Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-199)



  180. I recognise that. I am pleased that the NATO-Russia Council has been set up. It is a great move. Do you think that Russia should be involved in that informal decision making within NATO, or will it be completely separate in the NATO-Russia Council?
  (Mr Hoon) It is vital to emphasise that Russia is not a member of NATO. Russia has no responsibility for those internal processes. We have agreed a list of subjects that we shall discuss together in the 20, in the NATO Russia Council. We are hopeful that those conversations will go so well that the subjects can be extended, but that does not make Russia a member of NATO.

  181. I take it that is an informal grouping.
  (Mr Hoon) Russia would have no interest, and nor would we have any interest, in their participation in what are essentially housekeeping responsibilities.

Jim Knight

  182. Secretary of State, I want to move on to more specific matters of military structures and military structural reform. I note that defence ministers agreed at the beginning of June to review NATO's command structures, which have been in place for some time and in many ways the stance appears to be very Cold War oriented. Do you think that the structures remain valid or are there too many commands spread among too many countries?
  (Mr Hoon) That is essentially why we argued very strongly for a review. I am delighted that that was agreed.

  183. Do you think that the current system of rotating DSACEUR and other senior posts is valid? Do you think that we should look at involving other countries?
  (Mr Hoon) I think that those are some of the issues that we shall have to consider. Certainly the command structures are in need of review. We have agreed that. I hope that the work can proceed expeditiously after Prague.

  184. What is your view about the direction that it should take?
  (Mr Hoon) It is too soon to say.

  185. You do not have one?
  (Mr Hoon) Of course, I have a view. I cannot give you the answer. Your question tends to suggest that I give you an answer before the review has started. All I am saying is that I accept the premise. I agree with you. Your premise is the premise that we have worked with. Even allowing for a relatively recent review—10 years ago—the world has moved on so significantly and substantially that it is time to look again at some of those structures and the reason why we believe that it is time to reconsider them is that some of them have too many Cold War characteristics and are not sufficiently flexible and deployable for the modern reality. There is another issue with which we have to deal, which is resources. You cannot go on building new capabilities, developing new ways of deploying forces if, at the same time, you are still maintaining capabilities, and in this case headquarters, that are no longer serving the kind of purposes for which they were originally established. We need to look hard at whether we are receiving best value for the money that we are spending. There is a range of things, but I cannot give you the answer.

  186. I would not expect you to give us the answers to a review that has only just started. Obviously, we are well used to you appearing before us and not being willing to give us answers to reviews of which you are in the middle. That is what happens. However, you have a view. We would not hold you to it when the review is published, but we are interested to know what your view is.
  (Mr Hoon) Being the intelligent Member of Parliament that you are, I would have thought that you can see the direction in which we want to go from the parameters that I have set out. If you start with the criticism of having too many headquarters that are Cold War organised, that gives you one direction in which we want to go. If you start off with an assumption that says that we want more deployable headquarters and that there are too many static ones, that also gives you a flavour of the direction in which we want to go. If you say that we are concerned about spending on capabilities that are no longer relevant and that we would like to see spending on capabilities that are relevant, that also gives you an idea. I do not need to spell these out.

  187. This is broadcast as a record so it is handy, not only for intelligent Members of Parliament but also for the wider public.
  (Mr Hawtin) Without pre-empting the outcome of the review, there is not a lot that I can add to what the Secretary of State has said. NATO has reformed its staff and its structures since the end of the Cold War. We do not believe that that process has gone far enough. It needs to continue to adapt. As far as the structures are concerned, there is a NATO command structure which is the static structure, dealing with the day-to-day operations. The number of headquarters were reduced from something like 90 down to something like 20 in the last review, but we still believe, as the Secretary of State has said, that there are too many headquarters. They still have too much of a static role; they consume a large number of resources—not just financial resources but the scarce manpower resources; and we need to look at whether, given the way in which NATO is evolving, and given the different tasks to be undertaken, that kind of static structure is still the best answer for NATO's needs. Can we reduce it and streamline it and, if so, take account of the legitimate interests of member countries having NATO representation on their soil? The second and other side of that equation is how we can build up NATO's deployable capability. It needs more deployable capability, not just for out-of-area operations, but also to discharge its Article 5 collective security guarantee. The Washington summit emphasised that Article 5 needs to be handled through deployable capability and not static forces. As far as the deployable element is concerned, NATO is looking at what it calls high readiness force headquarters of which there will be about six, designed to provide headquarters that can be deployed rapidly overseas or wherever in the NATO area to deal with a particular task. At the forefront of those, in terms of UK leadership and multi-national defence co-operation, is the ARRC—the rapid reaction corps—of which we are the framework nation. It remains NATO's only rapidly deployable headquarters and it is the first of the candidate high readiness deployable headquarters to pass the standards of full operational capability. Again, that is an example of where we are setting the benchmark.

  188. In essence you are looking for fewer and more mobile command headquarters. Do you think that we should have one NATO command for special forces? I know that you do not like answering anything to do with the special forces.
  (Mr Hoon) All countries have special forces. We certainly have always recognised that publicly. What we do not recognise is how they are deployed and where they are deployed.

  189. As part of the review, do you think that NATO should look at having a NATO command for special forces
  (Mr Hoon) I think that is to misunderstand the way in which special forces contribute to military operations. Clearly special forces add a particular contribution to operations and they are part of the equipment, if you like, that a force commander and a force generator would call upon.

  190. It appears that they are a resource that is of increasing value. It is difficult for us to understand special forces because we cannot get answers to our questions about them. It would seem that they are of increasing value and that they are deployed more and more. From the little that we understand, there is quite a call on them. It would seem sensible that new entrants to NATO should look at that as a potential niche speciality. If we want NATO to be mobile and to deploy out-of-area, it would seem sensible that there should be some co-operation on that and it would also seem sensible to have a NATO command of special forces.
  (Mr Hoon) I think you will find that most nations have forces that they call special forces and we would certainly want to see them available for NATO-led operations.

  Mercer: Well done, Jim.

Jim Knight

  191. Going back to the business of rationalising and achieving this reform of military structures, is there a potential problem in that each individual nation's allocation of posts here and there has been carefully negotiated—"You have one here and I'll have one there"—and trying to unpick that could be a long and difficult process with everyone agreeing in principle with the form but no one wanting to give up their person in a particular place.
  (Mr Hoon) I am sure that the process of allocation is more sophisticated than that.


  192. Is what the Secretary of State says true?
  (Mr Ehrman) Of course, what the Secretary of State says is true.

  Chairman: He has described it exactly as it is.

Jim Knight

  193. Do you think that we need to see a shift southwards? We have AFNORTH and AFSOUTH as the two regional commands and AFNORTH looks less relevant these days in the post-Cold War environment than AFSOUTH.
  (Mr Hoon) I do not want to reach conclusions before the review has begun, but certainly those are factors that we would want to take into account.

  194. Fewer commands, more mobile and possibly more south-based?
  (Mr Hoon) I think those are some of the decisions that we shall have to reach as we conduct the review.

  195. What difference in this area do you think that 26 members of NATO will make?
  (Mr Hoon) That is part of the justification for having the review. We have to answer that question. It is a difficult exam question. Clearly, if there are that many new members, we shall have to integrate those new members into the structures and find the most effective way of doing that. It may be that that will be on a different basis from the way in which it has worked in the past.

Patrick Mercer

  196. Moving to the war on terrorism and NATO's role therein, the support to the Americans from NATO has been huge in terms of moral support; in terms of physical support it has been more modest in terms of what has happened since 11 September. We have already touched on the operations in Afghanistan. The alliance and the coalition mounted there has marginalised NATO to some extent. What is NATO's role in the war against terrorism? The counter-terrorism role is not only a military role, but there are all sorts of lines of operation. What is NATO's role exactly?
  (Mr Hoon) I do not think that I can give you an exact role. In 1999, in the Washington summit, NATO set out the fact that NATO had a responsibility to deal with terrorism. It was recognised then as a growing international challenge and threat to military forces. The events of 11 September demonstrate the wisdom of preparing for that. NATO has had a number of different roles since 11 September. The declaration of Article 5 was an enormously significant event. The deployment of AWACS was hugely welcomed by the United States because that released a vital capability for forward operations, as was the use of a naval force for reconnaissance purposes. I think Brian gave you the answer earlier. The real contribution that NATO has made, which is why it is difficult to be precise, is in establishing common standards, interoperability, ensuring that when Allies forces deploy, they deploy and are able to work effectively alongside each other. That standardisation is something that is absolutely central to the way in which NATO operates and will continue to be.

  197. What can NATO do to help to protect its member states from international terrorism, particularly in relation to attacks of mass destruction?
  (Mr Hoon) The most important point is to have available the expertise that allows us, if a military response is appropriate, to be able to deal with that threat at source. That, in effect, is what we are doing in Afghanistan.

  198. Would there be mileage in NATO having counter-CBRN forces worked up in such a way that, say, if Germany were struck by a biological attack, NATO forces could be brought in?
  (Mr Hoon) In terms of any kind of military capability there is always a debate as to how that is best provided, whether centrally—having in effect what amounts to a standing force to which countries subscribe financially—or whether it is better to have forces that each country generates for itself, but those forces are subject to the kind of standardisation that is the hallmark of NATO and they become interoperable as a result of satisfying common standards. There are difficult judgments to be made. If you ask me as Secretary of State for Defence of the United Kingdom where my preference would lie, by and large it would lie in each nation subscribing capabilities because I think that that is easier to explain and more readily understood by the people who put us here because ultimately it is their taxes that pay for it. They would want to see some benefit for the United Kingdom of having those forces. Equally, I recognise in an increasingly interdependent world that those forces have to be able to work alongside forces of our Allies. That is something that the United Kingdom has strongly supported over a very long time and will continue to support into the future. Indeed, on previous occasions I have described that to the committee. Part of my ambition is to see ways in which our forces are much better integrated with the forces of other countries because that allows them to be deployed even more rapidly, particularly as, in your example, we are talking about relatively scarce capabilities that we need to continue to be able to develop.

Mr Howarth

  199. Following on from what Patrick Mercer has raised with you, in your department brief to us you talk about the future role and mission of NATO. You say: "The UK Government believes that the Prague Summit must build for the future by", and then you list a number of points. The first is, "Making the Alliance more effective against the new threats of terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction". Do you mean by that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of small groups of terrorists, or do you mean the threat posed by rogue states?
  (Mr Hoon) Both.


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