Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220-236)

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

WEDNESDAY 26 JUNE 2002

  220. I hope that yours is greater.
  (Mr Hoon) So do I!

Mr Jones

  221. Following that point, and talking about the co-operation of the European allies on projects, do you think that there is scope for greater co-operation with America?
  (Mr Hoon) We have entered into arguably what may be the most expensive defence project in history, which is JSF. It is interesting and I hope consistent with what we have been discussing already, that the United States was looking for a partnership with the United Kingdom in developing a sophisticated aircraft. I am delighted that we are doing that.

Jim Knight

  222. The feedback that I am receiving on that is that understandably the American partners are hanging on carefully to their intellectual property and that the UK element is little more than metal bashing.
  (Mr Hoon) That is a disgraceful suggestion. Companies based in the United Kingdom already supply vital components for the F-16s, for example. I do not accept that at all. This is the way in which the defence industry is developing. We have particular niche specialities that the United Kingdom specialises in and they are increasingly in demand around the world. Obviously, in the United States there is more likely to be an A to Z of industrial capabilities, but it misses out some important letters on the way and other countries will have the opportunity to fill those gaps. That appears to be the way in which defence industries are developing around the world. Clearly, there is a great deal of industrial capability in the United States, but that does not say that it is exclusive. The JSF is a very good example of the way in which the US is looking for partnerships in the development of those kinds of leading-edge technologies.

Mr Jones

  223. Turning to relations between NATO and Russia, the Chairman said that the committee was in Moscow last week. We had much discussion about the future relations between NATO and Russia. Time and time again the phrase "the proof of the pudding will be in the eating" came through in relation to how it will develop. How will you assess the effectiveness of the NATO Russia Council?
  (Mr Hoon) In the short term, my judgment, having sat through some not tremendously exciting Permanent Joint Council meetings, is whether we can engage in a dialogue with Russia as a sovereign nation. The real problem with the PJC was that essentially it was a meeting between Russia and NATO. Both sides, if that is the right description—it should not be but sometimes it felt like that—simply set out their positions. In a way, Russia saw itself as the inheritor of the mantle of the Soviet Union and, therefore, engaged in a dialogue with NATO. What is significant about the way in which NATO functions at NATO council meetings is that sovereign nations sit around the table—I do not know whether I shall get into trouble for saying this—and whether it is Luxembourg or the United States, they set out their views. Ministers representing democratic societies are able to do that. What is important about the way in which the NATO-Russia Council works, and my assessment of whether it is successful, is whether we have that kind of discussion around the table with 20, because I believe that that way of exchanging ideas is enormously important. Certainly in my immediate counterpart I see no difficulty about that. The Russian Defence Minister is an extremely sophisticated supporter of reform and has enormous influence in the way in which Russia is developing. Thereafter, you would want to see, as I would, progress on the specific issues that we have identified as being subjects for discussion by the 20. After that, the further stage of defining success will be whether we are capable of adding to that list. After a period of discussion around a table of 20 we may say that there are new subjects that we now feel capable of adding to our agenda.

  224. That is one of the first clear answers that you have given today.
  (Mr Hoon) Am I to receive points for that.

  225. No, you get points for avoiding questions! Last week when we were in Moscow, we came up against the Cold War mentality, both from some in the military and from some journalists whom we met and some politicians. It is difficult to work out who are the politicians and who were generals in a previous life. What can be done to try to allay those fears? That fear is still there, if not at the higher level of administration, in society and in the military.
  (Mr Hoon) I am a little surprised that you find it surprising that in a democratic nation there is a range of views. I dare say that if I tried I could find places in the Ministry of Defence where there is still some Cold War mentality lurking. That is what happens in democratic societies. There is a range of views and there are tensions. It would be disappointing if you went to a country and met only one view. That would mean to me that the country was not very democratic. You need to recognise that Russia has changed significantly and that there is a range of opinions as there is in London and Washington. That must mean that Russia is making fairly significant progress.

  226. You have not answered the question. What can NATO do to bury some of those Cold War attitudes?
  (Mr Hoon) I think that is why meeting at 20 is such a significant development. It means that Russia is sitting around the table with 19 other sovereign nations and exchanging views and ideas about vitally important subjects that affect our security for the future. This is a process. Just because the Soviet Union came to an end does not mean that everyone in the Russian Federation suddenly woke up and decided that every aspect of the Cold War mentality was driven out. I suspect, as I say, that lurking in the Ministry of Defence there are a few Cold War attitudes. There are certainly a few in Parliament.

Chairman

  227. I appreciate the point that you are making. However, people who have spoken to us have indicated that President Putin is happy with the drift of his policies; his presidential administration is pretty happy; and maybe the defence minister is; but most people in the military and the defence ministry do not like it; and lots of people in the foreign ministry do not like the drift of Russian policy. The number of NGOs that do not like what is happening is quite considerable. I appreciate you taking that view, but realistically there is a concern that there are too many people in the Russian military and in the Russian government for whom the initiatives of President Putin are seen as retrogressive. I cannot see in what other direction Russia can move, except the one towards which President Putin is moving. Even before we went there we met people who accepted what is happening, but we met a lot of people who were not displaying ostentatious hostility, but who did not take too long to develop a perception of the way in which they are moving. Our concern is that if President Putin should fall under the proverbial bus, will that policy be subject to substantial change? Has the momentum that he has created, and which we all endorse and applaud, gone far enough to ensure that it will become a relatively permanent feature of Russian national security policy? We know that there are people who are hostile to development, but is there anything that we can do to convince them, more than we are trying to, that the Cold War is genuinely over? One question raised with us by someone in the foreign ministry was on a statement that you made on nuclear strategy in response to Mr Jones. We were told by another observer how we still target Russia, but we sought to reassure him that we did not. It was an interesting visit and positive in so many ways, but we regret that level of anxiety that much remains to be done within NATO. We need to be concerned, we need to be able to identify whether in the NATO-Russia Council we are doing everything on the NATO side and the national government side to push it along as far as we can and we need to be careful about anyone sabotaging what is happening. There must be people in advisory capacities who may not be entirely sympathetic with the general thrust that thankfully has emerged within NATO and within the presidential administration in Russia.
  (Mr Hoon) I think those implied criticisms would have been fair before the agreement to establish the NATO-Russia Council. Had we failed to do that—and Tony Blair was amongst the leading advocates of creating the Council—and had there been NATO nations who were implacably opposed to it and would not accept its creation, then there might have been some substance in what you are saying. However, at the point at which this is just getting under way and we are just beginning this kind of dialogue with Russia, I think it is a little unfair to be quite so pessimistic. I accept that you are setting out a strain of thinking that is around here and in Washington and in Moscow, but in fact the Russians have agreed to participate in the NATO-Russia Council, and enthusiastically. At the first meeting that I attended at 20 every single nation spoke in a way to demonstrate how keen they were on it being a success. I think you simply have to give us some time to establish that new institution and make it work and subject it to the kinds of tests that I have set out.

  Chairman: I hope your perhaps pessimistic assumption or aspiration is realised.

Jim Knight

  228. As I understand it, a principal difference between 19-plus-1 and NATO at 20 is the lack of pre-cooking going into meetings. We now know that the quad does not exist.
  (Mr Hoon) It does not formally exist.

  229. That is helpful, yes. That is what I said, that the quad formally does not exist. So are you giving a message to our representatives that informal caucusing prior to meetings, that might coincidentally include the same sort of people time after time, should be more sensitive with NATO at 20 or should include Russia?
  (Mr Hoon) I think the question has actually been answered already. There are a range of contacts that take place, and from time to time those contacts will certainly include Russia. The Russian Defence Minister has visited here relatively recently. I am looking forward to visiting him very, very soon.

Chairman

  230. On a boat, I understand?
  (Mr Hoon) So I understand as well, yes. I think that in engaging in this process of reform, one of the really serious changes that has taken place in recent times is the opportunity of picking up the telephone and discussing issues of mutual concern with the Russian Defence Minister. It would have been impossible to contemplate doing that not so very long ago. I just want to give you a sense of the way in which this works. There are constant contacts amongst allies in a variety of different formats, sometimes in periods of difficulty one following rapidly on the other, because that is the way that modern society works. With regard to the idea that suddenly we wait for a formal meeting with a certain number of people around the table, before trying to address a problem or a crisis, it just does not work like that.

Jim Knight

  231. But we have to be sensitive about how we handle that, if it is going to appear in Russia to be any different from the Permanent Joint Council?
  (Mr Hoon) I strongly agree with that. That is why I said, in answer to Kevan's question originally, that the first test for me as to the definition of success is whether there is a sense around the table that we are having an effective dialogue and that there is a real discussion going on, as opposed to simply reading out position papers—which I assure you is not the prerequisite either of Russia, as there are many countries who turn up to meetings and read out a very carefully prepared statement.

Chairman

  232. That is not including your prepared statement earlier this morning, Secretary of State?
  (Mr Hoon) No, that was an exciting one!

  233. I see. Now we come to the last question on this, and then Gerald will come in with a concluding question. I suppose that this new institution is meant partly to reassure: to reassure the Russians that they are not being too sucked in by NATO; to reassure the Baltic States who, having joined NATO perhaps to escape Russia, now find themselves sitting alongside them, which I suppose is inevitable and that is welcome; but thirdly, to reassure Ukraine who will not be participating in this new structure. What could NATO do, or should they do anything—I think they should—to ensure that Ukraine is not isolated by any new relationship between Russia and NATO?
  (Mr Hoon) I am sure you are not intending to be defensive and conservative in your question, but I do not think it is about reassurance. I think it is actually getting out of these meetings of 20 real improvements in security. It is about ensuring that we co-operate together on terrorism, on crisis management. It is actually getting real commitment from Russia and from NATO Allies that they will work together. One of the significant changes brought about by September 11 is a much greater recognition than before that we have common interests with Russia in tackling some of these issues, and moreover are prepared to make the means available to achieve that. So it is much more than just reassuring people. As far as Ukraine specifically is concerned, then obviously there are implications for Ukraine. I think you have seen some of those inherent in recent announcements. Ukraine has announced an ambition ultimately to be a member of NATO. I think there is a significant amount of work that would have to be completed before that could happen. Nevertheless, it is an indication of the direction in which Ukraine wishes to go, certainly entirely consistently with what I have said already in terms of defence reform, reform generally in Ukraine. If they wish to pursue that path, we would strongly support that.

  234. Would there be any plans to upgrade the existing NATO-Ukraine relationship?
  (Mr Hoon) Certainly I think we also have to engage with Ukraine in the kind of dialogue that I am just describing, but given that in a sense Ukraine has announced that its policy is ultimately to want to be a member of NATO, then we will be engaging in that process in any event, because there will be the kind of discussions, the kind of processes that we have discussed earlier in relation to NATO aspirants, as far as Ukraine is concerned.
  (Mr Hawtin) I would simply add as an illustration to your point, Chairman, that the NATO-Ukraine Council is actually meeting in Ukraine Kiev on 9 July, at ambassadorial level, to take forward discussions on what their recent declaration means and how it should be pursued.

  Chairman: Now the last question. Mr Howarth.

Mr Howarth

  235. Secretary of State, you will be aware that one of the NATO activities is the peace-keeping operation in Bosnia at the present time. You may also be aware that the United Nations mandate runs out this weekend and that there is some difficulty about its being renewed. The issue of the International Criminal Court is at the centre of this. Can I ask you a question about this, because it does seem that this is another issue where there is a difference of view between the United States and other NATO partners, and here is a NATO operation. I wonder if you are concerned about the possibility of the mandate not being renewed? I gather that our ambassador to the United Nations has said that he is pessimistic that there appears to be no common ground between the two sides. Are you satisfied that our troops enjoy the same kind of immunity as the United States troops wish to have or the United States Government wishes to have for its troops?
  (Mr Hoon) Immunity is not quite the right word. We have signed up to an international agreement establishing an international court. What I am absolutely satisfied about is that there are appropriate procedures for ensuring that any member of Britain's armed forces who was accused of any crime relevant to the ICC would have the opportunity of a proper and fair trial, and primarily that proper and fair trial would be conducted in the United Kingdom.

  Mr Howarth: The Americans, of course, take a very different view.

  Chairman: Hang on, we will not stray too far here.

  Mr Jones: I do not see what this has got to do with this.

  Chairman: Hang on, Kevan, we are just about to conclude.

Mr Howarth

  236. I quite accept that the United States Administration and the British Administration will not always see eye to eye, but there is an issue here. It is clearly another area of friction that is developing with the United States, a body on whom NATO is hugely dependent. If they are going to pull their troops out of Bosnia because they cannot persuade their allies to see their point of view, and if I can remind you—though I will not need to, as this is not new to you—that France has secured a seven-year opt-out of the ICC, and we chose not to do so, there is a real risk here, is there not, Secretary of State, that this is another irritant that is going to drive a wedge between the United States and NATO, if we are not careful?
  (Mr Hoon) Let me make it clear, we strongly support the idea of an International Criminal Court, have done so and have negotiated appropriate protection for our forces against malicious or unjustified allegations against them. I have looked very carefully at those protections and believe that they provide the proper standard for British forces. The United States has taken a different view in relation to what is an international agreement. That does not actually cause friction or irritation between us. It is actually part of the grown-up world in which we operate that from time to time we do disagree, and I do not think that should be terribly surprising, but it is not causing any difficulty in our bilateral relationship with the United States. Certainly there does need to be a resolution of the mandate for forces in Bosnia, but the mandate has been extended until June 30th, and I am confident that there will be an appropriate resolution.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. Our mandate has expired a little early. We shall let you go for lunch and to prepare for your fights with the Treasury on how much your budget is going to be. Thank you very much.

 


 
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