Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 1180 - 1199)



Laura Moffatt

  1180. Secretary of State, I have a slightly different experience certainly in Kosovo having paid two visits to the region, I am very glad to say, particularly to Macedonia while the action was going on and in fact I found throughout the ranks that the people in the Armed Forces found the refugees to be a great source of inspiration and they conducted themselves with such dignity that in fact it was an invigorating experience because they could not believe people in such an appalling situation could behave and respond so well to them. They were heavily involved in setting up the camps. There are two references in the Kosovo: Lessons from the Crisis report about the non-governmental organisations and I wonder whether one of them is just a veiled way of saying they were having difficulty coping and therefore our Armed Forces in particular had to step in and help with the camps. In one of the extracts at paragraph 8.9 it says how much they were involved in humanitarian crises. Have we learned enough about co-ordination of NGOs in theatre? What lessons can we extract and were our Armed Forces pulled in because there was some failure at the time?
  (Mr Hoon) I do not think there is any doubt that we still have more work to do in working more effectively with NGOs who almost by definition are not organised in the way that government activity is organised. There is not a single chain of command, there is not a comprehensive organisation of NGOs that ideally might be attractive, but that is the virtue of a non-governmental organisation. What we have certainly sought to do is to ensure that members of the Armed Forces understand the role of NGOs, understand the way they work and we have done a great deal on that. One of the areas of difficulty is undoubtedly that whilst some NGOs are sympathetic to understanding how the military might be involved and might participate, some for perfectly understandable reasons so far as they are concerned, are reluctant to become more involved in a military process. Some NGOs, quite understandably from their point of view, do not feel that they want to necessarily understand more about how the military might operate in this context.

  1181. There is a strengthened role for the PJHQ but you actually say that even if there was maybe some would not be that keen to take advantage of it?
  (Mr Hoon) Yes, I am saying that. I think some would say that it is not appropriate for an NGO to work closely alongside the military. I am not generalising—I am saying others are happy to deliver help and assistance however it needs to be done.

  1182. That was certainly the experience on the ground at the time.
  (Mr Webb) Can I make a phasing point about this. Paragraph 8.9 talks about the UNHCR and does not talk about NGOs. Initially in these situations it is very often the Armed Forces who can act quickly on a scale to try and alleviate an immediate situation. We do talk a lot to DfID about trying to get good links. Then, whether it is the UN or NGOs, they come and pick up on the situation and often their skills are more relevant particularly when you are talking about re-settling refugees after an immediate crisis has peaked, very often their skills are better. So there is a complementary feature about this I am trying to bring out which we are working to get right and it is a question of phasing and handing over which is the important thing. If you go to Bosnia very close co-operation goes on in relation to returnees and everything else. It is very well developed.
  (Rear Admiral Moore) NGOs are a very broad church. There are the big ones we hear about, the Medicins Sans Frontieres and it goes right down to people with a lorry who think they have got their own right to go and do something in the face of a crisis. There is no way you can deal with them uniformly and therefore for PJHQ to deal with them as a breed is almost impossible. What you have got to do is make sure that the theatre commander has got the authority and ability to react to requirements on the ground.

  Laura Moffatt: I understand that that reference was to the UNHCR but in paragraph 6.18 it very much talks about the relationship between the Foreign Office, the NGOs, the whole bit, and how we work best together and obviously we could explore that but I think you have outlined the difficulties for me, thank you.

Dr Lewis

  1183. I was rather intrigued by a point raised by Mr Hancock about not having seen any of the deep bunkers in which this hardware was secreted from air attacks. Have any of the witnesses seen any of these bunkers and, if not, perhaps they could write to us and let us know where they are?
  (Mr Hoon) I have not seen any.
  (Mr Webb) I have seen pictures of them.

  1184. What I want to ask is this: do you think we have enough information in order to be able to assess an enemy leader's likely responses to our actions in order to judge how best to apply a coercive strategy? What I have in mind is the fact that democratic leaders never seem to have a great understanding about how the minds of totalitarians work and we seem to have felt Milosevic was a rather more reasonable character than he turned out to be, notwithstanding what had happened in Bosnia some years earlier. Could you comment on the adequacy or otherwise of our ability to make valid assessments of people who are really not democratic leaders at all?
  (Mr Hoon) All I can say is that assessments are made, efforts are made to understand the reasoning process, such as it might be, together with the kinds of pressures that exist even on the leader of a totalitarian regime but I accept—it is self-evident—that this is not an exact science and that we do not have information that would allow us to predict with any accuracy how someone like Milosevic might behave.

  1185. Would you accept then that it might be a useful aid to future decision makers now that we have the experience of how Milosevic behaved, for a retrospective profile to be drawn up as best we can of our assessment of his personality? Do you know if any studies have been made in the past with profiles of our former enemies?
  (Mr Hoon) They are normally done by historians and, frankly, they do not always agree—

  1186. Fair enough.
  (Mr Hoon)—on the assessment that they make, unfortunately. I think the difficulty about that, and particularly in the context of Milosevic, is there is no evidence at all that his behaviour was consistent and in those circumstances, whilst we can draw up a profile that this man behaves inconsistently, I am not sure it particularly helps in the way that we deal with him and the way he might react to any decision that we could take.

  1187. At least it suggests we should not expect him to respond as we would ourselves if similar pressures were applied.
  (Mr Hoon) I think that is fair. I think it is right that we should recognise that in a democracy we are subject as politicians to different sorts of pressures to those faced by a man like Milosevic in the former Republic of Yugoslavia and we have certainly to build that into our assessment of how he might react when he is confronted with particular circumstances.

  1188. Finally, do we pay sufficient attention to discussing and war-gaming such matters amongst politicians, diplomats and military alike? Do you think we could do better in future in terms of applying these types of techniques?
  (Mr Hoon) A great deal of effort is put into the training of senior officers in all Services to deal with scenarios that they might have to face and one aspect of that, undoubtedly, is how the enemy might respond to whatever decisions you take. But inevitably each particular campaign is of itself in terms of the lessons we can learn. There are some general lessons that we can identify but in this particular area my view, and either of the two people here giving evidence can comment for themselves, is that Milosevic behaved in particular ways at particular times that were not predictable, and that he reacted to some pressure or provocation differently at different stages in the process without real explanation on our part as to what it was that motivated him and it may be, and I think this is a further problem in terms of what you are driving at, that he may not have had very well thought through plans or ideas as to how he was likely to behave.

  1189. Do you have any examples of when he reacted rather differently to the way you expected him to act?
  (Mr Hoon) I undoubtedly would have expected a rational man to believe that we would resort to force when we said that we would.
  (Mr Webb) The phrase "one move ahead chess player" is sometimes used. One of the difficulties, and we do try hard at this and we have very good people now at work helping us in campaign planning in this area of profiling, is that opponents are not under a single pressure. They might on the one hand be fearful of an attack by NATO but on the other hand they are managing a micro political situation which is related to their position within a small power group and where they fit within an immediate supporting power group. On the day, which of those hits you is quite hard to predict. I think it is useful but I would not put too much weight on it and in the end the capability is the thing to keep an eye on because that is the thing in terms of their ability to act.


  1190. I do not wish to rake over the issue of DERA, but there are a lot of psychologists in DERA. What are they up to? Are they of any use in criminal profiling, that kind of operation?
  (Rear Admiral Moore) I do not think we ought to go into the detail, but we do use DERA.

  1191. Are they going to be in the retained bit?
  (Rear Admiral Moore) That is a good question.
  (Mr Hoon) Yes.

  1192. One of the problems in warfare today is that yes, you do have to look at the military balance and at capability, but when you are fighting against a dictator the whole object is not just to take out tanks, or aircraft or factories, but to influence the single person who is ultimately going to be in charge, is it not?
  (Mr Webb) Yes.

  1193. It seems to me, therefore, that profiling and understanding your key single adversary is going to be of even greater importance in the past than it is in the future, and I hope this has been taken care of, because in our inquiry, Secretary of State, we have not been overwhelmed by the capacity of the Allies, as far as is possible, to understand his moves. If you are trying to influence him and thinking that by bombing at a low level on day one, two, three, four, five it is going to influence him, but after two months you realise it has not, it makes you wonder whether we understood the guy clearly enough, otherwise we would have gone up the scale on day one and not gently moved up in a graduated response.
  (Mr Hoon) I entirely agree with that, and it is right that we should do that. All I caution is that we should not expect really sophisticated results from that process, any more than you would expect me to be able to explain the behaviour of, say, a Member of Parliament for Walsall if we profiled him. We would not be able reliably to say how he was going to behave next week or whatever.

  1194. We are all very predictable. I have been arguing the same case now since 1973—on my own. The MoD has acknowledged the need for far greater focus on information operations as an integrated political-military strategy and is working towards making this a reality. I would like to ask, how far is such an integrated approach going to be possible in a NATO context, given the incredible national sensitivities over the components of information operations such as psyops, deception and electronic infrastructure attack? I could not write a paragraph on psyops in the Ministry of Defence. I am not certain, Secretary of State, whether you would be able to.
  (Mr Hoon) I do not know whether that is a challenge or an invitation. What I think is important is that each country in the Alliance has a range of capabilities available to it, and the matters you have mentioned are part of that range. What actually happens in this kind of campaign is that each country tends to play to its strengths and will play to those parts of its capability which it can contribute most effectively. Those are part of the capability that NATO does have available. I am not entirely sure I agree that they are necessarily any more sensitive than certain other parts of the capability that the different countries have, but nevertheless some parts of that are available and, in appropriate circumstances, will be used.

  1195. I shall read carefully what you said, but in the Falklands—sorry to bombard you with political history—nobody put their hand up and said they were responsible for psychological operations in the Falklands. From what we know—and we do not know very much—the psyops in relation to Serbia did not appear to have been quite on a par with the UK in the Second World War; in fact, this appeared in some cases to be a little bit on the amateurish side, like dropping millions of leaflets over Serbia and hoping the wind would take them 15 miles into Serbia. I hope that in the course of your own researches you do have a look very carefully at how successful psyops were in our own Ministry of Defence and in NATO involvement. We would not expect you to come and tell us exactly, but this in the future is going to be even more and more important, and we really have to get the structures right, do we not?
  (Mr Webb) Yes.

  1196. Are you in charge of psychological warfare as such, Mr Webb?
  (Mr Webb) I am not as such, but I do chair a group on news release which actually does try to assess these issues. It is part of crisis management now, and it is part of NATO crisis management. NATO has an approach to what is called information operations set out in a military committee document, and it was an annex and part of the NATO operational plan for Kosovo. Often this is just a fairly simple matter of saying what it is you are going to do and telling the truth about it. You can get very hung up on all the more fancy dimensions of it that are sometimes debated. but in actually getting across key themes and messages, as we have been trying to do on Sierra Leone, for example, and sometimes messages in different places, as you and I have discussed in another context, sometimes you want to make clear exactly what the policy is, but sometimes you are trying to send different messages in theatre. So we do work on all that. I think we are, I hope, getting a bit better at it, but it is something we are certainly paying a lot of attention to now, and it is an integral part of the overall campaign, which is why we have a structure which does it.

  1197. Do people have any moral hang-ups in the MoD about using psyops? It is a pretty sneaky form of warfare, but a perfectly legitimate form of warfare.
  (Mr Hoon) We live in an information age, and I think it is entirely appropriate that governments should use those capabilities that can achieve a successful outcome.

  Chairman: I do not think we shall pursue that much further.

Mr Cann

  1198. I should like to ask a little bit about costs, as you might expect. Can we be assured that the costs of operations like Allied Force have not detracted from the amount of money that has been planned to be put into the SDR?
  (Mr Hoon) You can be assured, and the Ministry of Defence was compensated—if that is the right word—in its budget for the costs of the campaign.

  1199. Is it correct that there was an underspend of about 1.5% on the defence budget last year? If so, where has that money gone? Has it gone back to the Treasury, or have you been able to buy things with it?
  (Mr Hoon) There has been some slightly misleading newspaper speculation about underspend, as far as the budget is concerned. Parliament, as you will know, sets very, very tight limits for expenditure by government departments, and at the end of the financial year a government department is expected to come in within the amount set in the budget by Parliament. What that produces in all departments—and the Ministry of Defence is not exceptional in this—is a very cautious approach towards the end of the year, because whilst a department might be willing to underspend by (I think the figure is) £318 million, it is not willing to overspend by that amount. The consequence of that is that accounting officers—the permanent secretaries—understandably are trying to ensure that they do not exceed the budget. As far as the department is concerned—and again this is wholly consistent with other departments—there are ways in which the budget can be brought within the appropriate total which do not necessarily mean the department spends any less. One of the ways in which that is achieved, frankly, is that spending that is required is not necessarily spent before the end of the financial year.

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