WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2001
Mr Bruce George, in the Chair
RT HON GEOFFREY HOON, a Member of the House, Secretary of State for Defence, and MR SIMON WEBB CBE, Policy Director, Ministry of Defence, examined.
(Mr Hoon) Yes, I would, thank you, Chairman. I believe it is impossible for us to overstate the impact of the events of the 11th September. It led to the first implication of Article 5 by NATO and it has generated a significant set of responses: political, diplomatic, humanitarian, economic, financial, legal and of course military. Longer term solutions in the war against international terrorism will involve all of these instruments and, as a result, we might hope that the military instrument can be often one of last resort or indeed one not used at all. The issue for us is whether September 11th represents a fundamental change in the strategic conduct and just how serious that is. For example it could be said that the United States command chain was not actually seriously threatened nor was their business infrastructure and the civilian casualties on this scale occurred regularly during previous wars. On the other hand, the United States homeland had not experienced such an external attack in recent times. The threshold of terrorism has potentially been raised, although I think it is important that we do not play that up, and the likelihood of terrorists turning to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear devises has arguably increased so it has had a significant strategic impact. I have described the need to add a new chapter to the Strategic Defence Review and in the work that is already under way we are looking at a number of different questions. Firstly, can we base our policy on getting intelligence of specific threats, with occasional misses, or do we have to assess our vulnerabilities to potential terrorist capabilities and counter those? How far do we try to defend the homelands in a collective NATO and European sense and how should we try to deal with terrorists, in their bases or in transit? In the United Kingdom, how far should the armed forces play an increased role in security? If so, what sort of forces are best suited for these tasks? Should the reserve forces have a different or an enhanced role? In the military dimension is there a role for pre-emption? What is the role of armed forces in dealing with problems upstream, what capabilities do we need? What is clear already is that we need fast, integrated operations involving high levels of military skills, improved intelligence gathering capability and a deeper understanding of potential opponents. How do we engage the causes of terrorism as well as the terrorists themselves? How do we do so on a cross-governmental and coalition basis and what is the role of the military if any in this? How do we avoid the use of force becoming our opponents own recruiting sergeant? How do we deter or dissuade states from support of complicity with terrorism, especially the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear activities? What if the state has failed, as it so comprehensively had in Afghanistan. Finally what is the nature of asymmetric threats, how does this impact on our approach to operations? I am conscious that this is a formidable catalogue of questions and that there are, as yet, no specific or agreed answers. It may well be that in many cases there will be no right answer and we will have to make judgments on the basis of imperfect information but I am determined that this work should be carried out thoroughly. It would be irresponsible of us to do anything less. I am delighted that Simon - who I know you have had evidence from already - has started on a comprehensive piece of work inside the Ministry of Defence. It is a piece of work which I know you will want to contribute to and I look forward to receiving your thoughts on that.
(Mr Hoon) I know that it is a very agreeable tradition that you ask me whether there is going to be more money to be spent on defence and I indicate to the best of my ability as a Member of the Cabinet that certainly I would like to see that happening but clearly it is too soon to say specifically what the outcome of the work will be and whether that will necessarily entail extra resources but we are at the start of a budgetary round and certainly it is my responsibility on behalf of the Ministry of Defence to ensure that the Ministry of Defence is properly resourced within the overall constraints of Government spending. That I think is a traditional answer that I have given you on previous occasions.
(Mr Hoon) Is that a question or a comment?
Chairman: It is a comment, expecting a rather sharp rebuff.
(Mr Hoon) I was not at all hesitant, I simply think it does demonstrate how seriously we take the views of this Committee, even though it may take longer than perhaps you would like to get around to dealing with the points you raise.
Chairman: Gerald is dying to get in.
(Mr Hoon) That was, if you like, a down payment on the cost of the operations already having been conducted. I do not think it will come as any great surprise to the Committee that that down payment is fairly close to exhausted already so it is only part of the traditional understanding that extra operations of the kind that we are engaged in in and around Afghanistan will be funded separately over and above the allowance for the defence budget. This is part of that process.
(Mr Hoon) I think that is in the broad order of things, yes.
(Mr Hoon) New equipment would be a separate issue which in a sense the discussion that we are having this afternoon is part of. Part of the reason for implementing this process is to identify whether in fact over and above the assumptions we set out in the Strategic Defence Review we require new equipment to deal specifically with the kinds of threats that we face as a result of the events of 11th September. That is part of the continuing work and something that I hope this Committee will contribute to.
(Mr Hoon) I agree with that assumption, it is obviously important that we do involve other departments and there will be senior representatives from other departments closely involved in the work that we are leading. So there will be people from the Treasury, from the Foreign Office, from the Home Office, from DTLR and the Cabinet Office who will be giving their perspective from their Department of the implications of the work that we are doing.
(Mr Hoon) I think it is important, and one of the lessons that we have learned in a number of recent crises is the need to involve right across Government other departments in work which might have a military element but that element is only part of the response that Government has to make. That is particularly true of the response to terrorist threats.
(Mr Hoon) If I may, Chairman, just emphasise the point of why it was that I called this a new chapter. The reason for that is that I believed that in fact the conclusions of the SDR were sufficiently robust, in terms of equipment and capabilities, to deal with the kinds of responses that we have needed to make, specifically the need to be able to move forces very quickly into a theatre in order to deal with a threat. What I am interested in is whether there are specific further lessons that we have to learn, which is why we are not reopening the assumptions of the Strategic Defence Review and why we have called this an extra chapter. This is about refining the work that has already been done in the light of the events of the 11th September.
(Mr Hoon) I see it more as building on the assumptions. I do not think anything that we have seen since 11th September has necessarily challenged the fundamental assumptions of the Strategic Defence Review. I want to be sure in the light of this Committee=s comments, and the comments of others, that we do not miss out on any further assumption that we need to make in the light of the 11th September. That is why it is a new chapter rather than addressing the issues that we dealt with at the time of the SDR.
(Mr Hoon) In the end I think that will depend, firstly, on what we identify as being necessary spending and thereafter on the degree of priority that might require in the light of the other priorities that the Ministry of Defence has. That is no different from any other Government department. One of the difficulties of Government is having to make those choices and they are quite difficult. I think you are inviting me to prejudge the work that we are all engaged on and I do not think that will be particularly sensible at this stage.
(Mr Hoon) I think it is a perfectly proper question that you might want to come back to at the end of the work that is in hand. At the start of the work or just after its commencement, I do not think it would be sensible for me to say one way or the other. It is possible - personally I think unlikely - as a result of the work that we do that we actually judge that all of the capabilities that we have already and have identified are perfectly satisfactory to meet the kind of threats that the events of September 11th pose. I am saying that is possible. I do not particularly believe that is likely to be the conclusion that we reach but it is obviously within the range of options that might be produced. Therefore I do not think it is sensible at this stage to say what are our likely priorities in terms of equipment, capabilities or training that might flow from the work we are embarked on.
(Mr Hoon) I cannot say precisely what the conclusions of this work will be. Frankly it would not be sensible for me to say either what the results of the next spending round will be. I have indicated that I believe it is important that defence has the resources it requires to do the job that Government collectively asks it to do but I cannot absolutely guarantee that in very difficult economic circumstances we might not have to face less than I ideally would like. That is true, I think you will find, of most Cabinet ministers in most departments. There is a judgment to be made in these things. I think the quotation you were given exactly reflects what I have just said to you. We will do the work, we will identify the priorities, we will then have to make judgments as to what are the overriding priorities for the Department within the resource constraints that all Government departments face.
(Mr Hoon) I think those matters are for my judgment in terms of how best I consider it necessary to extract the maximum benefit out of the conclusions as far as the Department is concerned.
Chairman: I think you will have the full support of this Committee, Secretary of State, if you try to extract more money out of the Treasury.
(Mr Hoon) I think that is really, in a sense, the first half of the point I made in asking whether it is justifiable to say if we face a new strategic threat as a result of the 11th September because it could be argued - I am not saying that I do, I very strongly do not - that in fact the 11th September was only different in scale, that in terms of the strategic impact of those events, as I indicated, it was not threatening the United States= ability to defend itself or indeed its basic functioning as a state or as a society. We sadly have had significant prolonged experience of terrorism in this country, what was different was the scale. In a sense what the SDR was looking at before September 11th was what up until then we sadly regarded as too often day to day examples of terrorism. The real issue is whether we now face the kind of threat that actually requires, as we have seen, a military response of a particular kind, that means we have to look again at some of the assumptions we have made previously about the kinds of forces we require, that in terms of the priorities that we have to give to developing those capabilities that we have to address those in a different way. I think that is part of what we have to do.
(Mr Hoon) The kinds of efforts that we have made in support of the civil power in Northern Ireland, the kinds of forces that we have available there, have been engaged, amongst other things, in dealing with the terrorist threat. They have done so very, very successfully. I think that is the issue that, in a sense, this Committee has to face and I have to face in promoting this work, whether, in fact, the events of September 11th go so far beyond that that we need to address this issue in a fundamentally different way. In one sense we do because, for example, we are waging war, to all intents and purposes, in Afghanistan. Now that is a different scale of response from anything that we had seen in Northern Ireland where the threat was, if you like, more persistent but arguably at a lower scale of intensity. Therefore we were organised to deal with that more persistent but lower scale threat.
(Mr Webb) Exactly so. We are a Department who have spent a lot of time on our anti-terrorism. It is a tradition which goes back to previous campaigns in Oman and elsewhere. So we have been building up on capability in that area. What the Secretary of State says about scale though is very important because it breaks into two parts really. One is the potential willingness to kill a lot of people in one attack. The other is the willingness to give up your own life in a suicide attack mounted by relatively educated and sophisticated people and so that scale issue question, we need to sift through whether it is different, it might be.
(Mr Webb) Well, no, I think we probably also encompass things like aircraft hijacking and that sort of thing and hostage taking which have been within our purview before. It was a bit wider than Northern Ireland but scale is the issue in the way we have described it.
(Mr Hoon) I am going to have to say this regularly during the course of the questions I suspect but you raise one of the questions that we do have to deal with. In a sense conventional strategic defence is designed to deal with the threat from a state and the deterrence, the way in which we organise ourselves militarily, has generally so far been aimed at a functioning state which provides a threat to the citizens of the United Kingdom or the United Kingdom=s interests. At the other end of the spectrum you might say that low level terrorist activity is something which broadly, say Northern Ireland, we have dealt with as a policing function. The military are there in support of the civil power but ultimately the decisions are taken by a police authority. What we see with al-Qaeda in a sense is something in between. This is one of the fundamental issues that I think we have to identify. Whether that something in between is something which is more akin to a policing supervisory function where we develop essentially a civil response to the threat, but recognising that from time to time the military might be assisting in that, or whether as a result of the complete collapse of the state and the failure of a central government to control what is happening within the borders of that country means actually where we are dealing with something new, something that challenges our notions of what is a state and challenges the kinds of threats that we then face because that has serious implications for example in terms of deterrence. You generally can deter a state in one way or another because you deter the leadership of that state. To be honest, the more that we have learned about the Taliban regime and its relationship with al-Queda, the more perhaps we understand that by deterring the Taliban we could actually have been deterring al-Queda, that did not appear to be the case at the outset where there appeared to be greater distance between the Taliban and al-Queda. Nevertheless there is clearly a sense - certainly beyond Afghanistan - in which this terrorist organisation has an impact inside the geographical boundaries of a state which is completely different from anything which we faced in the recent past. But actually if you go back in history before the nation state, there are similar examples of organisations which operated in that way. What we are seeing in a way in a number of these countries is a challenge to our concepts of the nation state because these organisations are transcending geographical and political boundaries and that might be the answer to the question I posed at the outset about whether in fact we are dealing with something strategically different because we probably are.
(Mr Hoon) Yes.
(Mr Hoon) I think that is a very good point, and it is one that I think we do need to address. You have tended to downplay it by saying these are organisations which cross national boundaries, in fact I think it is more fundamental than that. These are organisations which have no respect for national boundaries and indeed are organised in a way to be able to take advantage of the weaknesses of failed or failing states. You are right, one of the issues is the extent to which we go after the bases that they establish, certainly as in the case of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, with not just the consent but the active support of the elements of the state. There could easily be and there are examples of where al-Qaeda and similar organisations can establish bases perhaps in the ignorance of a weak central state who do not investigate sufficiently or are not minded to investigate sufficiently the activities within their borders. We tend to view - and I think this is one of our difficulties - other countries as being an image of the kind of central state that we have. In fact the weakness of a number of states that I am thinking of is that they do not have the kind of control over their geographical boundaries that we would expect them to have. This is why in answer to David=s question earlier, I think it is important that we think through that. Are there organisations now around the world that are fundamentally challenging our sense of how we operate in defence terms in dealing with those because they can be far more threatening to us than the conventional idea of alliances where collectively nation states group together in order to defeat a threat from another nation state which is the way, in a sense, traditionally we think of these things. It is not new in the sense that before the nation state this was something that many countries would have to face up to.
(Mr Webb) Can I make a point. I do not think you necessarily have to assume you are going to be acting in opposition to the state. As Mr Hoon says, if they are a weak state, they might just need some help and support or a bit of moral reassurance or something to help them do it. Chairman, you were talking about Sierra Leone, you had a war lord situation there running across borders, I do not want to stretch this analogy too far but in a way we went and helped the Sierra Leone state to tackle that in a very co-operative way. There are lots of ways of coming at this.
(Mr Hoon) Not just Republican terrorism.
(Mr Hoon) Anticipating some of the conclusions, I do think there is a fundamental difference between the efforts that have been made courageously over a far too long a period now by the police support of the military in a sense as part of a community in Northern Ireland committed to dealing with the threat from a relatively small number of nevertheless very determined terrorists on both sides of the sectarian divide. I think there is a huge difference between policing and a military activity that operates in the context of a society that essentially is no different from the way in which we live, albeit it has to deal with this threat from within its own borders, as against the kind of failed state that Afghanistan became, where you have in a sense a parasite that has taken over the operation of government in that country. This is something we have learned the more we have looked at the way in which Afghanistan under the Taliban operated, it has used its secure bases inside that country to export terrorism not just across the border, which in a sense you might argue was analogous to Northern Ireland, but actually around the world as a deliberate effort by Osama bin Laden to corrupt regimes elsewhere in the world. That I think is a very, very different concept from the one that we faced in Northern Ireland.
(Mr Hoon) I think the key analogy is intelligence. The key analogy is understanding the nature of the threat, identifying how that arises and taking steps to deal with it. Certainly I agree that there are lessons that we can learn from our experience in Northern Ireland, Simon mentioned as well Oman, and there are other places, Malaya, where we have been engaged in a similar sort of operation. I do not believe that necessarily the approach ultimately is going to be the same simply because of the very different context in which terrorism operates in Northern Ireland.
(Mr Hoon) I do broadly agree with that in terms of the importance in particular of gaining intelligence about terrorist organisations and then being able to act upon them. In a sense that action has proceeded since 11th September. You are absolutely right to warn about a continuing risk, it is something we have done, but equally in the very determined efforts that have been made around the world, perhaps we will never know how many terrorist threats we have already disrupted by the actions that we have taken. I am aware, for example, of disruption that occurred to terrorist threats before 11th September because of the action that was taken to deal with information about those threats as it arose. Without being ever able to prove it, I am absolutely confident that the determined response that has occurred around the world since 11th September involving large numbers of arrests, disruption of financing, of the supply of weapons, of restrictions on people crossing borders, has had a significant impact on the ability of terrorist organisations to threaten us without in any way being complacent about the efforts that they are still likely to make.
(Mr Hoon) Those, of course, are not my responsibilities but I can assure you that a very determined effort is being made to make sure that we have the ability to deal with the threats as and when they arise.
(Mr Webb) Perhaps it would be useful to say that people with recent operational experience in Northern Ireland and people with Muslim faith are both people who are included in the study teams working on this subject.
Mr Howarth: That sounds like an interesting mixture.
(Mr Hoon) Can I just deal there with your premise. I do not accept that terrorist organisations have no known weak spots.
(Mr Hoon) I do not agree with that. There is some evidence, for example, that not all of the terrorists on board those aircraft of the 11th September were aware of what the leading elements were going to engage on. Clearly they were not entirely confident in the support that they were necessarily going to get. It may well have been that some of those people thought that they were involved in a routine hijacking and were not aware of the plans of the people actually piloting the aircraft. I do not believe in this idea that these organisations do not have weak spots, we are exploiting those weak spots and we will continue to do so. I suspect in fact there are fortunately a relatively limited number of people who are prepared to destroy themselves in the pursuit of some fanatic perverted ideal and, therefore, I do not think we should over-estimate either the numbers or their willingness to behave in this way. We can have a difference of opinion about that.
(Mr Hoon) This is in the public domain and I will give you an example of what I am relying on. Notes were found from some of the people involved in the hijacks, they were not found in relation to others. The implication that has been drawn from that is that the ones who left notes were aware of what they were engaged on and the ones who did not were not.
(Mr Hoon) I think what is absolutely fundamental - again it goes back to your premise - is the question of fear. Certainly the events of 11 September caused fear right around the world and indeed in the United Kingdom. It was understandable why that was the case because, in a sense, having over many years developed, for example, tried and tested procedures for dealing with hijack (a point you have made), we were used to dealing with what I have described as rational highjackers, people who had a demand, whether it was to be taken to a certain place, or co-conspirators to be released, or for money or political asylum. There was, in effect, a potential exchange between the hijackers and the authorities. You are right, in the sense that some of the people involved in these hijacks were not interested in that rational exchange. That means that many of the procedures that had previously been developed to deal with hijacking have had to be thought through again, because we need, for example, action taken by civil airlines to protect the pilots= cabin from passengers determined on causing their own deaths as well as the deaths of their fellow passengers. That is a different concept. So that fear is an issue that we have to deal with. The specific reason for involving our armed forces in Afghanistan is to protect the citizens of the United Kingdom against those sorts of threats. The issue in terms of this defence doctrine is how we go about that. That is the question which I raised with you at the outset, as to whether, for example, we concentrated all our efforts on protecting the boundaries of the United Kingdom at the boundary - that is, against hijacked aircraft or against seaborne threats - or by enormously enhanced security procedures at our physical borders, whether they be sea borders, or whether they are airports or road crossings and so on, or whether we go after the threat wherever it happens to be developing in the world. I think that, in a sense, our defence doctrine encompasses that already, but I think it may need some refinement in the work that we are doing to decide what kind of capabilities we might require and how we go about dealing with the threat wherever it happens to be, before it actually manifests itself in the United Kingdom. My instincts are to say that actually rather than waiting for the threat to arrive on these shores, we go after it.
(Mr Hoon) I think you are probably being too rational in your analysis. All coalitions are coalitions of the willing, and most military action in particular involves states being willing to use their military forces to achieve certain purposes. Clearly there are issues in relation to sovereignty, but we have always emphasised, as we will continue to emphasise, the importance of international law and indeed our own law, because that governs our own armed forces in the way in which they conduct their activities. So I do not really think that there is quite the dilemma that you suggest. We work as part of a coalition, and when it is necessary we take action that that coalition agrees upon. Equally, that is within the constraints of international law.
(Mr Hoon) I believe that it is very difficult to deal with that. First of all, that is not even a hypothetical illustration, it is simply a set of assumptions,
(Mr Hoon) I think that if that were a sufficiently proximate threat to the United Kingdom, and I as Secretary of State could say that this threat was about to affect citizens of the United Kingdom, then I would be entitled to defend those citizens by proportionate action that seems to be appropriate.
(Mr Hoon) The reality is, though - this is why it is always difficult to deal with rather vague hypotheses - that inevitably the kind of warnings that we get are much less specific than the proximate threat that I have just set out for you, and therefore judgements have to be made about the best way of dealing with that threat. It is not usually, I am pleased to say, by the use of military force. This is a point that I made to you right at the end of my comments, that actually many of the things that we will want to do fall well short, rightly, of military means.
(Mr Webb) Since you have been so courteous as to read the British defence doctrine -----
(Mr Webb) I did not actually, but some very smart people who work in my area did. You are right that we are looking at the centre of gravity. One of the reasons why we are taking a bit of time to think about it is because it is not quite so obvious. Amongst the things you can think about in terms of centre of gravity is a network, an al-Qaeda or network like it, which is prepared to use force on a large scale across borders to achieve a change in international affairs. This is not local stuff. So you could think it was groups like that. In a way, that would be quite convenient, because although this is a horrible business, there are not that many groups, and we could probably write down those who were large scale. However, there is another line of argument which we got onto earlier on, which is that maybe it could also be the sources of sustainment of such groups, it could be camps, or money, or drug money or something like that. That is one of the things that we were debating just as the planes fell. You are absolutely right, we need to get to the nub of this. On our centre of gravity, it is information, maybe resilience. One of the things they might fear is that they cannot succeed, that we are resilient enough as societies. At home when you talk to people in this country about this, our resilience actually is that yes, somebody might walk through with a bomb strapped to their body, but actually we are not going to be deflected, as the United States have not been deflected, from our overall policies or way of life by this kind of thing. There are issues in there.
(Mr Webb) No.
(Mr Hoon) I hope it will be possible to afford both, because my guess is, without anticipating the results of the work that we do, that there will be a certain amount of each that we have to do in addition to the efforts that we make already. I certainly think, as far as the homeland is concerned, that the British people would expect to see an enhanced role for defending particular facilities and institutions in this country, if we judge that there is a continuing and direct threat, a proximate threat, to the United Kingdom. Equally, I, as Secretary of State for Defence, want to ensure that with the skills that we have developed and the equipment hat we use in the armed forces, they are used to maximum effect. That is more likely to be to maximum effect beyond the shores of the United Kingdom, and therefore that is why I raised the question of whether there is an enhanced role that we can develop for the reserves in providing this first, something that we want to look at and something that we want to consider very carefully.
(Mr Hoon) I see no reason why you should not. Far be it from me to suggest what you should or you should not look at, but I think that there may well be a role for them. I have lived in the United States and I have seen the way in which reserves are organised and used there. I think that in recent times, since 11 September, they have performed a magnificent role in reassuring the American public. It may well be that that is something that we might judge to be necessary.
(Mr Hoon) I would put it another way to you. If there was a direct threat to the citizens of the United Kingdom from any country in the world, you would expect me to deal with that, and if I did not deal with it in protecting the citizens of the United Kingdom I would not be doing my job properly.
(Mr Hoon) As I say, I am not going to make your story for you by commenting on any particular countries, because you are giving me a hypothetical. What I am saying is that my job as Secretary of State for Defence for the United Kingdom ultimately is to ensure that there is a proper defence available to the citizens of this country and this country=s interests, and that is what I do.
(Mr Hoon) Wherever it arises, of course.
(Mr Hoon) It is a very clever question. We are very well aware, and we all were aware, of the fact that al-Qaeda has tentacles in a very considerable number of jurisdictions, including this one, for example, and determined efforts have been made to deal with those tentacles in a number of different countries. The response, as I indicated earlier, may depend on the most effective way of dealing with that threat. In our society the most effective way is acting upon information that we have, making arrests wherever they are clearly justified, and certainly acting against their sources of finance, their communications, their ability to use and smuggle weapons, all of which, as I indicated earlier, although I cannot prove it, I am sure has had some impact already. I think that across the spectrum then there are different means that may well be appropriate according to the places in which al-Qaeda and similar organisations operate. In a state that, for example, has very little ability to control what happens within its own borders, then certainly a degree of invasive military response may be appropriate, but that will have to be judged in the light of the information, its proximate threat and whether that is the best way of dealing with it. Those are options that are, and have been, looked at thoroughly and will continue to be considered and reviewed as we go along.
(Mr Hoon) Actually, as far as Iraq is concerned, I have not seen any evidence to link Iraq directly with al-Qaeda.
(Mr Hoon) I think that is absolutely right, and I can see that we do have to build on our experience. It may well not necessarily be the most recent experience; it may be that we have to go back, as Simon was saying, to campaigns in the past and learn some of those lessons. Certainly in the immediate aftermath of the events of 11 September a good deal of very hard thinking was done inside the Ministry of Defence in order to work out what was the appropriate military strategy. I suspect, when and if that is ever published, that it will involve some novel thinking and some novel elements, because inevitably all practical situations involve us responding in new and different ways. In answer to your specific question about the doctrine, I think the doctrine is sufficiently robust to deal with the terrorist threat, but it will evolve as those threats evolve.
(Mr Hoon) This is published in a modest way, recognising that it may have to be republished as we go along. I do not think there is any great surprise in that. I suspect that there are those who might well go back to Chinese military strategists and say that actually it was anticipated a long time ago, but the nature of modern societies is that unfortunately we are not all that good at collective memory, we tend, as you say, to deal with the very recent threat, and I think one of the challenges that we have to face up to is adjusting to threats that would have been entirely common in the Middle Ages. Certainly the idea of international organisations across boundaries that had no respect for, even if there were a concept of, the nation state at the time would not be particularly surprising 500 or 600 years ago.
(Mr Hoon) I had not realised that Walsall was in China!
(Mr Hoon) My judgement at the moment is that it is the right way of dividing the direct responsibility, but I think the one thing that I have come to appreciate in the time that I have been doing this job is, particularly given the kinds of crises that we have had to deal with - and they have been many and varied - that they have necessarily involved a number of other government departments in co-ordinating a response. It may simply be the increasing complexity and organisation of our society where a crisis - I was not just thinking of the foot and mouth difficulties - in the 1960s probably mainly concerned the Ministry of Agriculture, but which, certainly in the responsibilities I had, involved around the table most of government departments, because most of government departments which in one way or another were either affected by the crisis or were involved in providing a solution. Therefore, I suspect that it is increasingly the case that terrorism, by definition, when we are dealing with a potential threat to the mainland of the United Kingdom, involves both the home departments and the departments that are more likely to be concerned with overseas issues. So I think joining up the response is a crucial part of modern Government=s reaction, though it does not actually make a huge difference who has primacy in terms of policy, because as soon as there is a threat we would expect that a number of government departments would be involved in the response.
(Mr Hoon) No, I think you make a fair point. Government has learned some of those lessons as it has gone along. I accept that we continue to learn lessons and I accept that in the making of policy there are inevitably difficulties between different states, but that tends to be in rather slower a time when people perhaps have the opportunity of making difficulties. Frankly, my experience of dealing with crises is that Government works very well. It may not give the answer as quickly as we all might like, but in terms of bringing people together and getting them to work one with another, my experience of crises is that civil servants and others have worked magnificently and have responded with a great deal of determination to get the right result. As I say, there are times when we all feel that it takes longer than it should, but I think that has been in the nature of the crisis that we have had to deal with.
(Mr Hoon) I answered the last one.
(Mr Hoon) I think what I have found from my involvement in a number of different crises is - and this is the point I made to you at the outset - that it may well be that a department has the prime policy lead on a particular subject, but in a crisis actually what happens and happens pretty often is that a number of government departments come together and try to sort it out. So I would prefer not to have that separation, because I think that in the modern world it is fairly artificial. You see it in relation to dealing with the kinds of threats that international terrorism can pose. It would not make a lot of sense to say there should be one department or one minister that concentrates simply on the homeland aspects, when in fact the threat might have its origins in a training camp in Afghanistan and those people may well be moving money and weapons across the world which might, for example, involve people from the Foreign Office or associated with the Foreign Office in dealing with that. Once the threat arises in the United Kingdom, it may well be the counter-terrorism responsibility of the Home Office. You may want to reassure the population that you are dealing properly with that, and therefore it may well be a local government function. I believe that in a modern and very complicated world, the challenge to Government - and you are right, some of the governments in the past have not always had all that much success at it, but I think we are getting better at it - is to join up those different elements and make sure they work very effectively one with another.
(Mr Hoon) Ultimately, yes.
(Mr Hoon) The best way of overseeing these responsibilities is through the Cabinet Office, again in order to demonstrate that this is not a single department=s responsibility. By giving the Cabinet Office the overall responsibility, it is designed to demonstrate that we are bringing together the different departments in order to tackle the problems.
(Mr Hoon) We have obviously, as all departments of Government have, in the period since 11 September had to look very carefully at the implications of those events for the way in which we conduct our business. I am not going to go into the precise threats that we have given thought to, because that will be of assistance to those who would threaten us, but I can assure you that a very considerable amount of work has gone on right across Government to think through the implications for Government and the way it responds on the events of 11 September.
Chairman: I must say, to relieve any anxieties, the Civil Contingencies Secretariat is chaired by the Home Secretary.
Mr Cran: So he is the Homeland Director.
Chairman: The Sheffield part of it! I think he is.
(Mr Hoon) I am sorry to interrupt, but I think that is a little unfair. I indicated earlier that there are always lessons to be learnt, there are always refinements we can make. Certainly my experience of each of those crises is that we did identify in each of those crises things that we could do better. I do not accept that it did not work well. I actually think it worked extremely well. It could work better.
(Mr Hoon) My experience of dealing with crises is that I found myself in the rather strange position at one stage of chairing a Cabinet Committee dealing with foot and mouth, which was not something I had anticipated doing when I was appointed Secretary of State for Defence, and it certainly extended the limits of my knowledge of agricultural matters quite comprehensively. It does demonstrate that actually governments make decisions pragmatically. Clearly you need to have a response to a potential threat in place, you need to have a structure to deal with that, but if you are simply waiting for that threat and sitting not doing a great deal, then your response is unlikely to be as sharp as is necessary, therefore what you need to have - and I think this was the role of the armed forces, particularly in those crises, specifically foot and mouth - is the ability to scale up to a crisis. Most government departments can deal with (if I can call it this) a routine crisis, they have people with the skills, with the knowledge, with the ability to respond. What the armed forces were able to bring to bear - and I think this is very important about the skills that they have - is the ability to take what might start out as being a crisis that is relatively routine and scale up the response in a very short space of time, particularly using logistics skills to be able to respond to a much bigger crisis and bring in people quickly to be able to deal with that in a way that does not cause confusion and difficulty. I think that was a particular skill that I regarded as being absolutely crucial in that particular crisis.
(Mr Hoon) Yes.
(Mr Hoon) I think that is a very fair point, and it is one that we need to have regard to. Ultimately the responsibility in the United Kingdom rests with the domestic department, the Home Office, and I believe that it remains appropriate for that to be the prime responsibility. However, in terms of what I was describing in terms of scaling up, there might come a point where the threat was so comprehensive, so difficult and so long lasting that then the civil power required the support of the military in precisely the way, if you like, as Patrick Mercer observed earlier, for example, as in Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland the ultimate responsibility rests with the Chief Constable, but in terms of day-to-day decision-making there is enormously close co-operation between the military leadership and the civil leadership. Indeed, I am sure that in terms of individual decisions, skills and responsibilities, it would be foolish to say that the Chief Constable always decides or the GOC always decides; they work as a team and they work extremely well as a team. In trying to respond to the terrorist threat, there will be times when I am sure there is a military lead and some times when there is a police lead; it will depend on the skills that are available. I think the point about those skills is that we have to use military skills in the best way to deliver the policy objective that we are trying to achieve.
(Mr Webb) I think it is this military responding to requests from the civil authorities or civil power which actually gives the clarity you are talking about. We are absolutely clear. If I may say so, there is a constitutional point here, I think, in that if you are talking to other countries or you look back into our history, where the armed forces have decided to put themselves onto the streets, it is a new constitutional situation. I go back several hundred years on this subject, into the principle that armed forces are called upon by the civil power. That may be as a result of a phone call from a police station to their local unit, but it might also be as a result of the fact that they are called upon in a civil operation. There are very clear arrangements for handover to the military commander at the request of the civil power in that situation. So it is that clarity, I think, that helps us here and which actually then allows us to make the best use of our resources, because the armed forces really like to be very clear about their command control arrangements and like to know exactly where they are going and what they are going into.
(Mr Webb) Yes, and they would call upon it and then obviously use the military command chain once they had called upon it, but the call-out would be from the civil side.
(Mr Hoon) To re-emphasise this point, in a sense, many people would recognise what you are describing and what I have been describing as being part of the structure of this country through long periods of the Cold War. We had those kinds of structure in place then, and it is part of the point about collective memory as to whether we should not be thinking again about developing a structure that is comparable, although different, to the way in which we had these organisations in the past, not least because many of those structures assumed a much larger contingent of the armed forces than we presently have available. Charles Guthrie reminded me on the day of his retirement that when he joined the army it was a million strong - it is not a million strong today - and therefore some of the assumptions during the Cold War were based on being able to call on resident battalions in the United Kingdom to supplement the civil power. That is not going to be quite so straightforward in the days when the army is around 100,000, and that is why we may well need new resources and to look at ways of refining our existing resources to deal with that problem.
(Mr Hoon) I think you had better ask the Home Secretary.
Mr Cran: Long question: short answer.
(Mr Hoon) They do a wonderful job.
(Mr Hoon) It this a quiz game?
(Mr Hoon) I am sure you are very proud of the fact that one of the great traditions of the United Kingdom constitution and its interpretation of Acts of Parliament is that it is done in a reasonable and sensible way. I am sure that Avicinity@ will be applied in a sensible way as far as those particular powers are concerned.
(Mr Hoon) I think I am going to take the Fifth on this. I do think, Chairman, that these are not matters that I am particularly enthusiastic about going into in an open session.
(Mr Hoon) I have said already, I repeat and I would emphasise, that these kinds of operations, if they are to be effective, have to be intelligence led. That is an absolutely crucial factor in dealing with terrorist threats both upstream and, once a threat has manifested itself, in dealing with those who are responsible, not least because - back to our discussions earlier about doctrine and strategy - we are dealing with organisations that are not necessarily manifestations of state organisations in a way that conventional warfare might involve.
(Mr Hoon) A good deal of effort is being made to ensure that we have the right kind of capabilities to deal with potential threats.
(Mr Hoon) I think there are a number of processes that have to be gone through. Obviously we have to prepare a report. There is a very important consultation process that we have to engage on. I have to see the conclusions and see whether there are any specific recommendations in relation to particular kinds of equipment. We will then have to make judgements as to the best way of securing that equipment in the light of not only our own requirements within the MoD, but also obviously priorities across Government. You will know from your own experience of Government that these are not necessarily straightforward issues.
(Mr Hoon) In the absence of (1) the work, (2) its conclusions, (3) assessing different priorities both within the MoD and (4) across Government, I have some difficulty in answering that question.
(Mr Hoon) I have regular discussions with the Treasury.
(Mr Hoon) As you know, there is a doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility that I adhere to very strongly, but I think it right that the Treasury have taken a very keen interest in the work that we have undertaken. As is well known, the Chancellor has made available ,100 million for the Ministry of Defence to deal with the operations that have been conducted so far, he has remained interested and engaged in the work that we have been involved with, and we have had strong support from him.
(Mr Hoon) We do not need that indication, it is implicit in the way in which the Ministry of Defence has always operated that the costs of those kinds of operations are met in full. That has always been the case in the past, and it will be the case in relation to operations in and around Afghanistan.
(Mr Hoon) The amount covers the costs expended over and above routine expenditure. To give you an illustration, it certainly includes ordnance, but it would not include, for example, the routine salaries of members of the armed forces, because they would be paid in times of peace as well as in times of war. There is a perfectly straightforward, acceptable and agreed definition between the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury as to what is payable and what is not. Certainly as far as those regular costs of operations are concerned, we are able to secure them without any difficulty whatsoever from the Treasury.
(Mr Hoon) As I indicated in answer to the same question earlier on, it is for me to judge how best to encourage the Treasury to provide the Ministry of Defence with the resources that it judges that it requires.
(Mr Hoon) And Parliament has a very important role in that.
Chairman: We are producing a report before Christmas. I would not be surprised if we express our views, for what it is worth.
(Mr Hoon) It is a very sophisticated way of asking the same question that I have just dealt with, but I shall try and give you -----
(Mr Hoon) ----- a more sophisticated answer. As far as your first question is concerned, obviously it will take as long as it takes.
(Mr Hoon) What I would assure you, though, is that financial constraints are not an issue.
(Mr Hoon) I think that is a rather emotive way of putting it. We spend whatever is necessary to deliver the objective, and I assure you that we are not under any kind of financial restraint. That is not a factor that I have to take into account. I do not have to judge how many cruise missiles we fire. I do not have to make a judgement about the number of sorties that we use to support the Americans in their campaign over Afghanistan. I do not have to make a judgement financially about how many ships we use. I get military advice, and if the military advice is that we need a certain number of ships, or we require a certain number of sorties or we require a certain number of cruise missiles, financial considerations are totally and utterly irrelevant to that.
(Mr Hoon) I am sorry to be blunt about that, but you are in as good a position as I am to say what is the likely outcome of the events in Afghanistan as of this afternoon. It will take as long as it takes.
(Mr Hoon) I am sure a distinguished member of the Select Committee on Defence would have thoughts on that just as much as I, as the Secretary of State for Defence, have. Things have gone extraordinarily well in recent times, and obviously we hope to be able to maintain that pace and progress in further operations, but there are constraints. The weather is one of them in Afghanistan at this time of year. The determination of fanatics in al-Qaeda is another of them. They certainly demonstrated in recent days a degree of fanaticism we might not necessarily have anticipated. Nevertheless, things have gone well, and I hope that they continue to go well.
(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.
(Mr Hoon) Exactly.
(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.
(Mr Hoon) Saddles were one of them.
(Mr Hoon) Is this a cavalryman talking?
(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 Review - and I want to emphasise that by Athrough@ 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 correct - has 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 mistake - and I am sure you do not really make this mistake - simply 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 morale difficulties.
(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 AAre 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 containment - you will find it in this book - which 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.
(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.
(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 V - it did not have to invoke Article V until certain conditions were satisfied but nevertheless within 24 hours it was considering that - does 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 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.
(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 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.
(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.
(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 AWhy 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 military alliance.
(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 Awe 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.
(Mr Hoon) It is not a politically correct reply, it is a militarily correct reply.
Chairman: When I said Ato 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 Awe 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.
(Mr Hoon) It is not a NATO operation, it is an American led operation.
(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 the world.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Hoon) I think the record had better read that I was somewhat amused by that latter suggestion. I can categorically deny that.
Chairman: We did express a degree of bemusement.
(Mr Hoon) I think that is a very good point and it is a point that I think we are seeing in particular as a result of the headline goal process. I was delighted by the efforts that a number of our allies have made in order to find solutions to capability shortfalls by co-operating together. That is something which I think is the way forward in satisfying the problems that we have in dealing with military shortfalls. The example that I use most frequently is that of the Scandinavian brigade, NORCAPS, a number of countries pooling their resources in order to achieve a much larger military effect by making a permanent contribution to the headline goal catalogue. I think you said you went to Saif Sareea and one of the things I was impressed by - this Committee has drawn attention to the weaknesses that we have in medical services available - was the number of Dutch medics who were there working alongside Britain=s Armed Forces providing an invaluable capability that we absolutely required if we were going to deploy that number of people into the desert at that time. This is certainly the way forward. We identify those areas where individual nations either cannot afford or do not have the capability and then find ways in which we can satisfy that collectively. I think the headline goal process in particular is enormously useful in encouraging those trends. It is something that we continue to work with colleagues on. For example, today I signed a further level of co-operation with the Netherlands in terms of commando forces, something that has worked extraordinarily well now for 26 years and something which I believe is a model for co-operation between allies into the future.
(Mr Hoon) I think that you are going to the heart of the debate in the sense that first and foremost in the United Kingdom we must maintain a range of capabilities that we require ultimately to defend the United Kingdom but certainly to defend its interests and participate where we can in coalitions and be willing around the world. That was precisely the effort that was put into the Strategic Defence Review. There then does arise the question particularly as we face different sorts of threats, and we see in Afghanistan, what is the range we need to be able to deliver military force effectively? As I said earlier, outside the United States I doubt there is any country in the world today that can deliver a sufficiently comprehensive range of capabilities in order to conduct an operation at such a huge distance. If Afghanistan were slightly closer to the United Kingdom certainly we could do a great deal more but the truth is that it is not and we have to adjust our military response in the light of its geographical remoteness.
(Mr Hoon) I think that is a very fair point and it is something that we have to be very aware of given the ability of Britain=s Armed Forces to move quickly into difficult and dangerous situations with the inevitable risks that involves. I would not judge it appropriate always to say that Britain is going to be the lead country in any given situation. There are very significant political judgments that have to be made about how and when we deploy that sharp end capability. Certainly I would not accept a situation where it was always assumed that it was Britain that had to lead the way into any particular situation. Without going into detail, I can assure you that there have been times when I have said no.
(Mr Hoon) Obviously as far as your first point is concerned in terms of counter-terrorism, that is essentially a domestic responsibility and we are all aware of the kinds of legal changes that have been made and we have given considerable attention to some financial measures that are required as well as sharing information between different countries. It has been an extremely difficult thing for Parliament and Government to face up to, the question of whether we have had to take appropriate action in order to deal with the kinds of freedoms traditionally associated with a liberal democracy in the face of some pretty fanatical opponents who are abusing those freedoms in order to achieve their ends. We are all collectively involved in that process. Government has looked hard, not my direct responsibility, at the kind of measures it has to take inside the United Kingdom to deal with this threat. As far as relations with the United States are concerned, I do not believe that in the period since 11 September two countries could have worked more closely together than the United States and the United Kingdom. At every level, political, military, administrative, there have been exchanges of information, conversations, understanding, a process of decision making, that I think has simply demonstrated the way in which our two countries have a common approach and common interest. That is not to say that we agree on everything, it would be naive to assume that absolutely everything goes forward in a process where everyone says Athat must be the obvious thing to do next@. One of the great strengths of our friendship with the United States is we can be pretty robust with each other and that, I believe, has enormously enhanced the way in which the military campaign has been conducted. We have had a senior military officer at the heart of the American decision making process really right from the outset and that has made an enormous difference to the military co-ordination. Equally, from the regular exchanges between the President and the Prime Minister and every other senior Government minister involved we have worked extraordinarily closely with the United States and I do not see that about to change. I do not see that there is suddenly going to be a response in the United States that says Awe must do something simply to poke the United Kingdom in the eye@, it does not work like that. If they are contemplating taking further action then I assure you that we will be the first to know.
(Mr Hoon) You are confusing me slightly, Syd, when you talk about ASpecial Services@. If you are talking about Special Forces then I am not going to. If you are talking about the need to consider the role of the Royal Marines, of the Parachute Regiment, and other forces that we hold at high readiness short notice, as I said earlier one of the things we need to look at very carefully is whether we have enough of those kinds of people, whether we need to extend the training and readiness requirements to other sharp end members of the Armed Forces. There are down sides to that. It is not a simple straightforward process because it does mean that that has a significant impact on the way in which they are organised and the way in which they live their lives, it is not something that is unlikely. Nevertheless, I think it may well be something that we will want to look at very carefully in the course of this work.
(Mr Webb) Perhaps it is just worth saying that we have an operational audit process which kicks in every time we do an operation. These are some very hard-nosed people who draw lessons out of operations even as they are going along, we have arrangements to fit them into the SDR new chapter work. The experience of Afghanistan is already coming back into the new chapter work, although you have to be a bit careful about instantly generalising last week=s experience. Major General Milton, who sat on my right when I gave evidence to you last, is a Royal Marine. He was a former Commander of the Commando Brigade and actually does concept work now, so he would not dare promote the Royal Marines, but in my experience the Royal Marines do not need a lot of help in promoting their value.
(Mr Webb) Major General Milton is C
(Mr Webb) No, but he has a background in the Royal Marines. Once you get beyond a certain level everybody is purple.
(Mr Hoon) That is a very old-fashioned view of the way in which the Ministry of Defence is organised.
(Mr Hoon) Since they have a Chief of Defence Staff who is from the Royal Navy I think they get good representation.
(Mr Hoon) I think it would be assumed that it could be published in the form of a White Paper. I see no reason why that should not be the case. Obviously I want to ensure that both in the interests of relative speed in order to try and reach some views fairly quickly but at the same time in the interests of openness we give everyone maximum opportunity, including most importantly this Committee, for setting out their views, but at the same time I have set a fairly tight timetable because I do think it is important to conclude this work fairly speedily. I am sure it will be in the form of a White Paper, a document that then will be laid before Parliament and will be open for discussion.
(Mr Hoon) It will be the same principle. The only thing I would say is the SDR was obviously conducted over a longer period and a more detailed process of inviting evidence was embarked upon. In the constraints of time I doubt that this will be quite so comprehensive, but then it does not need to be quite as comprehensive.
(Mr Hoon) One of the ideas we have got is perhaps in the early part of next year to produce some sort of an outline that then would enable people to react, without committing ourselves to anything very specific.
(Mr Hoon) It will be first thoughts, if you like.
(Mr Hoon) It will be one and a half thoughts.
(Mr Hoon) I am looking forward to the Committee=s comprehensive answers to my questions. Thank you all very much indeed.
Chairman: Thank you