Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)



  100. Does that change our relationship in all of this? For instance, we have already mentioned the Germans and the Dutch have agreed to share the A400M, does that not alter where we are in this, in the sense that we are capable right across the spectrum and they have a tendency to work together first? Are there any lessons in that for us?
  (Mr Ingram) It would be wrong to say we should ignore the lessons. Lessons are to be learnt and if there are some positive things to come from them then we should seize them, but it gets back to the debate about specialisation. These are big strategic issues. If we are not going to do something, what is the cost of not doing that, and I do not mean that in monetary terms but what we can then deliver. We should always be conscious of new initiatives and approaches and indeed we lead the way in that type of relationship with other countries in training terms and sharing of approaches. So we can put a lot into that teaching medium but we can also draw from it as well. I think I have already used the phrase, there is not an answer which you can pick off the shelf in this and say, "That is the way forward", we have all got to be learning from each other. Our SDR is a framework and base which other countries are looking at as a very good example of how the post-Cold War environment has to be defined and then tackled.

  101. Would we want to do what the Dutch and the Germans are doing? Would we want to really share an asset in that way? Do we see ourselves as something different from them?
  (Mr Ingram) Again, because of the range of things which are around, it would be wrong to say there would be no circumstances when we could find it attractive. In a sense that could be seen as a hedging answer but, because it is a developing situation and there always has to be a pragmatic approach to these developments, we should never rule out the possibility of new ways of doing things.

  102. It must be difficult to work out how you get an arrangement like that. It must have been difficult for the Germans and the Dutch.
  (Mr Ingram) I am not saying it is easy or there is one way of looking at it at present. There are some considerable complications in terms of the way in which, to use that example, that works in practice but that is a matter for those nations so to determine. But I make the point it would be wrong for us to rule that out completely.

  103. Do you see what they have done as a model for what we can do in the future?
  (Mr Ingram) It could well be. It comes back to this notion of burden-sharing. We cannot do everything. The UK cannot do everything. We do cover the spectrum of tasks and that remains our commitment, but as we try to maximise our investment in defence then we should always look for new ways of doing things. It would be wrong to ignore them, that is the point I am making.
  (Mr Webb) What it does do is enhance your scale and the ability to do things at the same time. I think the Committee saw when you went out to Saif Sareea that we have quite a close relationship with the Netherlands, for example, on medical arrangements, and that is pretty much a standard feature—and then there are the arrangements in the amphibious world—and we have a very close understanding with the Netherlands about that and they have their sovereign decisions, of course. It is not that we could not do an operation without them but we can do more and more at the same time by having those arrangements in place. We need to learn how to do this. We are getting better at it but it is an area we need to keep working on.


  104. Mr Crausby mentioned the A400M, Mr Webb saw the signatures last night, can you tell us whether you think the A400M will be shareable by the Germans and the Dutch or will it be a project too far?
  (Mr Webb) I can give you an answer at the policy level, Chairman. Yes, is the answer. Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and Turkey gave the green light by signature last night.

  105. Was Italy in that list?
  (Mr Webb) No. You were talking about political momentum and I think the ESDP was a factor in that taking off.

Mr Howarth

  106. Will it take off with jet engines or propeller engines? Have they decided on that small point?
  (Mr Webb) I am afraid, Sir, you are below my threshold. We will tell you.
  (Mr Ingram) We will provide you with the information once it becomes available.

  Chairman: I think that information is confidential. We do not know if it has been decided or not.

  Jim Knight: Propellers.


  107. Perhaps you could ask your colleague, Lord Bach, to advise on what happened yesterday. I have gone on three occasions to Germany, pleading with them to stay in the Eurofighter project, and thankfully that has succeeded, I am not certain I want to go out to a NATO country and ask them to stay in the A400M project. I would like to know if the contract which was signed locks in countries to contribute, to participate? If one country decides to opt out, will the project still proceed? Are we going to plan on the assumption that these aircraft will arrive and be in service at a certain date, or are we going to have some fall-back plan in case somebody rats on their commitment and leaves us with an aircraft that is not going to be available?
  (Mr Ingram) Can we just absorb those questions and—

  108. Please do ask Lord Bach.
  (Mr Ingram)—we will give you the answers, if there are answers, to some of those questions.

Jim Knight

  109. Can I just tag one on for absorption and not answer? Clearly the aerospace industry has difficulties at the moment. I know Airbus are concerned to retain their skilled workforce in the UK whilst they are particularly in the gap before the A400M work really starts. An answer as to what are the conversations you are having with the DTI about helping them through that interregnum so those skills are retained, would also be helpful.
  (Mr Ingram) I will absorb that question as well. If we can provide an answer, we will provide an answer.


  110. After Christmas will do.
  (Mr Ingram) After this Christmas I can promise you.

  Rachel Squire: We could all get into issues of lobbying for our own individual constituencies.

  Jim Knight: No, no, Bristol is miles away from my constituency.

Rachel Squire

  111. Mr Lee you said earlier how the European Capabilities Action Plan consists of groups of willing nations working together to improve programmes. As we have for a long time had groups of nations in Europe willing to work together, why has it been necessary to introduce a European Capabilities Action Plan?
  (Mr Lee) The simple answer to why it has been necessary is that all previous initiatives have not yet delivered the level of European capability we want. We have been aware of that for a number of years and there have been initiatives within the WEU, when that existed, and also within NATO to try to remedy these deficiencies. I think it is fair to say that Kosovo during 1999 gave a particular impetus to these efforts, and it was following on from that that the Headline Goal and the EU's efforts were launched. It is an additional effort to make another attempt to reach the goal through a different forum, using a slightly different method. Largely the same countries are involved. It is a method which puts the onus on the individual countries to shape up, make the contributions; a method under which in a sense there is nowhere to hide. No higher authority is telling countries what to do, there is no chance of hiding behind the United States as might sometimes be a criticism in NATO. This is the Europeans having to make their own efforts transparently amongst themselves to try and meet these same goals.

  112. My second question is really following that. What makes you confident that this time it will be different? You say you think the particular features of the European Capabilities Action Plan are that it is transparent, it is an action plan agreed between equals and that there is nowhere to hide, are there any other particular features which make you confident that if we are ever going to deliver on European capability, this will happen?
  (Mr Ingram) Simon Webb touched on this in terms of the role Geoff Hoon is playing in dealing with countries, and this is really a political dimension. We have at a political level all points of political contact—Defence Ministers, EU Ministers, even Heads of Government—and it has been so defined within the Laeken Communiqué. It is high on the agenda of the Spanish Presidency. The focus will be on delivery. If there are any failures, those who have not assisted the momentum towards the achievement then have to explain that to their counterparts at those various levels. That becomes part of the diplomatic process. Do not sign up to something unless you are prepared to commit and deliver, and if you cannot do it it would be useful if we were told the reasons for that. We are committed to it and we believe the other nations are equally committed to it.

  113. Has this action plan been published or is it going to be? I and others want to actually see what has been promised and what has been actually delivered so far and what is still yet to be delivered, particularly in respect of countries like Spain.
  (Mr Ingram) The action plan has not been published because it is not yet defined. That is the next step in taking it forward by the Spanish Presidency. Whether it will be published or not, and there are no plans to publish this, again is something you may want to comment on, and we will then have to consider whether there is benefit in greater transparency in that, and that has to be a judgment across countries because there would have to be unanimity, I would guess, as to whether such a plan was published and for what benefits. So we are into the subtleties and sensitivities of the diplomatic debate which really does not rest, I suppose, with the Ministry of Defence, although we can contribute to ensuring we are driving forward on those elements we have a key part to play in.

  114. Can I also ask you about this possibility of a panel or expert panels? I gather the action plan has flagged up the possibility of expert panels taking work forward in particular capability areas. Can you say a little more about what that will involve and where the UK might take the lead on those panels?
  (Mr Lee) A slightly more technical answer to the previous point you made is that within this process we believe we have more clarity about exactly what the capability requirements are than perhaps we had before. They are quantified by type and also identified by quantity. The amount of extra capability needed collectively to meet the Headline Goal is a defined level, so there is a certain extra clarity there which might help in addition to the factors which the Minister mentioned. In terms of the action plan and expert panels and so on, as the Minister says, that is work in progress, it remains to be defined exactly how those panels will be constituted and who will participate in which. Publishing the action plan in due course, I suppose, would simply mean publishing the proceedings or the conclusions of those groups and what interests might come out of those groups in due course. There is certainly an intention that there should be progress reports at the end of each presidency of the EU, so each of those progress reports will, I suppose, constitute in some sense a publication of what progress has been made and what state the action plan is in at that particular time. The expert panels will in essence in our view be largely self-selecting. Those countries who wish to participate in a particular area will put themselves forward to do so. The EU military staff will provide a co-ordinating function to establish which areas are being dealt with, which areas are not being dealt with, whether lessons can be learned from one group and passed to another, and that kind of activity. This, as I say, remains work in progress. The detail of exactly how this will work is to be established under the Spanish Presidency and they have a mandate to do that.

  115. My next question, and it is one which is of particular interest to myself and other colleagues who are on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, is whether you can describe for us how the EU would make use of NATO assets and capabilities? It is a question which is certainly one which has been discussed a lot amongst NATO parliamentarians. Just what are the arrangements for moving them over from NATO to EU auspices if and when an operation is launched?
  (Mr Webb) This is an important part of the whole ESDP and it is something called Berlin-plus, which is a package of things which will take some time to describe but we have the expert here. I would say there were about three or four main elements to it. The first is to have assured access to NATO planning. NATO has very well practised military strategic planning staffs, so when the EU is looking at options it might undertake in a situation in which NATO was not engaged, those planning staffs could help generate options they can think about; the so-called pre-decision phase. There is then the role of NATO in providing an operational commander and an operational headquarters, and we talked about the role of Deputy SACEUR. There are other people who could do it but that is a good illustration of how that could work, and we talked a little about that earlier on. NATO also has a range of other fixed type assets—things like the AWACS aircraft, some strategic infrastructure type of communications, that kind of thing—which could be very relevant and there is a plan to, as it were, have an understanding in advance about what assets could be available, so the EU knows what there is, and there has been some discussion about getting access to them. Those are the main headings of it. What this will do is allow ESDP to be militarily much more effective. You can do a lot more with access to those assets, that is the point, without duplication, which it has been an absolute determination of the UK to avoid. So it is a good news story. Discussions have been going on to finalise those arrangements and people know that Turkey had some concerns about that, and there was a lot of discussion with Turkey, and I think we have made a lot of progress in that direction. The package still has to be finalised but we have made a lot of progress over the last year on that.

  116. You have really touched on my second question, which was clearly the EU is looking to rely on NATO assets and, as you have said, you have all been anxious to avoid the duplication of structures—
  (Mr Webb) Yes.

  117.—but there has been a great deal of discussion and objections, particularly by Turkey, to make agreement to that. I was going to ask you, have specific NATO capabilities and assets already been earmarked and promised for EU use? Am I right to think that what you are saying is that a great deal of discussion is going on and you are a bit closer to that, but you have not quite yet got there?
  (Mr Webb) Can I make a quick point about Turkey? Can I use the word "concerns" rather than "objections" because the tone of these things has been about two great organisations trying to get something done together. That has been my tone. These are our old friends we are talking about.
  (Mr Ingram) This debate clearly is one which has been on-going. We are trying to get this relationship properly defined. We are dealing with a new entity here in terms of the ESDP. I have used the analogy a few times but it is not a case of taking something off the shelf, it is not a case of plugging into a new electric power point and off it goes. We are dealing with the sensitivity of nations. All nations bring their issues to the table as to what this means and clearly that can be more difficult for some nations than others. I think you are right in your summation that we are getting to the point, hopefully, of agreement on this. It would be wrong to expose the fine details on this because of the very nature of the discussions which are taking place. To have openness and to expose all the points of discussion does not necessarily help the process move forward. If individual nations want to exhibit it, that is a matter for them, but in terms of what we are seeking to do, because we want to push this issue forward, it is important it is plugged into NATO, and it can only deliver in terms of some of the tasks when it truly has access to that. It is convincing others of the merits of that argument, and these touch upon some quite specific sensitivities which we are currently tackling, and we hope to conclude in the near future.

  118. Can I move on to how much of the Helsinki Headline Goal will be contributed by non-EU countries?
  (Mr Lee) To be slightly pedantic, the Headline Goal itself is a goal set by the EU Member States, so the achievement, or non-achievement, of the Headline Goal will be assessed in relation to the EU Member States' commitments. What was invited at Helsinki and has been pursued since then, are additional contributions for the supplementary, wider pool of European capabilities and capability improvements from non-EU countries. Those offers were made, first of all, last year at the original Capability Conference in Brussels in November 2000. I do not have with me the entire list of countries who contributed, but I think it is most of, if not all of, the non-EU allies and the countries who are candidates for membership of the EU. Each one of them has identified some contributions which it could make to a potential EU-led operation. The way that those contributions will be treated will in effect be the same way as the Member States' contributions are treated in terms of the assessment as we go forward.
  (Mr Ingram) If that is information we can provide, we will certainly do so, just to deal with the specifics of this. Again it comes down to whether those countries are willing for us impart that type of knowledge and I am unsighted on that, so we will take this on advice and see how best we can address that specific question.

  119. I think you might say that in response to my next question, which is, what has been offered to those present non-EU countries in return, and that particularly refers to Turkey's keenness to join the EU?
  (Mr Ingram) It would be wrong for us to even try to assess the motivation, other than to say they would be seized of the same importance that we place on the ESDP as being an enhancement of the capabilities of nations which have a mutual interest in tackling external threats and helping in a whole lot of other different ways. I would not for a minute think there have been any deals done on this.

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