Members present:

Mr Bruce George, in the Chair
Mr James Cran
Mr David Crausby
Mr Gerald Howarth
Jim Knight
Patrick Mercer
Syd Rapson
Mr Frank Roy
Rachel Squire


Joint Memorandum submitted by the Ministry of Defence and

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Examination of Witnesses

RT HON GEOFFREY HOON, a Member of the House, Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, examined; and MR BRIAN HAWTIN CB, Director-General, International Security Policy, Ministry of Defence, further examined.


  1. Welcome, Secretary of State, to the Defence Committee again. This morning's session is about missile defence. It is the second session the Committee has had on this subject and it certainly will not be the last. Missile defence raises issues of fundamental importance not just for the UK and the United States, but for global security. We discussed missile defence issues during our visit to Washington in early February. The debate there has clearly moved from questions of 'if' to questions of 'when' and 'how', and we will be raising missile defence questions when we visit Moscow later this year. The debate on missile defence is entering a crucial phase and, as a Committee, we believe that we must be involved in that debate, so we are grateful to you for appearing before us today for a session which will be part of our long-term commitment to monitor and comment on missile defence as it develops. Having made my introductory statement, Secretary of State, I understand that you wish to make some introductory remarks.
  2. (Mr Hoon) Thank you, Mr Chairman, and could I say how grateful I am to the Committee for this opportunity because the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and of ballistic missiles as a means of delivering them is a matter of very great concern to us. Whilst we as of today see no direct threat from these weapons to the United Kingdom, we obviously do monitor developments very carefully. The fact that if certain states of concern do acquire complete systems of sufficient range then they might be capable of targeting the United Kingdom within the next few years is something that we consider very seriously. Moreover, we recognise that some states of concern would already be capable of targeting United Kingdom forces deployed in areas close to them and of targeting the territory of some of our friends and allies. We, therefore, believe that it is vital for all responsible nations to try to tackle the potential threat. We believe a comprehensive strategy is necessary, a strategy that encompasses diplomacy, arms control, conflict prevention, non-proliferation, counter-proliferation, export controls, intelligence co-operation, law enforcement, deterrence and defensive measures. We will continue to work closely with the United States and our other allies, partners and friends in all of these areas. We understand the role that missile defence systems can play as one element of a strategy to tackle the potential threat, but we believe that it is for the moment premature to make decisions on acquiring missile defence for the protection of our deployed forces, which, as set out in the Strategic Defence Review, remains our priority. But the threat and, in particular, missile defence technology continue to evolve rapidly, and we need to have the fullest possible understanding of that technology before making specific decisions. We also need to look further at how active missile defence might fit into a balanced spectrum of defensive capabilities which also includes deterrence, counter-force and passive defences. These are areas where we already have capabilities in both quantity and quality. We, and NATO, have programmes taking forward the work that will underpin any future decisions. The United States leads the world in missile defence technology. We have a longstanding technical dialogue with them on the subject. They have themselves made no decisions on what systems they will seek to deploy to defend US territory against emerging threats. Before making such decisions, they are conducting an intensive programme of research, development, testing and evaluation to determine what will work and what will not. As the Committee will be aware, we have so far received no requests from the United States for the use of sites in the United Kingdom for missile defence purposes. We do not know exactly what might be involved in any such requests, nor when they might be made. If we are asked to make such a decision, we will of course do so on the basis of our own national interest. That is obviously based on considerations of our own national security, which include the security interests of our closest ally. The United States has made clear that it wants to see the territory of its friends and allies protected from the emerging missile threats, but it has not yet said how this might be achieved. We are ready to engage positively in a dialogue on that question. Although the Cold War is over, today we face new and emerging threats. It is right that we should consider all possible elements of a comprehensive strategy to deal with them. Thank you.

  3. Thank you very much. You mentioned that we anticipated, to use the phraseology, the "emerging threat" within the next few years. Can you give us a little more information? One thing that is certain about intelligence is that it is almost invariably found out to be wanting. Are you happy that the fairly relaxed approach that we have taken to this issue, waiting for the Americans to approach us, et cetera, et cetera, is sufficiently robust to ensure that if intelligence is wrong, if a country, which is estimated to take a number of years to develop a capability, somehow acquires additional resources or additional skills, that our timescale for if we decide to develop a capability to deploy against it is not going to be available in a period after a potential adversary has actually acquired that capability, so is it possible for you just to explore a little more closely what you mean about the evolving threat "within the next few years"?
  4. (Mr Hoon) The last part of your question, Chairman, actually indicates why we are not relaxed. I do not accept the word "relaxed" at all. The Government has been vigilant in monitoring the developing threats and we continue to be vigilant. I can assure you that we are not taking this potential threat at all lightly and we will take whatever decisions are necessary to be able to deal with it in time. As far as the timescale is concerned, it is important to emphasise that the threat is not only the development of any particular kind of technology that could be used to threaten the United Kingdom from any particular country, but that obviously must be accompanied by a particular intention and it is the coincidence of the development of the threat in a physical sense together with the development of an intention that is ultimately a matter of concern to the United Kingdom. Our judgment for the moment that there is not that coincidence of both the ability to deliver a threat as well as an intention means that for the moment, and I emphasise that, we do not need to take these particular decisions, but we do ensure, both in terms of monitoring technological change in any given country as well as ensuring any change in intention is kept a close eye on, that we are in a position properly to take the decisions that would require the protection of the United Kingdom.

  5. Mr Hoon, the memorandum from the MoD and the Foreign Office cites North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria as states of concern. I have a couple of questions on North Korea and Libya. In what sort of timescale do you think North Korea might develop the capabilities of producing missiles of inter-continental range?
  6. (Mr Hoon) I am not going to answer that question directly because in any event it would be a judgment about their particular ability and our concern largely about North Korea is based both on the potential threat to our closest ally, the United States, and some comments from time to time made in North Korea about that relationship with the United States, but equally, and perhaps more significantly as far as the United Kingdom is concerned, the threat from North Korea posed by their willingness to sell that technology to anyone who appears to have the money available to purchase it. North Korea is a particular problem in that sense in that their threat is a threat to the stability of the world because they are clearly very determined to sell their equipment to anyone who has the cash to buy it.

  7. That has caused us some anxiety and the reason I asked that question was, and I am sure we will be able to go to unclassified sources to have a judgment of the current state of North Korean technology, but the further problem is that if they develop a capability, it need not be inter-continental to threaten us because how long would it take, would you estimate, if North Korea decided to sell this advance in technology to another state of concern, and it could be a country in the Maghreb, in the Middle East, which would then really mess up your calculations as to how long it would take for a threat to emerge? Is there anything you can say in open session or would you like to write to us afterwards on how long North Korea, having developed a missile system that works, how long it would take, if it decided to sell to a country much closer to us, for that capability that has been acquired to threaten directly not just the United States if that country chose to use it, but Western Europe and ourselves in particular?
  8. (Mr Hoon) That is really the concern about North Korea, that they are not appearing to discriminate as to who they would be prepared to sell the technology to and that is a matter of considerable concern both here and in the United States.

    (Mr Hawtin) Again I do not think it is a question we can give a precise answer to unfortunately in the terms you have described.

  9. A precise answer in open session or you are not able to give an answer at all?
  10. (Mr Hawtin) Not able to give a precise answer in the sense that they are developing a technology and they have made technology available to a number of other countries, including Iran. We are, as the Secretary of State said, also very concerned about Libya, but there are so many imponderables in the question you pose that one cannot answer it in precise terms.

  11. Libya features as one of the UK's four main countries of concern, yet it does not appear in the Americans' list. What is Libya doing which is of particular concern to us?
  12. (Mr Hoon) Well, there is no doubt that Libya is a cause for concern both as far as the United Kingdom and the United States are concerned

  13. So they forgot to put the name on the list, did they? "I cannot answer for the United States of course", okay.
  14. (Mr Hoon) All I would dispute, Chairman, is any suggestion that the United States is any less concerned about Libya than we are. I assure you that the United States keeps an eye on developments in Libya just as closely as it does in the other countries on the list that you have given.

    Chairman: Maybe we will have to write to the US to ask why Libya was omitted.

    Mr Howarth

  15. Secretary of State, if I could pursue that a little bit further, you have said a moment ago that the threat was effectively a combination of capability and intention and that you did not see any immediate intention on the part of any potential rogue state to threaten us, but there is the old adage that capabilities take time to develop and intentions can change overnight. As far as Libya is concerned, although you say that there is no immediate evidence of any threat from Libya, in the latest memorandum we have had from your Department dated last week, you say, "We believe Libya also has weapons of mass destruction aspirations". Perhaps we can explore that a little bit further because I think, as far as the United Kingdom is concerned, it is obviously very much closer than North Korea. If North Korea is making available its equipment to anyone who is prepared to buy it, and we know that Colonel Gadaffi has funded terrorism in the United Kingdom through the IRA, there is a real risk here, is there not, that if the North Koreans can deliver a system and Libya has the aspiration and it has the money, then that threat could suddenly change into being a very serious one and a very immediate one?
  16. (Mr Hoon) There is certainly a risk if those contingencies were satisfied that Libya could pose the kind of threat that I at the outset indicated was a matter of concern to us, yes.

  17. I am not suggesting that the Ministry of Defence is being complacent, but we could be faced with a real prospect of an immediate threat to the United Kingdom of weapons of mass destruction from Libya and we do not have any strategy in place to deal with it.
  18. (Mr Hoon) Well, I do not accept that the contingencies are satisfied. Therefore, I cannot accept that there is a real prospect of an immediate threat, otherwise I would have set out the evidence to the Committee at the outset in a different way.

  19. I do not want to prolong this, but may I just ask you one final question then. If you say that you believe that Libya has these aspirations to produce weapons of mass destruction ----
  20. (Mr Hoon) Well, there are a considerable number of countries around the world that have the aspiration. That is a completely different thing from being able to deliver it.

  21. Well, we know that the delivery systems could be available in North Korea. You have just told us that they will flog them to whoever is prepared to buy them, so if Libya has got these aspirations, and you have told us this actually as recently as Monday, what is the basis of this and do you have any kind of timetable to put on it or are you telling us that these are long-term aspirations in the assessment of the Ministry of Defence and they are not immediate?
  22. (Mr Hoon) I do not want to mislead the Committee in any way. They are not immediate, but long-term depends on your assessment of what you mean by that. I am sure Libya has an aspiration to develop a weapon of mass destruction and, equally, would like to purchase the necessary technology to allow it to deliver it. That conjuncture is something we keep a close eye on.

    Chairman: For the benefit of Committee Members, the MoD's supplementary memorandum of 18th March goes into quite a lot of detail on this and, as it is unclassified, it will be made available when we publish our Report.

    Patrick Mercer

  23. Secretary of State, given the Taepo Dong-1 missile which, as you know, is in production, how soon could states that we are concerned about have the capability of building ballistic missiles and launching ballistic missiles which are able to carry a mass-destructive payload?
  24. (Mr Hoon) That is the same question as I was asked earlier and I will give you the same answer which is that, as Mr Hawtin said, it is extremely difficult to put a precise timescale on that, but it is something that we monitor very closely.

  25. The weapons-of-mass-destruction warheads that we have been talking about, which warheads do you expect to pose the earliest threat to UK interests?
  26. (Mr Hoon) I think you need to be more precise as to what you mean by a warhead. Are you referring to a nuclear warhead or are you referring to some other kind of payload?

  27. Well, which type of payload are we worried about first? Which is the most likely, given intention and capability, a mixture of the two, and I appreciate that intention is difficult to quantify?
  28. (Mr Hoon) I would not want to draw a distinction too finely between any of the kinds of weapons of mass destruction that are capable of being developed and delivered. Clearly there are countries with aspirations to develop nuclear weapons which they are then capable of delivering, but, equally, the delivery of a chemical or biological weapon would be a matter of very great concern as well which is why we did not make quite the fine distinctions that I think your question suggests.

    (Mr Hawtin) I think that is absolutely right. It is again impossible to give a precise answer to that question. It is the conjunction of missile technology and weapons of mass destruction that is obviously potentially extremely worrying, but one cannot answer it in the precise terms you have posed the question. What I would add, if I may, is that we are focusing at the moment on one element of the broader strategy that the Secretary of State described in his opening remarks, namely missile defence. That is only one element. There are many other elements in the strategy, including counter-proliferation efforts which are continuing and in which we play a very active part, so the objective is to stop, insofar as we can, this happening in the first place and to complicate the objectives of any states who are so minded to acquire these capabilities.

  29. To tease that out a little further, if we may, can you say which state poses the earliest threat to us in terms of being able to produce this and perhaps the intention? Let's just stick with the technological side. Which states are going to be in a position to pose the earliest threat to us in the United Kingdom?
  30. (Mr Hoon) Well, I think you do need to go back to the analysis of threat that I set out for you. Undoubtedly in terms of the development of missile technology, North Korea has some very sophisticated development plans and in terms of producing missile equipment is arguably the most advanced of the countries that we describe as states of concern, but there is no indication that North Korea directly threatens the United Kingdom; it has never evinced any such intention. Therefore, it is still that conjuncture that amounts to a threat and until that is an immediate threat to the United Kingdom, I am confident that the Ministry of Defence's position is the right one.

  31. On that line of reasoning, North Korea you see as having the capability and intention is another matter, but who else would be up there? Who would be second in our order of concern?
  32. (Mr Hoon) Well, the concern does depend on there being both the ability and the intention and I think it becomes slightly invidious to produce a league table that you are clearly searching for.

    Jim Knight

  33. The Government likes league tables!
  34. (Mr Hoon) If I had to identify a single state that caused me most anxiety, it would undoubtedly be Iraq.

  35. In your opening statement, you said you would consider very seriously the fact that if certain states of concern do acquire complete systems of sufficient range, then they might be capable of targeting the UK, and obviously we accept that, but it is a bit like saying that if somebody you do not like points a loaded gun at your head, you would be worried about it. Do you share that concern in terms of terrorist groups acquiring such weapons?
  36. (Mr Hoon) I certainly believe that the events of September 11th have demonstrated that there are arguably no limits to which some fanatics will go in the pursuit of their perverted ambitions and, therefore, as we are aware, the attempts that groups like Al Qaeda have made in the past to acquire elements of weapons of mass destruction is a matter of real anxiety and it is something that we would have to guard against very seriously.

  37. Is it a major concern of your Department?
  38. (Mr Hoon) It is something that not only my Department, but other government departments as well will be actively engaged on, yes.

  39. When Mr Hawtin appeared before us at the end of February, he said that he did not think it was a major concern, a terrorist group acquiring a weapon of mass destruction.
  40. (Mr Hoon) Well, I do not think that there is any evidence that any terrorist group has acquired a weapon of mass destruction and, as I said very deliberately, they have sought to acquire elements of such weapons and, therefore, I do not think there is any difference between us.


  41. I think Mr Hawtin would like to reply.
  42. (Mr Hawtin) Thank you, Chairman, if I may. I think my remarks were related specifically to terrorist intentions to acquire ballistic missiles and of that I said we had no evidence and did not believe to be a real and major threat, but their intentions were directed rather more towards covert

    measures and efforts of delivery.

    Jim Knight

  43. Thank you, that is helpful. Can you then talk me through the linkage between the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and war against terrorism in that the logic of certainly the discussion around the potential action against Iraq, and obviously we all know that no specific proposals have been made and so on, but that discussion is about the threat of weapons of mass destruction and that is certainly what the President talked about in his State of the Union Address, so how does that link through to the war against terrorism?
  44. (Mr Hoon) We have had a longstanding concern about the efforts of countries like Iraq, and specifically Iraq, to develop weapons of mass destruction. That was the justification for previous military action against Iraq and it continues to be a matter of very great concern. It is covered by a series of United Nations resolutions and UN-SCR12/84 sets out the terms on which the international community, because of its very real suspicions of Iraq, would want to see inspection freely inside Iraq of facilities that might potentially be developing weapons of mass destruction, so that is a longstanding concern. What I think the events of September 11th did was to focus the minds of the international community on those threats, and I think governments around the world recognise this, by in a sense looking the other way after the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan and perhaps not taking as seriously as we should have done the Taliban regime and its willingness to harbour terrorism. The events of September 11th were a direct consequence and, therefore, what I think September 11th has done is focus our minds much more clearly on those kinds of potential threats to future stability and, therefore, we do need to take still more seriously, although we have always taken it seriously, the threat that countries like Iraq might pose.

  45. Given that you have said to us in previous sessions that there is no evidence of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda, it is not a concern that as capability increases, that would marry up with intention in terms of a terrorist group and you would see proliferation and, therefore, a threat through that route?
  46. (Mr Hoon) No, although, as your question actually accepts, there are obviously developments that we have to continue to monitor. It is not simply technological development, but it is also development in the way in which both states and particular groups might organise themselves, particularly given the shattering blow the international coalition delivered to the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the period after September 11th, so this is not a static situation.

  47. No, but given that, should we not be more concerned about capability? Your statement earlier on was about the balance between intention and capability as the reason why we are interested observers rather than participants in missile defence, but given that it is a pretty fluid situation and that intention and capability can rapidly marry up in ways we do not necessarily expect and anticipate, therefore, should we be looking at capability with much more concern?
  48. (Mr Hoon) We have put an enormous amount of effort into monitoring the development of capabilities and we have put an enormous amount, as have other members of the international community, into taking steps to limit the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. That is one of our highest policy priorities, as is the international community's, so no one is in any way doubting the importance of monitoring capability, but given scientific ability, given the influence of money, given particular states' ambitions, given, equally, the determination of certain individual terrorists, it is not something which the international community can entirely seal. On the other hand, I think we have had remarkable successes over the year in at least limiting the proliferation and the capability.

  49. When we were in the United States, the impression we had was that their security policy was governed far more by an emphasis on capability and less than we have in terms of intention. Would you agree with that and if we were to shift more in that direction, what are the implications of a security policy based on capability?
  50. (Mr Hoon) Well, if you will forgive me, I do think you are drawing a wholly false distinction and I think you are putting a wholly misplaced emphasis on one side or other of the equation that you see. We put a very significant effort, alongside the United States and other members of the international community, in both monitoring capability and seeking to frustrate its spread.

  51. At the moment with this theoretical discussion we have about possible military action in Iraq, that is clearly an attempt to tackle capability and proliferation head on, but does there come a point when if we are smart about tackling capability in that way or through diplomatic means or whatever, that missile defence goes on the back-burner because we have dealt with the threat, we have dealt with the capability by diplomatic and by military means and missile defence becomes less relevant because the threat goes away?
  52. (Mr Hoon) An interesting question built on an entirely speculative, hypothetical set of judgments about Iraq and presumably the answer you are searching for is that you are assuming that the United Kingdom will be willing to take on in a military way all of those countries ----

  53. Not necessarily.
  54. (Mr Hoon) ---- who might be seeking to develop the capability and since we have not taken any decision whatsoever in relation to Iraq, I assure you that your question is both speculative in its premise and builds on that speculation in its further thesis.

    Jim Knight: Thank you, Secretary of State!

    Mr Howarth: That will go down well in The Sun tomorrow!

    Chairman: The Sun does not attend our proceedings, but The Guardian does! We now have a list of questions we would like to ask you, Secretary of State, on the US plans for missile defence.

    Mr Cran

  55. Secretary of State, can we move on to the potential role of Fylingdales and Menwith Hill. Now, I know perfectly well that you have a fig-leaf which you are deploying frequently and the fig-leaf was used this morning in your statement when you said, "...we have so far received no requests from the United States..." et cetera, et cetera, and I can entirely understand that, but at the same time your officials told us last month that the MoD was closely monitoring prospective US plans for these sites and have been assessing the consequences for the UK. Now, if the United States is to meet, as you know, its interim missile defence capability by 2004-08, we were told in Washington last month or the month before that any amendments to Fylingdales would have to be completed by 2006 and begun in 2003. Is that your understanding of all of this?
  56. (Mr Hoon) My understanding is that the United States, as I have set out in my opening statement, is looking at a range of means of promoting effective missile defence and that unless and until they have reached specific technical conclusions as to how they intend to do that, they have made no specific request about the use of facilities in the United Kingdom.

  57. But at the same time, if I go to Mr Hawtin, when he appeared before the Committee, he said, "...we are thinking through the implications of a possible request [from the United States]; the kind of request that might come forward". I can see that in public terms you are deploying the fig-leaf, but that behind the scenes you are doing quite a lot of thinking. Can you just tell me what Mr Hawtin meant and then, Mr Hawtin, perhaps he can tell us.
  58. (Mr Hoon) Well, Mr Hawtin is here, so I think he can tell you.

    (Mr Hawtin) I would not accept the term "fig-leaf". The factual position is that we have not received a request from the Americans, and I quoted to you President Bush's own remarks about "not yet decided what will work and what will not", so that is the factual position. The other point is that we are certainly looking at the possible implications of a request and it is no secret that we have been responsibly, I would submit, looking at that. We have talked to the Americans, we are talking to the Americans about this because it was certainly part of the Clinton Administration's proposals, but that is the factual position. We have not had a request and, as responsible officials, we are obviously interested in what such a request, were it to be made, would involve.

  59. I would never suggest that you are other than responsible, but have your discussions not covered the possibility that Fylingdales may have to need quite a lot of investment put in there if that was the option that was chosen? I am quite well aware of the fact that there are other options that the Americans could choose.
  60. (Mr Hoon) I think Mr Hawtin has made the position very clear. Obviously the previous Administration had rather more specific plans for missile defence in the sense of concentrating on a particular kind of technological capability. One of the clear changes that we anticipated and has come to pass is that a new Administration, which had in effect in opposition been rather critical of the previous Administration's proposals, wanted to look at a broader range of solutions to the problem that they anticipate and unless and until they reach a specific conclusion, you, as other Members of the Committee, are merely speculating as to what might follow.

  61. Well, I will have one more go at this before I move on to my two other questions, Chairman. I go back to what Mr Hawtin said. He said, "...we are thinking through the implications of a possible request..." Now, if the possible request comes along to meet the timescale that the American Government has set itself, would that mean that work would have to start on Fylingdales in the year 2003? It is a simple question.
  62. (Mr Hoon) But it is a speculative question. Unless and until the Americans decide ----

  63. But you are speculating. Your officials are speculating.
  64. (Mr Hoon) Well, you are asking me to appear here to set out the Government's policy. That policy cannot be set out until the US Administration has decided precisely what it is that it intends to do as far as missile defence is concerned.

  65. Okay, I am clearly not getting any further with this and the fig-leaf is clearly in place. I have two more questions which again might be put into the realms of speculation, in which case you are going to be able to cast them aside again, but if we did receive a request from the Americans for either or both, Fylingdales or Menwith Hill, the possibility exists that that would result in quite a lot of public disturbance from those who disagree with the whole thing. Is that something that you have considered might occur?
  66. (Mr Hoon) I have set out on a number of previous occasions the Government's recognition that missile defence, as I have said again this morning, might well, alongside other policies, play a valuable role in defending both the United Kingdom and its allies and, in particular, its closest ally, the United States, so whilst I do not necessarily expect people to be cheering in the streets in support of such a decision, I think there will be a strong body of opinion that recognises the importance of such an approach.

  67. So you do not think that there is going to be the need for any debate initiated by you or the Government, and you do not foresee any Greenham Common-type approach?
  68. (Mr Hoon) I am sure that this Committee and Members of Parliament would expect there to be a debate in Parliament about it, as I am sure that there would be a debate in the country.

  69. I mean a public debate.
  70. (Mr Hoon) Yes, I said a debate in the country.

  71. My last question is simply this: there are disagreements with both the approach that the United States is taking on this whole subject, with which you do not disagree, the Government does not disagree, and we do not disagree, but there are disagreements and, therefore, the question is how does the United States get its message over in the United Kingdom to mould public opinion and also in the other European countries?
  72. (Mr Hoon) This process that the Committee is engaged on is part of that effort to discuss more widely the implications of the kinds of threats that we face in the world and the kinds of solutions that there are available. I do believe that public attitudes will have changed significantly as a result of the events of September 11th because I do not think any of us would have imagined that people were prepared to go to such lengths. In a sense part of the public concern prior to September 11th was the sense that groups or states could not contemplate such appalling acts, but clearly September 11th demonstrates that they could.


  73. As the decider with Yorkshire, you are 'out-Boycotting' Geoffrey Boycott, Secretary of State!
  74. (Mr Hoon) He was a very good batsman.

  75. Well, not very exciting!
  76. (Mr Hoon) I challenge you to go and say that in Yorkshire!

  77. Well, no doubt we will be coming up to Yorkshire to look at how well the stonewalling has been, but my one concern has been that I have no doubts whatsoever about the American application to develop the sites, not the slightest doubt, but your strategy is that you are waiting for the request to come in and then once the request comes in, you start campaigning for it, and the disadvantage is that in a way you lose the initiative. Is there not a case to start preparing public opinion because it is obvious to me, if not to the Ministry of Defence, obvious to them, that the Americans are not going to hire an oil-rig as an alternative to these sites, that they are intent on proceeding, it is obvious, and these two sites are part of that process. By waiting for the request to come in and then to begin to campaign, do you not think that theoretically, only theoretically, the initiative might have been slightly lost and that you are wrong-footed because the press then start arguing the case for and against and saying that you will have to do what you know you will have to do?
  78. (Mr Hoon) I think the short answer is that it is much more sensible to have a public debate on the basis of what we know rather than what we might speculate about.

  79. Well, I know that at midnight tonight it will be twelve o'clock and at least I can prepare for the inevitable, whereas you are not publicly preparing for it. Well, maybe if one request is formally made, then the agenda changes and then we can remind you.
  80. (Mr Hoon) And that is precisely the Government's position and I will be delighted to return to the Committee to answer your real questions rather than your speculative ones!

    Chairman: And you will be asking for our support!

    Mr Roy

  81. Secretary of State, as a Scotsman who knows absolutely nothing about cricket, however, I would certainly like to score a goal against you and get something on the score board. We heard last month in Washington that a Pacific-focused X-band radar system could be built in Alaska. That was fact and we were told that, but in what sort of timescale could a decision on a possible X-band radar in the United Kingdom be considered, as far as we are concerned?
  82. (Mr Hoon) The difficulty with that question is that since the Americans have not yet even decided on making a request for the upgrade of facilities at Fylingdales, you can rest assured, and I emphasise this, that the Americans have not made a request for a site for the construction of an X-band radar. Therefore, I am afraid you are building speculation on speculation.

  83. So there has been no discussion on X-band radar at all?
  84. (Mr Hoon) There has been a considerable amount of public speculation and debate about X-band radar.

  85. That was not the question. The question was has there been any discussion at all?
  86. (Mr Hoon) I have not had any specific discussion with my United States counterpart about the use of an X-band radar, no.

  87. What about your officials?
  88. (Mr Hoon) Clearly there have been contacts between the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defence in order to allow us to develop some thinking about the future prospects for missile defence and I am sure that in the course of those contacts the phrase "X-band radar" was used, but I can equally guarantee to you that no decisions have been made.

  89. I accept that no decisions have been made, but, to go back to the first sentence, would a possible timescale have been discussed by your officials in discussions in which you did not take part?
  90. (Mr Hoon) Again I am sure that in the course of doing their job properly, officials in the Ministry of Defence will have considered a range of scenarios and there will have been, therefore, some discussion of X-band radar in those scenarios, but they are scenarios and if you invite me to step out of the goal so that you can kick the ball in, then that might concentrate far too closely on one specific scenario, but I do emphasise that it is only one particular scenario out of very many.

  91. And the timescale?
  92. (Mr Hoon) Well, again scenarios involve a mapping of a whole series of timescales.

  93. Would you expect the timescale to be a scenario?
  94. (Mr Hoon) Well, scenarios depend on a number of different timescales and we do our work properly, as do the officials in the Ministry of Defence, to consider a whole range of alternatives, but unless the Committee would like me to set out all of the full range of alternatives, which would take a considerable amount of time, I do not think it is wise at this stage to concentrate on any one in particular.

  95. So I take it then that there has not been a focus on the timescale that would be needed for the X-band radar?
  96. (Mr Hoon) There has obviously been some discussion of a range of possible timescales, but no specific decision has been taken.


  97. I feel the same sense of frustration that the police must do in an interview with a recidivist!
  98. (Mr Hoon) I know that you are covered by parliamentary privilege, Chairman, but I do think that that is a slightly unfair comment.

  99. All I can say is that when the Americans do make the announcement, Secretary of State, please keep your diary free because we will re-interview you under normal police procedures as quickly as is possible so then you can retract almost everything you have said ----
  100. (Mr Hoon) I have to say, Chairman, I do not recall being cautioned!

    Mr Roy

  101. I move on from the American scenario to the United Kingdom scenario and the United Kingdom's thoughts and policies and positions. Could Russia and China, for example, see the introduction of an X-band radar with its ability to process many missiles at one time, do you think they could see that as a threat to their own nuclear strike capability, in your opinion?
  102. (Mr Hoon) If I can help, I will try and answer the question which I am sure you would like to ask which is about missile defence and its impact on Russia and China.

  103. That is the next one.
  104. (Mr Hoon) There is no doubt that in terms of conventional deterrence theory, there have been those who have expressed concerns that an effective missile defence shield would lead to, for example, China in particular increasing its defence expenditure and in trying to find ways of defeating any such shield. I think that is a debate we might properly have. As far as Russia is concerned, Russia of course does have missile defence and has spent some considerable time providing the technology to defend Moscow against incoming missiles, although presumably the attitude in Russia for such an approach would be different.

  105. So the question was do you think that Russia would see the new plans as a threat to their defences that they already have?
  106. (Mr Hoon) I think there is a very significant change in Russia and there are real issues as to the extent to which Russia poses a continuing threat of the kind you describe to NATO, to the United States and to the United Kingdom. That is not to say that we do not remain vigilant about any threats to our territory and our security, but I think undoubtedly we would have to say that there are significant changes that have taken place and are continuing in Russia which mean that we can look in a much more confident way to the future.

    (Mr Hawtin) May I just add a quote from President Putin in an interview to the Financial Times last December when he said, "Even if Russia goes down to a level of 2,000 weapons from a level which is much higher, it is unimaginable, totally unrealistic to think that such a number of missiles could be intercepted". I think that is a clear answer to your question.

    (Mr Hoon) And I think those who debate the deterrence theory also have to look at the way in which the United States in particular has promoted a proposal to significantly reduce its own offensive missile systems as part of their greater confidence that missile defence would bring in terms of reducing threats as between in particular the United States and Russia, and that is also something that Russia has welcomed, so I think that is where the debate about the deterrence theory needs to go. It is not simply about saying, "Is any particular country going to increase its military expenditure in order to defeat missile defence?", but it is, equally, about ensuring that we look at this in the round and many people have looked for very many years at finding ways in which to reduce the stockpiles of those offensive systems and this actually looks likely to deliver that.

  107. Lastly, do you have any position of policy in relation to the X-band capability edge, bringing a missile defence template nearer the Star Wars scenario that we have heard of in the past?
  108. (Mr Hoon) I think it is important, as I have always sought to do, to distinguish missile defence, the current policy of the current Administration of the United States and indeed the previous Administration, from what was called Star Wars under President Reagan and the idea of being able to deal with a large number of incoming missiles simultaneously is not one which currently underlies the policy of the United States Administration.

    Mr Crausby

  109. Mr Hawtin told us last month that we are being very closely informed by the Americans of what is going on, that we have very close links and contacts with them. Can you tell us anything about what discussions you are having with the US over system architecture options?
  110. (Mr Hoon) We are obviously aware of the various options that are being considered in the United States and we obviously do look at those options in terms of what might be our role and what might be the way in which American thinking is developing.

  111. So to what extent might we have an influence on those options and effectively on what infrastructure would be required within the UK as a result of those options?
  112. (Mr Hoon) Clearly as far as those options directly affect the United Kingdom, we have an interest, but I think, as I indicated in my opening statement, one of the most interesting developments with the new Administration was a clear statement by the President of his wish to see not only the United States, but also close allies protected with any such system and, therefore, that has obviously stimulated a further debate, particularly amongst European allies.

  113. Your officials also told us last month that you have already given permission for building the infrastructure needed for Menwith Hill to manage the space-based infra-red radar satellites. Now, I accept that these are the early-warning systems, but they clearly also play a vital role in a future missile defence system. When that time comes, will there be anything else for the Americans to do or will they just simply plug Menwith Hill into the missile defence system and thereby sort of approach this system by stealth?
  114. (Mr Hoon) It is an interesting approach to try and tie in two discrete issues, at least discrete for the moment. The project at Menwith Hill is a vitally important project, but it is being dealt with entirely separately from missile defence. It is a project which will go forward whether or not the United States decides ultimately to make a request to the United Kingdom in relation to its proposals for missile defence and it would go ahead whether or not missile defence ever actually occurs.

  115. Are there any aspects of research that have been done by the US that would present difficulties for UK policy? For example, would we object to putting weapons into space?
  116. (Mr Hoon) Again, there is a range of speculative suggestions as to what might constitute a missile defence system, and the use of space has been looked at, I know, as part of the range of options being developed. I think it is something that we would have to consider when and if there is some more specific proposal.

    (Mr Hawtin) On space, as the Secretary of State said, the missile defence proposals are fundamentally different from President Reagan's Star Wars and do not involve the use of space. As far as the UK is concerned, we are a depository state of the Outer Space Treaty which places limitations on the military use of space and, indeed, prohibits the stationing of weapons of mass destruction in space. There is no suggestion that we are aware of that the Americans wish to proceed down any other road.

  117. Have the Americans given any undertakings that in the event of them wanting to proceed down that road they would seek international consent?
  118. (Mr Hoon) Which particular road are you envisaging?

  119. Space. It is quite a fundamental issue.
  120. (Mr Hoon) As Brian has just said, there is not any suggestion that they intend to breach the Treaty by placing weapons of mass destruction in space.

    Mr Howarth

  121. Secretary of State, can we move on to the broader issue - or should I say the narrower issue - of local area missile defence options for the UK and Europe. If we start with Fylingdales and Menwith Hill, in the event that we were to be approached to upgrade those facilities and we agreed so to do, do you think that that might increase the vulnerability of the United Kingdom to attack, specifically because those key facilities had been upgraded? Would you have any plans for the protection of those facilities?
  122. (Mr Hoon) We have a range of facilities in the United Kingdom that are used by the United States and other allies as part of our commitment to NATO and our commitment to the international community. I do not see that any particular facility or its particular use is going to put us at any greater risk, particularly from states of concern who, if they were capable of launching a missile against the United Kingdom from whatever distance, I would have thought - especially given the events of September 11 - would be interested in as much the public effect rather than any specific military effect.

    Mr Howarth: I agree with you.

    Chairman: I am sorry, could you repeat that phrase?

    Mr Howarth

  123. I agree with the Secretary of State very strongly, Chairman, over that. I think he is absolutely right.
  124. (Mr Hoon) Now I should start to worry.

  125. Good, that is excellent. I am pleased to hear that. If we move to the specific defence of the UK more generally and not individual targets, can I quote something that Mr Helliwell told us a month ago, he being the Assistant Director of Nuclear Policy for Missile Defence? In looking at the issue of the United States' offer of an extension of their system to protect friends and allies, he told us: "They have not yet got to the stage of setting out in detail how they see the protection of friends and allies working. We are keen to get into dialogue with them on that. So far as the programmes and the money they are spending, they have made clear that where there is outside assistance that other countries can contribute they want those countries to do so and we, for our part, are keen to promote that. .. there are a number of niche areas where we might be able to contribute and our aim is to do so." What is your assessment of the possibility of this US system providing a defence to the UK homeland? Can you amplify what Mr Helliwell told us last month about the dialogue that you are getting into with the United States and your keenness to promote the United Kingdom contribution?
  126. (Mr Hoon) I am delighted at your enthusiasm, but you use the phrase "this US system", and unless and until there is "a US system" we will not be in a position to be clear about how that is going to work, how it is working to affect the United Kingdom or European allies and, therefore, what kind of contribution we might be able to make, if that was judged at the time to be appropriate. Certainly, I think a great deal of thinking has gone on, and a great deal of discussion has gone on already, about the way in which any system might protect Europe, including within that the United Kingdom.

  127. You are keen, on the one hand, to tell us that dialogue is going on and that you are keen to talk to them, but, on the other hand, it is almost as though you are standing back with your arms folded and saying "Well, the United States has not defined its technology yet. We are just actually going to stand here on the shores of the Atlantic, look across the ocean and see what eventually they come up with." It seems to me that there is no kind of linkage between this dialogue that you are keen to try to portray us being involved in with the United States, yet there is a kind of complete passivity towards this huge debate that is going on in the United States on the technology. We do have some pretty capable technology people in this country, we have a 4 million programme but they have got a $7.8 billion programme. What are we doing?
  128. (Mr Hoon) I think you have rather answered your own question in the statistics that you have just set out. In fact, I was going to quote similar figures to you. Obviously, there is a discussion in the United States; we have excellent contacts between the Ministry of Defence and the Pentagon and we have a number of people who can certainly contribute to the development of US thinking. However, I think we have to be realistic; the United States has spent in the order of $50 billion already on this project, as you say, and they are spending almost $8 billion a year, and they are attempting to resolve an enormously challenging technological problem. We have a much more modest programme, we are able to fund and support that but, realistically, we are not going to be able to tell the United States how it should spend its $8 billion budget or, indeed, how it should spend its $50 billion.

  129. If the United States came up - or when the United States comes up - with a system (which it is going to do), in principle is the United Kingdom, the British Government, keen to accept the United States' offer of that system being used to protect the people of this country, on the assumption that the system the United States produces is capable of doing that? Is there any reason, in principle, why the United Kingdom would not accept such an offer?
  130. (Mr Hoon) No.

    Mr Howarth: Excellent. Going back to what your official said last month, we did press - and if I may say the Chairman was particularly forceful with one of your officials - as to how much it might cost for Britain, as it were, to go it alone. The rough figure we were given was 5 to 10 billion for a UK missile defence system riding on the back of a US programme. Has your ----


  131. It was an immensely speculative figure, and I am sure the gentleman is here to defend himself.
  132. (Mr Hoon) I would not want Mr Howarth to mislead anyone that there was anything like as precise a figure as that. Clearly, the relevant figure, actually, Mr Chairman, is the figure that the United States has so far spent and the figure that it is continuing to spend, because that is the size of the technological challenge that they are seeking to address.

    Mr Howarth

  133. Let me tell you what Mr Roper told us a month ago. He said: "The fidelity of this assessment is very low but providing a homeland defence of the United Kingdom, assuming we had access to information that Fylingdales provides and an upgrade had taken place and that we procured US ground-based interceptors, five to ten billion might be the sort of regime." Nobody is trying to hold Mr Roper to account for that figure precisely, but it was helpful in giving some kind of ballpark figure. If there is this thinking going on and - going back to my earlier question - if the United Kingdom were prepared to accept an offer from the United States to extend their system to us, are you in discussion with the Treasury about the implications of that?
  134. (Mr Hoon) Again, I think it is remarkable that you are building your question about funding a system that has not yet been decided on by the United States and, therefore, by definition, has not yet been decided on by the United Kingdom, not least because (and I do want to say this to you quite seriously) if today the United Kingdom wanted to develop a stand-alone system it would have to spend in the order of the kind of money that the United States is spending. No one has solved this technological challenge as yet. The Americans have clearly gone a long way towards understanding what might be necessary, but they would be the first to concede that they have not resolved all of the questions. Therefore, until we know the final bill for the solution that the United States achieves, it is difficult to even begin to say what our costs at that stage might be. For example - and I am treating the question perfectly properly and seriously - the question might arise as to what contribution the United States would require allies to make to that enormous research cost, or whether the United States instead would simply look at the cost of providing, if you like, the hardware that would make the system work. That is, writing off the costs of research and development. Those discussions have not even begun to take place.

  135. Can I put it to you, Secretary of State, that any responsible government and any responsible Ministry of Defence, recognising that there is a threat out there, even though there is no evidence of any intention immediately to exercise that threat, ought to be looking at making some kind of contingency provision for the future? I accept all your arguments about the United States hoping to find the technology; nevertheless, you know there is a threat, you cannot quantify exactly when that threat might crystallise, but surely there ought to be some longer-term thinking.
  136. (Mr Hoon) I have already indicated there is a great deal of thinking going on, there are significant discussions taking place but no policy decisions have been taken. All I invite you to do is just consider carefully what I have just said to the Committee, which is that unless and until we know the final size of the bill faced by the United States, the likely contribution that allies might have to make towards the research and development involved in any such system, all this is pure speculation, and trying to put aside a contingency - which I think is what you suggested - for such a speculative decision is absurd, frankly. I am sorry to be so blunt.

  137. That is somewhat intemperate of you, Minister, if I may suggest, because the department, as you know, has long-term costings on major items of expenditure. Given the fact that you told us and we all accept that there is a real risk out there, I am surprised that no discussions have been engaged in with the Treasury on that point.
  138. (Mr Hoon) Can I just say this, Chairman, that the department certainly has long-term costings but that is precisely what I am objecting to about your question; no one knows what the cost might be. Therefore, no responsible department and no responsible government can put aside an unknown contingency or an unknown policy decision.

  139. But we know that there is a technical threat out there. What we do not know is whether any of those rogue stages which we have identified as being a threat is going to turn its aspirations into action. The moment they do that we will then be faced with the need to defend our people.
  140. (Mr Hoon) If I have understood precisely what you are suggesting the Government should do, it is to put aside an unknown amount of money to support a system that has not yet been decided on and not yet been perfected for, presumably, the indefinite future until such date as a real threat emerges.

  141. No, I was asking you if you had had discussions with the Treasury to consider these issues. You have said you have not because you only cost long-term projects which are actually on the books, if you like.
  142. (Mr Hoon) All I can say is that I assure you that, on the basis of such a series of speculations, going to the Treasury for such a provision would be something that I would find difficult.

  143. Can I ask you one final question, Secretary of State? What do you reckon are the prospects for a missile defence system which might cover the whole of Europe, not just the United Kingdom but the European members of NATO?
  144. (Mr Hoon) I think what is interesting about the various thoughts that there have been about the way in which Europe might be covered is the extent to which we are able to take advantage of a system essentially designed to protect United States' territory and what further changes and refinements might be required to protect Europe. I think one of the issues is how we would define "Europe" in those circumstances and how extensive such a system would be.


  145. That is almost Richard Mottram-like in obfuscation.
  146. (Mr Hoon) As long as it is only an obfuscation!

    Chairman: Giving evidence to us, not talking to his staff.

    Syd Rapson

  147. Can I turn to missile defence for smaller areas, including the deployed forces protection? That is an area that is worrying me following on from what was said earlier. In the Technology Readiness and Risk Assessment Programme the MoD concluded that: "it is still premature to decide on acquiring an active ballistic missile defence for deployed forces ..." . Again, this morning, you said exactly the same words. You said you believed it is premature to make decisions on acquiring missile defence for the protection of deployed forces. Exactly the same wording. This implies to me (which is complacent, in a way) that the decision can be made at a later date safely; we can leave it until later; it is not a real threat now, it is premature so we can make it later. What sort of lead-time do you envisage being needed between making a decision to acquire a missile defence system and introducing one for our deployed forces?
  148. (Mr Hoon) That is a refined version of the questions that I was asked at the outset. Obviously, it will depend on the emergence of a real threat - threat plus intention - to our deployed forces. We simply do not see that immediately, but as I have indicated we are very careful to monitor any such threat from whatever source.

  149. The general phraseology of "in the next few years" is really just saying "We will wait and see"?
  150. (Mr Hoon) As of today I do not see the capability and the intention to attack deployed forces of the United Kingdom.

  151. We tend to be monitoring and watching developments and being very careful to get that information together. That seems to leave things very late in the day. When we do make a decision it will happen quickly, and our procurement policies and the time it takes to get these things into place means that we will be trapped into buying off-the-shelf, ready-made systems and not going through the normal process of giving other people a chance to get in. That is a worry I have, that we leave it naturally because "we have not got evidence so far", "it is a bit woolly", "we do not want to make wrong decisions" and then, suddenly, it happens, we need it quick and we cannot go through this 20-year development programme and buy off-the-shelf. Is that a potential you see?
  152. (Mr Hoon) I would be delighted to be the Secretary of State responsible for a defence budget the size of that of the United States and be able to spend $8 billion a year on research and development. I happen to recognise, as you will recognise as Members of Parliament, that that is not realistic.

  153. I can understand that, although when we went to Washington they were crying tears about how little money they had. They all tell stories. We were also told when we had experts here from DERA or QinetiQ that although we have not got the money available in such quantities, our science level is very high. British invention and the science level in these fields is very high indeed. What technology do you think the UK could give to the United States on developing a missile system? Have we got the ability to give them, as we have done in the past, the edge and lead?
  154. (Mr Hoon) Mr Hawtin can give you more detail in a second, but in principle the basis of the technology is - I should not really use the word "straightforward". However, the difficulty about missile defence is the execution rather than the basic technology, in the sense that we have the radar equipment, we have, potentially, interceptors that could achieve the desired effect. It is being able to refine that equipment to work 100 per cent of the time against an evolving threat that is the technological challenge. In terms of actually having radars and missile interceptors, potentially the basis of the technology is there already.

    (Mr Hawtin) Putting it together, I think, is the very difficult issue. Providing missile defence in the terms the Americans are contemplating is anything but straightforward, hence the sums of money they are spending on it and the length of their test programme, both the broader research and development testing and evaluation programme which is looking at what might work and what will not work as well as their particular series of tests - of which we have just had the eighth in the series last weekend, which was a success. To answer your specific question, what are the areas in which we might share technology, we have since 1985 had a Memorandum of Understanding on collaborative research and information exchange with the United States, and the areas it covers include radar, tracking, counter-measures and discrimination. So those are the kinds of areas where we believe we have a particular contribution to make and where we are talking to the Americans and contributing to their work. All of this in a way that is designed to ensure we are better able to understand the technology, the problems and the issues concerned should we reach the point at which a decision to procure would appear sensible.

  155. We are in there playing the game. That eases some of my tension. Part of my problem, being a old trade-unionist, is worrying about manufacturing; that British business, British technology and skill levels are retained. That tends to drive what I worry about. It seems to me that we just offered the facility to the USA of Menwith Hill or Fylingdales to do what they want, and we do not seem to be in this. We could be locked out because of the speed and take-up of a missile system. If I take your answer to mean that people are actually in there with the Americans discussing everything at that level and that the Americans are wasting their money, to some extent we will gain something for British technology and skill levels, and I am quite happy with the last part of my question. Is that a good interpretation? We are able to share the meal at the table in America at that top level on these things?
  156. (Mr Hawtin) We are certainly participating in the way I described with the Americans, and I hope benefiting from the rather larger sums of money they are able to contribute.

    Syd Rapson: It must be great. Thank you, Chairman.

    Rachel Squire

  157. Can we come back to Russia? Secretary of State, many of us expected the Russians to be rather more vehement than they were in their objections to the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. Can you say why you think the Russians adopted the approach that they did on that announcement?
  158. (Mr Hoon) Because it recognises the benefits to the world of seeing deep cuts in offensive weapon systems and, having discussed these issues with a number of senior figures in the Russian administration, I think they are realistic about the way in which technology is developing, and recognise the benefits that can flow from a different basis on which to deal with the United States than was the case as between the Soviet Union and NATO during the Cold War.

  159. Just following up on that, you seem to be of the view that it is a Russian approach rather than a specific Clinton-led approach that has adopted a rather more co-operative stand on both the ABM Treaty and other US announcements. Is that your view?
  160. (Mr Hoon) I do not think it is right for me to comment on internal discussions that might or might not take place in Russia any more than there are internal discussions inside a British Government. The President has set out the policy of the Russian Government and I am entirely content with that.

  161. That is interesting because we have certainly heard concerns that what Mr Putin says and what other Russian ministers might think could be rather different.
  162. (Mr Hoon) I am seeing the Russian Foreign Minister in three-quarters of an hour.

    Chairman: I am seeing him in an hour-and-a-half, so I shall ask him as well!

    Rachel Squire

  163. Would you like to say whether you are going to raise the issue of either missile defence or the ABM Treaty withdrawal and its possible future action with Mr Ivanov?
  164. (Mr Hoon) I am sure we will be discussing a range of bilateral issues.

  165. You have spoken about Russia's reaction to the ABM Treaty, and perhaps part of that is them looking ahead. Do you get the impression that they are interested in the possibility of the US being able to develop some kind of leakproof missile umbrella? Are they showing any concerns about whether the US is looking to develop an initial system and then will be looking to enhance it?
  166. (Mr Hoon) The Russians, as I indicated earlier, have had a long-standing interest in missile defence. They have a deployed system to protect the City of Moscow. They also indicated towards the end of last year their willingness to participate in discussions on the development of a comprehensive missile defence system. So, yes, they have both a long-standing and a practical interest in this subject.

  167. So you think it is realistic to see US/Russian co-operation on missile defence?
  168. (Mr Hoon) I certainly think that there will be a range of discussions between the United States and Russia, and missile defence will be part of that.

  169. Can I also ask you what the substance of Russia's proposal to NATO is for ballistic missile defence co-operation, whether it is seen as feasible and whether it is still being assessed - what stage it is at?
  170. (Mr Hoon) Russia, as I indicated, did make a proposal which is being considered carefully in NATO. I think it is still the position that we want to see rather more detail on the way in which this particular proposal might be developed. Nevertheless, it does indicate both their interest in the subject and their willingness to discuss it.

  171. It is still being assessed at the moment within NATO?
  172. (Mr Hoon) Yes.

  173. Can I then, finally, ask you about the whole issue of Russia sharing its nuclear technology with Iran? Their justification for that seems to be that it is useful for financial reasons, even though they also appear to be well aware of the risk that Iran's development of nuclear technology could come back and bite Russia as well. Can you say what we in the United Kingdom are trying to do to persuade Russia that sharing such technology with Iran is not in its long-term interests?
  174. (Mr Hoon) We would have discussions with a number of countries - and I do not want to pick out Russia - about the concerns we would have over nuclear proliferation and about the passing on of particular technological developments to those countries who would seek to acquire them. The essential problem in the modern world is that it is not actually - notwithstanding what I said earlier about North Korea - states necessarily passing on that technology, but, frankly, individual scientists who have, for example, in the case of the former Soviet Union, been supported over very many years by the state but now find themselves no longer funded to do their work and available, in effect, to the highest bidder. That is a practical problem states have to confront and one which I could not pretend to you is easy to resolve, because those individuals clearly can move freely from one country to another and sell their abilities to the highest bidder.

  175. You seem to be suggesting that the problem with Iran developing its nuclear technology is, perhaps, more down to the action of individuals then the actual strategy or policy of a particular country.
  176. (Mr Hoon) That is how I would see it.

    Mr Howarth

  177. Going back to the forces protection, Secretary of State, your department's memorandum to us states: "Current ballistic missile threats were assessed to be of relatively low accuracy, meaning that unitary high explosive warheads would be of limited military utility". Have our troops - who we are about to deploy to the Middle East, or Afghanistan, and other vulnerable theatres - told you that they are content with such a rationale; that they do not need an active defence against ballistic missiles?
  178. (Mr Hoon) When you are talking about deploying troops to the Middle East, the troops that I announced we will be deploying are deploying to Afghanistan.

  179. Indeed. I was not suggesting they were deploying anywhere else at the moment.
  180. (Mr Hoon) I am not aware of any threat to those troops from ballistic missiles.

  181. Have there been any discussions with your senior military advisers about the potential risk to our deployed forces from theatre ballistic missiles?
  182. (Mr Hoon) In Afghanistan?

  183. Yes.
  184. (Mr Hoon) There has been no specific discussion but there is no specific threat.

  185. Can I ask you about passive protection against weapons of mass destruction on deployed troops? The inaccuracy of the current generation of rogue-state missiles is not much comfort if they become armed with weapons of mass destruction. Are you satisfied that `passive' defence measures will be sufficient on their own to protect our forces?
  186. (Mr Hoon) Yes.

  187. Have there been any upgrades in that inaccurate use in recent times (?)?
  188. (Mr Hoon) We are constantly looking at the kinds of threats. I assume that specifically you are referring not to missile-delivered threats but the use, for example, of chemical or biological weapons. That is something that a great deal of work has gone into in terms of protecting UK forces in the field, but it is an enormously difficult issue, not least because of the limitations it places on individual soldiers and their ability to do their job. We have the equipment, it is constantly trained and exercised, it is something that we have as a very high priority in terms of deploying those forces in particular theatres, as was the case, obviously, during the Gulf War.

    (Mr Hawtin) We have a whole range of individual collective protection measures as well as detection monitors which we are improving and we have a research programme. I think I gave the Committee details of that when we last gave evidence.

    Patrick Mercer

  189. If I can just carry that on, do you not even consider that there is a possible threat from Iraq of short-range missiles armed with nuclear or, more likely, biological and chemical warheads, frankly?
  190. (Mr Hoon) We all know that there is a threat of a short-range missile from Iraq because, in the past, they have launched such missiles.

  191. So our troops have no active defence. For instance, the threat was considered ----
  192. (Mr Hoon) When you talk about a threat, are you talking about a threat in Afghanistan?

  193. I am talking about in the Middle East. I was about to say, during the Gulf War our troops in Cyprus received a medal for being under such a threat. Yet we still have no active means of defending against such a threat.
  194. (Mr Hoon) It depends what you mean by "active". We have a range of means of dealing with that threat and I assure you that they are extraordinarily active.

  195. We have no means of interdicting a missile that is fired at our troops.
  196. (Mr Hoon) We do not have a missile defence system to deal with such a threat, if that is what you mean, but there are other means of dealing with that kind of threat.

  197. Such as?
  198. (Mr Hoon) There would be a range of military action that could be taken in order to render that threat not as effective as those responsible for it might think.

  199. I follow the logic of what you are saying without putting too fine a point on it. European nations consider the threat to their deployed troops as sufficient to go ahead and certainly look at buying these sorts of weapons, or indeed have bought them. Should we not be doing that?
  200. (Mr Hoon) Which countries are you ----

  201. I am talking about Germany and Italy and the PAC system they are looking at.
  202. (Mr Hoon) Obviously those are issues that we regularly consider in terms of the nature of the threat to our deployed forces. Since we are not currently engaged in military operations involving Iraq I think it is a little premature to think about developing such a system or purchasing such a system.

  203. Should we become involved in operations against Iraq, will we have time to acquire such systems?
  204. (Mr Hoon) I think it would depend. In the event of us one day becoming involved in military action against Iraq that involved ground forces, it is obviously something that we would have to consider, but our assumption has always been that if there were any such operations (and I am not concentrating on Iraq for the moment) they would be conducted by an international coalition and, therefore, we would contribute to that coalition our particular specialist capability and, in return, we would expect the protection of those kinds of systems. That is precisely what is happening in Afghanistan today.

  205. We are content to shelter under somebody else's umbrella?
  206. (Mr Hoon) You put that in a rather pejorative way.

  207. It is not intended to be at all.
  208. (Mr Hoon) We are a good ally. We bring to the alliance various kinds of highly skilled, highly capable military forces that have a range of equipment that is often in short supply elsewhere - as, again, operations in and around Iraq - I am sorry, in and around Afghanistan - have recently demonstrated. That was a slip, was it not?

  209. I will not exploit it.
  210. (Mr Hoon) The point being that if you look at the kind of contribution we were able to make - air-to-air refuelling, for example, and some of the search and reconnaissance equipment that we made available - even the United States was delighted to receive that kind of practical contribution. That is increasingly the way in which the alliance will develop, because no country is going to have a full A-Z capability to deal with every possible contingency that might arise.

    Jim Knight

  211. Just a quick one in the last couple of minutes. Traditionally, we have had our nuclear deterrent and we have regarded that as an effective way of deterring others from sending ballistic weapons towards us. From a UK standpoint, to what extent does maintaining that nuclear deterrent mitigate the need for a missile defence system?
  212. (Mr Hoon) In terms of deterrence, clearly, our nuclear capability deters those who might threaten the United Kingdom with a weapon of mass destruction. I think we would have to have a rather longer discussion about whether that, for example, might work in relation to a failed state or a country like Iraq that, for example, places the lives of its own citizens at little value and might be prepared to contemplate taking on a nuclear power like the United Kingdom and accept the consequences. I think in terms of deterrence there is clearly an effect that our nuclear weapons have, but the reason and justification for the argument about states of concern is that some of those states would not be deterred in the way in which conventional deterrence theory assumes.

  213. Do you think that states such as, let us say, Iraq - which seems to be on our lips.
  214. (Mr Hoon) On yours, anyway.

  215. It seemed to stumble across yours. Do you think such a state would be deterred by our deterrent from using weapons of mass destruction against our forces in the field?
  216. (Mr Hoon) I think, again, the same argument arises, that there are clearly some states who would be deterred by the fact that the United Kingdom possesses nuclear weapons and has the willingness and ability to use them in appropriate circumstances. States of concern, I would be much less confident about, and Saddam Hussain has demonstrated in the past his willingness to use chemical weapons against his own people. In those kinds of states the wishes, needs and interests of citizens are clearly much less regarded and we cannot rule out the possibility that such states would be willing to sacrifice their own people in order to make that kind of gesture.

  217. Is it a confidence about whether or not they believe you would use them or confidence about whether or not they would care about whether you use them?
  218. (Mr Hoon) They can be absolutely confident that in the right conditions we would be willing to use our nuclear weapons. What I cannot be absolutely confident about is whether that would be sufficient to deter them from using a weapon of mass destruction in the first place.


  219. Thank you very much. I cannot say the sum total of human knowledge has increased significantly, Mr Hoon. You 'out-Boycotted' Boycott, and all I can say is that if you were playing for Derby County this season in goal then Derby would be up with Manchester United and going into Europe, because you did not concede many goals. However, we will ask you exactly the same questions again in due course, when we will expect totally, totally different answers. So thank you very much for coming.

(Mr Hoon) Thank you very much indeed.