Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)



  20. So was it necessary because the NATO defence capability initiative was not working? The NATO capability is about the same thing, is it not? It is cranking it up. If we need Helsinki in order to achieve that cranking up of capability, then what was going wrong with NATO?
  (Mr Ingram) Nothing was going wrong with NATO, but there was a need, first of all, for the recognition that more needed to be done. A good example of what we did in this country was the SDR; the very need to re-examine what our posture was post-Cold War and to see what our own capabilities were. These things, I would not say are relatively new to this debate, but it seems to me there are no solutions you lift off the shelf and say "Here is a new threat imposed or a new environment into which we find ourselves operating, and here is now the answer". It simply cannot work that way. NATO, clearly, because of the wider reach that NATO has, has got a wider range of shortfalls in capabilities it has to address, and that they are doing. The European initiative we are talking about here adds to that. Many of the key players within NATO are obviously European countries, and on that basis, if we are living with a capability in a European dimension then we are helping the NATO shortfalls as well.

  21. Just to be clear—and finally—is that your answer to the question: what difference is it making? What is the difference between having a NATO capability initiative and the Helsinki Goals?
  (Mr Ingram) I do not think there is a difference, other than what NATO is doing is across a wider reach. They have a bigger range of areas to look at, they are not tied to the Petersberg Tasks, they go beyond that to specific war-fighting against nations and reconstruction of nations. As Simon has pointed out, that is beyond the Petersberg Tasks. There are mutual interests in this, and by taking this forward it sets the conditions. It could also, perhaps, be explained on the basis that some countries are probably more comfortable dealing within a European dimension than within a NATO dimension; they are more comfortable with the type of bilateral or multilateral discussions that take place or the environment in which they discuss it. If that of itself improves capabilities then we should welcome that.

Mr Howarth

  22. Minister, can you set out for us what the United Kingdom's contribution to the Helsinki Headline Goal is, and how that contribution was derived?
  (Mr Ingram) It is 12,500 troops, 18 warships and 72 aircraft. That would be the component force that would have been identified within the SDR as capable of carrying out a medium-scale operation. What we say is that that was one of the things which was defined within the SDR and, therefore, that is what we can contribute to this. That is what we are contributing into the pot, so to speak.

  23. Coming back to Mr Knight's point, does that in any respect limit our capability to fulfil our commitment towards NATO?
  (Mr Ingram) No, because it is not something that is then given to Europe and cannot be touched for any other purposes, nor is it something that would be given to NATO and could not be touched for our own national interests purposes; it is simply defining what we are putting in and making available by way of a contribution. Wherever the demand comes from, that can be drawn upon to meet that need, assuming we agree with the deployment. So it is about saying "This is available for use". We, the UK, then decide whether it is going to be deployed. It is not left to NATO or to the EU; but they know that is there and the offer has been made, and if we need to move into using it we will so determine whether we want to use it and the way in which it is being offered.

  24. That raises some interesting points, which I think we are going to come on to later, as to how that same pool of resources might be competed for between the two organisations.
  (Mr Ingram) I will wait for those questions with some anticipation.

  25. I think you will find them interesting. Does our pledge of these forces which you have just set out take any account of what we might do alongside other partners and what capabilities we might rely upon them to provide?
  (Mr Ingram) If I interpret your question correctly, would it work against us working bilaterally or multi-nationally with other countries within Europe or elsewhere? The answer to that is no, in the sense that we have what we have available depending, when the request comes in, on what our national interest is in this. If there are competing demands, either from NATO or from ESDP or a combination of that, then we would have to make political decisions within this. Clearly, you can only utilise the resources once, you cannot use them more than once at the same time. We then have to make a decision on where lies our priority.

  26. That, of course, would apply to other countries which have dual membership of NATO and the EU.
  (Mr Ingram) Yes, absolutely.

  27. This force could be quite difficult to manage, could it not, if our commitment and, say, the French commitment and the German commitment, upon which we were relying for some task, were being split in these different ways?
  (Mr Ingram) I am trying not to give you an answer that says there is a split. What I am saying is that it depends on the set of circumstances. Perhaps we are into scenario painting, but you might want to give me an example of where that could arise, where NATO would have a different interest from the EU and a different interest from UK, France, Germany and so on. There will tend to be, depending on the circumstances, a mutual identification of what needs to be done, but NATO may say "It is not an area into which we want to deploy", knowing there is a capability there within the EU and within those range of Petersberg Tasks, where they have contributions earmarked, and, therefore, they could go off and do it. If we were already engaged in other theatres we would not have that which we were putting into the pot. If we were deployed in a range of other activities and that was in our UK interest, then it would not, obviously, be available then for use. So it is not a case of all those resources standing idly by waiting for an event, they could be used at any point in time.

  28. Can we move to the question of other nations and their contributions? Can you let us know which EU partners provide the least contribution to the Helsinki Goal in terms of their relative national wealth? How well is the UK placed in terms of the highest contributors?
  (Mr Ingram) I am not an economist, so—

  29. Luxembourg might give you a starting point.
  (Mr Ingram) Simon may assist in this. My understanding is you have been given the definitions of the broad contributions that have been made by each of the countries[1].

  I do not know whether it is a case for your Clerk then to examine what is the GDP of each of those countries and then to try and define that.

  30. What I am trying to arrive at—
  (Mr Ingram) Are we contributing more than someone else.

  31. We are pulling our weight, unquestionably. The level is 60,000 or so and we are contributing 12,500. Which are the countries that are pulling their weight and which are not?
  (Mr Ingram) Again, if you look at what has been offered, while the Headline Goal we talk about is 60,000 deployment, it is in the region of 100,000 if you add up all that which has been contributed. So there is a considerable amount more than the 60,000. Once that is defined and as the Action Plan begins to look at how that is defined with clarity, then we will have a better understanding of this. Are we pulling our weight? The answer is yes. I can only speak for the UK on this.

  32. Are there others who are not?
  (Mr Ingram) I have got to say that would be a matter for you to examine by questioning them. All countries that are part of this have put forward what has been anticipated to meet the Headline Goals and, again, I have given you that example of 60,000 but if you tally it up you will find it is in the region of 100,000 as it currently stands. It could well be that other countries are putting in more than was anticipated of them. We would need to bring that down. We will e-mail the position on that.

  33. I do not want to press you too much on that, at the moment.
  (Mr Lee) Could I just add a comment on that, following what the Minister said on that last point? All the contributions or offers that have been made by all the Member States are made voluntarily by them according to their decision making and their own wish to participate in the effort to meet the Headline Goal. Participation in any particular operation which might occur in the future would also be a question of national decision and voluntary effort by the various countries. The question of pulling their weight, as it were, is a difficult one because the system does not allocate proportions to different countries according to GDP or any other parameter. The agreement that has been reached is that countries will make their own voluntary commitment as they see fit according to their own wishes and their own decision making. That is the basis of what we have at the moment.


  34. That is a very politically correct answer. Maybe you will write a note to us which is franker. What we are concerned about is that we are not remotely enthusiastic at the concept of a European Army but we are contributing significantly and it would be interesting to know if there is any correlation between high enthusiasm for the concept and high commitment to improving countries' commitment to both NATO and to their European commitment. Looking at the stark figures gives you some sort of clue and nothing more. We would be interested to know, in whatever form you wish to present it to us, the extent to which commitment has been fairly evenly extended based on ability to contribute.
  (Mr Ingram) As Ian said, this is a voluntary operation, it is not by diktat or by precise definition. Therefore, we would like—if you think we have not been frank with you—to be more frank, but I think we have tried to examine it as best we can. We will consider if there is any other information we can give you on that that would assist, and you may want to talk about that between our officials as to precisely what you are after and if there is more we could give you to help in your understanding.

Mr Jones

  35. Picking up that point, I hear what you are saying but it seems a very strange meal, does it not? It seems like inviting 10 or 12 people to a meal saying "Each bring a course along" but you might end up with three puddings, five entrees and an exotic array but, in the end, no main meal. How do you ensure that you actually get the starter, the entree, the main course, the pudding and the coffee at the end?
  (Mr Ingram) I have been at some dinners which have been bun fights but I do not think I would want to elaborate on that analogy.
  (Mr Webb) The process of dealing with Headline Goals is a mutual process by which all members have indicated a desire to get to the Headline Goals which were mutually agreed. There is a process which is actually quite visible for countries to declare what contributions they are making. Indeed, I think after the Capability Improvement Conference in November they published—and I think we put it in the library of the House—what countries have said about their contribution. That whole process itself does provide an encouragement for people to work towards a mutual effort. We are encouraging people in this direction, there is no doubt about it, because we did our SDR earlier and feel, to some extent, we are in a good position to encourage others. The Action Plan which was drawn up at the Capability Improvement Conference identifies the areas where there are continued shortfalls. I have just been reading what shortfalls have been remedied in the year, so in terms of effort I was just noting that countries listed as having remedied shortfalls in the year before included France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Austria—and there are lots of repeats in that. So lots of people have been working away achieving things in that year. The Action Plan then provides for groups of countries to undertake to work together to fill the further shortfalls. So there is a process by which we actually, mutually, encourage countries to come through and fill the gaps. I have a sense that people were, within the limits of their capacity, trying to work in that direction. So there is a system which is designed to do what you were just talking about, which is to make sure that we fill all the gaps.

  36. But the point is that when you usually come to this Committee you are very clear and concise in your answers and clear in the theatre. This seems to me to be very woolly in terms of a lot of things in the EU, in terms of how you get to an end product. To me the way you have described it you cannot actually force somebody to contribute, no matter what you say. What happens if people say no or, for example, the national budgets within those countries dictate that they cannot afford to do it? Would it leave you with an ingredient short for the meal?
  (Mr Ingram) I would just say that politics is not an exact science. You could take it down from the debate that goes across Europe into any nation and look at the debate on priorities that exist at any point in time. That type of argument where you say that every country is woolly in its thinking on occasion, you can certainly prioritise it in budgetary terms but to give every answer to every question to every scenario is simply never going to be realistic to ask of decision makers. This goes back to what Mr Howarth was saying about what we contribute against other countries, but of course other countries may contribute more. They could influence world events in a specific way, ie in terms of international development. The Dutch put a very considerable part of their GDP for instance into international development, I think it is eight per cent, and we are not at that figure. Looking at what we do in terms of military improvements, in terms of capabilities, I think that should sit alongside what the Petersberg Tasks are and what humanitarian elements are in there. While those countries which have the military capabilities will put considerable resources in, others may come along to assist in the process by other means which would then not be put into the military capability pot but could make a significant contribution. That would be the danger of trying to say that we are better than the rest or we have got a shortfall against any other particular country, because it is what is then set against all the deliveries that countries are making to achieve that which we want to achieve from a European dimension and how we can contribute positively, constructively, to world events.
  (Mr Webb) Some countries are also doing things that we are not doing. Some countries have signed up (not us) to theatre ballistic missile defence capacity. Within the shortfalls is a related area which we can talk about a bit later on, which is the civilian police component. Other countries, for example, contribute a sort of carabinieri/gendarmerie type of element which can be very useful in some of these situations and which we do not do, so there is a complementarity here. As you say, it is a menu and people bring different things along. The challenge is to try and get the menu as complete as we can.

Syd Rapson

  37. Chairman, I do not like jumping in, as you know, but could I put the question a different way which Mr Jones is teasing out? If a mission is agreed to go ahead and all the countries agree with it, and it is absolute that it is needing nuclear submarines as part of that mission and then Britain and France say, "We are not playing", that scuppers the whole business because they can withdraw and veto their specific unique part of the operation which gives Britain and France (certainly the UK in particular in other scenarios) a very powerful position which would drive the other countries to try and reflect what Britain are doing in having a wide ranging capability. That is the worry I have, of having the meal spoilt by one of the dishes not turning up. It is where they withdraw and say, "We are not participating", so we take away our specific element of the operation which is crucial that is a weakness of this, which I hope we can strengthen. I am not against it.
  (Mr Webb) The answer is that if there were a critical element that happened to be provided by only a few countries, and there are not many of those, and those countries said that these forces were not available, then the mission could not take place and the EU military staff would say, "We are unable to help with this situation". The one thing we would not do is go crashing around trying to do operations when we did not have enough assets, and I think you could rely on the UK Chief of Defence Staff to give clear advice on that point.

Mr Howarth

  38. Are there any elements of our forces that we have specifically excluded from the Helsinki pot?
  (Mr Webb) Nuclear weapons?
  (Mr Ingram) The nuclear deterrent would be an example.

  39. Anything else? Special Forces?
  (Mr Ingram) Sorry—say that again?

1   Compendium of Capabilities issued at the EU Capabilities Improvements Conference, November 2001, placed in the House of Commons Library by the Ministry of Defence. Back

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