Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-199)|
MP AND MR
WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002
180. That is the next one.
(Mr Hoon) There is no doubt that in terms of conventional
deterrence theory, there have been those who have expressed concerns
that an effective missile defence shield would lead to, for example,
China in particular increasing its defence expenditure and in
trying to find ways of defeating any such shield. I think that
is a debate we might properly have. As far as Russia is concerned,
Russia of course does have missile defence and has spent some
considerable time providing the technology to defend Moscow against
incoming missiles, although presumably the attitude in Russia
for such an approach would be different.
181. So the question was do you think that Russia
would see the new plans as a threat to their defences that they
(Mr Hoon) I think there is a very significant change
in Russia and there are real issues as to the extent to which
Russia poses a continuing threat of the kind you describe to NATO,
to the United States and to the United Kingdom. That is not to
say that we do not remain vigilant about any threats to our territory
and our security, but I think undoubtedly we would have to say
that there are significant changes that have taken place and are
continuing in Russia which mean that we can look in a much more
confident way to the future.
(Mr Hawtin) May I just add a quote from President
Putin in an interview to the Financial Times last December
when he said, "Even if Russia goes down to a level of 2,000
weapons from a level which is much higher, it is unimaginable,
totally unrealistic to think that such a number of missiles could
be intercepted". I think that is a clear answer to your question.
(Mr Hoon) And I think those who debate deterrence
theory also have to look at the way in which the United States
in particular has promoted a proposal to significantly reduce
its own offensive missile systems as part of their greater confidence
that missile defence would bring in terms of reducing threats
as between in particular the United States and Russia, and that
is also something that Russia has welcomed, so I think that is
where the debate about the deterrence theory needs to go. It is
not simply about saying, "Is any particular country going
to increase its military expenditure in order to defeat missile
defence?", but it is, equally, about ensuring that we look
at this in the round and many people have looked for very many
years at finding ways in which to reduce the stockpiles of those
offensive systems and this actually looks likely to deliver that.
182. Lastly, do you have any position of policy
in relation to the X-band capability edge, bringing a missile
defence template nearer the Star Wars scenario that we have heard
of in the past?
(Mr Hoon) I think it is important, as I have always
sought to do, to distinguish missile defence, the current policy
of the current Administration of the United States and indeed
the previous Administration, from what was called Star Wars under
President Reagan and the idea of being able to deal with a large
number of incoming missiles simultaneously is not one which currently
underlies the policy of the United States Administration.
183. Mr Hawtin told us last month that we are
being very closely informed by the Americans of what is going
on, that we have very close links and contacts with them. Can
you tell us anything about what discussions you are having with
the US over system architecture options?
(Mr Hoon) We are obviously aware of the various options
that are being considered in the United States and we obviously
do look at those options in terms of what might be our role and
what might be the way in which American thinking is developing.
184. So to what extent might we have an influence
on those options and effectively on what infrastructure would
be required within the UK as a result of those options?
(Mr Hoon) Clearly as far as those options directly
affect the United Kingdom, we have an interest, but I think, as
I indicated in my opening statement, one of the most interesting
developments with the new Administration was a clear statement
by the President of his wish to see not only the United States,
but also close allies protected with any such system and, therefore,
that has obviously stimulated a further debate, particularly amongst
185. Your officials also told us last month
that you have already given permission for building the infrastructure
needed for Menwith Hill to manage the space-based infra-red radar
satellites. Now, I accept that these are the early-warning systems,
but they clearly also play a vital role in a future missile defence
system. When that time comes, will there be anything else for
the Americans to do or will they just simply plug Menwith Hill
into the missile defence system and thereby sort of approach this
system by stealth?
(Mr Hoon) It is an interesting approach to try and
tie in two discrete issues, at least discrete for the moment.
The project at Menwith Hill is a vitally important project, but
it is being dealt with entirely separately from missile defence.
It is a project which will go forward whether or not the United
States decides ultimately to make a request to the United Kingdom
in relation to its proposals for missile defence and it would
go ahead whether or not missile defence ever actually occurs.
186. Are there any aspects of research that
have been done by the US that would present difficulties for UK
policy? For example, would we object to putting weapons into space?
(Mr Hoon) Again, there is a range of speculative suggestions
as to what might constitute a missile defence system, and the
use of space has been looked at, I know, as part of the range
of options being developed. I think it is something that we would
have to consider when and if there is some more specific proposal.
(Mr Hawtin) On space, as the Secretary of State said,
the missile defence proposals are fundamentally different from
President Reagan's Star Wars and do not involve the use of space
based weapons. As far as the UK is concerned, we are a depository
state of the Outer Space Treaty which places limitations on the
military use of space and, indeed, prohibits the stationing of
weapons of mass destruction in space. There is no suggestion that
we are aware of that the Americans wish to proceed down any other
187. Have the Americans given any undertakings
that in the event of them wanting to proceed down that road they
would seek international consent?
(Mr Hoon) Which particular road are you envisaging?
188. Space. It is quite a fundamental issue.
(Mr Hoon) As Brian has just said, there is not any
suggestion that they intend to breach the Treaty by placing weapons
of mass destruction in space.
189. Secretary of State, can we move on to the
broader issueor should I say the narrower issueof
local area missile defence options for the UK and Europe. If we
start with Fylingdales and Menwith Hill, in the event that we
were to be approached to upgrade those facilities and we agreed
so to do, do you think that that might increase the vulnerability
of the United Kingdom to attack, specifically because those key
facilities had been upgraded? Would you have any plans for the
protection of those facilities?
(Mr Hoon) We have a range of facilities in the United
Kingdom that are used by the United States and other allies as
part of our commitment to NATO and our commitment to the international
community. I do not see that any particular facility or its particular
use is going to put us at any greater risk, particularly from
states of concern who, if they were capable of launching a missile
against the United Kingdom from whatever distance, I would have
thoughtespecially given the events of 11 Septemberwould
be interested in as much the public effect rather than any specific
Mr Howarth: I agree with you.
Chairman: I am sorry, could you repeat
190. I agree with the Secretary of State very
strongly, Chairman, over that. I think he is absolutely right.
(Mr Hoon) Now I should start to worry.
191. Good, that is excellent. I am pleased to
hear that. If we move to the specific defence of the UK more generally
and not individual targets, can I quote something that Mr Helliwell
told us a month ago, he being the Assistant Director of Nuclear
Policy for Missile Defence? In looking at the issue of the United
States' offer of an extension of their system to protect friends
and allies, he told us: "They have not yet got to the stage
of setting out in detail how they see the protection of friends
and allies working. We are keen to get into dialogue with them
on that. So far as the programmes and the money they are spending,
they have made clear that where there is outside assistance that
other countries can contribute they want those countries to do
so and we, for our part, are keen to promote that. . . there are
a number of niche areas where we might be able to contribute and
our aim is to do so." What is your assessment of the possibility
of this US system providing a defence to the UK homeland? Can
you amplify what Mr Helliwell told us last month about the dialogue
that you are getting into with the United States and your keenness
to promote the United Kingdom contribution?
(Mr Hoon) I am delighted at your enthusiasm, but you
use the phrase "this US system", and unless and until
there is "a US system" we will not be in a position
to be clear about how that is going to work, how it is working
to affect the United Kingdom or European allies and, therefore,
what kind of contribution we might be able to make, if that was
judged at the time to be appropriate. Certainly, I think a great
deal of thinking has gone on, and a great deal of discussion has
gone on already, about the way in which any system might protect
Europe, including within that the United Kingdom.
192. You are keen, on the one hand, to tell
us that dialogue is going on and that you are keen to talk to
them, but, on the other hand, it is almost as though you are standing
back with your arms folded and saying "Well, the United States
has not defined its technology yet. We are just actually going
to stand here on the shores of the Atlantic, look across the ocean
and see what eventually they come up with." It seems to me
that there is no kind of linkage between this dialogue that you
are keen to try to portray us being involved in with the United
States, yet there is a kind of complete passivity towards this
huge debate that is going on in the United States on the technology.
We do have some pretty capable technology people in this country,
we have a £4 million programme but they have got a $7.8 billion
programme. What are we doing?
(Mr Hoon) I think you have rather answered your own
question in the statistics that you have just set out. In fact,
I was going to quote similar figures to you. Obviously, there
is a discussion in the United States; we have excellent contacts
between the Ministry of Defence and the Pentagon and we have a
number of people who can certainly contribute to the development
of US thinking. However, I think we have to be realistic; the
United States has spent in the order of $50 billion already on
this project, as you say, and they are spending almost $8 billion
a year, and they are attempting to resolve an enormously challenging
technological problem. We have a much more modest programme, we
are able to fund and support that but, realistically, we are not
going to be able to tell the United States how it should spend
its $8 billion budget or, indeed, how it should spend its $50
193. If the United States came upor when
the United States comes upwith a system (which it is going
to do), in principle is the United Kingdom, the British Government,
keen to accept the United States' offer of that system being used
to protect the people of this country, on the assumption that
the system the United States produces is capable of doing that?
Is there any reason, in principle, why the United Kingdom would
not accept such an offer?
(Mr Hoon) No.
Mr Howarth: Excellent. Going back to what your
official said last month, we did pressand if I may say
the Chairman was particularly forceful with one of your officialsas
to how much it might cost for Britain, as it were, to go it alone.
The rough figure we were given was £5 to £10 billion
for a UK missile defence system riding on the back of a US programme.
194. It was an immensely speculative figure,
and I am sure the gentleman is here to defend himself.
(Mr Hoon) I would not want Mr Howarth to mislead anyone
that there was anything like as precise a figure as that. Clearly,
the relevant figure, actually, Mr Chairman, is the figure that
the United States has so far spent and the figure that it is continuing
to spend, because that is the size of the technological challenge
that they are seeking to address.
195. Let me tell you what Mr Roper told us a
month ago. He said: "The fidelity of this assessment is very
low but providing a homeland defence of the United Kingdom, assuming
we had access to information that Fylingdales provides and an
upgrade had taken place and that we procured US ground-based interceptors,
five to ten billion might be the sort of regime." Nobody
is trying to hold Mr Roper to account for that figure precisely,
but it was helpful in giving some kind of ballpark figure. If
there is this thinking going on andgoing back to my earlier
questionif the United Kingdom were prepared to accept an
offer from the United States to extend their system to us, are
you in discussion with the Treasury about the implications of
(Mr Hoon) Again, I think it is remarkable that you
are building your question about funding a system that has not
yet been decided on by the United States and, therefore, by definition,
has not yet been decided on by the United Kingdom, not least because
(and I do want to say this to you quite seriously) if today the
United Kingdom wanted to develop a stand-alone system it would
have to spend in the order of the kind of money that the United
States is spending. No one has solved this technological challenge
as yet. The Americans have clearly gone a long way towards understanding
what might be necessary, but they would be the first to concede
that they have not resolved all of the questions. Therefore, until
we know the final bill for the solution that the United States
achieves, it is difficult to even begin to say what our costs
at that stage might be. For exampleand I am treating the
question perfectly properly and seriouslythe question might
arise as to what contribution the United States would require
allies to make to that enormous research cost, or whether the
United States instead would simply look at the cost of providing,
if you like, the hardware that would make the system work. That
is, writing off the costs of research and development. Those discussions
have not even begun to take place.
196. Can I put it to you, Secretary of State,
that any responsible government and any responsible Ministry of
Defence, recognising that there is a threat out there, even though
there is no evidence of any intention immediately to exercise
that threat, ought to be looking at making some kind of contingency
provision for the future? I accept all your arguments about the
United States hoping to find the technology; nevertheless, you
know there is a threat, you cannot quantify exactly when that
threat might crystallise, but surely there ought to be some longer-term
(Mr Hoon) I have already indicated there is a great
deal of thinking going on, there are significant discussions taking
place but no policy decisions have been taken. All I invite you
to do is just consider carefully what I have just said to the
Committee, which is that unless and until we know the final size
of the bill faced by the United States, the likely contribution
that allies might have to make towards the research and development
involved in any such system, all this is pure speculation, and
trying to put aside a contingencywhich I think is what
you suggestedfor such a speculative decision is absurd,
frankly. I am sorry to be so blunt.
197. That is somewhat intemperate of you, Minister,
if I may suggest, because the department, as you know, has long-term
costings on major items of expenditure. Given the fact that you
told us and we all accept that there is a real risk out there,
I am surprised that no discussions have been engaged in with the
Treasury on that point.
(Mr Hoon) Can I just say this, Chairman, that the
department certainly has long-term costings but that is precisely
what I am objecting to about your question; no one knows what
the cost might be. Therefore, no responsible department and no
responsible government can put aside an unknown contingency for
an unknown policy decision.
198. But we know that there is a technical threat
out there. What we do not know is whether any of those rogue stages
which we have identified as being a threat is going to turn its
aspirations into action. The moment they do that we will then
be faced with the need to defend our people.
(Mr Hoon) If I have understood precisely what you
are suggesting the Government should do, it is to put aside an
unknown amount of money to support a system that has not yet been
decided on and not yet been perfected for, presumably, the indefinite
future until such date as a real threat emerges.
199. No, I was asking you if you had had discussions
with the Treasury to consider these issues. You have said you
have not because you only cost long-term projects which are actually
on the books, if you like.
(Mr Hoon) All I can say is that I assure you that,
on the basis of such a series of speculations, going to the Treasury
for such a provision would be something that I would find difficult.