John Davies – 1978 Speech on Foreign Affairs

Below is the text of the speech made by John Davies, the then Conservative MP for Knutsford and Shadow Foreign Secretary, in the House of Commons on 7 June 1978.

I can certainly agree with the Foreign Secretary about the extent to which his speech has concentrated upon the problems and the areas of confrontation between the Soviet Union and the Western world. It is all too evident. As we look around the areas of tension world wide, it is very rare to find one where the Soviet Union’s finger is not somewhere in the pie.

I realise, of course—and the Prime Minister said so yesterday—that not all these problems are matters of straightforward East-West confrontation. We know that underlying them in so many cases there are many ancient arguments and discussions, some which—in Africa certainly—pre-date the colonial period. They go back to tribal origins of which we are all well aware. The fact is that in each of them we see appearing the finger of Soviet involvement, to the damage of both the people themselves and certainly of our Western way of life.

If we review the areas of tension we think of Southern Africa. We need not dwell on that area because the Foreign Secretary has said a great deal about it. However, the extent of the involvement of the Soviet Union is all too evident. It is all too evident in the Horn of Africa. We have the recent events of Afghanistan. I am far from being able to state—I doubt whether many people would be able to do so—the exact nature of the situation in that country. However, there can be little doubt that there again the long tentacle of Soviet interest has been reaching out.

There is the problem of South-East Asia. There is the problem even of the South Pacific. In a different sense entirely there is the extraordinary effect of the build-up of the USSR merchant marine, with its predatory effect on the whole of the world’s merchant shipping. All these factors are evidence of the Soviet Union’s reaching out to damage not only us but so often the countries concerned.

There is a great danger that we may adopt and accept some sort of false hypothesis that there is an equivalence of threat from us to the Soviet Union. That is not true. It is totally unrealistic to ascribe to the West a desire to disrupt and overthrow the Russian way of life. That has not been our objective, and it ​ is not so today. There is a great contrast between the West’s approach, which seeks to achieve change by its example and experience, by demonstrating that it runs things in a way that works better, and trying to convince others that as a result they should adopt our way of life, and the approach of the Soviet Union, which seeks to achieve exactly the same objective so often by force.

Mr. Heffer

The right hon. Gentleman does not understand what is going on in this world. Has he not read the recent revelations of what happened in Chile with the involvement of the CIA? There were measures taken to try to assassinate certain political leaders. That sort of thing was going on the whole time. Some of us condemn what the Soviet Union does, but it is about time that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends stopped mouthing rubbish about what happens when the CIA and others involve themselves in the internal affairs of countries that sometimes have elected leaders democratically, only to be undermined by the so-called Western standards of the CIA and others of that sort.

Mr. Davies

That interjection is totally wrong as regards what I said. Is the hon. Gentleman trying to tell the House that it is the purpose of the West deliberately to disrupt and undermine the life of the Soviet Union?

Mr. Heffer


Mr. Davies

I do not know that, and I do not believe it to be the truth.

Mr. Heffer

You are a fool.

Mr. Davies

There is a total contrast between the attitude—

Mr. Heffer

What about Greece and the colonels?

Mr. Davies

I have endeavoured to answer the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. I understand that the hon. Member for Liverpool. Walton (Mr. Heffer) might want to catch my eye at a later stage in the proceedings. He is not doing very well at present.

Mr. Davies

The contrast to which I have referred is starkly revealed in the whole of the Belgrade review of the Helsinki Final Act. The whole effort of ​ the West was to reduce tension and to improve relations by a systematic reduction of the causes of conflict within international relations generally within human rights, within normal humanitarian interchanges between States and within information on troop movements and the like.

What was the response? It seems that it was as near to a complete negative as it could be. The reality is that the Soviet Union pursues ruthlessly the imposition of its own brand of ideology worldwide. Indeed, in President Carter’s speech he said:

“To the Soviet Union, detente seems to mean a continuing aggressive struggle for political advantage and increased influence in a variety of ways.”

That seems to be a just and correct statement.

It is necessary that we seek to ascertain what is happening in the Soviet Union’s approach to the whole of its relationships with the Western world. I make some contrast with the analysis that the Secretary of State outlined. It seems that over many years the Soviet Union has been concerned with achieving equivalence or, where possible, superiority in its military preparedness, both in the strategic area and in conventional armaments, in the presumption that once that has been achieved it may argue from a position of strength and always ensure that negotiations with the West will so preserve either its superiority or at the worst equivalence, allowing it to act in other ways in regard to its own interests.

I ask the House to take note of the fact to which the Secretary of State refered, namely, the whole conduct of the mutual and balanced force reduction discussions. That conduct has been based upon the presumption that nothing could be lost to the Soviet Union by loss of time. During the whole of that period conventional arms were being built up, so the certainty of superiority was assured. By that means the negotiations could be protracted. I fear that exactly the same approach is to be repeated in respect of the strategic arms problem. There is no change acceptable within that framework that is acceptable to the Soviet Union, and thus its superiority is either preserved or reinforced.

Having achieved that position disarmament becomes desirable. It is obvious ​ that when one is assured of at least equivalence, and perhaps superiority, there is every interest in pursuing the whole objective of disarmament. I do not believe that the claim made recently by Russian leaders that they wish to achieve disarmament is false. I believe it to be a true claim but one which would preserve the Soviet Union’s superiority or at least equivalence.

Mr. John Watkinson (Gloucestershire, West)

The right hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise the increase of Warsaw Pact forces in the Central Region. However, will he concede that if we take the totality of the forces and equipment available to the Warsaw Pact forces and the totality of forces and equipment available to NATO it is clear that there is parity in a large number of areas, with distinct superiority to the West in many others?

Mr. Davies

That superiority has been eroded to a large extent. If we consider the totality of the balance, it is quite clear that it has shifted the other way. The balance of force has changed and a new phase of Soviet strategy has now emerged. From the time that there has been a change in the balance, objectives have been pursued by the Soviet Union by indirect intrusion rather than by the threat of overwhelming force. The exploitation of any potential weakness worldwide that reveals itself is part of the Soviet Union’s scheme. It watches out for cracks in the whole armour of global security and inserts itself in them.

It is wrong to imagine that the Soviet Union’s whole purpose is to secure dominant situations of threat to the West. I do not believe that to be so. In many instances the internal disruption of key areas is equally as effective as the adoption of a dominant position. If it is possible to undermine areas that have an essential contribution to make to Western interests in future, as much is achieved as if a military superiority or a philosophical one had been attained. The Soviet Union has adopted a quite different approach to the problems of progressively asserting its own ideology and imposing it worldwide. The confrontation now is not a contemplation of a head-on assault but rather one of sapping the resources and morale of the West by indirect means.

The analysis and recognition of the problem is in no way warmongering or the resumption of the cold war. That is far from my mind. Still less is it a desire to break off contact and to reject negotiation. That, too, is absolutely absent from my thoughts. However, as the Prime Minister spoke yesterday he would dangerously mislead us into seeking to infer that the true appraisal of the real confrontation is in itself evidence of belligerency. In my view, it is quite the opposite. It is reminiscent of the days of appeasement of the 1930s to suggest that a revelation and recognition of the dangers surrounding us constitute a provocation.

It is equally dangerous to reveal dangers and to be unprepared to take what steps are possible to improve our negotiating status. Yesterday the Prime Minister, perhaps not uncharacteristically, was long on sententious utterances but, as usual, rather short on positive steps to strengthen our negotiating stance. Yet both are available. There are means of doing both. There are the instruments at hand to do so and there are the things which want doing for that strengthening.

As regards NATO, yesterday I was concerned to hear the Prime Minister say:

“But there is no intention that NATO should become involved in Africa.”—[Official Report, 6th June 1978; Vol. 951, c. 29.]

But NATO is involved in Africa. It happens to be involved in Africa by its very proposition that its operational limits reach down to the Tropic of Cancer. Apart from that, it is involved in Africa because from Africa emerge many of the dangers which can provoke the very confrontation which NATO is there to face. Therefore, it is not right to try to eliminate NATO’s role from the whole of this important and fundamental area.

Of course, I understand that there is no desire to extend the operational zone of NATO, seeing that already the disparity of forces makes the existing zone overstretched as far as we are concerned. Indeed, as regards the United Kingdom, that is all the more sorrily true when we think of the immense reductions in our own force capabilities which have taken place in the last few years. How unhappy it is that the incapacity of NATO to live up to its own necessary ​ commitments should have been so largely caused by our failure to maintain that level which we should maintain.
NATO is undoubtedly the linchpin of Western defence. Therefore, it must take account of the causes of danger which arise globally. It cannot restrict itself to a limited zone of interest.

Surely there must be a need for the improvement of the assessment and alarm system which detects areas of incipient danger before they arise and concerts plans to meet them. It must be done. Where else would the overhead strategy be engineered to ensure that the whole mechanism of response becomes more effective were it not within NATO itself?

This surely is a sphere of action to which the Government must give more attention. It is important that NATO should be involved deeply in the constant forward analysis of those areas where tensions arise and where, as I said, the Soviet Union is so prepared and quickly able to insert itself to the damage of us all.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Could the right hon. Gentleman say in which areas of Africa recently he has been surprised at developments where there has been tension?

Mr. Davies

I think that the changing situation in the Horn of Africa could be said to have contained a number of surprises for many people, not least for myself, I freely admit, for many countries and certainly for the Government. There are areas where changes take place. The switching of allegiance has caused intense problems. Indeed, the Secretary of State referred to that matter earlier. In the framework of all these spheres, the interrelationships which exist between the SALT II and the MBFR talks and the whole question of nuclear disarmament, in whatever form it takes, need some point where the correlation of the West’s attitude and response to the issues concerned can be thrashed out. To my mind, it is useless to imagine that NATO has not got a fundamental part to play in that analysis.

Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue, I shall give way to him later.

​ Another instrument which has been inadequately used up to date is the Community. I think that the political cooperation system which was developed in the Community to seek to concert political action within the member countries has found itself too much involved in simply mouthing utterances of exhortation and philosophy which have had extraordinarily little effect on the real outrun of events.

The use of the Community’s negotiated arrangements, either through the Lomé Convention or its association arrangements with many other States, is an area where much greater involvement of the Community in the political stability of the countries with which it is dealing can be achieved.

A further instrument may be the OECD. The OECD has been concerned within the West and amongst the Western industrialised countries in seeking to procure certain rules of order amongst them. How much more important that it should do so in relations between Western and Eastern countries. It is ridiculous that we should find ourselves offering terms of contract and credit to the East for the purchase of ships and other materials which we would by no means offer to our own industry. Surely this is an area where again instruments are available and can be turned to the advantage of the West.

Of course, the Foreign Secretary dwelt at considerable length—I understand it—on Africa. Africa is a case study in itself of the current confrontation. The Secretary of State spoke a great deal about the Zaire problem, and I understand that.

Mr. MacFarquhar

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the whole question of Western instruments, obviously there are three levels at which these can be discussed in the new way. There is the level of rhetoric, and I assume that he does not wish to limit himself to that. There is also the level of analysis. The right hon. Gentleman talked of NATO being able to provide analysis. But I think that the right hon. Gentleman has to go further, especially as regards NATO, if he means that NATO has got not just an interest but the means of doing almost anything in Africa, which would mean that the NATO treaty should be changed.

Mr. Davies

I said earlier that I doubted whether NATO’s operational zone could be extended for want of the capacity effectively to handle it. At the moment that must be the truth. But its importance in terms of correlating the activities of either groupings or individual States which may be involved seems absolutely intense and needs to be most actively pursued.

The Secretary of State dwelt particularly on the issue of Zaire, and I understand that. But the problem is far more generalised. It seems unquestionable that Europe and Africa are irrevocably bound up with one another in a mutual interest. Europe’s deep dependence on Africa’s natural resources, be they mineral or food, is one side of the equation. But Africa’s equally deep dependence on Europe’s contribution to its development and management is no less serious. These two continents have got to find means of helping one another and they have to engineer, through their institutions, arrangements to ensure that help. Either deprived of the other’s contribution becomes precarious or worse.

One has only to see the problem in many countries in Africa today when, either by their own will or by some accident of fate, they have deprived themselves of the input which the Europeans can and should effectively make. It is tragic to see it. We must find means round this immensely difficult problem.

In no sense is what I am talking about a kind of neo-colonialism. It is not that, whatever. There is a state of interdependence which is fundamental. When the Foreign Secretary speaks of methods of monitoring the adequacy with which aid moneys and the like are utilised, of course we are immediately faced with the smack of neo-colonialism and the paternalism which he condemns. But it is necessary to find methods by which this interflow of materials and products resources on one side and of knowledge and ability on the other is preserved and improved.

It suffices only for the disrupter to disrupt that interflow—to disrupt the ability of those countries to be able to count on the continuing movement and source of their own needs—for the whole situation to be damaged beyond repair. It is not necessary to install hostile regimes. The spread of Marxist ​ philosophy is not necessary, provided one can so ruin the countries concerned that they can neither take advantage of the Western input of ability nor provide the resources which are their principal source of prosperity.

The evidence is all too easily available of just the kind of deterioration of which I am speaking. In the last few days I have been speaking to several major employers of European staffs in Africa. I spoke to both African and European employers. They ask—and I understand why—”what chance is there now of getting our people back into these areas?” I believe that 30,000 Belgians are employed in Africa. Many of them are leaving because they have no assurance of the future in that continent.

Unless we take urgent steps to help, the same will happen in Rhodesia. All those people upon whom the development and prosperity of that country depend will find it impossible to retain their livelihoods there and they will seek to go elsewhere. This is a role for the European Community, perhaps within the framework of the renegotiation of the Lomé Convention.

Surely the Community could find some way whereby it interposes itself, on the one hand, to guarantee Europeans against massacre—and that involves the question of whatever forces are required—and to guarantee them against being deprived of property and unreasonable political interference; and, on the other hand to guarantee the Africans against exploitation, which they fear, and external domination which they also dread and which they see as a continuation of overbearing colonialism.

A composite approach to the problem is required involving not only firefighting forces, although they are necessary. Without such an approach we shall not persuade people back into Africa. It must also provide technical and managerial pools and financial guarantees.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

The right hon. Member is right to concentrate on the political and economic stability. But in a significant passage he said that there must be protection for Africans and Europeans alike. I accept that we have seen certainly a Cuban and possibly a Russian involvement, the presence of Belgian and French troops, an ​ American airlift and a Chinese interest in Zaire, but what form of firefighting force has the right hon. Gentleman in mind? He says that NATO is overextended. Does he have in mind a European force, a United Nations force or an OAU force?

Mr. Davies

In my view such a force, particularly in Africa, would be formed within the framework of the discussions between the European Community and the African members of the Lomé Convention, in order to give the mutual guarantees that both sides ardently require. I do not know whether it should be formed entirely from African sources, entirely from European sources, or from both sides. Within the framework of that convention, the whole purpose of which is to do what I ardently plead for—to try to make Europe and Africa combine for their mutual advantage and protection—it must also be possible to provide for that type of security.

Dr. Owen

The right hon. Gentleman is developing an interesting argument about the use of the Lomé Convention. I am sure that he knows that this suggestion would be strongly opposed by our European partners who are currently opposed even to a human rights clause in the convention. They believe that the convention should not involve any form of political interference. The British Government have argued for an ability to intervene on human rights. If we were to extend such intervention to political and defence issues we should be met with considerable resistance, not least by the French Government.

Mr. Davies

I understand. But two things must be said. First, the inclusion of the human rights clause, which I applaud, is a unilateral proposal. What I am proposing is something which has benefits for both sides. Secondly, there has been a substantial change of mind in the last two or three weeks because of what has happened. I find it remarkable that it was the French Government who earlier this week were trying to feel their way towards some composite form of safeguarding force. That is a new attitude for the French Government. Let us take advantage of that new mind, if it exists.

Mr. Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler (Norfolk, North-West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the human rights ​ clause for the convention is being opposed by the francophone countries and many others in the Community because it would interfere in the internal running of the countries which are signatories to the convention? But a non-aggression pact would not be open to the same criticism.

Mr. Davies

The mutuality of what I am suggesting has a strength which the unilateral approach does not seem to have.

There are many other spheres in which the European Community can be advantageously deployed if there is determination and effort. Undoubtedly, in strengthening and reinforcing the growing and more encouraging developments in the countries covered by the ASEAN agreement there is an opportunity for action by the European Community which it has not yet adopted and has not been encouraged to adopt.

It has a less evident but significant role to play in Middle Eastern disputes. The same is true in the Greek-Turkish dispute. The instrument of the Community can, by political will, be turned not only to consider the economic interchange but the political difficulties in the areas concerned. The Community must be led to take a more positive view of the need to take action to assure the maintenance of the great outposts of Western life in the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand.

There is much action which should be taken and which is positive and useful. It is fine to stand on principles. I thought that what the Secretary of State said was of a noble-sounding character. But it sounded as if he were standing off from the problem. We have to stand into the problem and really get to grips with it. Our complaint about the Government is that they seem to vacillate while the President of the United States has today reiterated his more positive and determined attitude to resist the inroads into our Western way of life. I believe that the world can be made a safer and more prosperous place. We have a part to play. We can and must play it.