Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1. Thank you, Mr Hawtin, team. I hope you are not planning to have lunch before one o'clock because I do not think we are going to let you escape before then. Threat comprises `capability' as well as `intent', as has been said a million times. In what sort of timescale does the MoD envisage that a rogue state, state of concern, whatever, and the well known names are North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, will have the capability of reaching the UK with ballistic missiles? In the MoD's unclassified version of Missile Defence—US Plans and UK Interests, it says that, were a country from the Middle East or North Africa to acquire and complete a long range ballistic missile system, a capability to target the UK accurately could emerge within the next few years. That is the rather difficult question you are being asked to kick off with.

  (Mr Hawtin) As you say, it is indeed a difficult question. The position is that one cannot be absolutely sure when a ballistic missile threat might develop. As we said in the memorandum, we see no significant threat at the moment. It depends very much on the developments in particular in the countries of concern, but were a country in the Middle East or North Africa to acquire a complete long range ballistic missile system then there is a capability to target the United Kingdom that might emerge within the next few years. It is difficult to be more precise than that. It obviously depends on a range of factors, not least on the ability of any of the states in that area to acquire missile systems and indeed on the source of them. Our particular concern, as comes out in the memorandum, is that North Korea has been a major proliferator of ballistic missiles and related technology for several years. They have provided, for example, the No Dong missile to Iran and to Pakistan and shorter range missile technology to a number of other countries, including Syria, and were that proliferation and export of missiles and technology to continue then there is that risk, but I cannot give you a precise date and obviously one would watch the situation very clearly.

  2. I hope we are watching the situation very clearly.
  (Mr Hawtin) Absolutely, and take appropriate steps to prevent it from happening as far as one could.

  3. Perhaps we will come back to that later because it is obviously very important. How much sooner is there likely to be a threat to UK interests in such places as Gibraltar or the sovereign bases on Cyprus? Can you treat them as a threat separate from the United Kingdom?
  (Mr Hawtin) I would not personally treat them as a threat separate from the United Kingdom. They are obviously part of the United Kingdom's interests in terms of the factual position as it were. Cyprus would be in range of Iraqi Scuds already and indeed Syrian Scuds and the Iranian Shahab-3b missile, but that is not to say that there is any immediate threat to Cyprus. I am giving you the factual position in terms of range of missiles. Gibraltar is no closer than the United Kingdom to threats from the Middle East. The threat is of course a combination of capability and intention and we have no reason to think that any country specifically intends to target UK interests.

  4. In terms of our perception of the threat regarding capability and intention, to what extent does our perception differ from that perhaps of the United States or of our European allies? I am thinking in terms of magnitude, states of concern, timescales. Is there a correspondence of views on this?
  (Mr Hawtin) Basically, Chairman, as far as the United States and the United Kingdom are concerned we have a very similar assessment of the threat. There are occasional differences of degree and emphasis and perception, but basically our views on the areas of concern, the states of concern, are very similar. The United States, I think it is fair to say, has a particular concern, given its regional responsibilities, over North Korea and a particular focus for them, but there are no basic fundamental differences. Likewise there are no fundamental differences between the United Kingdom, the United States or other European countries over the growing threat.

Jim Knight

  5. Just to stay with capability, we have briefly touched on that in terms of missiles. I want to move on to what would be in the missiles. We faced ballistic missile threats per se in the Second World War, but obviously the threat of weapons of mass destruction is on a different scale in terms of nuclear, biological or chemical agents. How do you see the risk developing over the next few years that states will acquire capabilities to put such weapons into their ballistic missiles?
  (Mr Hawtin) The combination of development programmes for weapons of mass destruction and the delivery systems of ballistic missiles is one of the prime concerns and something we are watching very closely. We believe, for example, that Iran is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and may have the technology to produce biological weapons. Likewise Iraq is a real cause for concern in terms of its potential capacity to acquire and build nuclear weapons and its existing chemical and biological capabilities.

  6. Is it just those two?
  (Mr Hawtin) No. The four major states of concern are Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Libya.

  7. And the concern is shared both over the delivery system and the weapons of mass destruction they might want to put in them?
  (Mr Hawtin) Yes.

  8. Which types of weapons of mass destruction or warhead do you expect to pose the earliest threat, and ideally I would love you to tell me from which states?
  (Mr Hawtin) I think I would find it very difficult, as I said earlier to the Chairman, to put a precise timetable on the emerging threat or which particular weapon of mass destruction—nuclear, biological or chemical—might pose the first threat. In combination they are a real and growing concern, something that we are watching with very close attention. The only other thing I would add is that when the UNSCOM inspectors left Iraq in 1998 we had real concerns about their capability to regenerate chemical and biological and to acquire nuclear. Obviously, with the absence of inspections on the ground, that is an area of uncertainty.

  9. Therefore you are saying there are particular concerns in Iraq, possibly more so than the other three?
  (Mr Hawtin) I would not want to give you the impression that I am distinguishing between one and another. I was trying to give you a slightly more helpful answer. The four states are all of concern to us. As I said earlier, North Korea is a particular and immediate concern for the United States.

  10. So basically you are saying to us that you are equally concerned about those four countries and you are equally concerned about the nature of the threat from those four countries in terms of the various sorts of warheads they may be able to put on missiles?
  (Mr Hawtin) In general terms, yes. This is an open session. There are obvious degrees of differences in potential development programmes, the state of capability of each of those countries, but again I do not want to give you the impression that each of them has exactly the same state of development of missile programmes and weapons of mass destruction. We are concerned about all of them.

  11. That is just capability. If I could stray a little bit into intent, how does that change the picture?
  (Mr Hawtin) As our memorandum says, and as I said a few minutes ago, we have no reason to think that any of those countries has any specific intent to target the United Kingdom or its interests. The obvious point over threat is that if one has capabilities or one is seeking to acquire capabilities intentions can change very quickly. That is the element of the equation that can change.

  12. Would you say that those weapons are being developed for a deterrent effect by all those countries or do you have concern over the intention that some may have to use them?
  (Mr Hawtin) There is certainly an argument that all of those countries are seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction and developing missile defences, ballistic missiles, for regional purposes, but the question I would pose in regard to that is that if that is simply a regional issue why is it that they are developing ballistic missiles with much longer ranges? They are seeking to acquire capabilities that go far beyond anything they might require for regional deterrent purposes.

  13. Clearly, if we are projecting that they are extending the range and there is potential for intercontinental missiles carrying any one of those types of warheads, there is a timetable and in the memorandum you talked of a few years. Are we responding rapidly enough in terms of how we might defend against those so that we would be ready in a few years?
  (Mr Hawtin) We are carrying out—and we can go into this in detail if you wish—a whole series of studies on the feasibility of missile defences and I think we have made available to you the unclassified version of our recent TRRAP study. We are doing a lot of work on missile defence as such. As far as the overall position on deterrence is concerned, this is something that is a combination of factors, a combination of a very comprehensive strategy, ranging again, as we set out in our memorandum, from arms control measures through export control regimes, through diplomacy, through deterrence measures, and the deterrent capability that we have in the form of Trident is obviously a very important deterrent capability against any threat of that kind to our interests. Through active and passive defences and missile defences and active defence we have again, and I am very happy to go into detail, a whole range of what we call passive defensive measures, NBC suits and so on.

Mr Howarth

  14. Mr Hawtin, President Bush referred in his "axis of evil" speech to three countries: North Korea, Iran and Iraq. The Ministry of Defence here includes Libya. Can you explain why Libya is included by us but omitted by the United States, and could you tell us whether you think Libya has the capability to manufacture or whether it would just be a consumer of products from North Korea?
  (Mr Hawtin) I think the reason we have included Libya is that geographically that is a state of concern which is rather closer to Europe than it is to the United States. It is not for me to say why the United States has chosen a particular set of countries, although I dealt with three of them earlier. As far as Libya's particular capabilities are concerned, again we currently assess that there is no ballistic missile threat from them to the United Kingdom. They are heavily reliant for weapons programmes on foreign expertise and that is something again that is a concern to us in relation to North Korea. What we are concerned about is what we have described as the states of concern and I have mentioned four rather than the three in the President's State of the Union address.

Mr Hancock

  15. Based on what you have said so far is there any risk of a potential accidental launch coming from any of those countries and what capabilities do we have to prevent that happening?
  (Mr Hawtin) I do not think we see accidental launch as a major problem. It is something that from time to time features in the debate in the United States about the states of concern but it is very clear, I think, that their major focus is on missile defence against an active and positive decision to launch a missile. As far as accidental launches more generally are concerned, P5 powers and existing nuclear powers have very clear arrangements for prior notification of launches. There are hot line arrangements and so on and we do not see that as a real problem.

  16. Did the North Koreans tell people when they tested their missile that they were firing?
  (Mr Hawtin) I do not know the answer to that.[12]

  17. I do not think they did.
  (Mr Hawtin) To pick up the point of your earlier question, again what we cannot say with any certainty is what arrangements North Korea has for command and control of its missile and other military activities.

  18. Is there a risk that any of these states who have the capability of producing a ballistic missile which could range its targets from Europe to North America potentially are willing to give one of those missiles into the hands of a terrorist group who might choose, for other reasons than a state one, to use one of them?
  (Mr Hawtin) We do not at the moment see any risk that terrorists will acquire ballistic missiles in the sense that we are discussing them at the moment. They are large assets, they are not easy to acquire or to operate unnoticed. What is of rather more concern to us with regard to terrorism is the covert delivery of certain elements of weapons of mass destruction.

  19. Are you seriously saying that a ballistic missile, which can be moved around quite easily and fired from a mobile launcher, is not something that terrorists would aspire to having in their hands?
  (Mr Hawtin) I cannot speak for terrorist aspirations. What I am saying is that there would be other options open to terrorists of a rather more viable and less obvious nature. Our concern, as I say, is with the states of concern I have mentioned and—let me add this point—certainly with the help and assistance that some states of concern are giving generally to terrorists, but in terms of acquisition of ballistic missiles that I would not regard as the key concern.

12   Note from Witmess: They did not make any announcement prior to the Taepo Dong-1 launch on 31 August 1998. Back

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