Edward Heath – 1980 Speech on East West Relations

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Below is the text of the speech made by Edward Heath in the House of Commons on 28 January 1980.

There may be occasions on which Back Benchers can say things that Front Benchers would like to say but do not, and others on which Back Benchers say things that Front Benchers would prefer not to hear. I may indulge in both activities during the course of the few remarks that I wish to make.

The debate is really about world strategy. If it is not, it ought to be. It is a question not of East-West relations on Afghanistan but of one world, indivisible, and the strategy to be pursued by the West, by the non-aligned countries and by the Eastern bloc.

It has long been clear that the Soviet bloc has a well-defined strategy. It was a three-pronged form of advance, with Vietnam into South-East Asia, with Afghanistan into the Indian Ocean and down into the Gulf. In addition, it was able to maintain its forces on its western frontier with Europe and on its north-eastern frontier with China and, if necessary, to build against Japan. That was the clear strategy.

As the Leader of the Opposition said, added to that strategy is the ability to interfere wherever an opportunity arises and to justify it by saying that it is in the interests of its friends in that part of the world. That has been the case in Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere.

Against that, the West has had no clear strategy of any sort whatever for the past six years, and from that springs the greatest danger to the world. That is what we are discussing today—the danger of a third world war because we stumble into it by mistake or by misjudgment. That is the real danger that we face today. The only way to cope with that is for the West to have a clear strategy and for there to be a complete understanding between the East, the West and the non-aligned countries about that strategy.

For that reason, I am sorry that any contact should be broken. If it is true that Mr. Gromyko intended to visit Britain but has been asked not to do so, I regret it. I believe that the best thing would be for Mr. Gromyko to hear the views of my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench about Afghanistan—indeed, the views of those on the Opposition Front Bench as well. If we are to recreate the understanding of our strategy, it can be done only by maintaining contacts and by making clear to the Soviet Union and its bloc where we stand and what we are prepared to do.

I agree with the Leader of the Opposition about the need to define that strategy. However, that takes time, and the West has been taken unawares. On Saturday night a White House spokesman said on television “We are extemporising” What is more dangerous than to extemporise in today’s world? We should not declare that we shall do things which, palpably, it can be seen that we cannot perform. That only increases the incredibility. Incredibility is the problem.

On the other hand, we must protect our vital interests. We are dealing with the Soviet Union not because it is a Marxist country—although some would argue that it is no longer that; we are dealing with it not even because of its treatment of dissent, which we find most horrifying; we are dealing with it on the basis of the interests of our country and the West as a whole. On that, above all, we have to decide.

I suggest that it is not enough to look at the present. We have to look back at the immediate past because of the problems that it presents to us. After the debacle of Vietnam and the withdrawal from that country, the United States opted out of a large part of the world obligations that it had previously undertaken. The West allowed it to do so, and Europe put nothing into the vacuum. Therefore, when the events of Angola happened the United States did nothing. The American people were not prepared to let Congress do anything and Congress was not prepared to let the President do anything. It was not President Carter or Mr. Vance who did nothing it was their predecessors, President Ford and Dr. Kissinger, who were not allowed to intervene in Angola.

The Russians were the first to assess what that meant. As a result, through their Cuban friends and allies they were able to exploit it. Similarly, they exploited Ethiopia, Somalia, South Yemen and Aden. The pattern built up because both America and Europe had opted out.

Mr. Hooley Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that it was not a question of opting out of Angola? There was the impossible dilemma of supporting Fascism on the one hand—which could not possibly be done in Africa—or supporting a Marxist Government, which the Americans did not want to do?

Mr. Heath That was not how the Americans saw it. The Administration were prepared to intervene but they were not allowed to do so by Congress or by the mood of the American people.

Since that time, we have seen Russia support Vietnam and the two countries become allies. We have seen Vietnam absorb Laos, reach into Kampuchea and launch attacks across the Thai border. There has been a push to the South-East. How far will that push extend into Malaysia? As far as Thailand? Will it continue to Singapore and Indonesia? The West must make up its mind about its strategy. The position in South-East Asia affects us intensely.

What did the West do about the push into South-East Asia? Absolutely nothing. We were only too glad to wash our hands of Vietnam, Laos and Kampuchea and to ignore what was going on until the humanitarian question of the boat people arose. Even then, such people as the Prime Ministers of Malaysia and Singapore knew that behind the question of the boat people lay the political purpose of the entrenchment in their countries of groups that would work against their Administrations.

The second push was into Afghanistan. Afghanistan has been a Soviet protegé for the past two years. It has existed by permission of the Soviet Union for that time. What has the West done about that? It has never discussed it; it has left it there as a Soviet protegé Therefore, the Soviet Union will claim the Brezhnev doctrine that it was a Socialist State under the Soviet Union’s protection and that it intervened in those circumstances. We may reject that idea, but it leads to the more important question of Yugoslavia. After President Tito, will there be a claim that Yugoslavia is subject to the Brezhnev doctrine? Will it be claimed that it is a Socialist State and that until 1948 it was under Soviet domination? That is the biggest individual threat to Europe today.

If the Soviets move into Yugoslavia, NATO and Europe will become divided into two parts. The Soviet Union will be on the Mediterranean. That is why I raise the question of what we accepted about Afghanistan, and the fact that nothing was done about it. The Soviet Union has been allowed to establish itself on the Horn of Africa and to ensure that when it wants to do so it can operate from a warm-water port at Aden. For the past six years, neither the United States nor Europe has done anything about that.

There have been declarations. The last one was about Soviet combat forces in Cuba. President Carter said that that situation could not be allowed to continue. Nevertheless, it has been allowed to continue. Who learnt the lessons from that operation? The people in the Caribbean and in South America said that it did not matter and that it could not produce results.

The last and most tragic fact of all is the revelation that the greatest military Power in the world can do nothing about securing the release of 50 hostages in its embassy in Tehran. In the modern world, that is the most tragic and ghastly warning. A result can be achieved only by some sort of negotiation.

In the minds of a large part of the world, all these facts have left a great credibility gap. The Soviet Union is trading on that gap at the moment and we have to bridge that credibility gap. We can do that only by working out our strategy and by showing that we can carry it out. We have to make absolutely clear to the Soviet Union where we stand.

In the past few weeks, the Soviet Union has demonstrated its ability to use forces and maintain its position in the West and the East. In any undertakings that we make, it must not be forgotten that the Soviet Union has short communications. As was the case in Vietnam, other communications have to go by the long routes, whether from the United States or Europe. That is an important factor to be considered in our strategy.

We are seeing the emergence of a much stronger military power inside the Soviet Government. That happened before Mr. Khrushchev took office, after the demise of Stalin and the short reign of Malenkov. Mr. Brezhnev is obviously on the point of giving up office, and the same thing is happening again. We are seeing increased military power in the Soviet organization, which has been able to get its way—inspite of the political objections about Afghanistan.

The time came when, finally, there was no restraint by SALT II. The Soviet Union made up its mind and said that it would not ratify the agreement. It is a presidential year and it thought that nothing could happen until after 1980 and well into 1981. Therefore, it took a chance because it felt that the reaction would be forgotten in time and because there was no restraint by SALT II.

Factors have emerged on the United States and Western side. First, the President cannot take effective action unless there is a general consensus in the United States and the West. That consensus was lacking over Vietnam and it destroyed the American policy on that country. Therefore, President Carter must ensure that such a consensus exists now. That is where we in Europe have a major part to play.

Another factor that inhibits action is the difficult relationships between countries in the affected regions. We should examine that matter in detail because it governs the strategy that we can adopt. First, there is the problem of Turkey. We denied access and military support to Turkey because of its action in Cyprus. As a result, Turkey has fallen into economic chaos and political disarray and it leans more and more towards Moscow.

Then there is the problem of the Aegean, between Turkey and Greece. There is the problem of Cyprus, with no settlement there. What has the West done about these? It has done absolutely nothing for the past five or six years. But now we have suddenly to say that we accept any faults that we proclaimed that Turkey had, because we want her as a strong ally with us in the West. But look at what has happened in the meantime and the difficulties, particularly economic, that Turkey faces. These can be overcome only by very substantial amounts of financial assistance—not limited means, in the usual way of aid, but massive assistance—if Turkey is to be an effective ally.

Let us consider Pakistan. To all intents and purposes, relations with and aid to Pakistan were broken because of the nuclear problem. If we are not to support Pakistan because of the danger from Afghanistan, we can no longer link with it the nuclear problem, for the very simple reason that from Pakistan’s point of view this is a matter of national prestige and national security. She will therefore say “Thank you very much for your offer, but if you are to link it in this way we cannot accept it.” In that event, we shall see a key country looking towards Afghanistan and the Soviet Union instead of the West.

This is the dilemma that confronts us in our strategy. We shall have to forgo some of the things that we have insisted upon in the past five years if we are to be able to carry out a strategy of this kind. We shall have to forgo much of the attitude that has been taken about human rights, because the regimes that we are now to be asked to support, because of their vulnerability, are very often regimes which do not maintain our standards of human rights. We must not put ourselves in the position of being accused of double talk on these questions, because that is the accusation we make against those from whom we are trying to protect other countries.

Mr. Dalyell The right hon. Gentleman is concerned about a Pakistani bomb. Ought we not also to be concerned about a Libyan bomb and an Iraqi bomb, since the two are linked, possibly financially and probably technically?

Mr. Heath I could not agree more. I am just pointing out the dilemma in dealing with this question in relation to Pakistan and the neighbouring countries. It has to be faced if an answer is to be found.

Then there is the problem of the association of Iran’s neighbouring countries with the United States, following the long episode of 30 years of American support for the Shah. We have seen a double reaction in the Middle East. First, there are those who say that because the Americans were associated so closely with the Shah, whose regime has been over-thrown, they cannot have any real arrangements with the Americans and the West. That is one attitude.

There was another attitude that I found in the Middle East just before Christmas. People were asking “Who now are our friends? We thought the Americans were the friends of the Shah, and after 30 years they pulled the rug from under him. What good were all the forces that were put into Iran? Absolutely nothing. The rebellion went ahead. So where do we look for our friends?” This was particularly emphasised when people pointed out that the Americans have now blocked the Iranian accounts. This has had more impact in the Middle East than any other single item. They said “If it can be done on one political question, it can be done on others. What happens to our oil revenues which are banked with American and international banks?”

If we are to achieve our purpose of allowing these countries to secure their defence with our aid, very often, in material goods, we have to be careful about the attitudes that we take on other things.

§Mr. Heffer I have been trying to follow the hon. Gentleman’s argument very closely. Why, then, are we concerned about the Soviet Union’s entry into Afghanistan, its entry into other countries and the whole question of human rights? Is it only because of our national imperialist interest in relation to oil—precisely the same as that of the Russians—or is it that we are deeply concerned about human rights? Are we perhaps prepared to say that we are not concerned about human rights in those countries that back up against the Russians? Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how it can be argued that oppression is all right in a country if its economic and political system is satisfactory to us but that it is not all right in another country if that country is opposed to us?

Mr. Heath I shall be coming to that point later on. I want to mention the question of how we can have a relationship with States that may be necessary for our strategic defence when at the same time those States do not have the standards that we have. This is a crucial point.
I want now to mention the difficulties involved in making these relationships. First, there is the question of the Muslim world. I do not believe that the West understands the Muslim world today. We do not understand its enoromous breadth, from the Philippines to Nigeria, with 600 million people. We do not understand its immense economic strength as the supplier of 80 per cent. of the West’s oil supplies. This is the Muslim world today.

We have long thought that people in the Muslim world wanted the Western way of life, that if they did not want it they ought to want it, and that in any case they were jolly well going to get it. What has now been shown in Iran, and is being shown elsewhere in the Muslim world, is that none of those things is true. There is a younger generation which does not want the Western way of life and which wants to go back to what it believes to be a simpler, older, authoritative—sometimes we would say authoritarian—way of life, according to the Muslim religion.

I remember going into Tehran during last summer. We thought that it was necessary for Iran to have full employment. A million foreign workers were brought in because the work had to be done. There were 5 million cars, there were luxury hotels, the women were all liberated, and there were discotheques, alcohol and pornography—all the best that we could give them. How could they want to change that? But the fact is that they did, and we have to recognise it. We have to accept these facts in making a relationship with the Muslim world, otherwise we have no means of looking after our security and that of the developing world.

If we say, as President Carter has rightly said, that the Middle East is crucial to us because of the oil supplies—particularly to Europe, because we are more dependent upon these oil supplies than is the United States—we have to recognise that the key to the Middle East is the settlement of the Palestinian problem. Until that is settled, the moderate States in the Middle East are not free to look to us or to the United States for help or for common policies.

It is basically crucial that every effort should be made, therefore, to solve the Palestinian problem. But, again, Europe has done absolutely nothing about it. It has just allowed it to roll along. President Carter, of late, has been so preoccupied with other factors that he has not been able to keep up the pressure. But it is the key, and the solving of the Palestinian problem is a matter of the utmost urgency.

It is all very well for us to say that President Sadat, with all his courage, his imagination and his negotiating prowess, will be prepared to accept us and to work with us. With all that, he is a lone figure, and neither the radical nor the moderate Arab States will support him. If we are associated alone with President Sadat, we cannot expect to have a working relationship with the other States. That is why it is so important to solve the Palestinian question and to solve the Middle Eastern problem. Then we can have the States there working on our side.

I regret that in all this Europe has done nothing. But we have a part to play, certainly over Cyprus, certainly over the Aegean and certainly over Turkey. I believe that we also have a part to play over the Middle East. I believe that we can be of help to President Carter in finding a solution to the Palestinian problem.

What response do we make, therefore, in the present situation, against the background of the last six years? I have already said that we have to restore credibility. The West as a whole has to rethink its foreign policy. We have to ensure that the non-aligned world understands this and sympathises with it. We have also to drop the linkage that we have made in a variety of places, not only in the Indian sub-continent and in Europe but also in South America, in relation to the action that we take. We have the problem of dealing with the question of human rights.

Oil is a crucial interest for us all. But, if at the end of the 1980s the Soviet Union will no longer be self-sufficient in oil supplies, we should make it absolutely plain to the Soviet Union that we shall not deny it access to Middle Eastern oil.

Although I fully supported the settlement between President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin, in many ways I regret that the whole matter was lifted out of the Geneva sphere, because there the Soviet Union was present. Now the Soviet Union has no incentive to co-operate in the Middle East. I have a feeling that when eventually we can reach an arrangement over the Palestinian question it will be necessary to return to Geneva and obtain the commitment of the Soviet Union to it and at the same time make plain that the oil in the Middle East is an interest of both of us, if we are deficient in oil supplies.

I accept the breaking of trade contacts. That is a natural response to public opinion, particularly on grain, but it produces its dilemmas. If it goes on for only a short time, the Soviet Union will say “Short memories”. If it goes on for a long time, one of the restraints on the Soviet Union is removed. The Soviet Union will say “It did not operate last time, over the past five years. “The restraint is removed, and it may then go its own way in other parts of the world where it thinks it can get away with it.

The Olympic Games are a matter for natural differences of opinion. I happen to be one of those who take part in sport. I am proud that I have captained two national teams in international sport. I believe that we should keep politics out of sport. I fully accept that other people do not, but that does not alter my view.

Nor do I think that having the Olympic Games in Moscow is only a question of prestige for Moscow. It is a question of prestige wherever the Games go. On Saturday night the presidential spokesman said that it had now become a question of American prestige. We have that problem in either case.

The question that I ask myself is this: “If the Soviet Union is as determined on aggression as is said, will abandoning the Olympic Games really stop it?” I find it difficult to believe that it will. But if individuals, teams or nations do not want  to take part, it is fully up to them to take their decision.

The governing point in my mind is that, because the matter has been so ventilated in public opinion, it has taken the nation’s mind and the Western mind off what really requires to be done. That is what worries me. To do the things that are required will need a great public effort by the whole of the West.

What should be our main objectives? I believe that one objective should be to buttress the countries that require it in our international interests, from both the military and the economic points of view. I welcome the President’s naval force in the Indian Ocean. It has taken a decade to persuade the United States that the Indian Ocean is important. We started in 1970, and for the first two years the United States Government would not believe it, but gradually they have accepted the idea, and I welcome that. Europe should make its contribution as well and not leave it to the United States.

I welcome, too, the fact that the President is to have a quick-strike force. If it is to have credibility, it must be seen to exist and be operative. That is certainly not so at present, and it may not be so for some time. That is another practical point.

The third point is that in going to help the countries concerned we must learn the lesson of Iran. We must not do it in a way that will make public opinion in those countries revolt against us because the public deduce that we are trying to dominate their society. Therefore, military help requires to be given in a fairly discreet way. It means diplomatic action in a discreet way.

Oman has been asking for a long time for help to have minesweepers to keep the Straits of Hormuz clear. What have we done about it? Absolutely nothing. If anyone, wherever he comes from, likes to try to block the straits by mines at present, he can do so without the least fear of anyone’s being able to clear the straits. That is a practical example of how words are simply not enough in the present situation.

Mr. Dalyell May I be clear about what the right hon. Gentleman is saying in his first and second points? Is he implying that the West should build up a great Anglo-American base at Diego Garcia?

Mr. Heath No. I am saying exactly the reverse. The point about a naval force is that it can be inconspicuous. One does not need the great bases that we had in former times.

I come to the question of supporting the Afghan rebels when they flee into Pakistan, which has been put forward in some quarters. I strongly support financial assistance for Pakistan. If military support is given to counter-attack across the Afghan border, we are running into grave dangers. The policy on that matter should be absolutely clear. If necessary, some international force must be brought in to prevent that.

I deal, fourthly, with the question of financial assistance. This links up very much with what the Leader of the Opposition said about the Brandt commission. I do not want to go into details now, because I hope that the House will find time to debate its report in detail when it appears. The plain fact is that any financial assistance to the non-aligned world today must be on a scale that is nowhere near being approached by any of us—any of us in Europe, let alone the United States, which has consistently reduced its aid programme. I regret to say that even our Government have reduced their aid programme.

For example, the problem of Jamaica, in our Commonwealth, is appalling—from the point of view of its indebtedness, its unemployment and its economic position in general. Look at the appeal of neighbours nearby who say “We can put that right, because we shall produce the money for you from Soviet sources.” We have already seen it happening in the Caribbean islands.

Let us take the case of Brazil, a prosperous country. The total cost of its oil imports plus servicing its indebtedness now exceeds its total exports. That is the problem facing countries in the non aligned world. They say “If you mean what you say, take some action. You will have to face up to the questions of access for industrial goods, of commodity arrangements for one or two more commodities, of dealing with indebtedness—rolling it over, reducing interest rates, dealing with the least developed countries in this respect. You will have to have a code for transnationals.” That sort of approach may need to start off with small groups of leaders from the non-aligned countries, the Western world and the OPEC countries.

If the OPEC countries with the resources can be satisfied that we in the West are now genuine about dealing with these problems, I believe that they will be prepared to pool their resources with us. That is the only way in which we can obtain the total resources necessary to help the countries that are now in difficulty and that we want to keep on our side. Our purpose must be to hold them on our side in a non-aligned position, healthy enough economically to resist Soviet subversion.

What is required is a world strategy—military, political, economic and social. We have, again with discretion and diplomacy, to try to persuade those countries that do not share our attitude towards human rights to move, with increasing prosperity, into that democratic situation.

I do not believe that that is beyond possibility. It is happening in various places already. It is happening now in Brazil. It should happen in Argentina. With discretion and diplomacy we can help to persuade these people, who are now so important to us—they always have been, but perhaps we now realise it—that they can move in a direction that will help us, as well as us helping them.

So far, the response to the present situation on a world scale has been in adequate. What we in the West need is a policy which is as inconspicuous as possible but as consistent as possible, so that people will know that we are their friends, that we shall not rat on them and that we shall be there in case of need. We have to decide, first and foremost, who those people will be.

I want to see a united European approach. I believe that Europe is not pulling its weight at present. With great respect to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when our summits concentrate on fish, lamb and budgets and ignore the state of the world, who can be surprised if the Soviet Union thinks that this provides it with the opportunity to extend itself still further? We should solve our internal problems speedily, with give and take, so that we can deal with the outside world.

My last point relates to the Atlantic Alliance. We should not allow Soviet activities to divide Europe from the United States. It is clear that many countries in Europe see the threat on their doorsteps perhaps more vividly. They are more reluctant to take firm action and want to see negotiation. If the Soviet Union can play that card to divide us, all is lost. It is absolutely vital, when considering the proposals that I put forward, that we hold Europe and the United States together, because the United States is our final safeguard in case of need.