Congo

– in the House of Lords at 3:32 pm on 12th June 2003.

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Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement) 3:32 pm, 12th June 2003

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made this afternoon in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces.

"With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on a British contribution to a multinational force for the Democratic Republic of Congo. I would also advise the House that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence is attending a NATO Defence Ministers' meeting in Brussels, which is why he is unable to be present for this Statement.

"The House will be aware of the serious situation in the Ituri province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly in and around the town of Bunia. There has been a resurgence of fighting, particularlybetween Hema and Lendu militia, and tens of thousands of people have fled from their homes.

"Some of these are in refugee camps around Bunia, others are scattered in the surrounding countryside. There is a risk that renewed violence and disease could lead to many deaths.

"The UK is wholly committed to supporting the United Nations peacekeeping effort in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Ituri province and elsewhere good work has been done. But United Nations troops are faced with a new situation with which they do not have the numbers to deal.

"Recognising this, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan requested the creation of a multinational force to stabilise Bunia. UN Security Council Resolution 1484, passed on 30th May, provides the mandate for the force and on 5th June, the EU decided that the operation would be under European defence and security policy auspices.

"As framework nation, France will provide the military commander and the majority of the force. A number of EU member states and non-EU nations are also likely to contribute. We expect the EU Council of Ministers to agree today formally to launch the operation—the first EU-led operation outside Europe.

"I can now tell the House how the United Kingdom intends to contribute to this EU-led force. We have offered to provide an engineer detachment and Hercules transport aircraft to help deploy the multinational force. The exact numbers of personnel needed will not be known until we have completed further detailed analysis of the engineering tasks required in Bunia.

"Bearing in mind the importance of co-ordination between the United Nations and the multinational force and to assist with planning, we will also provide five staff officers to the force headquarters and a liaison officer to work with the United Nations.

"I know that many right honourable and honourable Members are concerned that our Armed Forces have too many commitments. I understand that concern. But I can assure the House that this is a modest, realistic and sustainable deployment.

"But in making this commitment, we are clear that there can be no military solution to the problems in the region. The multinational force is an interim measure, deployed to help the United Nations with a limited and short-term mandate and will begin to withdraw when UN reinforcements arrive later in the summer.

"We hope that this force will help stabilise Ituri province. We hope that it will assist the wider discussions in Kinshasa on the establishment of a transitional national government. We call on all parties in Ituri, Kinshasa and the surrounding region to play a full part in achieving peace and stability in the region.

"I am pleased that the EU has responded quickly and decisively to the situation in Bunia. It is exactly how we envisaged the EU's security and defence policy developing as the practical expression of the common foreign and security policy.

"The United Kingdom takes its commitments to global security seriously. This operation fits into our own objectives in the region, including support for the peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I trust the House will recognise that through this contribution we are taking practical steps to help resolve a difficult situation. I commend it to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Vivian Lord Vivian Conservative 3:36 pm, 12th June 2003

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement from another place. We support intervention by the international community in order to stem the bloodshed and bring peace to this most destabilised area. However, why has it been decided to involve the United Kingdom now when we already have so many international commitments and all our troops are in desperate need of rest and further training?

The force will consist, as we have heard, of an engineer detachment, six staff officers and Hercules transport aircraft. The Statement says that the exact numbers of personnel needed is not yet known, but surely the Ministry of Defence must have some planning figure in mind. It would be helpful to have been told that today.

Realistically, will this small number of personnel make any difference? What will it achieve? Surely, there are other countries that could send a similar force. Instead, once again, our tired Army is called upon, leading to yet more separation for the families. It is the Royal Engineers who will be deployed, a corps which has already suffered an inordinate amount of separation recently, and their families are fed up with it. All countries within Europe have military engineers and staff officers; why could they not be used for this operation?

This deployment raises many questions about the assurances given to Parliament as to how NATO would always be given first refusal in relation to military operations, and, in addition, would always have a role in planning EU operations. We should make no mistake: this is an EU-led military operation, small but complex, which will put our servicemen's lives once again at risk. Given the Government's commitment to NATO, and its proven and tested abilities to plan and command operations of this kind, why did we not discuss the matter with NATO and press it to lead the operation? An untried and untested EU operation of a complex nature is clearly more risky. Further, it would appear that the EU is acting unilaterally in this case.

Perhaps it is worth drawing to your Lordships' attention a report of a French military briefing paper. It described this operation as,

"politically and militarily high risk, very sensitive and complex", and reported that the current deployment of some 1,400 troops will have negligible impact on the tribal conflict.

Will the Minister say what is the military mission for this force and under whose command the British contingent will serve? What are the benchmarks for success and what are the major risks? Does he agree that a token force of some 1,400 troops will make little impact in a country the size of Europe? How can the force be protected? What humanitarian aid will be available? Finally, what are the provisions for reinforcement and what are the means for extracting the force in an emergency?

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat 3:40 pm, 12th June 2003

My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement. However, in a different vein from the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, I do not believe that NATO would look at the operation and would be surprised if the Americans have even considered committing their forces to Africa. This is a humanitarian disaster that needs prompt action. It is to be welcomed that this is the first EU-led operation outside Europe. On that basis, it would be almost unacceptable for British forces not to be involved in such an operation, even on such a small scale.

The numbers should be put in context. A small force is being sent out, but the case of Sierra Leone shows how a few British troops can make a significant difference.

One of our areas of concern is that the operation is moving between the two areas of peacekeeping and peacemaking. It seems that, in a tribal conflict, which is so anarchic, it will be very difficult to stick to an envisaged time frame. However, I am sure that the Bangladeshi troops that will make up the next UN contingent will do their best to bring the situation under control. It should be remembered that the Bangladeshi troops did remarkable work in Sierra Leone. Their professionalism is to be noted.

We welcome this decision. We understand the associated risks and dangers. Many Members of this House have often talked about the need for intervention in Africa, especially in the Great Lakes region, therefore it would be unacceptable for us not to take part. I do not believe that it will be a short-term commitment; however, it is one that we must make.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement) 3:41 pm, 12th June 2003

I am grateful to both noble Lords for their remarks and, in particular, their support for the Government's stance in what has not been an easy decision, given all the circumstances. We are convinced that we are right to do what we are doing.

The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, asked a number of questions and made several comments. He asked the reasonable question whether we could be more precise about numbers at this stage. Our current plans are for up to one Royal Engineers squadron. The noble Lord will know that that implies up to 100 men, but it could be fewer than that. The noble Lord will also know, better than I, from his experience, that neither the Government nor I want to be held to that precise figure. I am trying to help the House as best I can.

The noble Lord also asked what the mission was. I can do no better than to answer by quoting from Security Council Resolution 1484, which I referred to in the Statement. It authorises,

"the deployment until 1 September 2003"— the date is important—

"of an Interim Emergency Multinational Force in Bunia in close coordination with MONUC, in particular its contingent currently deployed in the town, to contribute to the stabilization of the security conditions and the improvement of the humanitarian situation in Bunia, to ensure the protection of the airport, the internally displaced persons in the camps in Bunia and, if the situation requires it, to contribute to the safety of the civilian population, United Nations personnel and the humanitarian presence in the town".

That seems to answer the question about the mission.

The noble Lord asked, fairly, why this was not a NATO-led operation. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, dealt well, if I may say so, with that point. NATO, if it had wished, could have taken on the operation. That did not happen. The ESDP enables the European Union to plan, and, where NATO as a whole is not engaged, conduct crisis-management operations. NATO as a whole is not engaged in the DRC, nor need it be. It has never been envisaged that NATO has refusal over national or ESDP operations.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, made a good point about the dangers involved in this enterprise. He will know that the United Nations has asked for the force to be set up under Chapter VII. That means that the rules of engagement will be more robust than the existing Chapter VI rules under which MONUC operates at present.

I would have hoped that the reason why the United Kingdom is taking part would be clear to this House and the country. Our Armed Forces are among the very best in the world and have demonstrated that they can undertake a wide variety of commitments anywhere in the world. Our extensive peacekeeping operational experience means that our Armed Forces will be able to make a unique and highly positive contribution to the force.

The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, is right that we have asked a huge amount of our Armed Forces and their families recently. We acknowledge and accept that. But we would not be sending even this small force if we did not think that it was manageable.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Convenor of the Crossbench Peers 3:45 pm, 12th June 2003

My Lords, bearing in mind that this is as yet a small force, what costs are likely to be involved and where will those costs fall? Will they be found from the Ministry of Defence's budget or will additional resources be made available to it?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, the overall cost of the contribution remains to be finally determined. All United Kingdom costs will be borne by the cross-departmental African conflict prevention fund. The UK, with other member states, will contribute to the costs of the deployed multinational force headquarters and what is described as common use infrastructure. We believe that that cost will be around £800,000 to £900,000. I hope that that answers the noble and gallant Lord's question.

Photo of Lord Biffen Lord Biffen Conservative

My Lords, the force being dispatched is relatively small in number. But, matched against the savagery of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it clearly indicates that we may be at the beginning of an increasingly difficult and fraught process. In those circumstances, I should like to enquire further about the rules of engagement. I realise that, naturally enough, there is reticence about discussing the rules of engagement. The Minister has indicated that one United Nations chapter has been chosen over another. Who will authorise the rules of engagement for the British forces? Can the Minister give us a little more assurance on that point in view of the base savagery of the conflict that is now developing?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. It is a dangerous situation in which we are sending our troops. But there will be troops from other countries there, too. I remind the House that the MONUC UN force is already in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and some of those troops are already in Ituri province. The numbers referred to in the Statement will be added to them.

I cannot say much more about the rules of engagement, save that it will be UK Ministers, on advice, who will set them out in detail. The rules of engagement will relate to Chapter VII rather than Chapter VI. I hope that it is some comfort to him, at least, that that means that they are a good deal more robust. Of course the protection of our own forces is paramount.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us breathed a great sigh of relief when we read that the EU force would be going to the eastern Congo? On the question of protocol, in this tragic situation, there is no more reason why it should be prima facie necessary for it to be a NATO force than it would be if Americans troops were doing something analogous in Guatemala or Colombia. Does my noble friend not agree that, given the extreme savagery in the eastern Congo—I echo the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Biffen—as the Prime Minister said a couple of years ago, we now have no alternative but to be involved in Europe? We cannot stand by on the other side of the road. So the rules of engagement are stronger than those of the UN, are they not? We will not allow ourselves to be in a situation such as Srebrenica. As the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, implied, this engagement will probably have to continue and we cannot on 1st September allow the Bangladeshis to enter only on the previous rules of engagement under an earlier chapter of the United Nations charter.

Finally, will my noble friend confirm that the whole of Europe—here, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Vivian—must pull its weight in such operations because given the way in which the world is developing there will be many more such operations?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, my noble friend will forgive me if I do not go down the road of comparing a NATO with an EU force. Both have their place. What we are doing is in absolute accordance with what has always been said about ESDP. What really matters is that the UN mandate comes from the UN to ensure that the international community will do something to relieve the situation in central Africa to help lead to a peaceful solution. Much good work has been done politically during the past months and years to try to restore the Democratic Republic of Congo to a better state. The important thing is that the force is sent in to try to contribute to that.

Photo of Lord Kilclooney Lord Kilclooney Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister stressed that this is a European Union force. Other than France and the United Kingdom, what real contribution has been made by each of the other 13 member nations of the European Union?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, it is too early to answer the noble Lord accurately—or at all. What is important is that other countries who are not members of the European Union may well also contribute to the force. It is not limited to EU members. Those who are willing to help in one way or another will be extremely welcome, from wherever they come.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that many of us are sad that, so frequently in recent years, we have regretted mass killing and genocide after it has happened and wished that effective action had been taken in time, and that analysis has often demonstrated that a relatively small intervention can have disproportionately positive results? Does he further accept that many of us will be wishing British servicemen and women involved all success? We shall be thinking of them and their families during a difficult and demanding assignment.

However, can he assure the House about one point? He emphasised that there is a United Nations mandate and that this is a European Union first effort, in terms of a European Union-led force. He has also spoken of the need for liaison with the United Nations. Can he make it absolutely clear that that is not only a United Nations mandate but that accountability remains to the Security Council, not to the European Union, for what is being undertaken and achieved?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his keen support of what we are doing. Of course this is a United Nations mandate and of course the United Nations will be ultimately responsible for ensuring that the mandate is carried out satisfactorily. The United Kingdom and other member states will exercise their political direction and strategic control, not from Paris, but from the EU Political and Security Committee, which consists of ambassadors from each of the member states. The operation commander will be answerable to that EU committee.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

My Lords, I have experience of how these things work for the UN in the Congo. I should like to get something clear. The Minister has reassured me by saying that, although the operational headquarters will be in Paris, the decisions will be made in Brussels, in the committee. However, I noticed that it is the Council of the EU that will authorise the rules of engagement. That is my first question.

My second question concerns the chain of command. Generally speaking, when things happen in a crisis such as the Congo, decisions need to be made. We cannot run a war by committee. In the past, if people rang up the UN after five o'clock in the evening, they were not answered. So it is necessary to know exactly where responsibility lies. The United Nations document states that they will be reporting to the Secretary General. This document says that they will be reporting to the EU. When it is an operational decision, where do commanders go?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I acknowledge the great experience of the noble Baroness in this troubled field over many years. I shall do my best to answer. On rules of engagement, as I understand it and am advised, British Ministers will in the end decide under what rules of engagement British soldiers behave. On the chain of command, it is right to say that there will be a French commander of the operation. It is suggested that, on the ground, there will be a British lieutenant-colonel in charge of the engineers to whom I referred, with a French brigadier above him.

As to where decisions will be made, the political decisions will be made in Brussels; the operational decisions will be made in Paris. But it is important to note that we shall also have British Army officers in Paris to advise and assist in the operational field.

Photo of Lord Mackie of Benshie Lord Mackie of Benshie Liberal Democrat

My Lords, can the Minister tell us more about Chapter VII? I understand that he prefers it to Chapter VI. Does it mean that the commander on the spot can, when appalling situations arise, take the decision to act with force?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I want to be cautious in what I say about that aspect. Chapter VII is much more concerned with peace enforcement than the rather less robust peacekeeping that applies under Chapter VI. I have no doubt that the commander on the ground will, when it comes to it, take the decisions necessary to allow those serving under him to protect themselves in the best way. The answer to the noble Lord's question is yes.

Photo of Viscount Slim Viscount Slim Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister may find it odd that I should question the number of the Royal Engineers. To say that it will be 100, even with up-to-date equipment and the versatility of the engineers, is not an accurate figure. In the Congo, at least a percentage of those engineers will have to be guarding those who are working when we get down to the basic practicalities. So 100 engineers will not be working on the many tasks.

The Minister may be surprised to hear me say this, but we require more engineers. That should be carefully considered. From the question posed by the noble Baroness, I sense that there are quite a lot of chiefs who are fairly well spaced out. Will they talk to each other after five o'clock or when the sun goes down? I should carefully consider the first operation of the European Union command structure because it affects the lives, security and safety of our troops.

The Minister may not agree with me, but I get a whiff that that is definitely a little cook-up between the President of France and the Prime Minister to make friends again. However serious the work required in the Congo—I agree with noble Lords who spoke for it—one wants to be clear about the political and operational aims. It is a tricky part of Africa, and I have some experience of it.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

I pay tribute to the noble Viscount's experience, but I must disagree with him when he suggests that there is a whiff of a cook-up between the leaders of Britain and France in order to make friends. There must be easier ways of making friends than by sending troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have always been friends with France. We disagreed fundamentally with the attitude the French took a few months ago on Iraq in the same way as we disagreed fundamentally even with certain Members of the House who took a different view, but we are still friends with them. The relationship between Britain and France is complex and long-standing, but it is a relationship of friends and allies. I hope that the noble Viscount will not maintain that it is some kind of cook-up.

We are doing this because we think that it is the right thing to do. The noble Viscount is right to point out that there are dangers inherent in it, as there are in any military matters. He will know that well. The EU force has already shown in Macedonia that it can operate sensibly and properly. The noble Viscount will know that too.

Photo of Lord Blaker Lord Blaker Conservative

My Lords, I understood the Minister to say that the terms of engagement for the British troops who will be part of the force are a matter for British Ministers to decide. However, there will be forces there from several nations. Will the terms of engagement for each be a matter for their own government? If so, will there not be many different terms of engagement? Is that really being contemplated?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, it is a Chapter VII operation, which gives a good clue as to what the rules of engagement will be for all those who are sent out, from whatever country. In the ultimate analysis, it will be for British Ministers to decide what the detailed rules of engagement should be for British troops. I do not think that, in the end, there will be much difference between the rules of engagement that apply for British troops and those that apply to those from other countries.

Photo of Lord Hardy of Wath Lord Hardy of Wath Labour

My Lords, would it not be unthinkable for the Government—or any other British government—to refuse such a request from the United Nations? Does my noble friend accept that there is anxiety among those of us who watched Europe call for military action in the former Yugoslavia and then refrain from finding soldiers with the combat capacity to effect those political wishes?

Will my noble friend, when it is convenient, provide a list of the numbers of personnel provided by each EU member state? We could assess whether the member states that have called so vigorously for the second pillar, while providing little capacity to give meaning to it, have been as good at bearing the load as they have been at looking for the loot?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, with regard to whether we would have no hesitation in reacting to such a request, I must caution my noble friend. We looked carefully to see whether it was appropriate for us to assist in this way. We rightly decided that we would do so.

If my noble friend is saying that the military capabilities of members of the EU are not what they ought to be and that several countries should make greater efforts to make sure that those capabilities come up to scratch, I would agree wholeheartedly. The two countries that, perhaps, have the best capability and spend the money necessary to obtain it are the United Kingdom and France.

Photo of Lord Monro of Langholm Lord Monro of Langholm Conservative

My Lords, can the Minister say more about the Royal Air Force commitment in this important operation? I think he mentioned a figure of 30 aircraft. Can he say how many personnel will be required to service the aircraft? Who will be responsible for their safety on the ground in the Congo?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I hope that I did not say 30 aircraft. I would have been misleading the House if I had. A number of CJ-130 transport aircraft will be used—not 30. They will be properly manned, but there will not be as many as 30.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench

My Lords, I strongly support the intervention. In fact, I would like to see a larger intervention by the European Union to back up what is already going on in the peace process, which the noble Lord mentioned. Can the Minister confirm that the African forces—mainly Ugandan and Rwandan—that have been in the region will still be onside and will commit their own forces in the future? We should bear it in mind that the neighbouring Kivu region is also unstable.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I know that the noble Earl has huge experience and knowledge of that part of Africa. The political situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the neighbouring countries is among the most complicated I have come across in my brief time at the Dispatch Box.

We expect that all other countries in the Great Lakes area will behave with responsibility and good sense in assisting the Democratic Republic of Congo to achieve successful government as soon as possible. That, of course, includes the two countries to which the noble Earl referred. In that regard I know that my noble friend the Secretary of State for International Development spoke this morning to the president of Rwanda about these matters.