Select Committee on Defence Second Report


91. Three weeks after the attacks of 11 September the Secretary of State for Defence announced, at the Labour Party Conference—

As a result of the attacks on the United States, we will be looking again at how we organise our defence. This will not be a new Strategic Defence Review, but an opportunity—if necessary—to rebalance our existing efforts. We must have: the right concepts, the right levels of forces, and the right capabilities to meet the additional challenges we face from international terrorism conducted on this scale.

In subsequent speeches[118] this work became characterised as a 'new chapter' to the 1998 SDR.

The original SDR

92. The original Strategic Defence Review (SDR) was launched by the new Labour government in the summer of 1997. Its purpose was described by the then Secretary of State in evidence to our predecessors as being 'to give the Armed Forces of this country a coherent and stable planning basis in the radically changing international and strategic context of the post-Cold War world.'[119] It was set the task of addressing the UK's defence requirements in the period up to 2015.[120] It was explicitly foreign policy led.

93. In the end the review took over a year to complete and the SDR White Paper[121] was published in July 1998. The first chapter of the Review described the 'New Strategic Realities' of the post-Cold War world, and the risks and challenges which the UK faced as a consequence. It concluded that—

The challenge now is to move from stability based on fear to stability based on the active management of these risks,[122] seeking to prevent conflicts rather than suppress them. This requires an integrated external policy through which we can pursue our interests using all the instruments at our disposal, including diplomatic, developmental and military. We must make sure that the Armed Forces can play as full and effective a part in dealing with these new risks as the old.[123]

In other words the focus of the Review was on the Armed Forces' expeditionary and force projection capabilities. There was also a new emphasis on defence diplomacy and on the use of Armed Forces to support diplomatic efforts to deter or manage crises.

94. The SDR went on to consider the future shape of the Armed Forces. It set benchmarks for the scale of operations which they should be capable of undertaking. It judged that those scales of effort would require only a modest increase in the overall strength of the Regular forces,[124] but they would require re-configuring. At their heart would be 'a pool of powerful and versatile units from all three Services which would be available for operation at short notice':[125] the Joint Rapid Reaction Force, described by the Chief of the Defence Staff as 'very much the jewel in the SDR crown'.[126] Crucial to the effectiveness of this Force would be how it was supported. Much of the rest of the Review addressed the provision of that support in terms of personnel, support structures, and equipment.

95. The then Defence Committee decided 'that its prime task in the first session of its existence would be to shadow the Government's SDR with a view to reporting to the House on its contents soon after it was published'.[127] This it did, holding during its inquiry over twenty evidence sessions, including three with the Secretary of State.

96. Our predecessor's report was published on 10 September 1998. It was a wide-ranging and substantial commentary on the government's work. Having set out the background to the SDR, it went on to examine security policy in a new world order. It then considered the strategy and force structure which that security policy would require and the equipment, personnel and funding which the Armed Forces would need to fulfil their tasks. In its conclusion on security policy, the Committee stated—

We do, however, have a warning to sound. The SDR may, perhaps, be too led by foreign policy and the commitment to the UK being a force for good in the world. We believe that this focus may have led to a neglect of the level of 'insurance' needed for home defence, and we believe this may need rebalancing.[128]

In its reply the government argued that, despite the Review's emphasis on expeditionary and force projection capabilities, home defence had also been 'considered carefully' and claimed that 'the policy we have adopted reflects our assessment of the current and future strategic environment'.[129] It argued that 'the key aspect of that strategic environment is that the threat of direct conventional military attack on Britain has receded to a degree where the warning time for such an attack can be measured in years.'[130]

97. The Committee also addressed the issue of terrorist threats, particularly from 'state-sponsored terrorists acting on behalf of countries who consider themselves at war with the West but who cannot fight in conventional ways.'[131] It noted the comment of the then US Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, following the bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in August 1998 that 'This is, unfortunately, the war of the future'.[132] The Committee recognised that this was not an issue solely for the MoD or the Armed Forces. Nonetheless, it concluded that it was 'not convinced that the SDR process has initiated ... interdepartmental discussion on how to respond to asymmetric threats on a consistent basis'.[133] In its reply, the Government stated—

...we are developing and improving strategies and techniques to respond to them.[134]

98. The SDR was a valuable exercise. It was widely welcomed by the Services themselves and by outside commentators. It provided a coherent framework within which our Armed Forces could be structured. Its implementation should bring real and measurable improvements in capability. But hindsight confirms that, whatever the Review's strengths, it also had weaknesses. Those weaknesses were well expressed by Sir Michael Alexander in his evidence to the Committee in July 1998—

I think ... that there is a very profound problem underlying the defence posture that emerges from this Review ... That is, we are going to have an extremely elegant and effective defence capability for dealing with a rather well-defined set of contingencies which would involve getting in, doing something fairly rapidly and getting out again. I think that the discontented nations and groups are not [in the future] going to meet in our battle space at all.[135]

The new Chapter

99. In its memorandum of 5 November, the MoD set out its preliminary thoughts on the terms of reference for the 'new chapter' to the SDR—

The first step is to work through the defence policy consequences of the events of 11 September, particularly in the areas of defence of the homeland and our capability to counter and deter terrorism abroad. We will also look at the impact of those events on international organisations, including in particular NATO and the EU, and on our regional interests, not least given the need to sustain long term coalitions against international terrorism.

The work will go on to look at defence posture and capabilities, and then take a first look at the implications for force structures. We need to ensure that our concepts, policies and capabilities to deter, dissuade and, as necessary, defeat groups or states which pose us a threat, are optimised to the circumstances in which we now find ourselves. We must do the same in relation to the contribution of the Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces to the security and defence of the UK.[136]

The Secretary of State has warned that 'a sense of proportion and scale' needs to be maintained and that 'we should not encourage the idea that everything has changed, or that everything needs to change'.[137] Nevertheless, when he came before us on 28 November, he set out a long list of questions which the work would need to address—

  • 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 these?

  • How far do we try to defend the homelands (in a collective NATO and European sense) and how should we try to deal with terrorists in their bases or in transit?

  • Within the UK, 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 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 already clear is that we need fast, integrated operations, involving high levels of military skill, 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 or complicity with terrorism, especially in the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear activities. What if the state has failed?

  • What is the nature of asymmetric threats? How does this impact on our approach to operations?[138]

The Secretary of State described this as a 'formidable catalogue of questions'.

100. The Secretary of State did not however, include in his list of questions any reappraisal of the regional or geographical assumptions that were enshrined in the SDR. Yet that document made explicit reference to a working assumption that the focus of UK defence interests would be in Europe, the Mediterranean and the Gulf.[139] Operations further afield would be on the basis of available capabilities and opportunity. The extent and the duration of the operation in Sierra Leone has already indicated that the SDR's regional focus might have to be reconsidered. Even more so, the implications of an open-ended war on terrorism—particularly one that will address the problems of collapsing and failed states which create the political space for terror and crime networks to operate[140]—suggest that operations in Central Asia, East Africa, perhaps the Indian sub-continent and elsewhere, will become necessary as part of an integrated political and military strategy to address terrorism and the basis on which it flourishes.

101. As the Secretary of State put it in his speech of 5 December at King's College London, the attack of 11 September—

... has demonstrated that we cannot dictate the geographic areas where our interests may be engaged ... in future we may be engaged across a different and potentially wider canvas than we perhaps envisaged even at the time of the Strategic Defence Review'.[141]

Any such widening of the SDR's geographical and regional assumptions, however, is likely to have significant implications for UK force structures, scale of effort benchmarks and the future equipment programme at the very least. Taken with the terms of reference set out in the MoD's memorandum and the list of questions raised by the Secretary of State, this strikes us as requiring a more fundamental reappraisal of the SDR than is implied by the phrase 'a new chapter'.

102. On 7 November, the Policy Director speaking of the broad benchmarks for the Armed Forces capabilities set out in the SDR said that, as the work on the additional chapter approached its conclusion, the MoD would work out what tasks they needed to meet, and they would go back to the SDR 'just to check whether that looks right'. He expected that 'we shall find it looks a bit more right than it does at the moment'.[142]

103. Other witnesses also suggested that the conclusions of the original SDR remained valid. Sir Tim Garden told us—

The SDR is not wrong because of 11 September. All the matters that were generally predicted in the SDR have come to pass. Kosovo happened. We have things happening in Sierra Leone and we did East Timor.[143]

Professor Freedman agreed that the UK was already better placed than the US in the new circumstances because 'there was a bit of this in the Strategic Defence Review already'.[144] The Secretary of State on the other hand thought that it was 'unlikely' that they would conclude 'that all of the capabilities that we have already and have identified are perfectly satisfactory to meet the kinds of threats that the events of 11 September pose'.[145] He expected that they would find that they would have to do more both in terms of attacking the threat wherever it was and of defending the UK homeland.[146]

104. We should also note that we, in the UK, have had many years' experience of dealing with terrorism. For the past thirty years the Armed Forces have been deployed, in support of the civil power, to Northern Ireland. We must not neglect that experience, particularly in the field of intelligence.

105. In early November the MoD told us that, while the exact timetable for the work had not yet been established 'we would expect to be in a position to publish some conclusions in the spring or early summer next year.'[147] On 29 October the Secretary of State told the House 'I would anticipate that we would be ready to publish conclusions in the spring of next year'.[148] The difference is not great, but we did note the Policy Director's response when asked if he would guarantee to keep to the timetable—

That is Mr Hoon's choice finally ... we are certainly scheduling to be able to publish something by spring/early summer.[149]

We believe that this further work on the SDR addresses a range of fundamental questions to do with our security and defence capabilities. We note the Secretary of State's statement that 'I have set a fairly tight timetable because I do think it is important to conclude this work fairly speedily'.[150] We agree and we recommend that the MoD makes every effort to keep to the timetable of Spring 2002.

106. The Secretary of State confirmed that it was his intention to publish an outline, or 'discussion document',[151] in the early part of next year which 'would enable people to react without committing ourselves to anything very specific.'[152] We would welcome such a document and the principle which it embodies of proceeding in as open and inclusive a way as possible. Nonetheless we do have some reservations over the practicality of this approach which we discuss below.

107. The Secretary of State challenged us to provide 'comprehensive answers' to the list of questions which he had set for the further work on the SDR.[153] We will not attempt that, but we will offer some necessarily preliminary thoughts under some of his headings. Earlier sections of the report have already addressed some of the other issues he raised.


108. We have not had access to intelligence reports in the course of this inquiry. We can therefore make no sensible comment on their usefulness against specific threats. But there are clearly limitations to what one can expect from intelligence. The Chief of Defence Intelligence told us 'Surprise ... is one of the advantages the terrorist has.'[154] This point was picked up by Sir Tim Garden—

Even with the best intelligence possible, there will still be the possibility of terrorists succeeding because they have the advantage of surprise.[155]

Following 11 September there was much public criticism particularly of the US intelligence services for failing to identify or prevent the attacks. As early as 15 September some Congressmen were reported to be speaking of 'a failure of American intelligence'.[156] On the other hand the Secretary of State—while understandably giving very little away—did tell us that he was 'aware ... of disruption that occurred to terrorist threats before 11 September because of action that was taken to deal with information about those threats as it arose.'[157] He also assured us that 'a very determined effort [was] being made to make sure that we have the ability to deal with the threats as and when they arise'.[158]

109. Professor Pearson in his memorandum drew attention to a report by the US General Accounting Office of July 2000 which looked at how 'five foreign countries [one of which was the UK] are organised to combat terrorism'.[159] It found that 'because of limited resources, they make funding decisions for programmes to combat terrorism on the basis of the likelihood of terrorist activity actually taking place, not the countries' overall vulnerability to terrorist attacks'. That vulnerability principally rests in those aspects of our modern societies which may be particularly susceptible to terrorist attacks. The report also noted that none of the countries concerned either specifically tracked spending on programmes to combat terrorism or conducted a formal national level threat and risk assessment. Nonetheless, the GAO recommended that such an assessment should be conducted in the US. In November 2001, in a report on Homeland Security,[160] the GAO considered the elements that need to be included in the development of the US's national strategy for homeland security. At the top of their list is 'reduce our vulnerability to threats'.

110. There are inevitably limits on any country's ability to protect itself completely. Indeed, the Secretary of State emphasised the need to have flexible forces configured to be able to deal with many different scenarios and not focussed simply on a few specific possibilities—otherwise we risk inflexibility and planning for the wrong outcomes.[161] Nevertheless, from the evidence which we have received so far, we conclude, on a provisional basis, that we in the UK will have to do more to focus our capabilities on defending our own weak points, as the GAO advise. We shall return to this issue in our inquiry into Defence and Security in the UK.

111. In considering vulnerabilities we have focussed on physical points of attack which might be exploited by terrorists. But there is also another dimension to our vulnerability which we have not properly addressed in this report. 11 September demonstrated that we were vulnerable not simply through having lax airport security or the kind of open society which allowed the terrorists not only free entry but also the opportunity to train in the US. Our vulnerability was also demonstrated by the fact that the shock of the attacks was transmitted at great speed throughout a globalised, interconnected system, costing billions of dollars in economic damage through losses caused by instability in certain industries, such as airlines and insurance, and more widely by loss of confidence and loss of growth. The attacks also had significant political, social and psychological effects.

112. Indeed one of the issues which runs through all the questions which have been raised is how to strike the balance between on the one hand informing the public of matters which may directly affect them and about which they may feel that they have a right to know, and on the other hand avoiding unnecessary anxiety or even panic by suggesting that an increased threat of large scale attacks means necessarily that the threat is also immediate. We are also conscious that the act of informing the public itself seems to provoke hoaxers. And they do not only waste the time of the emergency services but also hinder them from responding promptly to real incidents. But we do not believe that such concerns are sufficient to justify failing to provide balanced and accurate information to the public on this issue. We shall consider how this should best be done in our forthcoming inquiry.


113. The MoD Policy Director told us that, in respect of attacks on the UK itself, the Armed Forces had two distinct roles—

The first of them is the actual defence of the homeland in the sense that the armed forces have always defended Britain from attack from the sea and in the last century by air and missiles. ... The second thing we do ... is military assistance to the civil authorities ... that is ... where there is not a specific Ministry of Defence responsibility to lead on the subject, but where we support either other Departments or the civil power.[162]

114. There is relatively little about either of these roles in the SDR. Under the 'Peacetime Security' Mission, one of eight identified in the SDR, the MoD stated that 'Support against terrorism of all kinds will remain of the highest priority for the foreseeable future'.[163] But there is no further discussion of this role and no indication of how the proposals in the SDR would strengthen the capacity of the Armed Forces to fulfil it. It is clear that at the time of the SDR this support was seen principally in the context of deployments in Northern Ireland and assistance in dealing with attacks in Great Britain by Northern Ireland-based terrorists. The Policy Director argued that it went 'a bit wider than Northern Ireland' and 'encompassed things like aircraft hijacking ... and hostage taking which have been within our purview before'.[164]

115. The risk of attack by air or sea was perceived to be remote, if not negligible. One witness in evidence to our predecessor's inquiry into the SDR wrote 'The only credible direct threat to the UK homeland in the medium term would be from a ballistic missile attack.'[165] In 1999 the MoD stated 'no country of concern currently has ballistic missiles which, launched from its own territory, can threaten the UK,'[166] although it went on to warn that a number of countries were continuing their efforts to develop or acquire longer range missiles. It also noted that some southern members of NATO were already vulnerable and concluded that 'the risks facing Europe are likely to increase in the next decade.[167]

116. One of the premises of the SDR was, in the words of the then Secretary of State, 'In the post Cold War world, we must be prepared to go to the crisis, rather than have the crisis come to us'.[168] Likewise, we need the capability to take the battle against the terrorist threat to wherever that threat comes from. One of the questions which the Secretary of State raised in the context of the work of the SDR was 'how far do we try to defend the homelands, in a collective NATO and European sense and how should we try to deal with terrorists in their bases or in transit?'[169] Later he told us, 'my instincts are to say that actually rather than waiting for the threat to arrive on these shores, we go after it.'[170]

117. As we have discussed, the SDR focussed on giving British forces expeditionary and force protection capabilities. The value of that capability has been illustrated in operations in Macedonia, Sierra Leone and East Timor as well as the current campaign in Afghanistan. Sir Tim Garden told us, 'I do not think that the tasks that the SDR addressed have changed, indeed I believe that they are under-resourced'.[171]

118. We believe that there is no reason to treat this as an 'either/or' question unless it is being addressed in terms of resources. We discuss funding of the additional chapter below. The role of the Armed Forces in homeland defence is the subject of the Secretary of State's next question.


119. This issue will be one of the main themes of our next inquiry into Defence and Security in the UK. It raises a number of important issues. At this stage we will comment on just two.

120. The Armed Forces have the primary responsibility for countering air- and sea-borne threats to the UK. This is a specific defence task and, as the Policy Director told us, will be 'part of this review ... asking whether there is a longer-term dimension to this which would imply not just making best use of assets we have instantly available, or quick upgrades, but what about the longer term capability'.[172] This is an important issue which we shall return to in our forthcoming inquiry.

121. The primary responsibility for security on the UK mainland, however, rests with the civil power. British Defence Doctrine, revised and republished as recently as October 2001, states—

... the use of the Armed Forces for domestic purposes is potentially controversial and strict limitations are placed on their domestic employment. The relationship between the Armed Forces and civil authorities in the UK is the subject of aspects of constitutional and administrative law and there has developed, over three hundred years, a legal doctrine governing the domestic use of military personnel. At the core of that doctrine is the absolute primacy of civil authorities; when Armed Forces' personnel are used on domestic tasks they are only employed in support of relevant and legally responsible civil authorities.[173]

There are four categories of assistance that may be provided—

  • Military assistance to the civil power: assistance in the direct maintenance of law and order
  • Counter drugs operations
  • Military aid to other government departments: the response to the foot and mouth epidemic fell into this category
  • Military assistance to the civil community: support for the community at large either in emergencies (eg floods) or more routinely.[174]

122. Dr Alice Hills[175] in her memorandum expressed concern that the UK appears to lack a 'strategic focus in our response'[176] to complex terrorist attacks. 'Terrorism', she continues 'can represent an almost military-scale threat that is neither categorically domestic nor foreign'.[177] The Secretary of State thought that this was a fair point and 'one that we need to have regard to.'[178]

123. The Policy Director believed that the existing arrangements by which the military respond to requests from civil authorities provided the necessary clarity. 'There are very clear arrangements', he told us, 'for handover to the military commander at the request of the civil power ... it is that clarity ... which ... allows us to make the best use of our resources, because the armed forces really like to be very clear about their command and control arrangements'.[179]

124. But he also suggested that, given 'the complexity of some of the modern emergencies', the most likely assistance required of the Armed Forces would be in 'reinforcing the command and control capacity.'[180] He pointed, as an example, to the role of the Armed Forces in respect of foot and mouth. We agree that the Armed Forces have demonstrated their capabilities in this area. But we are concerned that the present arrangements for involving them were devised with civil emergencies in mind. We remain to be convinced that they would prove adequate in the event of a large scale terrorist attack. In particular we are concerned to see clear, accountable and co-ordinated leadership across government departments.

125. We recognise that important constitutional principles are raised by this issue. We do not have a solution to offer at this stage. We believe however that a review of the arrangements for the provision of military assistance to the civil power should be included in the further work on the SDR.

126. The second issue under this heading is the role of the Reserves. Our predecessors in their report on the SDR were critical of the government's proposed reductions in Reserves manpower. They stated 'the Territorial Army are still a valuable resource as long term insurance against the unexpected'.[181] The Committee was also critical of the limited circumstances in which the MoD expected to call out formed units of Reserves in conditions short of general war.[182] In its reply the government stated that it was 'disappointed that the Committee has not been persuaded to abandon its misconception that the Territorial Army can be equated with the United States National Guard.'[183]

127. It would appear that MoD thinking has moved on since then. In the US, the Department of Defense is apparently planning to increase the number of the National Guard's 'Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams' from 10 to 32 on the basis of their favourable performance after the 11 September attacks.[184] In discussing what role the Reserves might now play in the UK, the Secretary of State said—

I have lived in the United States and I have seen the way in which reserves are organised and used there. I think that in recent times, since 11 September, they have performed a magnificent role in reassuring the American public. It may well be that that is something we judge to be necessary.[185]

128. We welcome this openness to reassessing the role of the Reserves.[186] We have no doubt that they are an under-used resource. We particularly draw attention to the decision under the SDR to transfer the anti-nuclear biological chemical weapons (NBC) capability from the Royal Yeomanry to a regular unit. Because of the assessment of the threat from such weapons at the time the principal task of this unit is the protection of Armed Forces deployed overseas. Despite the Policy Director's reservations about exposing the TA to such threats,[187] we believe that there are strong arguments for a NBC capability whose focus would be attacks on and incidents in the UK.


129. British Defence Doctrine notes that 'military activity is about confronting risk and managing it. It is emphatically never about avoiding risk; the military profession is not for those who are risk-averse'.[188] Major-General Milton, Director General Joint Doctrine and Concepts, told us that he was now examining whether doctrinal concepts of 'deep, close and rear' operations of conventional warfighting could be applied to the new circumstances—

It is a little early to say, but that construct will actually serve us quite well in looking at counter-terrorist operations. The deep operations you can see going out, pre-empting, dealing with people before they have the capacity to mount an attack against you, or perhaps attacking them in transit. We will have a requirement for close operations. We will be dealing with terrorists head on, perhaps back in the UK, but we shall also have this responsibility of looking after the home base and our ability to mount out ... Our instincts in conventional operations and in counter-terrorist operations tell us that the biggest pay-off is deep.[189]

Similarly, in a recent speech, the Secretary of State said that—

Military doctrine suggests that, in principle, it is often better to seek to engage the enemy at longer range, before the enemy gets the opportunity to mount an attack. This is more effective, and it has a deterrent effect. We must therefore continue to be free to deploy significant forces overseas rapidly. To do this, we must prevent our enemies from tying up our forces in defence of the home base—otherwise, they have won.[190]

We share the Secretary of State's conviction that tackling threats at a distance, before they develop into more serious threats closer to home, is the more productive approach. Although it fits the doctrine and culture of the British Armed Forces developed over many years, we are not yet convinced that it will be fully robust against sub-state terrorist groups which are not amenable to the leverage of normal diplomatic activity or traditional concepts of deterrence. As the Secretary of State also said, 'we will need to understand better when, where, how and which forms of deterrence, or deterrent action, will be successful'.[191]

130. Whether or not there is in practice a role for military action to pre-empt a possible terrorist attack must depend on the circumstances of individual cases. When we put it to the Secretary of State, he answered—

I think that if there were a sufficiently proximate threat to the United Kingdom and I as Secretary of State could say that this threat was about to affect citizens of the United Kingdom then I would be entitled to defend those citizens by proportionate action that seemed to be appropriate.[192]

The qualifications in that answer demonstrate how difficult it is to answer the question hypothetically: a point which the Secretary of State also made.[193] The question might be better phrased as 'what planning should we do for possible pre-emptive military actions, and what types of action and range of contingencies should that planning address?'

131. There are two dimensions to this. The first is a largely political and legal one. The Secretary of State emphasised 'the importance of international law, and indeed our law, because that governs our own armed forces in the way in which they conduct their activities.'[194] We are by no means confident that Article 51 of the UN charter would provide the necessary cover for pre-emptive action. Article 51 applies, 'if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations'. The United Nations may of course provide the authority for action in a specific Resolution. There may be occasions when assembling the necessary international political support to secure such a resolution before any action is taken is possible. But we suspect that if action is being taken against what the Secretary of State called 'a sufficiently proximate threat', there may not be time. The concept of self-defence in international law, of course, runs wider than either Article 51, or the UN's specific endorsement. Nonetheless, if the new chapter of the SDR is to propose a capability for pre-emptive military action it must also ensure that such action does not lead our forces to operate outside international law.

132. In some cases, the Policy Director argued, British forces might be involved in such action at the request of the state concerned.[195] Not all states have total control over all their geographical area. The Policy Director, while recognising that the analogy should not be stretched too far, pointed to British forces' involvement in Sierra Leone.[196] We had previously put such a scenario to Sir Tim Garden. He described it as 'highly unlikely', because terrorist organisations could be expected to seek bases in failed states which 'do not have a government that can make these sort of coherent decisions.'[197] Furthermore, in the case of al Qaeda at least, the international character of its network is likely to make it difficult to demonstrate that specific action in a particular country is either required or sufficient to counter any urgent threat.

133. The second dimension is the form which pre-emptive military action might take. It is likely to involve one or both of two approaches: firstly attack from a distance, through missiles or weapons launched from aircraft or naval vessels, and secondly close quarter action on the ground. Professor Freedman told us—

The British—more than the Americans I think—have understood that in a lot of these conflicts in failed states, weak states, whatever you want to call them, what happens on the ground is critical and the ability to influence what is going on on the ground probably requires your own people there.[198]

We agree. We also note that the Secretary of State in his speech at King's College suggested that 'our armed forces may need to develop a more active role in stop and search missions on land as well as at sea, or in conducting search and destroy raids on key terrorist facilities'.

134. Such actions are likely to be high risk, and the proper planning and training for them will be essential. They also suggest that we may need more specialist and highly-trained agile forces which can be made available at short notice; more forces, in other words, with the skills and training of the Royal Marine Commandos or the Parachute Regiment. The Secretary of State endorsed this suggestion and told us that one of his 'preliminary assumptions ... [was] that we are going to have to have more people available at short periods of notice, but there are real implications as to how you do that and the impact on those forces themselves and their families, is something to which we also have to have regard.'[199] Some in the Army perceive that there is a gap opening up between the existing high readiness troops and the rest, who are consequently excluded from front line operational roles. If interdiction forces are to be an important component of the MoD's response to the threat from terrorism, this issue needs to be tackled with some urgency by the Department; as is highlighted by readiness capability gaps already evident. The MoD's latest Performance Report, for 2000-01, notes for example that only 72% of Army units intended to be rapidly available met this requirement.[200]

135. The possible actions highlighted by the Secretary of State also imply a greater role for special forces. The Secretary of State told us that he would not comment on special forces—

It is not something which successive governments do, and I am not going to change that today.[201]

We understand that much about the special forces must remain secret and we do not intend to discuss their role in this report. But this does raise an important issue about the way in which the further work on the SDR is to be conducted. Special forces have in the past mainly supported the operational activities of larger, mainstream forces; often going ahead of those forces. A greater focus on 'interdiction' against terrorist threats, however, could place special forces at the very heart of future operations. In such circumstances, a sensible debate on our military response to terrorism will have to deal more openly and frankly with the size, role and utility of our special forces. The French Ministry of Defence appears to have made a start, with open discussion of possible changes in the equipment and size of their forces (extra funding will be provided to increase French special forces by 700-900, on top of 2,000 existing personnel.)[202]

Openness and inclusivity

136. We have discussed separately the importance of intelligence in countering the threat from terrorism. At the start of our inquiry the Policy Director told us that one of the elements of the further work on the SDR would be the question of 'specific intelligence against general vulnerability' but that this work would 'obviously have to remain pretty secret'.[203] This was also the first of the questions which the Secretary of State put to us on 28 November. Taken together with the conclusion which we have drawn that the role and capabilities of the special forces will be another central element in the work on the SDR, this leads us to have serious doubts over the extent to which the contents of the 'new chapter' can be openly discussed. We await with interest to see how the MoD resolves this issue in the consultation/discussion paper which it plans to publish early next year.


137. We have been concerned throughout our inquiry that there has been a lack of clarity over how we will pay for the additional responsibilities, roles and capabilities which our Armed Forces may be asked to take on in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks. The Policy Director assured us that in doing the further work on the SDR he was faced with no financial constraints:

... we are going to do the work based on what we think is needed and very much at the end ... we shall see what additions might be necessary.[204]

138. Although this might seem encouraging, we must not forget that our starting point is that the necessary resources to implement all the commitments under the original SDR are not yet available. Indeed, the MoD's Performance Report 2000-01 noted that there remain many areas of capability with weaknesses, with 'manpower and equipment shortages ... the biggest challenges'.[205] And the Chief of Defence Staff recently acknowledged—

True that expeditionary operations stretch us a lot; true that many of the enablers for SDR have been late in coming and in some cases are still awaited; true that we find ourselves committed to more operations than originally intended; and true that parts of the system have not yet adjusted to new approaches.[206]

Sir Tim Garden described the SDR tasks as 'under-resourced'.[207] He feared that the new chapter would be—for the budget of the Armed Forces as a whole—a zero sum game. When challenged on this, the Secretary of State replied—

I cannot say precisely what the conclusions of this will be ... We will do the work, we will identify the priorities, we will then have to make judgements as to what are the overriding priorities for the Department within the resource constraints that all Government departments face.[208]

139. We recognise that the Secretary of State is constrained in what he can say. There is a spending review currently underway whose results are expected to be announced in the summer of next year. But there is an urgency to the present situation and a point of principle which we believe justifies an earlier statement. As Sir Tim Garden reminded us, 'the primary role of Government is the protection of its citizens.'[209] We have seen how the attacks of 11 September have both changed our understanding of what that involves and, in the United States at least, demonstrated how a public's confidence in its government's ability to deliver that protection can be challenged. The United States administration has taken prompt action in response and has already made available up to $40 billion in Emergency Supplementary Appropriations, of which $13 billion so far has been committed for Department of Defense measures.[210]

140. We cannot say authoritatively that there are not somewhere one or more capabilities proposed under the original SDR which might now be considered unnecessary. Sir Tim Garden for example suggested that there might not any longer be a need for the British Army to have a significant element of tanks (the Army currently has just over 600 tanks,[211] compared with around 1200 in November 1990).[212] Others have argued that we may not now need as many as 232 Eurofighter Typhoons. Sir Tim argued that the UK had traditionally seen a need to keep a 'broad range of capabilities ... a little of everything.'[213]

141. One answer to this dilemma might be to increase the amount of military role-sharing with allies, or perhaps less contentiously 'pooling' of military capabilties. But when we put this to the Secretary of State, while he seemed enthusiastic about the steps taken by some of our allies amongst themselves in this regard,[214] he did not seem to think it was relevant in the same way to the UK—

... first and foremost in the United Kingdom we must maintain a range of capabilities that we require ultimately to defend the United Kingdom but [also] to defend its interests and participate where we can in coalitions of the willing around the world.[215]

We do not dissent from that, but we believe that, if it is to be our policy to maintain such a range of capabilities, it follows that we must be prepared to pay for them. If we are to add a chapter to the SDR, we must add the money to pay for it. The further work on the SDR is going to run on into the spring or early summer. The results of the spending review are not expected until the summer. The government should therefore make an early commitment that it will find the necessary extra money to fund those additional capabilities which may be identified as necessary in the light of the attacks of 11 September.

118  eg HC Deb, 4 October 2001, c 809 Back

119  Eighth Report, Session 1997-98, The Strategic Defence Review, HC 138, 1997-98, Q 101 Back

120  Cm 3999, para 15 Back

121  Cm 3999 Back

122  ie dangerous regimes, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, drugs and organised crime, terrorism, environmental degradation and the vulnerabilities of IT systems Back

123  op cit, para 10 Back

124  The Army establishment was increased by 3,300 and the Royal Navy establishment was reduced by 1,400 (SDR Supporting Essay 6Back

125  Cm 3999, para 92 Back

126  Speech to the Royal United Services Institute, 10 December 2001 Back

127  HC 138, Session 1997-98, op cit, para 2 Back

128  op cit, paragraph 156 Back

129  Sixth Special Report, Session 1997-98, The Strategic Defence Review, Government Response to the Eighth Report from the Defence Committee of Session 1997-98, HC 1198, para 29 Back

130  ibid para 30 Back

131  HC 138, Session 1997-98, op cit, para 125 Back

132  ibid Back

133  HC 138, Session 1997-98, op cit, para 67 Back

134  HC 1198, Session 1997-98, op cit, para 32 Back

135  HC 138, Session 1997-1998, op cit, para 126 Back

136  Ev p 1 Back

137  11 September-The New Chapter for the Strategic Defence Review, Speech by the Secretary of State at King's College London, 5 December 2001 Back

138  Q 261 Back

139  Cm 3999, paras 36-41 and Supporting Essay Two, The Policy Framework, paras 12-16 Back

140  Speech by the Secretary of State at King's College London, 5 December 2001 Back

141  ibid Back

142  Q 10 Back

143  Q 169 Back

144  Q 142 Back

145  Q 273 Back

146  Q 297 Back

147  Ev p 1 Back

148  HC Deb, 29 October 2001, c 613 Back

149  Q 37 Back

150  Q 369 Back

151  Speech by the Secretary of State at King's College London, 5 December 2001 Back

152  Q 371 Back

153  Q 374 Back

154  Q 13 Back

155  Q 163 Back

156  CQ Weekly, 15 September 2001, p 2124 Back

157  Q 285 Back

158  Q 286 Back

159  Combatting Terrorism: Linking Threats to Strategies and Resources, GAO, July 2000 Back

160  Homeland Security: Challenges and Strategies in Addressing short- and long-term national needs, GAO, November 2001 Back

161  Speech by the Secretary of State at King's College London, 5 December 2001 Back

162  Q 60 Back

163  Cm 3999, para 46 Back

164  Q 278 Back

165  HC 138 (Session 1997-98) Op cit, Ev, p 22 Back

166  Defending against the Threat from Biological and Chemical Weapons, MoD, July 1999, para 2 Back

167  ibid Back

168  Cm 3999, Foreword, para 6 Back

169  Q 261 Back

170  Q 290 Back

171  Q 170 Back

172  Q 60 Back

173  British Defence Doctrine (2nd Edition), October 2001, p 6-9 Back

174  See Ev p 21 Back

175  Dr Hills is a member of the War Studies Group, King's College, London at the Joint Services Command and Staff College Back

176  Ev p 91 Back

177  ibid Back

178  Q 317 Back

179  ibid Back

180  Q 81 Back

181  HC 138, Session 1997-98, op cit, para 268 Back

182  ibid, para 271 Back

183  HC 1198, Session 1997-98, op cit, para 65 Back

184  Jane's Defence Weekly, 5 December 2001 Back

185  Q 298 Back

186  Previous Defence Committees have taken a close interest in the Reserves; see, for example, in addition to the Eighth Report, Session 1997-98, Strategic Defence Review, HC 138-I, paragraphs 258-289; Twelfth Report, Session 1994-95, The Reserve Forces, HC 65; First Report, Session 1998-99, The Strategic Defence Review: Territorial Army, HC 70l; Sixth Report, Session 1998-99, The Reserves Call Out Order 1999 and Progress of Territorial Army Restructuring, HC 860; Sixth Report, Session 2000-01, The Strategic Defence Review: The Reserves, HC 976 Back

187  Q 81 Back

188  op cit, p 3-4 Back

189  Q 51 Back

190  Speech by the Secretary of State at King's College London, 5 December 2001 Back

191  ibid Back

192  Q 293 Back

193  Q 292, Q 294 Back

194  Q 291 Back

195  Q 281 Back

196  ibid Back

197  Q 213 Back

198  Q 158 Back

199  Q 346 Back

200  Cm 5290, para 26 Back

201  Q 345 Back

202  Jane's Defence weekly, 5 December 2001 Back

203  Q 13 Back

204  Q 11 Back

205  Cm 5290, para 24 Back

206  Speech at the Royal United Services Institute, 10 December 2001 Back

207  Q 170 Back

208  Q 274 Back

209  Q 189 Back

210  Congressional Budget Amendments and Supplementals, Financial Year 2002, Estimates 13-23 Back

211  Ministry of Defence Performance Report 2000-01, Cm 5290, p 81 Back

212  Statement on the Defence Estimates 1991, Cm 1559-I, p 33 Back

213  Q 252 Back

214  Q 360 Back

215  Q 361 Back

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