Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
WEDNESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2001
FRENCH CBE FRAES
RAF AND MAJOR-GENERAL
40. May I raise a point which was raised earlier
regarding public opinion and the public viewpoint? Will the public
be given the opportunity to give their viewpoints, will they be
listened to and is it not really just a type of very soft PR exercise?
I know that the public have been asked for their views before.
What systems did you use before in the SDR? You are presumably
doing that again. What lessons if any did you learn from the previous
exercise on which you will be able to improve over the next couple
(Mr Webb) In the SDR we invited written comments from
a wide range of people. We had some views we were not expecting,
particularly on the interface with NGOs. I do not want to cite
a particular NGO but we had some very stimulating contributions
which actually changed how we approached certain issues. We also
have invited seminars and we had a somewhat wider process of consultation.
I expect quite a lot of those elements to be there in this one.
I have actually invited the people who are running the individual
study teams not to wait for a process, but if they want to invite
experts to come and join in then they are just free to go and
find people and Tony has already being doing some of that. I have
a sense, but you are telling me as much about this, that there
is a desire in public to know a bit more about the wider exercise.
I am considering whether we might see whether we could have a
discussion piece maybe through the exercise which we would put
out, maybe on the website or something, somehow make it widely
41. More widely than a website. We do not all
(Mr Webb) Indeed. Maybe it is true that although the
Strategic Defence Review was of interest to groups of people,
there is a wider spread of interest in this subject which we ought
to meet by making something available. Perhaps we should go out
and get groups of people and talk to them. I am exuding an intention
to do this well rather than trapping myself into particular commitments
on how to do it.
42. I am very interested in the fact that you
would try to use as wide a scope as possible, certainly not just
a website, because I am of the opinion that it would only be certain
people who would use a website. I would prefer to see it in newspapers.
More specifically I think that the Muslim communities throughout
the length and breadth of the country should have some input as
they do have something to say and should be listened to.
(Mr Webb) On listening, we have not had contact about
that yet but I did part of the previous Defence Review myself
which was on smart acquisition. The one thing people would say
is that we did go out and talk to lots of people and we did listen.
That is very much my style and we know we will get views which
will surprise us and that is what we want.
(Major-General Milton) From early on in this crisis
we have actually engaged a small number of academics and asked
for their perspective. Your point about the Muslim community is
very interesting. We have also sought views from Muslim academics
and the Muslim community to try to break away from this danger
of thinking of it purely from a western military perspective.
We have to understand it from the other point of view. If I may
reassure you, we have been doing that from an early stage. We
have also been doing it fairly discreetly for obvious reasons.
We understand that it is absolutely vital that we do not just
see it from our own stovepipe perspective.
Patrick Mercer: You have talked about
additional resources perhaps having to be added to cope with specific
Chairman: I do not think he quite said
43. The possibility. Extra resources are fine
in terms of equipment but in a briefing recently from ACGS, we
were told that the shortfall in manpower, particularly for the
army, has reached a position from which there is little hope of
increasing it. A fairly remarkable statement he made to me was
that yes, there were likely to be incremental additions of manpower
but that commitments would be reduced, in other words take the
seats away, to make the numbers fit the seats as opposed to the
other way round. What hope do you have should extra manpower be
needed of being able to achieve that?
(Mr Webb) I do not think I was there when Richard
Dannatt went through that with you, so I do not want to cross
comment on that. I know the enormous effort the army is making
on recruiting and it will be interesting to see whether the current
focus on defence and security issues catches young people's attention
and makes them interested in the army. That would be a slightly
positive side effect if it came to pass. What I am absolutely
clear about is that if we are resource constrained in any way,
particularly on people, the one thing we must avoid doing is just
to pile that burden onto the soldiers, sailors and airmen. One
of the reasons I was careful with Mr Howarth was that nowadays
we are operating coalitions, we have choices about what operations
we do and in my previous job I talked to the Committee many times
about choices of that kind. Sometimes you need to say to allies,
and this is one good reason for building coalitions and defence
ability, that we are going to have to sit this one out, either
this operation entirely or this roulement of an operation
where you replace the early entry force with a follow-up force.
Part of our job is to try to manage that balance. Mr Hoon is very
determined not to dump this problem on the individual servicemen.
Task Force Harvest is a good example. There was something the
UK could do and really the UK were the only people who could move
fast enough to get a brigade headquarters into Macedonia to intervene
at an important time. Speed was important but we made it absolutely
clear that that was all we could do and that because we had Saif
Sareea and other pressures coming up that was it. We talked to
our colleagues, the same sort of colleagues I was talking to on
Monday, and said "Where can you help, please?". Interestingly
this was before 11 September and Germany came through and said
they would take it on next and they have been leading the following
task force and we have not been involved beyond a couple of staff
officers. That is part of it too and we need to manage it.
44. Forgive me. We are talking about trying
to deal with an expanded problem with a number of men which is
not sufficiently large to deal with the current set of problems.
You talk about aspirations for finding people willing to volunteer,
but it takes time to train them.
(Mr Webb) Yes.
45. What is being done now to have measures
in place to recruit?
(Mr Webb) The army is trying as hard as it possibly
can on recruiting and I am sure Richard Dannatt explained that
better than I could. We will need to look, ifand there
is an ifwe do find this subject starts to require additional
manpower, at whether there are efficiencies to be made elsewhere
or deductions to be made elsewhere. The number of troops we have
in the Balkans is something we keep under continual review and
we need to look at numbers of troops we need to retain for collective
NATO infrastucture. You need to keep looking at this. You do not
want to assume everything else is static is all I am saying.
Chairman: I still have not managed to
work out why the last Government and the present Government substantially
cut the Gurkhas at the same time as we had a major recruitment
crisis. Maybe wandering around Nepal might be a very swift method
of enhancing our grave shortage in the infantry.
46. On the present situation, is not the challenge
that the situation is bad now and what we are into now is possibly
an open-ended commitment, something we cannot see an end to? Is
that not going to add to the pressures which have already been
(Mr Webb) I do not know about open ended. We should
be trying to bring it to a conclusion in the sense that we need
to respond to 11 September and get to a conclusion on that in
whatever time it takes. I do not consider ourselves to be necessarily
into an open-ended deployment in that sense. We may, as you rightly
say, have to consider having the possibility of doing subsequent
operations because of the international terrorism problem in general,
but we need to factor that in to whatever else we are doing. I
have a sense that something additional may come out of our studies,
but if it does, we need to look at what else is happening in the
world, that is all.
47. What you have just said does not actually
fit. What is coming out at the moment and certainly from the United
States is that this is going to be a long haul, a long campaign.
What you are saying is that you can see an end to this. A lot
of people cannot. Is that going to add to the pressures Mr Mercer
(Mr Webb) I do not want, if I may, to get into the
question of commenting on the length of the current campaign.
48. But it still has to be taken into consideration
when you are reviewing.
(Mr Webb) The answer is that we do not know yet, which
is why we need to take six months to think it through. "Indefinite"
has major implications. This is the point. A campaign is one thing,
an indefinite further requirement for extra forces is another
thing. We need to spend some time mulling over whether that is
the case. Forgive me, we do not jump immediately from the conceptual
work into particular types of forces. There is a lot of work to
be done to say ififthere is an ongoing new international
terrorist dimension of a very long-term nature, set aside the
question of a campaign but a new international long-term high
security problem, we have a process which starts off with Tony
doing work on concepts for dealing with that. A lot of the tools
for dealing with that may be in other spheres: they may be diplomatic,
they may involve building coalitions with regional partners. The
military is only one small component of an overall campaign against
terrorism. We then need to work out what type of military capability
we are talking about which requires further study and thought
and how far it is manpower intensive, how far it is equipment
intensive, whether friends in technology can help in this area.
All I am trying to say is that there is a long way to go on that
part of it and it is not helpful to jump to conclusions. You are
right to make sure we get to conclusions in the end, but it is
not useful to speculate in month one of the study where we shall
be in months six to nine.
49. No, but the danger is that you are going
to spread the jam increasingly thinly across the actual board
and you are perhaps going to have to face up to some very serious
questions on whether we do withdraw from some of the commitments
we have already. Are those questions being asked as part of this
(Mr Webb) They will be when we have worked out whether
there is an additional task and how much it takes to do it. We
shall have exactly to say whether it is extra or it is something
we should accommodate by reducing elsewhere. This is the February
discussion. We need to spend time at the moment working out what
is the right thing to do. I have not been constrained in looking
at that. We have been told to think it through and get it right.
You do not want instantly to assume that the best ways of dealing
with this are very manpower intensive, they may not be.
(Major-General Milton) We increasingly think in terms
of effect. We ask ourselves what effect we are trying to create
and then work backwards. We do not want to have people immediately
coming forward with bills saying they need more of this, more
of that, more of that. Ask yourself what effect you are trying
to create and then work backwards. We find that is a much more
effective way of planning in these terms.
50. Almost regardless of how long a campaign
it may or may not be, are there not post-Taleban military implications?
If, as we are, we are committed to talking now about that situation
and about creating a stable Afghanistan in order for a democracy
to emerge and so on, surely there are military implications to
that and therefore resource implications and if we look anywhere
else in the world where we have performed that role, it has taken
a long time. What discussions have there been about that? It goes
back to what Mr Mercer was saying and Mr Howarth and all of those
questions about resources.
(Mr Webb) People are thinking long term. Do not just
think national. Even if you have those kinds of jobs to be done,
would British forces necessarily be the best pick even if they
are the best forces? There may be other dimensions to it. One
is in a process of discussion with coalitions about these things
in which there are a lot of actors.
51. Can we return to the substance of the review
itself? I understand that on Monday there was a report in The
Guardianso it may of course be a fabricationof a
suggestion that the review would focus on homeland defence. Given
that the SDR was predicated on being foreign policy led, can you
tell us whether this review will be homeland defence led or foreign
(Mr Webb) It is an important question. There are two
work strands: one is homeland defence and the other is countering
terrorism predominantly offshore. I shall ask Tony to talk about
the military doctrine issues of this. Let me start off by saying
that the manoeuvrist instinct which you can read about in British
Defence Doctrine, tends to take you to engaging these kinds of
people upstream where they are planning, building, preparing,
moving, rather than waiting for them to come to you. We have sought
to avoid Maginot Line sorts of approaches. On the other hand,
as the Chairman has indicated, one of the first items in the list
of military responsibilities is the defence of the homeland. I
have a sense, a strengthened sense having listened to members
of this Committee today, that that is an important dimension of
at least what the public would like the armed forces to be doing.
The answer to your question is both. We shall talk to the Home
Office and civil contingencies people about one and we shall talk
to the Foreign Office about the other and we shall do all this
in groups together within government. The balance of what we do
is a really good question. There could be an interesting question
about where you invest most effectively. Perspective is important
here because we should not just react to the situation as we immediately
feel it. We need to take a bit of time to get this balance right.
I take both of those very seriously. It has been interesting,
as we have debated this amongst ourselves that we have come back
more strongly to the homeland side than perhaps we started off.
(Major-General Milton) From a doctrinal perspective
we looked at it in terms of deep, close and rear operations. May
I give you a conventional analogy? If we had a force deployed
in the Gulf conducting conventional operations, the deep operations
would be those operations some way away from the forward edge
of the battle area to try to attack units before they had even
gone into battle formation. Close operations, as the name indicates,
will be an operation conducted within the forward edge of the
battle area. The rear operations are all those operations which
sustain it: the operations to mount out from the UK, to run the
lines of communication and to support the troops in the field.
It is a little early to say, but that construct will actually
serve us quite well in looking at counter-terrorist operations.
The deep operations you can see going out, pre-empting, dealing
with people before they have the capacity to mount an attack against
you, or perhaps attacking them in transit. We will have a requirement
for close operations. We will be dealing with terrorists head
on, perhaps back in the UK, but we shall also have this responsibility
of looking after the home base and our ability to mount out. The
key question, as you quite rightly identified, is the balance
of investment. I would emphasise that we do all three of these
concurrently. They are not alternatives. The key is how much we
spend on deep, how much we spend on close, how much we spend on
rear. That is what we have to ask ourselves. Some hard questions
may be asked on that. Our instincts and indeed in conventional
operations and in counter-terrorist operations tell us that actually
the biggest pay-off is deep. That is where you get the best pay-off.
That has been our experience over many years. The problem of course
is the practicality. Can you do it in military terms, can you
do it in legal terms, can you do it in political terms?
52. There is also a question of timescale.
(Major-General Milton) Time and above all intelligence.
53. I am sure we all accept that thesis which
you have set out. Quite clearly these guys have a ten-year head
start on this so the deep penetration work of which you speak
is work which is going to take us a long time to put together
in order to be able to tackle the problems at source.
(Major-General Milton) Indeed and I would emphasise
that this is not just a military problem. In fact in many phases
of the campaign the military instrument may be of relatively low
priority or non-existent.
54. We understand that and quite clearly intelligence
is a key factor in all this, as Air Vice Marshal Sturley pointed
out to us when we came to the Ministry of Defence the other day.
Given the immediate threat is certainly perceived by the public
to be to the homeland and the need to deal with that, in the United
States President Bush has appointed this chap to be Director of
the Office of Homeland Security. Do you think we should have something
like that in the United Kingdom? You have told us about the Civil
Contingencies Secretariat, which is a bit of a mouthful for a
start and secondly not very visible. Do you think it would send
a reassuring message out to the public if the Government were
to set up such an office for homeland security in the United Kingdom?
(Mr Webb) Having worked in the United States and with
the US Government for some years you do have to be very careful
about the differences in structures here. We are very used to
working in collective Cabinet Office run structures. The person
who runs the Civil Contingencies Secretariat can get fast reactions
from government departments.
55. Who is it?
(Mr Webb) I am not sure whether his name is public.
I shall just check that. It should be.
56. Do you know who it is?
(Mr Webb) Yes.
57. He certainly is not very visible is he?
(Mr Webb) We officials are quiet. Let me just check.
I am sure there is no problem but I just do not happen to know
whether the post has been made public. I have worked with that
kind of unit run by the Cabinet Office on exercises and I am happy
that it is very effective and the range of departments in the
UK is very much used to working together on these things. He has
immediate resource to Ministers day by day and to senior Ministers
if he needs them, so if there was any kind of need for ministerial
clout, I know he would get it. That is a good solution and it
is our way of doing the same thing. It will work all right.
58. Do we have to redefine the home defence
role? Is there a case for increasing the activities of the Territorial
Army and reserve forces?
(Mr Webb) That is an interesting question. Would you
indulge me just to give a little talk-in about military support
for civil powers? We are going round this issue and I have a little
which I did mention to the Clerk that we might get to.
59. Before we get onto military support for
civil powers, may I suggest that there is a military issue here?
There is a suggestion for example that the Territorial Army should
be called up. There was a report on Sunday in The People that
missiles were set to foil terror blitz on nuke plants, which is
obviously tabloid-speak for a possible ramping up of defence of
key potential targets for terrorists. I understand that there
is now an air exclusion zone of two miles over power stations.
(Mr Webb) Yes.
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