The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1979-1983 Parliament

Mr Major’s Speech on Nuclear Disarmament – 15 November 1981

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech on Nuclear Disarmament. The text was issued by Conservative Central Office, news release 906/81, and the speech was made at a Young Conservative Forum in Cambridge on 15th November 1981.

Conservative News Release 906/81. Extract from a speech by John Major, MP, (Huntingdon), speaking at a YC [Young Conservative] Forum at 91, Hartington Grove, Cambridge.


The misleading propaganda of the CND:

The highest aim of Government policy must be peace and security. That is not easily achieved. It will never be achieved by CND marches and demonstrations, nor will it be secured by pious platitudes. I make no apology for the priority the present Government has given to our defence posture, nor for the decision to install Cruise Missiles in East Anglia. Nevertheless, this high profile is controversial. It has provided a great boost for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and I want to deal with this organisation and its propaganda at some length.

I have no doubt that there are many people in the CND movement who are completely sincere and deeply worried about the growth of nuclear weapons. I respect their sincerity and I share their concern about the dangers of nuclear weaponry.

However, I cannot respect the movement itself, because its deceptions are legion. To call some of them inaccuracies would be charitable. Much of what the CND proclaim is utterly untruthful and even a cursory examination of Government defence policy can show this to be so.

It is impossible to detail all these deceptions, but let me put flesh upon some of them that I believe attract many people into the CND who might not otherwise join it. The first of these is to claim that Cruise Missiles – to be sited at Molesworth in my constituency – are a first strike weapon and therefore intended for use in a pre-emptive attack on the Soviet Union. This is a charge made by the CND that has received wide currency.

It is basic CND propaganda. But it is totally untrue. Apart from the fact that the characteristics of the Cruise Missiles render it utterly unsuitable for a pre-emptive strike.

Firstly, the missile is exceptionally slow and would take between three and four hours to reach the Soviet Union from the United Kingdom. It would clearly be detected by the Soviet Union in ample time for them to dispatch retaliatory weapons before the Cruise Missiles struck.

Secondly, the number of Cruise Missiles to be deployed in Europe is much smaller than the total number of Soviet missile silos, so again it could not possibly be used for a pre-emptive strike. Thirdly, such a strike could not possibly hit the many hundreds of nuclear missiles the Russians deploy in submarines with which they would subsequently be able to respond. For this reason then, the Cruise Missile is unsuitable for a pre-emptive strike.

The CND are perfectly aware of these facts and yet they are undeterred. They repeat this charge again and again and many people who hear it so often are inclined to believe it. But this is by no means the only CND deception.

The CND alleges that Western planning – NATO planning – is now based on fighting and winning a nuclear war. They must know that is untrue.

The CND want Britain to “give a lead” by one-sided, unilateral nuclear disarmament. They claim that Britain would set an example that other nations would follow. But which countries would follow? Would anyone follow us? Would the Soviet Union disarm? Would China? Would France? The truth is nobody would follow our lead, if we disarmed unilaterally.

All we would do by unilateral disarmament would be to weaken the NATO Alliance and encourage the Soviet Union to believe that the resolution to withstand them no longer existed in the West.

There is an even more dangerous aspect to this particular propaganda from the CND. Shortly – early next year – the United States and the Soviet Union will enter into general disarmament talks. The great danger of current CND propaganda is that the Soviet Union will be encouraged to believe that if they wait long enough and the anti-nuclear movements agitate enough, the Western nations will unilaterally disarm without requiring the Soviet Union to do so.

In this fashion, the CND are acting both against the national interest and against the interests of millions of their members who genuinely want peace.

CND propaganda is also blatantly anti-American, this is evident in the frequent charge that the Cruise Missile is being sited in the United Kingdom and in Europe simply because the Americans imposed its siting upon us to make sure that nuclear war is limited to Europe. This is utterly untrue. It was, in fact, Europeans who first suggested the introduction of the Cruise Missiles in Europe, even though it is paid for by the United States. The European nations did so in order to deter the Russians from believing that, because of the growing weight of Soviet nuclear weapons and the obsolescence of the West’s existing theatre nuclear forces, they could seize Western Europe and present the Americans with a fait accompli. Nonetheless, this factual reality does not deter the CND. I wish that the unilateral disarmers would acknowledge just once, in public, that it is Soviet SS20 missiles that are aimed at Western Europe and not Cruise Missiles. I wish they would also acknowledge – since it is surely true – that it is the alliance between Western European countries and the United States in NATO that preserves both our security and our freedom.

The CND also alleges that the Russian’s arms build-up is only a response to Western arms. And yet how different is the fact. The Russians now spend about one seventh of their annual wealth for military purposes. That is more than twice that of any other Western country. To put it in more lurid terms; the Russians spend twice as much on defence as they spend on health and education combined, whereas we in the United Kingdom spend twice as much on health and education as we spend on defence.

If the CND campaigners are right and the Russians would follow a lead given in the West, then surely they too should have reduced military expenditure over recent years. Why did they not follow that line? We now know that they have not and any suggestion, therefore, that they would follow our lead, were we unilaterally to disarm and remove nuclear weapons, must surely be exposed for the nonsense it is.

The CND peddle the alluring fantasy that we can safely dismantle nuclear weapons and rely on conventional weapons alone. That is a remarkable proposition. The Warsaw Pact countries outnumber the West in conventional armaments by between two and three to one. Moreover, if they retained nuclear weapons whilst we did not, they would only have to threaten to use them for all our conventional weapons to become entirely useless. Unilateral nuclear disarmament would mean quite simply that the United Kingdom no longer had the power or the resolution or the intention of defending itself against aggression or contributing to the defence in the West. That is a reality that people must accept.

However, we cannot be complacent. CND propaganda is effective. It does play upon a universal desire for peace. It does contain significant public figures and churchmen who offer it respectability and who also mask the Communists on its national committee and extremists who have infiltrated its ranks for political purposes.

The British Government want peace. It wants security; it wants genuine and verifiable multilateral disarmament. These are desirable objectives but we will only achieve them if we have the courage and resolution to sustain our part in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and in the Western Alliance.

We must not let the CND damage that resolution.