Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 319)



Mr Illsley

  300. Can I follow that on, Secretary of State, in relation to land mines? Are the problems of land mines being addressed?
  (Mr Cook) Yes.

  301. Are we being able to remove the mines, and has there been any co-operation from the Serb forces in the removal of those mines?
  (Mr Cook) Well, it has been addressed, but I would not wish to pretend to the Committee that it has, as yet, been solved. First of all, the Military Technical Agreement requires the VJ to provide maps of where they had laid mines. They did provide fairly extensive maps, and when I visited KFOR they believed that they had a reasonable provision of a reasonably honest attempt to meet that requirement in the Military Technical Agreement. We are looking at ways in which we can carry out, in partnerships with others, the clearance of those minefields, and we have sought a particular partnership agreement with Canada, and some DfID experts in this matter are already active within Kosovo. Our immediate estimate is that the position on mines within Kosovo is not as serious as it was in Bosnia. Nevertheless, it is still very significant. The Military Technical Agreement did provide for some Serb forces to return to Kosovo under supervision to lift the mines. I think it would be fair to say, Chair, that Belgrade is probably not attaching great priority to fulfilling that part of the Military Technical Agreement, but we do recognise that this is an issue that will have to be addressed and Serbia has an obligation to assist us in addressing it. In the meantime, everybody needs to be alert on the malign way in which the withdrawing of Serb forces did leave booby traps and mines around specifically to maim those who were coming in behind them. Indeed, we even discovered one mine laid in one of the rose bushes of the British residence within Pristina. It was drawn to our attention by neighbours who had seen it being planted, and it was disposed of by KFOR. That had only one purpose, and that was to maim the diplomats being deployed for the United Kingdom in Pristina.

Dr Starkey

  302. Foreign Secretary, can I turn to the structure and the process of reconstruction, both in the short and long term? There are a number of different international organisations involved in this: the UN, NATO, G8, the European Union, the World Bank (I think you mentioned) and the IMF. Obviously, that can be helpful but it could be a recipe for things dropping in between, and there has been experience from Bosnia, for example, of Member States agreeing that an international body should do such-and-such and then not actually coming up with the funds or the personnel to support those overall objectives. Are you fairly confident that that will not happen here; that the different organisations are clear about what it is they are supposed to be doing, and that the different organisations will complement each other and not get in each other's way?
  (Mr Cook) I can cheerfully say, straightaway, that there is going to be a challenging multilateral diplomatic environment in Kosovo, which will require a lot of effort both on the part of governments and on the part of agencies to make sure we all pull together and do not leave any holes in between our operations in the way you suggest. As a broad principle, actually, I am happier about a plurality of agencies tackling this job than I would be if there was too narrow a basis for international involvement. The problem that we face in reconstructing Kosovo is multi-faceted and it is major, and I think it would be beyond the capacity of any one international agency. All agencies have to bring to it their own specialisms and their own particular skills, and I think that the structure which has been drawn up for the administration of Kosovo, very intelligently, tries to call upon the special skills and roles of the different agencies involved. For instance, it is logical for the European Union and the World Bank to focus on the economic reconstruction because that is what they have staff to do, and they have the resources to provide it. It is logical for the OSCE to be primarily responsible for the democratic institution building because the OSCE has a long track record in trying to promote standards of democratic behaviour and, also, supervising elections. It is logical, obviously, for UNHCR to be involved on the question of the refugee resettlement. It makes a lot of sense for the UN to be the lead agency and provide the umbrella—or the chapeau—for the overall operation, because this is being done under a UN mandate and could not be done on any other basis. However, the UN, itself, does not have either the in-house expertise nor the resources to replicate what can be brought to the task by all these other bodies acting as sub-contractors—if I can use that term—for the overall operation.

  303. Your memorandum details the personnel that the United Kingdom has sent. Is that being matched—particularly in regard to UNMIK, for example—by the supply of personnel by other Member States as well?
  (Mr Cook) I do not think it would be helpful for me to get competitive, but I would very happily say that I think that Britain has made a major contribution to this, reflecting the extent to which this has been a priority for our foreign policy and the lead role which we took in many parts of the military conflict. We are the largest nation in KFOR, we have provided the command for KFOR, we have provided a large number of the civilian personnel to UNMIK, we provide the person who has been chosen to head up the European Union reconstruction part of the operation, and we have supplied a number of police from Bosnia to try and provide assistance for the law and order situation. Across a board of areas we are anxious to try and make this a success, and indeed, having ourselves played a part in securing success in the military conflict we are very keen that the outcome should be as successful.

  304. Can I ask about the European Union's contribution? You have said that the European Union would be playing a major part in reconstruction and you mentioned a sum of 250 million euro that has been allocated. Which part of the EU budget is that coming from? Is it from money that was not allocated previously, or does it mean that less is going to be spent on something else?
  (Mr Cook) I have to seek guidance on that, and we may have to write with the answer. Does anybody know.
  (Dr Jones Parry) It comes out of Category 4 of the financial statement.

  305. Which means?
  (Dr Jones Parry) Which means that part of the agreement reached in Berlin that governs the external expenditure. Where exactly the budget lines work out depends on what is happening at the moment in the budgetary process. The budget for 2000 is currently under discussion, but some of it will be out of the existing programmes for the Balkan region reconstruction and some additional money is being made available. Our working assumption, as budgetary disciplinarians, is that there should be no more money made available in aggregate, but we are not aware, at this stage, of any other decrease of expenditure which will result from it.

  306. What other areas of spending are within Category 4?
  (Dr Jones Parry) Anything on the external side.
  (Mr Cook) Anything the European Union spends outside the European Union.

  307. Including development aid to other regions?
  (Mr Cook) Yes, but I am not sure it would be right to see this as necessarily being an expense of the aid fund. It does not logically follow that we will spend less in Africa.
  (Dr Jones Parry) I think, Mr Chairman, there is a certain amount of headroom. We are not talking about Lome, we are talking now specifically about programmes like Aid to Africa, PHARE, TACIS—that sort of programme—and there should be sufficient headroom to accommodate that.
  (Mr Cook) Before we leave that, maybe we could give a rough run-down on what PHARE and TACIS are.
  (Dr Jones Parry) PHARE is that programme which is designed for the Central Eastern European countries; TACIS is for the CIS countries—the former Soviet Union.

  308. In the budgetary discussions in future, would the United Kingdom position—how can I put this—be that the additional spending on this should not be at the expense of other countries, who would equally need support?
  (Mr Cook) We would be concerned if this was to be at the expense of, say, Africa, and I have to say that I think France would share that concern, because the two of us have long commitments to Africa and tend to safeguard it within the European budget. So we would not wish to see this happen at the expense of aid to poorer countries. That said, the British position on this, as on so much else to do with the European budget, is fairly robust, and we have given an agreement to what we believe is a generous overall budget ceiling for the European Union, and we do not see a case for that budget ceiling being reached.
  (Dr Jones Parry) If I may add, there is one other principle, Mr Chairman, and that is that the efficiency of external spend can be much improved, and we look to the next Commission to do that. Just because there is an additional need created it does not follow that you need more money for it. Both in terms of headroom and doing better with what you have already got, you should be able to release money.


  309. Is there something analogous to the contingency fund?
  (Dr Jones Parry) There is in the sense of spare headroom, yes. All the moneys are not allocated, but, of course, as you get towards the end of any given financial year the amount of headroom decreases anyway.
  (Mr Cook) There is a tendency within the European Union for spending to fall behind a bit, and that can often leave you with a bit of headroom that is useful at times like these.

Dr Starkey

  310. The other point I wanted to ask about is that, obviously, there is an emphasis, at the moment, on the short-term reconstruction, but are discussions still going on within the EU about the long-term political framework within which one might see the political reconstruction, so to speak, of the Balkans, and, in particular, the development of new forms of association between them and the European Union?
  (Mr Cook) That is proceeding very actively. Indeed, we have recently agreed to institute negotiations—I think I am right in saying negotiations—with Macedonia and to give instructions to commence the preparation for negotiations with Albania. So both of those are well under way in terms of progress. One of the points we argued for very strongly during the Stability Pact is that what the European Union can bring to the Stability Pact is trade, technical and political agreements with the countries of South East Europe, and that we should perhaps look beyond our traditional conditionality for an Association Agreement. It was Britain that very much brought to the discussion the idea that we should have specifically tailored—custom-made, if you like—agreements that reflect the totality of South East Europe, which is why what we are now proposing for Albania and Macedonia are known as Stability and Association Agreements, which make them rather distinct from what we would normally apply, because what we normally apply is conditionality, which, frankly, is beyond those countries at the present time. We believe it is important in the wake of what has happened to move rapidly to reach what agreements we can.

Sir John Stanley

  311. Foreign Secretary, I think you would agree that the defining characteristic of NATO's success over the 50 years or more of its existence has been the successful operation of deterrence; the ensuring that the threat of military action by NATO is always credible to a potential aggressor. Against that backcloth, you made, when you came before the Committee on 14 April, a very striking statement. You said: "The fact is we have a very clear impression that President Milosevic did not believe that we would take military action". Foreign Secretary, I agree with your observation that that is wholly borne out by events. Could you tell us why it was, in your view, that Milosevic did not believe we would take military action?
  (Mr Cook) No, I cannot, because to do so would be to attempt to read into his mind, and that, I am afraid, is a difficult task which I am not equipped to fulfil. I think that any Member of the Committee is as able and as qualified as I am to make a guess at it.

  312. Would you not consider, for example, that the somewhat discordant voices that were heard in a number of NATO countries questioning whether NATO should engage in military action might have created such a false impression in Milosevic's mind, and that the total absence of any form of forward deployment by NATO countries when the threat was growing clear might have also formed the impression in Milosevic's mind that he could get away with the appalling crimes he did with impunity? Surely, these questions must have been going round in your mind. Surely, it is not good enough to say that deterrence has failed for the first time in NATO's history.
  (Mr Cook) That is a different form of test, if I may say so. I think there is a degree of elision there. We must be clear about what we are saying is a deterrent. The point of deterrence in the case of NATO is to prevent attack on Member States. As yet, Milosevic has certainly not attempted that. On the question of deployment, if memory serves me right, by 23 March[3] when he commenced the spring offensive, there was already significant deployment of military planes in readiness for any instruction for a bombing campaign, of which he would be aware. On the question of the views of different Member States, one of the problems here is not what Member States said; the problem is what was said by Milosevic's ambassadors within those Member States. I do not want to go too far into this but we have the impression that some of his ambassadors were sending him reports which were of the kind which he wanted to hear rather than reflecting reality in their capitals. He may have been badly served by his own diplomats who failed to alert him to the possibility of NATO maintaining resolves throughout the conflict.

  313. Reflecting back, do you think now that there is more NATO could have done and should have done to reinforce in Milosevic's mind the credibility of NATO's threat to take military action?
  (Mr Cook) There will always be things one could do differently. I have reflected upon this over the period since we successfully concluded the conflict. I cannot recall anything that we tried or did in the months before the conflict which I can see as making a material difference to Milosevic's own calculations. I do not think there is any particular point in keeping it to myself now but at Rambouillet I twice took the leader of the delegation aside and made it quite explicit that if they walked away from this there would be consequences. They cannot pretend that they were not bluntly told in private as well as in all the many public statements. In the closing stages, both the senior commander of NATO and the Secretary General went to Belgrade and made it clear what would happen. Holbrooke famously spent the last 24 hours in Belgrade and left him in no doubt of what would happen. Milosevic I think was taking a calculation. Latterly, in those last few days, he did realise that there would be military action but he underestimated the resolve of NATO to maintain that action through to success. He was calculating that the resolve of the unity of NATO would crack before he had perceived unacceptable damage. He was wrong in that calculation and I think that was the primary reason why, at the end, he himself crumbled.

  314. You also, in your evidence on 14 February, said this: "There was a plan developed in Belgrade known as Operation Horseshoe which was for the cleansing of Kosovo of its Kosovo population. That plan had been around for some time." Can you tell us, in your judgment, did Milosevic give the go ahead for Operation Horseshoe after the NATO bombing campaign began or before?
  (Mr Cook) The evidence is that the Serb offensive began before. I have already mentioned that. The Serb offensive commenced on 22/23 March and a large number of people were made homeless and the massing of the tanks and of the army that we had seen on the borders of Kosovo produced what we had feared for the previous month, which was a military offensive.

  315. You said in your evidence on 14 April that the plan, the Operation Horseshoe plan, had been around for some time. John Sweeney, in The Observer of 20 June wrote this: "When NATO attacked at 8pm on the night of 24 March Milosevic was prepared and gave the order to send in the cleansers. No one should have been surprised at this. It had all been planned back in September, code named Operation Horseshoe, the systematic, ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. German intelligence, the BND, knew about the plan then." Would the Committee be right in assuming that the Foreign Office in London knew no later than BND about Operation Horseshoe?
  (Mr Cook) First of all, I am not briefed on when we had been informed or what nature of contact we had with BND. Secondly, if I was briefed, I certainly would not share it with the Committee in open session.

  316. Would it be fair for the Committee to assume though that the Foreign Office were well aware of Operation Horseshoe some time before Operation Horseshoe was given the go ahead by Milosevic?
  (Mr Cook) I think one can be a little bit too precious about this. The idea that the Foreign Office or myself was not aware of the blood curdling nature of Milosevic's brutality is rather forced. After all, leave aside what he may have said on paper; what triggered the Contact Group ultimatum to Milosevic to come to Rambouillet was exactly the kind of massacre that we saw, subsequently repeated, which first took place at Racak where 45 of the villagers were shot at close range, something that has been repeated now across Kosovo. Secondly, the roots of Milosevic's behaviour in Kosovo can be seen in wearily familiar detail in the Bosnian civil war and the treatment which he meted out then to the Croats. One should not treat Operation Horseshoe as though this is some step change or some radical innovation in Milosevic's approach. It is the approach that he and those around him have adopted for the best part of ten years, of which we had already seen evidence in the preceding ten months in Kosovo.

  317. Foreign Secretary, that indeed confirms my view that it was a very widespread and well founded expectation that Milosevic was bent on doing appalling things to the Kosovo Albanians given the chance and the opportunity, as he would see it, if he could get away with it. Against that background, was there not a tremendously important obligation on all NATO leaders in all the NATO countries, obviously not only this one, to exercise the most extraordinary care in the wording they used as to the circumstances in which military action might be adopted and the form that military action might take? Can I put this to you: when you said in the House on 24 February, approximately one month before the NATO bombing campaign began, "There is no question of our entering Kosovo with military force in circumstances in which there is no peace agreement to police. We have made that clear repeatedly. We do not intend to fight our way into Kosovo.", against all the background that we have been discussing in these exchanges, was it not extraordinarily injudicious to say that at that point?
  (Mr Cook) Certainly not. First of all, what are you suggesting? That the British army should fight its way in without support, because that is exactly what I would be committing to on 24 February. If I had said that to the House, the House would have thought I was mad and exceedingly injudicious. Secondly, at no stage did we fight our way into Kosovo. We have secured what is a complete success in securing our objectives without fighting a single inch of our way into Kosovo. I do have to say, in the position in which I said that on 24 February, given the outcome of our military campaign, what I said was absolutely correct.

  318. If you feel that was absolutely correct, then there is a very, very striking contrast between the wording which you have used today and which I very much welcome in relation to possible developments in Montenegro. You have just told the Committee in your earlier evidence that—I took it down directly—"We have deliberately left Milosevic guessing what the grave consequences would be if he tried to destroy democracy in Montenegro." Your Political Director in his own intervention used the formulation that was eventually, far too late in my view, used at the end of the war in relation to Kosovo. Dr Jones Parry used the formulation that all options are open. Can I put it to you, Foreign Secretary, that those wordings about grave consequences, about all options open, would have been much more appropriate and possibly have done something to deter Milosevic from going ahead with Operation Horseshoe?
  (Mr Cook) With respect, Sir John, I am more criticised for having spelt out that there would be grave consequences on Milosevic if he acted in Kosovo over a period of time rather than for under playing it. I could not have done more to make it plain to Milosevic that, if he acted in the way that we anticipated in Kosovo, there would be military action. There was and that military action was successful.

  319. You ruled out the form of military action that he probably feared most of all which is the forced entry into Kosovo of NATO forces.
  (Mr Cook) I am not sure about that. First of all, if we were to mount an expeditionary invasion of Kosovo, it would have taken three or four months to have got to the point at which it could be sent across the border. Even now in circumstances in which there is total absence of resistance we are still only two-thirds of the way to the total numbers of KFOR. Secondly, somebody earlier in this Committee referred to the large numbers of military formations in Kosovo even after the 79 days of air bombardment withdrawing from Kosovo. I do not think that it is likely that the military commanders within NATO would have recommended to politicians that we were sensible and sane to commit British and other forces against that amount of military formation.

3   Note by Witness: the correct date is 20 March. Back

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