Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380
WEDNESDAY 24 MARCH 1999
MOORE and MR
380. That is very persuasive but how about
the other side of that coin? The Kosovar fighters: have we actually
got arrangements with the Kosovar fighters that during this NATO
intervention they will actually not take advantage of it?
(Mr Robertson) We cannot have that. They are engaged
in their own particular battle. They have gone the distance in
terms of compromising their overall objectives at Rambouillet.
We have no more hold over them than we have over the Serbs, but
the heavy artillery, the ability to destroy villages, to wipe
out communities, is very much in the hands of the state apparatus
of Yugoslavia and of Serbia. The call to stop the violence is
one that goes to both sides. We are not here saying that the guns
that are fired from one side are better than the guns fired from
the other side, but the overwhelming force is on the side of the
Serbs. It is also worth making the point that there is information
in print in public that there is quite a bit of dissatisfaction
inside Serbia with what is going on, that they are finding t difficult
to call up the troops in the numbers that they are requiring at
the present moment. The Chief of the Defence Staff was removed
from his job within the last six months because he would not co-operate
in every detail with President Milosevic. There are indications
that some people question this suicidal policy and hopefully in
the next few hours more people will be giving that message.
381. If we are so competent, Secretary of
State, everybody is asking, why have we not picked Milosevic up?
What is it that this man has got, what capabilities has he got,
that he can keep on avoiding being picked up by us? We can talk
about competence all the way along the line. Why is he not at
(Mr Robertson) If it were that easy, Ms Taylor,
then all of those who are indicted for war crimes would be in
The Hague. If you are running a state like Yugoslavia or Serbia
today, you are pretty well protected in personal terms. I think
the bombshell that would be required would be immeasurable. Those
who are indicted, those who are responsible for war crimes, will
eventually be at The HagueI can say that with confidenceand
they should not sleep easily in their beds thinking that they
have got away with it or they will not eventually have to face
justice. In the last two years since I have been in charge we
have been responsible for a very significant number of people
picked up as indeed have other nations. A very significant number
are facing proper justice at The Hague. Some have been discharged,
some have been found not guilty, but other people have faced the
justice of the international community for crimes beyond belief
and description. Ultimately all of those who have been responsible
will be there as well.
382. Secretary of State, I know you have
said it this morning and the Prime Minister said it yesterday,
that this is being undertaken with enormous reluctance. Can you
give a judgement about the possible loss of life involved in such
military action, including possibly to British service men and
women? How does that compare to what would happen in the humanitarian
disaster if no action was taken? Also, could you say whether NATO
has consulted Russia and what their reaction is likely to be to
air strikes? Finally, is there any proposal to take this matter
back to the UN for discussion there?
(Mr Robertson) The question of loss of life and
of casualties is one of the biggest issues of all we face. I am
a civilian, I am a Member of Parliament like you are. I have no
military background, no military career, but at the end of the
day i have to take decisions based on the advice that is given
to me by people who have faced action, who have been in conflict,
and who are properly conscious of the responsibility for the young
men and women who are in their charge and whom they send into
these dangerous situations. They will tell me that there is the
prospect of casualties. They rightly warn that we cannot have
a casualty-free war. This is not a war, but any conflict that
involves military action is not going to be casualty-free. It
is one of the risks that you have to balance against the large
scale loss of life that would be the consequence of doing nothing.
Indeed, the strategic consequences of political and every other
term that would flow from the fact that where there was a conflict
we stood back and did nothing about it. That is a balance that
has to be taken and the air crew and ground crew who are in Italy
today facing the prospect of being sent into action know that
well. They face it with remarkable courage. I salute their bravery
and I do not send them into action with anything other than the
realisation that the alternative is much worse.
383. Having clarified their legal status,
I presume there will be no formal declaration of war.
(Mr Robertson) It is not a war.
384. If a NATO pilot is shot down or vice
versa, what under the Geneva Convention or anything else can downed
pilots demand under international law?
(Mr Robertson) The full protection of the Geneva
Conventions. The Geneva Conventions are not tied to a declaration
of war. All parties to any conflict must be bound by the Geneva
Conventions and we would expect that Yugoslavia would do that
if there was any situation that arose there at all. This is not
a war. We are not declaring war on Serbia. We are not bombing
Serbia. We are damaging the military capability to destroy civilians
in that part of the world, but those who do that, and after all
they are acting not just in accordance with international law
but in the interests of international law, would get the full
protection of the Geneva Convention.
385. Will you be taking it back to the UN?
(Mr Robertson) Russia is clearly a factor in this.
We must remember that Russia is a full member of the contact group,
so that all the processes that we have been engaged in up to now
Russia has been fully subscribing to. The Security Council Resolution
1199 that laid down the demands on Milosevic last October were
subscribed to by the Russians as well. They were involved in the
outskirts of Rambouillet as part and parcel of the structure that
led up to it. So far as we know, they have recommended very strongly
to President Milosevic that he accepts these agreements as being
in his own best self-interest and indeed in the interests of the
wider area. The Russians have said that they object to military
action. They seem to think that more negotiations will produce
an outcome. I do not know whether they are sanguine about the
violence that continues while these so-called talks take place,
but they are perfectly entitled to their view. We disagree with
them and that is why we are taking action. It is action taken
in pursuit of UN Security Council Resolutions, two of them but
particularly 1199, which laid down the demands which are quite
clearly being flouted by Milosevic today. You asked about taking
it back to the UN. Clearly, if the Rambouillet agreement were
to be signed up to, we would want to enshrine that in the UN Security
Council Resolution. In the meantime there is more than adequate
legal standing without going back. The situation is of considerable
urgency, given the nature of the bombardment that the Kosovar
villagers are suffering at the moment.
386. Secretary of State, you stated NATO's
objective very clearly several times. How will we measure the
success of the operation?
(Mr Robertson) It will be a matter for the NATO
military authorities to look at the battle damage that has been
done, to make an assessment about how much of the air defences
and other targets have been hit. Then we watch on the ground what
the forces are doing. I do not think you would want me to venture
into the territory about what we would attack because that would
be of some helplimited help but some helpto those
who might be the ones involved in the action on the other side.
387. Of course not, Secretary of State,
I would not do that. Without asking in any way for you to indicate
what sort of targets we are talking about, my question really
is, will you measure the success in terms of damage to targets,
whatever they may be, or in terms of Serbian behaviour afterwards?
(Mr Robertson) The objective is to reduce the
capability so that he will reduce the level of violence, so we
will make assessments based on that, both at a political and at
a military level about that. I would not want to go beyond that
at the present moment. A lot of planning has gone into this whole
operation. Another thought that comes to mind in relation to Mr
Cohen's question, which relates to this, is that we of course
have updated the United Nations Security Council at every stage
on what is going on here.
388. Secretary of State, this "what
if" question: is there a chance that NATO's action now could
lead to a north/south partitioning for Kosovo with the north being
in Serbian control, being ethnically cleansed, and the south a
UN protectorate? Is there a chance that we could end up with this
outcome and would you be content if that were the outcome?
(Mr Robertson) The answer to that question is
no. The answer to the first question is that it is impossible
to tell. The Rambouillet agreement is the ideal. That is what
was negotiated. The Kosovar Albanian side have made very substantial
concessions on what we know to be their objectives in agreeing
to that. That keeps the integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
and allows a huge degree of autonomy for those who are in there,
more autonomy than they previously had under the old Yugoslav
constitution, which is where all this started when Milosevic tore
it up. It may be that President Milosevic is undertaking a de
facto partitioning at the moment. Mr Blunt raised that possibility
at the beginning. That is not our intention, but it is difficult
to read his mind in every regard except that we have seen in the
past that he respects military power. We know that his regime
depends on the military structures and that in the past when he
has believed that we have threatened that military power, he has
been prepared to back off, both in the Bosnian conflict, and indeed
in the earlier part of this conflict. That is an ingredient that
has to be taken into account when we go down that route. The Rambouillet
agreement did not allow for partitioning and we believe that,
just as the Serbs and the majority of the Albanian population
used to live in peace and contentment inside the autonomous Kosovar
structures under the old Yugoslavia, it is not impossible for
them to do it again.
Chairman: It has been
said that Milosevic is both the arsonist and the fire brigade.
He will have to prove that the second part is going to be valid
in future because he is the one who can stop the carnage in his
389. Secretary of State, you suggest that
my reserve service might be called upon.
(Mr Robertson) This was not a serious remark.
390. Let me make the serious point that
I want to, that if I found myself back in an armoured reconnaissance
squadron with the full weight of NATO air power and artillery
support available to those forces taking on a JNA, I would be
rather more sanguine about my chances of survival than I would
have been when I was facing the Eighth Guards Tank Army on the
German border. I actually think that if there was a proper land/air
campaign with the enormous difficulties of all the support that
the Rear Admiral mentioned, the number of casualties on the table
would not be as high as one would expect. It would be a situation
rather akin to the battle in Kuwait. The Government have ruled
that out as an option for the time being.
(Mr Robertson) NATO has ruled that out.
391. What I would like to explore is the
relationship with the KLA who are an armed force on the ground.
In your words, Secretary of State, you said that the KLA had gone
the distance by reducing their aspirations from that of independence,
but for a very long time the Kosovars have sought by democratic
means to pursue their right of self-determination and any democratic
opportunity for that was denied to them by the Serbians. So I
believe what they are fighting is a justified liberation struggle.
They have now gone the distance, in your words, at an international
conference. What is our relationship now with the KLA? Surely,
in a sense we are now on their side? I do not understand what
the NATO Secretary-General means when he says, "We urge in
particular Kosovar armed elements to refrain from provocative
military action", when it is their people who are being ethnically
cleansed and are the victims, in your words, of crimes beyond
belief and description. Is there now an opportunity to at least
co-ordinate our military actions with the KLA? What do you think
is going to be the future of our relationship with armed elements
on the ground in Kosovo?
(Mr Robertson) The provocation that the UN Secretary-General
was talking about was the offensive actions taken by the KLA who
are a part of the Kosovo Albanian population which collectively
signed up to the accord. It is right to say they should not be
engaged in provocation. Up until Racak earlier this year the KLA
were responsible for more deaths in Kosovo than the Yugoslav authorities
had been. The call all along has been for the end to violence
on both sides and seek the diplomatic channel. They signed up
to their cause including the disarmament aspects of the Rambouillet
agreement and I think that is a very significant move and I hope
they hold to that and there are not wilder elements that seek
to break up the unity that appeared at Rambouillet. We recognise
the threat to the Kosovar Albanians. That is why we are willing
to take action. We are not siding with the KLA whose longer-term
objectives we may not subscribe to at all.
392. Again as part of the agreement they
have now signed up to objectives which we do support.
(Mr Robertson) But I do not think that puts them
on our side if they are doing things that we would disagree with
there. What we are doing here is trying to protect the civilian
population of Kosovo. That is what they say they are doing as
well. We are willing to take that action because the other side
is not willing to see the commonsense or even the self-interest
that would be involved in signing the agreement. I do not think
it would be right and proper for NATO to say, "They have
signed up to the agreement, we will therefore take their side
on that." Our objective has got to be very clear and very
narrow when dealing with another sovereign state and that is the
emergency situation of averting a humanitarian catastrophe, not
taking sides in an armed struggle.
393. You have made it very plain that it
is military targets only and we are going to use precision on
those targets. We all accept, of course, that civilians must be
avoided at all costs. There is no point protecting civilians in
Kosovo if we kill civilians in Serbia. So we come down to the
question of accuracy. The Harrier GR7s, for example, have got
a very good track record but there have been doubts expressed
about the accuracy of Tomahawk missiles and if the track record
is anything to go by we will be using those first to take out
their capability to damage our aircraft which we will use later.
How confident are you a) in the accuracy of Tomahawk missiles
and b) since it is the first time a British submarine will have
fired any in anger whether they are trained in their use?
(Mr Robertson) I am not saying whether we are
using Tomahawk missiles at all, but if you are asking about the
capability of the system, test firing took place in September
of last year and very clearly verified accuracy over very long
distances of this particular system. Since I have got an Admiral
here it seems to me appropriate for him to answer that particular
(Rear Admiral Moore) It is a very capable system
but the missile is so good and so intelligent itself that in fact
the crew prepare and fire it and the missile is then programmed
to go to the target. It is the missile system in which the accuracy
lies more than in the residual capability of
394. But the missile itself is 100 per cent
accurate? 90 per cent? 95 per cent?
(Rear Admiral Moore) I do not think we want to
go into that at this stage but it is a very accurate system.
395. We are looking at pictures afterwards.
(Mr Robertson) There are unclassified pictures
from Operation Desert Fox that leave you in absolutely no doubt
at all that this is a formidable system both for the punch that
it has and the accuracy that can be deployed and therefore the
lack of collateral damage that would affect people who are not
party to a conflict. Anybody who has seen the unclassified pictures
of the Ba'ath Party headquarters in central Baghdad with 11 Tomahawk
cruise missile holes like holes on a golf green destroying everything
within that building but leaving no damage at all outside the
building will realise that when we are talking about this, it
sounds cold, it sounds clinical and there are some people who
are deeply uncomfortable about even entering into a conversation
about it, we are now at a time when international law and public
feelings demand precision in what we do and therefore the attacks,
if they take place and they have to take place, will be against
military targets with some of the most precise weapons that have
ever been invented.
396. The evidence of the previous stand-off
crisis showed that Milosevic's position has not been weakened
but strengthened domestically and I am not convinced that the
air strikes that are now planned are going to do anything more
than strengthen domestic support for him. No doubt he can invoke
Article 51, the self-defence article, to justify the calling up
of we read in the papers one million reservists to reinforce his
209,000 regular troops. There are an awful lot of "what if"
questions this morning but what provision has been made by NATO
for calling up additional troops to cope with a ground operation
when we know perfectly well from previous experience of fighting
in Yugoslavia the ratio of defenders required especially if you
have got a sympathetic civil population on your side who do not
receive regularly CNN and Sky News and the all the rest but are
bombarded with domestic propaganda from Milosevic? What provision
has been made for the numbers that are going to be required? Has
any estimate been made of the numbers of ground troops that would
be required if a ground operation were required? I think the Prime
Minister's estimate yesterday of over 100,000 was the understatement
of the year, quite frankly. You are talking about ten times that,
are you not?
(Mr Robertson) The Prime Minister gave an estimate
and the NATO military authorities have done a lot of planning
on the basis of it. It is certainly in excess of 100,000. You
have to work out yourself where they are going to come from. You
cannot call up reserves and you cannot use conscripts because
if you were ever to get engaged in that sort of conflict, and
we are not planning to get engaged in that sort of conflict, you
have got to have troops that can protect themselves from day one
and not build themselves up. We are dealing with an urgent situation
and that is why the NATO commanders have taken the role that they
have taken. They said before Operation Desert Fox that any bombing
on Iraq would consolidate Saddam and make him stronger as a result
of that. In fact, he is much weaker. His military machine was
damaged very substantially and he could not even produce a civilian
casualty to parade on the streets to show how wanton we had been
in the bombing that he claimed we were engaged in. So the damage
has been done. He is not stronger, he is weaker and there is a
lot of evidence coming out of Iraq in the past few weeks that
he has been executing senior army officers because they themselves
are now questioning what he is doing and may well be organising
coups against him. So I do not think this assumption that dictators
are strengthened by the fact that military targets are attacked
holds water at all. Milosevic is finding it very difficult to
get people to be called up. There were demonstrations the other
day in Belgrade of mothers of existing soldiers complaining bitterly
about them going to Kosovo. There is a huge reluctance to get
engaged in this conflict because there is no appetite for that
sort of fight. I do not believe that NATO attacks if they happen
on military targets are going to do anything to increase the strength
of Milosevic and will perhaps persuade the population that this
man has yet again got them engaged in a murderous conflict from
which they can only lose.
397. Has he called up his home guard?
(Mr Robertson) He is trying to call up people
at the moment. He has called a state of emergency and he is calling
them up but even the public information that is available shows
how difficult he is finding it to do that. If people are actually
refusing to be called up, if conscripts are unwilling to turn
up that in itself is the tip of an iceberg of collapsing morale
that is in there. There is a risk, of course, that it will consolidate
Milosevic. That is not something we discount and say pooh-pooh
to, but this is a country in the centre of the Europe, a relatively
sophisticated country and I do not believe that the people of
Serbia want to be dragged down this track of national suicide
again and to be pilloried by the whole world community for the
destruction of villages, the destruction of human beings, the
perpetration of atrocities. There are indications that people
among the civilian population in Serbia will blame Milosevic for
it and certainly will not support him.
398. Secretary of State, do you believe
that Milosevic really does think that the slaughter of Serbs in
Kosovo in the fourteenth century is an excuse for slaughtering
Kosovans at the end of the twentieth?
(Mr Robertson) I do not think that is the reason
he is doing but it is a method of orchestrating support. Sadly,
Serbia is not the only part of the world where history is brought
out as a convenient means of masking homicidal tendencies on behalf
of today's generation. What we have tried do in Bosnia, what we
are again trying to do in Kosovo is to draw a line to tell those
who would use violence in order to achieve historical missions
or day-to-day land aggression that they cannot get away with it
and the international community will simply take a stand. We were
successful beyond many people's forecasts in Bosnia and a civil
society is reappearing there and I think growing with every day.
In Kosovo we are again drawing the line if Milosevic wants to
choose the path of peace and a future of security for his own
people inside the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but if he is
hell bent on war then we must respond because the consequences
are too horrifying to contemplate.
399. Thank you very much for coming. It
has been a rather depressing overall experience despite your well-received
presence, Secretary of State, and whatever the degrees of support
to Government policyand I think there is a very substantial
majority that do support Government policy than those that do
notwhenever British forces and NATO forces are deployed
and their lives are threatened then we can unanimously endorse
the view that we wish them well and we hope they can return to
normal duties as quickly as possible. We hope that we will be
able to discuss Bishopton with you so our office will be in touch
with yours, Secretary of State, early afternoon. Once again, apologies
to the people who came down. We would like to have a brief chat
to them afterwards before they leave.
(Mr Robertson) I am grateful to you for your indulgence.
I think it would have been wholly inappropriate to have crammed
it in and anyway the Government wishes its Parliament to be involved
as fully as possible and tomorrow's debate will allow that. Mr
Brazier on my extreme left took umbrage at something I did not
actually say about the role of reserves and the implementation
force. I can assure the Committee and him that as the reserves
have played a distinguished and essential role in Bosnia I contemplate
that when, as I hope, we have an implementation force in Kosovo
we will need and will require and will value the reserves there.
Chairman: I attended
a ceremony at Lichfield Cathedral on the last formal occasion
of the Third Battalion Staffordshire regiment where they marched
through the town. I think you had better act very quickly to save
them from complete break up. Even at this late juncture there
is still time! Thank you very much.