Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220-238)|
MP AND MR
WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002
(Mr Hoon) There has been no specific discussion but
there is no specific threat.
221. Can I ask you about passive protection
against weapons of mass destruction on deployed troops? The inaccuracy
of the current generation of rogue-state missiles is not much
comfort if they become armed with weapons of mass destruction.
Are you satisfied that "passive" defence measures will
be sufficient on their own to protect our forces?
(Mr Hoon) Yes.
222. Have there been any upgrades in that inaccurate
use in recent times (?)?
(Mr Hoon) We are constantly looking at the kinds of
threats. I assume that specifically you are referring not to missile-delivered
threats but the use, for example, of chemical or biological weapons.
That is something that a great deal of work has gone into in terms
of protecting UK forces in the field, but it is an enormously
difficult issue, not least because of the limitations it places
on individual soldiers and their ability to do their job. We have
the equipment, it is constantly trained and exercised, it is something
that we have as a very high priority in terms of deploying those
forces in particular theatres, as was the case, obviously, during
the Gulf War.
(Mr Hawtin) We have a whole range of individual and
collective protection measures as well as detection monitors which
we are improving and we have a research programme. I think I gave
the Committee details of that when we last gave evidence.
223. If I can just carry that on, do you not
even consider that there is a possible threat from Iraq of short-range
missiles armed with nuclear or, more likely, biological and chemical
(Mr Hoon) We all know that there is a threat of a
short-range missile from Iraq because, in the past, they have
launched such missiles.
224. So our troops have no active defence. For
instance, the threat was considered
(Mr Hoon) When you talk about a threat, are you talking
about a threat in Afghanistan?
225. I am talking about in the Middle East.
I was about to say, during the Gulf War our troops in Cyprus received
a medal for being under such a threat. Yet we still have no active
means of defending against such a threat.
(Mr Hoon) It depends what you mean by "active".
We have a range of means of dealing with that threat and I assure
you that they are extraordinarily active.
226. We have no means of interdicting a missile
that is fired at our troops.
(Mr Hoon) We do not have a missile defence system
to deal with such a threat, if that is what you mean, but there
are other means of dealing with that kind of threat.
227. Such as?
(Mr Hoon) There would be a range of military actions
that could be taken in order to render that threat not as effective
as those responsible for it might think.
228. I follow the logic of what you are saying
without putting too fine a point on it. European nations consider
the threat to their deployed troops as sufficient to go ahead
and certainly look at buying these sorts of weapons, or indeed
have bought them. Should we not be doing that?
(Mr Hoon) Which countries are you
229. I am talking about Germany and Italy and
the PAC system they are looking at.
(Mr Hoon) Obviously those are issues that we regularly
consider in terms of the nature of the threat to our deployed
forces. Since we are not currently engaged in military operations
involving Iraq I think it is a little premature to think about
developing such a system or purchasing such a system.
230. Should we become involved in operations
against Iraq, will we have time to acquire such systems?
(Mr Hoon) I think it would depend. In the event of
us one day becoming involved in military action against Iraq that
involved ground forces, it is obviously something that we would
have to consider, but our assumption has always been that if there
were any such operations (and I am not concentrating on Iraq for
the moment) they would be conducted by an international coalition
and, therefore, we would contribute to that coalition our particular
specialist capability and, in return, we would expect the protection
of those kinds of systems. That is precisely what is happening
in Afghanistan today.
231. We are content to shelter under somebody
(Mr Hoon) You put that in a rather pejorative way.
232. It is not intended to be at all.
(Mr Hoon) We are a good ally. We bring to the alliance
various kinds of highly skilled, highly capable military forces
that have a range of equipment that is often in short supply elsewhereas,
again, operations in and around IraqI am sorry, in and
around Afghanistanhave recently demonstrated. That was
a slip, was it not?
233. I will not exploit it.
(Mr Hoon) The point being that if you look at the
kind of contribution we were able to makeair-to-air refuelling,
for example, and some of the search and reconnaissance equipment
that we made availableeven the United States was delighted
to receive that kind of practical contribution. That is increasingly
the way in which the alliance will develop, because no country
is going to have a full A-Z capability to deal with every possible
contingency that might arise.
234. Just a quick one in the last couple of
minutes. Traditionally, we have had our nuclear deterrent and
we have regarded that as an effective way of deterring others
from sending ballistic weapons towards us. From a UK standpoint,
to what extent does maintaining that nuclear deterrent mitigate
the need for a missile defence system?
(Mr Hoon) In terms of deterrence, clearly, our nuclear
capability deters those who might threaten the United Kingdom
with a weapon of mass destruction. I think we would have to have
a rather longer discussion about whether that, for example, might
work in relation to a failed state or a country like Iraq that,
for example, places the lives of its own citizens at little value
and might be prepared to contemplate taking on a nuclear power
like the United Kingdom and accept the consequences. I think in
terms of deterrence there is clearly an effect that our nuclear
weapons have, but the reason and justification for the argument
about states of concern is that some of those states would not
be deterred in the way in which conventional deterrence theory
235. Do you think that states such as, let us
say, Iraqwhich seems to be on our lips.
(Mr Hoon) On yours, anyway.
236. It seemed to stumble across yours. Do you
think such a state would be deterred by our deterrent from using
weapons of mass destruction against our forces in the field?
(Mr Hoon) I think, again, the same argument arises,
that there are clearly some states who would be deterred by the
fact that the United Kingdom possesses nuclear weapons and has
the willingness and ability to use them in appropriate circumstances.
States of concern, I would be much less confident about, and Saddam
Hussain has demonstrated in the past his willingness to use chemical
weapons against his own people. In those kinds of states the wishes,
needs and interests of citizens are clearly much less regarded
and we cannot rule out the possibility that such states would
be willing to sacrifice their own people in order to make that
kind of gesture.
237. Is it a confidence about whether or not
they believe you would use them or confidence about whether or
not they would care about whether you use them?
(Mr Hoon) They can be absolutely confident that in
the right conditions we would be willing to use our nuclear weapons.
What I cannot be absolutely confident about is whether that would
be sufficient to deter them from using a weapon of mass destruction
in the first place.
238. Thank you very much. I cannot say the sum
total of human knowledge has increased significantly, Mr Hoon.
You "out-Boycotted" Boycott, and all I can say is that
if you were playing for Derby County this season in goal then
Derby would be up with Manchester United and going into Europe,
because you did not concede many goals. However, we will ask you
exactly the same questions again in due course, when we will expect
totally, totally different answers. So thank you very much for
(Mr Hoon) Thank you very much indeed.