Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 131-139)




  131. Welcome, gentlemen. We are reaching the concluding stages of our inquiry into the future of NATO and NATO enlargement and, as is the tradition, the whole process is wound up or wound down, I am not sure which, by Ministers, so we very much welcome you, Secretary of State, Mr Hawtin and Mr Ehrman. Would you like to make some opening remarks, Secretary of State, please?

  (Mr Hoon) Thank you, Chairman, and could I congratulate the Committee on choosing this, arguably the nicest day of the year on which to spend the morning in the surroundings of the House of Commons.

  Mr Knight: It needed to be rearranged for England to lose the football!


  132. We actually had a meeting in the Russian Foreign Ministry as the game was being played, which shows our dedication.
  (Mr Hoon) I have never doubted your commitment to the pursuit of the truth, but I am grateful to the Committee for the opportunity of setting out the Government's thinking on the future of NATO as we approach the Summit of NATO Heads of State and Government in Prague on the 21st and the 22nd November. Expectations of Prague are high. Prague can meet those expectations only if Allies face up to the need not only for an enlargement, but also for what we would describe as a transformation of the Alliance. It is right that you should ask what do I mean by "transformation". I do not mean NATO suddenly becoming the world's policeman, but I do mean NATO becoming more effective in facing new challenges, building on the Strategic Concept; NATO having the capabilities it needs to face new threats; NATO enlarging to consolidate the security gains of the past decade; and NATO adapting its structures and processes to keep pace with the strategic setting. We certainly need a new capabilities initiative at Prague to give us the flexible, deployable, sustainable armed forces we have long wanted. The fight against terrorism underlines this need. Unless the Europeans do more, spend more and spend better, then there is a clear danger that the transatlantic link will weaken. We also need to look at NATO's command structures, which need improving to meet the present requirement. On enlargement, I want to emphasise the United Kingdom's strong support for a robust round at Prague. I also want to stress the need to go into this with our eyes open—to ensure a bigger NATO that can still be effective, and to help new members bring something worthwhile to the table. The meetings of NATO Foreign and Defence Ministers this spring have placed us, I believe, in a good position to take the right decisions at Prague. This relates in turn to adaptation. NATO's central bureaucracy has not yet faced up to the challenges of the 21st Century, and Lord Robertson is trying his hardest to make sure it does. The United Kingdom is right behind him in this effort. Finally, some commentators have asked whether NATO still has a role. To my mind, that is the wrong question. People in the Balkans would not be asking that question; people in NATO's partner countries, including those actively seeking to join the Alliance, would not be asking it; and people in NATO's armed forces, who know the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, would not be asking it. The issue is not whether NATO has a role, but how it can best fulfil its role. The five tasks set out in the Strategic Concept will, with some shifting of emphasis, be as valid for Prague as they were for Washington. The real issue is how NATO can best meet these tasks.

  133. Thank you very much. The Committee went to all serious applicant States about a month ago, the Baltics, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, and, generally speaking, I think we were very impressed by what they had to say to us. We were not there with our eyes half open and we knew most of the arguments for and perhaps potentially against. I suppose the impression we had, or certainly the impression I had, confirms what you said, Secretary of State, that robust enlargement is likely to be seven nations, perhaps three, four, five or six, but hopefully seven, and NATO is likely, if your advice is pursued, let's say, to fight until the final decision is made and no doubt continue to improve afterwards. Could you expand slightly on what you said in your introduction and say how many invitations do you anticipate being issued at Prague? Will there be a sort of Government health warning or a NATO health warning attached to them about the process of reform continuing and not terminating upon accession?
  (Mr Hoon) Well, I too have made the same journey as you, perhaps in a slightly different order, but I have visited all of the aspirant nations and have found an absolute determination to reach NATO standards, but I do want to emphasise that I believe that it is too soon as yet to be saying who might be invited. It is a matter for Prague and it is a matter for discussion amongst Allies, but we are following closely the efforts that individual nations are taking to reform their armed forces and defence structures, and we obviously are encouraging the Membership Action Plan process. The one point I have consistently made when I visited aspirant nations is that the issuing of the invitation is not the conclusion of the process; we need to ensure that countries work through the Prague Summit, recognising that this is a continuing effort to ensure that they have both internal reform to be able to provide the right kinds of forces for NATO, but also that they can make a real contribution to collective defence, so there is an internal aspect for each of the countries as well as producing a force contribution that can be useful in support of Article 5 and useful, therefore, in support of NATO operations.

  134. Do you think NATO will be enhanced as a result of a robust enlargement and a large number of invitations being made?
  (Mr Hoon) The United Kingdom is a strong supporter of enlargement and a strong supporter of a robust round of enlargement at Prague, and we see real benefits not only in geo-strategic terms of having new members of NATO at this stage, but we also see capability benefits which can flow from a substantial enlargement.

  135. When NATO decides finally on the number of countries to be admitted, could you give us some indication of the balance between the different arguments which will be used? Will the political outweigh the military? Will there be countries who, you may think, will not make a significant or perhaps any real contribution to the military capabilities of NATO, but the arguments that are more political might outweigh those military arguments? What is the balance and do you think it might have changed over the last twelve months?
  (Mr Hoon) I believe it is very important that the same standards are applied to each of the aspirant nations in terms of their being able to make an effective military contribution to the Alliance and that is why I emphasised a moment ago the importance of the Membership Action Plan. It is ensuring that countries reform their military and their military contribution to preserve the effectiveness of NATO as a military alliance which is, after all, its unique quality as an international organisation. We have any number of very effective international organisations where we can exchange political views and political ideas, and this is the one organisation where its raison d'e®tre is its effective military operation.

  136. One of the points raised with us was that a number of countries have not, let's say, ingratiated themselves with the applicant countries. Some are saying very nice things and giving very, very supportive and soothing words, whereas we are seen being obviously the hard cop, the tough cop. Do you think that is a fair dichotomy? Have you been going around knocking them on their heads and telling them that they have really got to get their act together, otherwise the nice words being said may not actually come to fruition?
  (Mr Hoon) I have been going around telling them precisely what I have been telling you this morning. I have not put it in any different terms. We want to see a robust round of enlargement, we want to see new Member States in NATO some time after Prague, but we equally want to see NATO preserved as an effective military alliance and those countries making an effective military contribution. I have not actually had any hesitation among the countries that I have visited in agreeing with those sentiments. They themselves recognise that this is an important opportunity for them to engage in the reform process and that is why, after all, they have strongly supported the MAP process because they themselves want to be able to make an effective contribution. It is also a very good opportunity internally for engaging in some quite difficult issues of defence reform.

  137. One thing, Secretary of State, I think we all found in visiting the applicant nations was how much they appreciated the contributions made by MoD staff who were inside their Defence Ministries, and this was not them just being polite to us because we met them of course, but their presence was greatly appreciated and has added very significantly to their ability to meet the demands that NATO has made upon them, so any opportunity you would have on behalf of our Committee to compliment those men and women who are working inside those Defence Ministries, we would be most grateful.
  (Mr Hoon) Well, I too have had the opportunity of meeting them, and I am grateful for your comments and I will make sure that they are passed back. Certainly I think they have made an outstanding contribution, always reflected in the comments I have received from host governments who have very much appreciated the expertise and sheer experience that has been brought to bear. The only challenge for the Secretary of State for Defence is to persuade those people, who themselves have been having a very stimulating and enjoyable time, to come back and work in the Ministry of Defence.

  138. Yes, it will be a bit of an anti-climax, but are they likely to be replaced because the task will continue after accession?
  (Mr Hoon) By and large, yes. We have certainly made it clear that if host countries believe that this has been a useful contribution to the Membership Action Plan, the process of defence reform, then we will be delighted to continue with it, either with the particular individuals in question if they wish to continue and that is consistent with their own personal and career plans, or equally by replacing them where appropriate, but I do not think it is right to generalise across the board. It will depend on both the individual's position and on the particular country in question, but, in principle, we certainly want to continue to offer what assistance the host country requires.

Mr Howarth

  139. Secretary of State, if I could endorse what the Chairman has said about the effect of our MoD staff out there, I think he is entirely right to pay tribute to them. They have clearly enhanced defence diplomacy and if that is defence diplomacy, it certainly works. Going back to the earlier point about the attitude of the British Government, it was clear, certainly in Bulgaria and Romania which I visited, that there was a perception of the UK almost playing a straight bat. Now, I know the others do not play cricket and we do, but there is a perception that if these countries are admitted, it will not be thanks to the United Kingdom, and if they are rejected, it will be because of the United Kingdom. It certainly appears that even the United States is giving the nods and winks which the United Kingdom is not, so I would like to put it to you that there is a risk here to the United Kingdom either way and that if you have not made up your mind that, come November, the British Government will take a favourable view of all or most of the applicants, it might be advantageous politically so to indicate in advance.
  (Mr Hoon) Well, I was in Bulgaria and Romania last week and I have recently had meetings with both of their Defence Ministers both there and obviously here, and all I would invite you to do is to check the newspapers the day after my visit to each of those countries.


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