Examination of witnesses (Questions 80-85)
WEDNESDAY 28 MARCH 2001
HOON MP AND
80. What do you think the Russians make of this
scheme? What do you believe their perception is of the desirability
or otherwise for the creation of this EU rapid reaction force?
(Mr Hoon) I honestly do not know.
81. To what extent is the debate on missile
defence emphasising certain aspects of difference between the
Europeans and the United States?
(Mr Hoon) I do not think it is. Indeed, the United
States, the new administration, has made it very clear on a number
of occasions that they will consult European allies and Russia
and China for that matter before coming forward with any specific
proposal. I think there is a very determined effort amongst Europeans
to react constructively to both the threat that we recognise the
United States faces but also the means of the solution.
82. How does the United Kingdom try to put the
NMD debate in a perspective that does not undermine the attempt
of ESDP to strengthen transatlantic links?
(Mr Hoon) We have a strong bilateral relationship
with the United States, our strongest ally. We have said repeatedly
that we would not want to see the United States have to meet this
threat without our understanding and support. Equally, the United
States has made it clear that it would want to consult with allies,
not only the United Kingdom but continental allies as well as
countries that are not even allied to the United States, before
it goes ahead with any proposal. It is part of the example that
I was giving to Dr Lewis earlier. The world is a more complex
place sometimes than some members of this Committee might suggest.
Relationships are conducted both on a bilateral basis but also
multilaterally through the various alliances that we are part
83. That is interesting. How do we prevent the
exchanges from, say, Europe about NMD upsetting the Americans
and the United States upsetting the Russians and ending up with
a great carry-on, shouting at each other across the Atlantic?
How do we pick our way through that?
(Mr Hoon) I do not think it happens like that. I do
not think there are exchanges at the volume that, by implication,
your question suggests. On the other hand, again, I find it a
little surprising sometimes that it is suggested to me, especially
here in a parliamentary committee, that there should not from
time to time be differences of opinion between countries and within
countries. I spent some time in Congress the other day and the
range of opinions that you will find there reflects the entertaining
range of opinions that I would find here. In parliamentary democracies,
I would expect to find that. Indeed, if I did not find that, there
would be something seriously wrong, because we would not have
that kind of lively debate about these important issues that is
84. That must be unquestionably true but how
do we avoid getting nations into a corner, saying things that
they find it very difficult to get out of later? Debate is fine
but how do you stop that?
(Mr Hoon) I do not think actually we do that, if you
are referring to the Government now. I think governments are very
careful to avoid painting each other into a corner. We have very
distinguished members of the press here and one of the dangers
is that they seize upon quotations, sadly sometimes taken out
of context, in order to write glorious headlines that presumably
are designed to sell a few newspapers the next day, but that is
not always part of the real debate that is going on. I accept,
again, in a democracy it is right that they should be able to
pick things out in that way but it does not always give a full
picture both of the breadth of the debate or perhaps of the breadth
of the comments made by the individual in question. It will be
interesting to see what they make of my remarks tomorrow.
Chairman: There are times when we would
like any publicity, lies or otherwise.
Dr Lewis: Speak for yourself, Chairman.
Chairman: Frankly, if I can keep unanimity
among this bunch then NATO should be fairly easy. We have just
one more question which is fittingly from the Deputy Chairman,
85. Our discussion has been a little unstructured
because the Petersberg tasks, the lower range of military intensity
tasks which the European defence identity is meant to face up
to is, of course, unspecified. Do you envisage that it will be
necessary and it will be helpful to be more specific in the Petersberg
tasks? Would that help to enable individuals to know exactly what
the Europeans might be facing alone, without NATO?
(Mr Hoon) Part of the elaboration of the [Helsinki]
goal, in a sense, is to prepare contingency plans for the range
of operations that a European force might become involved with
where NATO was not engaged. That would give us some more precise
indication of the kind of force packages that would be required
and how we would deal with them. I am fairly comfortable with
the Petersberg tasks because I do not really think that we can
ever precisely identify the kind of operation that is going to
come up because no two operations are ever the same, they always
have very different kinds of requirements both in the political
context and the military response. What we are trying to do is
to ensure that across a range of different commitments we have
the right kind of forces available. I do not think it particularly
helps to be too specific about what that particular operation
might consist of.
Chairman: Thank you very much. I am sorry
to have pushed the Committee very hard but I am about to make
a speech of Brezhnev-type length in the House of Commons on the
regulation of the private security industry that I have been campaigning
for for 25 years.
(Mr Hoon) I am sure that it will be extensively reported
in tomorrow's newspapers.
Chairman: If it is half as much as Brezhnev's
speeches then I will be delighted. Thank you very much. I am not
sure whether this will be the last public session of the Committee
but if it is, and I suspect it might be although I have no inside
knowledge, I would like to thank you and your Department for all
the help you have usually provided and my Committee for their
tolerance to my occasional bullying. Thank you very much for coming
(Mr Hoon) Thank you all very much.
Chairman: I am sure the problems that
you have been discussing will probably be debated more fully,
if in a less informal manner, in the next few months. Thank you.