Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 188 - 199)





  188.  Gentlemen, welcome. We are honoured that you have found time to visit us. Sir Michael, I hope your left arm is not an indication that the MoD have been trying to dissuade you from giving evidence to us.
  (General Sir Michael Rose)  A sports injury!

  189.  As you know, we are at a fairly advanced stage of producing a report which will be published prior to the Washington Summit and, because you all have had very extensive experience throughout the world in recent years in the former Yugoslavia, we thought it would be particularly appropriate for you to give us your expertise. One of the many issues being discussed in the NATO capitals and in Brussels and Mons is Article 5 of the Washington Treaty and whether that will survive in that form, whether NATO can operate more outside Article 5 conditions, and that is something on which we would seek to elicit information from you. Again, because of your experience in the former Yugoslavia, we would welcome your comments on what is happening in Kosovo and whether one can extrapolate the experience you have gained in Bosnia to the crisis in Kosovo. There are some questions which it will not be incumbent upon you all to answer if you do not wish to answer, so please do not think we are expecting everyone to answer every question. What do you believe are the particular challenges of peace support operations from, first, a military and, secondly, a political perspective?
  (General Sir Michael Rose)  I think the challenges are to ensure that the mandate that originally gets given to the organisation, whether it be a regional power like NATO or whether it be the United Nations "come-as-you-are" party, which is what I call it, spells out the limitations of a peace support operation as well as the aspirations of the international community for that particular operation. The limitations in my view are very clear. Peacekeeping forces cannot act in the same way that an army of occupation can act. It cannot pursue war-fighting goals, it cannot deliver just solutions, it cannot punish aggressors, it cannot defend territory, it cannot enforce passage of convoys everywhere all the time, it cannot stop ethnic cleansing. What it can do by its presence is first of all alleviate the suffering because of course it will inevitably be involved in humanitarian aid in the sort of situation one finds in Bosnia or in Rwanda or in Kosovo. It will also by its presence ultimately create the conditions in which there can be some peaceful settlement of the problem. The difficulty that I see with some of NATO's utterances over Kosovo is that they are confusing what can be done by a war-fighting force with what can be done by a peacekeeping force, and there are great dangers in that. We cross the Mogadishu line and we end up in the situation in which we found ourselves in Somalia.

  190.  What difficulties would you have encountered with your experience in Bosnia in terms of the mandate you were given?
  (General Sir Michael Rose)  The mandate is bound to change all the time. The United Nations responds to crises as they develop. The United Nations Security Council resolutions relating to Bosnia started at about 740 I think it was. By the time I got there we were up in the 900s and many of them were conflicting. My predecessor resigned from the job because he said he could not get a clear idea as to what the mission was supposed to be. I had a different view in that, having culled through all those United Nations Security Council resolutions, it was quite clear to me that the primary role of the United Nations' protection force in Bosnia, not in Croatia but in Bosnia, was to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. The secondary role was to try and create those conditions in which there could be a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and the underwritten third element within the mission was to prevent the conflict from spreading. It was ensuring that we never moved outside those three elements of the mission that proved the greatest challenge because of course NATO, largely driven by American politics, was pursuing another mandate, which was not impartial; it was pursuing war fighting goals and trying to get the United Nations to do it for them on the ground, although they provided the air power. It was to stop that happening, which of course would have caused a collapse of the UN mission, which was the great challenge I faced, and in the end we succeeded. We persuaded the Americans that had they forced the United Nations into using higher levels of force than were appropriate or pursuing war fighting goals, then half the troop-providing nations would have withdrawn their troops because they would have been put at risk by that. The state of Bosnia would have been severely threatened because of course people forget that the Serb army were extremely powerful in 1993 or 1994 and were within a hundred metres or so of the presidential palace, and "lift and strike" would not have helped the state of Bosnia or the people of Bosnia, and the American troops would ultimately have had to come on the ground to secure the state and we would have got into a terrible situation of confrontation. In the end we succeeded in persuading them, mainly Richard Holbrooke, of the logic.
  (Professor Thornberry)  I agree what Sir Michael Rose has said. I think I would also, in looking at the question of the especial challenge of peace support operations from a political standpoint, look on the one hand at UN supported operations or the UN created operations in NATO and other regional organisational operations. I think there are a number of factors which can be significantly different. If I can address first of all the question of UN operations, about which perhaps I know more than about NATO operations, I agree with General Rose in his reference to the need for an agreement at the mandating level, in other words at the Security Council level. Although agreement has been easier to acquire in the Security Council over the last five or six years than it was in the previous 45 or so, that agreement has not always been capable of being translated into operations on the ground. I think there has to be a clear mandate and again, to refer to the incident involving General Briquemont, the Belgian general who preceded Sir Michael, he actually said to a press briefing, which was a fairly strong thing for a general to do, that he did not even bother to read Security Council resolutions any longer because they were so frequent, so inconsistent and so lengthy, which tends to be a sign of lack of agreement in any event. In Yugoslavia we rarely had a clear mandate and there were various other problems as well about those mandates which one could go into later if the Committee so sought. Another point I would like to emphasise is the absolute necessity for a peacekeeping or peace support force to have the continuing backing of the mandating authority. If I may give an example of that, I was in Namibia which was regarded at the time and since I think as having been one of the most successful of UN operations. It was not only successful because of the enormous virtue and ability of those running it, but it was very successful because we had continuous backing from the governments in question. My boss, Marti Abtasari, and I habitually would find on a Monday morning for example that we had the de facto ambassadors of the UK and the US and possibly the then USSR waiting on our doorstep saying, "We hear you have been having nasty trouble with the South Africans. Is there any little thing you would like us to do about it?" We would say, "Yes, please go to Pretoria and put on your boots." That was standard practice. We had continuous backing when something went wrong. The governments which had brought about the operation gave us their support because the UN on its own is not an effective channel for pressure unless it has that backing. In contrast, during the two years that I was in Yugoslavia, I cannot really remember any such instance in which I was visited by the ambassadors, whether of the European Union or of the United States, other than to complain perhaps about some of our troops having got drunk the previous night. It was a dramatic contrast in these two specific missions. I will leave that at this point, except for this, if I may. I would like to plug at this point the necessity for co-ordination on the ground, and I think this is a political issue, it is also an operational issue, and I am sure we will come back to it. I know that Sir Michael has written extensively about this and I personally, having done four or five operations in different parts of the world, am quite obsessive about it, but it does have a political base.

  191.  Please do not feel constrained, Sir Michael, from mentioning your truly excellent book, publisher and price, and we will happily hold up a copy to the television camera if you take me out for lunch afterwards! General Cordy-Simpson?
  (General Sir Roderick Cordy-Simpson)  I have not got much to add. We must start at the mandate. When I went into Bosnia in 1992 we had a very woolly mandate. From that inevitably one of two things happen. You either get into mission creep, which politically will cause problems elsewhere, or you get into mission paralysis, which is the other danger. No one will do anything because they are terrified of stepping over a very imprecise mandate because it has not been clearly spelt out. Politicians in the various nations of the contributing forces will interpret the mandate in different ways. That is what definitely happened in the very earliest days when I was there and Cedric was up in Zagreb. We were getting different directives from our national capitals which meant that Philippe Morrillon, the commander on the ground, was getting each nation interpreting it their own way on how he should employ their forces. There was a series of alternative chains of command. Some wanted mission creep; some wanted mission paralysis as much as they could. From a straight military point of view I think that the mandate should if possible identify what could be called a measure of success, and therefore what is your exit strategy and what are you trying to get to. Again I know it was not there in those early days. From that you can get your force structure right because again you do not just send troops in. I do not know but I have always been confused as to how the forces that arrived in 1992 with me ended up with one Orthodox battalion, one Roman Catholic battalion and one Muslim battalion. I do not know what went on in New York but it was clearly not the right force structure for what we were trying to achieve there. The final point I would make, because there are many that will come up in subsequent questions, is that the political/military interface is of great importance and, to be honest with you, it was not there in the early days. I say this with Cedric sitting on my right. We were getting so many different directives coming out of New York when they happened to be at work, because of course in those days they did not even man the duty desk 24 hours a day. I remember classically the safe areas issue. We had not been consulted in any form, shape or size about the safe areas when we were told that five towns were to become safe areas. When I managed to get a fax back saying, "What do you mean by a safe area? Does it mean out of artillery range or out of rifle range?", because it does make a difference of about 30 kilometres in distance, I could not get an answer because of course you could then determine the size of force structures. The political/military interface has got to be fully there so you do not get things that are unimplementable on the ground.

  192.  Was the confusion that made your task difficult the result of too many organisations involved, naivety, stupidity? Were there any ways in which it was feasible for you to have been given more precise instructions?
  (General Sir Michael Rose)  I think it was more than just confusion, naivety, stupidity. There were very firm political agendas being pursued by different elements within the international community and it did make it very difficult for the United Nations who, after all, are only the servants of the international community, to come up with a clear definition. If you take the example of the safe areas, 836 was originally designed to defend and protect and the United Nations Secretariat spent a lot of time with the sponsors of that resolution explaining to them that peacekeeping forces cannot protect or defend. The best they can do is by their presence deter attacks against and report when there are attacks, and a safe area depends on respect for that area from both sides in the conflict. They did finally get that through and the wording in 836 is very specific. But no-one ever reads 836. The propaganda machines of different elements around the world went into action to persuade the world that the United Nations' troops had a duty to defend or protect, which they never did. Today we still get criticisms of the Dutch for not standing and fighting when the Bosnian Army turned and ran.

  193.  Yesterday I met a Dutch politician who said their Defence Committee has been obsessed for the last couple of years with the whole issue of Srebrenica. Any topic somehow turns to that issue.
  (General Sir Michael Rose)  They were traumatised.
  (Professor Thornberry)  Might I add this. I think that Roddy Cordy-Simpson had a very bad experience in those early months in 1992 when UNPROFOR, which had been created initially to deal with Croatia, began getting mandates of a humanitarian kind in regard to Bosnia. What happened then was in my experience quite unprecedented in UN practice. It was arranged that a detachment from NATO, a unit with I think a NATO headquarters, should be moved bodily from western Europe and placed in Bosnia to support, as I remember, the Canadians, Lou Mackenzie and his guys, who were implementing the agreement on Sarajevo airport, the humanitarian mandate. There was a great deal of confusion in regard to this and there was even a certain amount of disagreement between the western governments and the Secretary-General of the United Nations as to how that detachment should be put together, what level of consultation there should be, how it should be financially and logistically supported, and so on. The outcome of this was, and I remember quite vividly such an incident taking place, that round about September 1992 at the end of the afternoon I was sitting with my force commander, who was an Indian three star from Namibia, and our chief of operations, a Danish brigadier-general, watching CNN, which was carrying live film of landings which the commentator asserted were by NATO forces on the coast of Croatia and these battalions who were coming in and who were apparently making unopposed amphibious landings, were coming in to be placed under the mandate of the UN's force commander and UNPROFOR. The thing was, we knew nothing about this. I remember my force commander saying, "Cedric, did anybody write to you about this?" I had to say, "Not really." Roddy Cordy-Simpson may remember that during the first six months of the UNPROFOR in Bosnia, it was not a force under UN command. It was a very delicate process of melding these two forces which, for one reason or another, at high level outside the country, had not been co-ordinated in the first instance. It was quite unique in my experience.
  (General Sir Roderick Cordy-Simpson)  I think though that we will have to acknowledge the fact that had we not taken a NATO headquarters, (it was the Northern Army Group Headquarters), I do not think we would ever have managed to get into Sarajevo and Bosnia at all. I was lucky. I was the chief operations commander in the army group at the time and I was told to pick up the headquarters and move it down there because after the demise of the Warsaw Pact we were available. We were therefore able to pick up headquarters, we were able to move it straight in at very short notice, and all I had to do was effectively leave behind my Germans who could not come with me, but all the rest, my Belgians, Dutch and Brits, came with me. I have to say even my four Americans came with me although the Americans never knew that I had four Americans in Sarajevo at the time. Then I filled it up with Spanish and French and Canadians when I got down there. If we had not had a structure I think we would never have achieved that, because it was on 18 September that I was warned and we were there by the 5 October; it was an ad hoc business.
  (Professor Thornberry)  I do not doubt that all.
  (General Sir Roderick Cordy-Simpson)  I think there are some great advantages in taking a formed NATO headquarters.
  (Professor Thornberry)  I agree.
  (General Sir Roderick Cordy-Simpson)  Of course we were still getting orders from two different directions. I was not aware that those two different directions were coming. After we were on the ground I never got a single order from NATO subsequently. I only got them from the UN. I never ever got NATO interference at any stage in those six months that I was there.

Mr Hancock

  194.  I am interested in what lessons have been learned because obviously you yourself, General, have written to suggest that when you have two mandates it can be a problem, but if you have a dual key and somebody takes control of it, it can be overcome. There were obviously pretty significant problems there, where the mandates were conflicting, where the soldiers on the ground were put in pretty difficult positions, as the Dutch were and as the Belgians obviously were. What lessons have been learned and is part of the problem the lack of real military knowledge in New York when the mandate is put together, because when we visited from the NAA to New York last year, one of the criticisms that came back to us was the lack of real support at the top in the UN of a military nature. They had one general there, a Dutch marine, who was extremely good at presenting his case, but I think he would have been the first to admit that he was a failure in the sense that it was he alone who was giving military advice to people who were then producing political mandates which could not be delivered on the ground.
  (General Sir Michael Rose)  The lesson that comes out of it is very clear, and that is that if you are dealing with complex emergency situations under Chapter VII arrangements, it is far better to use a coherent military organisation such as NATO to deploy into that theatre of operations, and the United Nations is far better suited for the old style Chapter VI, where it can deal better with civilian communities and civil reconstruction. The tragedy for Bosnia of course is that NATO did not see it as part of its role in 1991 when it wrote its new strategic guidelines to get involved in peace support operations beyond the border of its member states. Today of course the situation is very different, so I think that lesson has been learned. I think if one had a similar situation, and one may find it in Kosovo, it is obviously far better to deploy NATO with its common doctrine, common command and control, high technology capability, into that theatre of operations with all the limitations of any peacekeeping. Because it is militarily strong it does not mean to say it can use higher levels of force necessarily than UNPROFOR do, but nevertheless it is far more effective in a Chapter VII situation than the UN would be.

  195.  In administrative terms are the UN prepared to give up their involvement to NATO in those situations?
  (General Sir Michael Rose)  Tacitly I think that has happened.
  (Professor Thornberry)  I am not quite sure that it necessarily follows from the Bosnian experience that the UN is not capable of carrying out a Chapter VII operation. I think that there are indeed a number of lessons to be drawn from the Bosnian experience and I believe that the UN has actually learned a number of these. Certainly NATO has learned them. One of these is the danger that both my distinguished colleagues have referred to of the peacekeeping force on the ground being given an enforcement role when they have neither the resources nor the deployment, nor the political backing to conduct such an operation. I believe that IFOR and SFOR have certainly learned that lesson and I think the UN has learned it as well. May I also add that in looking at the United Nations effectiveness under today's conditions one has to remember that the UN is really walking on the very edge of bankruptcy on a continuous basis at the moment because of the withholding of contributions, mainly though not exclusively by the United States. It is virtually impossible for the Secretary-General to plan or to run any kind of operation at the moment. Governments are beginning to be very reluctant to commit soldiers to UN command because they know that at the moment there are no funds with which to pay it. The UN is having to raid its peacekeeping budget in order to manage to maintain the utilities. I think there are quite special circumstances at the moment which inhibit the UN as well.

Ms Taylor

  196.  What we are talking about is very serious. All three of you have made a statement that in different ways there is a disjuncture between governments and governing forces and possibly even the will to define appropriate military action. That is a very serious statement for all of us to try and get our heads around. None of you has actually identified something which I thought was quite crucial in Yugoslavia and Bosnia, and that was the nature of the conflict. Most people were unprepared to know whether they were defining the nature of the conflict appropriately or accurately, and certainly soon enough. There was very clearly in Britain a sense of disbelief that this was happening on our doorstep and people were actually trying to get their minds around what extent of conflict, how great a conflict, how quickly could we in any way cope with peacekeeping. Surely it is not just that we are talking about deployment of forces or appropriateness. It is actually having the intelligence to define what is the nature of this conflict and how long? Your statement there, and it was a very quick one about defining exit strategies, was such an appropriate statement because once we have defined how we get out we know why we are going in. Surely that is very much more than the most profound way of approaching any conflict. Most particularly we look back on our own. This is not going to be the last, sadly. This is going to be one of many more, I am convinced about that. I would appreciate it if you would look at the way in which intelligence informs government but informs governments in ways which they understand, not in ways the military understand. There is a very clear need here to communicate very much more effectively.
  (General Sir Roderick Cordy-Simpson)  I agree with you totally in what you have just said, but the facts are that we were totally unprepared, and we should not have been, for what happened in the Balkans. We did not understand the nature of the conflict when we went in. We went in, dare I say it, in reaction to some of those ITN pictures of the concentration camp and "something must be done" attitude. I remember one of the briefing packs that I was sent by the Foreign Office in those three weeks as I went up to headquarters, which did tell me while I was in Yugoslavia—I can remember it quite clearly—what flora and fauna I would find, that lead-free petrol would be difficult to find (there was not a single petrol station that had not been blown up by the time we got there), what type of money would be used not that there was a bank because they had all been raided by then. To be honest, we were living in the Dark Ages. We had militarily no intelligence virtually, and certainly at the strategic level I do not think the nation had much true understanding of the nature of the conflict. I do not know at what stage we should have begun to understand it, probably in the early stages of the Croatian/Serb war that started at Vukovar or subsequently, I do not know, but we did not understand the conflict when we deployed. Certainly bigger players on the scene did not understand it because to most there were just good guys and bad guys, particularly in America, and that is why I do not think we ever had a consensus of clear reason for going in and therefore what we defined as success for an exit strategy.

Mr Colvin

  197.  It is interesting that all three witnesses, in answer to your original question, have homed in on the question of the mandate. I wondered if they would reflect on the UN Charter and say whether they feel that we ought to revisit the Charter in the light of events post-1989, or whether it is always reasonable to have the fallback of a United Nations Security Council resolution. You can take military action with the authority of the Charter without having to have a resolution. Should we revisit the Charter in the light perhaps of Boutros Boutros-Ghali's Agenda for Peace? Does it need to be rewritten?
  (Professor Thornberry)  Might I add something to my colleague's previous answer, and perhaps I might briefly attempt to address your question. I am really not sure that the problem with defining our purposes in Bosnia or indeed in any other mission that I have participated in relates to a failure of intelligence. I think that either before we have gone in or while we are there and are beginning to report back there has tended to be fairly high quality analysis and the situation which has been described I have found, going in usually as the chief political representative of the UN, is fairly accurate. I do not think that the problem has been that. Habitually again, in Yugoslavia, and in this case it was in Croatia in regard to the Krajina situation which we have not alluded to yet, although we repeatedly informed the people back home what was going on, the situation and what we saw as the dangers, that information was being fed into the Security Council in its private consultations, but was not being taken into consideration because at that stage there was a demonisation of the Serbs and it was impossible for the Security Council to look at any broader aspect. My feeling is that it has very often been not a lack of intelligence, whether military or political intelligence, going back to those who create or shape or change or develop the mandate. Rather it has been other political factors which sometimes, dare I say it, relate to the desire of the Security Council to take a particular posture with regard to governments in that location. The other point, if I may make an attempt to answer your question, sir, is that I think there are a number of aspects of Charter revision which should be looked at, in particular for example the membership of the Security Council, which is an undertaking that has been going on for some time without too much success. I personally feel that the principle of the Charter of the United Nations, which is that there shall be no resort to force other than in self-defence and other than in implementation of a Security Council mandate with, I might add, the explicit authority of the Security Council, is a good foundation upon which we can go into the next millennium. I feel that if anything one needs to revisit and refresh those provisions rather than revise them.
  (General Sir Michael Rose)  I would absolutely agree with that point of view. Just picking up one point about exit strategies, although you can define a conflict, and I think there was a lot of understanding as to what was going to happen in the Balkans, I mean, President Izetbegovic in 1992 predicted what would happen and asked for preventative deployment by NATO, and I think had they deployed that would have allowed the JMA to withdraw without creating civil war in Bosnia, but of course his request was turned down. In these situations where deep-rooted rivalries and nationalism, ethnic differences and so on emerge, the talk of an exit strategy is unwise. When people ask me what would happen after SFOR, I say S5, S6, S7, keep counting. You cannot solve in a thousand days things which have taken a thousand years in gestation. The idea of an exit strategy is tremendous for something like the expulsion of the Iraqi troops from Kuwait, but in these complex situations it has no meaning at all, and I think the Americans have come to understand that.

  198.  In the light of NATO's new strategic concept, which is going to be debated in Washington, do you think there are any broad parameters which ought to be set? Could one say that there are certain sorts of crisis that NATO should never become involved in and there are others where NATO very much should be involved? In answering that question perhaps you could also comment on the suggestion that, given the inefficiencies of multinational operating, the problems of having no clear enemy, and the absence of clear military goals, which can obviously result from UN Security Council resolutions, that we should be very cautious about deploying the military to resolve political crises in places like Kosovo? You can answer that one obviously with the benefit of hindsight. To pick up on Namibia, we did not do anything about Namibia because everybody knew what the political outcome was going to be, so it was a great deal easier. In the Balkans it is far from clear.
  (General Sir Michael Rose)  There obviously is a limit to what NATO can do. It cannot be the world's policeman. There are some situations which do not lend themselves to a resolution peacekeeping means. We should not try to do that. There are better places to invest your peacekeeping efforts. I do think that the current programme for example of giving the OAU, which is being run by the Americans, the Danes and ourselves, their own peacekeeping capability and understanding the doctrines, the limitations, the technology that is required and so on, and the training, is a very useful thing indeed. It is far better to use NATO in its own theatre if you like in Europe and use the Africans in Africa than to try and say that NATO has some sort of magic which we can deploy anywhere in the world. The difficulty is that we are in an imbalance at the moment, that NATO really is the only organisation which has the capability and when one is faced with these horrendous situations in Africa one gets the urge to do something. Going to Kosovo, I think NATO has made a very prudent and sensible start which indeed reflects many of the lessons we have been talking about: the appointment of verifiers to see exactly what is going on with some loose political agreement is a start. My own view is that the next step if the war does break out again or there is more ethnic cleansing by the Serbs is to deploy NATO in a preventative role along the borders of Kosovo and Albania. People forget that there was preventative deployment of troops into Macedonia in 1993 and the war never spread into Macedonia. The Serbs once tried to cross the line into Macedonia but were seen off by those UN troops and it has been highly successful. The deployment of troops along the border between Albania and Kosovo, which is only just over a hundred kilometres long, would have two effects in my view. Political signals first of all would be sent to the KLA that we were going to exercise some control over them, and secondly, it would send a message to Milosevic saying, "If you do not abide by the agreements that we are about to achieve then we will do a train and equip programme for the KLA in the same way that we did for the Croatian Army and look what happened to your Krajinas." I would not stick them in straight away. I think you would be a hostage to fortune. Kosovo would be the next step beyond that.


  199.  Especially where one or two of the parties resented the intrusion.
  (General Sir Michael Rose)  Peacekeepers always end up getting shot at by all sides. The next step in the escalator would be a preventative deployment on the border and then only after that would there be any air strikes and possibly deployment on the ground, but then you are talking about an army of occupation and a war.

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