Dr Julian Lewis: At the beginning of March 1946, less than a week before Churchill delivered his iron curtain speech in Fulton, Missouri, the joint intelligence sub-committee of the chiefs of staff concluded:
“The long-term aim of the Russian leaders is to build up the Soviet Union into a position of strength and greatness fully commensurate with her vast size and resources.”
The JIC admitted that firm intelligence was difficult to obtain, as
“Decisions are taken by a small group of men, the strictest security precautions are observed, and far less than in the case in the Western Democracies are the opinions of the masses taken into account.”
“likely to be deterred by the existence of the atomic bomb”,
of which the Americans then had a temporary monopoly,
“in seeking a maximum degree of security, Russian policy will be aggressive by all means short of war.”
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? “In brief,” the JIC warned
“although the intention may be defensive, the tactics will be offensive, and the danger always exists that Russian leaders may misjudge how far they can go without provoking war with America or ourselves.”
That was in 1946. Here we are, many decades later, but one can see resonances and the relevance of that analysis to the situation that we face today.
We have had two excellent speeches from Labour Back Benchers – I am only sorry that there are not more Opposition Members here, although I am hopeful that, if there were, they would have been largely singing from the same song sheet. However, it is one thing for us all to agree on a bipartisan basis on the analysis of what is wrong and quite another for us to be able to take steps to ensure the safety of the west, which seems to be imperilled rather more than at any time I can think of since at least the 1980s, when there was a huge movement to try and disarm the west of nuclear weapons unilaterally. What are we going to do, what steps are we going to take, and have we got confidence in the leadership of the western world to stand up for the values that seem to be common to all participants so far in this debate?
We have heard a masterly summary of the way in which Russia has been issuing ultimata to the west that are truly extraordinary. I must make a slight disclaimer at this point and say that I am speaking entirely in my capacity as a former Chairman of the Defence Committee, and certainly not as the current Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Nothing that I say in this debate is predicated on anything that I have read, heard or discussed in that more recent capacity.
What I am about to say is the same message that so many of us have been trying to put forward for many years, which is that there is no real defence for Europe without the involvement of the United States. I was very interested to hear the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) about the fact that people should not denigrate the cold war. The cold war was a strategic success for democracy. There were two alternatives to the cold war: one was surrender and the other was nuclear war, so of those three, I think I know which was the preferential outcome. I also agree with the earlier observation that all the talk about grey zone warfare, and all the rest of it, is a sign that we are already involved in a cold war. It is a good thing, if we are faced by adversaries, to confront them, to stand up to them, and hopefully to prevent that from escalating into an open war: a hot war; all-out conflict.
How best can we do that? Well, it worked rather well from the mid-1940s until the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union in 1991. It was a mixture of two concepts: deterrence and containment. Deterrence involved two main elements: the involvement of the US, as I said, in European security, and the fact that there was a nuclear umbrella that might not deter all forms of aggression but could certainly protect us from nuclear blackmail. The point about containment is that, if you are not going to go to war with your adversary but you want to stop him taking you over and destroying your way of life, then you have to be prepared to hold him in check for decades on end. What a pity that somebody did not explain this recently to President Biden, who kept talking about “forever wars”. Are the Americans involved in a forever war in South Korea? Should they withdraw their limited military presence from South Korea? What do we think would happen then?
John Spellar: Surely that is exactly the wrong analogy. In Korea there is a stalemate and there are two societies. That is very different from fighting a forever guerrilla war in unfavourable territory. It is more about President Biden’s predecessor, who gave everything away to the Taliban in the same way that he encouraged Putin.
Dr Lewis: All analogies are risky and no analogies are perfect, but in one sense my analogy stands up: if North Korea now knew that America would not be prepared to go on indefinitely defending South Korea, does one honestly think that South Korea would have much of a future in the face of the regime that it faces across that parallel? Of course it would not.
I am not being partisan about this, because I believe that we are speaking on the very anniversary of ex-President Trump’s disgraceful behaviour in relation to the riots and the invasion of the Capitol, but I am very concerned that we are now faced with the prospect of someone who is manifestly not up to the job of taking on a ruthless, villainous gangster like Vladimir Putin and is going in to negotiate with him on the basis of an ultimatum put forward by Putin that effectively states that the NATO alliance has a take-it-or-leave-it offer: either it withdraws all its troops from the territory of any country that has joined NATO since the end of the cold war or it faces the prospect of military action in Europe. I believe that the great American people and the great American political system depend on more than any individual in the top job, but all I can say is that, if there are wise strategists around President Biden, they had better brief him a lot better, a lot more quickly and in a lot more depth than they did in the run-up to the disastrous unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan.