WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002
Mr Bruce George, in the Chair
Joint Memorandum submitted by the Ministry of Defence and
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Examination of Witnesses
RT HON GEOFFREY HOON, a Member of the House, Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, examined; and MR BRIAN HAWTIN CB, Director-General, International Security Policy, Ministry of Defence, further examined.
(Mr Hoon) Thank you, Mr Chairman, and could I say how grateful I am to the Committee for this opportunity because the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and of ballistic missiles as a means of delivering them is a matter of very great concern to us. Whilst we as of today see no direct threat from these weapons to the United Kingdom, we obviously do monitor developments very carefully. The fact that if certain states of concern do acquire complete systems of sufficient range then they might be capable of targeting the United Kingdom within the next few years is something that we consider very seriously. Moreover, we recognise that some states of concern would already be capable of targeting United Kingdom forces deployed in areas close to them and of targeting the territory of some of our friends and allies. We, therefore, believe that it is vital for all responsible nations to try to tackle the potential threat. We believe a comprehensive strategy is necessary, a strategy that encompasses diplomacy, arms control, conflict prevention, non-proliferation, counter-proliferation, export controls, intelligence co-operation, law enforcement, deterrence and defensive measures. We will continue to work closely with the United States and our other allies, partners and friends in all of these areas. We understand the role that missile defence systems can play as one element of a strategy to tackle the potential threat, but we believe that it is for the moment premature to make decisions on acquiring missile defence for the protection of our deployed forces, which, as set out in the Strategic Defence Review, remains our priority. But the threat and, in particular, missile defence technology continue to evolve rapidly, and we need to have the fullest possible understanding of that technology before making specific decisions. We also need to look further at how active missile defence might fit into a balanced spectrum of defensive capabilities which also includes deterrence, counter-force and passive defences. These are areas where we already have capabilities in both quantity and quality. We, and NATO, have programmes taking forward the work that will underpin any future decisions. The United States leads the world in missile defence technology. We have a longstanding technical dialogue with them on the subject. They have themselves made no decisions on what systems they will seek to deploy to defend US territory against emerging threats. Before making such decisions, they are conducting an intensive programme of research, development, testing and evaluation to determine what will work and what will not. As the Committee will be aware, we have so far received no requests from the United States for the use of sites in the United Kingdom for missile defence purposes. We do not know exactly what might be involved in any such requests, nor when they might be made. If we are asked to make such a decision, we will of course do so on the basis of our own national interest. That is obviously based on considerations of our own national security, which include the security interests of our closest ally. The United States has made clear that it wants to see the territory of its friends and allies protected from the emerging missile threats, but it has not yet said how this might be achieved. We are ready to engage positively in a dialogue on that question. Although the Cold War is over, today we face new and emerging threats. It is right that we should consider all possible elements of a comprehensive strategy to deal with them. Thank you.
(Mr Hoon) The last part of your question, Chairman, actually indicates why we are not relaxed. I do not accept the word "relaxed" at all. The Government has been vigilant in monitoring the developing threats and we continue to be vigilant. I can assure you that we are not taking this potential threat at all lightly and we will take whatever decisions are necessary to be able to deal with it in time. As far as the timescale is concerned, it is important to emphasise that the threat is not only the development of any particular kind of technology that could be used to threaten the United Kingdom from any particular country, but that obviously must be accompanied by a particular intention and it is the coincidence of the development of the threat in a physical sense together with the development of an intention that is ultimately a matter of concern to the United Kingdom. Our judgment for the moment that there is not that coincidence of both the ability to deliver a threat as well as an intention means that for the moment, and I emphasise that, we do not need to take these particular decisions, but we do ensure, both in terms of monitoring technological change in any given country as well as ensuring any change in intention is kept a close eye on, that we are in a position properly to take the decisions that would require the protection of the United Kingdom.
(Mr Hoon) I am not going to answer that question directly because in any event it would be a judgment about their particular ability and our concern largely about North Korea is based both on the potential threat to our closest ally, the United States, and some comments from time to time made in North Korea about that relationship with the United States, but equally, and perhaps more significantly as far as the United Kingdom is concerned, the threat from North Korea posed by their willingness to sell that technology to anyone who appears to have the money available to purchase it. North Korea is a particular problem in that sense in that their threat is a threat to the stability of the world because they are clearly very determined to sell their equipment to anyone who has the cash to buy it.
(Mr Hoon) That is really the concern about North Korea, that they are not appearing to discriminate as to who they would be prepared to sell the technology to and that is a matter of considerable concern both here and in the United States.
(Mr Hawtin) Again I do not think it is a question we can give a precise answer to unfortunately in the terms you have described.
(Mr Hawtin) Not able to give a precise answer in the sense that they are developing a technology and they have made technology available to a number of other countries, including Iran. We are, as the Secretary of State said, also very concerned about Libya, but there are so many imponderables in the question you pose that one cannot answer it in precise terms.
(Mr Hoon) Well, there is no doubt that Libya is a cause for concern both as far as the United Kingdom and the United States are concerned
(Mr Hoon) All I would dispute, Chairman, is any suggestion that the United States is any less concerned about Libya than we are. I assure you that the United States keeps an eye on developments in Libya just as closely as it does in the other countries on the list that you have given.
Chairman: Maybe we will have to write to the US to ask why Libya was omitted.
(Mr Hoon) There is certainly a risk if those contingencies were satisfied that Libya could pose the kind of threat that I at the outset indicated was a matter of concern to us, yes.
(Mr Hoon) Well, I do not accept that the contingencies are satisfied. Therefore, I cannot accept that there is a real prospect of an immediate threat, otherwise I would have set out the evidence to the Committee at the outset in a different way.
(Mr Hoon) Well, there are a considerable number of countries around the world that have the aspiration. That is a completely different thing from being able to deliver it.
(Mr Hoon) I do not want to mislead the Committee in any way. They are not immediate, but long-term depends on your assessment of what you mean by that. I am sure Libya has an aspiration to develop a weapon of mass destruction and, equally, would like to purchase the necessary technology to allow it to deliver it. That conjuncture is something we keep a close eye on.
Chairman: For the benefit of Committee Members, the MoD's supplementary memorandum of 18th March goes into quite a lot of detail on this and, as it is unclassified, it will be made available when we publish our Report.
(Mr Hoon) That is the same question as I was asked earlier and I will give you the same answer which is that, as Mr Hawtin said, it is extremely difficult to put a precise timescale on that, but it is something that we monitor very closely.
(Mr Hoon) I think you need to be more precise as to what you mean by a warhead. Are you referring to a nuclear warhead or are you referring to some other kind of payload?
(Mr Hoon) I would not want to draw a distinction too finely between any of the kinds of weapons of mass destruction that are capable of being developed and delivered. Clearly there are countries with aspirations to develop nuclear weapons which they are then capable of delivering, but, equally, the delivery of a chemical or biological weapon would be a matter of very great concern as well which is why we did not make quite the fine distinctions that I think your question suggests.
(Mr Hawtin) I think that is absolutely right. It is again impossible to give a precise answer to that question. It is the conjunction of missile technology and weapons of mass destruction that is obviously potentially extremely worrying, but one cannot answer it in the precise terms you have posed the question. What I would add, if I may, is that we are focusing at the moment on one element of the broader strategy that the Secretary of State described in his opening remarks, namely missile defence. That is only one element. There are many other elements in the strategy, including counter-proliferation efforts which are continuing and in which we play a very active part, so the objective is to stop, insofar as we can, this happening in the first place and to complicate the objectives of any states who are so minded to acquire these capabilities.
(Mr Hoon) Well, I think you do need to go back to the analysis of threat that I set out for you. Undoubtedly in terms of the development of missile technology, North Korea has some very sophisticated development plans and in terms of producing missile equipment is arguably the most advanced of the countries that we describe as states of concern, but there is no indication that North Korea directly threatens the United Kingdom; it has never evinced any such intention. Therefore, it is still that conjuncture that amounts to a threat and until that is an immediate threat to the United Kingdom, I am confident that the Ministry of Defence's position is the right one.
(Mr Hoon) Well, the concern does depend on there being both the ability and the intention and I think it becomes slightly invidious to produce a league table that you are clearly searching for.
(Mr Hoon) If I had to identify a single state that caused me most anxiety, it would undoubtedly be Iraq.
(Mr Hoon) I certainly believe that the events of September 11th have demonstrated that there are arguably no limits to which some fanatics will go in the pursuit of their perverted ambitions and, therefore, as we are aware, the attempts that groups like Al Qaeda have made in the past to acquire elements of weapons of mass destruction is a matter of real anxiety and it is something that we would have to guard against very seriously.
(Mr Hoon) It is something that not only my Department, but other government departments as well will be actively engaged on, yes.
(Mr Hoon) Well, I do not think that there is any evidence that any terrorist group has acquired a weapon of mass destruction and, as I said very deliberately, they have sought to acquire elements of such weapons and, therefore, I do not think there is any difference between us.
(Mr Hawtin) Thank you, Chairman, if I may. I think my remarks were related specifically to terrorist intentions to acquire ballistic missiles and of that I said we had no evidence and did not believe to be a real and major threat, but their intentions were directed rather more towards covert
measures and efforts of delivery.
(Mr Hoon) We have had a longstanding concern about the efforts of countries like Iraq, and specifically Iraq, to develop weapons of mass destruction. That was the justification for previous military action against Iraq and it continues to be a matter of very great concern. It is covered by a series of United Nations resolutions and UN-SCR12/84 sets out the terms on which the international community, because of its very real suspicions of Iraq, would want to see inspection freely inside Iraq of facilities that might potentially be developing weapons of mass destruction, so that is a longstanding concern. What I think the events of September 11th did was to focus the minds of the international community on those threats, and I think governments around the world recognise this, by in a sense looking the other way after the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan and perhaps not taking as seriously as we should have done the Taliban regime and its willingness to harbour terrorism. The events of September 11th were a direct consequence and, therefore, what I think September 11th has done is focus our minds much more clearly on those kinds of potential threats to future stability and, therefore, we do need to take still more seriously, although we have always taken it seriously, the threat that countries like Iraq might pose.
(Mr Hoon) No, although, as your question actually accepts, there are obviously developments that we have to continue to monitor. It is not simply technological development, but it is also development in the way in which both states and particular groups might organise themselves, particularly given the shattering blow the international coalition delivered to the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the period after September 11th, so this is not a static situation.
(Mr Hoon) We have put an enormous amount of effort into monitoring the development of capabilities and we have put an enormous amount, as have other members of the international community, into taking steps to limit the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. That is one of our highest policy priorities, as is the international community's, so no one is in any way doubting the importance of monitoring capability, but given scientific ability, given the influence of money, given particular states' ambitions, given, equally, the determination of certain individual terrorists, it is not something which the international community can entirely seal. On the other hand, I think we have had remarkable successes over the year in at least limiting the proliferation and the capability.
(Mr Hoon) Well, if you will forgive me, I do think you are drawing a wholly false distinction and I think you are putting a wholly misplaced emphasis on one side or other of the equation that you see. We put a very significant effort, alongside the United States and other members of the international community, in both monitoring capability and seeking to frustrate its spread.
(Mr Hoon) An interesting question built on an entirely speculative, hypothetical set of judgments about Iraq and presumably the answer you are searching for is that you are assuming that the United Kingdom will be willing to take on in a military way all of those countries ----
(Mr Hoon) ---- who might be seeking to develop the capability and since we have not taken any decision whatsoever in relation to Iraq, I assure you that your question is both speculative in its premise and builds on that speculation in its further thesis.
Jim Knight: Thank you, Secretary of State!
Mr Howarth: That will go down well in The Sun tomorrow!
Chairman: The Sun does not attend our proceedings, but The Guardian does! We now have a list of questions we would like to ask you, Secretary of State, on the US plans for missile defence.
(Mr Hoon) My understanding is that the United States, as I have set out in my opening statement, is looking at a range of means of promoting effective missile defence and that unless and until they have reached specific technical conclusions as to how they intend to do that, they have made no specific request about the use of facilities in the United Kingdom.
(Mr Hoon) Well, Mr Hawtin is here, so I think he can tell you.
(Mr Hawtin) I would not accept the term "fig-leaf". The factual position is that we have not received a request from the Americans, and I quoted to you President Bush's own remarks about "not yet decided what will work and what will not", so that is the factual position. The other point is that we are certainly looking at the possible implications of a request and it is no secret that we have been responsibly, I would submit, looking at that. We have talked to the Americans, we are talking to the Americans about this because it was certainly part of the Clinton Administration's proposals, but that is the factual position. We have not had a request and, as responsible officials, we are obviously interested in what such a request, were it to be made, would involve.
(Mr Hoon) I think Mr Hawtin has made the position very clear. Obviously the previous Administration had rather more specific plans for missile defence in the sense of concentrating on a particular kind of technological capability. One of the clear changes that we anticipated and has come to pass is that a new Administration, which had in effect in opposition been rather critical of the previous Administration's proposals, wanted to look at a broader range of solutions to the problem that they anticipate and unless and until they reach a specific conclusion, you, as other Members of the Committee, are merely speculating as to what might follow.
(Mr Hoon) But it is a speculative question. Unless and until the Americans decide ----
(Mr Hoon) Well, you are asking me to appear here to set out the Government's policy. That policy cannot be set out until the US Administration has decided precisely what it is that it intends to do as far as missile defence is concerned.
(Mr Hoon) I have set out on a number of previous occasions the Government's recognition that missile defence, as I have said again this morning, might well, alongside other policies, play a valuable role in defending both the United Kingdom and its allies and, in particular, its closest ally, the United States, so whilst I do not necessarily expect people to be cheering in the streets in support of such a decision, I think there will be a strong body of opinion that recognises the importance of such an approach.
(Mr Hoon) I am sure that this Committee and Members of Parliament would expect there to be a debate in Parliament about it, as I am sure that there would be a debate in the country.
(Mr Hoon) Yes, I said a debate in the country.
(Mr Hoon) This process that the Committee is engaged on is part of that effort to discuss more widely the implications of the kinds of threats that we face in the world and the kinds of solutions that there are available. I do believe that public attitudes will have changed significantly as a result of the events of September 11th because I do not think any of us would have imagined that people were prepared to go to such lengths. In a sense part of the public concern prior to September 11th was the sense that groups or states could not contemplate such appalling acts, but clearly September 11th demonstrates that they could.
(Mr Hoon) He was a very good batsman.
(Mr Hoon) I challenge you to go and say that in Yorkshire!
(Mr Hoon) I think the short answer is that it is much more sensible to have a public debate on the basis of what we know rather than what we might speculate about.
(Mr Hoon) And that is precisely the Government's position and I will be delighted to return to the Committee to answer your real questions rather than your speculative ones!
Chairman: And you will be asking for our support!
(Mr Hoon) The difficulty with that question is that since the Americans have not yet even decided on making a request for the upgrade of facilities at Fylingdales, you can rest assured, and I emphasise this, that the Americans have not made a request for a site for the construction of an X-band radar. Therefore, I am afraid you are building speculation on speculation.
(Mr Hoon) There has been a considerable amount of public speculation and debate about X-band radar.
(Mr Hoon) I have not had any specific discussion with my United States counterpart about the use of an X-band radar, no.
(Mr Hoon) Clearly there have been contacts between the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defence in order to allow us to develop some thinking about the future prospects for missile defence and I am sure that in the course of those contacts the phrase "X-band radar" was used, but I can equally guarantee to you that no decisions have been made.
(Mr Hoon) Again I am sure that in the course of doing their job properly, officials in the Ministry of Defence will have considered a range of scenarios and there will have been, therefore, some discussion of X-band radar in those scenarios, but they are scenarios and if you invite me to step out of the goal so that you can kick the ball in, then that might concentrate far too closely on one specific scenario, but I do emphasise that it is only one particular scenario out of very many.
(Mr Hoon) Well, again scenarios involve a mapping of a whole series of timescales.
(Mr Hoon) Well, scenarios depend on a number of different timescales and we do our work properly, as do the officials in the Ministry of Defence, to consider a whole range of alternatives, but unless the Committee would like me to set out all of the full range of alternatives, which would take a considerable amount of time, I do not think it is wise at this stage to concentrate on any one in particular.
(Mr Hoon) There has obviously been some discussion of a range of possible timescales, but no specific decision has been taken.
(Mr Hoon) I know that you are covered by parliamentary privilege, Chairman, but I do think that that is a slightly unfair comment.
(Mr Hoon) I have to say, Chairman, I do not recall being cautioned!
(Mr Hoon) If I can help, I will try and answer the question which I am sure you would like to ask which is about missile defence and its impact on Russia and China.
(Mr Hoon) There is no doubt that in terms of conventional deterrence theory, there have been those who have expressed concerns that an effective missile defence shield would lead to, for example, China in particular increasing its defence expenditure and in trying to find ways of defeating any such shield. I think that is a debate we might properly have. As far as Russia is concerned, Russia of course does have missile defence and has spent some considerable time providing the technology to defend Moscow against incoming missiles, although presumably the attitude in Russia for such an approach would be different.
(Mr Hoon) I think there is a very significant change in Russia and there are real issues as to the extent to which Russia poses a continuing threat of the kind you describe to NATO, to the United States and to the United Kingdom. That is not to say that we do not remain vigilant about any threats to our territory and our security, but I think undoubtedly we would have to say that there are significant changes that have taken place and are continuing in Russia which mean that we can look in a much more confident way to the future.
(Mr Hawtin) May I just add a quote from President Putin in an interview to the Financial Times last December when he said, "Even if Russia goes down to a level of 2,000 weapons from a level which is much higher, it is unimaginable, totally unrealistic to think that such a number of missiles could be intercepted". I think that is a clear answer to your question.
(Mr Hoon) And I think those who debate the deterrence theory also have to look at the way in which the United States in particular has promoted a proposal to significantly reduce its own offensive missile systems as part of their greater confidence that missile defence would bring in terms of reducing threats as between in particular the United States and Russia, and that is also something that Russia has welcomed, so I think that is where the debate about the deterrence theory needs to go. It is not simply about saying, "Is any particular country going to increase its military expenditure in order to defeat missile defence?", but it is, equally, about ensuring that we look at this in the round and many people have looked for very many years at finding ways in which to reduce the stockpiles of those offensive systems and this actually looks likely to deliver that.
(Mr Hoon) I think it is important, as I have always sought to do, to distinguish missile defence, the current policy of the current Administration of the United States and indeed the previous Administration, from what was called Star Wars under President Reagan and the idea of being able to deal with a large number of incoming missiles simultaneously is not one which currently underlies the policy of the United States Administration.
(Mr Hoon) We are obviously aware of the various options that are being considered in the United States and we obviously do look at those options in terms of what might be our role and what might be the way in which American thinking is developing.
(Mr Hoon) Clearly as far as those options directly affect the United Kingdom, we have an interest, but I think, as I indicated in my opening statement, one of the most interesting developments with the new Administration was a clear statement by the President of his wish to see not only the United States, but also close allies protected with any such system and, therefore, that has obviously stimulated a further debate, particularly amongst European allies.
(Mr Hoon) It is an interesting approach to try and tie in two discrete issues, at least discrete for the moment. The project at Menwith Hill is a vitally important project, but it is being dealt with entirely separately from missile defence. It is a project which will go forward whether or not the United States decides ultimately to make a request to the United Kingdom in relation to its proposals for missile defence and it would go ahead whether or not missile defence ever actually occurs.
(Mr Hoon) Again, there is a range of speculative suggestions as to what might constitute a missile defence system, and the use of space has been looked at, I know, as part of the range of options being developed. I think it is something that we would have to consider when and if there is some more specific proposal.
(Mr Hawtin) On space, as the Secretary of State said, the missile defence proposals are fundamentally different from President Reagan's Star Wars and do not involve the use of space. As far as the UK is concerned, we are a depository state of the Outer Space Treaty which places limitations on the military use of space and, indeed, prohibits the stationing of weapons of mass destruction in space. There is no suggestion that we are aware of that the Americans wish to proceed down any other road.
(Mr Hoon) Which particular road are you envisaging?
(Mr Hoon) As Brian has just said, there is not any suggestion that they intend to breach the Treaty by placing weapons of mass destruction in space.
(Mr Hoon) We have a range of facilities in the United Kingdom that are used by the United States and other allies as part of our commitment to NATO and our commitment to the international community. I do not see that any particular facility or its particular use is going to put us at any greater risk, particularly from states of concern who, if they were capable of launching a missile against the United Kingdom from whatever distance, I would have thought - especially given the events of September 11 - would be interested in as much the public effect rather than any specific military effect.
Mr Howarth: I agree with you.
Chairman: I am sorry, could you repeat that phrase?
(Mr Hoon) Now I should start to worry.
(Mr Hoon) I am delighted at your enthusiasm, but you use the phrase "this US system", and unless and until there is "a US system" we will not be in a position to be clear about how that is going to work, how it is working to affect the United Kingdom or European allies and, therefore, what kind of contribution we might be able to make, if that was judged at the time to be appropriate. Certainly, I think a great deal of thinking has gone on, and a great deal of discussion has gone on already, about the way in which any system might protect Europe, including within that the United Kingdom.
(Mr Hoon) I think you have rather answered your own question in the statistics that you have just set out. In fact, I was going to quote similar figures to you. Obviously, there is a discussion in the United States; we have excellent contacts between the Ministry of Defence and the Pentagon and we have a number of people who can certainly contribute to the development of US thinking. However, I think we have to be realistic; the United States has spent in the order of $50 billion already on this project, as you say, and they are spending almost $8 billion a year, and they are attempting to resolve an enormously challenging technological problem. We have a much more modest programme, we are able to fund and support that but, realistically, we are not going to be able to tell the United States how it should spend its $8 billion budget or, indeed, how it should spend its $50 billion.
(Mr Hoon) No.
Mr Howarth: Excellent. Going back to what your official said last month, we did press - and if I may say the Chairman was particularly forceful with one of your officials - as to how much it might cost for Britain, as it were, to go it alone. The rough figure we were given was £5 to £10 billion for a UK missile defence system riding on the back of a US programme. Has your ----
(Mr Hoon) I would not want Mr Howarth to mislead anyone that there was anything like as precise a figure as that. Clearly, the relevant figure, actually, Mr Chairman, is the figure that the United States has so far spent and the figure that it is continuing to spend, because that is the size of the technological challenge that they are seeking to address.
(Mr Hoon) Again, I think it is remarkable that you are building your question about funding a system that has not yet been decided on by the United States and, therefore, by definition, has not yet been decided on by the United Kingdom, not least because (and I do want to say this to you quite seriously) if today the United Kingdom wanted to develop a stand-alone system it would have to spend in the order of the kind of money that the United States is spending. No one has solved this technological challenge as yet. The Americans have clearly gone a long way towards understanding what might be necessary, but they would be the first to concede that they have not resolved all of the questions. Therefore, until we know the final bill for the solution that the United States achieves, it is difficult to even begin to say what our costs at that stage might be. For example - and I am treating the question perfectly properly and seriously - the question might arise as to what contribution the United States would require allies to make to that enormous research cost, or whether the United States instead would simply look at the cost of providing, if you like, the hardware that would make the system work. That is, writing off the costs of research and development. Those discussions have not even begun to take place.
(Mr Hoon) I have already indicated there is a great deal of thinking going on, there are significant discussions taking place but no policy decisions have been taken. All I invite you to do is just consider carefully what I have just said to the Committee, which is that unless and until we know the final size of the bill faced by the United States, the likely contribution that allies might have to make towards the research and development involved in any such system, all this is pure speculation, and trying to put aside a contingency - which I think is what you suggested - for such a speculative decision is absurd, frankly. I am sorry to be so blunt.
(Mr Hoon) Can I just say this, Chairman, that the department certainly has long-term costings but that is precisely what I am objecting to about your question; no one knows what the cost might be. Therefore, no responsible department and no responsible government can put aside an unknown contingency or an unknown policy decision.
(Mr Hoon) If I have understood precisely what you are suggesting the Government should do, it is to put aside an unknown amount of money to support a system that has not yet been decided on and not yet been perfected for, presumably, the indefinite future until such date as a real threat emerges.
(Mr Hoon) All I can say is that I assure you that, on the basis of such a series of speculations, going to the Treasury for such a provision would be something that I would find difficult.
(Mr Hoon) I think what is interesting about the various thoughts that there have been about the way in which Europe might be covered is the extent to which we are able to take advantage of a system essentially designed to protect United States' territory and what further changes and refinements might be required to protect Europe. I think one of the issues is how we would define "Europe" in those circumstances and how extensive such a system would be.
(Mr Hoon) As long as it is only an obfuscation!
Chairman: Giving evidence to us, not talking to his staff.
(Mr Hoon) That is a refined version of the questions that I was asked at the outset. Obviously, it will depend on the emergence of a real threat - threat plus intention - to our deployed forces. We simply do not see that immediately, but as I have indicated we are very careful to monitor any such threat from whatever source.
(Mr Hoon) As of today I do not see the capability and the intention to attack deployed forces of the United Kingdom.
(Mr Hoon) I would be delighted to be the Secretary of State responsible for a defence budget the size of that of the United States and be able to spend $8 billion a year on research and development. I happen to recognise, as you will recognise as Members of Parliament, that that is not realistic.
(Mr Hoon) Mr Hawtin can give you more detail in a second, but in principle the basis of the technology is - I should not really use the word "straightforward". However, the difficulty about missile defence is the execution rather than the basic technology, in the sense that we have the radar equipment, we have, potentially, interceptors that could achieve the desired effect. It is being able to refine that equipment to work 100 per cent of the time against an evolving threat that is the technological challenge. In terms of actually having radars and missile interceptors, potentially the basis of the technology is there already.
(Mr Hawtin) Putting it together, I think, is the very difficult issue. Providing missile defence in the terms the Americans are contemplating is anything but straightforward, hence the sums of money they are spending on it and the length of their test programme, both the broader research and development testing and evaluation programme which is looking at what might work and what will not work as well as their particular series of tests - of which we have just had the eighth in the series last weekend, which was a success. To answer your specific question, what are the areas in which we might share technology, we have since 1985 had a Memorandum of Understanding on collaborative research and information exchange with the United States, and the areas it covers include radar, tracking, counter-measures and discrimination. So those are the kinds of areas where we believe we have a particular contribution to make and where we are talking to the Americans and contributing to their work. All of this in a way that is designed to ensure we are better able to understand the technology, the problems and the issues concerned should we reach the point at which a decision to procure would appear sensible.
(Mr Hawtin) We are certainly participating in the way I described with the Americans, and I hope benefiting from the rather larger sums of money they are able to contribute.
Syd Rapson: It must be great. Thank you, Chairman.
(Mr Hoon) Because it recognises the benefits to the world of seeing deep cuts in offensive weapon systems and, having discussed these issues with a number of senior figures in the Russian administration, I think they are realistic about the way in which technology is developing, and recognise the benefits that can flow from a different basis on which to deal with the United States than was the case as between the Soviet Union and NATO during the Cold War.
(Mr Hoon) I do not think it is right for me to comment on internal discussions that might or might not take place in Russia any more than there are internal discussions inside a British Government. The President has set out the policy of the Russian Government and I am entirely content with that.
(Mr Hoon) I am seeing the Russian Foreign Minister in three-quarters of an hour.
Chairman: I am seeing him in an hour-and-a-half, so I shall ask him as well!
(Mr Hoon) I am sure we will be discussing a range of bilateral issues.
(Mr Hoon) The Russians, as I indicated earlier, have had a long-standing interest in missile defence. They have a deployed system to protect the City of Moscow. They also indicated towards the end of last year their willingness to participate in discussions on the development of a comprehensive missile defence system. So, yes, they have both a long-standing and a practical interest in this subject.
(Mr Hoon) I certainly think that there will be a range of discussions between the United States and Russia, and missile defence will be part of that.
(Mr Hoon) Russia, as I indicated, did make a proposal which is being considered carefully in NATO. I think it is still the position that we want to see rather more detail on the way in which this particular proposal might be developed. Nevertheless, it does indicate both their interest in the subject and their willingness to discuss it.
(Mr Hoon) Yes.
(Mr Hoon) We would have discussions with a number of countries - and I do not want to pick out Russia - about the concerns we would have over nuclear proliferation and about the passing on of particular technological developments to those countries who would seek to acquire them. The essential problem in the modern world is that it is not actually - notwithstanding what I said earlier about North Korea - states necessarily passing on that technology, but, frankly, individual scientists who have, for example, in the case of the former Soviet Union, been supported over very many years by the state but now find themselves no longer funded to do their work and available, in effect, to the highest bidder. That is a practical problem states have to confront and one which I could not pretend to you is easy to resolve, because those individuals clearly can move freely from one country to another and sell their abilities to the highest bidder.
(Mr Hoon) That is how I would see it.
(Mr Hoon) When you are talking about deploying troops to the Middle East, the troops that I announced we will be deploying are deploying to Afghanistan.
(Mr Hoon) I am not aware of any threat to those troops from ballistic missiles.
(Mr Hoon) In Afghanistan?
(Mr Hoon) There has been no specific discussion but there is no specific threat.
(Mr Hoon) Yes.
(Mr Hoon) We are constantly looking at the kinds of threats. I assume that specifically you are referring not to missile-delivered threats but the use, for example, of chemical or biological weapons. That is something that a great deal of work has gone into in terms of protecting UK forces in the field, but it is an enormously difficult issue, not least because of the limitations it places on individual soldiers and their ability to do their job. We have the equipment, it is constantly trained and exercised, it is something that we have as a very high priority in terms of deploying those forces in particular theatres, as was the case, obviously, during the Gulf War.
(Mr Hawtin) We have a whole range of individual collective protection measures as well as detection monitors which we are improving and we have a research programme. I think I gave the Committee details of that when we last gave evidence.
(Mr Hoon) We all know that there is a threat of a short-range missile from Iraq because, in the past, they have launched such missiles.
(Mr Hoon) When you talk about a threat, are you talking about a threat in Afghanistan?
(Mr Hoon) It depends what you mean by "active". We have a range of means of dealing with that threat and I assure you that they are extraordinarily active.
(Mr Hoon) We do not have a missile defence system to deal with such a threat, if that is what you mean, but there are other means of dealing with that kind of threat.
(Mr Hoon) There would be a range of military action that could be taken in order to render that threat not as effective as those responsible for it might think.
(Mr Hoon) Which countries are you ----
(Mr Hoon) Obviously those are issues that we regularly consider in terms of the nature of the threat to our deployed forces. Since we are not currently engaged in military operations involving Iraq I think it is a little premature to think about developing such a system or purchasing such a system.
(Mr Hoon) I think it would depend. In the event of us one day becoming involved in military action against Iraq that involved ground forces, it is obviously something that we would have to consider, but our assumption has always been that if there were any such operations (and I am not concentrating on Iraq for the moment) they would be conducted by an international coalition and, therefore, we would contribute to that coalition our particular specialist capability and, in return, we would expect the protection of those kinds of systems. That is precisely what is happening in Afghanistan today.
(Mr Hoon) You put that in a rather pejorative way.
(Mr Hoon) We are a good ally. We bring to the alliance various kinds of highly skilled, highly capable military forces that have a range of equipment that is often in short supply elsewhere - as, again, operations in and around Iraq - I am sorry, in and around Afghanistan - have recently demonstrated. That was a slip, was it not?
(Mr Hoon) The point being that if you look at the kind of contribution we were able to make - air-to-air refuelling, for example, and some of the search and reconnaissance equipment that we made available - even the United States was delighted to receive that kind of practical contribution. That is increasingly the way in which the alliance will develop, because no country is going to have a full A-Z capability to deal with every possible contingency that might arise.
(Mr Hoon) In terms of deterrence, clearly, our nuclear capability deters those who might threaten the United Kingdom with a weapon of mass destruction. I think we would have to have a rather longer discussion about whether that, for example, might work in relation to a failed state or a country like Iraq that, for example, places the lives of its own citizens at little value and might be prepared to contemplate taking on a nuclear power like the United Kingdom and accept the consequences. I think in terms of deterrence there is clearly an effect that our nuclear weapons have, but the reason and justification for the argument about states of concern is that some of those states would not be deterred in the way in which conventional deterrence theory assumes.
(Mr Hoon) On yours, anyway.
(Mr Hoon) I think, again, the same argument arises, that there are clearly some states who would be deterred by the fact that the United Kingdom possesses nuclear weapons and has the willingness and ability to use them in appropriate circumstances. States of concern, I would be much less confident about, and Saddam Hussain has demonstrated in the past his willingness to use chemical weapons against his own people. In those kinds of states the wishes, needs and interests of citizens are clearly much less regarded and we cannot rule out the possibility that such states would be willing to sacrifice their own people in order to make that kind of gesture.
(Mr Hoon) They can be absolutely confident that in the right conditions we would be willing to use our nuclear weapons. What I cannot be absolutely confident about is whether that would be sufficient to deter them from using a weapon of mass destruction in the first place.
(Mr Hoon) Thank you very much indeed.