Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)



Jim Knight

  40. I am struggling to find a question that has not been answered yet. The final communique« issued at the end of the meeting of NATO defence ministers on 6 June, in the capability section, said that for the alliance to be able to fulfil its fundamental security tasks there is a continuing need to adapt to new challenges, in particular to those posed by terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to ensure that NATO and its nations have the structures and deployable forces capable of responding. Are you saying that those are just fairly meaningless words and aspirations and that NATO just is not capable of adapting and changing in order to provide a meaningful response to terrorism, particularly by non-state actors?
  (Professor Heisbourg) Two issues are conflated in that, and not inappropriately. That is the issue of the fight against terrorism in general and the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, also in general. Of course there is an intersection between the two, as we saw in the anthrax attacks in the States last October, for example, but they are not identical. Yes, of course, NATO armed forces certainly want to be in a situation to cope with the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of state actors. After all, that is pretty much what it did during the Cold War. The fact that the Soviet Union had weapons of mass destruction was not entirely irrelevant. Yes, NATO was extremely well positioned to handle that. However on the non-state aspects, I really do not see where NATO fits in. Will it do the job of Interpol, of Europol, of civilian intelligence co-operation, aside from the strictly military side? Will it do the co-ordination of the financial task force of the G7? Will it handle relations between the FBI and the CIA? God forbid. NATO will not do that. Can NATO play a role in improving interoperability in special forces, to come back to the military side? The answer is yes. Arguably, however important the role of special forces may have been in specific episodes, in specific places and in specific moments in Afghanistan, the fact remains that this is only one and arguably probably not the most important facet of the fight against terrorism with a global reach, as I think our American friends are beginning to discover. We have not caught Osama bin Laden yet.
  (Dr Honig) Another element is the capabilities. I think it is clear that NATO as such does not have the power to improve capabilities, but in the end it is a collection of sovereign governments who hold that power within themselves. They have to decide whether or not to improve capabilities.

  41. The matter of capabilities is one area that we have not gone into, so we shall hang onto that. I want to pick up on the threat of terrorism by non-state actors. Al-Qaeda is a globalised terrorist threat, a globalised organisation. Surely the response to globalisation in terrorism and in its threat is by some form of core sovereignty.
  (Dr Honig) It is not a military function, but much more of a police problem.

  42. We have seen the President of the United States proposing that he wants to pull together internally, within his country, the various diverse agencies that are trying to provide a response and to give his country some security. Is there not a role for some form of core sovereignty to pull together some of those things?
  (Dr Honig) As I think the Americans have done with Afghanistan, it is dealing with the state sponsors of terrorism. It becomes a lot easier for a terrorist to operate if there is some place that is a safe haven where he can organise things as happened in Afghanistan. Then the military force can play a role. The number of safe havens in the world is decreasing and that means in effect that the role of military forces is decreasing as well. That magnifies the role of the police action and the money flows and the individuals who move around in the West and other places.

  43. I accept all that, but I am interested in whether or not you can define NATO beyond its defence role and accept the reality of it as a security organisation that reflects the discussions that we had earlier, and whether as a security organisation it can perform any useful role in terms of sovereignty and pulling some of those things together by extending what it does, and taking seriously its security role.
  (Dr Honig) It would be a new departure. There are lots of other bodies around that are already working in that area: Interpol, Europol and so on. There are organisations already with more expertise that can take on more of a role in combatting terrorism than NATO for whom it would be a completely new thing. It is not the obvious thing to do.
  (Mr Hopkinson) I think there are two meanings of a security organisation. One is an organisation where issues can be discussed and a meeting of minds can be sought, and secondly, there is the operation of putting together. NATO in the context of Article 5 in the Cold War was probably effective in putting together a military effort to resist aggression. There may be a role for putting together intelligence agencies or police actions or something of that sort. NATO is not a natural home for that. It would be worse than starting from scratch because one would have all the past history and the background. Because terrorism is a global matter, it is as important to include Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, so one probably would have to build up networks. There is no simple and short answer to this. I suspect that it would not come from NATO. The second point, going back to your point on WMD, of course that is a major problem both in the hands of the so-called problem states and potentially in the hands of terrorists. We must not forget, as Francois said, that in the Cold War the Soviet Union had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, an enormous chemical arsenal and, as we now know, a biological programme that was much more advanced than Saddam Hussein's or others that may be around the world. In one sense, so far as NATO has to be prepared to confront WMD, its problem has become better rather than worse. Police forces and terrorism are a different matter.

Mr Cran

  44. On the matter of homeland defence, I am fairly clear about Professor Heisbourg's view on this because he has spent quite a lot of time telling us. NATO has no role in that area whatever. Mr Hopkinson I think also suggested the same thing.
  (Mr Hopkinson) I would not be absolute on that. There may be something. NATO does have experience with civil contingencies planning and so on, and that could be amplified for dealing with chemical or biological incidents, not perhaps in relatively joined-up countries like our own, but in some of the new members who may not have the expertise or the kit. The civil emergency aspect could perhaps bring something, but I do not see NATO as a major actor in running the police forces or co-ordinating the intelligence services and that kind of thing.
  (Professor Heisbourg) I think you have portrayed my position as being more absolutist than I would want it to be portrayed. If you take bio and CW, obviously you want common procedures and common standards in terms of the interaction between civil defence organisations and military organisations, and you will probably want as much commonality of use of equipment. If you have an attack in, say, the Netherlands, you would want the Belgians and the Germans to be able to chip in. That is the sort of work where standardisation agreements, standard operating procedures under NATO can play a role. Here we are at the limits of the military and the non-military aspects. I am not quite as absolutist as that.

  45. I did not mean to imply that you were. I thought your views were clear.
  (Professor Heisbourg) I may have overstated my position.

  46. So that I am clear about this, I have not read the Secretary-General's article to which you referred. Mr Hopkinson, perhaps you have read it.
  (Mr Hopkinson) I have not read it in detail. I have read about it rather than actually reading the article.

  47. Whomsoever has read it can answer this question. In the light of what Mr Hopkinson said, is Lord Robertson speaking the same language as you or is he seeking a greater role for NATO than the one that you see in terms of homeland defence?
  (Professor Heisbourg) He was speaking in broad, general terms that were not encapsulated in the formula. It was not specific in the way in which you are being specific, notably on the homeland defence issue. In the last few weeks Lord Robertson, at least in those statements that I have read or heard, has tended to emphasise the defence capabilities and the defence spending issues wisely. They are highly germane to the broader question of the willingness and the ability of the Americans and the Europeans to work together as reasonably equal partners on the battlefield and sometimes off the battlefield. I think he has changed tack.

  48. What you are really saying to the committee is that in terms of homeland defence there is a role for NATO, although it is a prescribed, narrow role, narrowed down to the areas that you have mentioned.
  (Dr Honig) That is one that is specifically provided for in the 1999 Strategic Concept as well. There is a basis and one can move on from there. I do not think that it would be wise to extend the role beyond that.


  49. Gentlemen, in another inquiry that we are undertaking we are looking in essence at homeland security, although the term is not popular here. We are also looking not just at the role of the military, but also at the civil emergency planning, the Cabinet Office, government departments, regional levels of government and the private sector. Professor Heisbourg and Dr Honig, how well prepared are your countries for a substantial attack that may take place in terms of the role of the military? Frankly, as far as we are concerned, in 1997 the British Government said that there was no threat to the UK homebase. I think that the additional chapter that they are writing, and the announcement made today, indicates that there is a threat to the UK homebase and they are looking at the role that the military may have to play. Are the French in a better position?
  (Professor Heisbourg) I shall try to respond to that. First, in France we are fortunate—fortune born of misfortune—in having had our security services well focussed on the fundamentalist threat from back in the mid-1980s. Although we have our Corsicans, we did not focus on them to anything like the extent that you had to with the IRA, or the Germans had to with the neo-Nazis. I think it is fair to say that not only do the French security services have some of the best intelligence around concerning the current threat, but they have also managed, notwithstanding the old bureaucratic turf battles, to establish what appears to be quite a harmonious working relationship since the mid-1980s. To my knowledge, we do not have the FBI/CIA turf war equivalent. Secondly, we tend to be rather well organised in a generic sense in dealing with catastrophic events.

  50. You are going through one at the moment!
  (Professor Heisbourg) That is one of global reach for which we are totally unprepared[5].

  When it comes to putting in motion emergency services, rapidly and effectively, we have quite a well-trained, well-organised disaster/relief organisation, that we call the `Plan ORSEC', which includes biological contingencies

  51. What is it called?
  (Professor Heisbourg) ORSEC, Organisation des Secours. That was set up in the 1960s. Over the years it has had chemical, atomic and biological aspects tagged on to it. When it comes to reacting to an emergency we are reasonably well organised. Perhaps I can give a practical example. Last year at Easter a chemical munitions dump from the First World War was threatening to blow up near Vimy Ridge, the battlefield in the Pas de Calais. We had to evacuate 8,000 people within two hours. That was the time limit given by the experts, who said it could blow up at any moment. Within two hours, on an Easter weekend, with zero advance warning, all the people were out. We know how to do that kind of thing. Thirdly, we tend to be reasonably good at marshalling our police and security forces when it comes to ordinary terrorism. By that I mean the IRA or the Algerian variety. That said, we are not prepared—I do not think anyone in Europe is or in the United States—nor have we made sufficient advance preparations to cope with a hyperterrorism attack, a mass destruction act of terror. We do not have the appropriate organisation. You would want to have an inter-agency group that would not simply be a co-ordinating group but what we call "interm-«niste«riel de pilotage", an inter-agency group that would run the preparations to cope with such an attack, to mitigate its effects or to detect in advance its possible launch. In that sense we do not have a homeland defence organisation that is geared to the new level of threat. That is the kind of issue that I would like to see the European Union members discuss between themselves. Our American friends are possibly in a worse situation, as we know from the exercises that they ran last year before 11 September, the "dark winter" exercise—the smallpox exercise. At least between contiguous European countries—and we are contiguous because of the Channel Tunnel—that is something that would make sense for politicians to get together on.

  52. Which military units would be designated to assist in any sort of catastrophic attack?
  (Professor Heisbourg) Whichever are available close to the spot. We rehearse such things quite often. We stage an impromptu catastrophe in a given area. Of course, no one is supposed to be warned in advance and usually the secrecy holds quite well. Of course, the military are involved in the same way as they are involved in the day-to-day patrolling of anti-terrorist measures. There is the "Vigipirate" plan, which kicked in immediately on the evening of 11 September. Once again, that is geared to the threat that we used to know rather than to the threat that we may have to cope with.

Mr Hancock

  53. In relation to France, there is one thing about what the country, the political bodies and others can put together, but there is the expectation of the people. Would you suggest that the French people realise that the 11 September type of incident is something that it is virtually impossible for the governments to be able to contend with and plan to deal with? I believe that there is a slight resignation on the part of the French people that that is difficult for governments. When I am in France I do not sense that there is any clamour from the French people to demand that there is a plan in existence to deliver protection to them. I thought that there was a fairly philosophical view, that you cannot deal with every possibility.
  (Professor Heisbourg) It is a view that is widespread in Europe, perhaps because 11 September did not happen here. In the Karachi incident nine of our nationals were killed by an Al-Qaeda operation and they were people from a naval shipbuilding company. That brought home the point that this did not just affect Americans. I think you will see in some of the statements by the new government and by the new minister of defence that there is a higher degree of awareness of what we are risking. From what we know of 11 September, plenty could have been done to mitigate the probability of it occurring. Good intelligence was reasonably available and it was not acted upon because the organisations in place were not geared to act together and effectively. I think that our population would act extremely negatively if in the face of a similar contingency it came across a few months afterwards that there was a level of intelligence available and it was not acted upon. I think our public opinion expects the state to continue to provide its most essential service which is that of security.
  (Dr Honig) I do not possess any detailed knowledge about preparations in the Netherlands. The anecdotal evidence suggests that the Netherlands is not particularly well prepared for the kind of disasters that we are talking about. In the end the main reason for that would be that it would be difficult for people in the Netherlands to accept that they may be a legitimate target for terrorists. As the Pym Fortuyn assassination showed a number of weeks ago, these sorts of activities are unfathomable to the Dutch electorate. They do not believe that they will experience that kind of thing. I think that applies to terrorism as well. It is difficult for people in the Netherlands to accept that they could be a target. As a result, preparations become difficult. In the past most of the intelligence effort appears to have gone to organised crime and security surrounding the tribunal in the Hague. It was even very difficult to get popular support for that. I do not think that the Netherlands is particularly well prepared and to be honest I do not see that changing very easily unless something happens in the country.

Mr Howarth

  54. Returning to something that we touched on earlier, the relationship between the United States and NATO, can you try to discern for us the way in which you think that the United States' opinion is moving? There have been some suggestions that President Bush is pushing enlargement and there are some worries that as a result of that, his open door enthusiasm will reflect his dwindling interest in NATO as a military tool. Madeleine Albright said last month that it would be an accomplishment to enlarge NATO further in order to deal with the 21st century threat. Where do you see this administration going?
  (Professor Heisbourg) I shall not react to Madeleine Albright. The first enlargement of NATO was undertaken under President Clinton. I do not recollect Madeleine Albright having said anything of this sort at that time, so one suspects that this is the kind of thing that someone who is no longer in power would say about the policies of her successors. I do not think that the Clinton administration would have any different views on enlargement than those of the Bush administration. On that, at least, I think we have a degree of continuity in American policy. It is one of the few areas in which there is continuity of policy. I do not see a greater or a lesser degree of unilateralism on that specific item, but I may be wrong. Let me take some anecdotal evidence. In May 2000 the candidate countries to NATO, the so-called Vilnius group—the group that met at Vilnius—had endorsements via Ron Asmus from the Clinton side and Bruce Jackson from the Bush side. They had an endorsement from the two presidential candidates of the US for what they were trying to achieve, which was a collective approach by the candidate states in view of a massive enlargement rather than a seriatim approach. The Clinton side and the Bush side were saying essentially the same thing.

  55. For the same reasons?
  (Professor Heisbourg) Yes, I think so. It was broadening the political reach of what is a quintessentially western institution: rooting democracy and projecting stability. I think it was pretty much the same language. As for the attachment to the military role of NATO, I think that things are somewhat worse than under the Clinton people. Folks at the Pentagon do not mind saying out loud that they are sceptical about the future of NATO, whereas under Clinton one was not supposed to say that kind of thing.

  56. Can you repeat that?
  (Professor Heisbourg) People are saying out loud in the Pentagon that they are not confident about the future of NATO and making disparaging remarks about NATO. That was not done under the Clinton administration, at least not to my knowledge. But given the experience of the Kosovo air campaign, I do not think that any US administration would have drawn different conclusions concerning the military role of NATO than the Bush administration did on 12 September when Article 5 was invoked and when they said, "Thank you very much, it is nice of you, we appreciate the gesture, but don't call us, we'll call you".

  57. I shall pursue that point in a minute. Perhaps your colleagues would like to respond.
  (Dr Honig) One thing to be borne in mind is that if something like the Kosovo experience repeats itself in the sense that there is a military operation that needs to be undertaken within the NATO area, the United States will be forced to collaborate with the NATO allies. The interesting problem will be how to resolve that. Because the current operations are taking place outside the NATO area, I think even without the Kosovo experience they would have gone the way that they did with Centcom. It is a peculiarly American command with very little NATO experience whatever. They would not have wanted to involve NATO anyway. It has become politically more palatable to say that NATO is not that important any more.

  58. Leaving aside Afghanistan, do you think that in terms of their strategic, long-term vision, beyond the war on terrorism—I quite accept that it is not actually a war—that they see a role for NATO in terms of defence of the member states, that the United States will be part of that and that they will be locked into the defence of the Continent of Europe?
  (Dr Honig) I think they see a long-term vision but location matters. If the conflict appears within the region of NATO, naturally they will come to NATO. I think that there is quite a bit of continuity from the Cold War. The Americans were always concerned to separate out the military assets from NATO, and that trend has continued. The trend has certainly always been there. I do not see that much of a change. If there is a long-term strategic vision, it cannot do any harm to involve others, but on their own terms. There is a distinct tendency to deal with countries on a bilateral basis. Within NATO the European allies, and the Canadians, may have a role of trying to resist that tendency towards bilateralism, which has been part of the Americans since the founding of NATO, from the early stages in the 1950s, putting the "O" in NATO quite successfully by the Europeans so there may be a role there in the future.
  (Mr Hopkinson) I think it is true for all elements in the United States now that they have no interest in NATO as a war fighting military organisation. I think they have real interest in it as a framework within which they can exercise influence of various sorts, to influence the foreign, security and defence policies of individual member countries among the Europeans. They see it as a framework within which they can perhaps induce their allies to increase defence expenditure and perhaps even more importantly to treat defence as a serious issue in a way that so many Europeans perhaps do not. Beyond that I suspect that they see it as a useful tool for stabilisation in Europe, mainly by the sort of thing that is bringing in Russia and allows for consultation and so on. In other words, the emphasis is highly on the political and in the present scale of things in the Bush administration, the political does not weigh so heavily as the military when it comes to solving security problems.

  59. Do you think that there is a likely prospect that in the event of enlargement taking place in the manner in which we all anticipate, that we shall move from what is quite clearly, as Afghanistan has shown, a two-tier kind of NATO alliance, into a three-tier one or more?
  (Mr Hopkinson) In effect, I think we are already there. That would emphasise it. There is the United States in a class of its own; there are the richer, bigger European players who are perhaps represented at this table; there are the new members; and dare I say some of the older members who are not known for taking defence seriously.


5   Note from witness: the exchange was allusion to France's defeat in the football World Cup on 11 June. Back

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