DEFENCE – NUCLEAR WEAPONS – 1 June 1998

Dr Julian Lewis: May I inject less of a Doomsday scenario into the discussion? I remind the Foreign Secretary that he, like me, is old enough to remember the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. I respectfully suggest to him that comparisons between that incredibly tense situation and what is happening now [nuclear tests by India and Pakistan] are overblown hoo-hah. May I also remind him that two years later, in 1964, the Chinese acquired the bomb and first exploded it? At that time, there was an hysterical reaction and people said that it would lead to an uncontrollable arms race and to disaster, but it did not. May I finally suggest that it was inevitable that, once India had exploded its bomb, Pakistan would do likewise? Their actions will not be affected by empty moral gestures by Labour Back Benchers or by a Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman suggesting that the explosion of such weapons has something to do with the number of Trident warheads held by the British.

[The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Robin Cook): The hon. Gentleman obviously believes in the theory that nuclear weapons at all times and in all places are a good thing. It is not clear to me from what he said where exactly he would draw the line or who he would suggest should not have nuclear weapons. The responsible attitude--which was also taken by the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman--is to seek to prevent the proliferation and escalation of nuclear weapons.

I am not sure that I take it kindly to be reminded that I am old enough to remember the Cuban missile crisis, but I remember it very well and how glad we were when it was all over. I would not wish to visit such a hair-trigger situation on the peoples of south Asia, and I hope that we can avert such a crisis.]