DEFENCE IN THE WORLD – 10 June 1999
Dr Julian Lewis: I shall begin by referring briefly to Kosovo, because, although this is a debate on a wider subject – defence in the world – much reference has been made to Kosovo, and we can use it as a useful starting point from which to draw some wider lessons. The significance of the Kosovo campaign has been that the House has had to consider how to react as a democracy in peacetime to the re-surfacing of the sort of barbarism that it had been thought had been finally defeated earlier this century.
The alliances in favour of, and against, taking military action in Kosovo cut across the usual alignments of party politics. Those of us who supported taking military action at an early stage were disappointed that the Government unnecessarily stated right, at the beginning, that there would be no use of ground forces in an opposed environment.
That sent a signal to Milosevic that that was one major threat that he need not fear. It was a mistake by the Government to send that signal, and it was a mistake by my party to endorse it. I know why the signal was sent: it was because we live in an age in which we fight wars in the full glare of media coverage.
We know that, on previous occasions, the military burden has been gigantically greater on this country. Casualties have run into tens of thousands in a given battle, and millions for all participants over the period of a war. Yet that has been accepted because, during those extreme circumstances, draconian methods of censorship, and to a considerable extent self-censorship, apply. We have only to consider the preparations that were made in southern England before the Normandy landings. Areas in the south of the country were closed for access. They were hermetically secured and there was no way in which the normal rights of civilians in towns and villages in southern England were being preserved.
That was a strange paradox for a democracy. A democracy hates to adopt the methods of the dictators whom it is trying to defeat. Yet, if it is to defeat those dictators, it will have to adopt at least some of their methods. Sir Karl Popper summed up this problem in what he called "the paradox of tolerance", which holds that we must tolerate all but the intolerant – because, if we tolerate the intolerant, the conditions for tolerance disappear and the tolerant go with them. In other words, to a considerable extent, we have to fight fire with fire.
I was pleased that the Government gradually withdrew from the unwise commitment that had been given at the outset not to use ground forces, if necessary, to defeat Milosevic. Assuming that everything works out to plan, that the campaign has come to an end at this stage and democracy is restored in the area concerned – it may be many years after all that has happened when we have access to the documentation, the archives, the considerations, and the intelligence appreciations on which the conflict was eventually decided – I believe that we shall discover that two elements, in addition to the proper use of air power in context as part of a campaign, proved to be decisive. Those two elements, as I indicated briefly last night in response to the Secretary of State's statement, were the involvement of the Russians and the covert threat that, after all, ground forces would be deployed if Milosevic did not comply.
It is worth considering what the outcome would have been if there had been no way of obtaining Russian acquiescence in forcing the Serbs to back down. The outcome could have been very different. It is important that we do not draw from this episode the false conclusion that, whenever trouble arises, whenever dirty deeds, murders and ethnic cleansing, for example, face the democracies of Europe in future, we need only send a few score bombers to bomb the offender. I think that that will be proven in time not to have been sufficient by itself.
I have been surprised at the readiness with which commentators such as John Keegan, a distinguished military historian, have been prepared to say:
"I was wrong. I said that bombing alone would not work and it has worked".
Perhaps some people are better historians than they are contemporary analysts. Let us wait until the John Keegans of the future have access to the archives and the materials on which proper history can be written. I think it will be found that the diplomatic triumph of getting the Russians on side and the killer threat of ground forces being deployed – if necessary – against armed opposition, made Milosevic surrender in the end.
I shall move on from Kosovo. As has been said, the consideration of wider defence problems has been stymied to a considerable degree by the natural tendency to focus upon the crisis in the Balkans. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (John Maples), the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, on a masterly analysis of the risks that face us with the creation of a European common foreign and security policy and defence arrangements that will cut across the defence arrangements which have served us so well in NATO.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Gisela Stuart), who is no longer in her place, took pride in the award of the Charlemagne prize to the Prime Minister at the hands of Lionel Jospin, the French premier, in Aachen in May. I took the liberty of leaving the Chamber for a few moments to retrieve the press cutting that I remembered of that occasion. There was something that I knew I wanted to lay before the House and I could not rely on remembering it accurately enough if I did not make a check. I am glad that I took the trouble to check. I now know what it was that so jarred when I listened to the hon. Lady. It was the inscription on the medal presented to the Prime Minister. It read:
"Peace and Merger in Europe".
Unfortunately, I fear that that is being lined up for this country.
Imagine what the effect would have been if the United Kingdom had been merged with a united Europe in many of the wars gone by. We would have been forced to abandon the geographical defence advantages that our country being an island has conferred upon us. The arrival of a defence set-up in Europe would mean that, if we disagreed with a majority of our fellow European partners on a defence policy to face down aggression or to respond to a threat, we would be overruled. That would have led in the past to a situation where our salvation and the subsequent salvation of occupied states in Europe could never have been achieved.
I was struck by the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (David Atkinson) earlier in the debate about ballistic missile defence. I have been impressed by the fact that my hon. Friend is never afraid to be something of a lone voice or something of a prophet. Some would even say that he is something of a Cassandra. I remember previously listening to him stressing to the House time and again the dangers of the millennium bug. At one stage, he was a voice in the wilderness. However, everyone believes in the millennium bug now. My hon. Friend has moved on and has turned his attention to possible future problems arising from our lack of ballistic missile defence, and the danger that guided missiles could be used to wreak destruction with no protection for this country. Perhaps it could be speculated that the advent of the millennium bug will save this country from the use of ballistic missiles against it. Perhaps after the year 2000, they will not function properly. However, I should not like to gamble with our future security purely on that basis.
David Atkinson: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. Is he aware of the report in the Daily Telegraph recently which quoted an American defence official who warned that if Saddam Hussein wanted to send a missile to Europe, 1 January – the next new year – would be the day to do so?
Dr Lewis: No, I was not aware of that report, but the example of Saddam Hussein is apposite. The point about ballistic missile defence is that it can be applied in three very different contexts.
The first context is that to which my hon. Friend alluded when he referred to the V1 and the V2. The V1, as he rightly pointed out, was the first cruise missile, and the V2 was the first ballistic missile. This country had no physical means of defence against the V2. Although it was possible to create counter-measures against the flying bomb – the V1 – it was impossible to do anything against the V2, other than to use deception measures to convince the Germans that they were overshooting the targets when they were falling short, and thus to persuade them to shorten the range still further.
If one can develop a defence against conventionally-armed missiles, one will proportionately reduce the weight of the attack. What that means in ordinary language is that if one can knock down 70 or 80 per cent of those incoming missiles, one will reduce the damage to one's country by 70 or 80 per cent. However, the situation gets more complicated in the era of weapons of mass destruction, whether nuclear or biological. Under those circumstances it is not good enough to knock down 70 or 80 per cent, because if 20 or 30 per cent get through, the devastation will be equivalent to total annihilation.
There is therefore another circumstance in which ballistic missile defence is valuable, and a third circumstance in which it is of no value whatever. Ballistic missile defence in the mass destruction era is valuable if the aggressor has at his disposal only a small number of nuclear or biological weapons. Because he does not have anything like an overkill capability, it is worth being able to counter as many of the incoming missiles as possible, as there is a chance of knocking out of the equation all those that would otherwise get through, or at least making a significant difference to the level of damage that the country would suffer.
However, against a superpower equipped with hundreds or even thousands of weapons of mass destruction, it is living in a fool's paradise to believe that ballistic missile defence can save one's country from destruction. In a way, that is a good thing. I have always been a believer in nuclear deterrence. I have always supported our national policy of minimum nuclear deterrence.
That policy depends on the very fact that, once one has the ability to retaliate against an aggressor by replying with 50 or 100 nuclear warheads that will reliably reach their targets, it does not matter whether the aggressor has many thousands of nuclear warheads with which to threaten his victim. Precisely because a relatively small proportion of nuclear warheads getting through in retaliation is all that is required to inflict unacceptable damage on an aggressor, his overkill capability is worthless, meaningless and of no value except perhaps political – certainly, of no strategic significance.
The Secretary of State said that people should not forget the Government before this. Nor, in my view, should people forget the Opposition before this. Who would have dreamt 10 years ago that we would find ourselves with a Labour Government who had, rightly and apparently successfully, stood up to military aggression on a point of principle, as I said in the Kosovo debate the other week, because we were not prepared to see innocent people being murdered and brutalised? Who would have thought that a Government of the Labour persuasion would supervise a successful military campaign that inevitably involved inflicting considerable devastation on a civilian environment?
It is astonishing to see the way in which the workings of the democratic system in this country have paid off. Those of us who fought to persuade the unilateral nuclear disarmers on the then Labour Benches that they were mistaken may have had an intellectual input into the debate, but the people who really deserve the credit for the fact that we now have a Government who are prepared, under the right circumstances, to use military action properly are the electorate of Great Britain who, in 1983 and again in 1987, showed the Labour Party that it would not get re-elected unless it dropped the policy of one-sided nuclear disarmament.
I welcome the fact that Labour dropped that policy. It pretended to drop it in 1989, using various formulae such as
"We will give up one of ours if the Russians will give up one of theirs".
That was rather like someone who lives in a bungalow and his neighbour who lives in a skyscraper each offering to give up one floor. However, between 1989 and July 1991, when the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Gerald Kaufman) wrote an article in the Guardian – where else? – finally admitting that Labour would keep nuclear weapons as long as other countries had them, the Labour party slowly crept back to a responsible position on defence.
As someone who believes more strongly in the defence of this country than in the victory of any particular political party at a general election, I welcomed that, even though I knew that it would make my job as a Conservative political organiser much harder in terms of fighting the Labour Party in the future. I am glad that Labour did what it did, and I think that now most members of the Labour Party are also glad that they did what they did.
One or two Labour Members are not so pleased. Among those I include the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen), who is not in his place at present. He has consistently supported the unilateral nuclear disarmament line. Because I disagree with him on that, it does not follow that I must disagree with him on every point in his analysis. He was right, for example, when he said that, in terms of deterrence, it is a mistake to say that uncertainty is equivalent to stability.
Over the past 20 years, I have heard that argument advanced by many people who believe in NATO and in nuclear deterrence. They say that the key to deterrence is uncertainty. Well, only up to a point: uncertainty whether one will use force is obviously better for purposes of deterrence than certainty that one will not use force. But the certainty of retaliation with force if necessary is the best deterrent of all.
That was why, to return to the point with which I began, it was a terrible mistake, even if we did not intend to use ground forces in Kosovo, to say that – because we replaced what limited value uncertainty as to whether we would might have had, in our bargaining position with Milosevic, with certainty on his part that we would not do so. As I predicted before, and as time will bear out, it will eventually be discovered that Milosevic gave in when he no longer held to the certainty that we would not use ground forces if he did not comply.
I have some examples from history. During the Second World War, we used two different methods of mass destruction on German and Japanese cities. Terrible fire storms were caused by the 1,000-bomber raids and terrible destruction and annihilation were caused by the dropping of the atomic bombs on two Japanese cities. Strangely enough, more people were killed – at least initially – in the fire raid on Tokyo in 1945 than in Hiroshima or Nagasaki. So why did the individual bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bring about surrender whereas the fire storm on Tokyo did not?
The answer comes back to the word "uncertainty". When the bombers took off for a fire raid, be it on Tokyo, Nuremburg or Hamburg, no one could know in advance with certainty how that would work out. The outcome could have been, as it was in the case of Tokyo, Cologne and Hamburg, absolute devastation. On the other hand, the outcome could have been, as it was in the case of the infamous Nuremberg raid, that the bomber stream would be intercepted, that the fleet of aircraft would be massacred and that the city would hardly be touched at all. Precisely because the target country did not know in advance that it was certain to incur the devastation and destruction that did occur, it was prepared to take the risk of incurring it. But as soon as the Japanese saw that there was no uncertainty, that the dropping of single bombs meant the certain destruction of their homeland city by city, they had no alternative but to surrender. Therefore, the maintenance of deterrence depends on the certainty of one's opponent that he cannot possibly escape the military consequences of defiance and attack.
I am sorry to have dwelt in some detail on that point, but it is essential that a myth is not created by what seems to have been the successful result of the Kosovo campaign – that one can rely on unsupported conventional air power to bring about compliance. One day, we may get into a situation where other decisive factors – the possible use of ground forces and Russia's diplomatic support – may not be available. Then we would discover our mistake too late.
I was surprised at the references made by the hon. Member for Edgbaston to the maintenance of peace, and the achievement, of which she is rightly proud, of being returned to the House – as someone born in Munich – for a British constituency, but I found it difficult to follow the mental processes that led her to conclude that that was something to do with the European Union or any of its predecessor institutions. I am not aware of any military threat to our democratic systems between the end of the war and the creation of those institutions, which was done away with by the creation and the activities of those institutions.
The reason why the hon. Lady was successful – I congratulate her on being elected democratically to represent Neville Chamberlain's old seat – was because Britain, America and Russia won the war. Having done so, they imposed on Germany a system of democracy and helped to resettle Western Europe with a system of free independent democratic states. As I have said before, and shall no doubt say again, the lesson of history is that wars seldom, if ever, break out between two democratic states. They break out between combinations of democracies and dictatorships, and dictatorships and dictatorships, but seldom, if ever, solely between democratic states.
As a result of the creation of a system of free independent democratic states in Europe, together with the military alliance of NATO with which they can be involved if they wish, or from which they can distance themselves or withdraw if they wish, the system that has secured the peace for half a century can be preserved. Only now that it has been put to the test, at the end of the century, can we see that it has been capable of dealing with a re-emergence of something that should never have been allowed to get this far.
Therefore, to put at risk the system that has preserved the peace, by messing around, monkeying around and fiddling around for the sake of some basket of trade-offs, as my hon. Friend the Shadow Secretary of State said – because the Prime Minister wishes to remain at the heart of European affairs, and he knows that he dare not try to take Britain into the single currency at this point – is folly in the highest degree.
I understand that, today, we are not discussing in detail the question of the release of the identity of the soldiers being investigated in relation to Bloody Sunday and I shall be careful what I say. I refer to it only in one connection, although it is a connection that may prove fatal to them. Whatever the court decides, there is a risk that the damage has already irrevocably been done. If their names and addresses have been released quite independently of the court's decision, and if they go on to the internet, there will be no prospect of preventing them from being copied, recopied, published and advertised to those in terrorist organisations who would wish to do the soldiers harm whether they be guilty or innocent.
The internet is not always dangerous. It can sometimes have a use which is more poignant and constructive. I close my remarks by referring to a site which I found recently – the site of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. There it is possible, by keying in the name of anyone killed in the First or the Second World War, to find out the place and date of death and such other details as were available at the time. I was moved the other day to do that in connection with the father of a close friend of mine, Mr Ray Brooks of Totton in my constituency. He expressed an interest in learning what details had been retained. Sure enough, up came the information, and the certificate in memory of Stoker 1st Class Bert Brooks of HMS Cape Howe, Royal Navy, which I have here, was duly printed off. The ship went down fighting on 21 June 1940, and he was aged only 33.
We owe peace in Europe and the triumph of democracy to the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of people such as Bert Brooks. It would be a terrible disgrace to their memory if we wilfully destroyed what has been built up so successfully, and what has been tried and tested so recently, by undertaking unwise experiments to modify and replace institutions that have proved their value beyond all question.