Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220-239)



Patrick Mercer

  220. Briefly, Chairman. Professor Rogers, I was particularly interested in your comments earlier on about the fact that this network might be preparing further attacks and in many ways they have become more dangerous now the convention of war, if that is the right phrase, seems to be approaching some sort of conclusion in Afghanistan. Going back to Mr Hancock's comments about British military, I am fascinated about why the coalition's centre of gravity has not been attacked more convincingly in terms of credit being taken perhaps where credit lies, if credit is the correct term, for instance, for an attack on Toulouse for instance? Why did Al-Qaeda not throw a complete spanner in the works by claiming, however credibly or not, the air crash in America a fortnight or so ago? The instant response would have been that would have been incredible in the West, but it might have been highly credible in the East, going back to your point about Mazar-e-Sharif, which was fascinating and highly empathetic.
  (Professor Rogers) As far as one can see, if you try to get inside the minds of the people who were in an overall way responsible for 11 September, as I said earlier I think they were expecting this kind of reaction. They are not playing things on a month to month or even year to year basis, they are thinking in terms of five or ten years in terms of their specific aims and their prime aims are to get the United States out of the Gulf and to bring about fundamental changes in the governance of Saudi Arabia and some other West Gulf States, so they are playing it really long-term. Whether they have the capability to do this is another matter because we do not yet know how much the network, the Al-Qaeda network, has experienced disruption in the last ten weeks. The question about whether they will respond with some kind of further action I think has to be considered and it is likely that they may do so. It would have a relevance to what was called in Northern Ireland parlance the "calling card" incident, in other words to show they are still a major force to be reckoned with. I think it is for that reason that there is probably a somewhat greater probability that we might see some kind of paramilitary attack in the coming months than there has been in the last two and a half months.

  221. Why did they miss the PR opportunity that I have alluded to?
  (Professor Rogers) I do not think that they are playing it in that sort of immediate way. To put it very bluntly, those elements of the network that are still centralised have a lot of other things on their minds at present and issuing that kind of short-term statement would have very little impact and it is far from their thinking. It is more likely that they would actually do something and not claim credit for it.

Mr Cran

  222. A few questions on tightening international treaties in relation to biological and chemical and other weapons, but before I do that, just so I get the scene set properly in my mind, if I go to the MoD document, and you do not have it in front of you but I will quote it, the MoD document Defending Against the Threat from Biological and Chemical Weapons July 1999, not that long ago, it says this: "So far very few terrorist groups have shown an interest in biological or chemical materials". Then it goes on to mention the attack on the Tokyo underground. It then says "Most groups will continue to prefer conventional means of attack". Are those propositions with which you two would agree?
  (Sir Tim Garden) I think it is an assumption that has been made in the past and maybe the experience of 11 September reinforces that, that you can actually cause mass destruction without using weapons of mass destruction.


  223. That is a good point.
  (Sir Tim Garden) The particular difficulties of biological agents for terrorists are making sure you do not infect yourself and you have all the protective measures. The manufacturing is not that difficult and, as we have seen from the anthrax problem in the States, the chaos that you can cause with quite a small amount of material is great. But these terrorists are not after chaos, they are after death. There are textbooks in the public domain which tell you how to do 100,000 casualties over an American city and it is not that difficult. It must be an option for terrorists who want to cause mass casualties. Chemical, I think, is a bit easier in terms of handling but is a bit less capable in terms of mass casualties, so it may not appeal. The big one that worries me, to be honest, is the spreading of nuclear material, even low grade nuclear material, because you will still have the conventional explosion and how many people are killed through that but contaminating an area is a thing which will be difficult for modern society to deal with in a short timescale. I think there is a nuclear, biological, chemical threat but we should not get so focused on it that we forget nearly all terrorist activities are done by very old-fashioned methods.
  (Professor Rogers) I would agree with that. There are quite real problems in developing and dispersing enough of even a very potent chemical weapon, such as VX, to cause mass civilian casualties. There are actually considerable difficulties in developing sufficient quantities and dispersing. Anthrax is the most notable potential bioweapon. The fact is that it is possible to cause very high casualties by conventional means and many of the major paramilitary groups active in the last 20 years could have done so but have not done so for very defined reasons. I would also very much agree with Tim that on the nuclear side the greater danger is the development of crude radiological weapons which cause contamination which might not even cause casualties but could contaminate, for example, part of a central business district.

Mr Cran

  224. That leads me neatly on to Professor Graham Pearson. He was a witness before the Committee and he described what he called a "web of reassurance" that was required. He was really suggesting that a number of international treaties, protocols and all these things had to be tightened up. He mentioned in particular the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention. Do you agree with that? On the proposition that you do are there any others you feel should be tightened up too?
  (Professor Rogers) Professor Pearson is a colleague of mine, he is a visiting professor in the department. I would agree very much with his views on this. There have been six and half years of determined efforts in Geneva to negotiate a really sound protocol for the 1972 Treaty. That Treaty was good in theory but had no practical enforcement or verification. The protocol has involved a great deal of work, with very good work from British participants, to try to really strengthen the Treaty. I think, like almost all people associated with those negotiations, there is nothing but dismay that the United States has not felt able to support the implementation of that protocol. The signs are that their attitude in the Current Review Conference is frankly not very positive. As Graham says, it is part of a web of reassurance that we are looking for. Nobody is pretending that an effective Biological Weapons Convention suitably strengthened is going to end the problem of biological weapon use or, indeed, the possibility that paramilitary groups get hold of such materials, but it will help a lot. We have the Chemicals Weapon Convention being implemented but it is running into problems of organisation and finance. I think there should be a renewed effort to push the workings of that Convention through and to speed up the rate at which materials are destroyed. Perhaps most important of all is still the presence of large quantities of nuclear material, particularly in Russia, for which the security conditions are so weak. I think of the three classes of weapons of mass destruction that currently is the greatest worry.
  (Sir Tim Garden) I support everything that Paul says there but there is a philosophical divide across the Atlantic at the moment. The current United States administration does not seem to like Treaty based arms control and it does not matter which field you look at. Their argument is the biological weapons protocol that allows some verification will not stop the spread of biological weapons, and there is some truth in that. The arms control process seen from Europe is one of slowly building up a whole set of reassuring activities which make it much more likely that you will know who the ones are who are not observing and you can bring international pressure to bear on them. I had hoped that 11 September in changing various bits of United States' thinking might make them a bit keener but all the evidence is that we are not going to get any change out of this administration on that for various reasons which are not just the Treaty but also how it would affect the United States' industry.

  225. Chairman, just one last question because I know you want to move on and it is simply this, and you referred to it, Professor Rogers, because you used the words tightening these treaties "will help a lot". The problem that I think some of us might have is what difference will it make with sub-state groups? Why will the helping a lot help that aspect of it? I can see it will have an effect on states but we are not really talking about states.
  (Professor Rogers) No, and I think its aid is only to a limited extent. It is worth remembering, if I am correct, that the Chemical Weapons Convention does require states that sign up to it to initiate domestic legislation for the appropriate control of their own domestic industries. In other words, the international process has direct domestic relevance. The downside, of course, is the states that may cause us most concern may not actually sign up to these treaties.

  226. Or will put a blind eye to the telescope.
  (Professor Rogers) Or will put a blind eye to the telescope, yes, but this is where I return to my point that it is so essential to have a very well organised and properly financed Office for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the OPCW I think it is called, in The Hague. There are concerns about the effectiveness of that international body. Yes, countries can turn a blind eye to it but once they have signed up to it, if they are subject to inspection and verification it is less easy to do so.

  Mr Cran: Thank you, Chairman.

Jim Knight

  227. I want to ask a couple of questions about the nature of our partners in military terms, starting with NATO. Clearly one of the first things that happened after September 11 was the invoking of Article 5 of the Treaty and that seems, and seemed, appropriate, and yet we have not got beyond some NATO forces being deployed in order to release resources for the United States in Afghanistan. We have not seen a NATO operation, we have seen a US operation with some support from ourselves and others. Why do you think that is? What more might NATO do in the present campaign?
  (Sir Tim Garden) I think it is unsurprising. NATO has done rather well in terms of what was practical. The Article 5 declaration was significant, it was the first time they had invoked it, and for those who know how difficult NATO meetings are they actually did it quickly as well, which was a sense of everybody standing shoulder to shoulder in the vernacular. The AWACS contribution is real and is significant, so NATO is engaging some forces. From an American perspective this has been a very specialised operation with great sensitivities in terms of basing and the neighbours and all of that. The difficulties of putting together a multinational activity, which would be a NATO one or any form of multinational one, would have been very great in terms of capabilities as one of the things: American bombers now able to operate from the United States or from Diego Garcia over very long ranges, nobody else having that sort of range capability, the carriers, again the basing problems that are there. I think we would be foolish to think the Americans have not learned some lessons from the difficulties of NATO military operations after Kosovo where they provided 80 per cent of the capability, the rest provided 20 per cent, but we all had one vote nationally. If you want to do a precise operation in a sensitive area where you have very clear requirements and most of the requirements are for US technical capabilities, then I can see why it has gone the way it has, but the UK has provided (as another NATO member) some useful capabilities, the French are starting to arrive. I think we are looking forward to a period in the future where a NATO as NATO operation will be the exception, but what you will have are coalitions, partnerships of nations, most of whom are NATO members, who certainly operate to NATO standards and doctrine because the only way they can operate together is because they are in NATO and have started using their equipment in ways that can work together. NATO still continues to have an important role if more than one nation wants to do a military operation but expecting for everything NATO to gear itself up through its ponderous processes is probably expecting too much.

  228. Is it realistic to suggest that you might get a NATO campaign at all given all the complicated problems of capability, which perhaps are being addressed (and I will come onto that in a minute) and that notion of leadership and making decisions quickly which is always going to be there?
  (Sir Tim Garden) It worked in Kosovo but it was hard work. A serious air campaign was mounted but it was nearby to the NATO nations' traditional heartland, so you had got all the equipment there, but trying to put together a thing like the Gulf coalition which again took months to build up—the invasion of Kuwait was in August and the air campaign started in January—takes a long time. What was needed in this case was a very rapid response and really the US had both the reason to be the lead nation in it and also the capability to do it. These are special circumstances, but I would still say that for most future operations, short of a traditional Article V, you will find that it will be coalitions of varying sorts under various auspices but normally doing it the NATO way, which is the US way.
  (Professor Rogers) In a sense there is only one state worldwide that has comprehensive global reach and that is the United States. It is hugely far ahead. In one measure a single US carrier battle group has more fire power than all the aircraft carriers of the rest of the countries of the world put together. It is at that level. The only other states with limited long-range reach are Britain, followed some little way behind even by France, and most other states do not have any kind of long-range reach.

  Chairman: Not much short range reach either.

Mr Hancock

  229. And do not want to.
  (Professor Rogers) They may not want to, that is part of their policy, but the United States has been very consistent in the past ten years in transforming its forces. It is quite astonishing if you look at the nature of the change in the forces. For example, the one branch of the entire US forces that has suffered virtually no cuts in people power is the Marine Corps which has been maintained for this kind of purpose. The capability question is really at the root of this but I would also add that in a real sense that for this operation I think the United States is quite determined to maintain freedom of action and to some extent it is quite single-minded in what it wants to do. One sees that once it has aided the Northern Alliance in taking control of probably 60 per cent of Afghanistan, it is essentially leaving it to others to sort out the development of some form of governance in that country while it gets on with its particular tasks.

Jim Knight

  230. Moving from NATO to the EU, I know Kings College has done some work recently on the Helsinki headline goals and I am sure you have read this marvellous document from the MoD, the European Defence Policy Paper.
  (Sir Tim Garden) I have not.

  231. I am sure that can be arranged?
  (Sir Tim Garden) I can probably get it off the MoD.

  232. It is a very nice convincing argument and then within weeks of it being published we have a Capabilities Conference that does not seem to get us very far. What do you think the implications of 11 September are for European Security and Defence Policy and the Rapid Reaction Corps?
  (Sir Tim Garden) I had a major part in the Kings College project on this which was to lead up to the Capabilities Conference. As the Chairman will know, I am a great enthusiast for European defence measures. I am afraid that what we have got is a situation where everybody has taken their eye off the ball. I would argue that Europe being able to field some serious military capability is more important after 11 September than it was before because the US has now decided that it has a priority activity which is not related to the peace-keeping Petersberg tasks that were envisaged for the EU force. I think they will expect us, not unreasonably, to look after the Balkans for the future, they will expect us to do the sorts of things on our European borders where we have always felt we could call on the United States to come and help us. That means that having some serious European capability is more important rather than less important after 11 September. There is a separate question as to whether Europe should be considering whether it needs to change the tasks in any way and whether to increase beyond Petersberg into this field. My own view on that is we are all nationally working at the counter-terrorist activity and sharing, I hope, intelligence in a serious way. What we have still not achieved is the ways that we are going to fill the capability gaps for the Helsinki goal forces, and there are big holes there which are reflected in the NATO Defence Capabilities Initiative of 1999, so we have signed up twice now to providing enabling capabilities and nobody seems to be saying, "Where are the funds coming from this and how are we going to do them?" I would rather that we continued the Helsinki goal process and tried to address something that we seem to be finding very difficult at the moment rather than add new tasks in order to fuzz the fact that we have not done what we said we were going to do anyway.

  233. Given those consistent holes and given events, should we be re-prioritising the headline goals?
  (Sir Tim Garden) The headline goal process at the moment, as you know, is a co-operative volunteer arrangement whereby you offer a menu of activities. The United Kingdom's contribution is unbelievably complex. It is not a set of forces available at 60 days' notice, it is "if you have one of these, you can't have one of these" and "that one will only be available for three months anyway and somebody else had better button on the end". Putting those together, which should be possible on a European basis, is the important bit of it, but I still believe that nobody is yet focusing on how Europe is going to provide the expensive capabilities that are missing both in the European role but also when Europe is acting in the NATO role. The report we did at Kings College offers ways of taking that forward.

  234. Do you think that the current events will have focused minds sufficiently among the political leadership of the EU for them to want to make those difficult decisions?
  (Sir Tim Garden) No, quite the reverse. I am deeply pessimistic. What happens now is a re-balancing. What we will all say is, "That is all very interesting but the Petersberg tasks are not our key concern at the moment. If we are going to spend more money on defence"—it comes back to the point about internal zero sum games for defence spending—"if we are going to spend more money on defence then we are going to spend it on our national problem at home, securing our citizens." And part of the real problem going on at the moment is that there is a renationalisation of defence as the budgets go down when if you want to get more out of less money you need to move away from nationalising it because your overheads are so much a component of the cost.

  235. For things such as intelligence sharing?
  (Professor Rogers) In terms of defence roles what it means if you want to save money on a European basis is that individual countries do have to specialise much more than they do at present, whereas the tendency is for each country to want to do virtually everything.
  (Sir Tim Garden) You can pool, you do not have to specialise.

Mr Howarth

  236. Is there not a potential contradiction here in the light of events of the last few weeks where a Petersberg role is essentially a peace-keeping, non-combatant role—
  (Sir Tim Garden) —Can I just contest that

  237. —It is a question, can I just finish. There is a difference of view between the United Kingdom and our European partners in respect of the extent to which we are prepared to become involved. We know Germany has made a decision about that which is a very significant decision in the last few days, but when push came to shove it was the United Kingdom which went straight to the assistance of the United States in committing forces and we know we have got our forces currently on stand-by to go in theatre. How do you see this role of the United Kingdom, a role that the Government is very keen to adopt, squaring with the very different role, as I see it, and you will correct me if I am wrong, that is implied by the SDR?
  (Sir Tim Garden) There is, to a degree, a tension between the two and if we always assume when we do our equipment programme that we are going to be operating with the United States, if we assume that will always be the case in any form of conflict, let me put it that way (and Petersberg tasks do include operations which involve conflict) then we can buy odds and ends that plug into the United States. I would use the Cruise missiles on our submarines as an example. They are very useful to join in with the United States.

  238. But I thought our NATO equipment was supposed to be compatible with one another. That is another problem.
  (Sir Tim Garden) That is another question. Let me answer your first question and then cover that one. What I am talking about is what capabilities does the United Kingdom feel it should field? If it says we are going to be doing these difficult high-intensity conflict things with the United States on every occasion, then it can buy into little packages of things that are not self-sufficient.

  239. Bolt-ons.
  (Sir Tim Garden) And they fit nicely with the United States so it is nice to have a Cruise missile go up with a shower of Cruise missiles which happen to be United States' in a joint US/UK operation. But if you wanted to have the ability to operate without the United States, then you might have a different number and a different type of equipment, and you would either provide that nationally or provide it in a different alliance, which happens to be the European Union in this case. Some of the more expensive ones, like AWACS, were procured as a supra-national force for NATO, not owned by a single nation, flagged with the Luxembourg flag, and you would have to say for some of these things, maybe suppression of enemy air defences or intelligence those sorts of things, that a single nation can never buy enough of them so we always depend on the United States and if the United States is not there then we need to club together, put some money in the pot and provide these at the European level. This is the argument I am making. The inter-operability point is a very important question but what we should be doing in Europe is ensuring that all our forces are inter-operable with each other and with the United States so if we do a NATO operation we are able to do it but if we do it without the United States we can also do it. That seems common sense really.

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