Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-219)



Patrick Mercer

  200. You will both be aware of the highly innovative and extremely successful human and technical advances that have been made against the campaign in Northern Ireland. In particular it strikes me as being strange, I understand that command is not purely military, there is a share of both Home Office and military, these organisations are not being vastly expanded or plans are not being put in place to use these organisations to combat the threat we have been talking about?
  (Professor Rogers) I think one has to recognise the events of 11 September are related very much to the United States and its own intelligence gathering and security operations. The United States has tended to take a much stronger view towards signal intelligence, allied forces and reconnaissance and far less in terms of on the ground operatives. It has been primarily a United States action in terms of responding to the various attacks that we have seen in the Gulf and else where over the last 10 years. In other words, I do not think there has been a recognition within the United States community of the kind of lessons that might come out of Northern Ireland. I think we also have to recognise that in the case of the conflict in Northern Ireland you have a whole range of security and intelligence gathering but beyond that a huge range political moves to actually address the core problems from which the troubles in Northern Ireland have arisen. In terms of the longer term perspective of progress towards peace in Northern Ireland, while the intelligence and other techniques have been significant I think the political and economic action are the ones which have really given real cause that we are moving into a more peaceful time.

  201. The whole concept of deterrence and reassurance in Northern Ireland has been taken several rungs up the ladder, attacks being detected at an earlier stage rather than being interdicted.
  (Professor Rogers) The problem is that Northern Ireland is a province within the United Kingdom, it is an integral part of the British economic system. What one would be talking about is having an equivalent of that in, for example, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Algeria or Egypt. In other words, what a government might do within its territorial boundaries may be much more difficult to apply by a government in areas which it does not have control over.

  202. I heard you talk about extending the Ulster model into mainland United Kingdom. I was talking about extending the Ulster model into mainland United Kingdom.
  (Professor Rogers) I suspect to some extent that may already be happening.
  (Sir Tim Garden) I have some difficulty, to be honest, with a direct comparison to Northern Ireland terrorism. Although there were, of course, hunger strikers who were prepared to die for the cause in Northern Ireland, by and large most of the terrorists prefer to survive to fight another day in Northern Ireland, which suggests that the deterrence can operate. If your idea is that you want to die then deterrence becomes much more difficult in this particular case.

  Patrick Mercer: I understand that.

Kevan Jones

  203. Just picking up on the point you are making about having somebody in charge of homeland defence. Clearly terrorists do not recognise Whitehall's bounds and responsibilities. To what extent, if did you appoint, whether it be a cabinet minister or some supremo like in the United States, would they be thwarted by the internal Whitehall departmentalism which will continue? The only alternative is to have one joined up department, which would be very difficult. It would be very difficult for anybody who had that job to fight against the departmentalism that is endemic in Whitehall.
  (Sir Tim Garden) That is why I said it needs to be considered. I think what you have suggested there is a very real problem because there is nothing worse that ending up with a job where you get all of the flak when it goes wrong and you do not have any control over the resources to make it go right. That is part of the problem that Tom Ridge is having, he has a very impressive set of terms of reference but actually getting all of the departments to point in the same direction and the various intelligence agencies and, of course, the added problem in the United States of the States having a different view to Federal Government, all of that means that he is getting quite a lot of criticism. In a way we are better placed than the United States because we are used to authoritarian ministers directing everybody to get on with things. It would seem to me that if it were to work it would need to be a pretty senior figure who had the ability to knock heads together, move resources from one area to another and it needs to be somebody who has no other remit. The reason I think it needs to be a single departmental activity is that they must not have any special interests of their own, apart from promoting the security of the citizens of the United Kingdom at home. That would be quite a radical change, which is why I say it looks like a possible way forward. I think the worst thing would be to end up with a sort of public figure who is told that it is your problem, you go on the television and explain what we are doing, and all of that, but does not actually have the whip to crack to get the resources shifted where they are needed.

  204. A terrorist tsar?
  (Sir Tim Garden) We do not need a terrorist tsar.

  Chairman: We have a couple of questions on United Kingdom Defence Doctrine.

Mike Hancock

  205. I want to ask those questions, but I am interested in the Cabinet post, I listened very interestingly to the health minister in France, who also has the direct responsibility for handling the response to terrorism and threats to the public and the home based terrorism by the French government. He was saying that has been very successful. The French people have looked to the appointment of a single individual who was going to coordinate the approach as being very reassuring, particularly because he is such a well known personality and has a giant ego himself.
  (Sir Tim Garden) He would need one of those.

  206. He is not short of jumping in front of camera. He tries to say something about the issue on a regular basis to the people of France, telling them what they are doing to bring equipment to bear and put pressure on local government and resourcing it. The issue he raised was the fact that they had to significantly increase their financial contribution to home based support, but the consequence was that they had to reduce expenditure within the normal defence budget. When you talked about how we paid, if we assume in reality there is not going to be a great deal of new money then there is a great threat there, is there not, to the rest of the defence review and what gets moved and what gets dropped. Do you have any suggestion—we have Mr Hoon coming here this afternoon, it is good question for him—if we are not going to get a great deal of new money where do you suggest, from your planning background, cuts should be?
  (Sir Tim Garden) My first rejoinder would be that it does not come from defence. We are now spending 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence, when in the whole of the Cold War we thought we could afford five per cent, or thereabouts. We are scratching round with half of the proportion of GDP and doing more, a lot more. I would not accept the question to start with but if forced, as inevitably happens in these things—and I worry about the word rebalancing which was in Mr Hoon's statement, "adding a chapter and rebalancing", which to me is MoD speak for zero sum games in terms of resources. The SDR really needs money put into it just to keep it at the level we were all talking about in 1998. There are big problems. What are you going to do? I can give you the list of the equipment programme, you know it as well as me. You can then argue whether particular aspects of it are so important that you are prepared to put at risk, if that is the only place you can get the money from, your ability to respond to real disasters at home. The answer would always be, I would have thought, that the need to protect our citizens at home is more important than what the SDR was talking about which, by and large, were wars of choice. We thought it was important to contribute to international security and stabilise places, and the like, and we have done a pretty good job of that, but we have to draw our horns in, would be the argument, and in a way that would undermine what Paul Rogers was advocating that we need to be doing more overseas with DFID, as well as MoD and the Foreign Office, we need to be stabilising the world even more now. It would be a short-term important change of priorities which might have long-term negative consequences. I would still come back and say, do not get the money from defence.

  207. I can move on the issues relating to our current British Defence Doctrine, do you believe it is flexible enough at the present time to really move in the right direction in combating terrorism or is it too set in its ways?
  (Sir Tim Garden) I think the military element of combating terrorism is such a narrow part of the whole activity that it is a bit impossible to start answering that question. Obviously we have a number of niche capabilities that if the war is being conducted, as it is at the moment in a far away country, we can show that we are serious players and we do some things which are real military capabilities. If we did not have one or other of those the United States would have come up with its own one. We have flexible forces, we have very small forces, they really are, if they were fully up to strength and we are asking them to do a lot of different things which they do pretty successfully. I do worry that this run of successes is making us feel that we will always have a run of successes. If you have not enough money and not enough people and a run of successes which says we can do anything you might just overcook it one day. I have worries about that. We have done pretty well so far. That reassures me that whatever the government wants the Armed Forces to do they do it pretty well, whether it is foot and mouth or helping a failed state in Sierra Leone, that range of activities
  (Professor Rogers) I would agree with Tim, in essence the defence policy is only one part of the problem when it comes to dealing with the question of political violence and terrorism and Britain's Armed Forces have proved themselves to be probably more versatile than most over the last 10 years and they have embraced some of the peacekeeping roles really quite effectively. I think we are still stuck with some of the Cold War relics, like Trident and Eurofighter, although I understand Eurofighter has performed reasonably well in its trials in Afghan airspace in recent weeks. Essentially I think that is a kind of past legacy which we just have to live with. The forces have adapted quite strongly but I would share Tim's view, that in a sense it is only one small part of the kind of problem we are facing and that does brings us back to the whole question of the nature of defence review, security review and the need for more joined up action in government.

  Mike Hancock: That is an interesting bit of news there that suggests that Eurofighter had been flying over Afghan airspace, that is interesting.


  208. I do not think Roger said that.
  (Professor Rogers) I did say that.

  209. You said the Eurofighter?
  (Professor Rogers) There is word abroad it has been deployed in that theatre, yes.

Mike Hancock

  210. That is exactly what he did say. That is a question we should ask Mr Hoon this afternoon.
  (Sir Tim Garden) Please do not suggest I said it!

  211. There may be a suggestion you were in the cockpit, maybe you would like the thought of that! Let us develop what you said about the British Defence Doctrine. We were told in a recent evidence session that British Defence Doctrine highlights the importance of attacking the enemy's "centre of gravity" and defending our own. If the centre of gravity for us is maintaining cohesion of the coalition, which includes Middle Eastern countries, do we face a dilemma in prosecuting offensive action which puts that cohesion at risk? What are the consequences of a mistake in that direction? It goes back to what you were saying about how do you do something about the insurgencies in countries. Would you say Al-Qaeda is looking at massive intervention to prevent problems there and that the reaction in the rest of the Middle East would be that it would be a catastrophe for that whole region if that was to occur?
  (Sir Tim Garden) I watched the evidence session that came through the wonders of the Parliamentary Channel and I have to say I listened to that with slight surprise. It seemed to me to be the transferring of a military war fighting doctrine on to a particular set of circumstances and the transfer did not seem to work very well. What we do know about counter terrorist operations, and the United Kingdom has long experience in it, is that you need special approaches to each one, because they are all different. You do need to be rebuilding or getting rid of the injustices and the fear among the passive supporters in most cases. You also need to be doing good intelligence and you need to be preventing attacks. Those are, sort of, common to all of the different counter- terrorist activities. Trying to, if you like, put the template of the military doctrine bid on to this seems to me not to work desperately well, maybe I just did not understand what General Milton was saying.
  (Professor Rogers) If you take the example of Saudi Arabia, yes, clearly if there was major destabilisation within the Saudi regime this would present a real quandary for the United States because on the one hand there would be a real risk to oil security but on the other hand any kind of major intervention could have very serious regional implications. That takes us on to the related issue of whether the current US war on terrorism moves on to engage Iraq, because here there is very considerable concern within the Saudi government that this should not happen and real fears that if the United States does move on to, in some way, tackle the Saddam Hussain regime then the Saudi Government will find itself in a lot of difficulty with a substantial part of its own population. It represents a real dilemma for the United States.
  (Sir Tim Garden) In fact it might not be military. One of the implications is that we may have a better chance of getting the Smart Sanctions regime in the UN done as a result of all this. There are other levers apart from the military.

  212. Does the cohesion of the coalition start to come apart once you move away from Afghanistan? Do you feel that the current war on terrorism is for the most part simply defined as the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and the issue in Afghanistan? Do you think there is a willingness in that cohesion to go beyond the current bounds?
  (Professor Rogers) It depends very much on how it goes beyond it. I do not think we should overestimate the extent of the current coalition. There was tremendous support for the United States across a very large part of the global community after 11 September. The support is less strong now as the conflict in Afghanistan moves through. The coalition is essentially very much US-led and US dominated, with Britain playing a significant role, and relatively quite small roles for a limited number of European countries and virtually nothing in the way of a role for NATO, apart from the important AWACS deployment to the United States. The coalition within the region I think one would have to say is rather flaky in terms of countries such as Iran and Pakistan. The central Asian republics, such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are gaining quite heavily from the current conflict because of the flow of resources into these countries. Probably the most successful member of this unusual coalition would be Russia, which has been able to put some forces into Northern Afghanistan, has a very high degree of influence with the Northern Alliance and is in the remarkable position that its very heavy rearming of the Northern Alliance has actually been paid for largely by the United States, and meanwhile Russia is in a far safer position in terms of its behaviour in Chechneya at least at present and over the next year or two. We have to be careful about really looking at how far that coalition does run, particularly in relation to the tensions between the Israelis and the Palestinians which do loom large in the Middle East.
  (Sir Tim Garden) I think we are in danger of getting ourselves slightly muddled in our terms because the United States talks about the war against terrorism, which is an unfortunate term, it is a bit like the war on drugs and the war on crime and it means and all-out effort. Then we use the word "coalition" and we tend to think of that in Gulf War terms, that we put together a military coalition to do military things in the Gulf and some contributors were giving basic contributions. This one is a much more complex one, if we are talking about a long-term operation to reduce the threat of terrorism worldwide, which is a rather long-winded way of saying war on terrorism, what has happened in the Security Council has been important, because you have the Russians and the Chinese pointing in the same direction with the rest of us; you have the Security Council able to do things, you have the United Nations able to the sponsor the current conference at the Petersberg Hotel in Königswinter. You have lots of different coalition efforts, the Iranians are, I would argue, doing rather well out of this at the moment. They have been brought back into the international community, the Americans were very reluctant to talk to Iran before, it is now an important player in this. I think as Afghanistan goes into the post conflict resolution phase there will then be considerations about the way the international community deals with other failing and failed states. That does not necessarily mean dropping bombs on them, it may mean putting aid in, it may mean rebuilding them, it may mean sending people in to help them. There are a whole set of different coalitions that were built from that. I think we get a bit confused about the coalition of the war on terrorism and think about it in Gulf terms.

Jim Knight

  213. Just to follow that up, how do you respond to what is, perhaps, an optimistic scenario that some of these failed states you talked about they realised they are, perhaps, harbouring terrorist cells or whatever, that is clearly pointed out to them, they look at what happened in Afghanistan and get very concerned that it might happen to them and then invite the international community or the United States or whatever to come in and sort out terrorist problems, is that at all likely?
  (Sir Tim Garden) I would have thought that was highly unlikely to be honest, but that would make life very much easier. It may be that as long as we do what we say we are going to do in Afghanistan that is to start rebuilding it and put the resources in they may well say this is a good way of getting ourselves going. One of the problems with failed states is they do not have a government that can make these sort of coherent decisions, they have a lot of fighting going on.
  (Professor Rogers) It is also worth remembering that it seems that quite significant elements of the paramilitary Al-Qaeda network were actually in places like Florida, New Jersey and Germany. There is this tendency to focus on Afghanistan as being the centre of everything, that was significant, certainly, I think if one assumes that the Taliban regime is eventually completely disintegrated, if one assumes that the Al-Qaeda network is more or less destroyed in relation to its facilities in Afghanistan that then this problem goes away I think is really muddled thinking. There is a lot of evidence that most of the Al-Qaeda operatives are no longer in Afghanistan and probably many of them have left before 11 September. It is astonishing how training camp after training camp has been uncovered and bombed that there has been very little evidence of casualties in and round those camps. This takes us back to the point, if you look at from the point of view of the perpetrators of 11 September an awful lot of this had already been thought through.


  214. The commentators who were saying there was no relationship between Al-Qaeda and terrorism are now having to revise their views having seen the manuals. Those who are active in America would have been forced to conclude to say that most of the things the US has done so far have been correct rather than incorrect. I think an argument could be made that even though you are not going to bomb another capital or another country the appearance of the USS Roosevelt somewhere offshore can concentrate the mind wonderfully and result in countries, be they failed states or not failed states, reaching fairly swift conclusion that harbouring the remnants of Al-Qaeda is likely to damage their national health. Is it the threat of force, even if the Americans do not use force. I know James Cable who wrote Diplomacy died recently but is there not a case for considering or giving the impression that you want to use something even if you may not intend to use it?
  (Sir Tim Garden) I think you are absolutely right in that you can deter states, the thing I worry about is that you do not deter suicidal terrorists. It is an important bit and an important part of the operation in Afghanistan to say to a number of other states, "your governments will not survive if you harbour terrorists". That has meant that some of the supporting activities become much more difficult for the terrorists, so I think it is an important part of it.

  215. States supporting terrorism if you cut off their supply, if you cut off intelligence to them, if you cut off the capabilities of your scientific community then it is really difficult for the terrorist organisations to operate in any territory and then much of your resources that were going to be spent or might have been spent on your military are going to be directed towards intelligence, towards your police service, your customs, et cetera et cetera, and they will not have the free run round London or other cities in the country that they had and therefore the noose is tightening.
  (Sir Tim Garden) I do not think I would be a definite as that. I would say it has become more difficult. Particularly in western society we have built ourselves big vulnerabilities by the nature of the way we operate. This is not new. We used to study it in the Cold War, we worried about the fact we had highly vulnerable targets because of the nature of the society we were. That has increased by orders of magnitude. That does bring us back to asymmetric warfare, we have given ourselves vulnerabilities which can be attacked relatively easily.
  (Professor Rogers) Can I come back to a point you raised, one way of looking at it so to say, was there a choice of responses after 11 September. It is always difficult to divide things into two possibilities but it can help to do this. Essentially the United States decided almost immediately, and perhaps inevitably, that what was required was a strong military response which would be focussed on the Taliban regime and the Al-Qaeda network and it has a fair amount of coalition support for that, it is strong in Britain, it is much less strong in the rest of Europe, we do have to remember that. The alternative that it could have taken, but certainly did not take, would have been to take what you might call the international law route, to build up a much stronger coalition with very close and effective participation of a number of regional countries to work out ways of bringing the network to justice, even though it would take some years.

  216. You cannot be serious, I know on paper it sounds—
  (Professor Rogers) Can I follow through, those essentially are the two possibilities, one would involve military action as soon as you were in a position to do it, another one involve an alternative route. We have taken a military path and this I think is likely to lead on in due course to further action against other hot spots, Yemen and Somalia and almost certainly before too long Iraq as well. I do know not know at the present time whether that path is going to work in the longer term. If this Committee was in session in 10 years' time that would be the time to look at it. I do remember very clearly that people expected in 1991 that the Gulf War problem was over and Saddam Hussain was finished and that has not happened.

  217. On the other hand you had people arguing, including myself for a little while, certainly you argued, that taking military action against the Falklands was rather stupid and the same people argued that taking military action against the Serbs in Bosnia was wrong in international law and Kosovo was wrong. I do have sympathy with the argument you espoused, you cannot seriously think that the second route that you outlined was going to achieve anything. It might have made a nice seminar somewhere but in terms of achievements and objectives I would have thought the likelihood was zero, bearing in mind sanctions have been applied against Afghanistan for a couple of years and the United Nations resolution had been passed without the slightest effect. Could you not admit, I do not want to force you into saying something that you would not be prepared to say, military action, backed up by humanitarian relief, diplomacy created this phenomenon for you bringing about a reduction in nuclear warheads was the right action, it might potentially have benefits, that are almost incalculable. Of course it is risky but the alternative was even riskier and the action that had been taken in the New York and Washington might have been replicated else where—it might still, I concede—it certainly would have taken place if the Americans had proved to be supine after 11 September, as they were after a number of earlier atrocities committed against them and their personalism. I do not really think that the events of last few weeks convinced a lot of people that second course of action was just a fantasy for those who thought it might have any effect on Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist organisation.
  (Professor Rogers) With respect, on one issue I would stand by my views on the Falklands War 20 years later, I think that was a mistake and we are seeing more and more come out about the onset of that war which suggests a degree of mistake, that is another question. On this issue I put that alternative in all seriousness, we are assuming that this path is the correct one. All I would ask you to do is look back in five years time and see whether it turns out to be the correct one. You should also not dismiss the alternative possibility. You see, one of the terrible dilemmas is that the United States had incredible support after 11 September, within Britain there is still strong support, but there is nothing like as strong support for what is now happening in Afghanistan and much of Middle East and southern Asia, we have to face that. I am afraid I have to say that I am not convinced that this path was the right path.

  218. The number of demonstrations taking place in Pakistan, Indonesia and in Europe have diminished, Greens supporting the Chancellor and support for the military action in this country is now 70 per cent. I am not saying the alliance is guaranteed to survive in perpetuity but it is pretty incredible even for the action that has been taken it remains as strong as it is. I am less pessimistic than you that the whole thing is going to fall apart.
  (Sir Tim Garden) I wanted to associate myself with your remarks, Chairman, if I can and disassociate myself for Paul's. There is a third possible way of doing this, the Americans might have on 12 September immediately done a massive attack on Afghanistan and indeed people were talking about that in real seriousness. They took a course which was a very difficult decision, particularly difficult for the American political system, where they expect not to be attacked on their homeland and they expect to be able to counter those things. They waited and they took a very precise and measured response. It is great for us to be able to sit and write history five years later and say, if we had done this it would have gone this way, there is no way of ever knowing whether it would have gone that way, there might have been a succession of major attacks until American did something massive. I think in this particular case the Americans got it really right in terms of the careful building up to it and what has been done. We can all speculate about what may happen next but on their record so far they seem to be doing it really rather well.

  219. We have bunch of questions on international aspect, I thought we have been talking about if you think there has been a, before I get on to that, we are merging from what are not international to International which I mean I cannot control these people any more not that have been able to do so expect absolutely anything would one o'clock be okay for you.

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