Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Question 60-79)



  60. If we are going to continue to apply pressure to regimes like Saddam Hussein to accept inspection, it is very difficult for us and the major NATO countries to say, "We will expect other people to but we will not be subjected to inspection ourselves." Would you agree that there might be a solution here, to go down the same route that was eventually adopted in the United States in relation to the Chemical Weapons Convention, whereby the US administration did eventually agree an inspection regime? It is subject to a presidential right of opt out but that would be very much better than what we have now which is putting the whole of the negotiation back to square one.
  (Mr Straw) That would be a much better way. I agree with you about your general statement on the importance of this Convention and the fact that you can only prevent the spread of biological weapons by direct inspection.

Mr Pope

  61. Do you think the case for missile defence has been strengthened since 11 September? It strikes me that it is in our interest to have America engaged and having the United States taking risks on behalf of its allies. It is more likely to take those risks if it feels secure from missile attack and therefore the case has been strengthened.
  (Mr Straw) The overall case for new forms of missile defence has been strengthened since 11 September, not least because the world is much more aware than it was of the extreme nature of the threats that we can face. Before 11 September when I was writing about this, there were some people who were going in for a relativist argument which you will be very familiar with, having been on the same side as myself in meetings which we both used to attend, where if you presented people with one set of uncomfortable facts they dodged it and went on to say, "But, what if —?" If you have missile systems which are capable of very serious death and destruction on nations and they are not in responsible hands, it is entirely reasonable that people should try to develop defensive systems against those. One is then left with the argument that, if the terrorists want to, they could always smuggle a suitcase onto an aeroplane or use biological weapons. Yes, they can or, as was unimaginable before 11 September, they can use an aeroplane packed with people as a bomb, with unimaginable consequences. The very fact that they are willing to do that and to escalate what they have done before shows that if these weapons get into the wrong hands there is no knowing what terror they will cause in the world. Secondly, I spoke about the development of new systems of missile defence because this is an area which is more full of myths than any other area I have come across. From some of the debate, you would think that we are starting from a blank sheet of paper on missile defence, that there is no missile defence system in the world up to now and none has been thought about since "Star Wars" was not pursued in practice by the Reagan administration. People have been trying to seek ways of defending themselves from missiles as long as missiles have been there. We were one of the first countries in the world to suffer from very serious missile attacks. There was some defence against the V1 missiles. There was practically no defence against the V2 missiles. Though I am younger than Mr Olner, I remember people telling me, my relatives and my parents, how terrible it was to be in suburban London and to have no warning at all of these things. If we had had a form of missile defence against the V1s and, above all, against the V2s, I would suggest the war would have ended earlier because the terror which the V2s were able to inflict enhanced the confidence of the Nazi regime at a point when it was otherwise failing.

  62. Things are getting worse, are they not, because we must all have read articles in the press which are speculating on rogue states developing ballistic missile systems. The United Kingdom and the United States may not fall within the range of those. I thought helpfully yesterday John Bolton, the Under-Secretary of State for arms control, took the unusual step of naming and shaming six rogue states which he said had developed biological weapons. They are Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya, Syria and The Sudan, so it strikes me that the case for missile defence and the United Kingdom's position is more supportive than it was, say, three weeks ago.
  (Mr Straw) We should not generalise about this. There is an overwhelming case for missile defence in principle. We have sought to develop our own forms of theatre missile defence. Theatre missile defence is allowed by the ABM Treaty. That is a range I think up to 3,500 kilometres. It enables people within that kind of theatre, particularly in islands and on the edge of continents, to be defended. It does not enable people within land masses to be defended. That becomes very much an argument about shades of grey, not an argument on huge issues of principle. It also needs to be borne in mind that the ABMT allows for each side to develop one system for strategic missile defence. It happens that the United States started to develop in one of the Dakotas and dropped it. The Soviet Union, as it then was, developed a full system of missile defence and put it round Moscow, so Moscow is the only city in the world which has full strategic missile defence. That has to be remembered before we go on to talk about what next. Our view is that the United States is fully entitled to want to develop systems of missile defence. We will make our own judgment, particularly about our cooperation with them, when we see precisely what their systems are, what their downsides are as well as their upsides.

  63. I notice that the Russians and the Americans did not agree at the Crawford Summit recently so we have not got that kind of commonality of interest that we thought there might be a little while ago. What happens if the Russians and the Americans cannot agree? What happens if the Americans pull out of the ABM Treaty and where does this leave final dates?
  (Mr Straw) Almost all treaties within international law have provisions within them for notice to be served by one party or the other on the treaty's revision or its termination. The exact terms will vary from treaty to treaty. The United States has made it crystal clear to me, as I think it has publicly, that it has no intention of breaking international law in the steps it is taking. It may decide to exercise its right under the Treaty. There was no strong agreement at Crawford on this but neither was there strong disagreement about this and I think discussions on it will continue. As to the use of our facilities here, when and if we receive an application from the United States for their further use for a new system, we will consider it.

Mr Chidgey

  64. Can we try to clarify where we are at on missile defence? What used to be called NMD until a couple of months ago, we understood, was a defensive system of the United States against a preemptive attack by missiles from a rogue state. In recent months, it has become missile defence rather than national missile defence which encompasses a wider level of interest. In that context, is it not the case that what was sold as a means of defending the United States against a preemptive attack has become an instrument in the United States' capacity to go on the offensive? It would enable the United States, perhaps in the pursuit of the war against terrorism, to pursue such a conflict by conventional means in a third country safe from the prospect of retaliation through a missile attack from such a third country. In a way, it is not quite what it has been sold as. Clearly, it seems to me the United Kingdom has a very large stake in what happens within the development of missile defence and I would like to ask firstly whether you are comfortable with the fact that the current discussions on the ABM Treaty should not involve the United Kingdom because we have clear interests in what happens next. How do you feel the United Kingdom can best influence the shape of this future missile defence system? Would it not be sensible if the Cabinet had set out its own criteria for what we as a country would wish to see in this missile defence system before we got involved in deciding whether we would agree or disagree with what was proposed?
  (Mr Straw) First of all, I do not agree that the United States have any intention of using missile defence systems now or in the future as part of an offensive against other people.

  65. That is not the view shared by your counterparts in the States, but never mind.
  (Mr Straw) You were suggesting they would go on some opportunistic adventure.

  66. No; the pursuit of terrorism.
  (Mr Straw) In that case, you would need to get advice from military experts but the chances are they are going to be using theatre or very limited missiles. In a particular theatre, maybe people have missile defence systems. They exist at the moment; they are entirely lawful under international law. That will go on as part of a particular offensive. People will want to make sure that they stop missiles coming at them and that their missiles are not stopped. That desire is as old as warfare. There is nothing new here. To believe that this system, which is scarcely on the drawing board yet and will take years and years to develop, is somehow going to be a magic wand to enable the United States and the other coalition partners to deal with specific threats of terrorism from particular areas, with great respect, is simply not the case. It cannot be the case because the system is not there. Do the proposals threaten the safety of the world? No, they do not, not remotely. They are designed to make the world safer. I note that, after Crawford, as part of the communique the two Presidents acknowledged continued differences of opinion on MD and the ABMT but said they would maintain their dialogue. Putin added: "Whatever final solution is found it will not threaten or put to threat the interests of both our countries." Although there is some difference of view between the US and Russia, it is not something which Putin regards as threatening. Down the track, I think we will find that this is resolved by discussion. Whether it is within the Treaty or outside, I am not certain, but one of the things which I have noted in the five and a half months since I have been doing this job is how opinion has moved. You ask about the position of the British Cabinet. We have not any particular proposals. There have been discussions. If you want briefing papers on it, I am happy to provide them. Far from not wanting this discussed, until 11 September when other things took over, debate on missile defence was at or near the top of my agenda. I initiated discussions, for example, inside my own party here in Parliament, published articles about it, issued briefing notes and so on because I wanted to generate what I saw as a more sophisticated debate on this than we had before. As to the nature of the discussion, the ABMT is a bilateral treaty between what was the former Soviet Union and is now Russia and the United States of America. The key discussions are bound to take place between them. Of course, we discuss the implications for us and our interests with the United States and also with interlocutors in Russia. I do that continually with colleagues in the US, but I did it with both Sergei Ivanov, the Defence Minister, and Igor Ivanov, the Foreign Minister, when I was in Moscow about two and a half weeks ago and again with Igor Ivanov when I saw him in New York last week.

  67. Thank you for that detailed answer. Given the perspective that you have said many times now that you have not yet had a proposal put forward to the government which you can comment on regarding missile defence, how are you therefore responding to the United States or communicating with the United States in what you would like to see in such a proposal, because surely you are not just waiting for something to happen?
  (Mr Straw) These are proposals which are coming from the United States. They are at a very early stage. One of the issues is whether some of the research testing does not come within the ABMT. There is an interesting debate amongst some international lawyers as to what comes within it and what does not. Russia is reasonably relaxed, as far as one can judge, about its interpretation of the terms of that Treaty. We are taking an interest in that obviously. Are we putting forward our own proposals to the United States for missile defence? No, we are not, because it is a matter for them to come forward with these proposals. They are a long way down the track, Mr Chidgey.

Mr Illsley

  68. Turning to European security and defence policy and one or two NATO issues, do you have a view on whether the United States looks upon the European security and defence policy as a threat to NATO? Is it looked upon as a source of irritation in United Kingdom/US relations?
  (Mr Straw) No. In the time I have been doing this job, nobody in the US administration, including those who have cartoons on their walls, has said anything disobliging about the ESDP to me, not one word.

  69. The guy with the cartoon also gave John some interesting views on some of the treaties which they have a difference of opinion with. How far has the recent crisis affected the US Government's views on the development of the ESDP?
  (Mr Straw) There is a general point to be made about the recent crisis which relates to earlier questions. There has long been a debate in the US about the exceptional nature of their society—and it is an exceptional society in every sense of the word, and a very admirable society—and how far the exceptional nature of that society should lead them towards an isolationist view of the world or a more multilateral view of the world. That debate goes on. Quite a number of leading commentators in the United States, including Francis Fukiyama who wrote his celebrated essay on the end of history after the collapse of the Cold War, have suggested that the atrocities on 11 September will shift the balance of opinion in the United States much more towards engagement internationally than was there before. That is also my observation from my vantage point. If you look at what President Bush was saying in his speech to the General Assembly—


  70. Or Colin Powell in the Middle East speech?
  (Mr Straw) Or Colin Powell in the Middle East speech, you will see that the United States is, as it always has been, alive to its responsibilities but now it is very engaged on an international agenda and volunteers repeatedly its support and respect for the role of the United Nations. President Bush did not have to give up a Saturday to go to New York to speak to the United Nations; he did. He spoke very warmly. That is our overall view.

Mr Illsley

  71. I was going to turn to the issue of Turkey, the NATO argument against the ESDP, and ask whether the fact that we took a robust stand in relation to Turkey withholding agreement on the use of NATO assets for the ESDP has had any influence on UK/US relations? If Turkey had had a role in any peace keeping initiatives in Afghanistan, would that have had an impact on negotiations there as well, bearing in mind that some commentators have said that a European defence force is going to have to go wider than its own borders?
  (Mr Straw) I am smiling at you because Mr Ricketts is the world expert on the terms of the Istanbul text and other matters relating to Turkey, ESDP and NATO. I am not a bad expert on it either. There have been the most extensive and intensive discussions on this with Turkey. I went to Ankara three weeks ago for discussions with the President, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. They were followed by Mr Ricketts's more intensive discussions and they continue. Has there been a rubbing point between us and the United States? No, far from it. We have worked very closely indeed, cooperatively, with the United States in order to try to achieve a position which takes account of Turkey's concerns—and they have genuine concerns—but also meets the essential requirements laid down in the Nice text for ESDP.
  (Mr Ricketts) We and the Americans have been working together to find the best possible arrangement for Turkey to be associated with ESDP, bearing in mind Turkey's importance as a military power and its record in crisis management, and to give it the most generous and forthcoming offer possible of participation, subject to the framework that has been adopted in successive European Councils, laying down the arrangements for invitation of non-EU Member States to participate in ESDP actions. That is a reflection of the fact that the Americans now come to see that ESDP is helpful in providing another option for crisis management, given the range of possible threats that we might face, and wanting to do that in the most NATO-friendly way possible and therefore with the best possible terms we can reach with the association of the non-EU Member States.

  72. Can I ask you a question on NATO in general? Some commentators have made the point that the coalition has been just basically the United Kingdom and the United States of America; and probably the United Kingdom is one of the countries which is serious about the NATO Alliance as a military alliance, as opposed to a political alliance. Do you have a view on that? Would the government agree or disagree with that?
  (Mr Ricketts) I would not agree with it. It is a matter of fact and record that the US has provided the overwhelming amount of assets to be deployed in Afghanistan and the United Kingdom is second. We have been actively engaged in the conflict to a degree that our other European NATO partners have not but NATO has been involved. For example, as you will know, what NATO has provided is the AWAC system to cover the United States whilst their AWAC system is moved to the theatre of Afghanistan. They need that not least since 11 September. France has provided assets in the theatre, a few frigates, and there has been detailed discussion, some of which has been written about in the press, about deployment of other assets. You will be familiar with the offer which has now been agreed by the Bundestag, by Germany, for the provision of up to quite a large number of ground troops. For all sorts of reasons, not least because our systems are more integrated and our forces are modern, we are more able rapidly to deploy in that kind of theatre than our partners and we were assisted by the coincidence of the Saif Sareea exercise which had taken place in Oman over that period, where we had 20,000 troops and a lot of assets roughly speaking in the right place at the right time. Several partners, including France and Australia are providing naval forces in the Indian Ocean alongside the United Kingdom and the United States. We now have a fleet in the Mediterranean whilst the US fleet has moved off to the Arabian Sea. Other NATO countries have been able to assist the United States. There are now discussions taking place—as you may know, Lord Robertson has been in the lead on these—about the degree to which NATO, as NATO, could be assisted in the Afghanistan region in the current situation.

  Chairman: Can I give you early warning that the Committee has decided to launch an inquiry into Turkey, focusing both on the EU aspects and defence.

Sir Patrick Cormack

  73. Could I bring you back to something you said at the beginning of the session this afternoon? In talking of the special relationship you said that you felt that the personal rapport between the Prime Minister and President Putin had been particularly helpful in providing a basis for the relationship between President Bush and the President of Russia. I think that is a fair summary of what you said?
  (Mr Straw) Yes.

  74. Would you agree with me that the American/Russian relationship is potentially the most important positive development since 11 September?
  (Mr Straw) Yes. If you are looking at things that have happened since 11 September, the way in which the relationship has developed has been remarkable. It was getting there before that and it had very significantly warmed up. The reason why I was careful about my choice of words earlier is because, in the nature of this relationship, it is extremely important to avoid appearing to be condescending on either side. You cannot ever just point to direct cause and effect but what I said is a good example of where the Prime Minister was able to develop a relationship and then provide some reassurance to the US administration. Yes, it is a very important relationship and it is interesting how President Putin has seized the moment to do things that he has presumably wanted to do for some time but he lacked the opportunity. I think he has applied himself brilliantly. I was struck, when I was in Moscow, by how very significantly he is literally in the lead, although it is a country with rumbustious politics. However, in saying what is the most important relationship in the US, (a) you will have to ask them but (b) I would observe that the relationship with China is extremely important and that too has strengthened and warmed considerably during the course of this year.

  75. I would entirely agree with that. The fact that the US and Russia are now very much closer is something we can all applaud and, in so far as you and our Prime Minister played a part in that, that is all to the good and we should congratulate you all warmly with no reservations whatsoever. To what extent do you think the Prime Minister's proposals for a Russia/North Atlantic Council have been based upon the Prime Minister's discussions with President Bush or is this very much a British initiative which you hope the US will latch onto?
  (Mr Straw) No, this is not a proposal which has suddenly been pulled out of the pocket. This is a proposal which has been the subject of intensive discussion with Washington and Moscow.


  76. In what way will there be value added to the Permanent Joint Council of NATO, following the founding Act?
  (Mr Straw) One of the concerns of the Russians is about the way the PJC has been operating and they want to see a more intensive relationship. That is part of the purpose of these proposals. If they develop, this will be a good example of where, in our position to some extent, to use a phrase which the Prime Minister has used, as a bridge between the United States and Europe in its widest sense, we have been able to develop an initiative which I think will turn out to be acceptable to the United States and also to Russia.

Sir Patrick Cormack

  77. Presumably this is going to be very much at the forefront of the agenda this week when Lord Robertson is in Moscow?
  (Mr Straw) Yes.
  (Mr Ricketts) These ideas have been developed very much with Lord Robertson. They are a response in some way to the proposals and the requests from President Putin himself in the weeks from 11 September. He came forward saying he wanted to see a step change in the relationship between Russia and NATO and Russia and the west more generally. These are proposals which have been developed in discussion very much with Washington as well, seeking in specially, carefully defined areas to move beyond the PJC to give the Russians a greater sense of engagement with other members of the Alliance in carefully selected areas, while reserving discussion on the key, core NATO issues for the allies only.

Mr Olner

  78. How do we, as a government, intend to implement our ambitious goals to promote global peace and security because presumably Russia and China have a stake in that as well?
  (Mr Straw) They certainly do. They are permanent members of the Security Council, along with us.

  79. After what happened on 11 September, the world changed.
  (Mr Straw) Let me talk about what we are doing. The best example of what we are doing—

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