Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)




  1. Mr Ingram, Mr Webb and Mr Lee, welcome to our Committee for what is a long-running saga on European Security and Defence, with Helsinki Goals, Laeken and Afghanistan. We would be interested to know what impact that has had on what our European colleagues have in mind for defence and security. You, I understand, would like to make an opening statement and then proceed with a lot of questions. We will try, if we can, to finish by 12.30 but I cannot offer any absolute commitment at this stage, Mr Ingram.

  (Mr Ingram) Mr Chairman, could I thank you. This is, obviously, the first time I have given evidence to this Select Committee in my new role, so it is with some trepidation and interest that I approach this particular task. Having served on a select committee myself some time ago, and having given evidence to other select committees, I know the importance of this and, as you say, this is a very critical and, indeed, topical issue. Geoff Hoon, of course, would have been here to give evidence this morning, and he is sorry he cannot be here today because he is already committed to attending a meeting of NATO ministers in Brussels. I think, as we speak, he is now travelling back for other events later today, but sends his regrets and apologies for not being with us today. I do not know whether it is my pleasure to be here or not, but for the record I will say it is my pleasure to be in attendance. You have already identified Simon Webb, who is our Policy Director and who, I think, is all too familiar to you—and, more importantly, you to him. I do not know whether Ian Lee has popped up in any shape or form in front of you before, but Ian is the Director Europe and these are the two specialists in this particular area. I know you would welcome any contributions from them to supplement anything that I may say or may not have the direct answer on. I just want to make a very brief statement. Since Geoff last appeared before you to talk about European Security and Defence Policy in March this year, we believe a great deal has been achieved. Most notably, in the last few weeks, there have been first the Capabilities Improvement Conference, in November, and, secondly, the Laeken European Council last weekend. It may be helpful if I set the scene very briefly on these two particular events. The Conference, and the work leading up to it, was important for maintaining our collective commitment. It had five important components: first, it produced a very thorough and professional assessment of the precise nature, quantity and qualities of the capabilities required to meet the Headline Goal. This assessment was based on the work of experts from the 15 EU Member States working with the help and support of NATO experts. It demonstrates the mutually reinforcing nature of NATO and EU goals. Second, it captured some significant adjustments and improvements to the offers of forces and capabilities that countries had made in November 2000. Third, it collected a comprehensive picture of plans and initiatives already in the pipeline within Members States' defence programmes. Fourth, drawing on this information, it was able to identify the remaining shortfall areas—and the most significant areas within that list. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, at the Conference itself Ministers committed to an Action Plan to pursue these remaining shortfalls vigorously to the target of 2003 and beyond. No doubt we will touch on these issues during this session. Secondly, I would like to report very briefly the outcome of the European Council at Laeken. In addition to endorsing the capabilities work I have just described, the Council marked a milestone in the successful development of ESDP. The Council reached two important conclusions: first that the capabilities available and the permanent establishment of the decision-making and advisory structures did give the EU the capacity now to consider undertaking some crisis management operations. Coming only two years after the decisions at Helsinki to pursue these goals, that in itself represents considerable progress. The second conclusion reached is equally significant: the Council concluded that the more demanding operations would require further development of capabilities and that the Union was determined to finalise swiftly arrangements with NATO. Again, I am sure we will come back to those arrangements during this session. For now I should simply like to stress that all the Member States of both the EU and NATO are committed to co-operation between these organisations in the sphere of crisis management. A mutually supportive, close, confident relationship in which each organisation can share its experience, expertise and strength is a shared aim of all the countries involved. In practice, whether in preparation for the Capabilities Conference or in discussions on the Balkans or on the campaign against terrorism, this close relationship is a reality on the ground. It is true that some elements of the formal agreements and arrangements between NATO and the EU have not yet been concluded, but we are very close, and while there are still some details to finalise we are close to concluding some of those issues. However, we are not complacent and there is, of course, a great deal still to do. But I believe we can be pleased with progress that has been made on ESDP in a remarkably short period. Now, as the urgency and range of security tasks have grown in recent months, there is a greater need than ever for Europeans to take a fair share of the security burden. The instability and the crisis management tasks that existed before 11 September are still there and so is the requirement for ESDP to play its part in dealing with them. Its objectives are clear: to improve military and civil capabilities across and within partner nations throughout the EU. I would pose a question: who could possibly disagree with that? Mr Chairman, I am all yours.

  2. Maybe the Belgian Foreign Minister would. We must express our appreciation to the Belgians' wise stewardship of the European Union for the last six months and express some sadness that it will be 2013 before their time comes around again. The first question, Minister, for you and your team to answer is: what do you consider the UK's interpretation is of the upper end of the range of possible Petersberg Tasks?
  (Mr Ingram) Clearly, I can only speak for the UK on this, but I would say that our views would be shared across the EU. Of course, that is what discussions and Capabilities Conferences are all about, to try and match what has been identified within the Petersberg Tasks. The upper end would be, I suppose, the peace-making element of all of that, and that would be the separation of parties by force in any theatre of potential conflict or conflict. That would be one area. Conflict prevention and prevention of deployment would, possibly, be another area where it would be the upper end of it. In the sense of where those events could be taking place, then the geographic location would come into some of the dimensions of that debate as well. While the upper end could be defined in the way in which I have defined it, also the capabilities of being able to deliver into areas would sit alongside that type of determination.

  3. But the upper end is not getting too close to war-fighting for your liking, is it?
  (Mr Ingram) War-fighting in the sense that, in a conflict, we have always said that even in relatively benign areas you could still find yourself in a fighting situation. We have always made the point that if fired upon we would expect the situation could be that we would be firing back in those circumstances. The rules of engagement we do not define in precise detail—and, again, you know the reasons for that. On the specific question as to are we getting close to war-fighting, yes, it could well be, in certain circumstances. We would not find ourselves in the upper end tasks against a country, but dealing with factionalism within countries and the separation of factions or different groupings or entities within particular countries, yes, it could—to answer your precise question—be of a war-fighting nature, but not country to country.

  4. Could I ask if your colleagues went to Laeken?
  (Mr Webb) It is always a mistake when I say this, Chairman, but I was at Petersberg on the day this was agreed, so I remember. I think something which is worth characterising is that the reference to peace-making was introduced fairly late. This was in the early 1990s when the Balkans issue was breaking out, and the reason it was introduced was that people were starting to get worried about fighting in the Balkans. So, indeed, the idea that you might have to separate—exactly as the Minister has said—the parties who, if you like, were warring was very much in people's mind, and the separation of those as opposed to wars between states was in people's mind. The way that the Headline Goals have been scaled—and there is a specific process on this—is that it specifically provides for this kind of operation at the war-fighting end, which is why you find some quite sharp-end capabilities in the Headline Goals, such as supression of air defences and that kind of thing, which is definitely at the war-fighting end. So yes.

  5. Anything to add, Mr Lee?
  (Mr Lee) Not particularly. The scaling of the capabilities, the process by which the Headline Goals have been elaborated and in which it has been defined what all the different capabilities are, obviously, has used, as working assumptions, different scenarios. Those include a scenario referred to as separation of warring parties. So that does include assumptions about combat, possibly, being needed in that situation. Those are assumptions that have been made for military planning purposes in order to work out in more detail what the requirements are which would be needed to underpin the broad statement of the Headline Goal. There has not been an attempt to define precisely in the abstract what the top end of the Petersberg Tasks would be. I think the expectation is that one could not really define it in the abstract, one can only define it in relation to a particular situation which would have to be assessed at the time.

  6. You do not detect it shifting up higher?
  (Mr Lee) No.

  7. NATO is quite relaxed about what has been agreed, is it?
  (Mr Webb) Yes.

  8. How about our European partners? Is there fundamental agreement on what this, more or less, interpretation of Petersberg is?
  (Mr Lee) Yes, I think so. Perhaps I can just say, on the scenarios in relation to NATO, the actual scenarios that were used originated in the days of the WEU. NATO had done some work on them in those days and NATO did contribute very largely to the assessment work and to the elaboration of them in this work that has happened in the last couple of years. There has been no sense of any dispute or reluctance on the part of NATO in assisting with this work; that has happened throughout.

  9. When NATO was set up in 1949, there were boundaries—much disputed—as to where NATO should deploy. Can you elaborate on distance? A thousand kilometres? Four thousand kilometres? Continents? Is it being kept flexible for any potential deployment?
  (Mr Ingram) We are talking about the ESDP and how that is evolving. All within the European theatre or would it go beyond that, I suppose, would be the way I would interpret that question. Again, we are probably some way away from envisaging going beyond the lower end of what can be delivered. Once we get to 2003 then it will be on a case-by-case basis. Could we find ourselves involved in Africa? Yes, possibly. Would it be within Europe, if events such as Kosovo and Serbia manifest themselves? Probably. That would be the way in which it would be envisaged. It is not a global approach that would be anticipated by the ESDP, but where there was a European interest and there was a willingness to deliver on this capability that NATO was not engaged in, then we could find ourselves involved in any one of the Petersberg Tasks as so defined; so humanitarian and, even, through to the upper end if we had the capabilities and NATO was not engaged at that time.

  10. Did they discuss, do you think, any scenarios for operations?
  (Mr Ingram) "They" being?

  11. At Laeken, or any discussions leading up to it on Petersberg Tasks and the Helsinki Goals. Where I come from, Minister, is that I think most of these things ought to be done by NATO, and if the European Union wishes to get engaged I think there should be very defined limits as to what those duties are, otherwise there can be serious war-fighting as we belong to an alliance with a far more wide array of powers and capabilities. I, personally, want to know what we are buying into in terms of the upper limits.
  (Mr Ingram) When you use the phrase "serious war-fighting", that could be the Afghanistan situation. It is most unlikely that that would be something which the ESDP could or would ever deliver upon because of the nature and the demands in that particular theatre. So there are limits in that sense. Trying to answer your earlier question about what would be the reach of it in geographic terms and distance terms, what I was saying was we could find ourselves where there were willing nations within Europe, where NATO was not involved, so engaged. Could it be Sierra Leone, if something similar happened? The answer could be yes to that. Because the capabilities are there, we have shown we can do it as a nation, other nations alongside us, depending on the nature of the mission, could deliver enhanced capabilities. So the European dimension could find itself being played in in that way, but in terms of relationship between NATO and ESDP, clearly there has to be a close relationship there and that is being worked on to ensure that it is about enhancing capabilities across NATO and across Europe. Everyone is signed up to that. In my earlier opening statement I think I indicated all nations are seized of that; that everyone benefits from those enhanced capabilities.

Syd Rapson

  12. Part of having a capable force is force projection, and we have aircraft carriers coming on stream some years in future and the French have got a tasty one. Do you envisage that Great Britain will be drawn with Europe into wider dimensions for their force projection role, going to wide-flung areas with a very substantial force saying "Do not start any trouble because we can resolve the issue", whereas, at the moment, we do not do that and force projection is normally in the USA? Can we see us as a European force, and Great Britain being drawn into wider-flung areas of the world on force projection to prevent problems with our interests?
  (Mr Ingram) Writing everything out or any scenario out is always fraught with some problems because it depends on the case-by-case approach. It has to be: what is the extent of it, what is the nature of it, how quickly can you go in, how quickly can you go out, and how quickly can you deliver that capability to meet the immediate need? There may well be occasions when that demand could be asked for or could be there and could then be met. So to rule it out and say "That will never happen" would be a wrong approach, but I think we then have to draw down and start looking at various scenarios. I have mentioned Sierra Leone. I do not know whether that would satisfy the type of force projection that you were thinking about. We deliver there, as the UK, but there may be something of a slightly larger threat or problem that, by combining forces from the European dimension, we could deliver where NATO may not wish to be so engaged. There are occasions when that could happen, but to be specific, I think, would be difficult at this stage.

Jim Knight

  13. Just following that one, for a start. I have some concerns, I suppose, that if we are not able to be clear about the upper end of the Petersberg Tasks across the EU and we are having to do it on a case-by-case basis, for all the reasons you have described, are we going to be able to reach the political level of agreement on a case-by-case basis quickly enough to respond to events, given the number of decision-makers you have got sitting round the table and given that some are coming from quite different stances—think about the neutral countries, for example? How is that going to work?
  (Mr Ingram) First of all, I think we are clear in general terms about what the upper end of the tasks are. What I am saying is that to try and so define them by taking a current example and saying "That would then be repeated at some point in the future and we would then find ourselves engaged", I think, is the wrong way of dealing with this, because rarely do these events occur in exactly the same way or with the same range of problems and the same range of interests in terms of neighbouring countries and other national interests that can play into a particular area. I think we are clear on what the upper ends of the task are, in general terms, and then it comes down to a case-by-case basis. Whether there is quickness in the decision-making process or not, I think, is also driven by events, sometimes by the enormity of what happens or the implications of what could happen. It drives a political will to find a solution. At other times the process will be slow. NATO has to go through that particular process, and there may be occasions when NATO has been through that process and is saying "We do not want to be so engaged", but the EU because of a community of interest which is there, in terms of our range of nations, would say "Yes, we could quickly move in to deal with this particular issue". I think that is why it is difficult to be too specific here, because we are into scenario painting in the future, and nobody can predict that problems will arise other than in very general terms based upon past events. Pre-11 September no one could have said "Well, let's plan in all of those events to the future" because—although much of it had been in your own previous reports and, indeed, in our SDR—the whole question is about the asymmetric threat and how you address it. Look how quickly nations came together on that particular problem.

  14. I accept all that and I understand what you are saying about trying to run specific scenarios and how difficult that is and it may not be helpful. It is just that when something happens is it a NATO task or is it an EU task? You have got to make that decision. You have got a whole bunch of politicians getting together from across Europe, from NATO Europe, which way are you going to go? You have got a whole set of decisions with people coming up from different ends, and if we have not got a very clear way of making those decisions quickly then what is the point of having a rapid reaction force if we have not got one at a political level?
  (Mr Ingram) Simon has got an answer, I think.
  (Mr Webb) I think it is bounded in several ways. The first, of course, is that although Petersberg Tasks could involve war-fighting and separation of warring parties—as the Minister said—we are not talking about intervening between states or the operation to recover a state, like getting Kuwait back from Iraq, for example. There is a boundry there.

Mr Howarth

  15. I am sorry, you are ruling that out?
  (Mr Webb) I am just saying it is not covered by the Petersberg Tasks or between states—about peace-making. The other constraint is because of the capability that is available. The capability, as Ian has explained, has been constructed against various scenarios and the maximum of it reflects the scenario of separating warring parties. Just as a sideline, the size of force we are talking about, if that feels similar to the size of the force which had to intervene in the Balkans in the 1990s, like KFOR, that is not a surprise, because it is the sort of thing which you would have in your mind; quite large and close. There is a mechanism within the EU structure for advice to be given in what is called the "pre-decision phase" by the EU military staff, which is not very large but has the relevant expertise within it. Also, there is an EU military committee which is composed of chiefs of defence who are cautious, realistic and sensible people. At the moment it is very limited, but in 2003 they will be able to say what sort of situations you could make an intervention in. I think I understand your point that there may be a political desire to react to a situation but there will be some very firm advice from military staff backed up by the chiefs of defence to say "Well, actually, what we are capable of doing in this situation is this and, actually, the task which is ahead of us is or is not achievable". It is also tempered, of course, by the willingness of the nations to allocate forces to the task. That is another constraint. So I think the Minister is absolutely right. In an uncertain world—
  (Mr Ingram) That is a relief!
  (Mr Webb)—it is wrong to try and rule out things that you might or might not do. That just gives comfort to people out there. I would like to rephrase what I said about Iraq. All I am saying is that that is not the sort of scenario on which Headline Goals were constructed, and nor I think was it what people had in mind as Petersberg Tasks because, again, we had just had that war and it was not in our mind. I would not sit and give comfort to Saddam Hussain that there was nothing he could do which would attract the interest of the ESDP; I think he might find somebody else's interest was attracted first.


  16. That is another issue.
  (Mr Webb) I would not want to give anybody that comfort, but that is why we are being careful about this.

Jim Knight

  17. That takes me beautifully on, because to paraphrase what you are saying, Mr Webb, it sounds as if as we can improve the capability then we can crank up and re-define what we are capable of and what, within the Petersberg Tasks, we can do and where the upper end is.
  (Mr Webb) Yes.

  18. What is the EU doing this for? What is most important to the EU? Is it to be able to undertake the full range, or is it to have a deployable and sustainable set of effective fighting forces up to Corps dimensions?
  (Mr Ingram) Probably both. I would not say those are exclusive concepts. To get that type of capable force in place would then mean we are able to meet a range of tasks beyond those which we are able to meet at present. It is about ramping up those capabilities, which undoubtedly are needed; there is no question at all about what is driving this; whether it is within and across European Union or within and across the countries that are members of NATO. There are, clearly, deficiencies within the capabilities; deficiencies and shortfalls which need to be addressed, and this driver can only assist in all of this because it is focussing the minds of all nations. We cannot rest on our laurels and say "We have got all the answers and been able to, necessarily, deliver on all fronts", nor indeed (although it is beyond the EU) can the US. Afghanistan is a very good example of where considerable UK presence has assisted in actions which have been carried out because the US had certain shortfalls. I do not believe that it is a case of one or the other; I do not think they are exclusive concepts.

  19. Is the principal benefit of the Helsinki initiative about increasing Europe's military capability, and tying it to Petersberg simply a very useful means to an end?
  (Mr Ingram) It is certainly a very useful means to an end, but it is a desirable end against which we have to find argument. I am not saying you are posing it from the point of view of difference with the objective, but it is a very useful means to an end. By setting goals we are then able, hopefully, to achieve those goals. It is the driver; it forces pace and it conditions the minds of those politicians coming round a table and others with responsibility in terms of command to look critically at what can be done, how best it can be delivered, and to what end.

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