Defence Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 950

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Defence Committee

on Wednesday 27 April 2011

Members present:

Mr James Arbuthnot (Chair)

Mr Julian Brazier

Thomas Docherty

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson

John Glen

Mr Dai Havard

Mrs Madeleine Moon

Penny Mordaunt

Bob Stewart

Ms Gisela Stuart


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rt Hon Liam Fox MP, Secretary of State for Defence, Major General D A Capewell OBE, Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Operations) and Mr Peter Watkins, Director of Operational Policy, Ministry of Defence, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Secretary of State, welcome to the Defence Committee’s inquiry into operations in Libya. Since you were in the United States yesterday, we are grateful to you for coming in so soon after what was presumably a long and gruelling flight.

Before we begin, I will make a general announcement about jackets. I never make an announcement about whether people have to wear jackets, but they don’t have to, so anybody who wants to remove their jacket, please do.

Secretary of State, please will you introduce your team. It is hardly necessary, but nevertheless please do so.

Dr Fox: Thank you, Chairman. It gives me great pleasure, of course, to introduce my fellow witnesses. They are the Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff for Operations, Major General David Capewell, who the Committee knows well, and the Director of Operational Policy, Peter Watkins, who the Committee might know even better.

If I may, I would like to say a few words before we begin questioning, Chairman.

Q2 Chair: With what in mind exactly?

Dr Fox: If I may, I just want to set out one or two brief points about how we see this session and the shape that we are currently in.

Q3 Chair: This session being this evidence session?

Dr Fox: This evidence session.

Chair: Okay.

Dr Fox: To set the scene, Chairman, Britain is taking an active role in international efforts to protect civilians in Libya. We do so under the full and unambiguous authority of the United Nations and as part of a broad coalition which includes Arab nations among its number. As the Foreign Secretary told the House of Commons yesterday, 16 nations are contributing aircraft or maritime assets to the region under UN Security Council Resolution 1973. In total, 34 nations are either providing or offering various kinds of support, including military, allowing over-flights, logistical or financial support and humanitarian relief. We have worked closely across Government through the National Security Council and internationally to ensure that military activity is but one of a range of measures that continue to be taken to maintain the pressure on Colonel Gaddafi’s regime.

We continue to engage closely with our coalition partners. For example, yesterday, as you said, Chairman, I visited Washington to discuss the issues with US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. In the last few weeks I have visited Qatar, the UAE-twice-Italy, Cyprus and France, and the US yesterday. I am sure that the Committee wants to join us in paying tribute to the skill, bravery and professionalism of the men and women of the UK and our allies’ Armed Forces, who are making such a significant contribution to the operation in Libya. This is an active and fluid operation and it is an evolving campaign.

Q4 Chair: Can I stop you, please? Do bear in mind that the Foreign Secretary made a statement to the House of Commons yesterday. I think we are aware of the background to all of this. I am sure that the things that you have there to say will be adequately brought out in the questions that we will wish to ask, but-

Dr Fox: May I just add one point, Chairman? This is an active and fluid operation in an evolving campaign. The messages that come out of this session this afternoon will resonate with our Forces and with the Gaddafi regime. I hope the Committee will understand that there are areas of information which we could probably give more completely, but to make public too much information operationally at this time could prejudice our efforts in Libya.

Q5 Chair: Yes. Thank you very much for making that point, because I think it is extremely important, and I am sure the Committee will bear it in mind in the questions that we ask and the tone that we adopt in what we ask.

I should like to begin by asking about the issue of taking sides. It seems to me that we are taking sides. Do you agree that that is the impression that is being given, or would you suggest that we are not taking sides?

Dr Fox: Absolutely the contrary. We are taking sides. We are taking the side of the civilians. That is what the UN Resolution is asking us to do. The civilians are being attacked by their own Government. It is incumbent upon us under the UN Resolution to protect them. To that extent, of course we have to take a side. Are we investing in a policy that has a predetermined view as to what the Government of Libya ought to be? No.

Q6 Chair: If we are taking that side, what are we doing to ensure that that side wins?

Dr Fox: It is not a question of-if you mean by side-either the regime or the opposition forces. What is incumbent upon us under UN Resolution 1973 is to ensure that the population is protected. Everything that we have done in recent weeks to achieve that-by degrading the military capabilities of the regime, by directly targeting their assets where they threaten the civilian population, by pushing them back as we did from Benghazi and what would have been a humanitarian catastrophe, by damaging their ammunition dumps, by degrading their fuel supplies, by making their logistics much more difficult, by degrading their command and control-all of these things are means by which we intend to diminish the ability of that regime to harm the civilian population.

Q7 Chair: The worry that I think was expressed by Bob Ainsworth in the House of Commons yesterday was that we are doing enough to make sure that the fighting goes on, but not enough to make sure that it comes to an end.

Dr Fox: There has been some talk, as the Committee is aware, of the concept that we are in a stalemate. I dealt with this issue yesterday in the United States. Over the last few days, we have seen opposition forces make significant gains in Misrata. It is not yet clear whether they in fact control the city; the situation remains a little confused there. We have seen the Italians decide to contribute ground attack aircraft for the first time. We have seen the Kuwaitis donating money to the opposition forces. We have seen ourselves and others with mentoring groups in Benghazi.

I think there is a danger in extrapolating the events of any one short period of time into the wider shape of a campaign. If we look back to where we were before the intervention, when it was entirely possible that the regime would launch a humanitarian catastrophe upon the people of Benghazi, and to where we are today and the military capability of that regime, we will see that we are a long way away from that starting point, so I do not recognise it as a stalemate and I think that we have made considerable progress.

If we look, for example, at the speed at which NATO was able to put together its command and control, we will see, I think, that it has been considerably faster than in previous conflicts. The fact that we have been able to assemble such a broad coalition with such a high level of firepower, including Arab countries, in that coalition has been a major achievement. I think that politically, economically, diplomatically and militarily, we are moving forward, so I don’t accept the suggestion that not enough is being done.

Q8 Chair: So you don’t accept that it is a stalemate. When you were in the United States yesterday, did you tell Admiral Mullen that he was wrong?

Dr Fox: When I was interviewed, it was, I am quite sure, within earshot of Admiral Mullen. A moment ago, I made my view perfectly clear that when Admiral Mullen talked about it, he was talking in the context of last week. Since then, especially over the last 72 hours, we have seen a number of factors move in favour of the coalition. But as I said at the very outset, this is a fluid situation. We must always be careful not to look at the situation at any one time and extrapolate forwards and assume that that is what the future is going to look like.

Q9 Chair: We will come back to some of these issues during the course of the afternoon, but I think that that is helpful. We know that you have to go at 4 o’clock. There will probably be a vote in the House of Commons at 4 o’clock anyway, so this is time limited. Unless you have something essential to add, General Capewell, I hope you won’t mind that I call Jeffrey Donaldson.

Q10 Mr Donaldson: Secretary of State, the UN Resolution permits all necessary measures to be taken to protect civilian life, but it also excludes a foreign occupation force in any form. What do you see as the limitations of the UN Resolution?

Dr Fox: We are quite clear that all necessary measures are subject to the test of being reasonable and proportionate to protect the civilian population, and I think that what we have done has always fallen within that. There are, of course, limitations to what can be achieved by air alone; we have always accepted that and it was accepted when the UN Resolution was passed and the no-fly zone was created, but our aim was not to impose upon the people of Libya a particular form of government. Our aim was to protect the civilian population. I go back to the whole aim of what we are trying to achieve in Libya, which is to ensure that men, women and children can sleep safely in their beds knowing that they will not be attacked by Gaddafi’s forces. Everything that we have done has been with that in mind.

We have been extraordinarily careful on two fronts. One is to accept that in achieving the aims, we must at all times minimise the chance of civilian casualties. There are those who have said, and who have said to me when I have visited other countries, "Could we not have done more more quickly by air?" The answer is yes, but to do so would only have been possible if we were willing to accept greater collateral damage and higher risk of civilian casualties. Apart from the argument of being on the high moral ground and having a higher respect for life than Gaddafi clearly does, it has also been essential in maintaining the coalition internationally, not least with the Arab countries, that we have shown that respect for minimising civilian casualties. We have been very clear that there is a limitation on what we can do there. Likewise, when it comes to our mentoring groups, we have been very clear to point out that these groups are there to give greater organisational capability, to help with logistics and to help with communications. At all times, we have been very careful to act within the advice given to us by the Attorney-General about what actually is lawful, and what is not, under the UN Resolution.

Q11 Mr Donaldson: Of course, there are civilians who have no bed to sleep in at the moment, because in the west of the country they are moving towards the Tunisian border. There is the possibility of having to create some form of safe haven for those civilians. In your view, would the deployment of troops to help create and protect those safe havens for civilians-as the fighting in the west intensifies, the prospect of this happening increases-and the deployment of troops for humanitarian purposes to safeguard civilian life on the border with Tunisia be within the terms of the Resolution, or would you have to seek a new mandate?

Dr Fox: That is something on which we would have to seek advice, on a case by case basis, from the Attorney-General. The basis on which we operate is this: if there is any new development that we believe is different from that which has gone before, we would seek advice from the Attorney-General as to what form that may take. That is not a question that we have yet put to the Attorney-General, but I accept that it is something that we may have to look at.

Q12 Mr Donaldson: Have we got troops to deploy, if we need to?

Dr Fox: There is no intention to deploy any British troops on the ground in Libya.

Q13 Mr Donaldson: Even for humanitarian purposes?

Dr Fox: We have no intention to deploy British troops in Libya.

Q14 Mr Donaldson: Does the UN Resolution permit, under the current mandate, the Coalition Forces to target Colonel Gaddafi?

Dr Fox: We first of all, of course, do not talk about specific targeting, but we have made it very clear that we believe that the Resolution and all necessary measures to protect the civilian population very clearly allows us legal justification to target command and control assets. Where members of the regime may be involved with those command and control assets, they take risks in doing so. Our aim is to reduce the capability of the regime to make war on its people. We do not discuss individual targets, but we make it very clear what the general case is, and those involved are capable of understanding that.

Q15 Mr Donaldson: My question is simply this: would the UN Resolution permit it, if it were to be considered?

Dr Fox: Well, that again is a question for the Attorney-General; it has not come up, because we have not discussed that particular question. We have made it very clear that we are dealing with command and control assets. To make that a little clearer, when people talk about Colonel Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, for example, it seems to have the aura in the media of some sort of holiday villa; what we are talking about are reinforced areas that are being used for command and control of military assets, where an accommodation facility may happen to be incorporated within it. We are clear that our job is to degrade the regime’s ability to make war on the people of Libya. We will continue to do so, and the resolve of the Alliance is undiminished.

Chair: You talked about the legal advice. Gisela Stuart.

Q16 Ms Stuart: I very much welcome that on previous occasions the Government made that advice available to Parliament. Will you undertake to make the subsequent advice available to Parliament, as it seems to be quite crucial to the decisions you will be taking?

Dr Fox: I will certainly discuss that with my Cabinet colleagues. That obviously has to be a collective decision. We of course did not make the legal advice available; we gave a summary of the advice. I know that may sound like semantics, but the Committee understands the complexity of the history of this issue. It has been the Government’s intent throughout to make very clear the basis on which we are operating. If there were to be issues that were different from those that we have previously set out in summary, I will certainly give an undertaking to consult with my colleagues about whether the Government feel it necessary to make such information available.1

Q17 Mrs Moon: What exactly does the NATO mission in Libya aim to achieve? Has that been agreed among the NATO partners? What have you clearly defined as your aim?

Dr Fox: The UK aims, if I may begin with those, are for the protection of civilians, for Gaddafi to comply with UN Resolution 1973 and for the Libyan people to have the opportunity to choose their own future. Those are fully in line with NATO’s objectives, which are to protect civilians and civilian population areas under threat of attack by the regime, to implement a no-fly zone to protect civilians and to implement the arms embargo. Those aims are set out clearly under the UN Resolutions.

Q18 Mrs Moon: You said that it was for the people of Libya to choose their own regime, so is regime change a goal? Is that something that you are actively working towards?

Dr Fox: Regime change is not part of the UN Resolution.

Q19 Chair: Neither is choosing their own future, is it?

Dr Fox: But I would have thought that a very clear aim for all of us is that the free decision of people to determine their own future is something that we would want to see. I would have hardly thought that required incorporation into the Resolution; I would have thought that to an extent it was self-evident. But it is clear that regime change would be a major policy initiative, and one that is not signed up to in the Resolution.

Q20 Mrs Moon: Are we giving mixed messages? I have just looked at the Libya letter from Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy, in which it is suggested that they cannot imagine a future for Libya with Gaddafi in charge. Is that not tantamount to saying that we are looking for regime change?

Dr Fox: The sentence before that makes it very clear. It states, "Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Gaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gaddafi in power." That very much echoes the views that have been put forward by the opposition forces themselves. They have already witnessed two unilateral ceasefires put forward by Gaddafi, during which time the population were still being slaughtered, so I can understand how they feel about having little faith in the word of a man who has broken it so frequently in the past.

Q21 Mrs Moon: I can understand that too, but what I cannot understand is the almost dual-speak where one minute we are saying that regime change and targeting of individuals is part of our mission and then we are saying that it is not. Which is it?

Dr Fox: It is also very important to apply psychological pressure to the regime. One of the ways in which we could hasten the end of this conflict is for the regime itself to recognise that there is no long-term future. As long as Colonel Gaddafi believes there is a future, he is likely to want to continue the conflict. It is essential that we send clear messages that he is despised by many of his own people, he is isolated internationally and there is no future for his regime. If he continues to believe that there is such a possibility, it is likely that the conflict will continue.

Q22 Mrs Moon: But equally, if he believes that if he loses power he will be taken before the International Criminal Court, that gives him no reason for ever thinking of leaving Libya and finding a safe haven elsewhere.

Dr Fox: That argument is regularly put, but I would put the converse: do we really want a situation in which we give some of those who commit the most heinous crimes against humanity a get-out by saying, "If you’ll only stop fighting, we’ll let you go and you’ll not be subjected to international law"? It is essential that in the longer term the International Criminal Court has not only a long reach but a long memory.

Q23 Mrs Moon: Can I be clear? The NATO allies are in agreement with the key aims of the mission. Is the Arab League in agreement with those aims?

Dr Fox: The Arab partners who are with us are clearly operating under the NATO aims and rules, including the NATO mission, command and targeting. The aim of our contact group is to ensure that as many of the countries in the region as possible come within the broader political umbrella of support. That is one of the ways in which we show that this is not "the west" trying to impose a solution on Libya, but a broader coalition of nations that see a people who want to be free being brutally suppressed. This is the international community responding accordingly. It is one of the great achievements in Libya that we have kept so many of the Arab countries with us and that so many have been willing to become part and attend the contact group.

Q24 Mrs Moon: Are we at risk of a stalemate between the Libyan Government and the opposition forces? What more do you think NATO can do within the current mandate to ensure that we do not end up with a constant stalemate, with no one achieving a major amount of power?

Dr Fox: Well, as I have already said, I don’t think that we are in a position of stalemate. We have seen substantial progress being made in some areas in recent days, although it may not be as fast as people might have liked or hoped for. However, when we see more countries still being willing to commit themselves to ground attack-the decision by Italy should be hugely welcomed; when we see the progress that has been made in Misrata-we have all seen the pictures of the dreadful humanitarian misery; and, when countries such as Kuwait are willing to come forwards as one of the countries in the region to commit funding, then we are seeing some movement. When we are seeing the US drones, for example the armed Predator, coming into use and when we are seeing targeting in Tripoli of command and control close to the centre of the region’s power base, those are all reasons to assume that this is not a stalemate.

Q25 Mr Havard: As part of this, how will you judge and when will you know that you have achieved what it is that you are supposed to achieve? I am not looking for a date. That would be an impossible, ridiculous question. What do you see the process being by which you make that evaluation and you make that judgment? What discussions are you having with your international collaborators in the NATO-plus coalition to decide what the process and method is for deciding the exit strategy and, particularly, the military component of the exit strategy? How will you decide it?

Dr Fox: I am sure it is possible to give a date, but the only person capable of doing so is Colonel Gaddafi, in terms of when he stops waging war on his own population. Our strategy is clear: militarily, to continue the UN enforcement until the threat to civilians is lifted and, politically, to support the Libyan people in choosing their future. Those criteria, and therefore the date, need to be measured by the regime’s actions, not Gaddafi’s words. We have already heard him say that he is having a ceasefire, but we have not seen that. Even when, a couple of days ago, he was talking about pulling out of Misrata so that the tribes could get involved, we saw the continued shelling of the city. We will judge him and the subsequent actions that we have to take.

There will be those who say, "Does the coalition have the nerve, the guts, and the commitment to see through this campaign?" The message that I want anyone who is sympathetic to, or involved in, the regime to hear clearly today is that the international community understands what it has been asked to do and what its duty is. Its resolve will not falter until we have achieved militarily and politically what I have just set out.

Q26 Mr Havard: I suppose the answer to my question is that you will know it when you see it. How are you going to decide that? There is a varied coalition of people involved. Some may wish to make that judgment earlier than others. What is the discussion within the contact group or the NATO targeting processes or whatever about a common, agreed process to make such a decision?

Dr Fox: Well, of course, one side of that is relatively simple, which is that it will be when the civilian population are safe, and are neither being shelled, nor is there the ability to do so quickly. For example, I do not regard it to be a ceasefire if there is a tank at the end of the street pointing at me, which is just not firing during that hour. That is not safety for the civilian population. We will have to ensure that the forces do not threaten them and that they are not capable of inflicting that. As you say, that is, to an extent, self-evident. The allies are clear about that, and our focus is on the implementation of UN Resolution 1973, which lays out the very clear conditions that need to be met, including an immediate ceasefire, a halt to all attacks on civilians and full humanitarian access to all those in need. Those criteria, we believe, will fulfil UN Resolution 1973.

Q27 Mr Havard: But in that respect, it will not just be the actual coalition of actors prosecuting the mandate who will be part of the process, but presumably the UN itself in some fashion in evaluating, when it says, "Your bit is done. We now move to phase 2," or whatever.

Dr Fox: Nothing would please us more than for the kinetic element to be over, and for us to be able to focus on UN assistance to the humanitarian effort and to the rebuilding politically and otherwise of Libya. As to when that can happen, I go back to the point: ask Colonel Gaddafi, rather than me.

Mr Havard: If I see him, I will.

Q28 Mr Brazier: Secretary of State, we have already provided the Libyan opposition with body armour and communications equipment. We and the French have now provided a small number of officers as advisers. Presumably you are satisfied that that falls within the provisions of Resolution 1973. Is that the first step towards directly arming the opposition, and would that fall within the current UN Resolutions?

Dr Fox: No, it is not a first step. We have been careful that this is mentoring, not training. As I said, that comes inside the legal advice we get to make sure that we are always very safely inside Resolution 1973. Our mentoring role is to ensure that the opposition forces are able to organise themselves better, that their logistics are better and the communications are better. We believe that that is vital to their stated role and their ability to help protect the civilian population better. So it is not a first step, nor is it intended to be.

Q29 Mr Brazier: You have made a distinction. Some people would say that it is a distinction without a difference, but rather than argue that, may I ask whether you think the Libyan opposition is actually sufficiently organised and trained to be able to make proper use of the equipment that it has and the relevant equipment that we are giving it?

Dr Fox: We know that those on the opposition side are a very disparate grouping. They are not trained military, as we have seen from our TV pictures. I saw yesterday a geography teacher, a doctor and others discussing how they had taken up arms to protect their families and their communities without training so, clearly, they are at a disadvantage in that sense. But I go back to the point that I made at the outset: we are not there to be involved in choosing a side that will govern Libya ultimately. We are there to protect the civilian population. We judge that, as part of the protection of the civilian population, to give those opposition forces greater capabilities in terms of organisation, logistics and communications is well within what we believe we are able to do. In terms of training and supplying weapons, there is clearly an arms embargo that applies to two sides.

Q30 Mr Brazier: The logic is unassailable, Secretary of State. The question is whether it will deliver something that will resolve the impasse. The official phrase for the National Transitional Council is the legitimate, political interlocutor, but is the NTC a sufficiently unified and organised entity to represent a realistic government for the country, something that can pull together a current military struggle, a future bombed-out economy and the rest of it?

Dr Fox: If I may, I will ask Peter Watkins to say something about that. Let us be frank about the conflict. If we want to see our objectives achieved, one would be seeing a military force capable of taking on the regime. We have made it very clear that we are not in business for that. That is not what the resolution allows us to do. It is not within the aims of the United Kingdom or NATO. If we want to change the equilibrium none the less, the way to do that is to degrade the regime and, hopefully, bring about a change in the behaviour of the regime vis-à-vis the civilian population, and that is the option open to us by our continued use of air power and the degradation of the assets of the Gaddafi regime. It is clearly the path that we have chosen to take within the legality set out by the UN Resolution, but I think that Peter can give an answer to the more detailed question of the Transitional Council.

Mr Watkins: I think it is true to say that the ITNC faces huge challenges. We have now had a diplomatic mission alongside them for about three weeks, and we have been getting to know them through that process. We think they could potentially become an organisation that, as you say, represents all of Libya. They have been quite careful to ensure that they have representatives not only from the eastern part, but also from Misrata and the western towns and so on. There are some experienced people there, such as Mr Jalil, for example, the former Justice Minister, and there are others with a range of skills. Their programme is one that we would find admirable. They seek to establish, over time, a representative government, to move towards elections and so on. We think that they have the right aspirations and, potentially, the capability, but I won’t pretend that they don’t face huge challenges as well.

Q31 Chair: In relation to the body armour, was it supplied to the opposition forces with any restrictions on whether it was used by civilians?

Major General Capewell: A thousand sets, no restrictions, for distribution by the ITNC.

Dr Fox: The provision of body armour is permitted under the non-lethal military equipment exception to the arms embargo under operative paragraph 9(a) of Resolution 1970, but it does require prior approval from the Sanctions Committee set up under that Resolution. Given the pressing nature of the requirement and the provisions that the Committee has already referred to under operative paragraph 4 of Resolution 1973, it was determined that an immediate dispatch of the equipment was the most appropriate course of action. It was to enable those forces to protect themselves as they defended their communities against those forces threatening civilians. We believe that there was an overwhelming case for doing so.

Q32 Chair: So the provision of body armour for the protection of civilians was to enable forces to protect themselves. That’s the word you just used.

Dr Fox: Its provision to the opposition and to any civilian police was to enable them to protect themselves as they defended the civilian population.

Q33 Mr Havard: This is to be used by those who are in a defensive position trying to stop an attack into a town to defend the civilians or by forward infantry who are trying to charge up the road and destroy. That’s the sort of area.

Dr Fox: Yes, the primary provision was to enable them to protect themselves as they defended their communities. We saw an overwhelming need for those who were protecting the communities-if you look at places such as Ajdabiya, people tried to protect their own community-to be as adequately protected as possible, which is not unreasonable.

Q34 Chair: So you would expect this body armour to be used essentially by the soldiers of the opposition in protecting the civilians. Is that a fair summary of what you say?

Major General Capewell: First of all, it’s difficult to determine who is a soldier and who is not.

Q35 Chair: That’s a very good point. How would you do it?

Major General Capewell: I think anybody involved in the protection of civilians fills the criteria, and they may well be themselves civilians protecting themselves. Where these items of body armour go is, in many ways, moot, because they are all involved in this.

Q36 Chair: How much is this body armour worth? That may seem a very small question in the overall cost of all of this, but I am just wondering who provided it and who paid for it.

Dr Fox: It came from contingent stocks, which won’t affect current UK operations. As for the price tag, I am unable to give you that, but I shall look to see what it is. I am not sure if Mr Watkins is able to do that. He is very good with numbers.

Mr Watkins: I don’t have a precise figure, Mr Chairman. This is basically armour that we had in stock against our potential needs. We are in the process of replacing that armour as part of our routine replacement programme so it was available to be given to the opposition in the way we are saying. I can’t give you a precise value for it at the moment, and indeed it would be quite difficult to value it anyway, because it is not something that you can put on eBay and seek bids for.

Chair: You can buy Harriers on eBay.

Q37 Bob Stewart: Secretary of State, there is a huge strategic leap in all senses from an air war to a ground war. It is not a ground war but a team of observers put on the ground-boots on the ground. I think this is quite a worrying development, because of course it will be argued that it is under Security Council Resolution 1973, but what happens when the military team we put on the ground comes back to you, sir, and says, "We believe that it is an absolute requirement to help these people that they have, say, forward air controllers, trainers and liaison officers with the forces."? I am slightly concerned because if they are observers, are they actually helping the military of the opposition or are they just watching? They’re not watching. But there we are. That’s my question. What do you comment on that, sir?

Dr Fox: We have a very clearly defined remit to the team in terms of mentoring to the opposition to improve the National Transitional Council’s ability to protect civilians in civilian-populated areas. That said, we have been very clear from the legal advice that we have that it should be limited to enabling them to organise their internal structures, to prioritise their resources and communicate more effectively. We have not at any point sought any advice on going further in that role. We are very clear that this is about protecting the civilian population. Of course, there is a major difference between ground forces and an air war. We all understand the limitations, but in passing the Resolution for the no-fly zone the international community took account of that. We recognised that there are limitations, but it was also very clear that it would be completely unacceptable effectively to have foreign forces on Libyan soil for political reasons that I am sure I do not need to go into.

Q38 Bob Stewart: Has the Security Council been consulted on the deployment of this team of observers? Presumably it is aware, but has it tacitly approved it? Are the Russians, the Germans and the Chinese content with this deployment?

Dr Fox: We are very clear from the advice that the Government get that we are acting entirely within Resolution 1973. We have been very careful at all times to do so. It is a view that is obviously shared by a number of other countries in terms of this mentoring process. We have, at all times, made it very clear that our basis for acting is that we believe that it is justified in protecting the civilian population and assisting those who themselves are protecting the civilian population.

Q39 Chair: I think that was an answer to a different question. Bob Stewart asked whether the Security Council had been consulted about this.

Dr Fox: I am not sure about the legal basis or need to do that.

Mr Watkins: The Security Council was not formally consulted, but it is certainly aware. There is no secret. It was announced by the Foreign Secretary, and I am sure our ambassador in New York will have brought it to the attention of the appropriate authorities there.

Q40 Bob Stewart: My final question: if one of these military officers were captured, are we sure that they would be treated properly under the Geneva Conventions and not treated by Gaddafi as a spy?

Major General Capewell: I think that is hard to tell. Certainly, Gaddafi is not rational, but we have made every attempt to make sure that they are not captured by defining very carefully the limits of their activity and making sure that we have plans to recover them if we believe the risk is increasing, just as we have with the rest of the Prentice mission.

Q41 Bob Stewart: So we can get them out?

Major General Capewell: Yes.

Bob Stewart: Great. Thank you.

Dr Fox: We would also hope that even if Colonel Gaddafi has scant respect for international law and human life, those who are members of his forces might have those values.

Q42 Chair: Can I come back to one issue about the United Nations: the possibility of seeking a new mandate or resolution. I mentioned earlier that there was no mention in 1973 of the issue of the Libyan people choosing their own Government. Would it not be preferable if a resolution could be taken through the United Nations expressing that as being the end goal?

Dr Fox: As I said, my personal view is that it is self-evident that we would want the people of Libya to be able to determine their own future. Why else would we, as an international community, be intervening to protect them? I am not aware of any suggestion that this would require us to go back to the United Nations, but I am perfectly happy to discuss it with our colleagues in the Foreign Office. If there had been any notion of such a necessity, I am not aware of it myself.

Mr Watkins: Clearly, as the Secretary of State has already said, we are not yet at the point where Resolution 1973 has been completely fulfilled by Gaddafi, so it would seem to us a little premature to be talking already about another resolution.

Q43 Mr Havard: Can I ask you about NATO Command and Control processes and structures? Are you confident that they are working? The answer to that is probably yes, but I would like to explore a little bit more if I could its efficiency and the question of legality within it. We have a new element now, as you mentioned yourself. We have Predators and drones. General Cartwright in America says that "when you are struggling to pick friend from foe…a vehicle like the Predator that can get down lower and get IDs better helps us." This is the business about picking out snipers on balconies and all the rest of the things in the American press. How is the targeting process being run that includes NATO-plus nations-albeit in a NATO-driven process-in terms of targeting and making decisions based upon the assets that are now available? It’s all very well having a T-line missile that disappears his garden shed just to remind him that that’s what you can do if you need to. That’s an easy target. The question of drones might be more difficult. So how is the targeting process working and are you satisfied with the legality and other things?

Dr Fox: I will ask General Capewell to address the details and I will then say a word about the politics.

Major General Capewell: There are two forms of targeting: first, the deliberate targeting, which is boarded [at a Target Board] at every level in NATO and boarded in the UK by the Secretary of State, where we address very carefully the issues of necessity, proportionality and legality. So that is done comprehensively throughout the NATO system and fundamentally culminates in the Joint Task Force Commanders Headquarters in Naples. That is deliberate targeting-for fixed sites, installations.

The point you make about Predator is because that is a dynamic target; it is moving or it certainly is not visible for a long period of time. The rules for those engagements are even more demanding, in that you have to absolutely identify that it is hostile and that it also fulfils the questions of proportionality and necessity. Those conditions are set in the rules of engagement, which are very clearly mandated throughout NATO and end up in the cockpit of the jet, so the pilot has also to be convinced that the target is legitimate.

Q44 Mr Havard: And the legal advice within the process?

Major General Capewell: Delivered at all levels by legal advisers and fundamentally back to the Attorney-General.

Mr Watkins: In addition to that, at the point when the operation was launched under NATO command, we-the Ministry of Defence, the policy staffs and the legal advisers-went through the NATO rules of engagement line by line, compared them with our UK rules of engagement, and satisfied ourselves that they were legal in every respect.

Dr Fox: Can I add to that, just for clarity, to give a sense of what that meant? When we were looking at how we would go about generically targeting, as I said at the outset we were very, very careful that, in any selection of targets, we would do so only when we were absolutely convinced that there was minimal risk to civilians. When we transferred that targeting process on to NATO we made it very clear that the rules under which we had been operating up to that point were the rules that our own forces would be expected to live up to under the NATO process. To that extent we have, as will other countries, effectively a red card that says that our forces will live up to certain ethical values in carrying out this mission. It has not been an issue because NATO has-as Mr Watkins was saying-very much followed what we would have followed.

Q45 Mr Havard: It is important for us to be sure that British people of all sorts are protected, because they are subject to the ICC, as you say. Of course, Americans aren’t, but there we are. That’s an interesting side debate we could have later about what the International Criminal Court might do or not.

Dr Fox: Can I give a very personal assurance on that? When it comes to a conflict, and a Secretary of State is asked to look at specific judgments, I took, as the Government took from the outset, that we would set our assessment of acceptable civilian casualties as close to zero as was possible to be. I can give, the Government could give, and this country could give an absolute assurance to the people of Libya and the people of the region that at all times we have sought, as far as is humanly possible, to minimise civilian casualties, because it makes a difference to our moral position in conflict, and it makes a difference to our ability to maintain a wide political alliance.

Chair: I think that’s an extremely helpful and very important statement, and I am grateful to you for making it.

Q46 Mr Havard: Absolutely, and that is what we are trying to ensure. To pursue the question about targeting a little further, and the length of the process, it seems as though we have Norway and Sweden saying they’re going to be in for three months. There’s talk about us being in for six months, Turkey have a slightly different position to Spain, and so on. Under the command and control structures, what does that tell us about how that process can run over time, should it need to run for a period longer than three months?

Dr Fox: I would have thought, Chairman, that this Committee, more than most others, would have been well aware of the sort of debates that we had in ISAF about who was going to be there for what length of time, and there are clearly very strong parallels here. Perhaps the General would like to say a word about exactly how it operates on the ground?

Major General Capewell: I think the NATO structure that circumscribes all of this targeting business, to use your phrase, is designed for resilience and persistence. The structure can exist as long as NATO requires it to exist. As nations come in and out of the structure, making sure the legal requirements and the ROE are consistent with their requirements is part of that process. It’s designed to endure. I’m recognising what the Secretary of State has said; we are in this for as long as it takes.

Q47 Mr Havard: Implications for British national security? Assessment of? The fact that we’re in north Africa, we’re doing things the way we are; positive or negative, what is the assessment of the impacts of our current actions in Libya on British national security? If you’re not doing that, is the Home Office, or somebody else?

Mr Watkins: The Government, particularly the Home Office and the office for security and Counter-Terrorism within the Home Office, are monitoring the possible implications very carefully indeed. I cannot go into detail, obviously, but it is being monitored day by day.

Q48 Mrs Moon: You have just said that we are in it for as long as it takes. Have you any idea of how long it will take?

Dr Fox: As I said earlier, it is a question that would be well put, were we able to do so, to Colonel Gaddafi, who is the person most able to determine how long this conflict will continue. If Colonel Gaddafi were to stop attacking his people tomorrow, if he were to move to a safe distance, and if it was very clear that there was not a continued threat and we were able to get humanitarian assistance to the people of Libya, unhindered, in the way that UN Resolution 1973 demands of us, we would all be very happy. It is essential that the international community gives a very clear signal to the Gaddafi regime that our resolve is not time limited. We understand what is being asked of us. We understand what our duty is, and our resolve will not be time limited, will not be short, will not be finite.

Q49 Mrs Moon: Will it take considerably longer if the Americans pull back? I note that on 28 March the Pentagon acknowledged that the US continues to provide 80% of all air refuelling, 75% of aerial surveillance and 100% of all electronic warfare missions. Will it take longer if the Americans pull back their forces?

Dr Fox: We are able to carry out the mission to degrade the regime’s capabilities more quickly if we have the speed of targeting and the range of assets available to maximise the pace. Are we grateful that the Americans have, for example, made Predator available? Yes, we are. Do we want all NATO partners to be maximising what they do in terms of the activities within NATO and the assets that they make available? Yes. I had no indication yesterday during my visit to the Pentagon that there was anything other than resolution in Washington about ensuring that Resolution 1973 is carried out.

Q50 Mrs Moon: I am very concerned about the supply and availability of missiles for both the UK and our allies, and whether we have sufficient for the current pace of airstrikes. Again, I note that the Department of Defense said on 28 March that 600 precision-guided munitions have been expended: 455 from the US and 147 from the coalition. It went on to say: "Gadhafi has virtually no air defense left to him and a diminishing ability to command and sustain his forces on the ground. His air force cannot fly, his warships are staying in port, his ammunition stores are being destroyed, communication towers are being toppled, and his command bunkers are being rendered useless." But "they still have tactical, mobile surface-to-air missiles which are still a threat." Do we still have the capability to have the number of missiles we will need to tackle those mobile, surface-to-air missiles?

Dr Fox: First, may I say, that was a wonderful description of a non-stalemate. The speed and the scale of the degradation of his military capabilities was about as far from a stalemate as I could describe, so it was an excellent description. We believe that we have sufficient munitions and sufficient capabilities to carry out the tasks as set out for us in the NATO mission, but the Committee will understand, Chairman, why we would not comment on any specific stocks of any specific armaments held by the United Kingdom.

Q51 Chair: Are the stocks being replaced under the contingency reserve?

Dr Fox: Is the cost being met by the contingency reserve? The Chancellor has made it very clear that it is, if you’ll permit my smile.

Q52 Mrs Moon: Again, I would like to raise the issue about communication with the public. Are you happy that there has been sufficient communication with the British public about this operation? Are you sure and confident that anxiety among the British public about mission creep and the risk of further engagement in a long-term mission is being addressed in relation to the public’s understanding of what is happening?

Dr Fox: We will take every opportunity we can to give those reassurances, which is why I am grateful that we have had the chance to make some of those specific points this afternoon. The Government have made a number of statements. I do not think anyone could accuse the Government of not being forward leaning in terms of the willingness to communicate, for example, with Parliament, although I do accept the adage that if you want to keep a secret in the United Kingdom nowadays, the best place to speak it is in the House of Commons, as it is the least likely place to be reported.

The Government are very keen that we at all points make it clear that we are acting under UN auspices; that this is the international community that has come together, along with Arab countries and not just the usual coalition; that we are acting at all times to minimise civilian casualties; that we do understand the fear about mission creep; and that we are putting those fears to rest as best we can and as clearly as we possibly can. We are being very clear that we are setting out to degrade the war-making ability of a regime, which, had we as a country not intervened, would probably have unleashed hell on the people of Benghazi.

It is very hard sometimes to stand up and be very proud about something that you have helped to avoid happening. In terms of humanitarian catastrophes, what we as an international community stopped happening in Benghazi is something that I think history will be rather kind to us for. If we have been insufficiently clear about blowing our international trumpet about what we have achieved there, that is perhaps a criticism that we can take to heart, but having achieved the effect is of extreme importance.

Q53 John Glen: I’d like to turn to the wider region. If we accept that the motivation for being in Libya is not about regime change-for instance, it is about protecting civilians-we have seen in the wider region considerable repression of a similar nature, perhaps in Yemen and Bahrain but particularly in Syria. In terms of the Resolution paving the way for similar resolutions on Syria, at what point should that happen; and if it should not happen, why is Libya treated differently? I am mindful of the fact that the general public probably do not see the qualitative distinction between what is happening in terms of wholesale slaughter in Syria and what is happening in Libya.

Dr Fox: I will ask Mr Watkins to say something about some of the diplomatic activity more widely. A good place to begin, though, is remembering how we got here. In Tunisia and Egypt, there was a spontaneous uprising of the people. The Armed Forces in both those countries stood aside and did not take the side of the Government in repressing the populations that wanted to control their own destiny.

In Libya, it was different. The regime did use its military power to suppress that voice in the most brutal way. The international community passed a resolution-ultimately two Resolutions-that gave an ultimatum to Gaddafi. When he continued to ignore the wishes of the international community, the international community acted. This was after we had been through sanctions, diplomatic pressure and all the means available to us, short of military activity, to persuade him to take a certain course of action.

Would we hope that other regimes learn that they should not oppress their people? Of course we would. What we have seen in Syria in the last few days has been the appalling spectacle of a despotic regime bearing down on its people in the most violent and brutal way, and every one of us would condemn that. Is there still a chance that it might go the other way? I would hope there is at least a flicker of hope. I say this for the following reason: I was in the Gulf at the time of the first Assad speech, when everybody hoped that it was going to be a reforming moment. Senior politicians in the region believed-because, I believe, they had been briefed to expect-that this was going to be an important moment, when Syria would turn a corner. It would be the end of emergency law and there would be political reform, allowing the voice of the people to be heard. In the event, there was disappointment and anger that that speech contained something very different, but we know that reform was at least being considered. We must redouble international pressure now in every way that we can, to say, "There is an alternative road for Syria. You are at a crossroads. To an extent, you’ve gone down the wrong track. Go back and look at the reform process again." We must hope that it’s possible for that to happen.

Q54 John Glen: Surely, given what we have seen over the last 48 hours, there hasn’t been a willingness to follow that path. If it is not followed at the eleventh hour, presumably there is the means through another resolution. It would seem the logical thing for the Government to pursue that with their international allies, on the same basis that the action was taken in Libya.

Dr Fox: The Foreign Secretary has made it very clear that with our international partners, we will now want to increase the pressure on Syria to bend to the will of the international community, to ensure that the people of Syria are free, safe and secure. Peter might want to clarify how that is happening.

Mr Watkins: The point I would want to make is that all these cases are different. The political processes are different in each country, and therefore, the opportunities available to us also differ. As the Secretary of State has said, Gaddafi obviously and blatantly discarded any attempt at a political process at a pretty early stage. In other countries, that is not the case. As the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, the political process in Bahrain is not as overt as we would like, but none the less it is still there, and we are seeking through diplomatic means to engage with them. Similarly, in Yemen, where there has been violence, firing on protesters and so on, there is a political process that we are engaged in. So, I think we have to adjust our methods according to the particular circumstances.

Dr Fox: Gaddafi had every opportunity given to him by the international community to choose a non-violent path for his country and his people, but he chose not to do that.

Chair: We agreed before this hearing began that we would try to spend the final part-and we have just over 20 minutes left-on the effect of what is happening on Libya on the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

Q55 Ms Stuart: Secretary of State, last time you came before this Committee, you were gentlemanly enough not to call me ridiculous when I suggested you were required to find a £1 billion saving before the end of the month-and of course, somehow, you weren’t quite required to find that £1 billion. If you look at what the costs will be in Libya-at the Tornado or what the various missiles cost, because each one seems to have an enormous number of noughts behind the original figure-it is not cheap. Although you say it is coming out of contingency costs, it is nevertheless still a cost. Could you say a little about the reprieve that you clearly got in March from finding the £1 billion that you had been asked to find, and to what extent would you say that might be linked in some way or another with the operation in Libya, which clearly, was not foreseen?

Dr Fox: One might almost say that was leading the witness.

Chair: This is cross-examination. You are allowed to.

Dr Fox: The SDSR made it clear that we would expect to be able to maintain an enduring operation such as Afghanistan, an operation in the kinetic form that we have seen in Libya, and a smaller one. It has fallen within the parameters that we set under the adaptive posture in the SDSR. It has come within expectations. Perhaps the level, speed and intensity have come earlier than we might have ever hoped, but none the less, it has fallen with the realms of what the SDSR was set up to be able to deal with.

Q56 Ms Stuart: Given that you said that we are going to do whatever it takes, and it will take however long it takes, what resources do we have that would allow us to do that? We don’t have a bottomless pit of money. For how much longer would the UK have the means to be a meaningful partner in that international operation?

Dr Fox: As the Chair has already indicated, we have agreement that the additional costs will be met from the reserve. Again, I go back, if I may, to my original point that it is very important that these issues are discussed, but it is more important that we send a clear message, in the current mission, that we are not going to be limited by pounds, shillings and pence, if I can be so uncommunitaire. We have the resolve to see through the mission. It is very important that we do not signal at any point that we may waver in our commitment to what we are trying to achieve in Libya.

Q57 Chair: There is one question to which I did not hear an answer. Was the reprieve on the £1 billion funding gap caused by the Libyan operations?

Dr Fox: That is also, if I may say, Chair, leading the witness, because it makes an assumption that the question was correct. In terms of the wider picture in Libya, it would be wrong to conflate things, because what is happening in Libya is within what we expected our abilities to be under what we set out in the SDSR. We knew that we might be called upon to carry out a mission of this nature-not necessarily this specific one-and that was planned for within the SDSR. The assumptions that we made about the flexibility that we would require of military assets were taken with that in mind.

Q58 Chair: When do you intend to admit to the reprieve on the £1 billion funding gap?

Dr Fox: I intend to make a statement about PR 11 once we are past the Elections, Chair.

Chair: Fair enough.

Q59 Ms Stuart: Some of my colleagues will question some of the very specific assumptions, but I wonder whether you would like to say a bit more. Will the operation in Libya and the financial requirement have any impact on the Defence Planning Assumptions?

Dr Fox: No. As I say, what happens in Libya, in terms of the assets that we have devoted to it, comes within the planning assumptions that we made in the SDSR: that we have a long commitment in Afghanistan-a major, enduring operation-and that we would be able to carry out an operation such as Libya and a small concurrent mission at the same time. It is within what we expected that we might at some point be asked to do. It makes us all sad that we have been asked to do it in this way, given the circumstances.

Q60 Ms Stuart: And it is still within your sustainable criteria, as outlined in the strategic defence review, even if this goes on to be a medium-term operation?

Dr Fox: We believe it is sustainable and that we will have not only the military but the political will to carry this through to ensure that the UN Resolution is fulfilled.

Q61 Ms Stuart: Without opening the SDSR?

Dr Fox: Let me be very frank. There are those who talk about reopening the SDSR, when what they mean is reopening the CSR. If people mean that there should be more defence spending, they should say so. If we have a reopening of the SDSR within the same financial envelope, with the same policy assumptions and in the same real world, given the expertise that we have we are likely to come to the same conclusions. If people believe that we should be spending more, that is a perfectly legitimate argument for them to make, but let them say which taxes they want to raise, which other budgets they want to cut or, indeed, whether they want to continue the insane habit of borrowing money at the pace we were doing before. It is a perfectly legitimate argument to make, but the two should not be conflated. I would politely suggest to the Committee that to say that we should reopen the SDSR, but without a change to the financial expenditure, might be a futile exercise.

Q62 Ms Stuart: At the risk of being very dumb, you are saying we will stay in there for as long as it takes, we have the money, it does not require reopening and we can meet it. Is that what you are saying?

Dr Fox: We are, I hope, sending a very clear signal today, from this Committee to the regime in Libya, that we intend to fulfil our obligations under the UN Resolution. Our resolve will not waver and we will do what it takes, along with our allies, to carry out our mission.

Q63 Mr Havard: Could I just be clear? I understood that what was said about the cost as it is currently-our current contribution to this activity, should it sustain itself over a six-month period at the current rate of spend-it that it is likely to amount to about £1 billion. Is that correct?

Dr Fox: I am not able to give the Committee figures on that, although we will have discussions in the usual way with the Treasury. But as I pointed out earlier, the Chancellor gave the promise that the extra costs of this mission would be met from the reserve.

Q64 Thomas Docherty: Secretary of State, I am sure that you are learning valuable lessons from the current air operations, both for the ongoing Libyan events and for contingency planning-following on from Mr Glen’s question- perhaps elsewhere in the region or for other parts of the world. Have any of those lessons caused you to regret or reconsider the scrapping of the Harriers and the carrier-based capability of either Ark Royal or Illustrious?

Dr Fox: No, Tornado gives us capability that Harrier could not. In addition to the Paveway IV laser or GPS-guided bombs that both Harrier and Tornado can carry, Tornado gives us the stand-off, deep-penetration capability with the Storm Shadow missile and the Brimstone missile, which is a low-collateral weapon for use in urban areas, such as Misrata.

In addition, Tornado has a gun, which Harrier did not; Tornado has a longer range than Harrier; it needs to be refuelled less frequently; and it has a two-man crew, which helps with better mission control from the air. I remind the Committee of the logistics legacy: there would not have been enough Harriers for Afghanistan and for what we have been asked to do in Libya had we taken the alternative decision and kept Harrier but not Tornado. If Mr Docherty is asking whether, had we had another £3 billion, we would have liked to have kept even more aircraft, the answer is obviously yes. But he will also remember that we are trying to deal with the Government’s primary objective of a £158 billion deficit.

Q65 Thomas Docherty: I will not be drawn by the Secretary of State on where we could find the money and whether this is Treasury-driven or Defence Secretary-driven Defence Review.

You mentioned range and logistics. You probably would not correct me if I were to suggest that we are currently running at least one of our aircraft from Norfolk rather than from Italy. Do you not accept the argument that some commentators have made, that if you had either Ark Royal or Illustrious in the Mediterranean, you would not have a 2,000 or 3,000-mile refuelling chain?

Dr Fox: The question is the capability. We wanted to have the ability to achieve Storm Shadow’s military effect. Brimstone, as I have said, is a flexible, precise, low-collateral weapon that fits neatly with our wish-our stated desire-to minimise civilian casualties. Those options would not have been available to us. It is tempting for those who wanted a different decision to say, "This is all about the money." Primarily this is about the capabilities. General Capewell might want to say exactly why the situation has been beneficial to us.

Major General Capewell: First, the Italian nation has been very generous in providing us with a huge range of airfields to operate from. In many ways, mounting this operation from Italy, where the command and control is also based, is a very effective way of delivering the campaign.

Q66 Thomas Docherty: Are you therefore denying that you are currently flying out of RAF Marham?

Mr Watkins: At the early stage of the campaign, some of the missions were flown from Marham.

Q67 Thomas Docherty: So there are now no Tornadoes flying from Marham; they are all in Italy. Is it correct that that is a big misassumption that people have been making?

Major General Capewell: In the early stages of the campaign they certainly were flown directly out of Marham, but no longer.

Q68 Thomas Docherty: Leaving aside the Harriers, Secretary of State, given both this operation and potential operations elsewhere, do you think that now might be a good time to pause-to use the Prime Minister’s phrase today from PMQs-on deciding whether we should be cutting the number of Tornadoes and RAF bases?

Dr Fox: Well of course the basing review, which is under way, is likely to come to fruition some time in the summer. I imagine the Committee will want to ask a lot of questions about that. The decision to reduce the Tornado squadron is not part of the SDSR; that was part of the previous government’s planning round 10. The decision over which ones to get rid of was left to the incoming Government, with the decision having already been made by the previous government, so it’s not part of the SDSR. To reopen that would be to reopen the CSR as well as other elements. As far as I can tell-obviously, we listen to the military advice-there is no operational restriction on the assumptions we are making for numbers at the present time.

Q69 Thomas Docherty: My final question: have you asked either the Royal Navy or the Royal Air Force to work out what would be involved in spinning back up capability-either bringing Tornadoes back up to their previous level or bringing back the carrier strike capability-and have you asked them what is the point of no return for making either of those decisions?

Dr Fox: The Armed Forces have asked for specific capabilities, which at the moment can be provided only by Tornado and would not have been provided by Harrier. I remember the very first time I came before this Committee I said that we would have to make hard-headed decisions on the basis of the capabilities we required, not sentiment. I’m afraid that this is one of those.

Q70 Thomas Docherty: To be clear, have you asked them what is the point of no return for those capabilities?

Dr Fox: We made our decision that we were going to retire Harrier. Since that we have had the experience of what we required in Libya, which was more than capably fulfilled by Tornado-the aircraft and its fantastic pilots-in conjunction with Typhoon. In our view, there is no need to revisit that decision, and we are not doing so.

Q71 Penny Mordaunt: Are events in Libya having a negative impact on any of our other operations, in particular operations in Afghanistan?

Dr Fox: No, and at all times we have been very clear that our main effort is Afghanistan. That is what the MoD does above and beyond all else. In the decisions that the Department was asked to take; in looking at what we had available for Libya; and in looking at what we might require in terms of support-which of course isn’t what people necessarily see; they see the fast jets and the front-line capabilities-we were always very careful that nothing that we would offer or commit to Libya would interfere with our main effort in Afghanistan.

Major General Capewell: Absolutely. The facts are that we are managing the Afghanistan campaign today, with no impact.

Q72 Penny Mordaunt: And what about a potential negative impact on Armed Forces personnel in terms of leave or those who may have been in extended readiness, perhaps going to Afghanistan-having them being deployed?

Dr Fox: We have had no impact on the relief in place in Afghanistan, which is going very well-it is going relatively quickly, in fact-and we have not had an impact on Afghanistan through what has happened in Libya. As I made clear, we always assumed that we would be able to carry out a large enduring mission such as Afghanistan and an intervention such as Libya as well as a smaller one. That is what we planned for, and that is what we have so far been able to achieve, not least, I have to say, thanks to the incredible commitment shown by those in the Armed Forces.

Q73 Penny Mordaunt: What has been the actual impact in terms of numbers of people, for example, who would have had leave cancelled? Are you saying that there have been no changes to people’s leave?

Dr Fox: I am not aware of that. There may well be. I am quite sure that, if it were the case, it would be rather rapidly brought to my attention.

Q74 Penny Mordaunt: I think that it is the case, just from what I have heard from constituents. I understand that you may not be able to answer today, but it would be helpful if you could look into the matter. If we are going to be doing things like Libya, it is important that we understand what the commitment is from our Armed Forces.

Dr Fox: I would be very happy to look at any specific cases that are being cited to see whether that is, in fact, happening. The aim is that we should be able to endure in Afghanistan and maintain that, without the inability to carry out one of the other operations or significant impact on our personnel.

Q75 Penny Mordaunt: How would that currently be monitored? I can give you anecdotal evidence, but presumably you are monitoring the impact that additional operations will be having on leave and on Reserve Forces. How does that work?

Major General Capewell: We will give you advice if you have a specific and precise case, but I think that you were getting to the harmony rules. Individually, some of them may well have been broken due to all sorts of reasons, such as delays in aircraft movement if you are talking about Afghanistan. In Libya, I cannot cite a specific example that supports your thesis.

Dr Fox: But we will be more than happy to look at any individual cases. There may be elements that we have not been aware of. We will certainly be happy to look at them.

Q76 Chair: Final question, Secretary of State. We know that you have to go. How has the National Security Council been operating in relation to all of this, and in relation to the decision to support the no-fly zone, the ceasefire and the United Nations Resolution?

Dr Fox: I think that the NSC has been operating well-increasingly well. As well as the National Security Council itself, the sub-committee, the NSC(L), has met on a very regular basis, and the NSC(LO) for officials meets on an even more regular basis. For my own part-and I am sure that as CDS is not here, I can speak for him, too-the flow of information that comes to us to help us to understand what is happening on the ground and the decisions that we will have to take come in a timely way. The process is now getting into a rhythm where the meetings are in a predictable time scale. The NSC has adapted quickly to what has been-let’s face it-a major challenge early on in its existence.

Q77 Chair: Do you have the impression that the NSC is on top of an overall strategy for the whole of the region in case this continues for a long time and spreads?

Dr Fox: The NSC does look at, and has looked at, the region as a whole. It would simply be untrue, Chairman, to say that any policy maker in the western world has been on top of the speed at which events have happened in the Middle East and North Africa. None of the self-professed experts whom I have been able to talk to predicted Tunisia or Egypt, or the speed of what has happened in Syria or Libya.

At my talks in the United States yesterday, the speed of the change of events is such that everybody is having to assess and reassess the impacts, as we go on; what it will mean for security in the region; what it will mean for our national security, as has already been alluded to during this session, and what it will mean for the UK and our allied interests abroad. If there is one thing that politicians would be wise to have in view of the speed of events, it is a little humility. We are not always quite as able to understand what is about to happen next as politicians sometimes like to pretend.

Chair: Indeed so. Therefore, we need to be prepared for all sorts of eventualities with a defence capability that is strong and always available. Thank you very much indeed to all three of you for coming to give evidence to us today.

My personal assessment is that you have fulfilled your mission in presenting a firm resolve to continue with this. We have not fulfilled our mission to gain clarity of exactly where we are going quite as successfully as you have fulfilled yours, but no doubt there will be further opportunities to do that during parliamentary exchanges over the next few weeks.

[1] Ev 57

Prepared 7th February 2012