The Defence Committee has agreed to the following
THREAT FROM TERRORISM
On 11 September 2001 two hijacked planes were flown
into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. A
third was crashed into the Pentagon in Washington DC. A fourth
came down in countryside near Pittsburgh. In terms of both the
loss of life and of property this was the most destructive terrorist
attack ever. This report examines how those atrocities changed
our understanding of the threat from what has been called the
The attacks were perpetrated by al Qaeda, a militant
Islamist terrorist group led by Osama bin Laden. There is evidence
that al Qaeda has established a presence in some 50 countries.
It also has close links with other Islamist terrorist groups.
The destruction of al Qaeda and its leadership in Afghanistan
will not end the threat from new terrorism.
Another is the scale of the attacks, evidence of
a determination to inflict mass casualties on innocent civilians.
11 September was the most appalling example of thatbut
not the first or only case. There is now a danger that a new benchmark
of horror has been set. Other groups may try to meet or exceed
the atrocities of 11 September.
There is also an increased risk that terrorists may
turn to weapons of mass destruction. We have inquired into the
possibility that they might obtain chemical, biological or nuclear
or radiological weapons. There is evidence that terrorist organisations,
including al Qaeda, have been trying to obtain such materials.
We can see no reason to believe that people who are prepared to
fly passenger planes into tower blocks would balk at using such
weapons. The risk that they will do so cannot be ignored.
Despite the scale and horror of the attacks of 11
September, the United States did not rush into military action.
It took steps to comply with international law. It offered the
Taliban regime in Afghanistan the chance to expel Osama bin Laden
and al Qaeda. We support the measured response taken by the United
States and we applaud the British government's actions in standing
shoulder to shoulder with them politically and militarily.
The Secretary of State for Defence has decided that
the events of 11 September have made it necessary to look again
at how we organise our defence. He has described this as a new
chapter to the 1998 Strategic Defence Review. This work will continue
into the Spring of next year. In our report we have looked at
its scope and made some initial observations.
In the past the level of resources put into the defence
of the UK has been set principally to reflect the perceived level
of threat rather than through an assessment of the weak points
in our society. Provisionally we have concluded that in the UK
we will have to do more to focus our capabilities on defending
our weak points. We will return to this issue in our next inquiry.
The primary responsibility for security in the UK
mainland rests with the civil power. The Armed Forces are only
used in domestic tasks in support of relevant and legally responsible
civil authorities. We recognise the constitutional importance
of this doctrine, but we are not convinced that the existing arrangements
would be able to cope with a large scale terrorist attack. We
believe that a review of the arrangements for the provision of
military assistance to the civil power should be part of the further
work of the SDR.
The Reserves are an under-used resource in the context
of homeland security. We believe that their role should be re-examined.
We particularly draw attention to the decision under the original
SDR to transfer their anti-chemical, biological and nuclear capability
to a regular unit whose principal task is the protection of deployed
But increased protection for the UK is only half
the story. Alongside efforts to create a more secure international
environment through diplomacy, our Armed Forces will also need
the capability to take pre-emptive military action: to attack
terrorist groups before they attack us. We will need more forces
which can be available at short notice; more forces in other words
with the training and skills of the Royal Marine Commandos, the
Parachute Regiment and the Special Forces. This issue needs to
be addressed with urgency. Our forces are not yet achieving the
readiness levels currently required of them.
Additional capabilities will need additional money.
The Government should make an early commitment that it will find
the extra money to fund any additional capabilities made necessary
by this new threat which we all now face.
In conclusion the threat from terrorism is now more
pressing and more dangerous. A threshold has been crossed in terms
of scale and level of casualties. In response, the global campaign
against terrorism must be pursued relentlessly. We must not lose
our sense of the urgency and importance of this task in the months
ahead. We must not hesitate to take the necessary steps to protect
the UK and our interests overseas.