Examination of Witnesses (Questions 129-139)|
MP AND MR
WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002
129. Welcome, Secretary of State, to the Defence
Committee again. This morning's session is about missile defence.
It is the second session the Committee has had on this subject
and it certainly will not be the last. Missile defence raises
issues of fundamental importance not just for the UK and the United
States, but for global security. We discussed missile defence
issues during our visit to Washington in early February. The debate
there has clearly moved from questions of "if" to questions
of "when" and "how", and we will be raising
missile defence questions when we visit Moscow later this year.
The debate on missile defence is entering a crucial phase and,
as a Committee, we believe that we must be involved in that debate,
so we are grateful to you for appearing before us today for a
session which will be part of our long-term commitment to monitor
and comment on missile defence as it develops. Having made my
introductory statement, Secretary of State, I understand that
you wish to make some introductory remarks.
(Mr Hoon) Thank you, Mr Chairman, and
could I say how grateful I am to the Committee for this opportunity
because the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and of
ballistic missiles as a means of delivering them is a matter of
very great concern to us. Whilst we as of today see no direct
threat from these weapons to the United Kingdom, we obviously
do monitor developments very carefully. The fact that if certain
states of concern do acquire complete systems of sufficient range
then they might be capable of targeting the United Kingdom within
the next few years is something that we consider very seriously.
Moreover, we recognise that some states of concern would already
be capable of targeting United Kingdom forces deployed in areas
close to them and of targeting the territory of some of our friends
and allies. We, therefore, believe that it is vital for all responsible
nations to try to tackle the potential threat. We believe a comprehensive
strategy is necessary, a strategy that encompasses diplomacy,
arms control, conflict prevention, non-proliferation, counter-proliferation,
export controls, intelligence co-operation, law enforcement, deterrence
and defensive measures. We will continue to work closely with
the United States and our other allies, partners and friends in
all of these areas. We understand the role that missile defence
systems can play as one element of a strategy to tackle the potential
threat, but we believe that it is for the moment premature to
make decisions on acquiring missile defence for the protection
of our deployed forces, which, as set out in the Strategic Defence
Review, remains our priority. But the threat and, in particular,
missile defence technology continue to evolve rapidly, and we
need to have the fullest possible understanding of that technology
before making specific decisions. We also need to look further
at how active missile defence might fit into a balanced spectrum
of defensive capabilities which also includes deterrence, counter-force
and passive defences. These are areas where we already have capabilities
in both quantity and quality. We, and NATO, have programmes taking
forward the work that will underpin any future decisions. The
United States leads the world in missile defence technology. We
have a longstanding technical dialogue with them on the subject.
They have themselves made no decisions on what systems they will
seek to deploy to defend US territory against emerging threats.
Before making such decisions, they are conducting an intensive
programme of research, development, testing and evaluation to
determine what will work and what will not. As the Committee will
be aware, we have so far received no requests from the United
States for the use of sites in the United Kingdom for missile
defence purposes. We do not know exactly what might be involved
in any such requests, nor when they might be made. If we are asked
to make such a decision, we will of course do so on the basis
of our own national interest. That is obviously based on considerations
of our own national security, which include the security interests
of our closest ally. The United States has made clear that it
wants to see the territory of its friends and allies protected
from the emerging missile threats, but it has not yet said how
this might be achieved. We are ready to engage positively in a
dialogue on that question. Although the Cold War is over, today
we face new and emerging threats. It is right that we should consider
all possible elements of a comprehensive strategy to deal with
them. Thank you.
130. Thank you very much. You mentioned that
we anticipated, to use the phraseology, the "emerging threat"
within the next few years. Can you give us a little more information?
One thing that is certain about intelligence is that it is almost
invariably found out to be wanting. Are you happy that the fairly
relaxed approach that we have taken to this issue, waiting for
the Americans to approach us, et cetera, et cetera, is sufficiently
robust to ensure that if intelligence is wrong, if a country,
which is estimated to take a number of years to develop a capability,
somehow acquires additional resources or additional skills, that
our timescale for if we decide to develop a capability to deploy
against it is not going to be available in a period after a potential
adversary has actually acquired that capability, so is it possible
for you just to explore a little more closely what you mean about
the evolving threat "within the next few years"?
(Mr Hoon) The last part of your question, Chairman,
actually indicates why we are not relaxed. I do not accept the
word "relaxed" at all. The Government has been vigilant
in monitoring the developing threats and we continue to be vigilant.
I can assure you that we are not taking this potential threat
at all lightly and we will take whatever decisions are necessary
to be able to deal with it in time. As far as the timescale is
concerned, it is important to emphasise that the threat is not
only the development of any particular kind of technology that
could be used to threaten the United Kingdom from any particular
country, but that obviously must be accompanied by a particular
intention and it is the coincidence of the development of the
threat in a physical sense together with the development of an
intention that is ultimately a matter of concern to the United
Kingdom. Our judgment for the moment that there is not that coincidence
of both the ability to deliver a threat as well as an intention
means that for the moment, and I emphasise that, we do not need
to take these particular decisions, but we do ensure, both in
terms of monitoring technological change in any given country
as well as ensuring any change in intention is kept a close eye
on, that we are in a position properly to take the decisions that
would require the protection of the United Kingdom.
131. Mr Hoon, the memorandum from the MoD and
the Foreign Office cites North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria
as states of concern. I have a couple of questions on North Korea
and Libya. In what sort of timescale do you think North Korea
might develop the capabilities of producing missiles of inter-continental
(Mr Hoon) I am not going to answer that question directly
because in any event it would be a judgment about their particular
ability and our concern largely about North Korea is based both
on the potential threat to our closest ally, the United States,
and some comments from time to time made in North Korea about
that relationship with the United States, but equally, and perhaps
more significantly as far as the United Kingdom is concerned,
the threat from North Korea posed by their willingness to sell
that technology to anyone who appears to have the money available
to purchase it. North Korea is a particular problem in that sense
in that their threat is a threat to the stability of the world
because they are clearly very determined to sell their equipment
to anyone who has the cash to buy it.
132. That has caused us some anxiety and the
reason I asked that question was, and I am sure we will be able
to go to unclassified sources to have a judgment of the current
state of North Korean technology, but the further problem is that
if they develop a capability, it need not be inter-continental
to threaten us because how long would it take, would you estimate,
if North Korea decided to sell this advance in technology to another
state of concern, and it could be a country in the Maghreb, in
the Middle East, which would then really mess up your calculations
as to how long it would take for a threat to emerge? Is there
anything you can say in open session or would you like to write
to us afterwards on how long North Korea, having developed a missile
system that works, how long it would take, if it decided to sell
to a country much closer to us, for that capability that has been
acquired to threaten directly not just the United States if that
country chose to use it, but Western Europe and ourselves in particular?
(Mr Hoon) That is really the concern about North Korea,
that they are not appearing to discriminate as to who they would
be prepared to sell the technology to and that is a matter of
considerable concern both here and in the United States.
(Mr Hawtin) Again I do not think it is a question
we can give a precise answer to unfortunately in the terms you
133. A precise answer in open session or you
are not able to give an answer at all?
(Mr Hawtin) Not able to give a precise answer in the
sense that they are developing a technology and they have made
technology available to a number of other countries, including
Iran. We are, as the Secretary of State said, also very concerned
about Libya, but there are so many imponderables in the question
you pose that one cannot answer it in precise terms.
134. Libya features as one of the UK's four
main countries of concern, yet it does not appear in the Americans'
list. What is Libya doing which is of particular concern to us?
(Mr Hoon) Well, there is no doubt that Libya is a
cause for concern both as far as the United Kingdom and the United
States are concerned
135. So they forgot to put the name on the list,
did they? "I cannot answer for the United States of course",
(Mr Hoon) All I would dispute, Chairman, is any suggestion
that the United States is any less concerned about Libya than
we are. I assure you that the United States keeps an eye on developments
in Libya just as closely as it does in the other countries on
the list that you have given.
Chairman: Maybe we will have to write
to the US to ask why Libya was omitted.
136. Secretary of State, if I could pursue that
a little bit further, you have said a moment ago that the threat
was effectively a combination of capability and intention and
that you did not see any immediate intention on the part of any
potential rogue state to threaten us, but there is the old adage
that capabilities take time to develop and intentions can change
overnight. As far as Libya is concerned, although you say that
there is no immediate evidence of any threat from Libya, in the
latest memorandum we have had from your Department dated last
week, you say, "We believe Libya also has weapons of mass
destruction aspirations". Perhaps we can explore that a little
bit further because I think, as far as the United Kingdom is concerned,
it is obviously very much closer than North Korea. If North Korea
is making available its equipment to anyone who is prepared to
buy it, and we know that Colonel Gadaffi has funded terrorism
in the United Kingdom through the IRA, there is a real risk here,
is there not, that if the North Koreans can deliver a system and
Libya has the aspiration and it has the money, then that threat
could suddenly change into being a very serious one and a very
(Mr Hoon) There is certainly a risk if those contingencies
were satisfied that Libya could pose the kind of threat that I
at the outset indicated was a matter of concern to us, yes.
137. I am not suggesting that the Ministry of
Defence is being complacent, but we could be faced with a real
prospect of an immediate threat to the United Kingdom of weapons
of mass destruction from Libya and we do not have any strategy
in place to deal with it.
(Mr Hoon) Well, I do not accept that the contingencies
are satisfied. Therefore, I cannot accept that there is a real
prospect of an immediate threat, otherwise I would have set out
the evidence to the Committee at the outset in a different way.
138. I do not want to prolong this, but may
I just ask you one final question then. If you say that you believe
that Libya has these aspirations to produce weapons of mass destruction
(Mr Hoon) Well, there are a considerable number of
countries around the world that have the aspiration. That is a
completely different thing from being able to deliver it.
139. Well, we know that the delivery systems
could be available in North Korea. You have just told us that
they will flog them to whoever is prepared to buy them, so if
Libya has got these aspirations, and you have told us this actually
as recently as Monday, what is the basis of this and do you have
any kind of timetable to put on it or are you telling us that
these are long-term aspirations in the assessment of the Ministry
of Defence and they are not immediate?
(Mr Hoon) I do not want to mislead the Committee in
any way. They are not immediate, but long-term depends on your
assessment of what you mean by that. I am sure Libya has an aspiration
to develop a weapon of mass destruction and, equally, would like
to purchase the necessary technology to allow it to deliver it.
That conjuncture is something we keep a close eye on.
Chairman: For the benefit of Committee
Members, the MoD's supplementary memorandum of 18 March goes into
quite a lot of detail on this and, as it is unclassified, it will
be made available when we publish our Report.