Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Laura Moffatt

Examination of witnesses (Questions 80-85)



  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 of.

  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 so necessary.

  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, Peter Viggers.

Mr Viggers

  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 along.
  (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.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 30 April 2001