DEFENCE IN THE WORLD (FRONT BENCH) – 7 July 2005

Dr Julian Lewis: I wish to start with a quotation from that great public servant, the late Lord Ismay. He served as Churchill's representative on the Chiefs of Staff committee throughout World War Two and later became the first Secretary-General of NATO. He therefore spanned a great deal of the history of the 20th century, and in his active service as a young officer, he had something to do with insurgencies as well. When he was looking back on this unparalleled career, he wrote:

"It is easy to criticise peaceful democracies for their habitual lack of preparedness when a war breaks out, but it is only fair to recognise that the dice are loaded against them. Dictators, bent on aggression ... are masters of their own timetable. They are free to decide when to strike, where to strike and how to strike, and to arrange their armament programmes accordingly. Their potential victims, the democracies ... with their inherent hatred of war, do not know when or where the blow will fall, or what manner of blow it will be."

If Lord Ismay were alive, well and living in these times, I think that he would say something similar about the problems that we face today.

A threat is at large in the world that is beginning to manifest itself on a small scale domestically in the homelands of the principal democratic countries. We saw it in America in September 2001; we saw it in Spain on the eve of its General Election; and we have seen it today; and of course, it is no coincidence that the G8 summit is currently under way.

I will not wander from the subject of the debate, which is "Defence in the World", but I agree with the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (George Galloway) to the extent that there would be an air of unreality about a defence debate taking place on such a day if it did not in any way allude at least to the type of conflict of which we have seen such a terrible and despicable manifestation in the streets and on the tube network of London today.

I will not speculate about who did this, but I will make a prediction. My prediction is that it will be found in the end that very small numbers of people indeed were involved in carrying out these atrocities, just as very small numbers were involved in carrying out the atrocities that we have seen in a variety of countries since September 2001. I do not know whether the people carrying out these atrocities have a real understanding of the resilience of democratic societies under such circumstances. Again, I agree with the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow to the extent that, from the point of view of the victim, it makes very little difference whether they are killed by a suicide bomber on a bus or by a high explosive dropped from an aircraft. That is not to say, however, that the two activities are comparable.

Certain methods of war are recognised as legal. Certain methods of killing people are widely recognised as totally unacceptable. No matter how volubly, with what degree of articulation, or at what volume the hon. Gentleman may speak – I am sorry that he has not seen it fit to come back to the Chamber now that he has caught his headlines – he nevertheless cannot conceal the basic difference between casualties who get caught up in conventional warfare and casualties who get caught up in acts of terrorism. There are laws of war, but what happened today was not part of any recognised law of war.

I am sorry that there is still a Member of this House who is willing to try to justify, or empathise with, people who behave illegally when fighting their cause, no matter how strongly he happens to believe in the grievances they imagine they have. What is it that people of this sort really expect us to do? Do they really expect us to hand over a country such as Iraq to people, for the most part foreigners, who would destroy any chance of freedom for the millions of people who make up that society? Did they expect us to have done nothing in Afghanistan? I remember that a Member in the last Parliament said that we should have bombed Afghanistan with bread, not bombs, and subsequently identified with, and empathised with, suicide terrorists in the Middle East. She has gone to a well-deserved fate in the House of Lords and I am glad to say that her outlook is not widely shared.

When we consider the defence in the world that we have to undertake, we must recognise that the people who are mounting these campaigns fully understand the importance of having maximum impact for minimum effort. We must fight on the ground where we are strongest, not where they are strongest. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow said that some of those people are prepared to sacrifice their lives if they can take thousands of people with them. Yes, indeed they are, which is why there is only one threat about which we really must worry as a nation, as opposed to as individuals, families and people who may get caught up in random or planned acts of terrorism: people of that sort must never be allowed to get their hands on weapons that could possibly kill thousands or tens of thousands because we know that they would unhesitatingly use them if they could get hold of them. That is why the threshold has been lowered for intervention internationally. That is why one cannot take the chance of allowing other countries with dictatorial regimes that might think it in their interests to make such weapons available to such terrorists to continue to have the possibility of owning those weapons, unless they can satisfy the international community that they absolutely have renounced them.

We heard several hon. Members pleading the cause, even now, of unilateral nuclear disarmament. The hon. Member for Pendle (Gordon Prentice) said that we should not be thinking of Trident, but rushing round the world trying to scoop up the loose fissile material that has gone missing from the former Soviet Union. However, I say to him that those two propositions have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. Whether or not we have a successor to Trident will of course not diminish the problem of terrorists getting their hands on fissile material, but it would certainly add to our dangers if we got into a situation in which other countries continued to possess nuclear weapons while we renounced ours.

The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith), in a typically thoughtful speech that became typically emotional, did everything that he could to argue the case for the Defence Aviation Repair Agency workers who formerly did such an excellent job in his constituency for the RAF.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Peter Viggers) gave an account of the basis of the more extreme factions of militant Islam and said that there was not enough emphasis on winning hearts and minds. Here there is a role for our Defence Secretary and Prime Minister to do a little more in carrying over to our American allies the successful techniques that have been used by British forces over the post-war decades in defeating long-term insurgencies. The most obvious role model is the long campaign in Malaya. At the end of that campaign, the insurgency was defeated. Insurgencies have to be defeated by a number of means. They have to be resisted militarily; they have to be fought at source; they have to be infiltrated at home; and one must never give the slightest evidence of weakness of purpose.

There, I take issue with one or two Members such as the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), who suggested for the Liberal Democrats that it was important to set some sort of date for withdrawal. Nothing could be better calculated to increase the dangers to our troops working in Iraq than the knowledge that the insurgents had to hold on only for so long and those troops would be gone. If we are to fight a campaign of this sort, the message has to be that there will be no withdrawal until the enemy are defeated, so they may as well give up now because they are not going to win. Anything less than that message and we may as well not have got involved in the first place; otherwise, we will be heading for unnecessary casualties and ultimate costly failure.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (James Arbuthnot) made the point that the sort of incidents that we have seen in London today have been happening for a long time and on a much heavier scale in Iraq. I could add that they are also similar to events in Israel. Whatever one thinks of the rights and wrongs of the Arab-Israeli dispute, one must recognise that the incidents that have happened on such a heavy scale in Israel have no chance whatever of overthrowing the Israeli state. The sooner terrorists and their apologists realise that they will have no chance of overthrowing the democratic system of the United Kingdom, the sooner this sort of strife and atrocious behaviour can be brought to an end.

The hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) remarked on the role of international organisations and sensibly backed up her point with a hard-headed realisation of the necessity from time to time to use military force. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mark Lancaster) concentrated on the use of our reservists, who are put under excessive pressure at a time when we are dependent on them as well as on our regular forces.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) brought to our debate knowledge that can be gained only as a highly professional former regular soldier by talking about what it really means to the troops on the ground not to have the adequate equipment and adequate communications on which their lives may well depend.

Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) suggested that we were intervening too often. I do not entirely accept what he said about Sierra Leone per se. I visited the country with the Defence Committee and I can tell my hon. Friend that people were stopping us in the street and thanking us simply for being there, because a relatively small military investment had had a relatively large effect on the security of many people living there. I venture to add that it brought a beneficial effect on the area as a whole. I agree with my hon. Friend that when we take decisive action of that sort in a country like Sierra Leone, it seems rather inconsistent that we refuse to take action in countries facing equally if not more extreme circumstances, such as the suffering of those poor people under Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

As I have a few moments left, I want to say a little more about the nuclear deterrent – something that is close to my heart because I go back on this campaign to a time in the 1980s, which included a famous long march by the then general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Monsignor Bruce Kent. He started out at Faslane and walked all the way to Burghfield. At various stages en route, he was joined by people like me who disagreed with him and people like the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow who strongly agreed with him. Of course the cold war was still raging. At that time – in no way do I distort the argument – it was suggested that there was no evidence whatsoever that the Soviet Union and its Warsaw pact allies posed a significant or serious military threat.

In 1998, a book was published called The Cold War: A Military History, which revealed some of the plans that the German Government discovered after the downfall of communism. This is what it said:

"since the end of the Cold War, no evidence has been found of any Warsaw Pact defensive plans, except for a few formulated in the final three years, after President Gorbachev had insisted that the General Staff prepared them. Instead, all plans concentrated on a series of massive attacks, which were aimed at securing Soviet control of the entire west-European land mass."

A campaign was planned that would overrun the central front and then France would be overrun,

"so that the leading troops arrived at the Atlantic coast and the Franco-Spanish border by the thirty-fifth day ...

In these plans it was intended to use nuclear weapons as an integral part of the attacks, even if NATO did not use them first, and many targets had already been selected. The main attacks on the Central Front would have been allocated 205 Scud rockets at army level and 380 short-range missiles at divisional level, with 255 nuclear bombs carried by aircraft".

At that time, plenty of people believed that it was unwise of us to keep nuclear weapons. I should like to ask the House how many people still think that it was unwise for us to keep nuclear weapons in the light of what we now know of the Soviet attack plans if a war had broken out? Those were offensive, not defensive, plans.

It is said that Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty commits us to getting rid of all our nuclear weapons. Well, yes and no. What it actually commits us to is

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

which we certainly have done,

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

In other words, what it is saying is that we should aim for both a nuclear-free world and a conventional-arms-free world as well.

I was indeed at that meeting with Robert McNamara, a gentleman who played a key role in the evolution of America's strategy in the run-up to and during the Vietnam War. I noted that he did indeed say that nuclear weapons are illegal. I then challenged him on that very point, and he showed straightaway that he did indeed know that the requirement was for worldwide nuclear and worldwide conventional disarmament, and he said that an attempt was even made to insert a comma between the two at some point to try to differentiate them, but that it had mysteriously disappeared. That did not stop that gentleman, who is a remarkable character at the age of 88, from nevertheless – having conceded the point that nuclear weapons were not illegal under that provision – rounding off his speech with the peroration that was quoted by the hon. Member for Pendle, and reasserting that they were illegal after all.

I have to ask the hon. Member for Pendle and those who think like him why someone whose judgment was so flawed in the 1960s appeals to them now as having wise judgment in the 21st century? The answer is that people with a career that points them in a certain direction during its active phase sometimes, with a view to history, like to rewrite it or reshape it during their retirement.

Mr Gordon Prentice: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr Lewis: I am sorry but no, I am about to conclude.

This debate has taken place on a solemn day in solemn circumstances. These circumstances remind us that we have to protect ourselves, and they do not suggest that the way to protect ourselves is always to do everything that our enemies and opponents want us to do. It is not enough to say that the suicide bomber should have his cause understood. It is not enough to say that it was predictable that these events would happen. Of course it was predictable, but that does not mean to say that we could have done anything other than what we did, which was to try to take on the godfathers of, and root causes of, terrorist movements in countries far from here. If we do not take them on far away from these shores and tackle them in the way we have, on a bipartisan basis, we can expect more – not less – aggravation, atrocities, death and destruction within these shores.