Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-219)|
MP AND MR
WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002
200. Can I ask you one final question, Secretary
of State? What do you reckon are the prospects for a missile defence
system which might cover the whole of Europe, not just the United
Kingdom but the European members of NATO?
(Mr Hoon) I think what is interesting about the various
thoughts that there have been about the way in which Europe might
be covered is the extent to which we are able to take advantage
of a system essentially designed to protect United States' territory
and what further changes and refinements might be required to
protect Europe. I think one of the issues is how we would define
"Europe" in those circumstances and how extensive such
a system would be.
201. That is almost Richard Mottram-like in
(Mr Hoon) As long as it is only an obfuscation!
Chairman: Giving evidence to us, not talking
to his staff.
202. Can I turn to missile defence for smaller
areas, including the deployed forces protection? That is an area
that is worrying me following on from what was said earlier. In
the Technology Readiness and Risk Assessment Programme
the MoD concluded that: "it is still premature to decide
on acquiring an active ballistic missile defence for deployed
forces. . ." . Again, this morning, you said exactly the
same words. You said you believed it is premature to make decisions
on acquiring missile defence for the protection of deployed forces.
Exactly the same wording. This implies to me (which is complacent,
in a way) that the decision can be made at a later date safely;
we can leave it until later; it is not a real threat now, it is
premature so we can make it later. What sort of lead-time do you
envisage being needed between making a decision to acquire a missile
defence system and introducing one for our deployed forces?
(Mr Hoon) That is a refined version of the questions
that I was asked at the outset. Obviously, it will depend on the
emergence of a real threatthreat plus intentionto
our deployed forces. We simply do not see that immediately, but
as I have indicated we are very careful to monitor any such threat
from whatever source.
203. The general phraseology of "in the
next few years" is really just saying "We will wait
(Mr Hoon) As of today I do not see the capability
and the intention to attack deployed forces of the United Kingdom.
204. We tend to be monitoring and watching developments
and being very careful to get that information together. That
seems to leave things very late in the day. When we do make a
decision it will happen quickly, and our procurement policies
and the time it takes to get these things into place means that
we will be trapped into buying off-the-shelf, ready-made systems
and not going through the normal process of giving other people
a chance to get in. That is a worry I have, that we leave it naturally
because "we have not got evidence so far", "it
is a bit woolly", "we do not want to make wrong decisions"
and then, suddenly, it happens, we need it quick and we cannot
go through this 20-year development programme and buy off-the-shelf.
Is that a potential you see?
(Mr Hoon) I would be delighted to be the Secretary
of State responsible for a defence budget the size of that of
the United States and be able to spend $8 billion a year on research
and development. I happen to recognise, as you will recognise
as Members of Parliament, that that is not realistic.
205. I can understand that, although when we
went to Washington they were crying tears about how little money
they had. They all tell stories. We were also told when we had
experts here from DERA or QinetiQ that although we have not got
the money available in such quantities, our science level is very
high. British invention and the science level in these fields
is very high indeed. What technology do you think the UK could
give to the United States on developing a missile system? Have
we got the ability to give them, as we have done in the past,
the edge and lead?
(Mr Hoon) Mr Hawtin can give you more detail in a
second, but in principle the basis of the technology is, I should
not really use the word, "straightforward". However,
the difficulty about missile defence is the execution rather than
the basic technology, in the sense that we have the radar equipment,
we have, potentially, interceptors that could achieve the desired
effect. It is being able to refine that equipment to work 100
per cent of the time against an evolving threat that is the technological
challenge. In terms of actually having radars and missile interceptors,
potentially the basis of the technology is there already.
(Mr Hawtin) Putting it together, I think, is the very
difficult issue. Providing missile defence in the terms the Americans
are contemplating is anything but straightforward, hence the sums
of money they are spending on it and the length of their test
programme, both the broader research and development testing and
evaluation programme which is looking at what might work and what
will not work as well as their particular series of testsof
which we have just had the eighth in the series last weekend,
which was a success. To answer your specific question, what are
the areas in which we might share technology, we have since 1985
had a Memorandum of Understanding on collaborative research and
information exchange with the United States, and the areas it
covers include radar, tracking, counter-measures and discrimination.
So those are the kinds of areas where we believe we have a particular
contribution to make and where we are talking to the Americans
and contributing to their work. All of this in a way that is designed
to ensure we are better able to understand the technology, the
problems and the issues concerned should we reach the point at
which a decision to procure would appear sensible.
206. We are in there playing the game. That
eases some of my tension. Part of my problem, being a old trade-unionist,
is worrying about manufacturing; that British business, British
technology and skill levels are retained. That tends to drive
what I worry about. It seems to me that we just offered the facility
to the USA of Menwith Hill or Fylingdales to do what they want,
and we do not seem to be in this. We could be locked out because
of the speed and take-up of a missile system. If I take your answer
to mean that people are actually in there with the Americans discussing
everything at that level and that the Americans are wasting their
money, to some extent we will gain something for British technology
and skill levels, and I am quite happy with the last part of my
question. Is that a good interpretation? We are able to share
the meal at the table in America at that top level on these things?
(Mr Hawtin) We are certainly participating in the
way I described with the Americans, and I hope benefiting from
the rather larger sums of money they are able to contribute.
Syd Rapson: It must be great. Thank you, Chairman.
207. Can we come back to Russia? Secretary of
State, many of us expected the Russians to be rather more vehement
than they were in their objections to the US withdrawal from the
ABM Treaty. Can you say why you think the Russians adopted the
approach that they did on that announcement?
(Mr Hoon) Because it recognises the benefits to the
world of seeing deep cuts in offensive weapon systems and, having
discussed these issues with a number of senior figures in the
Russian administration, I think they are realistic about the way
in which technology is developing, and recognise the benefits
that can flow from a different basis on which to deal with the
United States than was the case as between the Soviet Union and
NATO during the Cold War.
208. Just following up on that, you seem to
be of the view that it is a Russian approach rather than a specific
Putin led approach that has adopted a rather more co-operative
stand on both the ABM Treaty and other US announcements. Is that
(Mr Hoon) I do not think it is right for me to comment
on internal discussions that might or might not take place in
Russia any more than there are internal discussions inside a British
Government. The President has set out the policy of the Russian
Government and I am entirely content with that.
209. That is interesting because we have certainly
heard concerns that what Mr Putin says and what other Russian
ministers might think could be rather different.
(Mr Hoon) I am seeing the Russian Foreign Minister
in three-quarters of an hour.
Chairman: I am seeing him in an hour-and-a-half,
so I shall ask him as well!
210. Would you like to say whether you are going
to raise the issue of either missile defence or the ABM Treaty
withdrawal and its possible future action with Mr Ivanov?
(Mr Hoon) I am sure we will be discussing a range
of bilateral issues.
211. You have spoken about Russia's reaction
to the ABM Treaty, and perhaps part of that is them looking ahead.
Do you get the impression that they are interested in the possibility
of the US being able to develop some kind of leakproof missile
umbrella? Are they showing any concerns about whether the US is
looking to develop an initial system and then will be looking
to enhance it?
(Mr Hoon) The Russians, as I indicated earlier, have
had a long-standing interest in missile defence. They have a deployed
system to protect the City of Moscow. They also indicated towards
the end of last year their willingness to participate in discussions
on the development of a comprehensive missile defence system.
So, yes, they have both a long-standing and a practical interest
in this subject.
212. So you think it is realistic to see US/Russian
co-operation on missile defence?
(Mr Hoon) I certainly think that there will be a range
of discussions between the United States and Russia, and missile
defence will be part of that.
213. Can I also ask you what the substance of
Russia's proposal to NATO is for ballistic missile defence co-operation,
whether it is seen as feasible and whether it is still being assessedwhat
stage it is at?
(Mr Hoon) Russia, as I indicated, did make a proposal
which is being considered carefully in NATO. I think it is still
the position that we want to see rather more detail on the way
in which this particular proposal might be developed. Nevertheless,
it does indicate both their interest in the subject and their
willingness to discuss it.
214. It is still being assessed at the moment
(Mr Hoon) Yes.
215. Can I then, finally, ask you about the
whole issue of Russia sharing its nuclear technology with Iran?
Their justification for that seems to be that it is useful for
financial reasons, even though they also appear to be well aware
of the risk that Iran's development of nuclear technology could
come back and bite Russia as well. Can you say what we in the
United Kingdom are trying to do to persuade Russia that sharing
such technology with Iran is not in its long-term interests?
(Mr Hoon) We would have discussions with a number
of countriesand I do not want to pick out Russiaabout
the concerns we would have over nuclear proliferation and about
the passing on of particular technological developments to those
countries who would seek to acquire them. The essential problem
in the modern world is that it is not actuallynotwithstanding
what I said earlier about North Koreastates necessarily
passing on that technology, but, frankly, individual scientists
who have, for example, in the case of the former Soviet Union,
been supported over very many years by the state but now find
themselves no longer funded to do their work and available, in
effect, to the highest bidder. That is a practical problem states
have to confront and one which I could not pretend to you is easy
to resolve, because those individuals clearly can move freely
from one country to another and sell their abilities to the highest
216. You seem to be suggesting that the problem
with Iran developing its nuclear technology is, perhaps, more
down to the action of individuals then the actual strategy or
policy of a particular country.
(Mr Hoon) That is how I would see it.
217. Going back to the forces protection, Secretary
of State, your department's memorandum to us states: "Current
ballistic missile threats were assessed to be of relatively low
accuracy, meaning that unitary high explosive warheads would be
of limited military utility". Have our troopswho we
are about to deploy to the Middle East, or Afghanistan, and other
vulnerable theatrestold you that they are content with
such a rationale; that they do not need an active defence against
(Mr Hoon) When you are talking about deploying troops
to the Middle East, the troops that I announced we will be deploying
are deploying to Afghanistan.
218. Indeed. I was not suggesting they were
deploying anywhere else at the moment.
(Mr Hoon) I am not aware of any threat to those troops
from ballistic missiles.
219. Have there been any discussions with your
senior military advisers about the potential risk to our deployed
forces from theatre ballistic missiles?
(Mr Hoon) In Afghanistan?