Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 239)

WEDNESDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2001

RT HON GEOFFREY HOON MP, MR KEVIN TEBBIT CMG, AND MR RICHARD HATFIELD CBE

  220. Let's hope you can prove it when the time is there. Moving on rapidly to defence diplomacy, you still make it very much an objective here and your report suggests that you have met your targets. Is it still a driving force for you, Secretary of State? Is defence diplomacy a very important part of the role of the Ministry of Defence?
  (Mr Hoon) Yes, it is. We have given it such emphasis across government that we have established a pooled budget with both the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development specifically to look at ways in which we can work together in a wider sense to prevent conflict which is obviously essential to our idea of defence diplomacy.

  221. The budget went up by ten million in the Defence Assistance Fund. Where was that extra money principally being directed?
  (Mr Hoon) Certainly some of that money will be going to Sierra Leone and to West Africa. There is also a training team being established in central and eastern Europe. I am sure there are other areas as well but those are two.
  (Mr Tebbit) There are more defence diplomacy scholarships.
  (Mr Hatfield) And we have established military advisers, for example, in Romania, Estonia and Czech Republic, and civilian defence posts in Romania and Poland. All that comes from this fund.

  222. Will those first three remain? Is the plan to keep them going?
  (Mr Hatfield) For the foreseeable future. I am not suggesting they will be there in ten years' time but I think we may even extend this to Poland. We are talking to the Polish government about that now.

  223. Finally, relating to the re-allocating of defence attachés, how is that working out? When will that be completed? What has been the reaction of our NATO allies to the changes there? Some of them have borne the brunt of the changes.
  (Mr Hoon) I think it is fair to say as you indicated that the process is not yet entirely complete and it is rather too soon to judge the reaction to it but this was a careful reconsideration with the benefit of advice from the Foreign Office of the placing of defence attachés and a lot of thought was put into where they should go: we have had a net increase in posts—only by one but nevertheless it does demonstrate the importance with which we view defence attachés. I certainly find wherever I go that they play a very valuable role, and we want to use them to the best effect.

  224. Will you continue the policy of using non-commissioned officers and warrant officers in posts as defence attachés? I personally think it is very successful.
  (Mr Hatfield) I was in Finland last week and our deputy defence attaché there was, indeed, a warrant officer and doing a very good job.

  225. And is it policy to continue that as much as possible?
  (Mr Hatfield) Yes.

Chairman

  226. What is he doing in Finland?
  (Mr Hatfield) Finland also provides a defence attaché service to Estonia. Picking up the NATO point, there has been a slight reduction in the total number of attachés in NATO countries but all countries are still covered. One of the important differences about NATO from a lot of the posts, say, in Africa or Eastern Europe is we have a massive relationship anyway going on with those countries and, especially with modern communications, we have found that it is often easier to work directly and through the organisation in Brussels, so we do not need to have the same numerical coverage in each post and I do not think we have any problems as a result of the adjustments.

Mr Brazier

  227. I would like to put a quick observation on the record in breach of the 20 years' tradition and say something in favour of Ministry of Defence officials. I wrote my first pamphlet on through-life costing 12 years ago and the biggest single item blocking it then was the attitude of the Treasury saying, "Ah, but these savings are going to be thrown up a long way away and we cannot estimate them very accurately", all of which is true. The work that has been done within the Ministry of Defence under the last government but which has been continued by this one in terms of saying, "Well, even if there are estimating difficulties, we must make sound decisions to spend a little bit more upfront in order to save further on very substantially", is critical for a cost-effective procurement effort, and I think quite a lot of credit must be taken there by the officials concerned.
  (Mr Tebbit) That will be of great comfort to my people and I would like to say that we do this through integrated project teams so that even if people move on the team remains and the body of knowledge is captured and continues to be monitored.

  Mr Brazier: Yes. I think the principle is right.

   Chairman: I hope that pamphlet is still available in the Admiralty library.

Mr Gapes

  228. Can I take you back to the Future Strategic Context document and the topical issue of National Missile Defence. Your essay in paragraph 89 says "The risk of air-launched weapons of mass destruction attacks will remain very low". In that context, do you believe that the new US administration shares that view and can you elaborate the government's present position on President Bush's National Missile Defence initiative.
  (Mr Hoon) This is an assessment in light of our current judgment about the level of the threat to the United Kingdom but we recognise and understand that the United States has different concerns and has identified the emerging threat to the United States and believes that, given the timescale taken to deal with it, it is right that they should pursue a missile defence policy.

  229. In the view of your remarks then and also paragraph 59 of the document which confirms the assessment which I think is absolutely correct, which is that the US administration and congress are going to go ahead with—however it comes out in practice—something called National Missile Defence, do you think it would be helpful, given their commitment to consultation with allies, that we might propose a joint threat assessment within NATO and perhaps the European allies who are not in NATO as well, so that our perception and other NATO allies' perceptions of threat assessments could be put into the pool when the United States are making their own assessment, so that we try to come to a common view as to whether National Missile Defence is necessary and particularly what kind of defence measures would be necessary in the light of the Anti Ballistic Missile treaty, or any modification to it?
  (Mr Hoon) We already do that, and that work is shared and taken forward together. I am sure you are not missing the point, but the point about the assessment that the United States has made is that the threat that they perceive that they need to deal with is far closer to the United States than it is to the United Kingdom. The capability, therefore, of a particular country to be able to deliver a missile to the United States is a much more direct threat to the United States at this stage than to the UK simply because of the distances involved.

  230. It depends which countries you are talking about. Iran—
  (Mr Hoon) Let's be specific. We are talking about North Korea.

  231. If we are talking only about North Korea—
  (Mr Hoon) We are not talking only about North Korea but we are talking about North Korea in terms of the first stage of concern that the United States has. That is the first stage of concern that they are seeking to address in the early period of this policy.

  232. But if we are looking 20/30 years ahead, which is what this document was talking about and it is stated that it is expected that within that timeframe other countries will develop a capability for chemical, biological or nuclear armed missiles and so on, is there not an argument that, given the interrelationships that there are within the world and given the range of strategic missiles, we, the Russians, the rest of the NATO and our other European Union partners should all be working together with the US administration to get a common threat assessment. That would be consistent with the strategic arms regime and the control regime that we have and will avoid the problem which many of us are concerned about which is that the unilateral decision by an American administration, without taking account of those wider issues, could lead to the ending of arms control agreements on a global basis?
  (Mr Hoon) The United States have made it clear, and the new administration has made it quite clear, that whilst they recognise the necessity for a missile defence system particularly to protect themselves against that first stage, they will do so only having consulted allies in NATO. That was said as recently as last Saturday by the Defense Secretary.

  233. I am happy with that but I am proposing we take a proactive approach to try to get the involvement of our NATO allies, the Russians and others in this process so that we avoid it leading to a very serious breakdown of strategic arms agreements?
  (Mr Hoon) But I do not see the distinction that you appear to be trying to draw. The United States has identified a particular threat to the United States and we accept that that is a serious threat which the United States is quite rightly looking to defend itself against. The reason is that North Korea simply is nearer to the United States than to the United Kingdom. Moreover, they appear to be more willing to use the capability than might be the case in respect of other countries because threats are a combination both of ability to deliver as well as a willingness to use. We simply judge that, at today's state of knowledge, there is not a country that has both the ability to deliver and the intention as far as the United Kingdom is concerned, and that inevitably means that whilst we can share the assessment of threats—and I made quite clear we perfectly well understand why the United States reached its conclusion—it does not necessarily mean that because different countries have different perceptions they can somehow collectively reach a conclusion. If you are threatened, as the United States is, then you take a particular decision in the interests of the United States. Discussing that with Russia, whilst it has some impact, clearly, as far as global arms control is concerned, does not take away the threat to the United States.

  234. But Russia is a lot closer to North Korea than the United States?
  (Mr Hoon) But that is why the second limb of a threat is important. North Korea has not evinced any public intention, as far as I am aware, of threatening Russia but there have been occasions on which North Korea has expressed its reservations about the United States.

  235. The document does not even mention North Korea, but is talking about a 20/30 year timeframe.
  (Mr Hoon) But this is our document. This is the point I am trying to make to you. You are, with respect, confusing a threat to the United States with an assessment that we make on behalf of the United Kingdom.

  236. I think the problem here, however, is that there is a strategic arms control regime. There is an Anti Ballistic Missile treaty, SALT, Start 1, Start 2, the comprehensive test ban and all the other matters which come from that and the problem, if we do not have collective views internationally about these matters and if the American administration, having said it will consult, is serious about consulting, then it should be prepared to consult with all those involved in that process and listen to what they say. If we do not get collective threat assessments, my point is we are in danger of bringing down the arms control regime, and that is my concern?
  (Mr Hoon) I think you are conflating a number of different concerns. For example, you threw in, without qualification, the ABM treaty. That is bilateral between Russia and the United States—we are not a party to that—and if the United States and Russia choose, as previously, to amend the terms of that treaty or if, for example, they judge together that that treaty has no longer any validity because the international strategic landscape has changed so much, then it is perfectly open to them to abandon it.

   Chairman: We have to move on.

  237. One last point: it is a bilateral treaty but if one state then chooses to break that treaty, you then are in the position where there was a deal done with SALT and the ABM treaty limiting the number of missiles and limiting the anti-missile systems. If one pillar of that goes, then you are in danger of the whole international strategic arms control system going and that has been a consistent position taken by successive British governments over many years. My concern is we are in danger, if this process goes forward unilaterally with unilateral breach of that treaty, it could bring down the whole international arms control system.

  Chairman: That is a comment; not a question.
  (Mr Hoon) I do think I need to say that that is a far too melodramatic view of the ABM treaty. The treaty has been amended in the past—

Mr Gapes

  238. By agreement.
  (Mr Hoon) Amendments tend to be by agreement, and there is no reason why that should not occur again in the future if the parties judge that the treaty has any continuing utility. They may have come to the conclusion that, in fact, it does not have.

Mr Hood

  239. Secretary of State, we are hearing rumours that there may be a shift in attitudes towards the continuance of no-fly zones over Iraq. Is this the case, and can you set out the UK's present position?
  (Mr Hoon) We judge that the no-fly zones continue to be justifiable for humanitarian reasons; in particular we remain concerned about the threats that Saddam Hussein poses to the people who live on the ground under the no-fly zones and we will continue our policy of protecting those people on humanitarian grounds.


 
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