Select Committee on Defence Fourth Report


United States

188. As we noted above, Delivering Security took as an assumption that in the future 'in the most demanding operations we will be operating alongside the US and other allies'. By the time of Future Capabilities in July 2004, this had hardened to the assumption that 'the most complex large scale operations will only be conducted as part of a US-led coalition'.[221] As a consequence of this assumption, the Government's primary goal is to bring as much influence as possible to bear on the planning, execution and management of the operation. In order to do this, the 'force structure at large scale should… focus on those capabilities which add real weight to the campaign and hence the UK's ability to influence its outcome'. Those capabilities are then listed as:

  • special forces;
  • networked communication and intelligence systems which can integrate with the US network;[222]
  • amphibious and carrier strike task groups;
  • an air expeditionary task force capable of long range strike and close air support; and
  • a land manoeuvre division, capable of conducting offensive operations.

189. The common characteristic of all of these capabilities is their focus on offensive and expeditionary operations. This is consistent with the assessment in Delivering Security that, in order to meet future security challenges, the Armed Forces overall would 'require a clear focus on projecting force, further afield and even more quickly than has previously been the case'.[223] Clearly from a planning point of view it is very helpful that the separate decisions on the best way to exert influence on large scale US-led operations and on what is required to defend UK interests both require similar force structures and capabilities.

190. Operation Telic, however, demonstrated the strain that a large scale commitment places on the Armed Forces. At one stage almost two-thirds of the entire Army was committed (ie preparing for, taking part in or recovering from operations).[224] A similar scale operation would not have been possible again for some considerable time. The Chief of Defence Staff told us in June 2003 that he expected it to be another eighteen months before it would be possible to generate a medium scale capability.[225]

191. It is a reflection of the importance which the Government places on its relations with the United States that it is prepared as a matter of policy to take on a level of commitment (however infrequent) which has such consequences.

192. A further illustration of the importance placed on the relationship with the United States was given by Admiral West. He initially told us that the reason that the MoD had decided that it needed two large carriers was:

    because to do the initial strike package, that deep strike package, we have done really quite detailed calculations and we have come out with the figure of 36 joint strike fighters, and that is what has driven the size of it, and that is to be able to deliver the weight of effort that you need for these operations that we are planning in the future. That is the thing that has made us arrive at that size of deck and that size of ship, to enable that to happen.[226]

Later in the same session, however, he explained that the size of the carriers had also been fixed so that they would be able to 'mix and match' with a US carrier:

    in terms of… the CVF, I have talked with the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) in America. He is very keen for us to get these because he sees us slotting in with his carrier groups.[227]

    He really wants us to have these, but he wants us to have the same sort of clout as one of their carriers, which is this figure at 36.[228]

193. We support MoD's determination to maintain a strong defence relationship with the United States. We note the assumption that the most complex large scale operations will only be conducted as part of a US-led coalition. It will be important to ensure that the Armed Forces's commitment to maintaining a capability for large scale operations is strengthened by this assumption.


194. Delivering Security stated:

195. Another significant step was taken on 22 November 2004, when all 25 European Union defence ministers announced their contribution to the rapidly deployable units referred to as 'battle groups' by the British or 'tactical groups' by the French.[230] This concept was modelled on Britain's intervention in Sierra Leone in 1999, when UK troops provided the vital bridgehead in a UN-sanctioned operation. At the meeting, the Secretary of State for Defence announced the UK's willingness to supply a 1,500-man battle group. With this commitment Britain will play a leading role and, along with France, provide the EU with an Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of one battle group in 2005 and two battle groups by early 2007.

196. There are many areas where we may benefit from closer working with our European partners. Admiral West, for example, pointed to the French plans for a future large aircraft carrier. We noted the possibility of co-operation between the UK and France during the building of the respective carriers in our 2004 Defence Procurement report. Once they come into service, Admiral West was confident that 'we can come up, within the context of the European Battle Group or whatever else…, [with] some way of operating our carriers so that we were taking the weight between us'.[231]

197. The EU Council of Ministers will have to agree unanimously before any deployment takes place.[232] While it is not written into the proposals, the assumption is that the EU force would act under a UN Security Council mandate and primarily support UN missions.

198. The Capabilities Conference, during which the pledges were made, also took steps towards expanding the EU's Civil-Military Cell (consisting of military officers and civilian personnel), and establishing the European Defence Agency and heard from France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain about their plans to establish a European Gendarmerie Force (EGF). It also updated the European Capability Action Plan, the EU's yard-stick to measure the progress made in remedying military shortfalls.

199. The Military Capability Commitment Conference and the pledges came as the EU took on its biggest military mission yet, replacing NATO in charge of the 7,000-man Stabilization Force (SFOR), which has kept the peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina since 1995.[233]

200. The EU battle groups are now an integral part of the wider process of increasing the EU's defence capabilities, having been incorporated in the long-term Headline Goals 2010. They began, however, as a way to galvanize a process, which had not previously delivered very much. They will provide the EU with a concrete, rapidly deployable capability which it has previously lacked despite the goals set at the 1999 Helsinki Summit. It has also allowed the UK to focus European minds on achieving the appropriate standards for forces, and ensuring compatibility with NATO's Response Force.


201. In the words of the Secretary of State:

Although those remarks were made in the context of naval commitments, they clearly have a wider resonance. One of the significant developments in the international security context identified in Delivering Security was NATO's enlargement and its evolution away from large static forces and towards smaller response forces able to deploy and undertake operations outside the NATO area.[235]

202. The establishment of the NATO Response Force (NRF) has been a major step in this evolution. We were briefed on the NRF and on the other work of Allied Command Transformation when we visited them in early 2004. The commitment to establish the NRF was made at the Prague Summit in 2002. The purpose of the NRF was to provide NATO with a high readiness capability for high intensity operations, which would be fully trained and certified as a joint force. On 13 October 2004, the NATO Secretary-General announced that the NRF[236] had reached an Initial Operating Capability of around 17,000 troops and would reach Full Operating Capability by October 2006 with around 21,000 troops.

203. Alongside its development as a deployable force, the NRF is also being used as a catalyst for a broader process of transformation of military capabilities in NATO member states. In our 2002 report on The Future of NATO we concluded:

    NATO has come a long way since the Cold War and has established roles in peace-keeping, promoting interoperability, and advancing security within and beyond Europe which are regarded as making a major contribution to the preservation of peace and stability in the world. The challenge now, which must be confronted directly at Prague, is for NATO to transform itself again, into an organisation which is relevant and can contribute to the 21st century security context and the post-11 September world. We believe NATO has the potential to meet this challenge.[237]

204. We are encouraged by the progress NATO has made since the 2002 Prague Summit. We welcome the declaration of Initial Operating Capability of the NATO Response Force. We note the Secretary of State's belief that in some areas NATO is still wedded to Cold War structures and tasks. We recommend that the Government makes the pursuit of continuing NATO transformation a key priority.

United Nations

205. The EU deployment in Bosnia (see paragraph 199 above) is under a UN mandate. British and other coalition forces in Iraq are operating under the UN mandate provided in UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1546. The United Kingdom provides British military personnel to a number of UN forces, notably to UNFICYP in Cyprus where the British contribution makes up about a third of the total force.

206. In Afghanistan British forces provided the headquarters and the lead elements of the first International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to implement UNSCR 1336. They established a significant presence on the ground within four weeks. It is in this area, of providing a rapidly deployable 'first-in' capability on behalf of coalitions of the willing, that the Government expects the UK's contribution to UN operations chiefly to be made.[238] In other respects, Delivering Security focuses more on the perceived shortcomings of the UN. The UN is not seen as having an operational or leadership role rather it is the place where 'ultimately debates on the handling of major security crises will continue to crystallise'. The UK must 'be realistic about the limitations of the UN'.[239]

207. In March 2000, following a number of perceived peace-keeping 'failures' such as Somalia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, the UN Secretary-General convened a High-Level Panel to undertake a thorough review of United Nations peace and security activities. Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Foreign Minister of Algeria, chaired the Panel, which presented its findings in August 2000. The Brahimi Report recommendations mainly addressed the UN's rapid deployment capacity and its planning and support structure.

208. Following the Brahimi Report, and in light of the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001 and the conflict in Iraq in early 2003, the UN Secretary-General convened another panel, the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, to assess the principal threats to international peace and security in the twenty-first century and to recommend changes to improve the effectiveness of the United Nations in responding to those threats. Lord Hannay, a former UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations, was a member of the Panel. The Panel reported in December 2004 and made over 100 suggestions for reforming the role of the UN. Significantly, the report affirmed the right of nations to practice self-defence, including pre-emptive self-defence when an attack is imminent. The Panel also said that the UN Security Council would have to take steps to become involved earlier and more intensively when dealing with situations involving terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. On the Security Council's composition, the report put forward two proposals both of which would entail an expansion to 24 members. The report also proposed the creation of a Peace-Building Commission that would identify areas at risk of developing conflicts and act to prevent these developing further.

209. The UN Secretary-General has made obtaining agreement on the report's recommendations a centrepiece of his efforts leading up to the UN General Assembly's 60th session in September 2005. On 1 December 2004, the Prime Minister issued a statement on the report saying: 'Britain will play a leading role in taking forward work on the range of the Panel's recommendations, including in the run-up to the Millennium Review Summit next September and as part of our G8 and EU Presidencies in 2005'. In a debate in Westminster Hall in January 2005, Mr Bill Rammell MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, confirmed the Government's welcome for the report, noted that the Secretary General was to publish his own report on its implementation in March 2005, and stated:

    We are intending to work with him and seize the opportunity that exists for the international community. The United Kingdom is uniquely placed, especially this year, to be able to do that, given our dual presidencies of the European Union and the G8'.[240]

On 10 February the Foreign Secretary launched a public debate on the reform of the UN and on 24 February he published the Panel's report in a Command Paper. In the introduction he wrote 'We would like to see a substantial package of reform based on the report's proposals … the report represents an opportunity we cannot miss'.[241] Whatever the UN's perceived shortcomings in recent years, it is in the UK's interests to promote its reform in line with the recommendations of the High Level Panel. MoD must play its part in that effort.

221   Cm 6269, p 3 Back

222   Referred to in Future Capabilities as C4ISR (Command, Control, Communication, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) assets  Back

223   Cm 6041-I, p 7 Back

224   See HC (2003-04) 57-I, para 49 Back

225   HC (2002-03) 771-i, Q 41 Back

226   Q 533 Back

227   Q 546 Back

228   Q 547 Back

229   Cm 6041-II, p 2 Back

230   A 'battle group' is considered the minimum military effective, credible, rapidly deployable, coherent force package capable of stand-alone operations, or for the initial phase of large operations. The battle group concept is based on a combined arms, battalion sized force and reinforced with Combat Support and Combat Service Support elements. A 'battle group' could be formed by a Framework Nation or by a number of countries. A 'battle group' will need to be associated with a Force Headquarters and pre-identified operational and strategic enablers, such as strategic lift and logistics. Back

231   Q 536 Back

232   Countries not wishing to support an operation themselves, but unwilling to scotch the operation entirely could allow it to take place by 'constructively abstaining' from voting. Back

233   The European Union already has deployed troops in Macedonia (Operation Concordia) and Congo (Operation Artemis), but the deployment to Bosnia-Herzegovina (Operation Athena) is much bigger. Back

234   Q 71 Back

235   Cm 6041-I, p 2 Back

236   The NRF is not a permanent or standing force; it is comprised of national force contributions, which are meant to rotate through periods of training and certification, followed by an operational 'stand by' phase of six months. Back

237   The Future of NATO, Seventh Report of Session 2001-02, HC 914, para 163 Back

238   See Cm 6041-II, p 3 Back

239   Cm 6041-II, p 3 Back

240   HC Deb, 19 January 2005, c 292WH Back

241   A More Secure World: our Shared Responsibility, Report of the United Nations Secretary General High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, Cm 6449, p 3 Back

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