Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Mr Hood

Examination of witnesses (Questions 60-79)



  60. One key feature of NATO is that the operational language is English. This is crucially important. Language training is a very important part of NATO in joint operations. Have you perceived any risk at all that English might be challenged? I am not just being nationalistic here because it is the language also of our American and Canadian allies. Is there any risk at all that English might be challenged as the operational language for the European Rapid Reaction Force and European forces?
  (Mr Hoon) I preferred the first version of your question. I have not perceived any risk to it.

  61. How much independent input is the European Union likely to provide to the institutions supporting the ERRF?
  (Mr Hatfield) The key thing that is autonomous is the ability to take political decisions. The only independent input that the EU will have in terms of machinery is a small-ish military staff, about the same size as the WEU had which has been abolished, which can frame the questions that will be sent off to the NATO planning staffs for preparing options for them to consider. Beyond that, it will depend on drawing on capabilities either from NATO or from the EU nations, so there will not be anything else independent being created for the EU as such.

  62. Are other NATO allies double hatting their representatives on the Military Committee?
  (Mr Hatfield) I think it is 9 out of 11.

  63. So they are double hatting?
  (Mr Hatfield) With two exceptions at the moment, Belgium and France.

  64. Will the DSACEUR have the right to attend the Military Committee?
  (Mr Hatfield) In general, yes.

  65. What does that mean?
  (Mr Hatfield) He is not a full member because, as in the case of NATO, it is a committee that is formed of the national chiefs of defence at the highest level. For normal business, he would attend, especially where he was being consulted on aspects which are his responsibility overlapping between NATO and the EU. There may be some business—for example, if the EU Military Committee was making another selection for its next chairman—where you would not expect him to attend, but for most business he would be open to attend. That is written down in the documents that have already been prepared.

  66. He will only be able to attend when he is invited?
  (Mr Hatfield) He will normally be present. He is not a member of the committee.

  67. He has no right to attend; he has to be invited?
  (Mr Hatfield) So does anybody else who is not a chief of defence for one of the countries concerned.

  68. So the DSACEUR does not have a right to attend?
  (Mr Hatfield) Correct, but he will normally be invited.

   I do not know what you mean by "normally". "Normally" can mean many things.
  (Mr Hatfield) For most meetings and for all meetings where it actually impinges on his responsibility for European forces in the EU and in NATO, he will be invited, but some aspects of business—for example, the election of a new chairman of committee—are simply a matter for the committee themselves and do not directly affect the DSACEUR.[3]

Laura Moffatt

  70. We had just started to talk about the WEU and we would like to know its current status and that of its dependent organisations.
  (Mr Hoon) There was a decision that in time the WEU will be wound down. That decision was announced in November 2000. There is a transitional phase. It has been decided that the Netherlands presidency will work on that process to determine what happens to its residual functions by July this year. There is a process but some parts of that process—not least the Assembly, for example—are not yet determined.

  71. That being the case, when would you hope to see the functions of the WEU settled within the EU structure? Is there a time limit?
  (Mr Hoon) There is not. For example, the Assembly is one of those areas where I am not sure it is wholly appropriate for governments to determine that matter. I made it clear previously in response to parliamentary questions that it seems to me more a matter for the members of the Assembly to determine whether they still wish to continue to provide that kind of parliamentary advice to governments that they currently make available. That is a debate that I know is taking place amongst members of the Assembly and their colleagues in the European Parliament.

  72. That being so, I accept what you say that it is for them to decide they are not going to meet as an Assembly, but what will form the alternative to that democratic input to the whole process?
  (Mr Hoon) I have resisted being drawn on that because, given the curiosities of the United Kingdom's constitution, I am both a Member of Parliament and a member of the executive. That is a relatively unusual position in modern constitutions and therefore it does seem to me, since you invite me here not as a Member of Parliament but as a member of the executive, that that is essentially a parliamentary matter for the members of the Assembly to advise on. Ultimately, if there is to be a treaty change between the governments, that would have to come to the executive, but I do think it is right that in the first place it ought to be for the members of the Assembly and relevant Members of Parliament to give advice on what sort of structures they think appropriate. Obviously, that will be a view that we would take very strongly into account.

  73. Do you believe that it is important that there is that accountability process within the whole new structure?
  (Mr Hoon) I would rather use the word "advice" because I am accountable to the House of Commons, as a member of the executive, for decisions I take as Secretary of State for Defence. That is where my accountability lies and that is very strongly the view that I adhere to. I do see a role for broader thinking and advice that can come from a parliamentary assembly of the kind that we are discussing, but I do not think it is strictly the case that I would be accountable to such an assembly.

Mr Cohen

  74. Turning to wider questions, the rapid reaction force is about troops, tactical operations, peace keeping and peace enforcement but Britain and France are both nuclear weapons powers. Do you see any possibility further down the road of the EU having a nuclear component to its forces?
  (Mr Hoon) No.

  75. Turkey has been mentioned, but there are six non-EU allies involved in this. How are they going to be integrated in the political/military decision making process?
  (Mr Hoon) We have indicated a range of mechanisms by which there would be regular consultation and meetings between the 15 and the 6. We have discussed this afternoon the capabilities conference and all six were present in a meeting immediately afterwards, where they also indicated the force contributions that they could make available to any rapid reaction force as and when required. There will be an extensive process of ensuring the involvement of all six in the discussions and deliberations that are made by the 15.

Dr Lewis

  76. Do you think that the whole ESDP process is bolstering or straining transatlantic links, specifically with the Bush administration?
  (Mr Hoon) I think it is very considerably strengthening the arrangements because the Americans have long argued understandably that they want to see a much greater contribution to military capability from European nations than they have seen in the past. I know that it is something that this Committee has been also concerned about. In those circumstances, by setting out this quite deliberate goal of improving our military capability, we are, as I have said to you before, both improving our ability to act as a European nation but crucially improving our contribution and our capability within NATO.

  77. I accept that that is your intention. To what extent do you think you are succeeding in getting that version of what is being done accepted in America? I particularly have in mind some of the comments of Defence Secretary Rumsfeld when he has pointed out, "We have so much at stake with that Alliance"—meaning NATO—"we need to be vigilant to see that we do not do anything that would inject an instability into the Alliance. It is a lot easier to put something at risk than it is to fashion it in the first place." He would not be making these sorts of comments, would he, unless there was some degree of doubt in his mind?
  (Mr Hoon) I think he is setting out quite rightly the concerns that all of us have to ensure that this is about improving our capabilities. I do not want to trade Donald Rumsfeld quotes with you but I had a long conversation with him last week. He said, for example, not just last week, "I favour efforts that strengthen NATO. Actions that enhance capabilities can strengthen the alliance. The question is the extent to which the participants in the European force desire to increase their capabilities." These are all very supportive of what we are trying to do, which is to improve military capability.

  78. He did famously say that the devil is in the detail. You were quoted on 22 March in the press as having said, "We have made it absolutely clear that those details are details we have to get right to ensure that European defence is wholly consistent with improving capabilities in the NATO context." That seems to be an admission that if you do not get those details right you might fail to ensure that this scheme is improving and strengthening NATO as you wish.
  (Mr Hoon) I agree with the quotations that you have set out.

  79. And?
  (Mr Hoon) And of course there is always a risk in a complex world that things can go wrong. I think it would be foolish for me to sit here and pretend otherwise. I am absolutely confident that we are on the right track, that the agreements that we have achieved so far are the right agreements, that they are going in the right direction and that ultimately we will be successful. I recognise that it could go wrong; I just do not think it will.

3   See also letter from Secretary of State, p 17. Back

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