Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 356 - 379)




  356.  Secretary of State, thank you very much for coming. I know it has been a terribly worrying time for you. These are very grave times in which we are living. It is unfortunate that, because of the juxtaposition of the continuing crisis in Kosovo and the problem that we were going to spend most of our time on Bishopton, with regret I will say to our colleagues from Bishopton that we do not think it would be appropriate to deal with the problem of Bishopton in what remained of the time after dealing with Kosovo, so I extend my profound apologies to them, especially those who have travelled all the way from Scotland and Bristol to attend. I have spoken to Mr Dromey who fully concurs with the decision that we have made. People from Royal Ordnance know better than anybody the importance of the problems of dealing with external crises and I appreciate, Mr Dromey's decision on this. Again, profuse apologies. Could I welcome you, Secretary of State, in these difficult circumstances. What I propose to do with your permission is to spend at least an hour on the question of Kosovo and then we will leave you to get on with dealing with the problems at hand. Would you like to make an opening statement?
  (Mr Robertson)  Thank you, Chairman. I appreciate that and I too apologise to those who were and are interested in the future of Royal Ordnance at Bishopton. I asked to come here because I want to get that issue clarified and I am not reneging from that. I hope to have the opportunity of coming to you before you come to your conclusion on that subject, but this is one of the gravest days that we and our NATO colleagues face. I am happy to be in front of the Committee today because I think it gives an additional opportunity, on top of the Prime Minister's statement yesterday and cross-examination to the House, to get what information I can prudently give to the House at this time. In addition to that of course there is coincidentally tomorrow a debate in the House on defence, the Armed Forces in the world, which will again provide an opportunity for the House of Commons in plenary session to discuss that. I will be opening that debate. There are opportunities but the Defence Select Committee is by far the most appropriate body here for going over some of these details in as much as we can give them. I am accompanied here by Rear Admiral Simon Moore, who is the Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Operations), and Chris Holtby, who is from the Ministry of Defence's Balkan Secretariat. Given that we are here at short notice, I hope that we can help you with what information you need. I will say a few words in introduction to provide some further detail on what the Prime Minister said yesterday in the House. As this Committee will already know, last October NATO threatened to use force to secure an agreement from Serbia to a cease fire and an end to the repression that was then taking place in Kosovo. At that time diplomatic efforts, backed up by the threat of NATO military action, led to the creation of the OSCE's Kosovo Verification Mission. The establishment of that mission enabled tens of thousands of Kosovars to return to their homes. We have said to them and to President Milosevic that we would not tolerate the brutal suppression of the civilian population and we must continue to honour that promise to the thousands of innocent civilians who only wish to have an opportunity to live in peace. At that time Milosevic gave an undertaking to the United States envoy, Richard Holbrooke, that he would withdraw Serb forces so that their numbers returned to the level before February 1998. That is roughly 10,000 internal security and 12,000 Yugoslav Army troops. He has not fulfilled that commitment. Indeed, we believe that the numbers have increased and that there are now some 16,000 internal security forces and 20,000 Yugoslav Army troops in Kosovo with a further 8,000 army reinforcements poised just over the border. On the 30 January this year (just a few weeks ago) NATO warned President Milosevic that it would act in order to avert a humanitarian catastrophe which was likely (and still remains likely) if he failed to come into compliance with the October agreements if the repression was continued and if there was no peace agreement. Despite the intense diplomatic efforts which we have all seen he has so far failed to meet any of these requirements. The NATO position is absolutely clear. Our overall political objectives remain to help achieve a peaceful solution to the crisis by contributing to the response of the whole international community. More particularly, NATO made it clear in a statement of the 30 January that its strategy is to curb the violence and support the completion of negotiations on an interim political settlement. That remains our aim but President Milosevic has failed to respond to the most intense diplomatic efforts and the time has now come for NATO to act. Our military objective—our clear, simple, military objective—will be to reduce the Serbs' capability to repress the Albanian population and thus to avert a humanitarian disaster. Military action has the agreement of all 19 NATO nations and to achieve the military objective NATO has available some 200 fast jet aircraft. The United Kingdom has eight Harrier GR7 aircraft equipped with Paveway laser guided bombs. In addition, the United Kingdom is currently providing one air to air refuelling tanker which will support all NATO aircraft and provide a significant multiplier to the NATO force package. At sea we have one of the most potent of weapons available to NATO. HMS Splendid, which is equipped with Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles, is in the area and available for operations. The United Kingdom Tomahawk land attack missile is the conventionally armed, submarine launch missile with a range in excess of 1,000 nautical miles. This Committee will already be familiar with the capability of this weapon system from its operations in the Gulf. In addition, HMS Iron Duke and HMS Somerset are in the Adriatic along with NATO vessels from Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and the United States and a French task force. On the ground there are forces from six NATO nations already in Macedonia: the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, the United States and Norway, but these will not deploy to Kosovo without the consent of both parties following the acceptance of a peace deal. In all some 13,000 troops are immediately available. While at this stage I would not wish to speculate on what elements may be involved in any initial military actions, I would like to stress that whatever action is taken, that action is taken on behalf of all NATO allies with the aim—the clear and, I believe, justified aim—of averting a humanitarian disaster.

  357.  Thank you very much. I thought whilst you were making your statement that we could divide the areas of questioning into discrete sections, but I reached the conclusion that we that would be totally impossible so I am afraid, Secretary of State, that you are going to have to face questions moving swiftly from one area of your responsibility to another. The long build-up whilst negotiations have been proceeding turned out to be a fruitless effort on our part but has given us the opportunity of building up sufficient forces for whatever military and political strategy is going to unfold probably over the next few days. Are you satisfied, Secretary of State, that we have sufficient forces in situ to meet all of the potential actions that Milosevic might take? It seems to me that ground forces are rather limited in number, particularly in the light of the size of the Yugoslav National Army forces. Are you confident that they will at least be able to defend themselves should there be any of his getting his retaliation in first either by moving into Macedonia or moving into Bosnia, with a lot of ammunition stored in Bosnia? Are you satisfied that we have sufficient forces at our disposal to meet that wide range of possible contingencies?
  (Mr Robertson)  Yes, I am. I would have had to be before we embarked upon anything like this. Many members of this Committee, indeed the whole Committee, know Lieutenant General Sir Mike Jackson who is the Commander of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, and I of course take his judgement on these matters. He is some 20 miles away from the Kosovo border and he is satisfied that force protection is maintained. Can I make the point that if the Yugoslav Serbian forces attack NATO troops that are in Macedonia or in Bosnia, they will be attacking people who are engaged in peacekeeping operations and who represent no threat to him. It would therefore be a gross violation of international law to do so and would lead to an immediate and considerable response and in self-defence from us.

  358.  Are you satisfied that our air force contribution is sufficient?
  (Mr Robertson)  Yes. We have supplied to SACEUR what SACEUR required from this country. The force configuration is a matter of the judgement of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe and we have supplied what he required from us. To go into what our capability is and what his objectives are would be to disclose operational information. It sounds like a small component of the total number of planes that are there, but they have got the particular qualifications that SACEUR wanted as part of that package and they have to be seen in terms of the overall package there as well. In addition, within the last brief period we were able to add HMS Splendid to what is available to SACEUR in the circumstances that he might decide they could be useful.

  359.  And we would have the ability, I presume, to increase our number of aircraft swiftly should occasion merit it?
  (Mr Robertson)  SACEUR is in command. We are in a situation that is virtually unprecedented. There is a similarity to Bosnia when an activation order was passed, but the Secretary-General of NATO last night passed over the activation order to SACEUR and SACEUR therefore request what we have. We have clearly got other commitments which are something that applies to us and not necessarily to everybody else, but we are capable of supplying what he believes is necessary and it is a decisive contribution to the force that is there should it be necessary for that force to be used.

  360.  Would you have at your disposal the number of aircraft that other allies are contributing, or is that classified?
  (Mr Robertson)  We are contributing what we need to contribute. They have particular characteristics in terms of the precision guided weapons that are on board which have been seen in action recently and which have proved their capability. It is precisely the number that SACEUR wanted from the United Kingdom. There will be planes from 13 air forces in the air as and when SACEUR makes the decision to deploy them if diplomacy has completely failed. It is worth making the point to the Committee today, and to anybody else who might be listening in the outside world, that at any point President Milosevic can stop the violence, can go back to the levels that he promised to keep to, or the levels of forces that he promised last October, and he can sign up to the Rambouillet agreement which is an agreement that will safeguard the positions of the Serbian Kosovars and indeed the long term future of his country.

  361.  I presume that at the last minute, should he be prepared to do so, he would have to come up with something serious and not simply delaying what appears now to be the inevitable.
  (Mr Robertson)  Absolutely. We are only interested in him being serious about stopping the violence. That is the criterion. There is a lot of loose talk around in some parts of the media, although I have to compliment our own media for a very balanced coverage of what are ominous circumstances. Talk about our bombing Serbia is loose and inaccurate. The targets will be military targets exclusively. The military objective is precise and clear and that is to diminish the ability of the Serbian forces to continue with the violence against the civilian population that they have bene involved in.

Mr Colvin

  362.  Secretary of State, the media have also been critical about the legal basis for the use of force. At the moment that rests on United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1160 and 1199 which are under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which covers action in respect of threats to the peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression. I should have thought that was enough, but could you reassure the Committee that you do not feel that any further Security Council Resolution is required in order perhaps to give a more unambiguous authority for all necessary means to be used to deal with the present situation?
  (Mr Robertson)  No, we do not think it is necessary. We think that there is a sufficient authority in existing Security Council Resolutions and indeed the use of force in international law can be justified as an exceptional measure to prevent an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. Since it is commonly agreed that that is what we are facing there is no doubt about the legality of the operation we are involved in. Speaking as I do on behalf of the United Kingdom and as Chairman of the Defence Council, I have a particular personal responsibility in this regard which would turn into a legal one if it came to it. I am satisfied that the Resolutions lay down very clear demands, especially Resolution 1199, which, as well as the exceptional circumstances, give us an absolute legal base.

  363.  You have referred to the humanitarian problem, but are our soldiers on the ground going to be equipped and trained for dealing with the refugee problem? That is going to be severe and is likely to increase maybe as a result of air strikes. We are going to get more refugees fleeing the country, are we not?
  (Mr Robertson)  The refugee crisis will undoubtedly grow. It is already quite significant. It is estimated that 20,000 people inside Kosovo have been displaced since last Sunday, since the breakdown of the negotiations. That is growing with every day that passes, with every bombardment that takes place. The number of those displaced in Kosovo alone inside the country and into the outside world is now 420,000. That is 20 per cent of the population there. These population movements are considerable. I was in Macedonia three weeks ago. At that time the number of refugees coming across the border was very small and they were actually being accommodated by the Macedonian people in an amazing act of hospitality to their brethren across the border, but that is now turning into a very significant tide. If violence at the present level by the Serbs were to continue that would certainly turn into a very large number. Yesterday I was with Mr Akis Tsohatzopoulos, the Defence Minister of Greece, who was paying a visit to me in this country. The Greeks already are host to a very large number of refugees from Kosovo and fear very significant increases in those numbers. Into Albania, into Macedonia, into Bulgaria and Romania, and even right up into Germany, which has already got something like 400,000 Albanian refugees as a whole, we are talking about a pretty significant flow of refugees destabilising many of these countries. That is one of the ways in which it affects us.

  364.  I can understand the hospitality in Macedonia where a quarter of the population is Albanian, but I understand that the Macedonians have now closed their frontier which, from a practical point of view, would seem a fairly difficult thing to do. What instructions have been given to our forces on the ground there?
  (Mr Robertson)  It is actually a very simple thing to close the border because there is only one road that goes from Macedonia into Kosovo. It divides into two beyond the border but these are not super highways. There are humanitarian agencies in Macedonia now and our forces will clearly look, as they would always do, to help wherever they can with the refugee flows. It may not be our particular job to do so but, as I say, there are 12,000 to 13,000 troops in a small country. Remember that Macedonia is the size of North Yorkshire and has a population roughly similar to Greater Manchester. It has the youngest Prime Minister in Europe, aged 33, and the oldest President in Europe, who is 83. They are taking on a huge challenge and when I met the Prime Minister I could not help but be impressed by the way in which they have recognised their place in the world so suddenly and been willing to take on these huge burdens that have come from being host to very large numbers of foreigners.

Mr McWilliam

  365.  I hope, Secretary of State, and I am really speaking through you to a wider audience, that everybody understands how impressed we have all been by the diligence, patience and hard work of the contact group in the run-in to the Rambouillet agreement. Indeed, their patience was beyond what we thought was reasonably possible. Can you satisfy me that the rules of engagement for our forces are sufficiently robust to enable them adequately to defend themselves?
  (Mr Robertson)  I can. I cannot go into details because we never do. General Jackson is now in charge of the ARRC in the area and there is nobody more robust practically anywhere you can imagine than General Jackson. Being there in residence, so close and with a large number of British troops, both in the Ark and in the potential implementation force, I think he recognises that. We are not ignorant of the risks. Of course there are risks involved in this whole operation and it would be foolish to deny it. Our people are in what is going to be a very dangerous territory. We know that, but the alternative to doing that is not doing anything at all and that would be much worse.

Mr Hancock

  366.  With 50,000 Serbian soldiers either in or around Kosovo, once we attack the opportunity for them to give instant payback to the Kosovars is obviously a very great incentive on their part. They will be able to dish out a lot of punishment very quickly. What is the plan to safeguard the interest of those Kosovars who are very close to where the Serbian soldiers, the regulars in the Yugoslav Army and the Serbian police, are at the present time. Secondly, is there a proportion of the air power available to protect the interests that we have been able to secure in Bosnia and possibly elsewhere if the Serbs in those parts of the former Yugoslavia decide that they will support the Milosevic position?
  (Mr Robertson)  I do not wish to say anything about what we would do in self-defence of our forces. Essentially one of the key components would be the determinance of what the other side might expect. We have got of course the capability to act in self-defence of our forces. I do not believe that anybody in Belgrade mistakes the message of what an attack upon NATO would mean for them. It is not something that I think they would easily contemplate, but if they did it, they would have to face up to the fact that we would react very strongly indeed. I do not think we should go beyond that. He would be taking on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and 19 countries who are united in this endeavour. This is not an operation that involves the United Kingdom alone. There are 18 other countries that are part of it. You asked about the percentage of air power———

  367.  No. I asked specifically about how we would protect the Kosovars who are on the ground very close to the 50,000-odd regular Yugoslav and Serbian police who are in Kosovo today.
  (Mr Robertson)  We would clearly take that into account if that was the situation. The air verification operation has been ongoing since October and we have therefore got information that comes back as a result of that. We are conscious that we do not want to add to the miseries of those who are in that location, but we would obviously still be conscious of our own force protection necessities.

  368.  Would it be right for me to assume that many of the strategic military targets we will be aiming at are Yugoslav forces already in Kosovo?
  (Mr Robertson)  You are talking about where the air targets might be?

  369.  Yes.
  (Mr Robertson)  I cannot answer that question. I make the point that they will be military targets. The military objective is clear without any doubt and that is to reduce, diminish, his capability of attacking the civilians. A lot of planning has gone into this. If you remember, the first threats were made last October. We have done a huge amount of work in both the civilian side of the Ministry and the military side of the Ministry as well as through the NATO planning procedures so that if it comes to using military action in the next few days we know what it is we need to hit, we know how to hit it and we know with just how much force to hit it.

  370.  Would you assume that HMS Splendid would take part in the initial attack of what would probably be several hundred Cruise missiles?
  (Mr Robertson)  We are not saying anything at all about HMS Splendid other than the fact that she is in the area.

Mr Blunt

  371.  Secretary of State, to what level do you believe we need to reduce the Yugoslav National Army and the internal security troops in order to prevent them suppressing Albanian citizens of Kosovo?
  (Mr Robertson)  By enough to stop them doing it, to reduce their opportunities of doing it.

  372.  Can I put it to you that a prolonged air campaign may enormously degrade the number of functioning armoured vehicles, but it is going to be very difficult with an air campaign to go beyond reducing them to effectively an infantry army, which would surely still be sufficient to continue what is happening in Kosovo today, and indeed it might make the clearance rather more bloody? What appears to me to be happening is that since President Milosevic decided that he was going to defy NATO, and he appears to have taken that decision about a week ago, he then appears to have given order to clear at least northern Kosovo and that is why we are now seeing this enormous swathe of refugees from the ethnic cleansing which would appear to be going to get worse. My concern is that in a sense, however much we bomb the Yugoslav National Army, if Serb will holds then it is going to be impossible with air power to achieve our objective which is degrading his military capability so that he cannot oppress the local population.
  (Mr Robertson)  You have to make a number of calculations in this which involve the diplomatic, the political and the military elements in this. There is no computer into which you can put all the information and it will give you a printout that says, "Do this, this and this, and it will produce an outcome". We are dealing with somebody whose unpredictability matches his brutality. Therefore we must act on the basis of what we think is right and what we can do in the knowledge of what he has done in the past and how he has reacted in the past. I fear that he and maybe some other people in Belgrade misunderstand NATO's intention or NATO's will and determination, and that that may be leading them into making false decisions. If that is the case then they will only discover when things to start to happen that they are wrong. This is not a secure dictatorship. There are democratic elements inside Serbia although they are oppressed and they may well find it difficult to articulate their case, but once things start, if it gets to that, then they will have to make a calculation as well. We are setting out to reduce his military capability to conduct that violence in the only way that is open to us at the present time. We have got weaponry and we have got the means that we are confident can do that job.

  373.  It would appear from the reports that we are getting of the political situation in Serbia that even the liberal Serb parties you are referring to, seem to be, as one might expect, rallying patriotically to the leadership, and so precisely what role the opposition plays is open to question and I do not think we can expect the reaction from them that you imply. You spoke about the unpredictability of this exercise. Would it not be more predictable and would not the military advice be that you could actually predict and control the outcome if you were prepared to take the decision to conduct this operation as a land/air operation with both ground forces and air troops and then you could predict the outcome?
  (Mr Robertson)  I do not think so. It is a pretty unanimous view of the military commanders that we should not get involved in a land campaign because the sheer numbers that would be involved are so considerable and that is why, when I spoke to our troops on a hillside in Macedonia three weeks ago, I gave them the commitment that they would not fight their way into Kosovo. We have the capability. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has got the capability for strategic air strikes that we believe can have a significant effect on the military capability of the Yugoslav forces to commit the levels of violence that they have been engaged in up to now and to challenge their political will to go ahead with something that is clearly not in the Serbian national interest. In a way this is a reminder to them that the Rambouillet agreement actually has something very substantial for the Serbs within it, but they seem incapable of understanding that, of seeing that, because some of them clearly do not believe that the international community means business. The frustration of NATO is shared by others who have traditionally in the past been more understanding of Serbia. The Russians have tried to get the message over that the Rambouillet agreement is in the Serbian best interest, but have not been able to do so. Our objective is to stop the violence, not to bomb them back to the negotiating table. It is not our objective to do that. It is to stop the escalating violence that is going to create these refugee flows at the humanitarian disaster which we all see looming in front of us.

  374.  But unless we are prepared to use ground force, the military capacity of Serbia, particularly its armoured forces and its armoured infantry forces that it would need to take on a NATO army or armed force attack in Serbia are not needed by Serbia. There is no threat to Serbia of that happening. I am obviously including Kosovo in this. If the Yugoslav Army is reduced to the status of an infantry force, and it is not realistic I believe to expect air power to go further than that, we are going to be left with the slaughter and the ethnic cleansing continuing to happen in Kosovo, possibly in greater numbers than we have now, and then I fear that the humanitarian crisis will worsen. I wonder how we are going to react to the enormous pressure that will come, since we will have 25,000 troops in Macedonia, to act to bring the situation to a conclusion, which we could do if we had the will to deploy the very large number of ground forces that you indicate.
  (Mr Robertson)  I know you were yourself in the army and in reconnaissance, which is even further ahead sometimes than the front line. I do not know how willing you would be—presumably you are still on a reserve list—if I were to call you back in order to lead——

Chairman:  And Mr Brazier!

Mr Blunt

  375.  Perhaps I can answer that point.
  (Mr Robertson)  It is not a frivolous point. The people who would have to do it have rejected that as an option but the Serbian threat, or any other military threat, is made up of a capability and an intention. Of course every last soldier in the Serbian Army with a gun and a bayonet could in extremis cause carnage. The capability may be there. The question is whether the intention would be maintained. Creating a desert and calling it peace, creating carnage in Kosovo and calling it part of Greater Serbia, is not going to be an achievement. Milosevic at the moment has got all of the controls. He is the driving force. He has got no competition. Our objective here is not to try and get into his mind. It is to use strategic precision bombing on military targets to reduce his ability to order the kind of ethnic cleansing that we have seen up to now.

Laura Moffatt

  376.  Secretary of State, I know that we all feel—I certainly do myself—that we have the moral authority to take some action, but I think that there is a difficult question, as Mr Solana quite clearly says, that we are not waging war with the Yugoslavians. We would all accept that. What troubles me is that if you were a Serb on the ground and bombs started to fall, you might have a different view, and with the closure of the only independent radio station during the night there is little or no information getting to them for them to understand that this is truly a humanitarian act to stop aggression towards people on the ground who are in the most dire conditions. What can we do to try and improve that situation? How can we make people on the ground understand that this is truly to stop aggression?
  (Mr Robertson)  I think it will be clear, if it comes to that, that our targets are military and do not involve civilian or urban targets. That is a message that will get through despite the fact that the media is state owned and controlled. The other fact is that in this day and age it is actually almost completely impossible to control media, especially in the centre of Europe where satellite footprints extend beyond it. I did a programme near midnight last night for BBC World who claim some vast audience in hotels all over the world, and presumably in Belgrade, but who say they have information to suggest that it is actually there in the Serbian military information command centre as well. There is a message that has to get through at an international level that this is happening, that we have no argument with the Serb people and that what is being done in their name has almost certainly not got their support. They may want to hold on to Kosovo and it has a precious status in their history. They may believe that it is right that they should stand up to what is portrayed as external aggression. But I cannot believe that the Serbian people that I have met over the years, the ordinary Serbs, would be party to the kind of violence, the bombarding and the destruction of villages, the massacre of innocent elderly men, women and children because they happen to be close by what is believed to be a KLA stronghold, or would subscribe to that. That is a message that we have to get across. If military action has to be taken, it will be taken with the heaviest of heavy hearts. It will be taken with precision guided weapons, and it will be taken against only military targets with a very clear objective, not to bomb common sense or even self-interest into the mind of President Milosevic, but to reduce the military capability that is being used against a civilian population.

Mr Hood

  377.  Secretary of State, I agreed with the Prime Minister yesterday when he told the House that doing nothing was not an option. Some of the comments that are made about expressing worries about this and that seem to come from an area where people are maybe looking at it not as positively as you would expect them to do in the seriousness of the situation. But when we visited the NATO headquarters as a Committee a few weeks ago, we had discussions with the military there and they talked about the need to have an end game. We had a discussion about the ways and means and whether there was an end game. This is probably the reason why it has gone on so long to get agreement round what that end game is. The Prime Minister told the House yesterday that to send ground troops you would be talking about a figure of 100,000. I find it difficult to understand, if air strikes are not successful, how we can move on from there without putting ground troops in. To say we are not going to put ground troops in and just rely on air strikes is an area where I need to be convinced that air strikes are going to succeed. What is the end game, Secretary of State, if the air strikes do not succeed?
  (Mr Robertson)  We would not be undertaking the possibility of the sanction unless we were confident that we could inflict significant damage on his military capabilities and his ability to repress the population. That is the limit to what we can do. That is the limit to what international law allows us to do. That in itself is quite significant. Putting ground troops into that part of the world is not just a daunting military challenge; it is human challenge as well. It might even be a legal challenge. The objective here we are confident is inside international law, achievable and, given the capabilities of all NATO acting together, likely to be able to reduce significantly this military machine and therefore the ability to go ahead with that. Into that you have to feed the ingredients of his political will, the political will of the forces there, to take that and not to question it. Mr Holby has just been pointing out that a member of the Serbian Parliament which rubber-stamped the decision yesterday in the way that it does actually stood up and said that there was no fighting in Kosovo. Partly they are starved of information, partly they do not want to know the information, but we have got an obligation to get as much in as possible. I go back to this argument about the footprint of the BBC World Service or other television providers. The Internet is now a method by which people can have an access to the outside world. We have to get over the message that there is actually an end game here which makes sense. The end game is the Rambouillet agreement. If you look at the ingredients of that, and I am very proud of the achievement of the Foreign Secretary and his French opposite number at Rambouillet, they put together an agreement which provides for Kosovo staying not just inside Yugoslavia but inside the Federation and guarantees the integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Kosovo Albanians have signed up to it. The people who were standing for independence, some elements of whom were fighting for a greater Albania, said, "We are willing to compromise our objectives and sign up to it." There is an end game there for Milosevic to take and he is being advised to take it by the Russians, never mind by the NATO countries as well. We have to have a degree of confidence on what it is we can realistically do. It may be that Admiral Moore—I know he is a sailor—might want to give you an impression from somebody who serves in the forces about the prospect of a land invasion force incursion into Kosovo.
  (Rear Admiral Simon Moore)  The idea is a very difficult one, as the Secretary of State has said, but in many terms. First of all, where you are operating is very difficult; secondly, it would be very difficult to supply the armed forces, and thirdly it would be very difficult to get the whole of the act together in sufficient time to make a difference. Therefore, the reliance on a strategic air campaign is absolutely the right strategy at the moment.

  378.  At the moment. What happens if it does not work? What happens if it does not drive Milosevic to the negotiating table to accept a peace deal? What happens then?
  (Mr Robertson)  NATO would then have to consider it. The international community would then have to consider what was to be done about it. The precise objective that is set there and which we think can be achieved is to cause huge damage to the structure that he has there and which he is presently using against the Kosovar people. It is all too easy to say "what if, what if, what if?" down the line. What if Albania burst into flames? What if the refugees have crossed into Macedonia: you will crush that government? What if Bulgaria and Romania are destabilised? There are a lot of possibilities here. What we are doing at the moment is acting in order to stop some of the repercussions that will certainly happen if what is happening at the moment goes on. Macedonia is a very young democracy. It is a part of former Yugoslavia, finding it difficult in that part of the world, but I think making huge strides forward. Albania is in total crisis at the present moment. The destabilisation of Albania if this conflict goes on will be even greater. I was in Romania and Bulgaria. I think the Committee has been out to that part of the world as well. These are fledgling democracies. The Balkans aflame are going to burn more than just Belgrade and those who are in the immediate environs. The international community is acting here to stop the conflagration. There is something ironic that the Century started with a war that commenced in Sarajevo and here we are, nine months away from the end of the 20th century, trying to put out the fires in exactly the same part of the world. Maybe we have learned during the Century that sometimes you have to act quickly in order to make sure that it does not get out of control and destabilise the whole country.

Ms Taylor

  379.  Secretary of State, you are very clear that we have a capability of defining military targets and actually taking them out. This is the whole basis of what you are suggesting to us. Can I ask you to restate that so that I can here it once again from you? I know you have been saying it and you said it to Crispin Blunt and others. I want to be sure in my mind that that is exactly what you are saying: "We know where these targets are, we can isolate them, and we actually can take them out." We all know that Milosevic is waiting for civilian casualties to make his statement: "This is what Britain is doing to us. This is what NATO is doing to us." I would really like you to restate that for me please.
  (Mr Robertson)  There is no casualty-free conflict in this day and age. There is no way that you can insure against casualties on either side. But you can use the increasingly sophisticated weaponry that is available. We have already shown members of the Committee—and I think the Committee is coming in to look at more information today—what happened in Operation Desert Fox. We can show the world from some of the photography there, the battle damage assessment on Iraqi military targets during Operation Desert Fox just how forensic and how accurate the weaponry is that is available against military targets. We are confident that with the meticulous planning that has gone into it President Milosevic's military machine is going to take a very considerable hit and therefore reduce the chances of further violence against civilians. He is well armed, both on the ground and in terms of equipment. A lot of it is quite old but still very reliable. It was supplied in some cases by western governments, including ours, who were supplying the former Yugoslavia quite legitimately—I do not think any criticism can be made of that—and we therefore know its capabilities. The forces of Yugoslavia have shown over the years that they are brave and they do not easily give in, but what is being done in their name and the name of Serbia is a disgrace and a stain which, if they knew about it, I am sure they would hold back. If Milosevic is hell-bent on taking his country, as he has over the years, into these disasters one after another, at some point the people of Serbia are going to say "Stop". It has already happened in the last 18 months. The demonstrations we all saw in Belgrade gave us great heart. They were finally suppressed but the people of Serbia are not all sheep. I cannot believe that they themselves would back a President who has been so nationally suicidal as this one has been.

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