Examination of Witnesses (Questions 261-279)|
WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2001
MP, AND MR
261. Welcome, Secretary of State and Mr Webb,
again. Would you like to make any opening remarks, Secretary of
(Mr Hoon) Yes, I would, thank you, Chairman.
I believe it is impossible for us to overstate the impact of the
events of the 11 September. It led to the first invocation of
Article 5 by NATO and it has generated a significant set of responses:
political, diplomatic, humanitarian, economic, financial, legal
and of course military. Longer term solutions in the war against
international terrorism will involve all of these instruments
and, as a result, we might hope that the military instrument can
be often one of last resort or indeed one not used at all. The
issue for us is whether 11 September represents a fundamental
change in the strategic context and just how serious that is.
For example, it could be said that the United States command chain
was not actually seriously threatened nor was their business infrastructure
and the civilian casualties on this scale occurred regularly during
previous wars. On the other hand, the United States homeland had
not experienced such an external attack in recent times. The threshold
of terrorism has potentially been raised, although I think it
is important that we do not play that up, and the likelihood of
terrorists turning to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear
devices has arguably increased so it has had a significant strategic
impact. I have described the need to add a new chapter to the
Strategic Defence Review and in the work that is already under
way we are looking at a number of different questions. Firstly,
can we base our policy on getting intelligence of specific threats,
with occasional misses, or do we have to assess our vulnerabilities
to potential terrorist capabilities and counter those? How far
do we try to defend the homeland in a collective NATO and European
sense and how should we try to deal with terrorists, in their
bases or in transit? In the United Kingdom, how far should the
armed forces play an increased role in security? If so, what sort
of forces are best suited for these tasks? Should the reserve
forces have a different or an enhanced role? In the military dimension
is there a role for pre-emption? What is the role of armed forces
in dealing with problems upstream, what capabilities do we need?
What is clear already is that we need fast, integrated operations
involving high levels of military skills, improved intelligence
gathering capability and a deeper understanding of potential opponents.
How do we engage the causes of terrorism as well as the terrorists
themselves? How do we do so on a cross-governmental and coalition
basis and what is the role of the military if any in this? How
do we avoid the use of force becoming our opponent's own recruiting
sergeant? How do we deter or dissuade states from support of complicity
with terrorism, especially the chemical, biological, radiological
and nuclear activities? What if the state has failed, as it so
comprehensively had in Afghanistan. Finally, what is the nature
of asymmetric threats, how does this impact on our approach to
operations? I am conscious that this is a formidable catalogue
of questions and that there are, as yet, no specific or agreed
answers. It may well be that in many cases there will be no right
answer and we will have to make judgments on the basis of imperfect
information, but I am determined that this work should be carried
out thoroughly. It would be irresponsible of us to do anything
less. I am delighted that Simonwho I know you have had
evidence from alreadyhas started on a comprehensive piece
of work inside the Ministry of Defence. It is a piece of work
which I know you will want to contribute to and I look forward
to receiving your thoughts on that.
262. Thank you, Secretary of State. An impressive
list of questions, can I add one more? How is it going to be paid
for? Do you seriously think all of these quite fundamental questions
can be borne within the existing budget which although it slightly
rose last yearI was standing behind you on a boat in Sierra
Leone when you made that announcementa number of those
questions that you are asking are not going to be answered at
no cost. Does it mean that if we spend additional money on those
things that you are asking to be looked at that the budget has
to be downgraded in some other area? Frankly we can barely pay
for what is being done already, if there are going to be any additional
functionsand I hope there are going to be additional functionsthen
have you already asked the Treasury to make way for a fairly substantial
increase? I can anticipate the answer but please tell me anyway.
(Mr Hoon) I know that it is a very agreeable tradition
that you ask me whether there is going to be more money to be
spent on defence and I indicate to the best of my ability as a
Member of the Cabinet that certainly I would like to see that
happening but clearly it is too soon to say specifically what
the outcome of the work will be and whether that will necessarily
entail extra resources but we are at the start of a budgetary
round and certainly it is my responsibility on behalf of the Ministry
of Defence to ensure that the Ministry of Defence is properly
resourced within the overall constraints of Government spending.
That I think is a traditional answer that I have given you on
263. Yes. I looked with scepticism on previous
occasions as well at what you said. The second question, Secretary
of State, the questions you asked are questions half of which
could have or should have been asked in the initial SDR. This
was trailed as the most thorough investigation of defence and
security commitments, a lot of those questions you are now posing
frankly have come three or four years too late. As I said before,
if you had read our report carefully some of those questions would
have been answered.
(Mr Hoon) Is that a question or a comment?
Chairman: It is a comment, expecting a rather
264. I think the Secretary of State is a bit
hesitant about answering that.
(Mr Hoon) I was not at all hesitant, I simply think
it does demonstrate how seriously we take the views of this Committee,
even though it may take longer than perhaps you would like to
get around to dealing with the points you raise.
Chairman: Gerald is dying to get in.
265. Chairman, before we leave the question
of funding, if I can ask the Secretary of State, who is obviously
very coy, about what the Chancellor might be doing next year?
Can I ask him if he will give some explanation as to what the
Chancellor was saying yesterday when he said "I can report
that the new equipment and immediate operational requirements
of an additional £100 million has been made available to
the Ministry of Defence". Can the Secretary of State tell
us how that £100 million has been divided between immediate
operational requirements and the new equipment?
(Mr Hoon) That was, if you like, a down payment on
the cost of the operations already having been conducted1.
I do not think it will come as any great surprise to the Committee
that that down payment is fairly close to exhausted already so
it is only part of the traditional understanding that extra operations
of the kind that we are engaged in and around Afghanistan will
be funded separately over and above the allowance for the defence
budget. This is part of that process.
266. So far it has cost at least £100 million,
(Mr Hoon) I think that is in the broad order of things,
267. New equipment?
(Mr Hoon) New equipment for the longer term would
be a separate issue which in a sense the discussion that we are
having this afternoon is part of. Part of the reason for implementing
this process is to identify whether in fact over and above the
assumptions we set out in the Strategic Defence Review we require
new equipment to deal specifically with the kinds of threats that
we face as a result of the events of 11 September. That is part
of the continuing work and something that I hope this Committee
will contribute to.
268. I will get back to asking the first questions.
The initial SDR was trailed as involving other departments because
this was a joined up inquiry. Is the additional chapter a joined
up inquiry because it seems to me a number of the tasks to be
undertaken in defence of the UK can be undertaken by groups other
than Her Majesty's Armed Forces, such as civilian emergency planners,
health workers, ambulance drivers, intelligence services. Is this
additional chapter, Secretary of State, just MoD or will it involve
genuine consultation with other departments to show that this
is genuinely a cross-departmental inquiry?
(Mr Hoon) I agree with that assumption, it is obviously
important that we do involve other departments and there will
be senior representatives from other departments closely involved
in the work that we are leading. So there will be people from
the Treasury, from the Foreign Office, from the Home Office, from
DTLR and the Cabinet Office who will be giving their perspective
from their Department of the implications of the work that we
269. What data comes out of their budgets, I
hope, not yours?
(Mr Hoon) I think it is important, and one of the
lessons that we have learned in a number of recent crises is the
need to involve right across Government other departments in work
which might have a military element but that element is only part
of the response that Government has to make. That is particularly
true of the response to terrorist threats.
270. Thank you. Before I move on, to reiterate,
I would have hoped that the initial SDR would have been sufficiently
robust to have accommodated a number of questions that you are
(Mr Hoon) If I may, Chairman, just emphasise the point
of why it was that I called this a new chapter. The reason for
that is that I believed that in fact the conclusions of the SDR
were sufficiently robust, in terms of equipment and capabilities,
to deal with the kinds of responses that we have needed to make,
specifically the need to be able to move forces very quickly into
a theatre in order to deal with a threat. What I am interested
in is whether there are specific further lessons that we have
to learn, which is why we are not reopening the assumptions of
the Strategic Defence Review and why we have called this an extra
chapter. This is about refining the work that has already been
done in the light of the events of the 11 September.
271. That final chapter will encompass lessons
learnt or needs to be relearnt, of your earlier chapters and not
just opening a new line of inquiry, it is going to be a synthesis,
in a way, an evolution from what went before?
(Mr Hoon) I see it more as building on the assumptions.
I do not think anything that we have seen since 11 September has
necessarily challenged the fundamental assumptions of the Strategic
Defence Review. I want to be sure in the light of this Committee's
comments, and the comments of others, that we do not miss out
on any further assumption that we need to make in the light of
the 11 September. That is why it is a new chapter rather than
addressing the issues that we dealt with at the time of the SDR.
272. In the answer to Gerald Howarth's question
earlier, I was going to ask a supplementary to that. You said
things were changing and you needed to look at what those things
were. You suggested you knew what they were. I was going to ask
what examples they were. In the new chapter there will be, obviously,
financial implications in the extra chapter you are writing now.
Do you envisage that will substantially change any of the previous
chapters in the SDR to fund it if new resources are not available?
(Mr Hoon) In the end I think that will depend, firstly,
on what we identify as being necessary spending and thereafter
on the degree of priority that might require in the light of the
other priorities that the Ministry of Defence has. That is no
different from any other Government department. One of the difficulties
of Government is having to make those choices and they are quite
difficult. I think you are inviting me to prejudge the work that
we are all engaged on and I do not think that will be particularly
sensible at this stage.
273. The fear that we have is that you have
been talking about an extra chapter, and you are absolutely right
and we understand that. We are worried that unless the additional
resources are made available to meet whatever conclusions that
final chapter arrives at, that you are going to be reduced to
the position of having to find the funds by limiting our defence
capability somewhere else. We are asking you if that is how you
see it or whether there is likely to be a real increase of funding?
(Mr Hoon) I think it is a perfectly proper question
that you might want to come back to at the end of the work that
is in hand. At the start of the work or just after its commencement,
I do not think it would be sensible for me to say one way or the
other. It is possiblepersonally I think unlikelyas
a result of the work that we do that we actually judge that all
of the capabilities that we have already and have identified are
perfectly satisfactory to meet the kind of threats that the events
of 11 September pose. I am saying that is possible. I do not particularly
believe that is likely to be the conclusion that we reach but
it is obviously within the range of options that might be produced.
Therefore I do not think it is sensible at this stage to say what
are our likely priorities in terms of equipment, capabilities
or training that might flow from the work we are embarked on.
274. Just very quickly, and for the sake of
clarity, this morning we heard from Air Marshal Sir Tim Garden.
He quoted some words I think of yours which talked about the new
chapter as being a rebalancing of priorities. He suggested to
us that might mean it is a zero sum game in terms of funding,
would you at least be able to deny that?
(Mr Hoon) I cannot say precisely what the conclusions
of this work will be. Frankly it would not be sensible for me
to say either what the results of the next spending round will
be. I have indicated that I believe it is important that defence
has the resources it requires to do the job that Government collectively
asks it to do but I cannot absolutely guarantee that in very difficult
economic circumstances we might not have to face less than I ideally
would like. That is true, I think you will find, of most Cabinet
ministers in most departments. There is a judgment to be made
in these things. I think the quotation you were given exactly
reflects what I have just said to you. We will do the work, we
will identify the priorities, we will then have to make judgments
as to what are the overriding priorities for the Department within
the resource constraints that all Government departments face.
275. The questions you are posing will take
some time to answer. Will this be congruent with the financial
process involving the Treasury or will you produce your conclusions
after key decisions have been made?
(Mr Hoon) I think those matters are for my judgment
in terms of how best I consider it necessary to extract the maximum
benefit out of the conclusions as far as the Department is concerned.
Chairman: I think you will have the full support
of this Committee, Secretary of State, if you try to extract more
money out of the Treasury.
276. Secretary of State, anti-terrorism was
obviously mentioned in the SDR. I quote from the White Paper in
1998 which says : "Support against terrorism of all kinds
remains the highest priority for the foreseeable future".
What actions did the SDR identify in terms of capacity for anti-terrorism
work and actually what was implemented as a response to that?
(Mr Hoon) I think that is really, in a sense, the
first half of the point I made in asking whether it is justifiable
to say if we face a new strategic threat as a result of the 11
September because it could be arguedI am not saying that
I do, I very strongly do notthat in fact the 11 September
was only different in scale, that in terms of the strategic impact
of those events, as I indicated, it was not threatening the United
States' ability to defend itself or indeed its basic functioning
as a state or as a society. We sadly have had significant prolonged
experience of terrorism in this country, what was different was
the scale. In a sense what the SDR was looking at before 11 September
was what up until then we sadly regarded as too often day to day
examples of terrorism. The real issue is whether we now face the
kind of threat that actually requires, as we have seen, a military
response of a particular kind, that means we have to look again
at some of the assumptions we have made previously about the kinds
of forces we require, that in terms of the priorities that we
have to give to developing those capabilities that we have to
address those in a different way. I think that is part of what
we have to do.
277. Ten out of ten for evasion. What I am saying
is exactly highlighting this. What was put in place in terms of
capacity to deal with anti-terrorism in terms of what was referred
to and what was implemented?
(Mr Hoon) The kinds of efforts that we have made in
support of the civil power in Northern Ireland, the kinds of forces
that we have available there, have been engaged, amongst other
things, in dealing with the terrorist threat. They have done so
very, very successfully. I think that is the issue that, in a
sense, this Committee has to face and I have to face in promoting
this work, whether, in fact, the events of 11 September go so
far beyond that that we need to address this issue in a fundamentally
different way. In one sense we do because, for example, we are
waging war, to all intents and purposes, in Afghanistan. Now that
is a different scale of response from anything that we had seen
in Northern Ireland where the threat was, if you like, more persistent
but arguably at a lower scale of intensity. Therefore we were
organised to deal with that more persistent but lower scale threat.
(Mr Webb) Exactly so. We are a Department who have
spent a lot of time on anti-terrorism. It is a tradition which
goes back to previous campaigns in Oman and elsewhere. So we have
been building up on capability in that area. What the Secretary
of State says about scale though is very important because it
breaks into two parts really. One is the potential willingness
to kill a lot of people in one attack. The other is the willingness
to give up your own life in a suicide attack mounted by relatively
educated and sophisticated people and so that scale issue question,
we need to sift through whether it is different: it might be.
278. The definition of "highest priority
for the foreseeable future" then, that was a reference to
Irish terrorism rather than what we are talking about now in terms
of Middle East international terrorism?
(Mr Webb) Well, no, I think we probably also encompass
things like aircraft hijacking and that sort of thing and hostage
taking which have been within our purview before. It was a bit
wider than Northern Ireland but scale is the issue in the way
we have described it.
279. You tell us, Secretary of State, in your
recent memorandum,that you expect your review of the SDR to set
a course which will enable the UK ". . . to deter, dissuade
and . . . defeat groups or states". But do we have a clear
enough understanding of the aims and motivations of these groups
in particular to be able to do that with any confidence? How do
we effectively deter sub-state groups that are not susceptible
to the pressures of international diplomacy? Howperhaps
more importantlydo we defeat them? Do we do that through
military means or do we do that through other means?
(Mr Hoon) I am going to have to say this regularly
during the course of the questions I suspect but you raise one
of the questions that we do have to deal with. In a sense conventional
strategic defence is designed to deal with the threat from a state
and the deterrence, the way in which we organise ourselves militarily,
has generally so far been aimed at a functioning state which provides
a threat to the citizens of the United Kingdom or the United Kingdom's
interests. At the other end of the spectrum you might say that
low level terrorist activity is something which broadly, say Northern
Ireland, we have dealt with as a policing function. The military
are there in support of the civil power but ultimately the decisions
are taken by a police authority. What we see with Al-Qaeda in
a sense is something in between. This is one of the fundamental
issues that I think we have to identify. Whether that something
in between is something which is more akin to a policing supervisory
function where we develop essentially a civil response to the
threat, but recognising that from time to time the military might
be assisting in that, or whether as a result of the complete collapse
of the state and the failure of a central government to control
what is happening within the borders of that country means actually
where we are dealing with something new, something that challenges
our notions of what is a state and challenges the kinds of threats
that we then face because that has serious implications for example
in terms of deterrence. You generally can deter a state in one
way or another because you deter the leadership of that state.
To be honest, the more that we have learned about the Taliban
regime and its relationship with Al-Queda, the more perhaps we
understand that by deterring the Taliban we could actually have
been deterring Al-Queda, that did not appear to be the case at
the outset where there appeared to be greater distance between
the Taliban and Al-Queda. Nevertheless there is clearly a sensecertainly
beyond Afghanistanin which this terrorist organisation
has an impact inside the geographical boundaries of a state which
is completely different from anything which we faced in the recent
past. But actually if you go back in history before the nation
state, there are similar examples of organisations which operated
in that way. What we are seeing in a way in a number of these
countries is a challenge to our concepts of the nation state because
these organisations are transcending geographical and political
boundaries and that might be the answer to the question I posed
at the outset about whether in fact we are dealing with something
strategically different because we probably are.
1 1 Note: See appendix 4. Back