Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)




  1. Thank you so much for coming. You know of our inquiry which will embrace not just NATO enlargement, but what kind of organisation will these successful applicant countries actually be joining, and we sought to invite you obviously because of your long knowledge of the issue. Perhaps I can start off with a really easy question which is an untaxing question, not that you need to be gently introduced to obstreperous questions afterwards. We are discussing the enlargement process in more detail later in our meeting, but, as a starting point to discussions of other issues, do you all anticipate invitations being sent to six or seven of the applicant countries? We split up into three groups a couple of weeks ago, some went to the Baltics, some went to Slovenia and Slovakia and some went to Romania and Bulgaria. Everyone said that there will be seven as long as the elections do not go wrong in Slovakia. Do you support the seemingly conventional wisdom that there will be six plus one or seven minus one? Are they likely to go less? Is there a possibility that countries we are not seriously considering might be admitted?

  (Professor Heisbourg) On enlargement, first of all, obviously none of us can know what will actually be decided upon in Prague, which is still pretty much down the road in November, but if one were to put the question slightly differently, that is, would there be any major problem in having six or seven rather than two or three, my answer would be no. Given the manner in which NATO is evolving, the manner in which relations with Russia are evolving, I do not think there would be a serious risk or penalty in going for a broad enlargement rather than for a small enlargement. That being said, we are going to start to have to face fairly soon, particularly if we have a broad enlargement, the rather tricky issue of what to do with Ukraine. Ukraine has indicated its willingness to put forward its candidacy to NATO pretty much as a direct consequence of the NATO-Russia agreement. It did so, I think it was, on May 29th, so the timing is interesting and of course there would be an element of oddity to have a Council of 20 or (20 plus with enlargement) including Russia and not having Europe's largest country, which is Ukraine, having some sort of relationship with NATO which would go beyond the 1997 Founding Act lines. Therefore, the real question to me is not how do we handle this enlargement, but what do we do next and notably what do we do with this enormous chunk and rather difficult, awkward chunk which is Ukraine?

  2. Every country has come in. Will France consider it?
  (Professor Heisbourg) Military integration? Well, first of all, the good news is that in the absence of co-habitation, whatever the new Government and President wish to decide, they will have the freedom of manoeuvre to do so, whereas there was a significant downside for either the President or Prime Minister to take the initiative on such an issue as long as we were under co-habitation, so the good news is that there is freedom of manoeuvre. I do not know at all what the new team is going to want to do. There have been no statements to my knowledge, no indications, no hints. Finally, what one should never forget in this rather sad story of the French integrated NATO relationship is that it punishes the French rather more than it punishes NATO because of course when there is a need to actually do something, like in Bosnia or Kosovo, the French are fully integrated. Our allies know that they can count on us rather more than they can count on some of the so-called integrated members, but, conversely, since we are not integrated in peacetime, we are not actually involved in the planning process which then translates into operations plans and our pilots or our soldiers have to run risks under an integrated NATO to which we have not been party in terms of elaborating those plans, so we are the ones who get hurt in the process. It is all our fault. It is something which is pretty much of our own making, but it would be a mistake for our partners to act as the victims. We are the victims of our own shortcomings or decisions. I do not think NATO as such is a victim of France's standoffish peacetime attitude towards NATO. We are no longer in the Cold War situation where the removal of France, as it were, did pose fairly significant logistical and operational problems for SHAPE. That is all.

  3. What has been happening over the last decade with closer and closer co-operation between France and NATO has meant that the transition will not be as wide a chasm as it might have been a decade ago. If the will is there, it will be a fairly easy transition.
  (Professor Heisbourg) It would be a fairly easy transition. Speaking as an analyst and, by definition, personally, I would rather see advantages to us becoming a fully-fledged member of integrated NATO. I simply hope that the Americans will still be in by the time we get in.

  4. It might be that France pushes America out, but I hope that will not be the choice.
  (Professor Heisbourg) Well, America, is obviously not formally out, but most of the US force structure is not in NATO. EUCOM is in NATO, but EUCOM, the European command, represents about 8 per cent of the US force structure, and there also the Cold War is over. Most American forces do not have a clue about NATO standard operating procedures, NATO standards and so on. We already had an inkling of this during the Gulf War. If you allow me to give an illustration of this, the French deployed during the Gulf War, you will remember, a light division called La Division de Daguet, which rendered quite good service, but it was light and particularly it was light in terms of artillery service, so Schwarzkopf decided to attach to it an artillery brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division, so the French Division found itself sandwiched, as it were, between the 18th Army Corps (a NATO/US Corps using NATO procedures) at the top end, and at the bottom end an artillery brigade from a US unit which belonged to CENTCOM, which had no clue, none whatsoever, as to what NATO was or is in terms of its military dimension. Mercifully, between the French, the NATO/Americans and the non-NATO/ Americans, we had three or four months to work out ad hoc operating procedures. We will not normally have three or four months' time to do these sorts of things, and the real problem in military terms for NATO is whether the Americans are still interested in using it as a machine to produce interoperability and common standards between Allied Forces, so I was not being entirely facetious when putting in parallel the French and the Americans. The Americans are very largely outside of NATO.

  5. Thank you. Dr Honig, it is my fault for allowing Dr Heisbourg to wander, but back to the original question—7, 8, 9, 10, 11, how many do you think?
  (Dr Honig) My hunch would be that it would be larger rather than smaller, enlargement. How large exactly would be impossible to tell at this stage. I think that the main reason would be that since the rather large cloud has been cast over the future of NATO, I would think that the Allies would feel themselves under pressure to present a sense of purpose, mission, movement forward which enlargement on the largest side would be giving them, so I would think it would be rather larger than smaller.

  6. And will the process end after this raft?
  (Dr Honig) I would agree that Ukraine is going to be the tricky one for the future. There has been the relationship, the institutionalised relationship has now been established with Russia, which is I think an important step forward. Whether it will work obviously depends on the willingness of the parties on both sides, particularly on the Russian side, to make it work, but the institutionalisation of the relationship is a very important step, but indeed it leaves out Ukraine which is difficult. I think all the other countries which are now on the verge of being admitted into NATO do not, as such, pose big political problems, and lots of military, technical problems should be all right and it is one of the things NATO should be able to cope with.

Mr Hancock

  7. How can it be a problem without the Ukraine? If NATO rules clearly state that no country can be a member of NATO if it has a non-NATO power with forces on its territory and the Ukraine has signed this long-term deal with the Russians for huge tracts of the Crimea to be a Russian base for 50 years or more so that they themselves know that that presents a problem and it certainly presents a problem to NATO, why would the Ukraine aspire to join when they know they could not?
  (Dr Honig) I must admit that the problem of Ukraine is not one in which, well, the problem with Ukraine is largely a political one since NATO has been moving towards an all-inclusive European security organisation where I think one of its main functions is becoming the creation of what used to be called and should still be called the `security community' and where it is awkward to have one country which is such a big chunk to be on the outside. As a big country, it is difficult to influence, and Slovakia is a problem, because of its domestic politics, of being entirely democratic, and it is a problem which, because of the size of the country, you will not have influence and it is easier for the country to reform itself and become an acceptable member. With a country like Ukraine and Belarus, for that matter, it is much more complicated, thus you create a European or a Euro-Atlantic, but at least a European security community within which there is this one very big black hole and a smaller one, Belarus, which could lead to problems if those countries feel unhappy about their sense of persecution and all kinds of very-difficult-to-predict political problems may arise. That is why I think it is important to find some way of engaging with these countries and trying to find a way forward to include them in the building of this security community.
  (Mr Hopkinson) In general, I concur with my colleagues. I think the enlargement will be bigger rather than smaller. I see no virtue now in an enlargement of, say, two or three. I think it equally unlikely that the former Yugoslav states[1] or Albania will be brought in at this stage, so I come out to around seven. It could be five, but I find it difficult to make up a package of five which is convincing, so I think one is probably at or about seven. I agree entirely with the concern over the Ukraine. The recent steps with Russia have been enormously helpful and in the right direction, but we have now got to the oddity, having included in the NATO family, as it were, very closely the largest European state, where the second largest is now in not quite a state of limbo, but it is disassociated and that has to be addressed.


Jim Knight

  8. Do you think that Sweden and Finland will look to join?
  (Mr Hopkinson) It depends very much on how NATO goes and develops and also, to a degree, on how the EU goes and develops. If you had asked me that five years ago, I would have given a very clear answer that yes, they were but waiting for the day, but I think it less certain now. It depends what utility they see frankly in NATO and I think there are more questions from their point of view over that now than there would have been some years ago.

  9. And the likely membership of the Baltics will not make that much difference to them in that debate?
  (Mr Hopkinson) I think they are much more anxious to see the Baltics in than to see themselves in because the Baltics need the stability, the badge of approval, the joining of Western institutions, whereas Finland and Sweden are stable, rich, indisputably part of the West already. The fact that the Baltics were in might demonstrate that there can be no Russian anguish over this because if one had asked the Russians would they rather have in Finland or Estonia, I am sure they would have said Finland because Finland was a mature and stable state and had worked out a modus vivendi with Russia, but I do not think that would be a major factor for those two potential applicants.

Mr Howarth

  10. Given that the applicant states can only make a very limited military contribution to NATO, do you think there are political reasons for their being admitted and if some of those states were not admitted, for example, Bulgaria and Romania which I visited, do you think there would be consequences, repercussions of a considerable political nature?
  (Mr Hopkinson) I think there are indirect military contributions they can make frankly by space and bases and so on and that is not irrelevant in the case, for example, of Romania and Bulgaria or Slovakia. They may also provide for peacekeeping operations some engineers and support troops which will take the strain off other players, so I would not say that because they are not first-rate fighting forces at the moment and will not be for a long time, they can make no military contribution.

  11. I was not suggesting that they could not make a contribution, but only a limited contribution, effectively insofar as they are able, very effectively, but limited.
  (Mr Hopkinson) I accept and sorry, I was not trying to suggest otherwise.

  12. I just wanted to put that on the record.
  (Mr Hopkinson) I think that the real reasons for including them are largely political, that the ones for including them in the community of nations, as it were, in Europe. One is letting them into the first significant operating Western institution, so that is important both for presentation and in terms of their internal politics. I think, particularly in the case of Romania, a disappointment now could be very repercussive on their domestic politics, but in talking of politics, or generally political reasons, I see those as to do with their external relations and stability as much as with their internal relations.

Mr Cran

  13. You have said, if I heard you properly, that the reasons are, and I think you used the words "overwhelmingly political" in relation to the number that gets in. Are there any differences of view as between the major players already within NATO who will take these decisions? Do they all perceive it as being overwhelmingly political and where does the major structure sit in all this in the form of Robertson or whoever, the Secretary General? Does he see it as a political exercise too?
  (Mr Hopkinson) I think almost all the major players would see the reasons as ultimately political. They may have different judgments about the actual politics and which candidates they would favour and I think it is no great secret that many of the major European states would be happier for a variety of reasons with a smaller enlargement, but the wider context would move to a big enlargement. The NATO structures, well, I would not venture to answer for Lord Robertson. I suspect he might see it as bringing a political set of issues to the fore rather than military, but beyond Lord Robertson of course the NAC, the NATO Council, reflects the views of governments. NATO itself does not exist in that sense; it is reflective of ambassadors who are instructed by capitals.

  14. Just to follow it up so that I can understand it completely, I understand what you say about the fact that the NATO structures reflect governments entirely, but that does not mean to say that there is not a view there somewhere. It just occurred to me that perhaps in this great debate about what NATO is going to be in the future, the clearer view about the military role of NATO might have come from the NATO structures, namely Lord Robertson.
  (Mr Hopkinson) It might indeed have come from him and certainly would come from some of the military headquarters of course because they would be taking on additional military tasks in the need for Article 5 planning for these states without getting from them a significant military contribution to that. So if you asked the military structures how do they then do the calculus, they would undoubtedly say, "Well, we would wish the decision to be taken on military grounds", but I think they would come back to the view that the calculus is somewhat adverse on military grounds.

Mr Hancock

  15. First of all, I would like to direct my questions to Mr Hopkinson and then ask the other two to come in. You have said on more than one occasion that you thought that NATO was dying. I would be interested to know what you think the symptoms of this illness are and whether or not you feel that enlargement is actually changing, and you have already slightly referred to this, from a military to a more political alliance. I would be grateful if you could also suggest whether or not you think the death will be speeded up by the process of enlargement.
  (Mr Hopkinson) Taking the last point first, if I may, I do not think it will. I think, if anything, it will be deferred and indeed it may give NATO a lease of life of a rather different sort. I do wish to be clear, I do think that NATO is dying, but I do not think it is dead yet. I think there are a number of elements there which ought to be saved if one possibly can. The habits of consultation and so on and dialogue will be a useful thing and that those can only have additional significance if one adds further players to them, as with the agreement with Russia. As regards symptoms, one can pick up the tensions over the conduct of the Kosovo war and some of the reactions out of Washington after that war. One could pick up the fact that Article 5, as invoked for the first time, did not lead to the engagement of the Alliance. And I think that was always a possibility even in the darkest days of the Cold War, but there the theory was that by having American troops move forward, if the Russians came, it triggered a reaction so the Alliance moved as one. One might find states now coming in starting to appreciate that Article 5 is much looser than that. It says basically that every member of the Alliance will do what it thinks appropriate on the day, and that might range from rushing to the defence of some state which had been attacked to saying, "Well, we should do our best to persuade your neighbour to stop pressing you". I do not put it flippantly because it is a very serious matter, but I think there is now a wider realisation that the glue which held the Alliance together, the common concern against the Soviet Union, the planning for Article 5 and that being the bedrock of the Alliance is no longer there. There is no outside threat of that sort and Article 5 is no longer the glue of the Alliance. There are useful things NATO can do, but it is no longer the major animating spirit and it is no longer locking the United States into Europe as it used to and very understandably. There are few security problems in Europe of the sort that NATO would deal with. The problems lie outside and NATO is not yet geared, and may never be, to being an extra-European agent.

  16. You have overlapped another question, but I would like to hear what your colleagues feel about whether NATO is dying or not as well, but on your point about Article 5, the fact that Article 5 as enacted, the decision as to whether or not NATO implemented that decision in the defence of the United States in Afghanistan was not then a NATO decision, was it? The Americans decided to act completely unilaterally. Do you feel that there should have been then a more direct NATO control over that once they had invoked Article 5?
  (Mr Hopkinson) I think it would have been, in practical terms, unrealistic to expect NATO planners who have got maps of Europe and the surrounding areas to be planning a campaign in Afghanistan. As we heard from François, they do not have the actual US assets which would be used there under their control and so on. I think one could perhaps have made more of presenting the Alliance as a forum for consultation rather than having the consultation either through capitals or in the CENTCOM command headquarters.

  Mr Hancock: Can I hear what your colleagues think about the issue of whether NATO is alive?

Rachel Squire

  17. Before you do that, I particularly wanted to come back to Mr Hopkinson. I am very interested in hearing what the Professor and Dr Honig have to say, but I am curious, I am interested as to why you are so pessimistic about NATO. The article that you wrote and which was published in the Royal United Services Institute journal, there you say that NATO is dying and you then go on to say, "However, it embodies some useful structures, procedures and experience which should be secured for the future. That will require reform of military structures and political processes". Now, I think what I would say is that it almost seems that at the beginning of what you say, that NATO is dying, and then saying that it has useful structures seems to be a contradiction. I think many of us would agree that the structures and processes need reform, and they need reform whether or not NATO enlarges in order to deal far more successfully with the changed world since the end of the Cold War, but why do you seem so certain that NATO is an organisation that cannot transform its structures and processes in order to deal far more effectively with the changed security defence climate of 2002 and look to act in a far more flexible way, as I think the Professor said, with the US and other allies in NATO being able to kind of select and bring together a suitable military response, whether it is in Afghanistan or wherever else future threats may occur?
  (Mr Hopkinson) I will try to answer that, Chairman. The difficulty is one gets into metaphors by talking about things like animating spirits and so on. Essentially the mechanisms do require reform and to be useful they will have to be reformed. The question is whether one can say that that spirit which was manifested in locking the US into European security, the transatlantic link, all for one, the members around the Council table moving by unanimity, an attack on one is an attack on all, whether that is sufficient to inspire the Member States to collaborate, to spend money on defence, to act together and plan for common positions on security. It is that which I think has been overtaken, and I do not think a change to the SHAPE headquarters, for example, to a lighter structure or a more responsive structure will actually put that political drive back. Coming back to something I said earlier, ultimately it is governments which animate NATO and whether they are prepared to animate in the way that NATO was animated for the first 50 years or the first 40 years at any rate I think is a doubtful question.
  (Dr Honig) I do not think NATO is dying yet. I do not see enough indications that that is the case. In particular, I think it has got these two big chunks of work cut out for itself which certainly, in bureaucratic terms, will keep it going for quite a long time. The first one is the Partnership for Peace, the enlargement, the building of this security community in Europe in which every country in Europe will have transparent civil military relations, transparent budgets, where everything in the security defence field is done properly according to modern-day, democratic standards, but that is going to be a long-term process, so that is one chunk. The second chunk is operations like in Bosnia and Kosovo, but also in Afghanistan at the moment, which will keep NATO forces busy in peacekeeping operations and trying to rebuild countries. I do not see that sort of thing going away either. Even though the operation in Afghanistan is not directly a NATO operation, it still uses so much of NATO assets that it is sort of a NATO operation in disguise. One can be reasonably confident that that sort of operation around the globe will continue to appear in one form or another, so I think that that will provide a basic rationale for the continuing existence of NATO, or, on a more political level, there are problems and the primary problem at the moment is the relationship with the United States which is changing, although in large part it is as a result of particular policies on the part of the Bush Administration which are not irreversible if another President takes office or if President Bush changes his mind, which is possible as well. That is changing, so one may be able to make the argument that NATO is becoming more of a European Alliance. The second element which is creating a problem is that the main rationale for particularly the smaller European allies, but I think the larger ones as well, of being keen on NATO in the past was the element of consultation with the United States, that it was and still is the one organisation in which the European countries sit around the table with the United States, where they can have direct contact in the hope at least of direct influence as well. That has meant that those countries were always quite keen on maintaining that, and whether the United States reciprocated in actually listening to the Europeans was another matter. The United States, on the other hand, during the Cold War in particular, tried very hard to get the Europeans to follow its policies and as a result NATO was in that sense also important. That is where we have now seen a bit of a change with the Bush Administration where the Bush Administration does not find it as important to create a semblance of war legitimacy for its policies by lining up allies. I do think that that is a mistaken attitude and I have some hope that the Bush Administration may change its mind and revalue the importance of allies in trying, in its war on terrorism at the moment, to build up stronger support from its allies in its policies.

Mr Howarth

  18. But surely when its allies demonstrate a distinct unwillingness to raise their defence expenditure in a manner which would enable them to make a serious contribution, would this not make the Americans very sceptical about these allies?
  (Dr Honig) That is true, but, simply put, there are two forms of support. One is the sort of hard support of military assets, but I think there is a very important other form of support which is support for the policies of the United States, the way it goes about, in the example of terrorism, fighting terrorism. I do believe sincerely that in the modern world it is difficult for states to behave in a 20th Century/early 21st Century fashion and that they can truly go it alone.

  19. But they can. The reality is that they just increased their defence expenditure by $47,000 million. That is bigger than our defence budget in Europe and they can go it alone.
  (Dr Honig) But it is very difficult, it does raise the question of the legitimacy of the policies pursued by the United States and it may be self-defeating in the end when the United States is seen as a unilateralist actor, a neo-imperialist, and I think it does create serious problems, not even in the long term, but in the medium term. It does need support for its policies to pursue them. To take the example of the war against Iraq, it had been realised that in order to be able to do something about the regime in Iraq, they at the very least need supporters in the region, otherwise you cannot get at the country, but I do think on a broader level, if the United States singles out Iraq, takes it on alone, it does run the risk of creating more and more antagonism across the globe.


1   Note from witness: Except Slovenia. Back

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