Select Committee on Defence Fourth Special Report



1. The Government welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Committee's report on The Threat from Terrorism. The Government has considered carefully the Committee's report and is grateful for the constructive and positive approach that the Committee took in its enquiry and for the contribution this report has made to the ongoing work on the New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review. This work is intended to ensure that we have the right concepts, the right forces and the right capabilities to meet the additional challenges we face from international terrorism and other asymmetric threats.

2. This memorandum sets out below the Government's observations on the main points in the Committee's report, ordered by the main subject areas. A number of the issues in which the Committee expressed a particular interest are the subject of its further enquiry into Defence and Security in the UK following the 11 September Terrorist Attacks and the Committee will therefore have a further the opportunity to re-examine or cover them in more detail.

3. Since receiving the Committee's report, the Ministry of Defence has published (on 14 February) a public discussion paper on the New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review. The Government wants the widest possible audience to understand how our thinking is evolving, and have the opportunity to express opinions in time to influence the work and the final conclusions. The Committee's input will be welcome.


"In the longer term these re-orientations in the terms of the relationships between some of the major countries and blocs of the world may well have more far-reaching consequences than any military or other actions taken directly against terrorists and terrorist organisations. Already the developments in relations between the United States and Russia appear to have fundamentally altered the terms of the debates on ballistic missile defence and the future of NATO." [HC348-I para 14]

4. The Government agrees with the Committee's finding that the events of 11 September and subsequently have had far reaching consequences. Within the framework of the wide range of work that is being undertaken across Government and internationally, the Ministry of Defence, through its work on the New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review, is assessing how 11 September has changed the strategic context as well as examining the roles of key international organisations, such as NATO and the EU, and our regional and bilateral relationships in the new environment.

5. The events of 11 September have had an effect on many international organisations. The decision by NATO to invoke Article 5 for the first time in its 52 year history was consistent with its process of adaptation since the end of the Cold War. The Alliance will continue to adapt its capabilities to reflect changes in the security environment.

6. We welcome the fact that the US and Russia are working together to establish a new strategic framework for their relationship, based on openness, mutual trust and co-operation. Both recognise the need to focus on tackling emerging threats, including international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.


"We fully endorse the actions that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have taken both to declare and to demonstrate our strong support for the United States. If that support risks making the United Kingdom more of a target for the sorts of people who attacked New York and Washington, it is a risk which we must accept. We must take the necessary steps to counter it; but we must not be dissuaded by it from doing the right thing." [HC348-I para 47]

7. The Government welcomes the strong support expressed by the Committee for its stance in the campaign against international terrorism. The UK stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States in line with our commitment to fight international terrorism. The attacks on the United States represented an attack on the free and civilised world. It is in all our interests to act.

The coalition has had significant successes in the campaign. Our campaign objectives have been made clear from the outset:

  • to bring Usama Bin Laden and other Al Qaida leaders to justice;
  • to prevent Usama Bin Laden and the Al Qaida network from posing a continuing terrorist threat;
  • to this end to ensure that Afghanistan ceases to harbour and sustain international terrorism and enables us to verify that the camps where terrorists train have been destroyed;
  • and to achieve a sufficient change in the Afghan leadership to ensure that Afghanistan's links to international terrorism are broken.

9. Usama Bin Laden and Al Qaida have suffered significant losses, but they still remain a threat and we shall therefore continue our operations until that threat has been lifted. But we have achieved the fourth objective and the third is within our grasp. The welcome establishment of the Afghan Interim Authority and the deployment of the International Security Assistance Force—in which the UK is playing a leading role—paves the way towards cementing both.

10. There remains a significant short-term risk of further terrorist attacks, and we are conscious that our involvement alongside the US could raise the profile of the UK as a potential target. The Government had a wide range of measures in place prior to 11 September to deal with terrorist threats and has put in place further measures subsequently. The Government is clear that the scale of the atrocities that we witnessed, in which UK citizens were also attacked and killed, means that the opportunity we now have to tackle international terrorism as a force for change in the long term is for our own, as well as the common good.

"In conclusion, we can see no reason to dissent from the general view of our witnesses, and others with whom we have discussed these issues, that there is a continuing threat to UK interests posed by the existence of organisations or groups whose aim is to inflict mass casualties." [HC348-I para 50]

11. The mechanism for establishing the specific threat to the UK is co-ordinated by the Cabinet Office, through the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) process. The lead Agency responsible for assessment of the threat posed by terrorism to UK interests at home and overseas is the Security Service. The MOD contributes fully to this process.

12. The most recent example of threat intelligence being acted upon led to the boarding of the MV NISHA on 21 December. As the Committee is aware, while no suspicious substances were found on the vessel, the Government believes it essential to maintain its vigilance.

13. Whilst it can be said that the United States and her interests abroad remain the primary target we do not rule out the possibility that their allies are also a target, especially the United Kingdom as a close ally in the fight against international terrorism. Usama Bin Laden has publicly declared his intention to attack UK as well as US targets in the Gulf. But it would be wrong to say that we have evidence of a particular threat.


"Although, under the Chemical Weapons Convention, declared stockpiles do not have to be destroyed until 2007, while Russia retains its large holdings other countries may feel let off the hook of destroying their own stockpiles. We are concerned also that expertise may proliferate, but our more immediate concern, is that weapons themselves may find their way into the hands of terrorist groups" [HC348-I para 56]

14. The Government notes the Committee's concerns about Russian chemical weapon stockpiles. The Chemical Weapons Convention requires all such stockpiles to be destroyed by 2007, with the possibility of extension to 2012. The Russian Government has already requested an extension of the deadline to 2012. The Government is concerned that substantial destruction of Russian stockpiles has not yet begun, and that delays have either occurred or are forecast to occur in the destruction programmes of other states. We therefore announced in July 2000 that, as part of Spending Review 2000, we would contribute up to £12M over the financial years 2001/02, 2002/03 and 2003/04 towards high priority chemical demilitarisation and biological non-proliferation projects in Russia.

15. On 20 December 2001 in London the Defence Secretary signed a bilateral treaty with Russia, which provides the essential legal basis for UK assistance with the destruction of Russian chemical weapon stocks. UK assistance will be focussed on industrial infrastructure projects that will contribute to bringing the planned US-funded chemical weapons destruction facility at Shchuch'ye into operation at an early date. Shchuch'ye will be the main facility for the destruction of Russian nerve agent munitions - the Russian Munitions Agency plans to use it to destroy over 4 million artillery munitions from the Shchuch'ye and Kizner storage depots. The UK Treaty with Russia also provides for third parties to channel funding through the US assistance programme. Norway has decided to follow this route in providing assistance at Shchuch'ye, and it is likely that the EU will also do so.

16. Russia's chemical weapons stockpile is stored in 7 storage depots, which are guarded by the Russian Armed Forces. We understand that the US plans to provide funding to improve security at two storage depots where nerve agent artillery munitions are stored.

"The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention of 1972 prohibits the development, testing, production and stockpiling of biological weapons¼ But it does not contain any mechanism for verifying that states are complying with its terms. Attempts have been made to agree a verification protocol. In July 2001 such a protocol seemed all but agreed until the United States rejected it." [HC348-I para 66]

17. The Government notes the Committee's comments on the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC). The Government remains committed to strengthening the BTWC. At the 5th BTWC Review Conference, which will reconvene in Geneva in November 2002, we will be working with all States Parties to agree a Final Document which includes effective measures to strengthen the Convention. We will publish shortly a Government Paper concerning the UK's view on strengthening the BTWC.

"According to a recent report by the IAEA 'there are currently no comprehensive binding international standards for the physical protection of nuclear material.' Radioactive material is even less protected." [HC348-I para 69]

18. The Government recognises the Committee's concerns. The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, and recommendations on The Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities provides a level of protection for nuclear material when being transported internationally. In addition, international agreement has been reached on Physical Protection Objectives and Fundamental Principles and these have the advantage of allowing each State to enact measures appropriate to its own circumstances.

"Biological agents may be more difficult to obtain or grow, but the international controls over them are weak." [HC348-I para 73]

19. The Government notes the Committee's comments on international controls over biological agents. The international adoption of agreed standards for the protection of dangerous pathogens has been one of the Government's aims in the negotiations to strengthen the BTWC.

"Although we have seen no evidence that either al Qaida or other terrorist groups are actively planning to use chemical, biological and radiological weapons, we can see no reason to believe that people, who are prepared to fly passenger planes into tower blocks, would balk at using such weapons. The risk that they will do so cannot be ignored." [HC348-I para 79]

20. The Government's objective is the elimination of international terrorism as a force for change in international affairs. The Government's campaign objectives, set out at paragraph 7 above, were given to Parliament on 15 October 2001. Usama bin Laden and Al Qaida have demonstrated their intent to commit atrocities and would not hesitate to use weapons of mass destruction. That is why the international community must continue with its vigorous response and defeat international terrorism as well as bearing down on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

21. The possibility of a CBRN attack on the UK has been recognised for some time. The risk of such an attack, however, remains low. Notwithstanding this, the Government agrees with the Committee that the risk cannot be ignored. Indeed, it is because of this that a considerable effort has been made to improve the national capability to respond to a CBRN attack. One example of this is the significant number of personnel who have received additional training, with the assistance of the MOD, in CBRN protection and mitigation techniques. These include the police and other emergency service personnel who would be in the front line of any response to an attack. In parallel, funding has been made available through the Home Office and other Departments for the procurement of additional equipment and countermeasures for the emergency services and National Health Service.

"The Government's response to the attacks of 11 September has also included steps to increase security in the UK itself. Emergency legislation has been introduced in the form of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill." [HC 348-I para 88]

22. The Government notes the Committee's reference to the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. The Bill has subsequently become law and has strengthened the Government's ability to take action against those seeking to develop, obtain or use chemical, nuclear, biological or radiological weapons. It is now an offence for anyone in the UK or a UK person abroad to assist in the overseas development of chemical, nuclear or biological weapons. There are new controls over laboratories and other premises handling potentially dangerous pathogens and toxins. The security of the nuclear industry has been enhanced and there are stronger sanctions against those making damaging disclosures of sensitive information on the security of nuclear sites (including military as well as civil sites), nuclear material and proliferation-sensitive nuclear technology. It is also an offence for anyone to use or threaten to use a biological, chemical or radioactive substance to cause serious harm.


"Taken with the terms of reference set out in the MoD's memorandum and the list of questions raised by the Secretary of State, the widening of the SDR's geographical and regional assumptions strike us as requiring a more fundamental reappraisal of the SDR than is implied by the phrase 'a new chapter'". [HC348-I para 101]

23. The Government has no plans to conduct a new defence review. The Strategic Defence Review left us well placed to meet the additional challenges we face from international terrorism, conducted on a scale similar to the 11 September threats. We need to keep a sense of proportion: but, while not everything needs to change, the Government is not complacent and is undertaking additional work to ensure that we have the right concepts, forces and capabilities. The aim is to build on SDR assumptions and on the broad direction that the SDR took. The New Chapter is about ensuring that our Armed Forces have all the tools they need to do the jobs they might be asked to do in future to prevent, tackle and defend against the threat from international terrorism and a range of other possible scenarios.

"We recommend that the MoD makes every effort to keep to the timetable of Spring 2002 for the publication of the new chapter for the SDR." [HC348-I paragraph 105]

24. The Government notes the Committee's recommendation and expects, as it stated in its memorandum to the Committee dated 5 November 2001, "to be in a position to publish some conclusions in the spring or early summer".

"From the evidence which we have received so far we conclude, on a provisional basis, that we in the UK will have to do more to focus our capabilities on defending our own weak points. We shall return to this issue in our inquiry into Defence and Security in the UK." [HC348-I para 110]

25. The Government notes the Committee's finding. Dealing with terrorist acts within the UK falls within the operational responsibility of the police. While the Armed Forces have a role to play in domestic counter-terrorism, the development of preventative measures, including threat assessment, rests with a wide range of agencies and Departments who have the expertise and the resources to ensure efficient security. There has never been any question, however, of the Government's determination to provide the best possible protection for the country, its citizens, interests and infrastructure from available resources.

26. The MOD has provided the Committee with detailed information on the improvements that have been made to our overall capability to protect against terrorism and respond to it. Security at key sites and economic key points is the responsibility of a number of Departments whose work is co-ordinated by the Cabinet Office.

"We agree that the Armed Forces have demonstrated their capabilities in providing command and control assistance in civil emergencies. But we are concerned that the present arrangements for involving them were devised with civil emergencies in mind. We remain to be convinced that they would prove adequate in the event of a large scale terrorist attack. In particular we are concerned to see clear, accountable and co-ordinated leadership across government departments." [HC348-I para 124]

27. The Armed Forces have well developed command and control capabilities which have been exercised, practised and tested in the most demanding environments. In addition, the logistic management capability and the wide range of other skills within the Armed Forces can offer significant contributions to the resolution of various crises, both civil and military. It is for this reason that they have been used during recent civil emergencies, such as last year's foot and mouth outbreak and floods.

28. Although existing contingency plans in place were not designed specifically for events such as those of 11 September, their generic nature makes them flexible and adaptable to new requirements. All those involved in developing the response to civil emergencies are aware that it must be able to deal with the worst case. The UK Government's review of civil emergency planning arrangements, which will ensure that they are fully effective, predated 11 September. The Ministry of Defence is playing a full part in the review and would be a contributor to the response should a major terrorist incident occur in the UK. The lead, however, rightly falls to other agencies, departments and authorities that are best able to respond in the first instance.

29. Regular Home Office exercises are conducted to test mechanisms involved in counter terrorism. There is a major exercise this month which will test a wide range of assets, mechanisms and systems at all levels. Such exercises are invaluable in maintaining the effectiveness of all those involved in the counter-terrorist response.

"We believe that a review of the arrangements for the provision of military assistance to the civil power should be included in the further work on the SDR." [HC348-I para 125]

30. There are well-founded and tested procedures for support from the Armed Forces to the civil authorities for counter terrorism. But this support also goes wider: for example, the Armed Forces have in the last 18 months responded to requests from civil authorities for assistance with the fuel strikes, floods and the foot and mouth outbreak.

31. The Ministry of Defence already has work in hand through the New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review and is seeking to address a range of questions, such as:

  • How should we strike a balance between the defence role in helping to protect the UK, and contributing to operations against international terrorists and other asymmetric threats overseas?

  • Are there ways in which military support to the civil authorities can be improved?
  • Are there additional or enhanced roles for our Reserve Forces (both in home defence and security and in overseas operations)?

The Armed Forces of course already play an important part in the defence of the homeland, but it must be recognised that the lead for domestic security lies with the civil agencies—and with the police in particular.

"We welcome the Government's openness to reassessing the role of the Reserves. We have no doubt that they are an under-used resource. We particularly draw attention to the decision under the SDR to transfer the anti-nuclear biological chemical weapons (NBC) capability from the Royal Yeomanry to a regular unit. Because of the assessment of the threat for such weapons at the time the principal task of this unit is the protection of Armed Forces deployed overseas. Despite the Policy Director's reservations about exposing the TA to such threats, we believe that there are strong arguments for a NBC capability whose focus would be attacks on and incidents in the UK." [HC348-I para 128]

33. The Government takes note of the Committee's view that there should be a NBC capability whose focus would be attacks on and incidents in the UK. The MOD provides a national capability designed to make safe a discovered CBRN device. This capability is permanently available in the UK, part-funded by the Home Office, and combines MOD's military and scientific expertise. The Department also works closely with the Home Office, emergency services and other Departments and agencies to ensure that there is an effective capability for dealing with hoax and suspect devices, and on the detection of radiological, nuclear and other devices.

34. It is too soon to set out possible new roles for the Reserves. The future role of the Armed Forces in managing the results of a terrorist attack is under consideration in the context of the New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review and the Committee's advice will be considered. It would, however, be inappropriate for the Armed Forces to attempt to duplicate the roles of other agencies, such as the emergency and health services.

"If the new chapter of the SDR is to propose a capability for pre-emptive military action it must also ensure that such action does not lead our forces to operate outside international law." [HC348-I para 131]

35. The Government affirms its commitment to operate within the framework of international law. The work is addressing how we engage the causes of international terrorism in terms of five broad conceptual aims: how we prevent the conditions that allow international terrorists organisations to operate; how we deter would-be attackers; how we coerce with military force would-be attackers if other means fail; how we disrupt the activities that support international terrorism; and, ultimately, how we destroy active terrorist cells with military action.


"We do not believe that concerns over creating public fear or encouraging hoaxers are sufficient to justify failing to provide balanced and accurate information to the public on this issue. We shall consider how this should best be done in our forthcoming inquiry" [HC348-I para 112]

"Taken together with the conclusion which we have drawn that the role and capabilities of the special forces will be another central element in the work on the SDR, the inclusion of work on the question of 'specific intelligence against general vulnerability' leads us to have serious doubts over the extent to which the contents of the 'new chapter' can be openly discussed. We await with interest to see how the MoD resolves this issue in the consultation/discussion paper which it plans to publish early next year" [HC348-I para 136]

36. The Government has been and will be as open and realistic as it can be about the terrorist threat to the UK homeland. But, as the Committee has noted, we must strike the right balance between informing the public and creating unnecessary anxiety—itself a key aim of international terrorism.

37. Since 11 September, the Government has made numerous public statements setting out both the threat and our responses to it. A good example of this has been the way in which we have been encouraging a public debate about the work we are currently undertaking in connection with the New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review. To help promote that debate we published on 14 February a discussion paper entitled "The Strategic Defence Review: A New Chapter". This is available in public libraries and on the internet. This provides an opportunity for members of the public, members of Parliament and others with specific interest or expertise to contribute.

38. The Government continues to place a high priority upon the provision of timely, accurate public information, using a wide range of communications tools.


"A greater focus on 'interdiction' against terrorist threats could place special forces at the very heart of future operations. In such circumstances, a sensible debate on our military response to terrorism will have to deal more openly and frankly with the size, role and utility on our special forces." [HC348-I para 135]

39. The Government has in the past made it known that the UK has Special Forces which, as well as their war-fighting roles, are used in support of its counter-terrorist policy, and to provide assistance in this area to the law enforcement agencies. However, successive governments have adopted a policy of not commenting, save in exceptional circumstances, on Special Forces matters. The effectiveness of the Special Forces in the counter-terrorist role depends on maintaining secrecy about their operations, methods, capabilities (including numbers) and equipment. Moreover, we need to protect their identities because they and their families are at risk from terrorist groups. This therefore constrains what we can say in public about our plans for Special Forces. However, the Government believes there is scope for a general debate about the utility and role of military forces in dealing with terrorist threats in terms of how:

  • We can try to prevent the conditions that allow international terrorist organisations to operate, and help less capable states build better capabilities to counter terrorism themselves. And by contributing to peace support operations we can prevent instability or assist in stabilisation. Where prevention has failed we can assist in the post-conflict recovery, to help create the conditions for stability. The UK has particular expertise and experience in leading initial short duration peace support operations in higher risk environments, encouraging others to take over once the conditions for stabilisation have been set (eg Macedonia in 2001).
  • We can deter would-be attackers by making sure that they and their supporters are aware of our capability, readiness and willingness to act against them.
  • We may need to coerce regimes and states which harbour or support international terrorism if other means have not dissuaded them. We are looking at a range of technologies to see if they offer more effective and precise options.
  • We can try to disrupt the activities that support international terrorist groups, by interdicting their sources and flows of materiel, finance and freedom of movement.
  • And we might need, ultimately, to act to destroy active terrorist cells with military action, such as find and strike raids on key terrorist facilities which may be widely spread geographically.


"We may need more specialist and highly-trained agile forces which can be made available at short notice. If interdiction forces are to be an important component of the MoD's response to the threat from terrorism, this issue needs to be tackled with some urgency by the Department; as is highlighted by readiness capability gaps already evident. [HC348-I para 134]

40. The Strategic Defence Review concluded that in today's world we would need to be able to conduct "frequent, often simultaneous and sometimes prolonged operations" overseas. It recognised that rapid deployment is highly demanding, and places a premium on the flexibility of our Armed Forces. Our discussion paper on "The Strategic Defence Review: A New Chapter" recognises the need to assess, after 11 September, whether our planned capabilities are the right ones, and indicates that we want to assure ourselves that we have the right shape and balance of rapidly deployable forces, and that we are looking closely at whether we need more of our forces at high readiness.

"Although this might seem encouraging, we must not forget that our starting point is that the necessary resources to implement all the commitments under the original SDR are not yet available. Indeed, the MoD's Performance Report 2000-01 noted that there remain many areas of capability with weaknesses, with 'manpower and equipment shortages ... the biggest challenges'" [HC348-I para 138]

41. Progress on implementing the SDR has generally been good, and operations, including in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, have shown that we have been able to respond with militarily more capable forces as a result of the changes we have made. Implementation has, however, been complicated by a variety of factors, not least the frequency and concurrency of recent crises, and more remains to be done.

42. The quotation from The Ministry of Defence's Performance Report 2000/01 refers only to the ability of force elements to meet readiness targets. The report went on to state that problem areas had been addressed, that solutions are either in place or being sought, and that the training, sustainability, and overall ability of force elements to meet readiness targets improved marginally in 2000/01.

43. The Government has taken account of lessons learned since the SDR and adjusted our planning accordingly. We will continue to adapt our detailed plans for implementation to ensure that they remain fully relevant in the light of experience and the developing strategic context.

"We believe that, if it is to be our policy to maintain a wide range of capabilities, it follows that we must be prepared to pay for them. If we are to add a chapter to the SDR, we must add the money to pay for it. The government should therefore make an early commitment that it will find the necessary extra money to fund those additional capabilities which may be identified as necessary in the light of the attacks of 11 September." [HC348-I para 141]

44. It is too early to speculate on possible resource consequences of the work: we are not at that stage. Work to date has been thinking through a set of policy and conceptual issues and the Government will want to think through its priorities for tackling terrorism through military and other means, including diplomacy, intelligence, economic, financial, humanitarian and aid policies. Priorities will be resolved in the normal way, including through the Spending Review process. We are obviously making, and have made, necessary urgent adjustments to our posture and capabilities, both in the context of the military campaign and of arrangements for the defence and security of the UK.

"The campaign against terrorism has been described as three-pronged in that it includes military, diplomatic and humanitarian initiatives. This three-pronged campaign must be pursued both legitimately and relentlessly. We must not lose our sense of the urgency and importance of this task in the months ahead. We must not hesitate to take the necessary steps to protect the UK and our interests overseas." [HC348-I para 144]

45. The Government notes the Committee's recommendation and shares its sense of urgency and priority. In addition to military levers, there is also scope for using political, economic, financial and legal means—all these have already been and will continue to be deployed as part of the campaign against international terrorism. The Government will not relent and will continue to play a full part in the international campaign against terrorism.

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