Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)

PROFESSOR FRANÇOIS HEISBOURG, DR JAN WILLEM HONIG AND MR WILLIAM HOPKINSON

WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE 2002

  20. I understand what you are saying quite clearly, that the Americans have recognised the need to build a coalition, but it clearly is frustrating for them when the Europeans say, "You leave us out and you don't consult us", but then the Europeans do not make an effort to bring their defence contribution up to the kind of level where it would make a serious difference. Do you not accept that there is some tension arising out of this problem?
  (Dr Honig) I accept that there is a problem with the European defence capabilities and what they can actually contribute, but what I am trying to point out is that, from the US perspective, I believe that there is a need to involve the Europeans and also other countries in the world in security issues and what we then should do from our end is a separate question.

Mr Hancock

  21. But the answer to Gerald is more than about capability because even if Europe had a comparable capability, they would not necessarily always want to be there, would they? They have to have that independent view that a nation can always express and the Americans are championing that view at the present time. To sort of deny us the same opportunity as they take for themselves is ridiculous. The capability issue is not really a fair thing to throw at Europe, is it? America needs us for other reasons than capability.
  (Dr Honig) But there is more than just capability, yes.

  22. Absolutely.
  (Dr Honig) There is the international political dimension. If one wants to use force in the modern world, there needs to be a perception that the use of force is legitimate and that almost necessarily means that it is very difficult for one country, if it is just one country using force, it is very difficult for that to be seen as legitimate.

  23. How can NATO then become a stabilising influence rather than a non-player in trying to get America to understand that it is not all about capability, but it is about doing things together or trying to do things together?
  (Dr Honig) Well, this is what is already happening. Lord Robertson has given a lot of speeches around the world and also in the United States, and it is a part of the work that we all do as well, to try and explain the importance of allies and alliances in tackling these international problems.

  Chairman: Right, we will go back to Mike's point.

  Mr Hancock: I will try to remember what it was.

Chairman

  24. Is NATO dying?
  (Professor Heisbourg) NATO may be a little bit like old soldiers: they never die, they just fade away. In bureaucratic terms, I have no doubt that NATO will fight an extremely successful battle to maintain a high level of activity, whether it serves a purpose or not: bureaucracies are that way. The question is: what is NATO no longer in a position to do and what may it possibly be doing which may be useful in the future? Now, where NATO is not simply dying, but is dead, and I am on the record as using that expression, is in the following three areas. First of all, NATO will no longer serve as a military command structure to conduct major military operations implying a high level of American use of force, and that is not something which flows from the Bush Administration, it flows from the Kosovo experience and it flows not simply from the fact that the Americans suffered, as we all did, rather painfully from running a war by committee, but the Americans realised that having two competing US-led chains of command was not exactly the right way to conduct a military campaign. You had one American chain of command led by General Shelton which had a subordinate CINC called General Wesley Clark and you had a NATO chain of command led by an American officer called General Wesley Clark for whom the assets provided by General Shelton were auxiliary assets, of major importance, but contributions, not orders. It did not work and if we won, it was simply because we represented about 1,200 times more GDP and military weight than Serbia did, the miracle was not that we won under those circumstances. Secondly, NATO is no longer the fully-fledged, automatic defence pact that it was during the Cold War for the reasons which Bill explained very nicely. We now know that Article 5 only means exactly what is written and it means pick and choose. It means in effect what the Americans have said from September 12th onwards and have never ceased saying since, "It is the mission that makes the coalition", so, ladies and gentlemen, there are no permanent military alliances around anymore. You have ad hoc coalitions and using the word "coalition" itself maybe a misnomer. I remember the Gulf War coalition and that was a coalition. At the military and at the political levels, countries like Britain and France were involved in the decision-making and the decision-shaping. In the Afghanistan campaign, I do not think either the British or the French would consider that the degree of involvement in decision-making and shaping is anything like we had during the Gulf War, so I am not sure it is a coalition. It is a nice word to use, but it is not a coalition in the sense that we used to have. Thirdly, NATO is not at the heart of the fight against terrorism. George Robertson is a great man, a great friend, but the fight against terrorism is being conducted just about everywhere, except through NATO. We have police organisations, we have intelligence organisations, we have financial organisations, banking organisations and so on, but most of those channels do not run through Mons. So what can NATO do, apart from self-replicating itself as a bureaucracy? Well, you have the stability projection aspects which have already been mentioned. Yes, enlargement is a public good and what we will decide in Prague is something which is useful not necessarily because of what happens after enlargement, but because the prospect of enlargement has played a major role in consolidating the reforms in the post-Soviet countries. The prospect of entering into NATO and the EU has been a very significant lever and of course removing that lever, particularly at this late stage, would indeed have very adverse implications, particularly for those countries like Bulgaria or Romania where the political and economic situation is still a bit iffy. Peacekeeping operations: what NATO does in the Balkans is, the sort of stuff which the UN used to do ten or 15 years ago in Namibia or in Mozambique with great effectiveness, I would add, but because we had the collective failure of the UN in Bosnia in 1992-1995, we switched institutions, but collecting weapons in Macedonia by NATO was essentially the same exercise as the UN collecting weapons in Mozambique 12 or 13 years before. Now, that is fine, it is also a public good, but I am not sure that this goes to the heart of the US-European strategic relationship which is what we are really talking about here. This is not what is going to keep Europe and the US together. The projection of stability still with the Russian connection, the Council of 20, an excellent initiative too, but whether anything serious will be discussed is another issue. Strategic arms issues or any of the issues are dealt with directly between the Americans and the Russians, and the European affairs of some importance like the fate of Kaliningrad are discussed bilaterally between the EU and Russia, but probably not in the Council of 20. But this does not really matter because it is good that Russia has become part of the solution, not a part of the problem. These tasks will, I think, have some durability. However, they do not allow us to say with any degree of confidence that we still have strategic coupling between the United States and Western Europe. I think we do, but NATO is no longer the delivery vehicle for that coupling between the United States and Europe. NATO was created as a result of a common destiny in strategic terms between the US and Europe in the 1940s, but it is not the other way round, it is not NATO which created that coupling. It is NATO which was created by the coupling. The problem now is that we have a failing NATO which no longer embodies this coupling function. Then we have a second major role for NATO and that is NATO as a producer of interoperability, of common standards which are indeed absolutely necessary if, in the modern world, and here the Americans do have a point, most military operations are going to be conducted, if not unilaterally by the US, at least in the form of ad hoc coalitions, but for ad hoc coalitions to work, we have to have people who have learnt how to work together and that is where NATO can come in. I would also add that NATO's function as a producer of interoperability is necessary not only vis-a"-vis this kind of coalition warfare, but it is also necessary for whatever the EU is trying to do in terms of ESDP. The EU institutions are not producers of interoperability, only NATO does that today, so there is also a good European reason for doing this, not simply a Europe-Atlantic reason. But this interoperability function is threatened, and I mentioned one of the reasons earlier on, and it can only be retrieved if two things happen. One is that the Americans actually decide that they are not going to try to produce interoperability in a purely bilateral mode, in a hubs and spokes system, with each of their allies taken individually. I have just expressed a wish and I do not see the Americans actually acting the way I am suggesting. On the other side of the equation, and I come back to the point which was made by one of you earlier on, the Europeans do have to be a bit more serious in terms of their defence spending. Now, yes, it is true that the Americans do tend to beat us sometimes unfairly with this stick. They say, "Oh, you are only spending, whatever it is, 45 per cent or 50 per cent of what we are doing in the field of defence, this is unacceptable". They forget in the process that, after all, the European Union countries do represent around 20 per cent of world military expenditure. That is not actually a trivial number and it may not be an exceptionally low number, but where we are amiss is that the expenditure which normally would allow our forces to operate together as military partners, those big expenditures we are not engaging in. Take military R&D where the Americans used to spend four times more than we did at the end of the 1990s and they are now spending five times more than we are. At that level of discrepancy, within a few years European forces are simply not going to be able to work with the United States, whether NATO tries to hammer out standards and procedures or not. I would add that the trend of overall spending is extremely worrying. That is, the Americans have increased their defence budget in the manner which has been suggested and Europe represented 60 per cent of American military spending four years ago and by next year we will represent around 40 per cent. Now, that kind of quantitative discrepancy eventually has a qualitative effect on the US-European relationship and this independently of whatever other reservations I may have about the manner in which the Americans over-emphasise the military aspects of strategy, the manner in which they do tend to bludgeon us with this rather blunt instrument, the fact remains that we are not spending enough and we are not spending enough in the right places.

Mr Jones

  25. I think you actually said that the patient is basically dying or it is extremely unwell. Should it, therefore, either be killed off and, if so, how, or should it be given some kind of life-saving treatment to get it back on its feet?
  (Professor Heisbourg) My recommendation, if I may, is, first of all, to stop NATO speeches where we try to find new roles for NATO. I was at the last meeting of the so-called Wehrkunde in Munich in February and Paul Wolfovitz was there, as were many of the other major players, and in essence we were all more or less saying that the old NATO is indeed fading away and the Americans are not the last ones to say so. On the same day we had a harmless article by George Robertson in The Financial Times explaining how NATO was going to be at the heart of the fight against terrorism. I think that is actually self-defeating. I think this is really kidding ourselves. This is a bit like, I do not know, an unsuccessful sportswear company deciding that it is going to go into grand opera. You can always say so, but it is probably not going to help you by saying so. Let's look at what NATO knows how to do and if what it knows how to do is useful, let's build on that. I think I have argued what those useful things are and I would like to hear a lot more from the NATO spokespeople about how to convince the Americans and the Europeans to take the right steps to ensure this interoperability-producing function, which I think is a necessary embodiment of the common European-American strategic destiny. I do not believe we have been decoupled and I think we are still part of the same strategic world, or at least I hope so, but if that is going to be the case, in military terms we have to have a translation in terms of our ability to work together and not with the Europeans simply being spear-bearers. That would be politically unacceptable, I think, in our own public opinions. Providing canon fodder is not a politically sustainable proposition and we are rapidly going down the road where eventually that is the sort of thing we are going to do. The Americans open the doors and the Europeans clean up the mess.

Patrick Mercer

  26. But surely that is precisely what we are not going to do. What we have seen is that the war fighting is being done by the Americans, thus the canon fodder, and the clearing up, the picking up of the empty cartridge cases, is being done by the Europeans.
  (Professor Heisbourg) The problem is that opening doors is a comparatively low-risk proposition today. How many Americans have died during the Kosovo air campaigns? Zero. How many Europeans died in the UNPROFOR operations in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995? Well, from my country alone, 85.

  27. How many Europeans have died in Afghanistan?
  (Professor Heisbourg) I think nine Danes, two or three Canadians and a couple of Germans.

  28. On combat operations?
  (Professor Heisbourg) No, cleaning up the mess. It is extremely costly, fairly high risk and I do not think that this is a division of labour that is politically or strategically sustainable. I think public opinion will accept running certain risks if they are seen as part of the decision making and shaping machinery, as in the Gulf War.

Mr Jones

  29. Is that not the American approach? Earlier this year when we were in Washington the phrased used on more than one occasion was, "We do not do nation building; we do war". Is not the policy of the United States' present administration that they will not get into long-term nation building operations? Other places that we visited clearly thought that the United States should have a role in the nation-building approach, but clearly from the American administration point of view they do not see themselves as rebuilding states. You are talking about clearing up afterwards.
  (Professor Heisbourg) Wanting to have the joys of empire without the burdens of empire is a perfectly natural human tendency. It also runs against the principle of reality. Our American friends do not like to be reminded that they are in an imperial situation, but they are in such a situation. Obviously, I would not want to criticise them for that. I am rather glad to see a seriously democratic state playing that role rather than a non-democratic state. But they have a reluctance to think in imperial terms. They do not readily accept that empire carries with it a certain number of burdens. I do not think that there would be much of a constituency in the long run in Europe for the proposition of the Dutch analyst[2] that was picked up by Colin Powell at the World Economic Forum: "the US fights, the UN feeds and the EU funds". I am sorry, but that is not going to work.

 

Mr Cran

  30. Professor, you set out clearly what you consider the possible future role of NATO would be. That may be contested or not, but clearly it is your view. You then said that Lord Robertson had written an article setting out in very strong terms, as I understand it, that he did foresee that the NATO structure could or should have a role in combatting terrorism. I cannot imagine that the Secretary-General of NATO would have put his neck that far out, suggesting that NATO could have that role without being very mindful of your strictures to me, Mr Hopkinson, that he would have been mindful of what the governments standing behind NATO thought. Am I correct in thinking that he stuck out his neck or am I correct in thinking that he made this statement in the light of the knowledge of what the governments around him are thinking?
  (Professor Heisbourg) I do not know what the answer to your question is. You will have to put it to him.

  31. What do you think?
  (Professor Heisbourg) What is clear is that those national representatives who were present at the Wehrkunde were certainly not speaking in the same terms as he was.
  (Mr Hopkinson) I think that both propositions that you have advanced may be true. There is a certain political correctness in saying that NATO is wonderful and the fundamental basis of security. Every government will subscribe to that, even if it has real doubts about the utility of NATO in fighting terrorism. Can you imagine in London, or in Germany or in Washington anyone saying, "Actually for the major security problems confronting the West the principal security apparatus in the West is irrelevant"? That is not easily said in government circles.

  32. I am still unconvinced. I understand entirely what you say. But I am unconvinced that the Secretary-General of NATO would put his neck that far out without some backing from the governments around. It is a matter of confidence between him, the senior officials in NATO and the Americans, the British, the French and the rest.
  (Professor Heisbourg) Let me put the proposition the other way around. If there were any reservations by any government vis-a"-vis what he said, the retort would immediately have been, "You mean that I should have written that NATO is not at the heart of the fight against terrorism?" That is the point that Bill Hopkinson has made. There are no Brownie points to be gained by saying that the emperor is naked. On this point, NATO is the emperor and he does not wear the anti-terrorism clothes.

  Chairman: I have worked out that we have now asked two questions formally and probably 45 informally. We now come to the third question. I believe that we shall refer quite a bit to questions that have already been answered.

Rachel Squire

  33. Chairman, in many ways the speakers have already commented on this third question. How far does the Article 5 commitment still define NATO? You have already made some remarks on that. Is there anything you want to add to that? Given what all three of you have said, in terms of trying to reform and make NATO more relevant as a military alliance that can play one part in the overall fight against international terrorism, do you still think that Article 5 is best left as it is? In spite of what Mr Hopkinson said, do you think that nations are still encouraged to see it as a uniting spirit or statement rather than trying to ditch Article 5 and then trying to find an agreed form of words to replace it with whatever NATO or any similar military alliance may become?
  (Mr Hopkinson) I have two points. First, I suspect that there may be a difference between some of the new members coming into NATO and the old established ones on the importance attached to Article 5. I could well imagine that some countries in the East still see Article 5 as an important matter and would still wish to have Article 5 in the sense that it was classically understood. That would be a source of tension when it comes to the alliance reforming itself and planning, whether it is geared to defending some eastern frontier of Europe or to expeditionary warfare. Secondly, I see no possibility of sensibly rewriting Article 5 in a way that would command consensus. It would be a very negative signal to drop it altogether and I do not think that you can put it back in any other sense. I think it just lies there. We are all concerned about an attack on any alliance member, and of course we shall all consult and do what we judge appropriate in the light of the circumstances. That is as much as one can do.
  (Dr Honig) We are fortunate that it is phrased in the way that it is. The Europeans may have been unhappy about it in the Cold War; it was not as strict as the Western Union treaty, with countries defending each other no matter what. Under the present circumstances, where there are coalitions, it will be the way of the future. Article 5 provides for that as a possibility, so I do not see any reason to change it.
  (Professor Heisbourg) I would not recommend rewriting the treaty in any way, whether Article 5 or the articles relating to consultation on issues that are not under Article 5. The language is quite robust. Do not forget the treaty is not NATO. The treaty precedes the organisation and had it not been for the Korean War, it is not absolutely certain that the organisation would eventually have been built in the way that it was. NATO was pretty much the fruit of circumstances and not simply of the treaty. The treaty did not say, "We are going to set up the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation". The second thing I would say about the difficulties in changing Article 5 is that the alternative of putting in language as in Article 5 of the WEU treaty, `including military means', for example, would be a non-starter. That is why I would not want to touch it.

Chairman

  34. In terms of trying to revive NATO and a probable Anglo-Spanish initiative, which I do not believe has been made public by the Prime Ministers of the UK, Spain and Lord Robertson, but it has been fairly well trailed in the media, do you have any observations? Is that a means of breathing life into the decaying parrot?
  (Mr Hopkinson) I do not know, but I would have thought not, given the underlying causes. Perhaps we are muddling ourselves slightly by talking of dying with metaphors of a living animal. It is the coherence and animation of the various bits that need to be looked at. If the bits do not relate to functions that are needful out there, and agreed by the member governments to be needful, you cannot agree a spirit. If the four major players in NATO became really animated in a different sense it may be different, but I do not see a bilateral letter to the Secretary-General as the key to this.
  (Professor Heisbourg) What is essential is to get the Americans on board. For me the key is to ensure that the Americans, and particularly the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reintegrate, if I can put it that way, NATO into the mainstream of US defence preparedness. That interoperability with NATO partners, and the operating procedures which are designed within NATO are those that the Joint Chiefs of Staff would recommend to the theatre commanders. The theatre commanders in the American system are highly autonomous one from the other, and it would take a political initiative—political in the White House and political in the Pentagon—for that to happen.

  35. If the Membership Action Plan is prepared and the new applicants are integrated, you are suggesting that that plan should be applied to different US commands as well?
  (Professor Heisbourg) I do indeed. The Americans take some pride and legitimately so, at having convinced some of their more reluctant NATO partners that NATO's business is not simply within the European area, that the nature of the threats that we have to deal with is much broader. They are right. If that is the case, American forces, which are interoperable with European forces should not simply be those that are earmarked for assignment to EUCOM.

  Chairman: We now come to the formal questions on the war on terrorism.

Mr Mercer

  36. Clearly the 1999 Strategic Concept needs to be adapted to take greater account of asymmetric warfare and terrorist threats. How can that be achieved and where should it start and end? How should that adaptation be implemented?
  (Mr Hopkinson) I am not certain that adapting that is the right way forward. The term "war on terrorism" is a metaphor. The war in this context is not taking a hill or sinking a ship; it means bringing together a whole variety of influences—political, economic, intelligence, police and so on—and it is like the war on AIDS or the war on poverty. NATO can have some role to play but it is, even after expansion, a subset of the world and the one thing that is clear about terrorism which concerns us so much now is its international nature. It is a globalised phenomenon. NATO can and should do certain things and it may be that in terms of biological terrorism it can provide some skills, some apparatus and so on, but in terms of major functions, planning to conduct wars on terrorism, I do not see that as its role. However, where there is a need to take military action in some place where it is agreed among the members that it is appropriate, it can provide the basis for a coalition, through the headquarters, through the interoperability, through command and through control or whatever. I do not think that one needs to rewrite the Strategic Concept to do that. The Strategic Concept is not up to date for our present security needs but given the agony that went into drafting it last time, to start to redraft it with a focus on terrorism would divert energy that would be better put to other uses.
  (Dr Honig) I would agree with that. One can read the Strategic Concept in such a way that terrorism is implied, even though it is only mentioned once. It can be understood to be part of the form of words. With the war on terrorism, one should make a distinction between two elements of the war. One is what one could call the real war against terrorism, which is the-non-state actor who moves in and out of countries. That is one element where it is very difficult to see NATO performing any useful function. The other war on terrorism is the one that focuses on states, of which Afghanistan is the main example and Iraq may be the next example and the rest of the "axis of evil" may follow later. Strictly speaking and theoretically speaking there may be a role for NATO to play. I have already mentioned the NATO assets operating in Afghanistan. Although I foresee a difficulty in that in Europe there is already an uneasiness about whether Iraq, North Korea and Iran should be directly tied to terrorism if such a state sponsors organs, I am not sure how far that conflict will go. One can at least pretend that that may be something that we shall have to deal with in the future. Therefore, NATO may have a role to play in that anti-state activity. Otherwise, on the real war on terrorism—the international inter-state one—I cannot see a role for it.
  (Professor Heisbourg) If a group of states discovers that a Strategic Concept that it painstakingly put together is outdated in two-and-a-half years, the question arises whether the concept should have been devised in the first place. As far as terrorism is concerned, it was already very much on the map at the time[3]. Some of our countries were heavily engaged in what is now called the war against terrorism. Osama bin Laden was already quite a well known person. Of course, what happened on 11 September was not strictly predictably—at least not to my knowledge—but the notion that there were people out there who would want to engage in mass destruction acts was known. Yet we did not factor it into the Strategic Concept, except in a glancing way. There is one sentence in 54 or 55 pages. Were we right to come up with the concept in the first place? I am not sure. If NATO is essentially now a producer of public goods, a producer of stability in Europe and a producer of interoperability for operations which may occur on the other side of the world, then you will not necessarily want to get into the strategy framing business.

 

Chairman

  37. Our Ministry of Defence wrote its own over-arching comprehensive Strategic Defence Review and is now re-reading it and adding a new chapter. I suppose that that kind of dodge may be available for NATO as well. Rather than reviewing it they are adding a little section to the report. I can see the difficulties.
  (Professor Heisbourg) I do not think that the exercises are comparable. For a country like Britain, France or others the question that they have to ask themselves in the wake of 11 September is whether the force structure, the strategy and the doctrine that we adopted in previous years—the French White Paper in 1994, your Strategic Defence Review a few years later—are still appropriate to the occasion. If yes, you adjust the paper to reflect what may have happened since, but you do not actually change it in a basic manner. We have a volunteer force, which was a choice we made some years ago. Should we change that choice as a result of 11 September? The answer in both countries is no. NATO is not actually an organisation that makes those kinds of decisions. NATO will not decide whether we should have conscript forces, whether we should have professional forces or what strategy, in the normal sense of that word, those forces should fulfil. Since the Cold War—what I am saying does not apply to the Cold War—NATO is the service provider and an important one. It is no longer in the business of producing MC/1s, 2s and 3s. That kind of strategising is no longer in the organisation.

  38. Would we still go through all that agonising had there not been 11 September?
  (Professor Heisbourg) In terms of our relations with the Americans?

  39. And in terms of the organisation's form?
  (Professor Heisbourg) Perhaps I may give you an anecdote. It may not be very significant, but on the eve of 10 September I was writing a piece for Le Monde which was supposed to be entitled "The end of the post Cold War era". Among the elements that I was putting into the piece was the fading away of NATO's traditional functions into something else. Then 11 September happened. Le Monde came to me and said, "Can you please change your piece?" It seemed a reasonable request and, therefore, I spent the night reworking it and it was then called "From post Cold War to hyperterrorism", but I actually recycled part of the previous piece, including the part about NATO. Those trends were visible before 11 September, in the same way that the Russian/Western rapprochement is not something that was created on 11 September, but it occurred some months before, notably during the Bush/Putin meetings[4]. The attacks of 11 September accelerated the events. They did not change the course of those trends, but they accelerated them and in some cases they aggravated trends, notably in terms of American unilateralism.


  (Mr Hopkinson) Much of the world carried on the same after 11 September as before, but I see three things that changed at the attack. One is the United States' perception of itself in relation to security and so on. The United States is not the same actor that it was before, even though the problems confronting it may be much the same. Secondly, and not unconnected with that, there are two points. Firstly, there is now a clear role for states. Earlier there was much talk about non-state actors—as there still is with terrorists—and globalisation and so on. Now there is something that can be tackled only by states; only states can get their acts together to address terrorism. States may not be sufficient but they are necessary. Thirdly, Russia adopted the West. I think that was possibly crystallised as a decision because of that event. It chose on which side it wanted to be.


  (Dr Honig) I agree with that.

 


2   Note from witness: Rob de Wijk. Back

3   Note from witness: 1999. Back

4   Note from witness: in Slovenia. Back

 
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