Joint Military Capability

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19 March 2001.

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Photo of Jeff Ennis Jeff Ennis Labour, Barnsley East and Mexborough 12:00, 19 March 2001

What measures are being taken to enhance joint military capability between the UK and its north American and European allies. [152699]

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

Work is progressing in NATO on the defence capabilities initiative in the five key areas of effective engagement, survivability of forces and infrastructure, command and control, sustainability and logistics, and deployability and mobility.

We are also pursuing our commitments to the European Union headline goal, which will complement progress with the DCI to improve European military capabilities. Additionally, we are seeking greater capability and inter-operability with other nations through multinational defence co-operation.

Photo of Jeff Ennis Jeff Ennis Labour, Barnsley East and Mexborough

On the eve of his visit to the United States, will my right hon. Friend tell the House what message he will take to the American Secretary of Defence? In particular, will my right hon. Friend emphasise to Mr. Rumsfeld that the aims of the European defence security policy are consistent with the aims of NATO?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

There will be a series of meetings in Washington in the next few days to ensure absolute consistency between NATO's efforts to improve military capabilities through the defence capabilities initiative and European efforts to do precisely the same thing through the achievement of the Helsinki headline goal. That is the message that I shall take to Washington.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Conservative, Canterbury

Will the Secretary of State confirm that for this country to take part in any major operation involving substantial airlift or intelligence capabilities—in other words, any major operation—would require American support? At a time when we may be close to a major outbreak of fresh conflict in the Balkans, will he tell us what extra resources our European allies are making available to match the extra commitments that we shall make under the European commitment that he has just described?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

We have always made it clear that we would regard NATO and, therefore, United States support for such an operation as being the way in which we would undertake any major operation. A number of our European allies are certainly increasing their defence expenditure, but, equally, we have made it similarly clear that the vital matter is not simply how much money is spent—important though that is—but what it is spent on. That is precisely why it is so important that we pursue, through the DCI, improvements in NATO's capabilities, including heavy lift, as well as the absolutely consistent approach in the Helsinki headline goal to improve European capability. I take it from the hon. Gentleman's observations that he supports the efforts that we are making.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon Labour, Halifax

On joint military capabilities, some weeks ago 1 asked the Ministry of Defence what happened to Kosovo Liberation Army terrorists when they were arrested by KFOR and taken to Camp Bond Steel. Perhaps I am still waiting for an answer because, far from charging the terrorists, it would appear that the US contingent of KFOR was training them in the American sector and allowing them to smuggle arms and launch attacks across the borders of Serbia and Macedonia. What are the leaders of KFOR going to do about the situation in Macedonia? Are we simply going to abandon them to this attack?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I am sorry that my hon. Friend appears to be misinformed. The United States has made it absolutely clear that it is giving no active or tacit support to any kind of terrorist activity. It remains entirely even-handed in the way it deals with terrorist activity, from whichever ethnic community it comes. I assure her that it is not engaged in activity of the kind that she describes.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Liberal Democrat, North East Fife

Does the Secretary of State agree that we may be about to witness a real test of joint military capability if the dangerous situation in Macedonia deteriorates any further? If that happens, does he agree that it may be necessary for NATO to do more than strengthen patrols on the border? At a time when the United States is indicating that it intends to withdraw troops from Bosnia, does not the situation in Macedonia provide an ideal opportunity for the European nations to show that they are serious about military capability and about Europe taking more responsibility for European defence issues?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that those in the NATO capitals have been in regular contact in recent days about the increasing tension on the borders of Macedonia. There have been discussions, which continue, about the appropriate action for KFOR to take and who should initiate it. At this stage, I am not in a position to tell the House more than that, except to say that we regard the situation there with grave concern and we will take appropriate action when necessary.