Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Mr Brazier

Examination of witnesses (Questions 20-39)



  20. Secretary of State, can I ask you how confident you are that the Prime Minister in his recent meetings in Washington and Paris has been able to re-affirm the United Kingdom influence and keep it focused on practical capability issues rather than allowing it to eliminate more fundamental differences in perception, particularly differences in perception between the United Kingdom and France on the future of transatlantic security? To give an example,—you look puzzled—yesterday's statements by General Kelche, the French Chief of Defence Staff, on which you must have been briefed, I will choose one at random (I have a variety): there is no question of "a right of first refusal", "If the EU works properly, it will start working on crises at a very early stage ... NATO has nothing to do with this. At a certain stage the European Union would decide to conduct a military operation. Either the Americans would come, or not." This will not be playing well in Washington.
  (Mr Hoon) I think we will give General Kelche an opportunity, which he assures me he is going to take, to make clear the way in which The Daily Telegraph has sought to seriously misrepresent and distort his remarks. I understand that he will be issuing a fairly vigorous rebuttal of the way in which The Daily Telegraph has chosen selectively to highlight his remarks, and indeed will be indicating the ways in which they have very badly misrepresented his view.[1]

  21. If it is only one officer and one newspaper perhaps you would like to comment then on the decision by the EU to elect on a very close vote (by eight to seven) a Finn as the first Chief of Staff of this organisation. Do you think that this will be helpful for transatlantic relations, bearing in mind that the Finn made it clear on his appointment in the last 24 hours that joining NATO is not an option they are taking seriously?
  (Mr Hoon) I welcome the decision. The General is a very talented man with experience both in the European Union but also, crucially, within NATO and I think he will be an ideal candidate to ensure the transparency and co-operation between NATO and the EU that was set out in the Nice Agreement. I am sure that your remarks are not in any way designed to be disparaging to the Finnish military who have a very long and distinguished tradition of military activity and are extremely effective and have some very capable armed forces.

  22. We saw the Finnish military briefly in Kosovo and they are very good. There is nothing disparaging about that. My concern is that their political masters are not signed up to NATO at a time when you as a Government (and in this respect the Opposition agree with you) feel very strongly that we should keep that link. You want to wholly dissociate yourself then in what you have just said from the comments the Italians made when the results come out, do you? Obviously saying Italy have been betrayed may have been a little bit over the top, but they then go on to observe the fact that the NATO countries within the EU voted overwhelmingly for the Italian candidate and it seems to be the neutral countries within the EU and the French who carried the day, forming five of the eight votes on the Finnish side. That does not worry you at all?
  (Mr Hoon) You should not believe all that you read in the newspapers.
  (Mr Hatfield) I think we should perhaps point out that the votes were cast by secret ballot.
  (Mr Hoon) And Italian newspapers are no more reliable on this than are British ones, I am afraid.

  Mr Brazier: So it is not just The Daily Telegraph.

Mr Hancock

  23. If I could pursue what you said earlier a little more deeply, what progress has been made on the Defence Capability Initiative by the United Kingdom and our European allies? Is it satisfactory, where we have got to? And as regards progress, say, 12 months from now, where do you see that?
  (Mr Hoon) As you will be aware, the United Kingdom has been and continues to be a very strong supporter of the DCI. We think they are making good progress. We have plans to implement fully some 58 per cent of the DCI related force goals compared to around 44 per cent for the Alliance as a whole. We are making progress. Clearly there is more to be done. There is a wide range of things that have to be addressed as far as the DCI is concerned, but I think it is right that we recognise the progress that we as a country have made, but also the progress overall that is being made within NATO. There is certainly more that could be done, but one of the points to make of course is that the progress that we can make on implementing the Headline Goal will also feed into the progress that has been made on DCI, and it is important that those two should operate in harmony and that there should be absolute coherence between the two processes, and that is something that we have set out very vigorously.

  24. Your planning for this must have anticipated a speedier process than what has happened to date surely?
  (Mr Hoon) Earlier on Mr Viggers indicated by implication the history of this kind of process. The history, sadly, sometimes has been that countries sign up to the need for improvements in military capability but perhaps are not always willing to see through the sometimes difficult decisions that that involves. Where I think the Headline Goal can be very useful is that, instead of being somewhat abstract, which sometimes in the past these kinds of commitments have been, it is very specific, focusing on a particular capability by a certain time. In those circumstances there will be, I am sure you can realise, a very great deal of political pressure on all those who have signed up to this to deliver and that is obviously part of the pressure that we have to keep bringing to bear to make sure that we are in a position collectively to satisfy the Headline Goal by the due day.

  25. It has been indicated to us and by you on more than one occasion that there are five key areas for the DCI. Where has progress been best and where has progress been worst in those five key areas? Who is responsible for the foot-dragging in certain areas?
  (Mr Hatfield) It is not really a question of foot-dragging. It is a question really of what is easy to achieve. NATO's DCI has a huge range of measures which run from minor improvements in the logistic organisation to major procurements. The easy, quick ones have largely been done. I think that although everybody would like it to be faster, NATO's general view is that it is going quite well. The Headline Goal started later. It has only been in existence for a year. It is attempting to hit a narrower but very important target, consistent with DCI, and I would argue that progress so far has been pretty good by comparison with any previous initiative of this sort. Yes, the jury is still out because we have not yet reached the final deadline, but I would say that progress is good rather than bad.

  26. Where does some more effort need to be made? What are the areas where you believe more needs to be done quickly?
  (Mr Hoon) Some of the obvious shortfalls in DCI are similar to the ones that we have discussed already. Heavy lift is one of the examples, although clearly if we want them, the United States has very considerable assets in that area. The issue is the extent to which other countries also play a part and there is quite a strong feeling, not least in the United States, that the United States cannot always be expected to provide all of the vital assets that are needed whenever the NATO Alliance wishes to take military action.

  27. But we know that heavy lift is one of the areas. What are the other areas? You know of the potential ways out of that heavy lift problem, of hiring the Americans to take us somewhere, but what are the other areas that are particular problems? You have avoided telling us.
  (Mr Hatfield) Are you focusing on the EU's Headline Goal or on NATO's DCI? DCI of course does have some quite high-tech heavy capability areas which are not within the scope of the EU Headline Goal because NATO has obviously much wider ambitions.

  28. There are five key areas in DCI. Which ones are you achieving and which ones are you failing to get anywhere near?
  (Mr Hatfield) I think the ones which are going to take the longest to come in are some of the improvements in what is known in the trade as ISTAR: intelligence, surveillance, target, acquisition and reconnaissance, because it simply will take us time not only to acquire the new generation equipments but also to bring them into service and integrate them with Command and Control. That is true for anybody. There is not much you can do at the margin to speed it up.

  29. Because it is very important, is it not?
  (Mr Hatfield) It is very important indeed and it will produce long term benefits. That is probably the area which is going to take the longest to bring in although I would not regard that as necessarily being a failure because it is the most demanding target.

  30. The next one?
  (Mr Hatfield) I would not like to put them into order of speed and priority after that. That is the most demanding long term target. The most immediate one is to do with mobility, where there are some quite large short term fixes coming in. We have already talked about that. There are, both for the EU and NATO, long term plans as well and, as the Secretary of State said, the A400M will take quite some time to come into service. Another identified area of weakness, particularly for the Europeans, was in medium and heavy support helicopters. Again that is linked to procurement plans. We know several countries in Europe at the moment are (we hope) about to make some decisions on helicopters. Over the next few years we will see those sorts of capabilities coming in but they will take longer than the immediate priorities of 2003 Headline Goal which, though it is in some ways demanding, is quite a limited segment of capability.

  31. Can you tell us one which you are relatively happy about?
  (Mr Hatfield) What I am happiest about is the way that the European countries are starting to organise better the forces they have got so that out of the large numbers that they are able to muster they can get deployed more quickly. Heavy lift and so on will make a difference to that but it is organising the armed forces in some ways similar to the way we did in modernising the British Army and other services throughout this decade, the way the French are going. The Norwegians are doing something similar even though they are not in the EU. Those I think are the biggest short term gains that we are going to get, and putting together some specialist capabilities on a joint basis where they are in short supply. We have seen that in the Balkans already with a multinational hospital. Deployed hospitals are one of the biggest difficulties we all face.

  32. My final point is this. Does the effort that has been put in to achieve good results in the five areas of DCI conflict with or reinforce the work on the CESDP?
  (Mr Hatfield) I would put it the other way round because the DCI is the bigger project. The European CESDP project reinforces the DCI.

   And does it distract from it?
  (Mr Hatfield) It certainly does not distract from it.[2]

Mr Cohen

  34. Secretary of State, is there systematic evidence that European allies are actually spending more on defence? Is there an across the board real increase?
  (Mr Hoon) As we discussed earlier on this afternoon, there are a number of figures that have been in circulation. The one that I tend to find persuasive is that around 11 of the 15 countries have increased their expenditure but the way in which different countries, as I mentioned earlier, assess their defence expenditure does depend on what items they count in. Undoubtedly, however, there has been a real change in approach amongst European nations, partly related to a recognition that defence today is a more expensive and more complex business and does require extra resources. Probably more fundamentally, the process that we went through in terms of the Strategic Defence Review is trying to identify what kind of military assets the country requires in the 21st century, something that actually in different ways has been done in France, in Italy, in Germany, and in a sense is under way as well even in the United States, because the new administration is conducting a review. It probably will not be as comprehensive as the Strategic Defence Review in the sense of starting from first principles, but nevertheless they are looking, as recent newspaper reports have indicated, at what are the priorities for the United States in this new century. There are some quite fundamental ideas around about how you then relate that expenditure to those foreign policy objectives, which is precisely what we did in the Strategic Defence Review. Whilst it is always attractive, and I am not in any way resiling from my determination to see more money spent on defence, it is also crucial that that money is spent in the right way and is spent in a way that is consistent with the obligations of a country like the United Kingdom and the state and its history so that we get the best value from the spending that we have. Frankly, that must be true of every other country as well.

  35. You said "spent in the right way". In your earlier phrase about some of those countries you said that it depends on what they count in. Are you saying that there are some glaring examples of things that they are counting in as defence expenditure that probably are not of any use to this project?
  (Mr Hoon) No. I was putting it the other way because there are some countries, and I mentioned Germany, that do not necessarily count in major equipment purchases, for example, because that is funded from a different part of their national budget. Although it is hard to see how, for example, the A400M could be anything other than a defence commitment and will count as part of our defence budget, the money is actually voted quite separately and therefore does not at this stage appear in their defence spending but it will do after the event.

  36. Then you said about it being spent in the right way. That is something that George Robertson, the Secretary-General of NATO, has also said has to be spent more wisely and more efficiently. Is there any common base line across Europe to assess that this is being done?
  (Mr Hoon) That is never going to be an easy question to answer and I am not going to pretend that it is. The Headline Goal, because it is about outputs, is maybe the start of a process that could ultimately lead to that kind of base line assessment which, certainly if you are saying it would be a good thing, I would strongly agree with that. Because one of the problems that the United Kingdom very often believes it has is that we organise ourselves efficiently and effectively and are able to put a relatively limited number of members of the armed forces into an operation, yet still derive the same output, the same benefit, from that commitment compared to other countries who perhaps have to deploy many more people. That is because part of the changes that have been undertaken are to ensure that our resources are focused on, if I can put it this way, our war fighting ability and that we do not have what is described sometimes as a long tail, that is, a long support for that capability. We have looked very carefully in ensuring that the money we spend goes on our key capabilities. That again is something that does mean that we get the best return for our defence expenditure.

  37. I think this term "best practice" needs to be debated right across the European forces.
  (Mr Hoon) These are delicate, sensitive, diplomatic and political issues but I do not say you are wrong.

  38. Can I move on to the issue of intelligence co-operation? There is a definite need for it, and indeed there is a definite need for it in NATO operations which need to be improved, let alone in this new European force. Mr Hatfield did say in answer to Mr Hancock that it would take longer to bring in. Could you indicate the framework which you envisage under which this would operate?
  (Mr Hoon) Could I emphasise that there is excellent intelligence co-operation inside NATO.

  Mr Cohen: There were problems in Kosovo. It came from individual countries rather than NATO having an input. They had to rely on individual countries.
  (Mr Hoon) But that intelligence is an exchange; that intelligence is moved around as appropriate. No Ally is going to allow forces deployed into an operation not to have access to relevant intelligence. It is always the case that individual nations are responsible for the collection of the intelligence, but nevertheless there is an extremely co-operative basis upon which that intelligence is then distributed within NATO. I anticipate that the same co-operative arrangements would prevail as far as any EU operation is concerned when NATO itself was not engaged but where the EU had recourse to NATO assets and one of the areas we would be most commonly thinking of would be intelligence assets.

  39. From what you are saying, this has implications for NATO as well. I presume we stick to the idea that intelligence is owned and controlled by the individual country and they either put it in the pool or they do not. They may choose not to. There will not be any intelligence that either NATO or this rapid reaction force will have as of right to carry out an operation and also the intelligence will not necessarily be shared equally between allies in an operation.
  (Mr Hatfield) I think that is slightly misunderstanding the way it is normally done. With a few very specialist exceptions like the NATO early warning aircraft, most of the intelligence gathering assets are nationally owned, whether they are human assets if you like or technical assets. What NATO provides is a framework for gathering that intelligence together, assessing it collectively and passing it to commanders or ministers, as required. That will be done on a tactical basis for the EU by whatever units are deployed in the field. We envisage that, so far as strategic assets are required, we can probably ask individual nations or NATO to provide the information from those sources. It has always been the case that individual intelligence gathering operations have been run by individual states and fed into a common pool.

1   See attached note sent to the Committee by the French Defence Attaché, p 14. Back

2   See also letter from Secretary of State, p 17. Back

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