Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-69)



  60. Is that inevitably a bad thing for NATO or is it something that the alliance can live with and should live with?
  (Mr Hopkinson) I would suggest that it is not a good thing. There is a diversity of approaches, a diversity of perception of the problems and a diversity in the willingness and ability to act together. If NATO is to survive it will have to live with that. See our earlier discussions as to whether NATO is dying.


  61. On the Washington Treaty, are there any inhibitions on who gets involved in what action? Did the Washington Treaty geographically impose limitations on NATO activities? We went through the agonies in the 1980s, as you will recall, with the Germans, and the rest of the alliance saw it in terms of what was in the Washington Treaty. Does it now mean that there are no more formal treaty limits? Whoever wants to join in can, and whoever wants to travel outside can, so that those barriers are no longer barriers.
  (Professor Heisbourg) There are geographical barriers as to who can be a member. I do not have the text of the treaty under my eyes. As I recall, in terms of membership it talks about Europe and North America. Singapore will not be a member. I say that in no flippant way. Coming back to the war against terrorism, or the war against mass destruction by non-state activists, that war may be more than metaphorical and the Asians may become tremendously important. However, the Washington Treaty is a very flexible treaty in terms of the limits of our action and in terms of who participates in such action. That is why it is important not to conflate the treaty with the organisation. The organisation, in its make-up and its functioning, makes the assumption that everybody who earmarks troops for assignment to NATO will deliver on the day that the balloon goes up. The Treaty makes no such assumption. Article 5 says what Article 5 says, no more, no less.

  62. There were very strict boundaries. I cannot remember the detail but the boundaries were drawn to accommodate France.
  (Professor Heisbourg) Absolutely, but the Treaty also provides for consultation on issues which lie outside the European/North American area and places no prohibition. It does not create a presumption but it does not place any prohibition on the possibility of any joint action beyond the territory of the Treaty members.

Mike Hancock

  63. Can I ask about the future of NATO and the American relationship, and I would like you to answer both in the short and the long term? What is more important to America's long-term interests? Is it a good relationship with NATO and still being very much a NATO player or is it to see the EU defence initiative really come to fruition and be able to deliver a punch, because they cannot have both really, can they?
  (Professor Heisbourg) They could have both under the notion that being serious about defence implies that the Europeans actually do pool a number of their assets and create joint structures, notable in those areas where NATO has none, and let me take something like long-range air transport or strategic mobility. Strategic mobility is not provided for within NATO, precisely because the organisation was, in the minds of those who evolved it, confined to fighting the Soviets between the North Cape and the Caucasus, and they did not need strategic lift to do that as a NATO task. You had the Americans who needed transport to reinforce their troops in Germany, but that was it. Now of course we know that one of the most important areas is strategic lift. No single European nation state is going to be able to provide any substantial contribution for collective action on its own in that respect. The only way we can do it is by pooling our assets and eventually creating, as was suggested at the Helsinki European Council at the end of 1999, a European strategic mobility command. There is no such thing as a NATO one but there could be within Europe. For the moment, we fall between two stools: that, is, NATO does not do it, and Europe does not do it collectively. And individually each of our countries is pint-sized.
  (Mr Hopkinson) I would agree with that, Chairman, but I would gloss it slightly, though, by saying that I think it is important for the US that the Europeans do more and, at the same time, they defer to US leadership. They are not, at the moment, finding that the Europeans will do more in NATO. The initiative to try and boost European activity there has not taken off. They are not actually doing terribly well in the European forum of the EU either. If, in one or other forum, the Europeans can be induced to spend more and become more effective, there will then be the question of how the US relates to them and tries to animate them. I suspect its preference would be very much by bilateral relationships. In principle, it would no doubt like the EU to be a coherent player, but the EU has got a long way to go to develop a common foreign and security policy and coherent policy-making procedures. When it does get there, if it does, the US may find itself somewhat inhibited by having a consolidated partner rather than being the hub with spokes on it.

Mr Rapson

  64. Defence Capabilities Initiative: we will go over that again. I know it has been touched on and a lot of things have been said. There have been some fine words about it but very little action. The Defence Capabilities Initiative was agreed in Washington in 1999. It had a number of goals in five main areas, one of which was interoperable communications. Recently, we had a NATO Defence Ministers meeting on 7 June where the final communique« again said some fine words about what we need to have: a small number of capabilities essential to the range of alliance missions. These are words again and the gap is still widening. Professor Heisbourg clearly indicated that the Research and Development budget for America has expanded to five times what it is in Europe. The Americans are moving into research and development in a big way. Their budget has increased. We went to Washington to see some of their technology, one of which is in sensor-to-shooter where they can identify a target and destroy it in seconds rather than in minutes as we in Europe can, and of course UAVs and their intelligence gathering. There is an enormous gap which is widening all the time. Europe as a group of nations is not going to allow that to just be a block and to say, "We cannot reduce the gap, it is getting bigger, we give up". It has got to overcome that. We have talked earlier in an answer about European nations moving into pooling arrangements for assets, but is there a role specialisation that some European states can take and a pooling of assets in some respect? Can you enlarge upon what you were thinking when you gave the answers earlier?
  (Professor Heisbourg) I would be happy to do that, first, on the budget side, and then I will move to the division of labour issue, as it were. On the budget, specifically on military R&D, the Europeans, that is EU members, are spending about $10 billion a year for military R&D. The Americans used to spend around $40 billion and they are now moving towards $50 billion in fiscal year 2003, which begins on 1 October. $10 billion being spent by the Europeans represents under 10 per cent of our defence spending, which is another way of saying that if you want to give a clear priority to military R&D, you do not actually have to make that much of an effort. If you want to push the figure from $10 billion to $20 billion, you are not asking the Europeans to double their defence spending; you are asking them to move from, let us say, a figure of 7 per cent of defence speeding to a figure of 14 per cent of defence spending, which I do not think is outside their political and budget reach. Furthermore, I would add, touching on the procurement issue, that in Europe we are in a strange situation in that a number of our countries—Britain, Holland, Denmark, Norway and Italy—are actually going to spend R&D money to help the Americans produce the Joint Strike Fighter, which will eventually be acquired in Europe. There are a number of reasons why this may or may not be a good idea. We are in a strange situation where not only are we not spending nearly enough on our military R&D, but we have actually worked ourselves into a situation where we alleviate the military R&D burden of the Americans for what is the largest peace-time procurement ever. Role specialisation always seems very tempting because it is the simple way: the Germans do Panzers, the French do aircraft, and the British do `Nelson'. That is an extreme caricature but the caricature itself shows how difficult it is politically to have a real, organised and effective role specialisation discussion. The Danes have had to face this issue on the future of their small submarine fleet: do we let go our submarine fleet or do we trust the Norwegians, the Swedes or the Germans to fulfil that particular gap—or indeed the Dutch—or do we keep them on a national basis? There could have been a third alternative, but it was not part of the Danish debate, in that maybe the Baltic States could pool their submarine forces. This is not a black or white situation where you say it is going to be all division of labour or it is going to be all pooling of assets. It should be a combination of the two. Some areas, I think, call for a pooling of assets approach rather than a division of labour. That is the case for strategic lift. It makes a lot of sense, given the very high life cycle costs of running and owning transport aircraft, to pool the maintenance, overhaul costs, training and the day-to-day functioning of such forces rather than to use a division of labour approach. Conversely, there are some areas where you can work out the division of labour, as was done during the Cold War days in the Channel with the Dutch and the Belgians doing the mine-hunting, as I think it was in those days. Here again, you have a combination of approaches. They are actually merging the command structures between Belgium and Holland. So it is not an either/or situation but to the extent that it is, at the end of the day you will probably find more joy in the pooling of assets than in trying to devise a division of labour.

  65. You have put your finger on the issues that should happen and there is some indication that something is happening. Is there a real consideration within NATO that they must find a solution by this pooling or specialisation and that they are moving towards that? The words in the initiative are just words and the practicalities that you are talking about seem to be a solution. Is it actually happening?
  (Professor Heisbourg) A lot is not happening. That is the first part of the answer. Secondly, many of the things we are talking about are probably not best handled within NATO because they tend to be specifically European problems. The Americans do not have an air lift problem but we do. I think it makes intrinsically good sense for the Europeans to pool their assets in this field. Of course, these assets can be earmarked for assignment to NATO, amongst other things, but NATO is not in the strategic mobility business. This is a European problem. To the extent that you are not actually competing and entering into useless duplication with what NATO already does, that is where it makes sense to try to use the new European defence institutions.

Mr Crausby

  66. It is difficult at this stage not to touch on issues that have already been dealt with. This is a question on NATO-Russian relations. If NATO is dying, and parts of it are already dead, then it is difficult to consider how you have a relationship anyway within a dead or dying individual. To what extent does the NATO-Russian Council represent a genuine step forward in relations between NATO and Russia, or is it just window-dressing? Is it any more important or effective than the agreement in 1997, for instance?
  (Dr Honig) Could I add something to the previous question? The level of co-operation and role specialisation which is beginning to happen—and the Netherlands is one example, but also Belgium and Germany—is generally a result not as part of the search for greater efficiency but rather of defence budget costs. You are living in a paradoxical world in which it may be a good idea to cut defence spending to create a situation in which greater international co-operation is the result. All the militaries in NATO resisted this for a very long time. The UK and our amphibious force only came about because the Dutch marines were slated to be disbanded and then they saw it as a way to save themselves, which indeed it did. But, as soon as there was room in the budget, the Dutch created their own amphibious ships and it did not really need the British capability any more. The tendency by national armed forces to be all-rounders and fully-fledged in terms of their capability is still very strong. The only reason that they are having to give it up is as a result of the budget cuts, whereas I think it may be a beneficial thing in some perverse way. Secondly, on research and development, one of the things that is being lost sight of, and I do not want to spend too long on it, is a complicated issue which merited some attention, that the purpose of all this technology and the nature of the conflicts we face are easily lost sight of and it is very easy to say we need all this precision-guided stuff, but where is it actually the most appropriate, given the type of conflicts we have to fight is a question which is very often ignored. It may be that we face a situation in which the differences, the gap between the United States and Europe, is not actually as great as it may appear to be; it may appear to be in several classes of technology but that may not be appropriate technology.
  (Mr Hopkinson) If I may come back to NATO and Russia, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. One must hope that it will be a step forward but it could be frustrated by individual NATO members ensuring that no decent business gets on to the agenda or, if it does, it is blocked there. In one sense, the words are not that different from the earlier agreement. As you say, that was a first cautious putting of the toe in the water and perhaps those nations, and I saw something of them at first hand, who are most cautious about relations with Russia have got over some of their concerns about this. Psychologically I think it is very important that it is 20 and not 19 plus one. The scene is set for it being a worthwhile thing but either the Russians or some members of NATO could frustrate it. We can only say that there is no built-in reason why it should be frustrated.


  67. Or the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Russian General Staff?
  (Mr Hopkinson) The General Staff are much more likely to be the hesitant players here. One might have a Russian diplomat participating who cannot deliver back in Moscow. That could be part of the problem,

Mr Crausby

  68. How will you measure the effectiveness then?
  (Mr Hopkinson) In the long term, by seeing how good the real dialogue is on the real security issues, including terrorism and biological weapons, and that sort of thing: can Russia and the Western players come to have a common view about the world and Russia come to understand that, whatever its strategic and security issues, they are not to do with its border with NATO but they are in the south and in the east.
  (Professor Heisbourg) I think the test over time will be whether the agenda of the Council of 20 is broadening or whether it is narrowing. If it is narrowing, then that is a very bad sign. If you end up talking about the fishery quotas in the Barents Sea as the sole topic, then you know it is a failure. If it actually does start to do certain things, which Mr Hopkinson has just mentioned, then you know you are on the right track. It is absolutely essential that the Council of 20 not be presented or styled as a quid pro quo for enlargement. This was the big mistake we made in 1997, maybe an unavoidable mistake, when the Founding Act with Russia was presented as a sop to the Russians for "accepting enlargement of NATO". The Russians have made it very clear that they do not want this one to be presented in the same way. I have not seen anybody in the West who has strayed into those dangerous waters, but I think we do have to be careful. Just a word on this R&D business, what Jan Willem has just said about the Americans not necessarily spending their money in the right places is certainly true for the Americans but the problem is that I do not see the Europeans spending their money in the right places. We tend even more than the Americans to focus our scarce R&D monies on costly platforms: on Eurofighter, Rafale, JSF, et cetera, rather than on the comparatively cheap and highly effective precision guided ordinance. None of our European air forces today has in service a single GPS-guided iron bomb, which is the weapon of choice of the Americans conducting the war in Afghanistan. The kit for one of these bombs costs $10,000 and that is nothing. The technology is totally available in our countries. You do not fly bombs but you do fly aircraft, and that helps to explain why the money is going into the top end, high cost stuff rather than in to the high tech, low cost RMA stuff.
  (Dr Honig) May I add two things on the NATO-Russia Council? One is that institutionalising is a good idea. Once you have the institution, it tends to want to find a role for itself. I think in that sense this is an important step. Secondly, following on from that, meeting in this formalised setting may be a good thing; it may be minimal but at least one meets and talks about things and one can express concerns. So that is some gain. As to whether it really amounts to something meaningful, I share all the reservations previous speakers have expressed. Institutionalising is a good idea.

  69. What about development? Do you see it developing in any way or do you see it as ticking along and being effectively just a talking shop?
  (Dr Honig) It may be that it ticks along for a while but then comes into its own. It may be that the fact that it has been founded suggests that there is some intent to make it work, to do something relatively important for the moment, but at least it is better than having informal relations. A formal relationship is a significant step forward.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. I am sorry we have been, to use an expression much used in my area, round the Wrekin, which means we have been everywhere. It is no fault of yours. You have tried to bring a degree of coherence to what was endemically anarchic. It has been very helpful and we thank you all for coming along. Professor Heisbourg, when you look at the text, could you put in your French expressions and acronyms. I am ashamed to say that I do not think many on this side of the table are really up to the level the French demanded. Thank you very much for coming.


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