Examination of Witness (Questions 178-195)
TUESDAY 26 FEBRUARY
178. Order, order. May I first apologise? We
were delayed in an earlier meeting and things have carried on.
We look forward to your contribution, having read both your own
memorandum and your frequent articles. Let us start with the effect
of the war in Afghanistan on the US power realities. You appear
to indicate that the war direction has been largely sub-contracted
by the President to the Pentagon. Is that your own view?
(Mr Stephens) Yes, it is a view that one hears often
from British and other European diplomats and politicians. One
of the frustrations this Government has had and certainly other
European governments have had during the conflict in Afghanistan
is that they have been trying to get political decisions made
only to find at the highest level that basically the President
and his advisers said that it was for Donald Rumsfeld to decide,
that it was for the commanders to decide. Most obviously the fairly
protracted negotiations between Britain and the US over the stabilisation
force and when it would go into Afghanistan, what shape it would
be, were at the time complicated by the fact that the Pentagon
was saying rather strongly that they did not want the complication
of the stabilisation force while they were still fighting a war.
I am told by people in Washington that this is in part a response
to Vietnam where there was an understanding that the politicians
meddled far too frequently in the conduct of the war. There is
now a feeling, particularly in this administration, that if you
risk American soldiers in far-off lands, you have to let the generals
get on with it.
179. Perhaps the ease or apparent ease of the
success in Afghanistan has put the military on a roll which makes
them think they can carry that same success into other areas,
hence the axis of evil.
(Mr Stephens) Yes, I think so. If you just watch the
TV and look at Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell, it is Rumsfeld
who seems to be smiling rather more often than Colin Powell these
days. There is a sense that the military have proved themselves
and from that political power within the Bush cabinet has moved
from Colin Powell towards Donald Rumsfeld. I do not know whether
that is permanent. It is probably too early to say.
180. How dangerous is that?
(Mr Stephens) At the end of the day it is the President
who decides. The complication that British Ministers have found
is that the view of the British Government is a much more coherent
one. The Prime Minister is much stronger than the President in
some ways, so the impression I have is that power and influence
ebbs and flows throughout the cabinet, but personally I think
it is very dangerous if America adopts an essentially military
response to the campaign against terrorism, as it cannot be won
by a purely military response and it will create severe dangers
both in the Middle East and for US allies.
181. Where do we come in? What does UK influence
mean in this context?
(Mr Stephens) At the moment we are George Bush's best
friend as it were.
182. Does he listen to his best friend?
(Mr Stephens) The evidence thus far, as I wrote in
the memorandum, has been that he does and I think that the Government
has rather skilfully managed to secure what influence is possible
for a smaller country to secure in Washington, and one should
not over-emphasise that, while retaining influence in Europe and
acting as a channel for European concerns. There has been two-way
traffic across the bridge that the Prime Minister likes to refer
to across the Atlantic. Your earlier witness was talking about
the confusion one gets from the rhetoric in Washington at the
moment and if one looks at what George Bush has done as opposed
to some of the rhetoric one has heard from the more conservative
members of his administration, you could make a strong case that
Britain has done well so far and has, as many times in the past,
provided a rather good and intelligent input into US policymaking.
183. You said in your memorandum to us that
America needs allies and that there will be an important role
here for Her Majesty's Government both in persuading the US to
continue to act with caution and proportionality and in reminding
other European governments that it is not enough to carp about
American unilateralism. How important to the US administration
is the global coalition against terrorism? How important is it
really? Do you think that the US believes that in order to win
this war against terrorism it really does need other allies, especially
Europe and the Islamic world?
(Mr Stephens) There are different voices.
I am sure you are aware that there has been a great trail of US
Under Secretaries through London in the past few weeks.
184. We have met some of them.
(Mr Stephens) I have met some of them as well. I am
sure you will have heard one or two of them who say "We are
going to do this job and if you guys are with us, that is fine,
but if you are not, that is fine too. We have the power and the
determination to do it and we are going to defend America and
defend the homeland". I do not think one should underestimate
the shock that Americans have felt in terms of their own vulnerability.
If you look at what President Bush has actually said now, he has
said that there are three sorts of enemies basically: there are
the terrorist networks themselves, there are countries like Afghanistan
and possibly Somalia, possibly Yemen, which harbour those terrorists
and then there is a third set, those countries developing weapons
of mass destruction, who might at some future point make those
weapons available to people who would attack America or indeed
attack America themselves. It seems to me that if you look at
that array of enemies, in particular the last group, the idea
that America can defeat Iran, North Korea and Iraq at the same
time and in a sense stop the proliferation of weapons and most
importantly nuclear weapons without allies seems to me totally
absurd. If you just look at proliferation, where it comes from,
how do you stop China, how do you stop Russia, how do you stop
North Korea, providing technology to countries which may misuse
it? It seems to me you do not do that by fighting wars.
Sir John Stanley
185. Would you agree with President Bush that
the top three current nation states targets for the war on terrorism
in terms of the severity of their threat to the United States
and possibly to the United States' allies are Iran, Iraq and North
Korea? Or would you have produced a different three or variation
on the three? Secondly, do you think that he was right to lump
them together as an axis of evil?
(Mr Stephens) He has misdescribed them in that it
is perfectly clear that North Korea is developing weapons of mass
destruction and that it has an active nuclear programme. As far
as I am aware it is not a base for international terrorists and
the US has not come forward with any evidence that North Korea
is a base. The threat from North Korea is presumed to be that
they have missile technology, they are developing a nuclear capability
so they will be able to fire nuclear missiles. Iran is a threat
in that it clearly wants a nuclear bomb and it has missiles capable
of hitting Israel, capable of hitting Turkey and US allies. Again
I do not think it is a terrorist threat in the sense that it has
supported al-Qaeda or other international terrorist groups. It
does support Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups. It
is different. Iraq is probably a threat to all of us, but I do
not see it as a terrorist threat. The threat from Iraq is that
Saddam Hussein will develop the capability to attack probably
Israel, perhaps Turkey and if left entirely alone would eventually
develop the sort of missile technology to attack places like Europe.
They seem to me to be different threats than the one posed by
Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
186. Are you saying that you think none of the
three countries which has been highlighted by President Bush does
represent a near-, medium- conceivably even long-term threat to
the United States homeland?
(Mr Stephens) No, I am not saying that. They certainly
represent a threat to US interests if not directly to the US homeland
at the moment. There is certainly a case to say that if you allow
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction into regimes which
clearly do not share any of the civilised values of the West,
then they are potentially a threat. I am just saying that I do
not see them as the same sort of threat as groups like al-Qaeda
and as each other. There is a gradation between them.
187. Turning to the British Government, what
do you consider to be the priorities for British foreign policy
now in the post-Afghanistan war situation in trying to deal with
the remainder of al-Qaeda and combatting global terrorism?
(Mr Stephens) The immediate priority and one which
is going to loom very large over the next few weeks is to get
a secure continuation of a stabilisation force in Afghanistan.
People are beginning to assume that everything is fine in Afghanistan
and all the evidence that one hears is that it is not. There is
going to be a certain amount of trans-Atlantic tension about whether
the Americans are going to contribute and everyone here would
know that the military here regard our own forces as over-stretched,
particularly if we have to stay in Afghanistan well beyond April.
There is already a certain amount of high level diplomatic traffic
between London and Washington saying they have to deliver something
on this force. As one European Minister, not a British one, put
it the other day, there is a sense that we are washing up the
dirty dishes after the Americans have been there. That is a very
big issue. The other big issue will be that the Government will
have to take a view on the process that might lead to military
action against Iraq and whether it is feasible. It seems to me
that the Prime Minister is as strong as President Bush in his
view that there should be regime change in Iraq. The question
seems to be how to achieve that and how to find something that
might replace Saddam Hussein and be less dangerous.
188. When you say process, are you referring
to a bilateral process between the British Government and the
American Government or are you alluding to an international process?
(Mr Stephens) It has to be an international process.
Waging war against Iraq without at least the tacit consent of
the Russians, would be extremely difficult. If there is to be
a war against Iraq or against the present regime in Iraq, it has
to be on the basis of international law and some sort of international
coalition; not necessarily all providing troops but a sense that
the international communityand I would include Russia in
thatare prepared to work towards a political settlement
after such a conflict.
189. Is not the likely scenario and is not this
the scenario America is working towards, that pressurising Iraq
to accept observers back into their country, which is expected
to fail, would provide a lever to persuade the UN to sanction
intervention on the ground? Would that be the route you would
accept America is expecting to be able to take?
(Mr Stephens) I do not think the views in Washington
are monolithic; there are different views. A number of people
in Washington would be rather pleased if the inspectors got back
in and were allowed freedom of access. The assumption that everyone
in America wants to go to war against Iraq has to be weighed against
the political risk for President Bush. If you assume, for example,
that they were going to wage a proper war in the sense of committing
200,00, 300,000, 400,000 American troops, you have to assume that
President Bush is ready and willing to take a huge political risk.
At the moment, if you look at the crude politics of it, Bush is
doing extremely well. A war against Iraq which cost the lives
of a large number of American soldiers, which it might do, would
not do his electoral chances that much good in 2004.
190. Would this not by why he would be seeking
a coalition backed by the sanctions from the UN?
(Mr Stephens) I suppose I do agree with you. What
I was trying to say was that I do not think there is a monolithic
view in the US. The pressure domestically and the international
pressure, will be to make sure that any military action against
Iraq has a foundation in international law and is widely backed.
Whether you can say crudely that they are just going through this
charade on sanctions in order to get to the final point, I am
not sure, because some people would be really pleased if inspectors
got back in.
191. May I turn back to the comments you were
making on British foreign policy? The Committee last autumn visited
Washington and New York eight weeks after 11 September. It was
very clear to us at that time that in the hours and days following
the attack on the World Trade Centre, the United Kingdom through
its various agencies and arms was a very effective and probably
essential ally to the United States in prosecution of the media
reaction to the terrorist attack. Certainly my view was that at
that stage, because of that dependence the United States found
they had on our involvement, it gave the British Government a
window of opportunity to influence America on how it proceeded
in the formation and then leading of the coalition in the war
against terrorism. I suspect now that window of opportunity is
beginning to close rather rapidly. I do not believe for a minute
that the United States are prepared to have themselves dependent
upon others to prosecute their own defence of the homeland. Would
you perceive that to be the case? In that scenario what would
be the most effective way you believe the British Government could
continue to maintain its influence on American foreign policy
in regard to the war against terrorism?
(Mr Stephens) The point you made about the US not
being willing to be dependent on others to defend itself is a
point which is made often by Rumsfeld. He said famously that the
mission has to define the coalition and the coalition must not
be allowed to define the mission. That is a false assumption.
My assumption is that when they think about it carefully the Americans
realise that they need support, whether it is the Russians allowing
them to use bases in the satellite states, in Afghanistan, whether
it is intelligence material not just from Western allies but from
the Russians, even the Chinese I am told have provided them with
intelligence. The premise that the Americans can go it alone is
a false premise, even though some Americans will say that is what
they intend to do.
192. That is my point. Is there a strong lobby
in the administration for the United States to try to develop
their system so they can go it alone?
(Mr Stephens) Yes. If you listen to Richard Perle
publicly, who is not in the administration but is close to Rumsfeld
and people like Bolton at the State Department, there is that
sense that if they have to they can do it. I just do not think
that is a practical proposition. As far as Britain is concerned,
I think the British national interest is in maintaining a co-ordinated
coalition against terrorism because I happen to think that these
countries and these groups are a threat to Britain as well as
to the US. The Government needs to think carefully about Iraq.
I personally do not find the idea of military action against Saddam
Hussein's regime a terrible idea, but I do find quite unnerving
the possible consequences in the region if it is not with international
support under international law. The British interest is in continuing
to put to the Americans that we shall be resolute in supporting
sensible military as well as diplomatic action. Our other interest
is saying to the Europeans, as I said in my memorandum, that you
cannot just carp. The Americans have been pressing issues like
proliferation for many years and export controls and we have to
take those seriously. You could say that there is a contradiction
in the American position because it will not sign some of these
international treaties, on the other hand there are export regimes
and there are Europeans who will say to you that dual use equipment
which still finds its way to Iraq via Jordan stamped made in wherever
but maybe Germany, France, maybe Britain, shows that Europe has
not been entirely honest in its enforcement of some of these regimes.
Europe has to have a policy which says we can effectively contain
and prevent these regimes developing these weapons if it is to
say to the Americans, "Let's not start new wars against them".
193. I recall when the Committee was in the
United States in 2000 we were talking to staffers on Jesse Helm's
committee who were telling us then that when the Bush administration
came in it would withdraw from every multilateral treaty it was
involved in, it would go unilateralist, it would involve itself
in individual treaties and move away from all the multilateral
arms control treaties and all the rest of it. Last year in November
I remember distinctly sitting in John Bolton's office, the Under
Secretary of State, and looking at a cartoon on his wall which
had a picture of George Bush screwing up treaties and throwing
them over his shoulder to the three European leaders behind him,
Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac and Schroeder. When I questioned him
on this, his attitude was simply the monolithic one to which you
have been referring, that they are going to go it alone, they
can do it on their own, they do not need the so-called "no
good crummy allies" somewhere in the Middle East. The idea
was they should go and do it. That point of view which was put
to us does not sit with your idea that America cannot do it without
allies. The impression is, the public perception is, that they
are going to.
(Mr Stephens) They are making the running. I have
spoken to John Bolton and he clearly does not represent the State
Department. There is a contradiction. He was actually over here
a couple of weeks ago talking to European governments, saying
"Let's tighten up some of these arms control regimes",
the nuclear regime or whatever. On the one hand he is saying they
do not need any of this stuff. On the other hand he is going round
Europe saying the regulation needs tightening up and the controls.
Bush does not say that. You are right about people like Boltonwhat
I was saying earlier about the conduct of the war having given
this great big fillip to the Rumsfeld/Bolton/Wolfowitz, maybe
Cheyney sort of axisbut they do not yet represent US policy.
What Bush has actually done has not been in tune with that except
in the sense that there have been periods when he has turned down
political requests from Europe because he said he wanted Rumsfeld
running the war. Someone was telling me the other day that there
are 80 or 90 British military personnel at Centcom in Florida,
so they are not shutting us out completely.
194. My view is entirely the opposite, that
our influence over there is minimal and our influence on the conduct
of the war is minimal. You mentioned George Bush's re-election
possibilities. I seem to recall that even before 11 September
articles in the press stated that Colin Powell had been sidelined
in favour of Donald Rumsfeld simply because Colin Powell was an
electoral threat to Bush. Do you think there is any truth in that?
(Mr Stephens) There were articles and Time magazine
famously did a cover "Where is this man?". Equally these
were many articles saying that Rumsfeld was in trouble, not because
of policy reasons but because he was such a difficult person and
there was lots of infighting. So there was a question mark over
Rumsfeld's future. Bush cannot sack Colin Powell, for the rather
crude reason that he is black and he is a much admired politician.
195. I do not think it was a question of sacking
him. It was simply sidelining him and reducing his influence.
(Mr Stephens) He clearly does not have influence at
the moment. What I was trying to say earlier was that there is
a bit of ebb and flow here and it is clear at the moment that
Colin Powell does not look comfortable and Rumsfeld is on TV all
the time smiling, looking very happy, giving interviews to the
Chairman: That is a happy note on which to end.
Thank you very much indeed for your help. The Committee will now
continue in private session.