Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)

RT HON GEOFFREY HOON MP, MR BRIAN HAWTIN CB AND MR WILLIAM EHRMAN CMG

WEDNESDAY 26 JUNE 2002

  140. I am afraid I do not get the cuttings from the Bulgarian or Romanian press.
  (Mr Hoon) I think you will find they deal with your problem.

  Chairman: I do not think any newspaper can deal with it!

Mr Howarth

  141. Secretary of State, perhaps I could invite your private office to let me have a copy of those cuttings.
  (Mr Hoon) I think that the research resources available to you ought to be able to cover looking at the Internet for access to that information.

  142. Thank you for your help, Secretary of State!
  (Mr Hoon) I am always delighted!

Mr Crausby

  143. There has been some concern expressed about aspirant countries continuing with defence reform. Are you confident that the framework for enlargement set out at the Reykjavik Summit will ensure that countries maintain the momentum of defence reform once invitations have been issued and the process continues?
  (Mr Hoon) Well, you are absolutely right to highlight that concern. It is an issue and that is why, as I mentioned earlier, on these visits that I have been making, I have emphasised that this is a process and it is not a process which ends at Prague. By and large, that has been accepted because I think the other side to it is to recognise, as I have just said in answer to a question from the Chairman, that the opportunity to engage in serious defence reform is one that is strongly supported certainly in Defence Ministries because it gives them a lever, it gives them a strong argument to press both with their colleagues in government and obviously with the public in the country in question. They want to reform, they want to have armed forces which are useful and they need obviously the resources to support that process, and this is a means of achieving that. I was talking to a Defence Minister the other day who has a requirement in their constitutional arrangements at the present time that they should spend at least 2 per cent on defence and notwithstanding whatever economic difficulties affect other government departments, that is an absolute fixture of their arrangements, so that is good for him, but it is also good for the country and it is also good for these kinds of processes.

Chairman

  144. Are we going to inspire them further by increasing our defence budget?
  (Mr Hoon) Well, I would simply invite you, Chairman, and the other Members of the Committee just to be a little more patient for just a short, further time before those announcements are made.

Mr Crausby

  145. One of the politicians we met in Russia last week pretty well said, "If you want the Bulgarian army, you are welcome to it". That is the impression certainly that I got. Do you see the Alliance's military effectiveness being improved by a large expansion to 27 members? As it goes on, it surely gets weaker?
  (Mr Hoon) Again I made the point earlier that there are geo-strategic factors, but there are also capability issues and this process of reform needs to produce armed forces which are not only useful as far as the countries themselves are concerned, but also can make a particular contribution to international operations, as Bulgaria has done in Afghanistan, for example. As we may get on to in due course, I think the issue of specialisation, of developing particular capabilities that are in short supply—and we have discussed this on previous occasions, we all know there are areas of expertise that our Allies need to develop—well, this is part of the solution to that problem, it seems to me, and encouraging, as I have done, countries to look at the capability shortfalls and find ways in which they can help to fill them. Actually my view, particularly of the smaller countries where historically they have perhaps sought to simply emulate the capabilities that are available to larger countries, it can actually give them a unique contribution to Alliance operations by developing niche capabilities that other countries simply cannot supply at the time. Therefore, when, as we do, we look around for contributions to international deployments, a smaller country might well actually get itself a seat at the table and participate in that operation in a way which historically it could never have contemplated, and when I talk to some of the aspirant nations, that has been a very attractive prospect for them.

Rachel Squire

  146. Picking up on that, Secretary of State, can I ask you whether in your thinking, both post-Kosovo and now post-September 11th, it is likely that any NATO-led operation would involve all the present NATO countries, let alone those who hope to join or will be invited to join later this year, in actually a single field operation or is the thinking both in NATO and in our own Ministry of Defence that the likelihood of future operations, NATO-led or whatever, is more likely to involve some member states rather than all in actually supplying the capability, whilst obviously all may have a voice when it comes to the decisions taken around the meeting table?
  (Mr Hoon) I was just checking with Brian Hawtin whether that had ever happened in the past, whether there had been a situation where every single nation had deployed its forces in a field operation and we are struggling to think of one where every single one—and obviously every country has made some sort of contribution, I think, to Afghanistan, but Iceland.
  (Mr Hawtin) Yes, I do not think Iceland has in terms of forces.
  (Mr Hoon) And Luxembourg may be another example. I am not ducking the question and I can see why you ask the question, but I think it is relevant to ask ourselves, "Has it worked in the past?" I do not think we are suddenly setting new standards for the future, and in the past we have always accepted that there will be coalitions of the willing formed from within NATO membership and that has worked perfectly satisfactorily in the past and I do not see any reason to doubt that it will not work perfectly satisfactorily in the future.

  Chairman: We will probably come on to this later, Secretary of State.

Jim Knight

  147. Secretary of State, in terms of maintaining the momentum of reform amongst the new members, to what extent is it a problem that in some way that extra energy and enthusiasm for NATO is not necessarily matched by some of the existing members in that two-thirds of the last wave of new members do not seem to have maintained the momentum, we have problems in terms of the Capabilities Initiative, and those new entrants, once they have got membership, once they have got their Article 5, which they are all so keen to have, they could say, "Well, hang on a minute, you are not fulfilling your part of the bargain, so why the hell should we?"
  (Mr Hoon) Well, I certainly think it is fair, and I made this point when talking to the aspirant nations, that we should not expect them to fulfil higher standards of capability improvements than we ask of ourselves, which is why we are so keen at Prague, as I have said already, to see a new capabilities initiative to continue to develop the capabilities that we lack and require as part of in effect the process of enlargement. So the point I have made, as I hope is consistent with the thrust of your question, is that this process of enlargement is not simply existing members looking outwards, but at the same time examining for themselves what further changes are necessary as NATO itself develops, so I do not think you can have a substantial enlargement without NATO itself facing up to the implications of that.

Mr Jones

  148. Secretary of State, you mentioned the new countries bringing new military capability to NATO. We took evidence from someone a couple of weeks ago who said that what we should be looking at are some of the lessons learned from the previous enlargement, and I was looking at some notes here. For example, he referred to the Czech and Hungarian military as "basket cases" and that the reforms undertaken have been incompetently done. How many lessons have been learnt from the previous enlargement in terms of the reforms of the armed forces?
  (Mr Hoon) Well, I certainly would not accept those descriptions of either of those countries and I think that is a serious misunderstanding of what has been taking place. Both of them supply extremely useful components on international deployments, when asked, so I think that is a very harsh assessment of what has taken place. Certainly what is important, and I think this is the same as the question that Jim has just asked in a different way, is that we recognise in a substantial enlargement the need for NATO itself to adapt, to change and to transform, as I said earlier, as part of that process. This is, as I say, not simply NATO standing still and setting a certain bar for new nations; it is about NATO itself recognising that we are dealing with a flexible situation that we have to react to and enlargement is simply part of that process, and we react by enlarging, but we also react by changing the way in which we operate.

  149. To what extent though will benchmarks put against reforms in terms of the military of the aspirant nations be put against the political will actually to get into the club, as it were?
  (Mr Hoon) As I said in answer to the question from the Chairman earlier, there will be a consistent standard approach and the emphasis of the United Kingdom is very strongly in terms of fulfilling in terms of the Membership Action Plan and, therefore, engaging in real internal defence reform and making an effective contribution to the Alliance. Brian, do you have anything to add to that?
  (Mr Hawtin) No, I think that is absolutely right. On the point about reform, I think the Membership Action Plan has evolved and obviously there has been increased focus in the light of experience on how one can best help, both through NATO and through bilateral assistance, the aspirants to reform, but we are continually learning from experience and factoring that into the Plan, the targets and the way the countries are being assisted in reforming and restructuring.

  150. Just going on to the actual role of NATO itself, we have taken evidence from a number of people and I accept there is a wide range of views of NATO, ranging from, I think, William Hopkinson who said that NATO is dying, but is not dead yet, to Professor Heisbourg who said that it is actually dead as an actual military alliance.
  (Mr Hoon) Forgive me for interrupting you, but I hope that is not the full range of opinion that you have obtained.

  151. No, no, it is not. We also have some saying that it is not quite dead, but in need of some vital reform, and that is the issue I want to come on to really. If you obviously do not agree that it is dying, what is your assessment of NATO currently and what do you see as the changes which are needed internally within NATO, not just if we have got the expansion, but also as, for example, we have not got the threat from the Soviet Union and the operations that NATO are possibly involved in in the way it is organised are going to change or have changed?
  (Mr Hoon) I set out in opening the strong argument for NATO's continuing vitality and its continuing role in the world, and the best evidence for that are the number of countries queuing up to join and the number of countries prepared to take very difficult decisions as part of that process, so, as I say, I do hope that your researches on attitudes towards NATO have gone a little beyond that rather narrow and somewhat extreme perspective. Certainly NATO has to change and I make that absolutely clear and it is part of our approach. It has to change not only in the light of the fact that the Soviet Union no longer exists and Russia is an ever-closer partner in a number of international operations and sits around the table in the NATO-Russia Council, so the world has changed and absolutely for the better, but there are still significant threats out there that we have to deal with. The world may well be a safer place as a result of the end of the Cold War, but it is certainly a less certain place. Some of the stability that the Cold War brought has ended and we have to deal with that, as we have to deal with, for example, conducting operations as far away as Afghanistan with all the logistical challenge that that involves. That is why we need to ensure that in the process of change, NATO has the right kind of capabilities to be able to conduct operations in that changing and increasingly uncertain world. That is why NATO continues to have a function and that is why, in answer to the Chairman's first question, I laid emphasis in particular on NATO's military capabilities because if NATO simply becomes another international forum, however fascinating it may be, for exchanging international views of a political kind, then we will have wasted a unique opportunity of ensuring that NATO itself remains a unique militarily-capable alliance.

  152. What is actually unique about NATO as opposed to other organisations of a political nature, which is what NATO is becoming?
  (Mr Hoon) Well, you are asking me to repeat what I just said.

  153. Well, no, I did not really get an answer to the question I asked. The point I am making is where will NATO be, for example, in your mind in ten years' time, what are the needs in terms of reform and what is its actual role now?
  (Mr Hoon) I anticipate that NATO will be a larger organisation, it will have more countries in membership, but it will still remain, certainly if the United Kingdom has its way in terms of this reform process, an effective military alliance, setting standards, establishing inter-operability, ensuring that Member States can make the right kind of military contribution to whatever military activities are required in ten years' time, and it will also at the same time obviously have a powerful political role as a very large and successful military alliance. Would you like to come in, Brian?
  (Mr Hawtin) Only on the military strengths. I think it continues to be unique in that sense. It is the only regional security organisation anywhere in the world which has the ability to deliver very considerable military puissance quickly, effectively over very considerable distances and to sustain that capability over considerable periods of time, and it has done that in a number of instances with the supporting politico-military crisis management mechanism. That is what makes it distinctive and different from any other organisation and it has the other attributes which the Secretary of State has described.
  (Mr Ehrman) Could I just mention something that was in the Reykjavik Communique« of the Foreign Ministers which fits in very much with what the Secretary of State is saying about the deployable distance. The Foreign Ministers agreed that NATO needed to have forces which could move quickly to wherever they are needed and sustain operations over distance and time, so that is, I think, an evolution to meet some of the new threats and at the same time NATO is of course working up at the moment its high-readiness deployable forces which can fulfil that role.

  154. So do you see NATO's role as a global role?
  (Mr Ehrman) Well, the NATO Foreign Ministers were very clear that we need to be able to field forces wherever they are needed and, as the Secretary of State has said, Afghanistan, where many of our forces have been recently, is at a considerable distance.

  155. That is very helpful. In your opening statement you said, "I do not mean NATO becoming a world policeman", but is that not what you are actually suggesting?
  (Mr Hoon) No, it is not. We are talking about, as with the operations in Afghanistan, being able to reach the source of threats which might challenge our own security and challenge the security of our Allies. That does not mean engaging in each and every operation that might arise anywhere in the world, but it certainly means being able to engage in operations that have as their ultimate aim dealing with threats to our own safety and security and that has not changed. That has always been the case as far as NATO is concerned.
  (Mr Hawtin) Can I just add one point to that, and I think the Secretary of State alluded to it earlier. Even if NATO is not being deployed as NATO, and it is not in ISAF at the moment, so there is not a NATO flag over that, and it was not deployed in the Gulf as a NATO-led coalition, the key point is that the nations participating in both of those operations are doing so working to common NATO standards and to interoperability, training, exercises and procedures developed through NATO over very, very many years of hard work and effort and one cannot replicate that easily. You cannot produce it at the snap of one's fingers and that is NATO's key strength.

  156. Is it time for a name change then?
  (Mr Hoon) No, no. I think there is an important concept though, if you will forgive me, which your questions are missing. The concept is that NATO is a defensive alliance. The whole point of Article 5 is to provide that security guarantee to each and every member, but if a threat arises somewhere else in the world and can be delivered in New York or Washington, then clearly we have to have the ability of dealing with that threat. It is not about a name change at all; it is about making sure that we have the right military capabilities to be able to deal with that threat to our safety and security and the safety and security of our Allies wherever it arises.

  157. What is the threat against NATO members then?
  (Mr Hoon) On September 11th, there was a clear threat to the safety and security of the United States, a member of NATO, and that would arise wherever that threat was delivered against a NATO Member State. That is why I think, with the greatest respect, your questions are missing the point.

  158. Well, I think you are doing a good job of avoiding answering them, but the point surely is that the threat you have is no longer the Cold War threat, is it, and if you are saying it is because of the conclusion of that what NATO has become, then we can expand it for ever more, can we not, including a great number of nations, which takes it away from the initial point about it being a North Atlantic security organisation?
  (Mr Hoon) I do not think you will find anywhere in the Treaty any reference to the Cold War threat or indeed to the Soviet Union. The whole point about Article 5 is that it is a security guarantee for the Member States and inevitably, as the world changes and moves on, those threats will change. Unfortunately, your questions are not.

  159. And your answers are not either and we are not getting very far, but the point is where do we actually stop the expansion of NATO? Does it become a global organisation?
  (Mr Hoon) Well, I think that is a different question and I think that is a relevant issue, but as for the moment I do not think we need to deal with it because that global expansion in that sense is not arising. The aspirant nations are clearly nations who could reasonably expect to be part of a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and are clearly European nations in that sense. There is nothing conceptually different about any of the existing aspirant nations. I accept that at some stage in the future we might have to deal with that more philosophical issue, but it does not arise for the moment.

 


 
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