Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-130)



  120. I know you know. The point being, surely, that the Americans found it extraordinarily difficult to fight cave to cave, man to man, face to face, that is war fighting and they needed help.
  (Mr Grant) Sorry, I do not think they did need help. Politically they needed help. I am not an expert on the American armed forces, but I think they can fight in caves quite well.

  Patrick Mercer: Relying on the British and Canadian organisations.

Mr Hancock

  121. It was the time that it took that caught up with the Americans, that was why they needed help.
  (Mr Grant) Yes.

  Mr Hancock: That is why Patrick's point is a valid one, is it not?

Patrick Mercer

  122. The point I make is a thoroughly healthy point, surely, that actually this crude division, I beg your pardon this blunt division, between war fighting and peacekeeping simply is not there and simply has not happened in Afghanistan.
  (Dr Allin) Right but we are talking about NATO, we are not talking specific relations, specific requests to specific American allies, that is the first point. I think that was the base of our discussion. Secondly, and I think this applies in a way to both subjects here, the real boots on the ground war fighting and this question of a division of labour involving peacekeeping, I think there is a kind of conflicted psychology in the United States right now. Part of it is the residue of a campaign ideology which actually did say "We do not do peacekeeping". I do not think they ever absolutely devalued the necessity of it but on the hard right there was not even a touch of that suggestion. I remember someone who is now a high ranking member of the State Department saying in a room not too far from here "I do not believe in nation building in Kosova because I do not believe in nation building in the United States" and then went off on a libertarian treatise. I think that is in this administration a very minority view. What happened, and as far as I know to a certain extent is still happening in Afghanistan, is a real conceptual problem being driven largely in the United States which was we not only did not want to be involved in a peacekeeping force beyond Kabul but we actively constrained our allies from doing that because we do not really believe in the division of labour, believe that we will get sucked into it anyway. These things have to be thought out more clearly in Washington. Now both the necessity for a division of labour and its incredible perils can be postulated in a scenario and that is an invasion of Iraq which is so fraught on a number of levels. First of all for the United States to ask for major peacekeeping, dishes cleaning up, from allies who obviously would have a lot of misgivings about the operation in the first place is one problem. For the United States to take the view that it is going to be a sort of serial leaver of mess to other allies is also corrosive of solidarity. It is a big problem. On the other hand I think, as we have been saying, there is a division of labour that is driven to a certain extent by capabilities and I do not think we can get around it.

Mr Hancock

  123. It does not go away, does it? There is not a recent example of where the Americans have done the fighting and others have preserved the peace without the Americans retaining a presence. The Americans are guarantors of peace and they have not been able to leave anywhere completely. They have always had to remain as the ultimate guarantor so that if anyone does not live up to the peace they will be there. That is the case in the Balkans and it will be the case in Afghanistan. The only thing that will safeguard it is the ongoing American presence, not called peacekeepers, we will be the peacekeepers but there will have to be a significant American presence, as there is in the Balkans, even though they will claim they are not there, they are there. They are actually there guaranteeing the peacekeepers, are they not, and that is their role, whether they like it or not they cannot walk away even if they would want to. They are politicians and they are led to believe they do it, but they do not, they stay, they have to.
  (Mr Grant) Well, are they going to stay in the Balkans? In Bosnia, I think they are very keen that the Europeans should take over.

  124. They have not left yet.
  (Mr Grant) No, they have not. They have reduced the numbers of their soldiers.

  125. They are still there.
  (Mr Grant) They are encouraging the EU to take over the ownership of the Macedonia mission. I think when they get the chance they will encourage the EU to take over Bosnia as well but obviously that assumes that the ESDP moves on and makes more progress than it has until now.

Syd Rapson

  126. There is the attitude also that the Americans in modern war fighting have a stand of war with unmanned vehicles and with a lot of computer technology hardly in harm's way and do war fighting and then allow the allies to come in and get on the ground and face people and try and sort out what is left. That seems to be a rather strange attitude for a tough fighting nation to stand back and not get in harm's way.
  (Dr Allin) We are not talking about peacekeeping any more obviously. In war fighting terms I had expected that attitude to have become rendered inoperative on September 12. In fact, having said that, I was astonished by what looked like a Pentagon reluctance to plan the Afghanistan war with the expectation of using its own troops to do things which needed to be done. The debate will go on whether that is one reason Osama Bin Laden may still be at large. I still cannot believe that at this level of clear American interest that resistance will not be overcome in the Pentagon. I think there are some signs that it is. If I could just speak slightly chauvinistically here. I realise this Committee put out a very important report on the Kosova war. I have felt often, although I concede that the Pentagon attitude which drove President Clinton's statement that we were not going to send in ground troops, or he was not considering at least at that point sending in ground troops, was strategically an error, there is no question about it, I do sometimes feel—and you can all correct me, having maybe studied this at greater length than me—it is used as an alibi by non British European countries who were not all that reluctant to get in there with troops on the ground either. Britain was an exception, for a number of reasons which might start with the fact that you did not have a divided government.


  127. The other frustration I think we had, when the whole Committee went to Oman, was a third of our armed forces were in Oman in spitting distance of Afghanistan all ready to go I felt. This was just Oman and the exercise once completed off they would go to join the Americans but they were not required. I did say at the time, and I felt borne out by subsequent developments, that this was a mistake. Even Canada were scrambling to be there. I felt that was under utilising allies which may in the long term turn out to be an error.
  (Mr Grant) Yes.

  Chairman: Before we finish just one further question and that is on the NATO-Russia relations. We are all off to Moscow on Sunday so just a few questions to send us on our way and give us a perspective which might be helpful in tracing down our colleagues on three Duma Committees. Patrick?

Patrick Mercer

  128. The NATO-Russia Council, how much of a step forward does it represent in relations between NATO and Russia?
  (Professor Heuser) Great when it is used. It was bad when it was non functional during the Kosovo crisis which was very pathetic of course. It has got great potential when it is actually used and when both sides come to it with goodwill. I think one of the things you might take to your Duma Committee, etc, is the very simple old psychological trick of letting people feel important and therefore feeling happier by being taken into consideration. I think this is one of the dangers that has been there in the NATO-Russia relations over a host of issues, obviously over the Balkans but now also terrorism. When the Russians are there saying "We agree. We have the same problem with terrorists, we want to fight them also" it is actually very useful to say "Well, come on, help us. You are really important to us. Yes, we are all in this together. Yes, we all want peace and stability" rather than just saying "We are doing on our own thing, do not worry" and then just ignoring them which is part of what you have foreseen in the particularly America-Russia relationship. This is something you can really build on and this is something where it cannot do any harm to tell the Russians that we are fighting in the same direction but at the same time once we take these people as prisoners we do not torture them, that we have the same aim of fighting terrorism and containing it and sharing information. That is precisely the sort of area in which you can call Russia's bluff to open up, share information, etc.
  (Mr Grant) Could I add to that? I think it is very, very important and I think NATO is to be congratulated for finding a way of engaging the Russians before the EU has done so. The Russians—I do spend a bit of time in Russia—are very, very keen to engage, to be given a presence in Western institutions. It is good that we have come up with this idea but my worry is that as far as I can tell very few people in Russia actually support Putin's foreign policy. He and a small band of people around him have this pro Western orientation. The MoD, the Defence Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, do not really like it at all and, frankly, the NATO-Russia Council is not going to work until Putin cleans out the top level of bureaucrats who spiked the previous NATO-Russia Council which has now been abolished. My caveat is can Putin make it work by getting his Ministries and the military establishment to really move and modernise, otherwise I fear it will not achieve very much.
  (Dr Allin) Chairman, before I answer, I wonder if I could apologise for having to leave exactly at six because I am going to catch a plane.


  129. I think the rest of us will be going as well. We will finish, I promise you, at six or before six.
  (Dr Allin) Okay. I have been trying to ask everyone who is smarter than I am about these issues. What is the effective difference between the NATO-Russia Council and the Permanent Joint Council? Obviously in certain ways it is a big step but I have not heard a convincing answer that if there is a fundamental disagreement such as, again going back to Kosova, that you would not have the same effect. Obviously there are mechanisms to exclude Russia if necessary and it might one day be necessary to exclude Russia and the Russians would be under these circumstances as angry and in a sense feeling as betrayed as they felt at the time of Kosova. Happily we do not see that in the near future. I think what is happening represents a true strategic convergence driven at the top by above all President Putin and his vision that his interests are with our interests, particularly in the fight against terrorism. What Charles said I think is very important which is that for it to institutionally work obviously you have to get a culture in Russia which is interested in NATO for purposes other than, frankly, in some cases espionage and that has not been developed yet. I am not an expert on Russia but it strikes me as a daunting task.

  Chairman: There are historical examples where one person can drive a political party but I do not wish to explore that further, we do not have the time.

Jim Knight

  130. Can I just ask one quick question. With Russia and its new engagement with NATO do you think Ukraine is more of an issue and it is inevitable that NATO has to have an engagement with the Ukraine?
  (Professor Heuser) Not beyond what it has. It may just make enough concessions, whenever Russia got something, Ukraine had to get something, but I think that game is over, mainly because there have been so many things that NATO has done vis-a"-vis the Ukraine. They are mainly formal, they are mainly just in order to say "We have also met with Ukraine". I think nothing more needs to be done in that direction because Ukraine has not got any more leverage.
  (Mr Grant) There is this NATO-Ukraine Council. Frankly I do not know if it does anything.
  (Professor Heuser) It does not, it just meets.
  (Mr Grant) Fine. Given Ukraine's sub-optimal democratic credentials I would not want to give it much more than what it has got.

  Jim Knight: Right.

  Chairman: When I was in charge of monitoring the last elections I wish I had heard that phrase. I would not have used it. Thank you all for coming. I think that has been immensely helpful. We really appreciate it. Thank you.


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