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Chief, Defence Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

DAVID FROST:

Across the Atlantic President Bush is pressing ahead with plans for a new national missile defence system amid fears it could lead to greater nuclear proliferation by some. Here the face of the Armed Forces is changing, a new row is developing about whether women and people with disabilities should serve on the front line and so on, General Sir Charles Guthrie has been Chief of the Defence Staff for the last four years and this week he steps down, David Loyn reports.

[FILM CLIP]

DAVID FROST:

And Sir Charles is here now, Charles good morning.

CHARLES GUTHRIE:

Morning.

DAVID FROST:

Very good to have you with us, let's start with that Rapid Reaction Force and the fears about it and so on, on balance you're in favour of it?

CHARLES GUTHRIE:

Yes I am. Yes I am, but I think we're using the wrong terms, I don't call it a Rapid Reaction Force and I don't call it an Army which a lot of people do, what I do call it is a pool of forces from the European members of Nato which are there to strengthen Nato. I believe that Nato has been the most successful alliance we in the United Kingdom have ever belonged to, it worked in the Cold War, it worked in Kosovo and if we restructure it, right it's going to continue to work and we Europeans have to do more, at the moment we have two million people under arms, men and women, in Europe and when it comes to Kosovo we can only supply two per cent of those people to go there and an alliance which we have to rely on because of our very weakness cannot be right. And we have to face facts, if the Americans are going to be preoccupied in lots of things around the world which we don't want to get involved in and there'll be some things in Europe which they don't want to and I think they're going to do less, if we don't do more they're going to do much less and I talk to my opposite number, he wants to talk about Taiwan, he wants to talk about Korea, he wants to talk about Islamic Extremists, he also wants to talk about Europe. We can rely on the Americans, we must keep them really leading the Nato Alliance, we must do that because they are the key nation.

DAVID FROST:

But in terms of looking at, at the Rapid Reaction Force or the pool of talent or whatever we're calling it, or the European Army which has been discarded, I mean can you ever see that having a really fighting role?

CHARLES GUTHRIE:

Not in my lifetime I can't, quite honestly, the Europeans have nothing to be proud about about defence, if you look at the Americans they have 70 military dedicated satellites, the Europeans have only got six, I can go on and on about wide-bodied jets, the disparities we have between our forces, I don't think we will ever close the gap completely but I think we can do more which will be of great help to the Alliance. So therefore on balance the Chiefs of Staff think that his is in the defence and security interests of our country, it's not about being Euro-sceptical as far as we're concerned, it's not about being Europhile it's about what is right for our country.

DAVID FROST:

And there's obviously lots of disagreement on it still, I mean as we saw this week between Britain and France, I mean, we want it linked to Nato, France don't?

CHARLES GUTHRIE:

Well France certainly have a different view of what the United States influences in the world to what we do. We believe that this is there to support and strengthen Nato and if it doesn't do that we're not so interested.

DAVID FROST:

And in terms of the national missile defence, the new star wars as people say, do you have some doubt, some reservations about that, that it might be another Maginot Line?

CHARLES GUTHRIE:

Well I've just been to Washington, I've talked to a lot of Americans about this and they're going to do it, I feel absolutely sure they're going to do it. President Clinton was going to do it and President Bush said he's going to do it, President Bush hasn't made a decision yet about how he's actually going to do it but in America this is viewed as a moral issue that they should defend their people against rogue nations. What I think we have to do is to talk to the Americans like the rest of Europe has to talk to America and we have to make quite sure that the balance of destruction in the world is, is, is not made worse by this, I don't see why it should be and certain treaties, Dr Kissinger for instance who negotiated in 1972 Jabu treaty now is suggesting that that is out of date and we should do something different.

DAVID FROST:

And could we, could we include Russia, or could the Americans include Russia or, or most of the world in this shield?

CHARLES GUTHRIE:

Well that is something which

DAVID FROST:

To deal with that problem?

CHARLES GUTHRIE:

This is what their study is going to look at, one of the things we're going to look at and it might well be possible, and it might well be, we would be under an umbrella, it might well be we would be buying into the system but I have to tell you it's going to be an extremely expensive system for us to buy into and if we did buy into it what would we give up?

DAVID FROST:

What indeed, because money is terribly short, isn't it? In defence, I know you've recently had a rise but before that there was savage cuts and so on, I mean are we chronically under-funded in our armed forces at the moment, for instance could we mount another Falklands tomorrow?

CHARLES GUTHRIE:

I have no doubt we could mount another Falklands.

DAVID FROST:We could?

CHARLES GUTHRIE:

Tomorrow, and we could do it better because we've built an airfield there and we have more strategic ways of going and our forces are ready and quick to react more quickly than they were in those days. We are short of money, yes, we are very tight, we have a very tall programme, the government did reverse a trend of giving us less and less every year and actually we have a modest increase of growth now which is helpful. I would like to see us have more money because the Strategic Defence Review which we did two years ago was a great success but we have to fund it properly, it is funded but it's going to take quite a long time to get it and I'm impatient, I want to get on with it.

DAVID FROST:

And do you, do you feel that women should never be in the frontline, they're not now are they? But there are some training programmes at Warminster or something, but do you think they should be in the frontline?

CHARLES GUTHRIE:

Well my view about it is that there are an enormous amount of jobs which women are already able to do in the services, in the Army 70 per cent of the jobs are open to women, in the Navy 73, in the Royal Air Force 96, actually we've only got 8 per cent, I'd like to see more women in the armed forces but the Chief of Staffs have this job of making sure that our country has the best possible forces for when times are really bad, when people are being killed, when people are frightened and I wonder whether the country is really ready to see women killed. The first person out of the helicopter in Sierra Leone was shot dead, what effect would that have had in the operation, and our Chiefs of Staff myself, my job is not social engineering, my job is not just producing equal opportunities for the sake of it but I want as many equal opportunities as possible, my job is to produce the best forces possible.

DAVID FROST:

And what about the story, if you were the Commanding Officer of the lady who posed topless in the Sun on Friday, what, Lance Corporal Roberta Winterton, what would you as a CO do about that?

CHARLES GUTHRIE:

Well I'd ask her why, why she did it, I'd be quite interested to know what her answer, was it would rather depend on that and clearly it's nothing we would particularly encourage but I don't want to sort of pre-judge the case, let the Commanding Officer investigate it, and anyway there are other cases about a young girl who's gone absent with her boyfriend.

DAVID FROST:

Just been found by the News of the World?

CHARLES GUTHRIE:

Yes the News of the World have found her, I'm not quite sure whether they're going to tell the military where she is. But you know, we do employ healthy young people and from time to time these sort of things happen.

DAVID FROST:

And in fact when the Israelis tried having women on the frontline they said that the men behaved differently as well and such they became protective of a wounded woman rather than getting on with the fighting.

CHARLES GUTHRIE:

Yes and that's what I've always understood and certainly talking to my Israeli colleagues about that. One of the things, you know, there's a lot of talk about political correctness in the forces now I have to say that I've had four Secretaries of State, Malcolm Rifkind, Michael Portillo, George Robertson and my present Secretary of State Mr Hoon, I haven't been under any pressure about political correctness, in fact they've defended us when other people have been¿but I think people, they don't quite understand, a lot of people in our country, it's part of a real differences, they have no experience of defence and they think sometimes that being in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force is rather like going to the office, it's not, it's really dangerous sometimes, people put their lives on the line so really when you have to talk about individual human rights, well yes I'm all for people having individual rights but sometimes we in the services have to realise that the team we're working with is rather more important than we are.

DAVID FROST:

And in terms of one thing that's changed, I mean in terms of both on the issue of malaria and also depleted uranium, but malaria there's a lot of people threatening to sue now, people who were injured, now that is a quite new sort of culture of litigation isn't it? You couldn't imagine Douglas Bader suing or Guy Gibson suing, that's different isn't it?

CHARLES GUTHRIE:

Yes well I certainly feel that we have a real duty of care and making sure people are not disadvantaged by what we ask them to do, but I really do worry about litigation, now it hasn't happened yet but could we one day see a young officer in battle having to make a quick and courageous decision but getting it wrong and having somebody killed and then being sued for it, that is, you know a sort of doomsday situation, but I do worry about that sort of thing because our profession is about taking risks, about taking courageous decisions when times are really difficult and the friction of war is all around you, so we have to be very, very careful about going too far down this, down this route.

DAVID FROST:

We'll stop there for the news headlines Charles and we'll come back, where is he, there he is, the man himself.

[BREAK FOR NEWS]

DAVID FROST:

Thank you Darren, and thank you Charles, last time you were here was that dramatic morning of the breakthrough in Sierra Leone, your men are still there?

CHARLES GUTHRIE:

Yes they are, we are keeping our numbers up to about 500 until September by which time we will have trained the bulk of the Sierra Leone Army and we feel the democratic government of Sierra Leone needs to have its own security force and be able to look at, we don't want to stay there for any longer than we have to.

DAVID FROST:

Because in fact, I think you feel, don't you, that there ought to be a follow-up peace corps or something to take over from soldiers?

CHARLES GUTHRIE:

Well what we're training, International Military Advisory team the bulk of which will be British which will stay on, but you know as long as I've been in this job, the more I have realised how there are very few military solutions in the world and we have to involve all the civilian agencies, the police, the prison officers, the judges, the tax collectors and that's what we've got to do there.

DAVID FROST:

Charles thank you very much indeed, a happy retirement and I look forward to reading what your next new project is, that's all for this week, top of the morning, good morning.

END

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