Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)|
MP AND MR
WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002
140. Secretary of State, given the Taepo Dong-1
missile which, as you know, is in production, how soon could states
that we are concerned about have the capability of building ballistic
missiles and launching ballistic missiles which are able to carry
a mass-destructive payload?
(Mr Hoon) That is the same question as I was asked
earlier and I will give you the same answer which is that, as
Mr Hawtin said, it is extremely difficult to put a precise timescale
on that, but it is something that we monitor very closely.
141. The weapons-of-mass-destruction warheads
that we have been talking about, which warheads do you expect
to pose the earliest threat to UK interests?
(Mr Hoon) I think you need to be more precise as to
what you mean by a warhead. Are you referring to a nuclear warhead
or are you referring to some other kind of payload?
142. Well, which type of payload are we worried
about first? Which is the most likely, given intention and capability,
a mixture of the two, and I appreciate that intention is difficult
(Mr Hoon) I would not want to draw a distinction too
finely between any of the kinds of weapons of mass destruction
that are capable of being developed and delivered. Clearly there
are countries with aspirations to develop nuclear weapons which
they are then capable of delivering, but, equally, the delivery
of a chemical or biological weapon would be a matter of very great
concern as well which is why we did not make quite the fine distinctions
that I think your question suggests.
(Mr Hawtin) I think that is absolutely right. It is
again impossible to give a precise answer to that question. It
is the conjunction of missile technology and weapons of mass destruction
that is obviously potentially extremely worrying, but one cannot
answer it in the precise terms you have posed the question. What
I would add, if I may, is that we are focusing at the moment on
one element of the broader strategy that the Secretary of State
described in his opening remarks, namely missile defence. That
is only one element. There are many other elements in the strategy,
including counter-proliferation efforts which are continuing and
in which we play a very active part, so the objective is to stop,
insofar as we can, this happening in the first place and to complicate
the objectives of any states who are so minded to acquire these
143. To tease that out a little further, if
we may, can you say which state poses the earliest threat to us
in terms of being able to produce this and perhaps the intention?
Let's just stick with the technological side. Which states are
going to be in a position to pose the earliest threat to us in
the United Kingdom?
(Mr Hoon) Well, I think you do need to go back to
the analysis of threat that I set out for you. Undoubtedly in
terms of the development of missile technology, North Korea has
some very sophisticated development plans and in terms of producing
missile equipment is arguably the most advanced of the countries
that we describe as states of concern, but there is no indication
that North Korea directly threatens the United Kingdom; it has
never evinced any such intention. Therefore, it is still that
conjuncture that amounts to a threat and until that is an immediate
threat to the United Kingdom, I am confident that the Ministry
of Defence's position is the right one.
144. On that line of reasoning, North Korea
you see as having the capability and intention is another matter,
but who else would be up there? Who would be second in our order
(Mr Hoon) Well, the concern does depend on there being
both the ability and the intention and I think it becomes slightly
invidious to produce a league table that you are clearly searching
145. The Government likes league tables!
(Mr Hoon) If I had to identify a single state that
caused me most anxiety, it would undoubtedly be Iraq.
146. In your opening statement, you said you
would consider very seriously the fact that if certain states
of concern do acquire complete systems of sufficient range, then
they might be capable of targeting the UK, and obviously we accept
that, but it is a bit like saying that if somebody you do not
like points a loaded gun at your head, you would be worried about
it. Do you share that concern in terms of terrorist groups acquiring
(Mr Hoon) I certainly believe that the events of September
11th have demonstrated that there are arguably no limits to which
some fanatics will go in the pursuit of their perverted ambitions
and, therefore, as we are aware, the attempts that groups like
Al Qaeda have made in the past to acquire elements of weapons
of mass destruction is a matter of real anxiety and it is something
that we would have to guard against very seriously.
147. Is it a major concern of your Department?
(Mr Hoon) It is something that not only my Department,
but other government departments as well will be actively engaged
148. When Mr Hawtin appeared before us at the
end of February, he said that he did not think it was a major
concern, a terrorist group acquiring a weapon of mass destruction.
(Mr Hoon) Well, I do not think that there is any evidence
that any terrorist group has acquired a weapon of mass destruction
and, as I said very deliberately, they have sought to acquire
elements of such weapons and, therefore, I do not think there
is any difference between us.
149. I think Mr Hawtin would like to reply.
(Mr Hawtin) Thank you, Chairman, if I may. I think
my remarks were related specifically to terrorist intentions to
acquire ballistic missiles and of that I said we had no evidence
and did not believe it to be a real and major threat, but that
their intentions were directed rather more towards covert measures
and methods of delivery.
150. Thank you, that is helpful. Can you then
talk me through the linkage between the acquisition of weapons
of mass destruction and war against terrorism in that the logic
of certainly the discussion around the potential action against
Iraq, and obviously we all know that no specific proposals have
been made and so on, but that discussion is about the threat of
weapons of mass destruction and that is certainly what the President
talked about in his State of the Union Address, so how does that
link through to the war against terrorism?
(Mr Hoon) We have had a longstanding concern about
the efforts of countries like Iraq, and specifically Iraq, to
develop weapons of mass destruction. That was the justification
for previous military action against Iraq and it continues to
be a matter of very great concern. It is covered by a series of
United Nations resolutions and UNSCR1284 sets out the terms on
which the international community, because of its very real suspicions
of Iraq, would want to see inspection freely inside Iraq of facilities
that might potentially be developing weapons of mass destruction,
so that is a longstanding concern. What I think the events of
September 11th did was to focus the minds of the international
community on those threats. I think governments around the world
recognise this. By in a sense looking the other way after the
Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan and perhaps not taking
as seriously as we should have done the Taliban regime and its
willingness to harbour terrorism, the events of September 11th
were a direct consequence. Therefore, what I think September 11th
has done is focus our minds much more clearly on those kinds of
potential threats to future stability and, therefore, we do need
to take still more seriously, although we have always taken it
seriously, the threat that countries like Iraq might pose.
151. Given that you have said to us in previous
sessions that there is no evidence of links between Iraq and Al
Qaeda, it is not a concern that as capability increases, that
would marry up with intention in terms of a terrorist group and
you would see proliferation and, therefore, a threat through that
(Mr Hoon) No, although, as your question actually
accepts, there are obviously developments that we have to continue
to monitor. It is not simply technological development, but it
is also development in the way in which both states and particular
groups might organise themselves, particularly given the shattering
blow the international coalition delivered to the Taliban and
Al Qaeda in the period after September 11th, so this is not a
152. No, but given that, should we not be more
concerned about capability? Your statement earlier on was about
the balance between intention and capability as the reason why
we are interested observers rather than participants in missile
defence, but given that it is a pretty fluid situation and that
intention and capability can rapidly marry up in ways we do not
necessarily expect and anticipate, therefore, should we be looking
at capability with much more concern?
(Mr Hoon) We have put an enormous amount of effort
into monitoring the development of capabilities and we have put
an enormous amount, as have other members of the international
community, into taking steps to limit the proliferation of weapons
of mass destruction. That is one of our highest policy priorities,
as is the international community's, so no one is in any way doubting
the importance of monitoring capability, but given scientific
ability, given the influence of money, given particular states'
ambitions, given, equally, the determination of certain individual
terrorists, it is not something which the international community
can entirely seal. On the other hand, I think we have had remarkable
successes over the years in at least limiting the proliferation
and the capability.
153. When we were in the United States, the
impression we had was that their security policy was governed
far more by an emphasis on capability and less than we have in
terms of intention. Would you agree with that and if we were to
shift more in that direction, what are the implications of a security
policy based on capability?
(Mr Hoon) Well, if you will forgive me, I do think
you are drawing a wholly false distinction and I think you are
putting a wholly misplaced emphasis on one side or other of the
equation that you see. We put a very significant effort, alongside
the United States and other members of the international community,
in both monitoring capability and seeking to frustrate its spread.
154. At the moment with this theoretical discussion
we have about possible military action in Iraq, that is clearly
an attempt to tackle capability and proliferation head on, but
does there come a point when if we are smart about tackling capability
in that way or through diplomatic means or whatever, that missile
defence goes on the back-burner because we have dealt with the
threat, we have dealt with the capability by diplomatic and by
military means and missile defence becomes less relevant because
the threat goes away?
(Mr Hoon) An interesting question built on an entirely
speculative, hypothetical set of judgments about Iraq and presumably
the answer you are searching for is that you are assuming that
the United Kingdom will be willing to take on in a military way
all of those countries
155. Not necessarily.
(Mr Hoon)who might be seeking to develop the
capability and, since we have not taken any decision whatsoever
in relation to Iraq, I assure you that your question is both speculative
in its premise and builds on that speculation in its further thesis.
Jim Knight: Thank you, Secretary of State!
Mr Howarth: That will go down well in
The Sun tomorrow!
Chairman: The Sun does not attend
our proceedings, but The Guardian does! We now have a list
of questions we would like to ask you, Secretary of State, on
the US plans for missile defence.
156. Secretary of State, can we move on to the
potential role of Fylingdales and Menwith Hill. Now, I know perfectly
well that you have a fig-leaf which you are deploying frequently
and the fig-leaf was used this morning in your statement when
you said, ". . . we have so far received no requests from
the United States. . ." et cetera, et cetera, and I can entirely
understand that, but at the same time your officials told us last
month that the MoD was closely monitoring prospective US plans
for these sites and have been assessing the consequences for the
UK. Now, if the United States is to meet, as you know, its interim
missile defence capability by 2004-08, we were told in Washington
last month or the month before that any amendments to Fylingdales
would have to be completed by 2006 and begun in 2003. Is that
your understanding of all of this?
(Mr Hoon) My understanding is that the United States,
as I have set out in my opening statement, is looking at a range
of means of promoting effective missile defence and that unless
and until they have reached specific technical conclusions as
to how they intend to do that, they have made no specific request
about the use of facilities in the United Kingdom.
157. But at the same time, if I go to Mr Hawtin,
when he appeared before the Committee, he said, "...we are
thinking through the implications of a possible request [from
the United States]; the kind of request that might come forward".
I can see that in public terms you are deploying the fig-leaf,
but that behind the scenes you are doing quite a lot of thinking.
Can you just tell me what Mr Hawtin meant and then, Mr Hawtin,
perhaps he can tell us.
(Mr Hoon) Well, Mr Hawtin is here, so I think he can
(Mr Hawtin) I would not accept the term "fig-leaf".
The factual position is that we have not received a request from
the Americans, and I quoted to you President Bush's own remarks
about "not yet decided what will work and what will not",
so that is the factual position. The other point is that we are
certainly looking at the possible implications of a request and
it is no secret that we have been responsibly, I would submit,
looking at that. We have talked to the Americans, we are talking
to the Americans about this because it was certainly part of the
Clinton Administration's proposals, but that is the factual position.
We have not had a request and, as responsible officials, we are
obviously interested in what such a request, were it to be made,
158. I would never suggest that you are other
than responsible, but have your discussions not covered the possibility
that Fylingdales may have to need quite a lot of investment put
in there if that was the option that was chosen? I am quite well
aware of the fact that there are other options that the Americans
(Mr Hoon) I think Mr Hawtin has made the position
very clear. Obviously the previous Administration had rather more
specific plans for missile defence in the sense of concentrating
on a particular kind of technological capability. One of the clear
changes that we anticipated and has come to pass is that a new
Administration, which had in effect in opposition been rather
critical of the previous Administration's proposals, wanted to
look at a broader range of solutions to the problem that they
anticipate and unless and until they reach a specific conclusion,
you, as other Members of the Committee, are merely speculating
as to what might follow.
159. Well, I will have one more go at this before
I move on to my two other questions, Chairman. I go back to what
Mr Hawtin said. He said, ". . . we are thinking through the
implications of a possible request. . ." Now, if the possible
request comes along to meet the timescale that the American Government
has set itself, would that mean that work would have to start
on Fylingdales in the year 2003? It is a simple question.
(Mr Hoon) But it is a speculative question. Unless
and until the Americans decide