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Mr. Hoon: On the hon. Gentleman's first point, that has not happened. On his second point, as has been said already, what is important is that those held at Guantanamo bay are questioned on their likely involvement in the events of 11 September and on other offences that they may have committed against United States law or, indeed, against international law. Thereafter, there may be circumstances in which those prisoners are brought back to the United Kingdom, not least if there are allegations that they may have committed offences against United Kingdom law.
ISAF's task is to assist the Afghan Interim Administration in maintaining security in and around Kabul, to provide the conditions in which they can pave the way for the interim Loya Jirga in June and, ultimately, the full Loya Jirga 18 months later.
Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): Part of Mr. Hamid Karzai's appeal when he came here was that ISAF's remit be extended beyond Kabul. Clearly, it is in everyone's interest that the four other major cities in Afghanistan also have the same degree of law and order as Kabul. What has been the British Government's response and that of the international coalition generally to Mr. Karzai's appeal?
Mr. Hoon: I had the privilege of discussing that issue with Mr. Karzai, not only in the United Kingdom but when I went to Afghanistan last week. Obviously, the Interim Administration is concerned to provide security elsewhere beyond Kabul, but that has not been possible so far, not least because of the terms of the original UN Security Council resolution and, indeed, because of practical constraints on the number of forces available. It is obviously something that the international community will continue to consider, but real practical constraints face any country that would want to be involved.
Much still needs to be done, by the international community and the Interim Administration, before Afghanistan is restored as a completely stable and peaceful country, but we are well on the way towards ensuring that Afghanistan will never again provide a haven for international terrorism.
I have already mentioned the outcome of the strategic defence review. That review and our further work on the changing strategic context put us in a strong position to respond to the appalling events of 11 September. The review placed particular emphasis on capabilities relevant to the new circumstances in which we find ourselvesreconnaissance, surveillance, rapid deployment, precision strikes and more effective command and control. That is why the United Kingdom has been able to play such a significant role in the military operations in Afghanistan. The acquisition of equipment such as the Apache helicopter, the joint strike fighter and the future carriers will enhance those capabilities still further.
The appalling attacks on 11 September highlighted the need for us to consider whether we should make further adjustments to our armed forces to take account of the threat from international terrorism and the growing likelihood of asymmetric action. So, as I announced to the House in October last year, I have set in hand work to re-examine our own defence posture and plans to ensure that we have the right defence concepts, forces and capabilities to defend us against the threat from international terrorism.
We have underlined from the outset the need to keep a sense of perspective in that work. Not everything has changed. Nor, just as importantly, does everything need to change. I emphasise again that we are engaged not in a new strategic defence review but in a new chapter to that review. However, it would be complacent not to adjust capability when that is needed, and not to address how we can prevent or deter attacks of the kind seen on 11 September. Since October, we have undertaken a great deal of work, involving other Departments and outside experts, to consider that issue.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): The Secretary of State said that it would be complacent not to take account of the attacks on 11 September. The American national security review specifically identified that kind of asymmetric threat to American lives in its first conclusion and a Select Committee of the House unanimously pointed out that issue as a gap in the strategic defence review. Does not the Government's approach resemble that of allowing the people who predicted that the Titanic would not sink to determine how many lifeboats it should have?
Mr. Hoon: No, it does not. The strategic defence review included a reference to asymmetric warfare, and the issue has been considered by Government in the past. Certainly, the events of 11 September have required us to consider such threats again and in more detail. I wish any Government had been in a position to anticipate what happened on 11 September. The truth, however, was that
Our thinking so far is set out in a public discussion paper which the Ministry of Defence published this morning and which has already been made available to hon. Members. It considers a range of issues and seeks to answer a number of basic questions. How much has the strategic context changed since 11 September? How should we engage with the symptoms and causes of terrorism? What balance should we strike between home defence and countering the threat abroad? What range of effects do we want to be able to achieve abroad? How might we enhance the effectiveness of our military contribution at home and abroad? What role should international organisationsparticularly the UN, NATO, and the EU, but also othersplay in that? How can we build on our regional and bilateral relationships?
The discussion material sets out the key issues that we face, and some of the ways in which we consider that the context in which we operate may have changed. It does not seek to reach firm conclusions at this stage. We want to obtain views from Members, from the public, from outside experts and from allies and partners before we take final decisions.
Mr. Gerald Howarth: The Secretary of State rightly says that this document does not offer solutions at this stage. Indeed, it poses questions that he put to the Select Committee last November. When will he come forward with concrete proposals that the House can consider? He promised the Select Committee that a detailed set of proposals resulting from the review would appear in the spring. Will he tell us when he expects to bring forward firm conclusions arising from the consultation process?
Mr. Hoon: The purpose of the discussion document is not only to indicate the nature of the questions but to set out some of our preliminary thinking. As the hon. Gentleman will find when he considers the document in more detail, there are already indications of the direction in which we propose to go. I hope that he will give the Government credit for at least allowing right hon. and hon. Members the opportunity of setting out their views. I know that he would have criticised us if we had proceeded too quickly. We are trying to strike the right balance between soliciting ideas and views and trying to move quickly. I hope that we shall move quickly towards reaching some conclusions.
I shall set out some of the first results of our opening thoughts on these difficult questions. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said last week when he was in Sierra Leone, there is a close connection between our domestic interests and what happens on the international stage. Emerging threats in Africa, the middle east, the Gulf and central Asia can come to affect us directly, sometimes with little or no warning. Therefore, a closer link now exists between ensuring the adequate defence of the home base and our ability to undertake deployed operations.
The United States, for its part, has made it clear that it will not be deterred from operating abroad by terrorists or others who threaten the US homeland. Our position must be the same. The United Kingdom will want to continue to play a leading role in promoting international security
We need to put more emphasis on being proactive and, where possible and justifiable, pre-empting problems rather than simply waiting for problems to come to us. In that, we should use the whole range of responses that the Government have at their disposalnot simply military means.
We need to examine the number, size and nature of the operations that we may be called on to undertakeperhaps simultaneously or in quick succession. That may involve both offensive find and strike actions, and prevention or stabilisation operations. We will need to judge whether we are likely to encounter other situations where key national interests mean that we need to engage further afield than the core regions of Europe, the Mediterranean and the Gulf, which were the focus of our thinking about our force structures during the strategic defence review.