Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-121)


9 OCTOBER 2007

  Q120  Willie Rennie: I take it you would not agree on binding defence expenditure?

  Dr Webber: There are no formal targets. The two per cent GDP limit is an informal one. There is no binding limit and attempts to use guidelines within NATO generally have failed throughout the Cold War and the post-Cold War period and they only generate resentment. With an alliance of 26 Member States with hugely divergent economies, histories and military capabilities, you cannot impose matters of that sort and you must allow allies within NATO, if they share membership with the EU, to contribute to defence and security in more creative ways than assuming that what matters is that headline spend in a defence budget as narrowly understood.

  Dr Eyal: Just a codicil on this, if I may. Of course one can bandy a great amount of the spending and claim that it is part of security, but I am mainly talking here about the hardware which does have an impact on NATO. NATO as it currently is can continue functioning, as Robin has suggested, but it is increasingly going to be hampered by these distinctions. I can supply the Committee with a very simple graph which I do not have with me now about not merely the disparities in current spending but the disparities in defence research to which Robin referred. It is a riddle within a riddle. If you look at European defence research expenditure, which of course is dwarfed by the Americans, within that research budget about 80 per cent is dominated by spending by Britain and France. The rest is almost no activity at all. The result of it is not simply that we have less equipment but very often that our equipment becomes incompatible and not interoperable with that of the Americans. Even if we talk about coalitions of the willing, it becomes very difficult with a few exceptions to talk about countries which could be strapped on to even an American led operation, because very often they simply are incapable of digesting or deploying the kind of technology which the Americans have. It is not merely volume; it is also how it is spent.

  Dr Allin: In one sense the disparities are so great that one wonders what European countries can practically get with marginal increases in defence spending. It is not going to impress the Americans enough to solve this resentment but on the other hand—this is a point that goes outside of NATO—but it is not as though the European contribution to various joint endeavours or purposes is a token one. A few years ago, before we got sucked into Iraq, one could talk about the United States being able to do almost anything it wanted to on its own and European contributions were sort of symbolic. That is clearly not the case. What would the United States have done if the European forces were not able and ready to go into Lebanon the summer before last? That was a very serious crisis. The United States was not in a position to do that. What would we do? As much as there are valid, legitimate complaints about Europe's performance and caveats in certain European countries in Afghanistan, what would the United States do without them? The idea that the United States can get disgusted and walk away from this is not exactly the case.

  Q121  Willie Rennie: What do you think the chances are of binding targets?

  Professor Cox: I think that question has already been answered. I do not think there is any chance at all.

  Dr Eyal: Just as high as the stability pact in the euro. If countries committed themselves to the stability pact in the euro, it is about as high as that, probably less.

  Professor Cox: For those of us who go back long enough, there were huge debates in the 1970s about burden sharing. As far as I can remember, they did not go anywhere. This is not a new discussion and NATO still managed to survive the end of the Cold War. It still managed to survive and endure the 1990s. To go back to your original question, I still think it will endure this. Without sounding conspiratorial, I just wonder if there is not a little bit of a verbal game being played here on this issue because ultimately, if the United States is the one putting most money into this Alliance and most lives on the line into this Alliance when it comes to it, does that not also give it legitimate leadership of this Alliance? I just wonder if there is not also a little bit of verbal posturing on this issue.

  Chairman: I think we have covered a huge amount of ground. To our witnesses, I will say thank you very much indeed. It was absolutely fascinating. I know you had a great deal more that you would have said but one consolation is that we had a great many more questions we could have asked as well, so thank you very much indeed.

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