thug next door, who had previously been in court and sentenced to various light punishments, has still not received a custodial sentence.

I come to the more general substance of the debate. It is only fair, at the start of my speech, to inform the House of the subjects that I intend to touch on: Kosovo, dictators, Russia, nuclear deterrence and the European security and defence policy. I confidently predict that this is one of the few occasions on which hon. Members will be positively glad to hear me discuss the European security and defence policy, because that will signify that the end is in sight.

Earlier this year, I achieved the summit of my realistic parliamentary ambition by being appointed to the Select Committee on Defence. I was pleased by the fact that we embarked on an investigation into the lessons of Kosovo, and I was even more pleased by the results. Several hon. Members had argued persistently that this was the first example in history of a war being won by air power alone­­ – though many in the House had doubted that­­ – and we had a great opportunity to put those points to a succession of highly qualified witnesses, whom we examined.

A definite conclusion emerged – ­­it was felt that although it was impossible to quantify exactly how much was due to which particular factor, air power was only one of four factors that operated to achieve the result in Kosovo, and that it was incorrect to claim that air power alone had secured that result. The four factors were air power, the threat of the use of ground forces, the continuing cohesion of the alliance throughout the crisis, and the fact that the Russians had decided not to back Milosevic during the crisis.

The Committee came up with hard­-hitting conclusions, some of which were reasonably predictable. After all, in relation to air power, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, one of the most recent former Chiefs of Air Staff, said right at the outset that it was a mistake specifically to rule out the possible use of ground forces in the crisis because, even if we were not planning to use those forces, the threat that we might do so would be strategically highly significant. The fact that we bent over backwards to rule out the use of ground forces sent to Milosevic the signal that he did not need to configure his forces on the ground to meet the threat of a ground attack.

Mr Paul Keetch: Will the hon. Gentleman join me in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown)­­ – whose book launch I have just attended­­ – for making it clear during the campaign that we should not have ruled out the threat of the use of ground forces? The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (William Hague), however, wanted to rule out their use.

Dr Lewis: If the hon. Gentleman had attended more of this debate rather than the book launch, he would know that that point had already been made on behalf of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown). I was arguing it throughout that period, as hon. Members on both sides of the House will remember. It is enough for me to bear responsibility for my own predictions without having to take on those of other members of my party or of any other party with whom I may happen to disagree in any instance.

The removal of the threat meant that Milosevic could hide so much of his armour that our Royal Air Force pilots did not have the targets at which to aim that they otherwise would have had. In a sense, they lost all the way down the line, because they ended up being criticised for not achieving a greater hit rate in the bombing attacks. In fact, it had been a mistake to enable the aggressor – ­­in this case, Milosevic – ­­to hide so many potential targets that otherwise would undoubtedly have been destroyed.

We all know why the threat was removed. It relates to the third factor: cohesion and the idea that democratic Governments in the alliance would not wear the prospect of deploying ground forces. There is a difference between not specifically making an overt threat and­­ – in that case, quite wrongly – specifically ruling it out. If ever there was a role for deception policy, it was in that area. Even if we did not intend so to act, we ought to have done everything possible to convey to Milosevic that perhaps we would have done so. Eventually, of course, we did convey that message to Milosevic, but by then we really were intent on such action.

I shall leave the subject of Kosovo by mentioning the Russians. The point relates to something that was referred to earlier: the prospect of distinguishing between crisis management and all­-out war. We know that the justification for the European security and defence identity – ­­or policy as we must now call it – ­­is crisis­ management rather than all­-out war. However, had, for example, the Russians taken a much more aggressive stance, a crisis could have become all­-out war­­ entirely uncontrollably. I hope to return to that at the end of my remarks.

There was one point from "Lessons of Kosovo" that we ought not to have had to learn all over again, because we learned it in spades in the 1930s. Unfortunately, the leaders of democratic countries seldom fully appreciate the mentality of dictators. I should like to refer to just a couple of items in the report to point that up.

The Chairman of the Defence Committee, the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Bruce George), put the matter to the Chief of Defence Staff and the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence in the following terms:

"Was not escalating the ethnic cleansing an option ... to throw your hands in the air and say 'We did not anticipate this was what he was going to do' indicates that your war gaming was grossly deficient."

The Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie, replied:

"I think it is extremely difficult to get into Milosevic's mind. We did have people who sat down and said 'I am thinking like Milosevic' and we did have psychologists in NATO who actually studied the man's record. It was extremely difficult. Thank heavens he is not like us."

One can say that again.

The permanent secretary, Kevin Tebbit, gave a slightly more revealing answer:

"We did not expect the barbarity or the savagery. We did not reckon on the readiness to do quite what they did."

I can only endorse the Defence Committee's conclusion:

"it is apparent from the evidence we have taken that, on the UK side at least, little detailed analysis was conducted of how Milosevic and his elite would be likely to react as the target of a coercive campaign .... We believe there was insufficient understanding within the Alliance of the character and mentality of the dictator."

Have we not heard that in the past, when dictators have run rings around democrats by holding out that little hope of peace, while all the time remaining intent on conflict?

I welcome the cautionary comments in respect of Russia uttered by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Peter Emery). Back in 1938, the only Secret Intelligence Service agent to be knighted for services in the field, Sir Paul Dukes, concluded his memoirs:

"Will Russia, with that capacity for extremes which characterises her, emerging from the abyss, cleansed of the putrefaction alike of degenerate Tsarism and soulless Marxism, eventually rise to the topmost heights ...? Though the night is still dark, I, for one, will never cease to hope that that fair dawn will break in glory."

We have had false dawns before and I, for one, hope that we are not witnessing another now. Russia is massively enfeebled by her recent experiences and that is why we can take a far more relaxed view of any imminent military threat in the near future or even the medium term. However, I am not encouraged when I hear reports that responsible quarters in Russia are denouncing the HALO Trust – ­­the mine clearance charity with which the late Princess Diana was closely associated­­ – for allegedly training terrorists in military techniques.

Similarly, the tragedy of the Kursk is an account of heartlessness, deception and downright lies. At first, even the date on which it happened was not admitted – ­­it was said to have occurred a day later than it had. It was claimed at various times that another submarine had been involved; that there had been survivors; and then that there had been no survivors of the initial explosion. Now, we learn that there had been survivors, after all.

As recently as 25 October, the press agency AFP quoted Sergei Zhekov, a member of a Russian parliamentary probe into the catastrophe, telling the Interfax press agency that

"he had obtained new facts from Russian naval chiefs and the constructors of the Kursk that backed up his latest theory"

that the Kursk sank after colliding with a British submarine. According to the account, the rescue buoys found after the accident bore the colours of Royal Navy buoys, and that immediately after the tragedy

"the British navy carried out its first large­scale emergency and rescue exercises for the past 10 years."

Finally, an event that this House knows a little about was cited­­ – it was noted that certain submarines

"were withdrawn from service by the British navy in the space of one week."

That is not merely a new version of events. As early as 19 August, the Russian press had published a story in which a source at northern fleet headquarters was quoted claiming that a British submarine had been involved. Once again, it was claimed that British buoys had been detected. It was also alleged that

"the British submarine lay on the sea bed for 24 hours after the collision and, apparently, once the damage, which was less substantial than that of the Russian submarine, was repaired, it set course for Norway."

According to the information quoted:

"Russian special services have surmised that with the assistance of their experts at the scene of the accident, the British intended to try to destroy evidence which proved the fact of a collision with nothing other than a British submarine."

That sort of attitude, in the face of categorical and, I am sure, truthful statements by the Ministry of Defence at the outset that no British submarine was involved in the disaster, can be described only as provocative in the extreme.

Mr Keetch: 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?

Dr Lewis: 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 for 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 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 Ariality – ­­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 Françoise 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 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

Mr Andrew Robathan: Keep going. My hon. Friend's speech is good.

Dr Lewis: 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: Nonsense.

Dr Lewis: As my hon. Friend observes, that is nonsense. It is dangerous nonsense.

Mr Robathan: It is garbage, to coin a phrase.

Dr Lewis: Indeed, it is garbage – ­­the expression much used in the exchanges between the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Andrew 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 the 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 NPT."

The only trouble with that, as I have endeavoured to point out to the House on more than one occasion, is that article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty 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 continues:

"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'."

Mr John Spellar: Hear, hear.

Dr Lewis: 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 Winterton: We did.

Dr Lewis: The real viciousness is that, as my hon. Friend observes, when England did that­­

Mr Keetch: Britain.

Dr Lewis: ­­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 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.

[POSTSCRIPT: In its response to the report of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on "Weapons of Mass Destruction", the Labour Government endorsed the absurd recommendation that "Britain ... 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", in the following terms: "The Government agrees with the Committee's conclusion."]