Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-179)



  160. So NATO actually has borders where you will stop the expansion?
  (Mr Hoon) I am deliberately avoiding saying that because I do not think that for the moment there is a need to answer that. There might come a time, I recognise, when that becomes a relevant issue, but it is not the case today, and you will know from your studies of history of the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries, Russia was regarded as a European nation where French was spoken at court.


  161. I must say, it is nice to know that in your legal career you never asked provocative questions!
  (Mr Hoon) Well, I must say I always find it strange when I am invited in here as a witness because in my legal career that was the one thing I never was.

Rachel Squire

  162. All of the points you have made about NATO's role and the ability to put together a force that can go to Afghanistan and somewhere else in the world where there is seen to be a real threat to NATO members, can I ask you whether there is a common view on that amongst the NATO Allies because we were given an article by The Financial Times which was quoting the Secretary General of NATO who very much was saying similar things to the points you have just made, Secretary of State, but it also then quoted the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Defense and European Affairs in the US, Ian Brzenski, as saying to a House Committee that NATO is bound geographically to Europe and the US does not see a wider role for NATO forces in areas such as the Middle East or Africa. Is there some ongoing debate here and perhaps differences of view with our US Allies or is the thinking still evolving or how can you explain what appears to be a bit of a difference of view?
  (Mr Hoon) There is no difference of view, but can I just emphasise that when I talk about a threat, that threat would have to be imminent and whatever action that we took would be entirely consistent with international law. This is the Alliance setting out, as it did at Reykjavik in the Declaration, its need to be able to deal with threats to Alliance security and Alliance members wherever those threats arise, and that is something shared absolutely by the Ministers of the Alliance because they said so at Reykjavik.

Mr Howarth

  163. Secretary of State, we did have a number of witnesses the other day and they were all agreed that one of the essential keys to the future success of NATO is the involvement of the United States, and whether I am right or not, you will tell me, but I detected a note of concern in your opening remarks when you referred to the transatlantic link being at risk if the European countries basically did not pull their weight. Quite clearly there are a number of concerns about the relationship between the United States and NATO. Many commentators take the view that the United States is now less interested in NATO than in the past and that this was given real impetus when the United States did not involve NATO in the Afghanistan operations, save for a number of specific roles which were carried out by NATO, including the deployment of NATO AWACS to survey the United States airspace. But are you concerned that the pattern set by the Afghanistan operation by the United States could be a pattern for future action by the United States and could harm NATO?
  (Mr Hoon) I think I have already made the point that Afghanistan is not something that can be used sensibly as an example of some lack of US commitment to NATO because the same arose in relation to the Gulf War. So what has to happen in these circumstances is that coalitions of the willing are formed, the appropriate capabilities are made available, and specifically as far as Afghanistan is concerned, for example, we needed bases, we needed support from well beyond the geographical area covered by existing NATO members and, therefore, it made military sense to involve a wide range of countries who were not existing NATO members. Having just dealt with that, I think it is right that we should focus on the importance of continuing US involvement in the Alliance. I think it is absolutely vital that the United States remains engaged and the best way of ensuring that, in my view, is to ensure that the other members of the Alliance play their part in developing and funding appropriate military capability that allows them to work effectively alongside the United States, and it seems to me that there is both a political and a military dimension to that. The political dimension, as someone who has lived and worked in the United States, and is a regular visitor there that there might come a time—I do not believe it is relevant today, but there might well come a time—when the US taxpayers question why it is that they are making a disproportionate contribution to the Alliance and that that has an impact on the political leadership to the extent that they say, "We are no longer prepared and willing to do that if European nations or non-US nations are themselves not prepared to fund and make appropriate military capabilities available". It follows from that that the military justification is to ensure that we can play a part alongside the United States and that means having the appropriate capabilities available to support international operations, and it means ensuring that those capabilities are of the kind that allows us to operate together. As the United States continues to increase its defence spending, it is largely committing that spending on developing ever more sophisticated technology and that does present the non-US members of the Alliance with a challenge because we are unlikely to be able to match that level of spending by the United States, therefore, we have to develop those capabilities, particularly hi-tech capabilities collectively, at least in groups of nations who are prepared to work together and pool their resources to achieve that. Otherwise, I accept there is a risk that, as the United States develops ever more sophisticated technology, it will be ever more difficult for us to work alongside them and that is why the United Kingdom places so much emphasis on improving capabilities; it has both a political and a real military aspect.

  164. I would put it to you that not only is there frustration in the United States about this growing capability gap, as evidenced by the disparity in the budgets, but there are concerns that the minds of not the United Kingdom so much, but certainly other European countries are being focused on other issues. If I can remind you of what General Ralston said in testimony to the House Committee on International Relations in the United States last week, he made a number of points of great concern and I think the Committee would be appreciative of your reaction to this. He set out his main concern, that, "ESDP can strengthen Europe's security posture as long as it is achieved in a manner that is complementary to NATO, not in competition with it", and he gives a warning that, "The EU should seek to avoid investing limited resources in ESDP capabilities that are redundant with, as opposed to complementary to, NATO capabilities", and he said the best way to re-establish NATO's supremacy was "to give the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe a robust role as strategic coordinator in both NATO and EU-led operations". Now, coming from the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, that is a pretty powerful statement of concern and I wonder what the reaction of our Secretary of State is to that.
  (Mr Hoon) Well, I actually think that that reflects fairly precisely British Government policy on all of those particulars, and I am delighted that he was endorsing not only the position that the British Government has taken, but broadly the position that European nations have taken. I doubt that any of our continental Allies would disagree with what you have just read out. We need to ensure that the pressure is maintained not only to establish the policy, but to deliver it.

  165. So are you saying it is the policy of the French Government, the Italian Government and the German Government that the force-generator for an EU-led operation should be the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO?
  (Mr Hoon) Where the force-generation requires NATO planning to be involved, then yes, that has been the assumption that has been made all along. There are obviously still one or two details to be resolved before absolute coherence is achieved between the EU and NATO, but you are well aware of what they are and we are working on them and we are close to, I hope, the successful resolution of those issues. But, broadly speaking, that is a policy that has been agreed, and bear in mind the only qualification I give is that it is not always anticipated that the scale of operation would require NATO participation, but on any operation of any scale, then clearly it would and that has been agreed.

  166. So if this is the settled view of the EU countries, why has General Ralston felt it necessary to give this testimony to the United States Congress?
  (Mr Hoon) Well, General Ralston is a very, very impressive commentator on NATO issues and he is setting out very clearly a requirement that is strongly supported by all Allies. I think what is a more interesting question is why you find it so difficult.

  Mr Howarth: Well, if I move then from General Ralston, there is another NATO official who has issued a stark warning that plans for Europe's $3.38 billion Galileo Satellite Navigation project have put Allied military forces in danger. Now, there is concern being expressed here that whilst there is a very good ground positioning satellite navigation system, GPS, which is American—

  Mr Jones: Can I object to this line of questions because this is not the agreed set of questions. Mr Howarth is using this Committee to score party-political points in his role as a front-bencher. We should stick to the questions we have agreed.

  Chairman: The point here is that Members can ask any question as long as it is within the framework of the subject.

  Mr Jones: But it is not agreed.

  Chairman: That is ancillary.

  Mr Jones: Well, it is not in the agreed questioning which we agreed before this meeting.

Mr Howarth

  167. Chairman, I am sure the Secretary of State is fully familiar that Members of this Committee are not automatons who simply read out pieces of paper which are prepared on their behalf and that most of them have minds of their own. I think there is a serious issue here, Secretary of State, which does impinge on the role of the United States. You have seen the frustration there is in the United States about the failure, as they see it, of their NATO partners fully to commit to NATO, and I know the British Government has taken a robust view and that has been really welcomed in the United States, and I pay tribute, and I am very happy to do that publicly, to the actions taken by the British Government following the 11th September. But there is this issue that again it is perceived by some NATO officials of why is it necessary to set up a new GPS system at huge expense which is simply going to replicate something the Americans have already got and which is integral to NATO's capabilities?
  (Mr Hoon) Bear in mind that the Galileo system does not and will not have a defence aspect and that was written into the terms and conditions at the time of the EU agreement. So again, whilst I am aware that there is speculation which has been entered into over Galileo, I would emphasise that it was absolutely a condition that it would not have defence implications.

  168. Well, if I can put it to you, what do you think that NATO needs to do to convince the Americans that they need to stay on board?
  (Mr Hoon) Well, I have set that out already and what NATO needs to do is to ensure that European nations and Canada are capable of making the kind of capability commitments that give NATO the war-fighting capabilities that it requires and it is all about capabilities, in our view, that we need to be able to develop the kind of capabilities that are necessary, but also that those capabilities should be interoperable with the United States and I set out for the Committee the dangers, as I see them, and we need to address those issues, as we are doing.

  Mr Jones: Are we going to ask questions which have not been agreed to be asked?

  Chairman: Well, as long as it is within the framework of the hearing, I am afraid people can ask any questions they like even though you might not agree with them.

Patrick Mercer

  169. I will stick entirely to the script. A recent MoD memorandum refers to the need for administrative reform of NATO and talks about the shortcomings in NATO's existing headquarter systems. What do you think are the principal administrative shortcomings of the systems?
  (Mr Hoon) Well, I would not actually put it in quite that way in the sense that I think it is unfair to go from a statement which says we need to make changes in NATO to suggesting that there are existing shortcomings. What we are arguing for, and I hope this is consistent with what I have said to the Committee already, is that as we look for significant changes in membership, significant enlargement against the backcloth in particular of the events of September 11th and an increasing need to make sure that we have the right kinds of capabilities to be able to deploy forces quickly when we need to, then there are some improvements in the decision-making processes of NATO which are required, there is some streamlining, we need to have an organisation that can function effectively not in, how can I put it, not in 1992 terms, but in 2012 terms because the world is a rapidly changing place and, therefore, we need the structures, both the administrative structures, but also the defence command structures that are necessary to be able to have the right kind of organisation that reflects modern geo-political realities.

  170. Does the "quad" system need to be formalised?
  (Mr Hoon) There is no quad system. There is no system other than the system laid down in the Treaties.


  171. Well, I think you are off the script there, Secretary of State, because the quad system that Patrick is referring to is this informal meeting between four members and if it does not exist, then we have been given a lot of speculation over the last few weeks.
  (Mr Hoon) Well, there are regular contacts that I have with Allies, with partners on a very, very regular basis, but there is no quad system.

  172. Formally in the constitution?
  (Mr Hoon) I would be interested to find any reference to any formal requirement that any four Member States meet on a regular basis.

  173. Well, ask Mr Ehrman if he has ever heard of the quad system.
  (Mr Hoon) Well, I have certainly heard of it which is why I was able to deny that it exists.

  174. I think Mr Ehrman's silence is key.
  (Mr Ehrman) Chairman, to answer your question, Allies meet in all sorts of formats informally, twos, threes, fours, fives, sixes, sevens, so there are all sorts of informal meetings all the time in NATO. As the Secretary of State has said, there is no system of the type which was referred to.

  Chairman: We hear what you say.

Patrick Mercer

  175. Structural reform is not on the agenda for Prague. Will it be included? If it is, would it be something that the Secretary-General would pursue?
  (Mr Hoon) Structural reform is firmly on the agenda for Prague. It is on the agenda because defence ministers agreed that it should be put on the agenda.

  176. Can you expand on that?
  (Mr Hoon) I think I just did, but I shall do so again. We are looking at administrative changes. Lord Robertson has circulated some personal proposals on the way in which he judges the internal mechanisms of NATO, particularly in Brussels. They need to be streamlined and improved and made more efficient and to have a more effective management structure. Those are some thoughtful insights into how he sees his position and how he sees the way in which the management of the Alliance, in an organisational sense, needs to be improved. We strongly support that initiative. At the same time we also agreed at a recent defence ministers' meeting that we need to look at the command structure, and whether or not the right headquarters arrangements exist today for the kind of operations that we judge that NATO will need to be engaged in tomorrow. Therefore, we have instigated a review, which I believe will be agreed to at Prague.

Syd Rapson

  177. Secretary of State, in your opening statement you mentioned that central bureaucracy has not faced up to the 21st century, and together with Lord Robertson you are doing your best to change that. Lord Robertson said in an article in the Financial Times that finally we are beginning the modernisation of NATO's decision-making process. I want to concentrate on the decision-making process as opposed to the bureaucracy which I see as separate. In the North Atlantic Council there is an informality of how consensus decisions are reached and whether that is going to survive. Can NATO and specifically the North Atlantic Council continue to operate on the basis of that consensus, given the politically sensitive and potentially divisive decisions that have to be taken in dealing with crisis management situations, particularly if NATO is to develop roles to deploy forces in pre-emptive actions, as recently mentioned, and if NATO is working with a large group of 26 or 27 nations?
  (Mr Hoon) I am not sure that there is the neat distinction that you appear to draw. Clearly, it will remain essential that the most important decisions that NATO has to take—those obviously that concern the deployment of armed forces—will have to be taken by consensus. We could not contemplate a situation in which Britain's armed forces were put at risk without Britain's ministers agreeing to that. I cannot contemplate circumstances in which any country would be prepared to allow majority voting to determine the deployment of its armed forces. That would be quite wrong. Therefore, such consensus issues have to be dealt with. Lower down the decision-making tree—and for that reason I do not believe that there is quite the neat distinction that you describe—I believe that Lord Robertson is saying, particularly with a substantial enlargement in prospect, that there must be a greater recognition that a growing organisation needs to adjust its management and, therefore, its decision-making systems to allow for the fact that a large number of nations are participating. He has suggested that there would need to be a streamlining of committee structures. He has mentioned that there are something like 400 committees meeting at present. There may be more decisions delegated to the Secretary-General, but because those decisions had been agreed by consensus, in the first place, that that would be acceptable in terms of what we have just agreed between ourselves, and that there needs to be more effective management of the way in which decisions are taken. We are not talking about the key decisions. They would be done by consensus. We are talking about the way in which the organisation is managed.

  178. So Lord Robertson's article, in which he spoke of the modernisation of decision making, was being specific about lower«level decision making, and that higher-level decision making is like chickens in the hen coop.
  (Mr Hoon) That is why I do not believe that you can make that neat distinction. We have had a situation in which decisions currently taken by consensus, but which are of relatively less importance, can be devolved, for example, by consensus, to the Secretary-General. I cannot give you answers today, because the work has not begun, but it is work that we want to support and get under way. The suspicion that Lord Robertson is setting out and his experience is that too many decisions are currently taken by consensus and too many minor decisions are taken by consensus, whereas we need a more streamlined and efficient organisation taking some of those essentially administrative decisions in a more efficient and effective way.

  179. Perhaps because I have been in politics for a long time, I have never known any group of people that makes decisions not to have a smaller group or executive making decisions before a meeting. I cannot see that NATO after enlargement to 26 or 27 will not have a "directoire"—that pleasant French term. I do not want to push you much on this point. I realise that you do not recognise the quad, so you probably do not recognise a "directoire". Will it not seem in a modern arena that you may not get consensus and that that would take a long time? The Americans mention that they do not want NATO to be involved because it would take too long to get a decision. In modernising NATO we would need to have informal and generally recognised grouping on specific subjects so that we can get on and make decisions quicker.
  (Mr Hoon) This work has not started, never mind reached those specific conclusions. You are rightly concentrating on the big issues, if I can put it that way. Underlying what you are saying is that there is an understandable and appropriate concern about the problems of forces. I share that concern. I could not contemplate any circumstances in which Britain's forces would be deployed by majority. But at the other extreme, if there has to be consensus over the purchase of paperclips—there is far too much low-level decision making that involves large committees of every member state being involved—clearly there is a need to streamline some of those processes. Essentially, that is what Lord Robertson is describing.


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