Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
WEDNESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2001
FRENCH CBE FRAES
RAF AND MAJOR-GENERAL
20. You have 200 Muslims in the armed forces.
(Mr Webb) I am coming to that in a moment. In terms
of the feelings amongst the Muslim community within Britain, that
really is a matter for the Home Office and you really do not want
to get the armed forces involved in that issue. I just do not
want to comment on that at all. What I will say is that of course
the sense that we have is that the vast majority of Muslims through
the world dissociate themselves entirely from terrorism. We have
Muslims within the armed forces and I do hope that when we get
to the stage of being able to put some material out for public
comment people from all across Britain will come and join in comments
about that. If there are issue of that kind around then we shall
hear about them.
21. The reason I mentioned Muslims was that
any Muslim who joins the armed forces has shown their commitment
by joining, which cannot be an easy thing to have done. I know
Lewis Moonie has addressed that but this Committee would want
to pass on our desire, nay demand, that everything possible is
done to guarantee that those Muslims in the armed forces are not
subject to any undue criticism by their fellow soldiers, sailors
or airmen, that they are protected in some way and that the commanding
officers do everything they can to ensure that those who have
given a commitment to our armed forces are not in any way going
to suffer for having made that commitment so obvious.
(Mr Webb) I am sure we all shall.
22. We have to recognise, certainly from the
United States and from the constituencies, that there is a sense
of fear out there since 11 September.
(Mr Webb) Yes.
23. I am not too convinced that your stiff upper
lip approach is going to be very reassuring to many people in
my constituency. Do you not recognise that an important part of
the homeland defence is information in terms of involving, quite
rightly in this situation, communities of different faiths. There
is tension in those communities that we need to take on board
because the information propaganda war in these events since 11
September is very important. More or less saying that it has not
affected things will not go down too well with most people.
(Mr Webb) I did not in any sense mean to downplay
people's genuine concerns. I do have to say that the feelings
of the British population really are something I shall go to talk
about again with my colleagues in the Home Office and the Civil
Contingencies Secretariat, but that is very much a home departments
issue. We are anything but complacent about the threat which we
are responsible directly in dealing with in Defence which is from
aircraft, ships, missiles and on that there is no question of
lips of one kind or another. We are actively reviewing what is
needed in that arena and taking necessary steps. There is no "let's
just bear this" feeling. Indulge me with one thought, which
is that part of what the terrorists are trying to do is to frighten
people. If you are asking me as a Defence department official
how we are going to deal with this problem, helping people not
to feel frightened, but also helping the terrorist not to succeed
in frightening people is part of our objective. I think that is
right and getting these things into proportion, getting a sense
of perspective without downplaying what are evidently risks which
could materialise is all part of the job. Chairman, I heard you
talking on the radio about this. If we overdo this then we give
the terrorists a victory which we should not do.
24. I shall take you away from Home matters
quickly because clearly you are more overseas. It was encouraging
for many of us that the immediate reaction to 11 September was
not military action but building a broad coalition. We have seen
that in some ways overriding some previous disciplines and in
particular we have seen some very positive US/Russian relations
developed. Alongside that, one of the immediate responses was
the invoking of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Yet we
have not seen NATO directly involved in military operations as
far as we can tell at the moment. Why is that? Is the US experience
in Kosovo significant within that?
(Mr Webb) No, I do not think so. It is just the way
the initial campaign has unfolded. The sort of military forces
which were applicable were best deployed by a relatively small
number of countries. If I may just go over it, NATO has actually
taken a number of specific actions. It released the NATO AWACS
airborne early warning force to go to the United States to allow
the Americans to deploy more aircraft to the region. They have
redeployed the NATO standing naval forces to the eastern Mediterranean.
They have helped the US in innumerable ways with overflights,
access to ports and airfields and so on. The NATO planning machinery
stands ready to help in other ways. There has been perhaps rather
more going on less visibly. Funnily enough an American was saying
to me the other day that in Los Angeles the NATO AWACS force is
shown quite regularly on evening TV doing the job in the United
States and that is seen as a great contribution. Curiously enough
it is visible there. NATO stands ready. I have been to a number
of NATO meetings, including the Defence Ministers' meeting, at
which it was quite clear that a very wide range of countries was
ready to act and to do so quickly. The decision on NATO AWACS
was certainly within 36 hours and probably 24. The request came
in, it went through the system. There really is no question of
decision-making delay, it is just the nature of the initial part
of this campaign that it has worked out like that. I do want to
underscore the importance you have made on coalitions and all
part of our job is that we can operate effectively in coalitions.
(Major-General Milton) In many ways NATO acts as a
glue in military terms. The fact that we are used to working together,
have common procedures, have common doctrine, we know a lot of
the people involved personally, means that even if we are operating
in an operation without NATO, NATO still acts as a very powerful
binding mechanism to enable us to operate more effectively. Sometimes
because it is not visible that is not always understood but it
is something I would give emphasis to from my point of view.
25. I can accept that and see that. It acts
as a military glue. Are you confident that extends politically?
This weekend we have seen rumblings in the media and now grumblings
in Europe. Is NATO holding up, standing together in terms of political
leadership feeling involved across NATO and consulted?
(Mr Webb) I am sorry to keep tossing this in other
directions, but I will give you my perspective on the answer.
You will clearly have to ask the Foreign Office about that and
we operate in groups within governments, so all these components
are there when we are involved in managing crisis. The view of
the Foreign Office is that the international coalition remains
strong and that key countries right across the worldnot
just talking about European countries but also the Organisation
of Islamic Conference, China, have all been very solid in their
support. There are democracies. You hear views aired, but I thing
"strong" remains the right word.
26. In the war on terrorism, how do you see
the balance of effort between NATO and the EU now? To what extent
is the integrated military structure of NATO relevant to the military
response? How might it do more?
(Mr Webb) The declaration of Article 5 was important.
The recognition that this scale of terrorism is a collective Defence
problem is a NATO issue and a lot of the military capabilities
required are high end military capabilities. They are intensive
warfare in a way. I think that will take NATO into very much dealing
with this as an external problem. The EU, perhaps less visibly,
has done a lot of very good work under pillar 3 which is the international
security dimension of the EU in knitting together the campaign
against terrorism internally: police, borders, finance and that
kind of thing. A lot of very good work has been going on there,
perhaps less televisual but good work. The ESDP, the European
security defence initiative, will probably not be particularly
involved in countering terrorism directly, but has become in my
view even more important since 11 September because the international
security agenda is still full with other issues. None of the other
problems we see around the world in Africa, etcetera, have gone
away. You could argue the Middle East is even less settled than
it was. Therefore we see an important role for ESDP in providing
another avenue for crisis management and for tackling other issues
which may come up. The key final point I want to make is that
what is absolutely vital is that EU/ESDP/NATO work well together.
There has been some good swapping of people at meetings and that
is absolutely something which will be vitally important and I
have seen that spirit there across most of what I have observed.
(Major-General Milton) I come back to this business
of enablers and the emphasis we gave in SDR to deployability,
to joint rapid reaction forces. We very much created a model for
other countries to follow in that respect and we are now seeing
that. I would not pretend that we are there, but we are moving
in that direction: a greater emphasis on deployability, deep strike,
deep reach, so we can influence. The process was already underway
but we gave added emphasis to it in SDR. We are moving. JRRF is
a real concept. I have commanded the commando brigade, a member
of those forces, and we are moving very much in that direction.
That is an example we see for the rest of Europe and we are seeing
great interest and momentum in that way.
Chairman: We are awaiting the MoD's analysis
of Saif Sareea and we shall be having a session to question them
on the lessons they have learnt so far. We move on to another
aspect of international developments.
27. May I go back slightly on the NATO involvement
and the take-up and why they do not seem to be involved? We read
today that Germany has committed 4,000 troops and about 100 of
their special forces to the campaign. It would appear, if you
read the papers, that Tony Blair has squeezed Schröder to
do something and he has reacted. Tony Blair will be in the United
Nations on Saturday urging other countries to do more than talk
to add to it. While it might well be easy to say that NATO reacted
straightaway and are participating, it would appear that the Prime
Minister has been the catalyst to draw it out. Would you agree
with that or do you go back on your previous statement that everything
(Mr Webb) The Prime Minister has played a leading
role, but these are countries who reach their own views as well.
I would commend to you an important speech which Chancellor Schröder
made, it must have been about the beginning of October on these
matters and Germany's role. I think that indicates that there
was a clear sense of renewed commitment there.
28. We have gone through a process with the
ESDP of honing it and getting it better and after the capabilities
exercises we know that the conventional structure was in place,
although there is some doubt about the satellite centre being
available and being good enough and intelligence, etcetera. Do
we really need to review the ESDP to make sure it fits in with
the present international situation? The review needs to take
that into consideration. There must have been a sea change and
we are learning fast and it has overrun the ESDP planning. I hope
that the review will take into account a need to look at that,
even if you did not think it was necessary.
(Mr Webb) I did not say it was not necessary to look
at it. We will certainly look at it as part of this overall review.
I mentioned that we have a whole segment of the review looking
at the international organisations. We need to take a preliminary
review because there are decisions this autumn, there is a capability
improvements conference and various other important ESDP events
coming up. My first take on this is that the ability to undertake
a limited range of the task set up under Petersberg is going to
be a very useful addition to the capacity of the international
community to manage a range of international security problems.
My first cut at it is that I do not think that we need particularly
to adapt the ESDP. What we need to do is to get it in place.
29. One of the best things is the international
coalition. Out of all bad things come good things. That is one
of the binding things we have: global acceptance by certain nations
that we need to come together in stress and to do something positive.
Is it beginning to wobble? There is a great deal of pressure on
certain states because the bombing campaign has appeared in the
press to be causing great resentment amongst their people, but
is it likely to break up? If it does, what diplomatic arrangements
can we take to replace it?
(Mr Webb) We need to continue to discuss the situation
with coalition partners but I remain where the Foreign Office
remains which is that the coalition is still strong. All coalitions
require continuous attention, talk to people and go over the issues
with them and exchange views and so on. I remain of the view that
it is strong.
30. If it is not? If there were a problem with
it, is there a plan B?
(Mr Webb) Ministers have told me about speculation
and I do not need to go off down that direction.
31. Has the crisis brought about a fundamental,
long-term change in the situation in the Middle East and the Gulf
and in the relationship between Russia and the US? How will this
shift affect UK defence interests? That is quite a big one.
(Mr Webb) I shall take it in two parts. We would all
like to see renewed progress on the Middle East stability peace
process. It is too soon to draw any long-term conclusions beyond
that. On Russia, this has certainly turned out to be an area in
which there is a spirit of co-operation with Russia which was
evident when I accompanied Mr Hoon to Moscow in October and there
was certainly that spirit of co-operation and a willingness to
reach new understanding there. That could be important in the
medium term. We do not need to jump into anything. It is an area
where one could find options to work together. There are questions
on which we can get together and talk about some more of the detail
with Russia which we perhaps were not able to do before. It is
encouraging and you are right to put your finger on that as something
which over the medium term could be quite a significant development.
32. Despite the spirit of amity, indeed co-operation
exuding from this Committee towards you, I really feel I cannot
allow you to get away with that answer to Mr Rapson on whether
the coalition will hold together by saying it is speculation.
When we bring together the Policy Director, head of Joint Doctrine
and Concepts and the Chief of Defence Intelligence, perhaps we
could have a slight re-definition of your limited answer to the
question on whether the coalition is holding together that it
is not really something for you or you do not want to speculate.
You can perhaps go a little further to reassure us what is being
done to keep the coalition together and a slightly longer answer
than you gave, please.
(Mr Webb) Okay. A great deal of work is going on to
maintain an international consensus. I am sure the Foreign Office
will forgive me for going through what has been in many ways good
work done by them. Let us begin with the UN Security Council.
In response to the attacks the UN Security Council passed a resolution
calling on states to work together to bring justice to perpetrators
and organisers and sponsors of terrorist attacks and stressed
that those responsible for aiding, supporting or harbouring the
perpetrators or organisers would be held accountable. A further
resolution, 1373, went further than any UN resolution has gone
in this area before and imposed mandatory obligations on all states
to tackle the terrorist menace worldwide. It is the first resolution
which imposes obligations on all states to respond to a global
threat. At that level, within the highest level of the international
community there has been a unanimity of purpose which has been
recognised in those two resolutions. In other fora, in the G8
for example, the heads of government of the G8, which includes
of course the leading Europeans, US, Russia, Japan and Canada,
agreed on the need to strengthen the fight against terrorism by
cutting off financing, to strengthen aviation security, toughen
up arms export controls, enhanced co-operation on intelligence
and security. Within the Middle East area the Organisation of
Islamic Conferences at a meeting of Ministers on 10 October provided
unqualified support for the military action and was explicit in
condemning Al-Qaeda and asserted categorically that terrorism
was against the central tenets of Islam. An extremely important
statement by a very important organisation. Looking more widely,
China has said that she opposes terrorism in any form, hoping
that relevant military strikes on terrorism would be targeted
at specific objectives, so as to avoid hurting innocent civilians.
Japan strongly supports the action taken by the US and Britain
and said that we must co-operate with each other and fight against
terrorism dauntlessly. I have already mentioned some of the action
by the EU. These are democracies, so you will hear views, you
will hear debate, properly so. I think that the evidence of that
action in international fora, the statements of leading countries,
do underpin that the coalition is strong. All coalitions need
work. Mr Hoon has done a lot of visiting and is visiting the Middle
East this week. The Prime Minister has travelled, the Foreign
Secretary has travelled. We are on the phone to our contacts in
many fora continuously. Yes, coalitions like families need work.
I stand by my appraisal that the situation remains strong and
I do not think therefore I am in a position to start sketching
out how it might become weaker.
33. We know about the visits made by Ministers.
Just give us some sort of indication of what sort of level of
contacts there would be between the UK and coalition partners
at your level, at a lower level, a military level, just to give
an indication of how an informal alliance under pressure is able
to carry on its activities to enhance the overall advantage of
the alliance. Do you have meetings with policy officials?
(Mr Webb) On Monday we had a meeting of what are called
the strategy directors of the ESDP countries. Although we were
actually pushing forward a range of ESDP businessand it
was an informal meeting so there was no communiqué but
I am sure my colleagues would not mind me sayingwe took
time during that meeting to have a discussion about our perspectives
on international terrorism. We talked about some of the issues
we have talked about this morning. We have had similar discussions
between military colleagues and between the military commanders
of countries involved; at SHAPE, where military staff gather together,
these issues are discussed a lot of the time. It is not just at
ministerial level, we have a range of contacts across the piece.
(Air Marshal French) If I may put that into a specialist
field, the nature of my own business demands strong liaison throughout
the year. There is very much a unanimity of purpose in this. That
is not to say we do not have different interpretations occasionally
of what has actually gone on, perhaps also different interpretations
of the effects of military action which stems from actionable
intelligence. Part of our understanding of countries is to understand
the sensitivities of countries which have large Muslim populations
and that perhaps the line they are putting to the public media
is walking a very thin tightrope between keeping their own country
coherent but also to support the international fight against terrorism.
Part of that process is a very intricate network of liaison both
at my level and my subordinates. I was in Australia and Singapore
only last week to get a different perspective and a broader understanding
of this situation worldwide. We have to be careful that we have
the correct interpretation of sensitivities and we do not perhaps
too readily take the media interpretation of those sensitivities.
We do not always see eye to eye but there is very good and strong
co-operation on this issue.
34. May I ask you to look at the memorandum
which was sent to the Committee on the need to revisit the SDR
post-11 September? We heard you earlier on talk about the Cabinet
Office's Civil Contingencies Secretariat. You said they were going
to try to study a series of events. Could you elaborate more on
that? Can you tell us what has been done so far since 11 September?
(Mr Webb) There has been a variety of gatherings.
They are of a brainstorming nature. In trying to guess what kind
of events you might face, you need to get imaginative people in
a room and let them bounce ideas off one another. There have been
several brainstorming events and we are getting to the stage where
we shall start to draw those into a catalogue. I hasten to say
that this is not supposed to be some prediction, it is an analytical
tool which allows you then to work out how you would counter such
attacks and what sort of generic capabilities you need in terms
of forces on our side or consequence management in the case of
the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in order to deal with these
issues. I would say that we have a string of possible events and
we shall need to hone those down into some which will form the
basis for our analytical effort.
35. Still on the same paragraph, you spoke earlier
about the need for different government departments to be involved;
the Treasury would obviously need very much to follow those plans
because no matter what you do you have to be prepared to pay for
it; someone has to pay for it. Your memorandum does not mention
the Scottish Executive because obviously the Scottish Parliament
are the policy-making body for home affairs and law and order.
Would the Scottish Executive and even the Northern Ireland Assembly
and the Welsh Assembly be brought into it as well?
(Mr Webb) Absolutely; yes. This is an interface we
are reasonably used to on the Defence side because Defence covers
the whole of the UK, but we have found interaction of that kind
and the civil contingencies machinery does include those departments
or in the case of Wales the Assembly itself participates in the
way you understand. Yes; absolutely.
36. Therefore it is not only government departments,
it is Executive and Assembly departments too.
(Mr Webb) Yes, in Wales there is that special situation
in which those two things overlap. We have had some practice in
this on foot-and-mouth.
37. We are acutely aware that the original SDR
report slipped very badly. Is there a time limit for this report
to be published? Are you going to guarantee it is going to be
published early summer, May or June or can we expect it earlier?
(Mr Webb) That is Mr Hoon's choice finally and he
saw this note and there is a timing in here of spring/early summer.
If action is needed, we want to get this done at the right pace
for that. I would stand by my point earlier that getting perspective
on 11 September and the ensuing events is important, in particular
if we end up having to make some important investment decisions,
you want to make sure those are well founded because you will
live with them for a long time. There is a kind of balance in
there. One other thing we ought to be doing one way and another
is getting some thoughts from us about the studies we have been
doing out and about. How hard the conclusions and decisions are
is another question. I do take very seriously the point that the
public should expect us to be addressing this seriously and I
take Mr Jones' point about that. Therefore we are certainly scheduling
to be able to publish something by spring/early summer. The slight
qualification is that if big military operations of some kind
were under way at the same time it might feel wrong. The other
qualification is that if there is anything which needs to be done
urgently on homeland defence in the areas where the MoD leads,
then it will happen at the pace it needs to happen and we shall
not wait for the studies.
38. Paragraph 6 of your memorandum also says,
"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".
Could you speak specifically on those mechanisms and what use
you have been making of them so far?
(Mr Webb) If we need to make an adjustment to our
defence capacity to deal with the current problem, then we have
a procedure called urgent operational requirements, which describes
pretty much what it is. We have a very good understanding both
within MoD, but also if necessary with the Treasury, about handling
that and making sure that we deal with it in the way that is required.
We have a process which as you see is slightly separate from the
policy and long-term capability development. The difference is
that sometimes you need something for a particular operation which
is only really needed for that operation because it happens in
a part of the world where you did not necessarily expect to be
doing it again. To put it bluntly, in that case you buy something
cheap and cheerful to do that job. If you are going to build military
capability, then you have to have the full logistics and backup
so it stays in service for many years. The approach to procurement
can be somewhat different; people would rather have something
quickly that does not have a long life than wait for something
which is very robust to arrive later. That is the characteristic
of urgent operational requirements. We have a well fashioned system
and if we have to go to the Treasury and talk about that then
I would invariably expect to get a sympathetic reaction.
39. Have you had any previous experience of
a sympathetic response?
(Mr Webb) Yes, for Kosovo. These are things which
happen within the campaign cycle, things you do very quickly in
order to plug gaps you find out about when you go to a particular
scenario. It is different from the long-term capability issues.