Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)

15 OCTOBER 2003


  Q40  Mr Hancock: Could you then develop that in giving us a couple of indicative examples of where conflict prevention tasks, supportive action, combatting terrorism or whatever, or even post-conflict stabilisation might be involved and how far along that road would you suggest it be appropriate for this organisation to be used as a pre-emptive military weapon and how do you think politically that would be managed?

  Mr Webb: I think there is no doubt that in certain circumstances conflict prevention can require preventative action. There is a problem about translation here in that if you go into German sometimes these words mean rather different things to different people but certainly preventative military action, a preventative military deployment of the kind, for example, that was done in Macedonia in the early 1990s is well recognised to be part of the conflict prevention scene. If that force ran into someone who attacked it then you would be into combat also. So it certainly can involve some kind of, as I would say, preventative military deployment (I am avoiding the sort of emotional tag of pre-emption at the moment) and I think that is certainly in people's minds. There is certainly nothing in the structure here which prevents that.

  Q41  Mr Hancock: But by expanding the Petersberg tasks to the two key areas of post-stabilisation and trying to stop things happening it means that you then have at your disposal the most compelling weapon you have got available, which is your ability to make a pre-emptive strike, does it not, and I am asking whether you believe that the structures as politically put forward now in these alterations are there for that to be able to happen?

  Mr Webb: Well, you could make an argument, could you not, that the Bunia deployment this year—in Bunia we were in a situation where there was a risk of an atrocity, a risk of violence, and there had been sporadic violence as there is all through the Congo. Before that occurred, the EU, as Paul said earlier, took some snappy decisions to undertake an operation there which I would describe as essentially of a conflict prevention and preventative nature. As it happens there was a UN resolution so the question of political decision making was probably easier than if there had not been, but I think the will to do that is certainly there.

  Q42  Mr Hancock: Do you think as they are currently proposed they are expanded enough to take in counter-terrorism actions or anti-proliferation scenarios, preventing a country developing it, or if they are not there now do you think there is scope in the future for this to be broadened out to encompass both counter-terrorism and anti-proliferation?

  Mr Webb: We have tended to see the sharper end of counter-terrorist operations as being more suitable to NATO because it tends to require a high intensity, very rapid precision kind of capacity for which NATO is usually better placed. So that kind of end of the counter-terrorism business, absolutely, I think NATO is a more natural choice but in terms of the preventative end of counter-terrorism—and every time I have spoken to this Committee about this subject we have always emphasised that we see a preventative role as well as a find and strike role in dealing with terrorism- certainly stabilising failed states so that they do not become havens for terrorism I think is very much the business of ESDP. On counter-proliferation, again at the moment I think this is a newish subject. We have a proliferation security initiative and so on, so at the moment again it feels a bit more like NATO or even wider global coalitions because a lot of the problem is way beyond Europe and in areas where it is quite difficult for Europeans to operate. So I see that as probably being a different type of coalition again but I am sort of dancing around not trying to absolutely say under no circumstances could that come under the Petersberg range because I could probably invent a scenario in which it did. But most of it is outside, I think.

  Q43  Mr Roy: What additional capabilities will the European Union need to be able to call on as a consequence of extending the Petersberg tasks?

  Mr Webb: I would say that it would be the capacity to conduct concurrent operations. The reason that Mr Hancock analysed out earlier on would be certainly a feature. I would say that to do post-conflict stabilisation well we would need to develop the links to the civil capacity. I think it is important to remember that even within ESDP there is already a civil dimension and as well as the manpower commitment of troops we talked about there has been a commitment of 5,000 police into the ESDP civil side and I would see an enlargement of that kind of arena as being sensible.

  Q44  Mr Roy: But is there a realisation that that enlargement would be long-term because it would be post-conflict?

  Mr Webb: Yes. We have done a lot more of this than lots of people and I am not sure how far that realisation has come through. It certainly has in France because it is the sort of thing we talked about in the Le Touquet summit declaration. We have not disguised from people that this expansion will require extra capabilities. We are quite clear always about driving the need for greater capabilities in this arena.

  Chairman: We have to depart temporarily. We will come back as quickly as we can.

  Q45  Chairman: As we are just about a quorum and as there might be another vote fairly soon, we had better crack on.

  Mr Webb: Chairman, while you have been away we have been working assiduously to try and better answer the questions that we drifted into earlier on.

  Q46  Chairman: You have only had ten minutes to do that. You need far more time!

  Mr Webb: As usual, Chairman, we have discovered that we did not give you news after all. In the published conclusions of the Nice presidency report it says: "The contributions set out in the force catalogue constitute a pool of more than 100,000 persons and approximately 400 combat aircraft and 100 vessels." Just to answer Mr Hancock's point, when countries make an offer they themselves say "to offer and sustain for at least a year" so it is they who have to have the 1:3 ratio behind them, it is not to do with the offer.

  Q47  Mr Hancock: But if they cannot deliver their 1:3 ratio somebody else is going to have to have to fill that gap? It is harder for others to fill those gaps.

  Mr Webb: True, but they are saying they can. Having said that, as Paul rightly pointed out, it is a couple of years since this happened, people have got busier and, as I said right at the start, one of the things which is something the Agency would do is to go around evaluating and assessing that kind of contribution in a more specific military-type fashion. So it would not just be a number, it would be something someone had been and checked.

  Mr Hancock: I still think we ought to have something from you in writing.

  Q48  Chairman: Yes, okay. I think Mr Webb will drop us a paper.

  Mr Webb: What I cannot do, I think, is to reveal individual country's contributions because I think they are private to them.

  Chairman: That is really very reassuring.

  Q49  Mr Hancock: Will it reveal those countries who have also a commitment to NATO and whether the same troops are the troops committed to NATO?

  Mr Webb: They certainly could be and should be.

  Q50  Mr Roy: Just going back to the point of potential overstretch, times have changed, the original tasks have changed, the world has moved on. Is there a potential for overstretch because of the extension of the Petersberg tasks?

  Mr Webb: I think the answer to that could be yes, although obviously one of the things about these tasks is that since they are not by definition to do with the defence of EU territory there is some discretion about how many you do. However distressing it is to sit and watch an atrocity in Africa without intervening, it is still a choice you can make. So to some extent you can decide how much you take on is what I am trying to say. But I think we do take this more pro-active attitude towards it. We do see this as something where we would resume debate about saying, "Let's have more useable troops." I think it is probably not a question about the number of troops overall, and again Lord Robertson is constantly reminding us the problem is not how many there are available in Europe as a whole—there are probably between 1 and 2 million people in uniform in Europe as a whole—the question is how many of them are deployable for this kind of task, that is the thing.

  Q51  Mr Roy: In relation to the capacity of, for example, rapid reaction what would the implications be?

  Mr Webb: Well, rapid reaction of course is a special sub-set because they are a particular type of troop. You need a very high readiness so that they are ready to deploy well inside 60 days. So it is perfectly possible and sensible to have a structure whereby you have a relatively small number of high readiness forces who can go out and react quickly to prevent a disaster, for example, and then behind them you have some equally worthwhile but not so high readiness forces who would come in and take over from them. We were talking about rotation so that after four to six months, or whatever it is, another group of people turn up. There are two points about that. One is that you have got four to six months to get hold of them and secondly they can be at lower readiness, which is cheaper. High readiness is expensive. The other point to make is that if you are in a UN framework one of the things we do for the UN which they find very useful and one of the reasons why Sarah has got EU and UN in her job title, which is a new thing we have just done since last month, is because what the UN is very often looking for is someone like the EU, NATO or a big militarily capable country to go in and do the first round intervention and after that they will constitute what is often a blue helmet force which is drawn from a much wider range of countries because often it is a good idea not just to have the West doing this, who would come and take over the operation. So part of the answer to your question and Mr Hancock's question about stabilisation is that yes, you rightly discern the task may go on for quite a long time but it does not follow that the EU has to do all of it. It might be handed over to a UN force and often is, for example in Bunia the Bangladeshis, if I recall, came and took over and did so on time but it just took them a bit longer to get there.

  Q52  Mr Roy: But the part of the question you still have not answered is what are the resource implications?

  Mr Webb: Well, we need to do the work on that. We need to go and look at the scenarios and get proper military advice about how long or how many, how often. We then need to take a political judgment on how much the EU wants to do because, as I say, it is discretionary; you do not have to do it.

  Q53  Mr Roy: What is the time-span for looking at that?

  Mr Webb: One of the reasons why, to be honest, we in Britain do not talk about it too much just before the Headline Goal—

  Q54  Mr Hancock: It puts people off.

  Mr Webb: I was actually going to say I do not want to deflect them from making their best shot at getting things done on this Headline Goal before we start talking about the next one. That is a very British thing to do, is it not, to say, "Let's get this one done and then we'll work on the next one." But I am telling you about our aspirations.

  Q55  Mr Roy: Okay. Just moving on then, what is the Government's view of how the draft Security Strategy prepared by High Representative Solana should be integrated into ESDP?

  Mr Webb: We are very complimentary about that document. We thought it was a clear and coherent read which both reflected our general foreign policy aspirations—and I think Paul might like to say a bit more about that—but was also very clear and good on areas that might have been of concern to us, for example the relationship with NATO and the United States. So we liked it is the short answer.

  Q56  Chairman: That was one that we won, was it?

  Mr Webb: Yes, Chairman.

  Q57  Chairman: We are sceptical, as you will have gathered. We are waiting anxiously to see how successful the British have been in achieving its objectives. Up to this point in time we remain fairly sceptical.

  Mr Webb: I am bidden by my ministers to be pro-active and get into the debates in Europe and not wait for them to come to us and so we do that. To go to the point you have just made, there is probably some prioritisation to be brought to the piece. It is a broad consensus and there are things that you want to do but how many of those you can do will probably require a bit of close study.

  Q58  Mr Roy: On that particular aspect of the beast, civil and military planning, do you envisage an integrated planning taking place at EU level?

  Mr Webb: Yes. We will continue to foster that. There is already some reasonably good work done on military/civilian integration in the EU and we will continue to foster that.

  Q59  Rachel Squire: Just picking up on that, we had CIMIC, civil integration coming under SHAPE. How is the EU aspect working with that to prevent unnecessary duplication?

  Mr Webb: Yes. The answer is that a lot of the EU doctrine comes from NATO, actually this very sensible approach of sharing a lot of military doctrine and we have actually been working ourselves and we have contributed some people to help at least one of the presidencies work on this area. So we would almost promote something which is compatible with NATO. But since you mentioned it to me, could I just make a distinction which I think you will be interested in, which is that CIMIC has had a connotation of a military force undertaking some intervention operation and then having sound relations and a sound interaction with the civil community within which it is undertaking the military operation. So CIMIC people go out and make links with the local community and maybe do projects and help some of them return to normality by helping with getting schools opened, which is always a high item on the British agenda. The military/civil transition which I was talking about earlier is a slightly bigger concept, which is to say it is not just enough to have a good impact on the local community. Actually most of these military operations nowadays are associated with the bigger thing that Mr Cran was talking about earlier on, a much bigger reconstruction or reshaping of a state. That, I think, is a bigger idea than CIMIC. CIMIC is part of that. Getting the military force to interact well with the civil population is part of it but there is a bigger idea starting to come around, which I think is in stabilisation, which is what is the military role in helping you get from a failing state to something which is now a stable and self-sustaining state. However, to answer your question, yes, we take a lot of trouble to ensure that we get consistency on CIMIC doctrine between NATO and the EU.

  Rachel Squire: I think we could have a big debate on what you have just said, but we will leave that for another day.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 8 January 2004