Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from the Ministry of Defence (5 November 2001)

  1.  The Secretary of State for Defence announced last month that we would be undertaking work to ensure we have the right concepts, forces and capabilities in place to meet the additional challenges posed by asymmetric threats of the kind that we saw on 11 September.

2.  As the Secretary of State said in the House on 4 October, this will not be a new Strategic Defence Review (SDR) but more the adding of a new chapter to it. Indeed, the SDR left us well placed to participate in the campaign against international terrorism. The SDR and the lessons of subsequent operations in Kosovo and Sierra Leone have all moved our defence posture in the right direction. We need to look hard at the priorities in our plans and programmes—so that we can add capability where it makes a difference.

  3.  We are developing our methodology for taking the work forward. The first step is to work through the defence policy consequences of the events of 11 September, particularly in the areas of defence of the homeland and our capability to counter and deter terrorism abroad. We will also look at the impact of these events on international organisations, including in particular NATO and the EU, and on our regional interests, not least given the need to sustain long term coalitions against international terrorism.

  4.  The work will go on to look at defence posture and capabilities, and then take a first look at the implications for force structures. We need to ensure that our concepts, policies and capabilities to deter, dissuade and, as necessary, defeat groups or states which pose us a threat, are optimised to the circumstances in which we now find ourselves. We must do the same in relation to the contribution of the Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces to the security and defence of the UK.

  5.  This work will of course be set in the context of the wide range of other work going on across Government and of wider UK foreign policy (as was the SDR) and, importantly, domestic security policy —for example, we will want to fit into work being undertaken centrally by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat. We are clear that the MoD work cannot be undertaken in isolation, and representatives from other Government Departments will be closely involved in the MoD work.

  6.  The exact timetable for the work will have to be established in the light of the developing campaign, but we would expect to be in a position to publish some conclusions in the spring or early summer next year. We obviously have separate mechanisms for seeking, as necessary, more rapid adjustments to our defence posture or operational capability which may be required as a result of current operations.

  7.  Overall, our approach will be very similar to that adopted for the SDR, albeit that the scope of the work is more limited and the timetable more demanding. We intend to follow the SDR precedent of openness and inclusivity, although some of the more effective techniques for countering terrorism may, of course, need to be kept secret. We will involve a good range of people who are able to contribute, both from inside and outside the Department, and we will keep Parliament and the Committee regularly informed of progress. As the Secretary of State made clear in the House on 29 October, representations from Members of Parliament will be welcome. We will also want to find ways of gauging public opinion and providing the public with an opportunity to offer views.

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Prepared 18 December 2001