Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)



  80. Are there short term things that you can do? I am thinking of strategic airlift, for example. The A400M is going to be well past 2003; we have leased the C-17s as a way of filling that gap. Is there other similar action that can be taken across Europe in order to resolve some key deficiencies?
  (Mr Webb) It is a good example. Obviously until the A400M, the contract for which was signed last night, comes through there will be limitations on reach in particular. I take your point. An operation you might be able to do close in, yes, but you will not be able to do far away for some time. As you say, this is the sort of area where you can go round encouraging people to look at either leasing or getting your name on some of the aircraft which are up for charter in central Europe, for example. It is all the sort of thing we try and encourage people to do. It is terribly important to get the sense that 2002 is a way point, a target that we are on course to get to, but beyond that the capacity and particularly this question of scale and reach and complexity will improve afterwards as these extra things come through. We indeed go round plugging all that and saying, "Yes, let us try and do some interim fixes in the meantime".

  81. And people listen to you?
  (Mr Webb) Yes.
  (Mr Lee) There are limitations at the moment. You can think of them in terms, as Simon says, of scale where the larger the scale, the more complicated the command and control arrangements, the more you would need to exercise those and obviously things are in their infancy at the moment. There would be limitations on scale for the time being for those reasons. There would be limitations on readiness, the quickness of deployment, and the reach at the moment because of strategic transport deficiencies, so there are some issues there which need to be addressed. In terms of the most complex, most demanding operations at the top of the Petersberg range we were talking about before, then some of the capability areas which are short on precision guided munitions, carrier based air power, suppression of enemy air defences, those kinds of things obviously limit your capacity at the top end of the range. Those are the sorts of areas that need to be worked on particularly vigorously before 2003 and beyond.

Mr Jones

  82. Just picking up in terms of the deficiencies in the Helsinki Headline Goals, what more can be done to deliver those goals? In terms of the approach, is there a need for a more top-down approach in terms of control, who does what? How do we get people who are not delivering or should be doing to deliver more? Do you see any advantage in terms of having some central pot in cash to help to plug certain goals? Do you see any advantages in having some central finance in terms of you having some goals that are clearly not being met at the moment?
  (Mr Ingram) That is the whole process in which we are engaged. First of all we have got the task that was set out. These are the things that we are seeking to achieve. It is then defined in terms of capabilities. It is then defined in terms of shortfalls. It is then defined now in terms of the action plan which I referred to, the way in which that will further refine how this is to be taken forward and which country or countries coming together can then push forward on that. In one sense it is saying that everyone has signed up to this and it is down to the leadership given through the Presidency and through the various component parts of the action plan to pull this forward. Whether it is about name calling—I do not think it would get to that. Diplomatic approaches never quite get to that, except criticism of the United Kingdom on occasion, but it seems to me that the totality of this approach is about dealing with those very key issues that you have just alighted on apart from this question of pooled resources where there are no plans, apart from at the very top end in terms of what we define as the political and military management structure of all of this, where there would be a pooling. There are no plans to pool resources in this way at all either through existing currencies or through the Euro.

  83. Do you see any advantage in having pooled resources?
  (Mr Ingram) The answer must be yes because we have decided to do so in terms of the top end of this, to look at how to put it in. The way in which NATO operates is that you pay for your own contribution. It is nice, clean, tidy. It is straightforward. That does not mean to say you do not have occasions where pooling can produce a benefit. At the top end of the management structure and the decision making structure there are benefits in that specific way. There may be other examples that may come along but certainly not in terms of the individual capabilities or the totality of capabilities. There are no plans, nor do I know of any plans.

  Mr Howarth: That sounds very cagey, Minister, but we have noted it.

Syd Rapson

  84. Earlier we talked about groupings of forces getting together such as Eurocorps and the Multinational Division, and the interoperability and working together is very useful. Is there scope for more of that? Is not the answer to the weaknesses we have got the grouping together of bilateral countries or two or three countries that are like-minded? Is that not the way to go?
  (Mr Ingram) Again I would say that those are not exclusive concepts, this ideal of groups of nations or bilateral relationships, developing good working relationships, because that of itself lifts the capability within the totality of what we are trying to do in terms of the EU initiative. They can go along together in this. Our view would be that we gain tremendous benefit from the relationships that we have working with other countries.

  85. I agree with that. What I am saying is, is there scope to extend that? The UK and Netherlands forces, with 3 Brigade Commandors working with the Dutch, is very effective and it gets better and better every time you see them. There must be more scope to try and concentrate on that grouping rather than have the whole pot working together. I think we have to hone that down.
  (Mr Ingram) The nodding heads tell me there is scope.
  (Mr Webb) A good example of this has been an initiative among Nordic countries to put together a peacekeeping brigade called NORDCAPS. We have been associated with that because it is built out of an arrangement which started up in Kosovo because a lot of those countries came into the brigade which Britain had the privilege of commanding in Kosovo, and they have now taken that forward and are building it up as a peacekeeping brigade which is very valuable because you can deploy it as a brigade. As it happens this is an example of where Norway, not inside the ESDP structure, is ready to offer something which could come within that structure. We entirely agree with you. Mr Hoon after this experience has been going round Europe encouraging the generation of similar ventures. You mentioned earlier this arrangement between the Netherlands and Germany on transport, on air lift, which is very satisfactory. It is well worth encouraging. Perhaps I can just make a point about how do you get the momentum for this. I think there is a political process about this. I think I heard the Spanish Presidency saying that they might invite the Chairmen of the Select Committees on Europe and Defence to come and visit them in Spain next. Perhaps I will not commit them to that, but I am sure that if the Chairman went he would make clear his expectations as other countries will be continuing to drive along with the Capability Group.


  86. Thank you, yes, I heard.
  (Mr Ingram) If it is held in Norway in the winter it will not happen.

Syd Rapson

  87. We have had a declaration that we can now conduct operations although it is obviously bound to be limited and as time goes on it gets better; we know that. Are there any plans for any operations for the Rapid Reaction Force or any exercises planned where they can all work together?
  (Mr Ingram) The answer to that is no, not at this stage.

  88. The other thing about NATO is that there is a common doctrine in NATO which moulds it together like a glue and it works extremely well. Is that going to be transcribed into the European force? Can that be done as well, the same way that the doctrine and the approach are very similar in NATO?

   (Mr Ingram) The answer to that would be yes, for the very good reason that it would be wrong to have different types of doctrine. It would be a common doctrine which would then apply across the EU.

  89. Is that coming together? That common doctrine and attitude and approach in the European dimension seem to be more difficult than in NATO although it has very similar players. Can that common attitude come together better and more quickly and satisfactorily for the future?

   (Mr Webb) Yes, I think it is coming through. In particular once armed forces have been trained up to a particular doctrine, the art of war which underlines doctrine, they tend to stick with it because you do not want to change, so I think it is becoming a common currency without anybody quite saying that it has to be mandated by NATO. Can I just make a point about exercises? There are indeed no exercises planned for force units but there is an exercise planned for the headquarters, the top level Brussels crisis management machinery, not forces but just the crisis management procedures we were talking about earlier. One of the things which is now more of a determinant of capacity than anything else is the crisis management machinery. You would not want to do too much before you got the exercising done and make sure that was working properly. If we had an emergency crisis as the Minister mentioned in Mozambique, yes, but if it was something on a more significant scale you would need to have an exercise first.

  Syd Rapson: Chairman, presumably we will get a report on that.

Rachel Squire

  90. I just want to come in with a quick supplementary about what you have just said about exercises. I know that there has been this top level, senior level joint operational exercise which I think is called CRISEX. As we have learned, both from our experience in the Balkans and also, although we have still to hear the lessons learned, seeing for ourselves our most recent experience with Operation Saif Sareea, there is no substitute for actually having forces from different countries on the ground in a joint exercise. What I have also heard time and again from forces of different countries, and particularly from our own armed forces, is that the relationships you build up there in dealing with both little things and big things are not ones that anybody can substitute in some purely paper command centre type virtual reality exercise. I am a little concerned therefore if there are no plans to try and have a force on the ground type exercise at least in 2003.
  (Mr Lee) There are national exercises already. There is a programme ahead of those. There are bilateral and various multilateral exercises already planned, and there are already NATO exercises planned. There is a full programme of exercises, including exercising units together so that they work together. What we are saying is that we are not attempting to add to that a programme with the EU labelled "exercises of troops". First, there is not any room in the exercise programme for another set of exercises and secondly, there is not really a need because the sort of co-operation on the ground that you are talking about is already being exercised in NATO and there are other bilateral and multilateral exercises that already exist. The benefits of that can be fed into potential operations in the future.

   (Mr Ingram) It may help, Chairman, if we give you the list of all of these planning exercises. That will allow you to see the type of interoperability there is between nations across the reach of this, and that may help in the appreciation of the scale and depth of this.

Syd Rapson

  91. We are doing an exercise of the command structure in the headquarters staff, which is the total package, and yet we are exercising at the sharp end with different groupings. I just wonder about fitting them together. You have got a very honed command structure at the top, political and military, working together in a European dimension, but it does not really fit in with the different groupings. At the bottom level there seem to be different groupings which are working extremely well and exercising well and they are wonderful, and then you have this top level and there seems to be a gap in between. Providing that is taken note of I am quite happy.

   (Mr Ingram) It is a very fair point and it must be part of the future development. It is just the way, as Mr Lee explained it, that in terms of the current training template to fit something new in would not be deliverable in that sense. We have to plan for that but in terms of the command and control elements of it, let us get that defined, let us see what the needs are and that in a sense would then dictate what is required thereafter. Knowing that we have a lot of combined capabilities that can be plugged into that and so the lessons can be learned that we are currently doing. That is why we want to see the extent of this and I want to put your mind at rest. There may be a specific shortfall in the way in which you have defined it but it is pluggable and will be plugged.

   (Mr Webb) One of the points to make is that both SHAPE and other headquarters like PJHQ get plenty of practice. Perhaps I ought to say that behind this there is actually a little bit of a broader inhibition which has been to avoid creating a standing force or, as the Chairman referred to, a Euro army, but I thought he was just trying to wind us up about that. If you read the Laeken declaration you will see that is specifically written out.


  92. In all the versions, I ask? Was it in the first version?

   (Mr Lee) It has been in since Helsinki.

   (Mr Webb) This was the last Laeken. I think there is a little bit of that political inhibition behind this to be perfectly truthful about it. If I may say so, you have illuminated a little question here which is that I suspect you might get a gain of effectiveness if you did exercise top to bottom. On the other hand, is that a step we would want to do towards making a feeling of more of a standing force? At the moment we have decided not to. The honest answer is that there is a bit of politics in this too.

Patrick Mercer

  93. Can we move to the implications of what has happened since September 11 and how this course might take account of that? The Helsinki Headline Goals, is it still relevant as a result of the events of September 11?
  (Mr Ingram) The answer to that is yes because it is not seeking to address that issue of international terrorism. Europe in any event is dealing with the threat of international terrorism across a range of initiatives, as we know, in terms of the way in which it is tackling these things and pursuing them in so many different ways. There are a range of initiatives which have been dealt with here but again we have to look at what the Petersberg Tasks were and the specifics of that, but not unmindful of the events of 11 September and the way in which that impacts upon each of the countries individually and collectively across Europe. It has an impact because it is part of the thought processes which are out there. Under the Chapter work has been done in developing the SDR and defines our capabilities in that enhanced way. Whether those capabilities would then be plugged into something we are doing in the ESDP, I would guess not but there is in many ways a developing area of consideration.

  94. Can the Headline Goals be adapted? Should they be adapted to take in counter terrorism?
  (Mr Ingram) I would say no to that because that is not what it was specifically designed to do. Some of the examination this morning has been about can we achieve the objectives which have been set in the way in which they are very demanding. The question has been raised, will we achieve that, and I am trying to give you some confidence that there is a determination to do so. To add a new dimension to this which is still in the process of being defined I think will go beyond the reach of what we are seeking to do in European terms because it is a much more global issue that then has to be dealt with, but that is not to say that Europe is not addressing this issue in a whole range of other ways because undoubtedly we are.

  95. Does the EU have a role to play in defending itself against terrorism?
  (Mr Webb) The EU certainly, in the sense that Pillar 3, the law and order side of it, is obviously very much engaged and improvements have been made in that direction. NATO of course has taken the decision that this was an attack on the Alliance and so, if you like, the collective defence side of it has been tackled by NATO. At the moment we, as the Minister said, have quite enough to do to get the ESDP towards its targets. I suspect some of the capability goals may need a little quick look because there may be a higher risk to deployed forces than there was before from NBC attack, and I think we ought to have a look at that and we will be doing so. So some adjustment in that direction. Going back to your original question, is it still relevant, the answer is very much, I would say even more important, because the rest of the security agenda is still there. We still have instability on Europe's fringes; you could argue the Middle East situation has created an increased risk of instability there; we have problems in Africa. So all the rest of the agenda is still there. So I think we are actually better off having, even at this stage, the ability to undertake some, not many, operations at this stage. It is a bonus and with everybody else in other organisations being so busy it gives us another component to plan with. So to that extent, I think it is more relevant.

  96. Do you detect a shift in American opinion towards the ESDP since 11 September? Have they changed their approach?
  (Mr Ingram) I do not think there is anything specific but the danger is that somebody then pops up with a quotation from someone within the administration. There is no indication at all that the very genuine commitment and welcome which has been given to the ESDP by the Americans does not remain. That is still very much the case, because of the very reasons which we have set out here, that lifting European capabilities enhances NATO's capabilities, and that must be welcomed. It is not seen as a threat in any way to NATO's interests by the US. So I do not think it has changed because of the events of 11 September in any way at all.

Rachel Squire

  97. Can I ask a supplementary? I wonder whether the US perhaps see the European defence capability, with the ESDP, as even more important as a result of 11 September, because of their decision to focus on combatting international terrorism. Do you gain that impression at all?
  (Mr Ingram) Again, we are in the early rushes, the very early stages, in the thinking of all of this, and every nation is still examining the implications. We are examining them, we have reacted to it in a very positive and, as I say, productive way. We are tackling it in a very substantial way in international terms. That does not mean to say we have understood the totality of what the threat is or indeed know what we can do in every set of circumstances. We have still a lot of work to do internationally to define all of that. What we are doing in terms of the ESDP, in terms of the Headline Goals, in terms of the Petersberg Tasks, certainly improves the capability of important and powerful nations to come together to deal with these other security crises which could manifest themselves at any time. So that is why there is no question at all that the US—and it is not for me to speak for the US—recognise the importance of this. Where there has been a shift in their opinion on this, if anything, is the question which would lead to the answer that there is probably more of a welcome to this development than less.


  98. We are going in February, so when we come back we will tell you. Unfortunately, I am told the meeting you invited me to in Toledo, Mr Webb, with the Spanish Presidency, falls at the time we shall be in Washington. Maybe I can ask you to go out and represent the Defence Committee!
  (Mr Ingram) It is interesting, Mr Chairman, you have problems with priorities as well.

  Chairman: We are prioritising.

Mr Crausby

  99. We have already talked about the pooling of assets and resources between various nations but how many EU countries, other than the UK, seek to retain national capabilities right across the spectrum of possible Petersberg tasks?
  (Mr Lee) The set of armed forces in Europe which is most like our own is France's.

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