Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340-359)|
WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2001
MP, AND MR
340. And the second question?
(Mr Hoon) I have answered that question on a number
of occasions already this afternoon. We have to make assessments
about what kind of equipment we might need. We have then to make
judgements, both within the Ministry of Defence and across Government,
as to what are our likely priorities. I cannot anticipate that
today, because we have not done the work.
341. So nothing is ruled in, nothing is ruled
(Mr Hoon) Exactly.
342. I think the acquisition of lots of horses
might be a consideration, in the light of how war is pursued in
(Mr Hoon) I think it is fair to say at certain stages
in the campaign in Northern Afghanistan that there were some fairly
unusual requests in the early part of the 21st Century that might
not previously have been anticipated.
343. Like suits of armour perhaps?
(Mr Hoon) Saddles were one of them.
344. Secretary of State, on force structure,
I am glad that the Ministry of Defence Animal centre has not given
up teaching how to use military ponies and pack mules.
(Mr Hoon) Is this a cavalryman talking?
345. I was a former infantryman from your County
regiment, as you know. There is no doubt, I have already alluded
to it, that special forces in all their guises have huge utility
both in Ulster and, as we are seeing now, in Afghanistan. There
is no doubt that forces such as the Parachute Regiment and the
Royal Marines also are seen to have huge utility, but there are
not many of these people. Given that according to the Assistant
Chief of the General Staff it is proving almost impossible for
the army to reach its manning level, the ceiling has been reached,
and given that the army seems to be developing into a sort of
two-tier system of special forces and those that are almost special
forcessome might call themselves ordinary forcesand
that there is a real morale problem developing amongst the ordinary
forces, how do you intend to change the structure? How do you
intend to change the utility of forces that could be used for
this sort of campaign?
(Mr Hoon) I want to emphasise that I am not commenting
on special forces. It is not something which successive Governments
do, and I am not going to change that today. As far as our rapidly
deployable forces are concerned, you have mentioned the Royal
Marines and Parachute Regiment in passing. Clearly there is an
emphasis on particular kinds of skills and the need for those
skills to be both maintained and used, often at very short notice.
That certainly means that the qualities that we have developed
through the Strategic Defence Reviewand I want to emphasise
that by "through" I mean refining abilities that were
there already, this is not something new to the United Kingdom,
but it was very strongly emphasised in the Strategic Defence Review,
an emphasis that I think has proved absolutely correcthas
meant that we do have an ability, and we developed that ability
perhaps earlier than other countries, to be able to deploy quickly.
That is not the end of the story, though. There are a range of
skills that we use, as required, across the armed forces to support
those front-end forces who might be expected to go in very early,
and that is wholly consistent with the work that we have done.
I assure you there is no morale problem as a result. As I hope
you did, I went to Saif Sareea and, for example, amongst the proudest
people in Saif Sareea were the logistics people who had done an
absolutely remarkable job of ensuring that large numbers of people
were deployed very quickly into a pretty alien environment. They
were enormously proud of what they had done, quite rightly, because
they had achieved a remarkable result. I think it is a mistakeand
I am sure you do not really make this mistakesimply to
assume that because there are forces who are deployed right at
the start of a military operation, that is the end of the story,
because actually they require an enormous and sophisticated chain
of support to keep them there and to keep them sharp. I think
that what we are developing in fact is a way of using our forces
in a very sophisticated and refined way, and it is not causing
346. I was referring more to the combat element,
Secretary of State, who find themselves constantly stuck on tours
in Northern Ireland, peace-keeping duties in Bosnia, peace-keeping
duties in Kosovo, whilst they seetheir words, not mine"chaps
with funny-coloured hats getting the good jobs all the time. I
am merely wondering whether- and there are many historic precedents
- combat units that are currently not as highly trained or trained
in as specialist a fashion, that may be used in place of those
who are. I am suggesting that more agile forces might be created
without having to recruit fresh manpower.
(Mr Hoon) That is a very interesting and useful suggestion.
I think we do need to develop more of those skills across more
of our armed forces, in the light of the threat that we currently
have to deal with. I think that is one of the things that we shall
look at very hard in the course of the work that we are currently
undertaking, to have more of our forces available at relatively
short notice. I think Gerald made the point earlier about "Are
there any preliminary assumptions that you have made?" Certainly
I think one of the preliminary assumptions that I have is that
we are going to have to have more people available at short periods
of notice, but there are real implications as to how you do that,
and the impact on those forces themselves and their families is
something to which we also have to have regard.
(Mr Webb) Can I make a quick point, which is that
rapid reaction forces of the kind that we are talking about are
obviously going to be an important component. Can I just say that
sometimes some of the most important jobs that get done are containmentyou
will find it in this bookwhich is to say that sometimes
there is not a rapid answer. You had this in Northern Ireland.
This Committee looked at Iraq and the flying operations there.
If I may say so, it is very helpful the way this Committee gives
praise where it is due for people who do those operations which
are just as important for the overall defence posture but do not
give such quick results. It is very helpful when people can focus
on that a bit because it is naturally a little less liable to
get public attention. It is very helpful when the Committee gets
on to it and they appreciate that a lot, I think.
347. If I could ask just one question. It was
when Gerald was questioning you and he moved off of it too quickly
for me to come in. It was on the question of intelligence and
what was happening. One of the lessons of Kosovo that everyone
owned up to, and certainly UNPROFOR makes great play of, was this
admission that we did not really understand or know the enemy
too well, particularly Milosevic. Are we convinced on this occasion
in this war that we are absolutely sure that we knowledgeable
enough to know about who the enemy is and what their possible
(Mr Hoon) I think it is a fair comment on the attitude
of the international community towards Afghanistan that we perhaps
all collectively took our eye off the ball following the withdrawal
of the Soviet Union and perhaps did not pay as much attention
as we should have done to the collapse of the state and to the
way in which the Taliban regime itself were both organising Afghanistan
but also were providing protection to Al-Qaeda. I think it is
right to say that we faced the consequences of that on 11 September,
but that is to be wise after the event. I think the issue is whether
we can monitor those kinds of developments around the world since
I assume that none of us on 10 September assumed that by 28 November
we would have the kind of engagement in Afghanistan that we face
today, it just was not something that anyone anticipated.
348. Secretary of State, you referred earlier
post-11 September to the threat to alliances built on an assumption
that nation states should form coalitions to deal with a potential
threat from another nation state. What thoughts do you have on
the kinds of coalitions that are going to be needed and relevant
in the longer term?
(Mr Hoon) I think there is work that we need to do
with our allies in the various international organisations that
we are members of. I think the fact that NATO within 24 hours
of 11 September was looking at the process for invoking Article
Vit did not have to invoke Article V until certain conditions
were satisfied but nevertheless within 24 hours it was considering
thatdoes demonstrate that this poses a threat to all of
us and not simply individual countries. A significant amount of
work has been done inside NATO thinking through the kinds of issues
that we are facing up to in the United Kingdom. I raised equally
the question at the recent Capabilities Improvement Conference
in an EU context that good work had been done towards satisfying
the headline goal, which again was about rapid deployment, and
that, consistent with the work I have started here, we ought to
be looking as well at the implications of 11 September for any
of the headline goal in an entirely consistent way, which is to
say the headline goal is an expression of the need for European
nations to be able to deploy rapidly into a crisis, as is Strategic
Defence Review for want of a comparison, and if the Strategic
Defence Review requires further work, the extra chapter that we
are now discussing, then similarly we ought to make sure that
the headline goal is not simply a response to the events in the
Balkans, specifically the reasons for its development, but we
also bear in mind the consequences of 11 September. I think in
those two areas work is under way. Similar processes are certainly
taking place in other capital cities. There is quite a determined
collective effort to make sure that we collectively look at the
response to 11 September.
349. You mentioned obviously NATO and you mentioned
the headline goal, I would be interested to know how optimistic
you are that the European nation states will finally start to
deliver the European Defence Capability that has long been recognised
as deficient even prior to Kosovo.
(Mr Hoon) They are doing that. It is a process. It
was never going to happen overnight. There are some very important
contributions that have already been made. The point of the Capabilities
Improvement Conference was to highlight the shortfalls and to
emphasise that the work must continue. A parallel process is taking
place in NATO, many of the same capabilities that we require have
been identified in NATO, and it is work that needs to go on.
350. Questions are being asked. For all that
NATO invoked Article V, and in all sorts of symbolic, strategic
and other ways that was very important, people have then gone
on to say "Okay, we have sent AWACS planes to America, diverted
some Mediterranean naval patrols further east, but what are other
European allies doing to give the front line support to the US
in Afghanistan? What are members of NATO doing? How is NATO involved?
Should NATO not be doing more in the current campaign?" People
are questioning whether NATO support has been fine in terms of
saying Article V applies but what has it actually meant in terms
of realistic and relevant and practical support from NATO European
allies to the US?
(Mr Hoon) You have probably answered the question
already. You used two examples of what NATO has been doing in
terms of the deployment of AWACS and in terms of the redeployment
of the standing naval forces to the Eastern Mediterranean. Those
are quite significant contributions, but in the end NATO is made
up of sovereign states and it is the sovereign states who, by
and large, provide the real military capability. There are collective
capabilities, and you have identified two of them, but, by and
large, in conducting operations NATO has to look to the members
of the Alliance for providing the sharp end military capability
and that is what has happened. It has happened that that country
that has the military ability to project force over huge distances
and deliver an effect in a land-locked remote place like Afghanistan
has been very largely the United States. That is because of the
commitment the United States makes in its defence budget and it
has, almost uniquely now in the world, the ability to do that.
I would certainly like the United Kingdom to be in a position
to do more. We made a contribution and we continue to make a contribution.
That contribution is significant but, I accept, secondary to the
contribution that the United States can make both in the technology
and the range of delivery mechanisms that the United States has
available to it. If you go from the United States then to the
United Kingdom and then to some other countries there is a very
significant tailing off of the kind of military capabilities that
we have available compared to the United States. That is true
of any other country you care to mention anywhere else in the
world practically because the United States, through a very determined
effort over a long period of time, has not only the quantity of
capability but the quality of capability that allows it to project
force to a place like Afghanistan. That is a fact of modern life.
351. You are, in effect, saying that the relevance
of NATO as an effective coalition dealing now with the international
terrorism that we saw on 11 September crucially depends on the
US remaining a major partner. Do you have any indication that
the US would question its role as a major partner, especially
if European allies do not give it the support it wants?
(Mr Hoon) I think it is a fact of modern life that
without the United States' military contribution we would be enormously
constrained in the kinds of operations that we can conduct. A
follow-on from that, and I see no signs at all of the United States
lessening its commitment to NATO or, indeed, to the international
community, it has demonstrated that absolutely emphatically in
recent times, is that it does raise the important political question
why it is so important that we improve European military capabilities.
It is to ensure that across the United States where taxpayers
are contributing to that military capability, there is not any
sense in which they are supporting countries that are not prepared
to make their contribution. One of the reasons why I so strongly
believe that European nations have to improve their military contribution
is in order to avoid precisely the reaction of the United States
that says "Why should we continue to pay our hard earned
tax dollars in order to support countries who themselves are not
prepared to make an effort?" I think improving European military
capabilities is absolutely central to that vitally important process
of ensuring that the Alliance continues to be a coherent and functioning
352. I have used those arguments even more brutally
than you have there, Secretary of State, but it seems to me that
the Americans have tried for years to get NATO to operate out
of area and here is a case where NATO countries are offering to
operate out of area, which is a startling development within the
50-plus years of the Alliance, a number of countries have promised
to commit troops, send troops, send ships, are ready to send aircraft,
are all dressed up for the party and there is no party for them
to go to. I do not want to trivialise it. I know that the British
are prepared to involve themselves infinitely more than the Americans
have asked them to do, the Germans have promised Special Forces,
the Charles de Gaulle is on its way, which is an achievement
in itself, and the Japanese and the New Zealand Special Forces,
whether they are there or not. It seems to me that whilst the
Americans have learned the lessons of Kosovo, as we said in our
report if you want to fight a war do not fight it like this again,
the danger is that here is reasonable enthusiasm from NATO allies
and others but the Americans want to do it largely by themselves.
Is there not a danger, Secretary of State, that countries will
say "We offered, and it was a serious offer. We did challenge
our own public opinion by committing forces", the Germans
are foremost in this, but if in the end they are not utilised
then people might say why bother to offer, maybe they do not take
it seriously enough?
(Mr Hoon) But this is not a party. This is not everybody
turning up and having a good time. This is achieving a military
effect and it is achieving the best military effect in the best
way in the shortest possible time. That means utilising those
military assets that are going to achieve your aims and conclusions.
That is why, in the first place, we were very heavily dependent
on the United States for achieving that military effect. Long-range
bombing capability, only the United States has the ability to
fly bombers over huge distances to deliver smart weapons in a
very targeted way. We were able to give enormous support to the
strike bombing capabilities that the United States have by offering
mid-air refuelling, something that perhaps has not been given
sufficient attention. We supported at least 220 of those bombing
missions over Afghanistan, at times involving members of Britain's
Armed Forces in some very, very dangerous situations, carried
out with extraordinary skill and ability but perhaps not given
sufficient attention because they were not actually dropping the
bombs. Without their ability to refuel those aircraft those bombs
would not have been dropped in the way that they were. Nevertheless,
in the use of military force it is not just a question of people
saying "we would like to turn up and join in", it is
a question of ensuring that that military force is organised and
delivered in the most effective way possible. Not surprisingly
in this particular operation it is the United States that is determining
that, and I do not think anybody should be surprised about that
given both the history of this operation and the way largely it
has been executed.
353. A very politically correct reply, but
(Mr Hoon) It is not a politically correct reply, it
is a militarily correct reply.
Chairman: When I said "to the party",
I was not trivialising it, it was an expression that was used
and you should not perceive what I said as in any way trivialising
it. The point I am making is we have to look beyond the immediate
crisis and here are countries prepared to put their forces forward,
and some serious forces forward, not those who are not really
capable, and I hope the Americans have not made a mistake in not
utilising them in a way which could be beneficial to NATO in the
future, or people will say "we will not offer again".
That was the point I was raising. In the case of the UK it seems
that we have offered to do more things than either the Afghan
allies were prepared to accept or the Americans were prepared
to accept. I would not expect you to say much on this. I hope
the Americans have done the right thing. They seem to have done
the right thing so far but on that front I wonder whether they
have been absolutely correct.
354. Chairman, I think this is an important
point that you are raising with the Secretary of State. This is
supposed to be a NATO operation yet it is almost exclusivelyI
see you shaking your headan American operation.
(Mr Hoon) It is not a NATO operation, it is an American
355. American led. But in respect of the point
that has been raised by the Chairman that these people have offered
to help and it has not been accepted, do you see this as being
a danger that in a future operation if their help is sought they
may be turned off?
(Mr Hoon) I think the Chairman has set out in a sense
what might be an abstract political concern but it is not a concern
that I detect amongst any members of the military anywhere in
356. The French, the Belgians, the Dutch?
(Mr Hoon) Amongst the military.
(Mr Hoon) I think you need to listen to what I am
saying before you interrupt me. The military recognise that they
have a range of capabilities available which they have been asked
by the United States to provide and which they have, as the Chairman
said, been very pleased to offer. Simply because it might appear
to be politically expedient that large numbers of people should
join in is not enough in the context of a very difficult and complex
military operation where ultimately the military judgment has
to prevail as to what is the best means of achieving a military
end. Indeed, if I came to you and said that we had invited all
sorts of countries to participate because it was politically expedient
for that to happen, you would quite rightly challenge that as,
for example, placing members of the Armed Forces at risk for political
reasons, and I am not prepared to do that.
358. You could interpret it as the Americans
actually learning the lesson from Kosovo that NATO led operations
where you had to get 19 to agree was not the way to fight a war
and that the only successful way was to take command of the situation
and keep fighting on your terms and not having to get continuous
agreement from 18 other partners.
(Mr Hoon) The point being, in fact, where allies have
been able to provide capabilities that have been used in the conduct
of operations in and around Afghanistan then a range of nations
are involved in providing those capabilities, so there is no inconsistency
in the American position. They have asked for offers of help,
those offers have been set out, and from time to time the Americans
have picked from the range of capabilities on offer those that
they require at any given time, and that will continue.
359. Two points, Secretary of State. Firstly,
post-11 September do you think there is now an opportunity to
address the scope of military role sharing between the allies?
The second question is at this morning's session one of our witnesses,
Professor Paul Rogers, claimed that Eurofighter had been undergoing
trials over Afghanistan, do you want to comment on that as well?
(Mr Hoon) I think the record had better read that
I was somewhat amused by that latter suggestion. I can categorically
Chairman: We did express a degree of bemusement.