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Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320 - 339)



  320. Is it now your policy, along with the rest of NATO, to keep Milosevic guessing as to the military options that might be used against him if he tries to destabilise Montenegro? Is the policy now, as the Political Director has said, to keep all the military options open?
  (Mr Cook) We would certainly seek to make sure that there were grave consequences but, Sir John, if you are not careful, you are going to push me into denying parts of what those grave consequences would be and I do not think that would be helpful.

  321. I agree entirely. That is why I am not seeking any such denial from you, Foreign Secretary. Can I lastly turn to one remaining point on which we did have an exchange on the floor of the House on 17 June, the question of the ambit of the International War Crimes Tribunal. As a matter of principle, given the fact that it is now well established in the international world of police forces to deal with international crime of a non-war crimes nature that to make international law enforcement work you have to have powers of arrest which do apply outside the jurisdiction of the countries in which the crimes have been committed, do you accept in principle that the international community has to move in the same direction where war crimes are concerned; and it is not acceptable in moral or even judicial terms that there can be parts of the world in which indicted war criminals know that they have a safe haven for life?
  (Mr Cook) It is not acceptable. I do not think the international community accepts it. There is in practical terms a limit to the extent to which the international community can intervene in those few countries that choose to make themselves rogue states outside the ambit of the international community and accept the very heavy price any state pays in the modern, global economy. If at some future stage we are faced with a regime in Serbia which properly and rightly wants to bring Serbia into that global economy and to settle disputes with its neighbours and to open up to the many initiatives that we are taking in the region as a whole, then it will be a condition of that regime's admission into the international community that it abides by our norms. One of those norms is the surrender of indicted war criminals.

Dr Starkey

  322. Can I pick up on something that Sir John was pressing you on, Foreign Secretary? He was pressing you on whether you thought it was unwise to have ruled out a forced invasion at the date he was suggesting. Had you done what Sir John Pierce wanted you to do—that is, to have kept open the option of a forced invasion at that point—what effect do you think that would have had on the support of Macedonia and Albania for the NATO action?
  (Mr Cook) It is a matter of record that Macedonia only admitted NATO troops onto its territory on the explicit undertaking that they would not be used to mount an armed invasion of Kosovo. Throughout, the Macedonia government resisted that, but I think there is a prior problem which is that, throughout all of this, Britain's role—and perhaps it was a constructive and creative role throughout the crisis—was to act as a force for cohesion within the Alliance. If you are going to act as a force of cohesion within the Alliance, you also have to find where the centre of gravity of the Alliance opinion will be and what the market will bear. It would not have helped us in doing what we did in March if I had stretched Alliance unity in February.

Mr Mackinlay

  323. Picking up from Sir John's piece, if the new coalition government in Sierra Leone included indicted war criminals, what would be our relationship with that because I can clearly see we have a vested interest in other parts of the world like Sierra Leone in trying to bring about peace but—
  (Mr Cook) It would be difficult to comprehend or conceive of an international peace agreement which included indicted war criminals but of course at the present time international law is partial in that there are only two International War Crimes Tribunals, one of them for former Yugoslavia and one for Rwanda. There is none for Sierra Leone. In the fullness of time this may change as a result of the advent of the International Criminal Court of which Britain has been the leading advocate, but for the time being by definition there can be no such thing as a war criminal in Sierra Leone.

  324. What I wanted to ask was collateral damage to our foreign policy and foreign relations and particularly, but not exclusively, in relation to Russia. It was put to me by someone not a million miles from the Foreign Office that the reformers in Russia feel they have been left to hang out to dry by the West as a consequence of this. I know you receive reports of the enormous impact this has had on political relations with Russia and the domestic scene in Russia. What are we going to do about it?
  (Mr Cook) The impact of the Kosovo conflict and its aftermath has been overwhelmingly positive and balanced for Britain's standing in the international community. We emerge as a pivotal voice within the Alliance. We have immensely strengthened our relations with the other major powers within NATO because of the habit of close cooperation and close working together and the development in that context of the network is very important. We are probably the European power in the highest standing in South East Europe now, where every country of the region which was deeply hostile to Milosevic is in support of what we are doing and recognise how advanced we were in our opinion about the conflict. Within the former Soviet Union, we have greatly strengthened our respect from those countries who broke away from the Soviet Union to form independent states and, as I have previously said, one of the interesting features when we met in Washington with many of these countries in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council is that the countries, for instance of central Asia, were among the most vigorous in criticising the Russian position. I have no doubt whatsoever that the balance of the outcome of this is overwhelmingly positive. Had we sided with Russia, for instance, we would have taken an enormous burden to our international situation, however much that might have assisted our standing inside Moscow. In the case of Russia, it is very important that we have a healthy working relationship with Russia. It is very important to our own security and ultimately to our own trade and prosperity that we do actually help to pull Russia back from the brink. Britain has within the G8 countries been one of the leading voices making positive proposals for what we should do with regard to Russia. In my own case, I have invited the Russian Foreign Minister to come here as my personal guest. He will be here next week. He will stay with me overnight at Chevening and the subsequent day we will have talks and lunch with officials in London so we are making a sustained effort to get back on track with Russia and to make sure that we start to explore the many areas of common interest that we have. Colleagues will remember that back in February I paid a very successful three day visit to Russia which in particular focused on the nuclear waste problems in Murmansk which is not just a problem for the Russians; it is potentially a problem for us as well.

  325. It was put to me by a diplomat from a non-European country that the appointment of Solana to the new European Union portfolio was profoundly crass and they said that of course Foreign Ministers will meet Robin Cook, President Clinton, Prime Minister Blair and Madeleine Albright, but no Russian politician either would want to in many cases but those who might have a reformer tendency dare be seen to have any dialogue or intercourse, let alone shaking of hands with Solana because of the shibboleth he forms. I am not blaming Mr Solana. He was Secretary General to NATO but they are gobsmacked that the European Union should appoint him to this post that means he will be for an immediate period largely neutered in relation to Russia.
  (Mr Cook) I cannot say that I have had that voice expressed to me from Russian sources. Javier Solana has been around for some time and has a career profile which transcends NATO. He was a distinguished minister in the former Spanish government of our sister party. Days before he went off to be Secretary General of NATO, it was widely expected he might become the leader of that party. He is a man of immense humane and wide interests who I think will bring great strength to the job as CFSP. I would be extremely surprised if sensible Russians and professional diplomats like Igor Ivanov were not prepared to do this.

  326. But there is a pending general election and presidential election in Russia. I am talking about their relationship.
  (Mr Cook) I understand the point you are making but I think it is much wider than the question of Javier Solana and I do think that one of the important strategic objectives of the West should be to try and transform itself in the minds of the Russian people from being part of the problem to being part of the solution. Frankly, for most of the Russian people, this has less to do with NATO and much more to do with their economic problem.

  327. The British government's view was that the action had legality. It is well established ground and I do not want to go into that again. I supported the action but it is not the view which is universally held and clearly this has thrown up some flaws, some deficiencies, in the United Nations mechanisms for decision making and for authorisation. What initiatives are there in hand to at least try and get swifter decision making, perhaps use the concept such as uniting for peace general resolutions, or reducing the ground rules for vetos in the Security Council? We cannot leave things as they are, surely. This clearly does show that we need to get mandates with great clarity and speed perhaps.
  (Mr Cook) Mr Blair has already started this process with his very bold speech in Chicago preceding the Washington Summit. Work on that is proceeding within the British government and we hope to be able to take that forward within the very near future. On the specific question of the United Nations, we have been the leading advocate of reform of the Security Council, I have to wearily say, ever since I took office. It is an extremely difficult issue on which to make progress, not actually because of the views of the permanent members, but because of the views of those regions who are possibly the new permanent members and the disagreement among them as to which of them it should be. I do think that a larger Security Council which is more representative of the world as it now is, as opposed to the world as it was in 1948, might give you a better basis on which you could, with confidence look for decisions that actually matched the mood of the international community. Do remember that, throughout the crisis, we always could count on the support of broadly 12 out of the 15 members of the Security Council. It was only the Russian veto that prevented decision making.

  328. Is there any machinery to review what might be other potential crises, parallel, comparable crises? Having taken Sir John Stanley's point, I think you said with hindsight, have we now reviewed our machinery to try and signal things which can suddenly blow up, come upon us, in terms of ethnic cleansing, potential genocide? Are there reviews?
  (Mr Cook) There are two ways in which I would hope it would be less likely we would be confronted with the brutality which forced us to take action in Kosovo. The first of those is that the ethnic cleansing has been defeated. It is now in full speed reverse. Milosevic, one way or another, got away with it until Kosovo. He has now taken a very serious military reverse. One of the things that would have been good if things could have been different in history is if that had been inflicted upon him at an earlier stage in his malign adventures. That will stay the hand of people who might be contemplating such action not just in the Balkans but elsewhere. The second point is that we are now committing ourselves very energetically and strenuously to trying to bring stability and security to the Balkans region. Yes, not just for the ten years of Milosevic but going back over a long period of time, Europe was perhaps inclined to accept the Balkan region as its own stereotype rather than trying to bring that region into the modern Europe on the same basis as our values, in which borders are respected but borders are not barriers. We are working very hard through the Stability Pact, through the Association Agreements with these countries, to try and bring them into that modern Europe which we inhabit. If we succeed in that, perhaps—I cannot guarantee it—it will end up with the same degree of stability that we ourselves currently enjoy.


  329. Foreign Secretary, Sir David Madel is with us for the first evidence session.
  (Mr Cook) I am aware of that.

  Chairman: I would like him to break his duck now.

Sir David Madel

  330. On the question of economic reconstruction, have assessors now got full access to the region, because as I understand it the plan is for a donors' conference in the autumn but that of course would be incomplete without the assessors' estimates. Can they go where they want?
  (Mr Cook) With the exception of Serbia and I suppose Montenegro, the answer is yes.

  331. You mentioned the Danube. Am I right in thinking that, as far as Serbia goes, we would only help rebuild bridges across the Danube if that was the only way to make the Danube navigable?
  (Mr Cook) I would require engineering advice but, as I understand it, the Danube can be made a navigable waterway without the reconstruction of the bridges across it. There may be places where it might be of assistance to that objective to move some of the spans that have fallen into the river.

  332. The EU Agency for Reconstruction: is that responsible just to the Commission or the Council of Ministers?
  (Mr Cook) I think I am right in saying it is a Commission agency. The relationship between the Commission and the Council, as you know well, is a complex one but ultimately the Commission would usually seek our agreement for any major strategic development, partly because it would have financial consequences.
  (Dr Jones Parry) If the Commission has made a proposal, that proposal will probably go to the Council for approval but after that the Commission, as the Foreign Secretary has said, is generally politically accountable to the Council. Remember, it is also accountable to the European Parliament and to the Court of Auditors. In terms of how it actually expends the money, the detail of accountability is the budgetary control committee of the European Parliament and the Court of Auditors.

  333. Can I just ask the Foreign Secretary one question on the Military Technical Agreement? It says that after withdrawal an agreed number of Yugoslav and Serbian personnel will be permitted to return to perform the following functions and one of them is maintaining a presence at key border crossings. Are they on their own there or are they responsible on the ground to KFOR?
  (Mr Cook) All of those missions are subject to the supervision of KFOR and none of those missions is carried out without the over-arching authority of KFOR. Secondly, I would have thought it very unlikely that we will arrive at an outcome in which there would be any significant border crossing at which it was only Serb forces who were present as the figures in authority. Indeed, we did explicitly write in to the Security Council resolution that it is the UNHCR who has the say over which refugees return, precisely to prevent Milosevic preventing refugees returning on the basis that they did not have the papers which he and his forces had destroyed.
  (Dr Jones Parry) That is absolutely right. The presence would be symbolic to demonstrate that there is FRY territorial integrity involved with no question of having FRY Serbians on the border deciding which refugees should go back.

  334. Finally, historically, Russia feels uncomfortable if it does not have influence in the Balkans, just as America would feel terribly uncomfortable if it did not have influence in Latin America. Do you get the impression the Russians have now washed their hands of Milosevic because they will have no influence in the area as long as Milosevic remains?
  (Mr Cook) Here you touch on what is a very acute dilemma for those Russians who are up to speed on Balkan opinion. That is that, for the last year, they have been locked in to being a friend or an understanding interpreter of Belgrade at a time when the rest of the region wanted nothing to do with Belgrade. Those Russians, in assessing their read-out of the lessons to be learned from Kosovo, will undeniably be driven to the conclusion that their net standing in the Balkans has been reduced by what has happened. I think it is also fair to say that many Russians who have had dealings with Belgrade have come to a position of great impatience with Milosevic and would accept that he is part of the problem in the same way that we would. That said, the history of the last few months shows that they would tend not to be so robust in acting upon that deduction. Yes, it would be a false interpretation to say that there is any love for Milosevic in Moscow or indeed that he has any love for Moscow.

Mr Illsley

  335. My question is again in relation to Russia. On the question of Russian troops currently deployed in Kosovo, there were reports in the press in the last few days that there were some difficulties between the different commands in Kosovo in accommodating the Russian troops into their particular sectors. I seem to recall reading that the Dutch troops turned away a particular group of Russian soldiers from their sector. Is the agreement working on the ground between the various factions within NATO and the Russian troops or are there problems of not wanting Russian troops in certain sensitive areas?
  (Mr Cook) It is early days yet and there are bona fide, legitimate, serious areas of concern. First of all, there was an agreement made in Helsinki. Then, primarily at Russian request, that was reopened and rejigged about a fortnight ago. Where we are now at is that there is a commitment to a total of 3,700 Russian troops in Kosovo of which two battalions will be in the German sector and, if I recall right, one battalion in the French and one battalion in the American sector. There is no contiguous area of strict Russian control and there is only one part, I think in the American sector, where there is an adjacency with the Serbian border. We are very comfortable with that particular outcome that we think can work. There are of course areas, particularly within the German sector, where there was heavy fighting during the period of the conflict and where the UCK were traditionally strong and have very strong memories of what happened there. I think that some degree of latitude has to be allowed to commanders on the ground as to how they achieve dispositions in order to make sure that we do not awaken those frictions and create trouble where it can be avoided. The agreement though is a very satisfactory one in that it does provide for those Russian forces to be fully integrated within KFOR and it does mean that the commanders of both KFOR and of each sector can command other forces to enter any part where the Russians are present and carry out duties which are not being carried out, so it is perfectly satisfactory.

  336. In relation to the NATO briefings of the damage inflicted upon Serbia and within Kosovo by the aerial bombardment, there were press reports following the suspension of the air strikes that perhaps NATO had over-estimated the amount of damage which it had inflicted on Serbia and on the Serbian troops in Kosovo. Within the Foreign Office briefing, there is a reference to a DTI task force which has visited Kosovo and they concluded that the overall damage was not as great as they had been led to believe by media reports. Are you satisfied that the briefings from NATO on bomb damage inflicted by air strikes were as good as they should have been or exactly as they should have been?
  (Mr Cook) The first thing to say is we won and Milosevic did not put up his hands and surrender because we were missing our targets. The most eloquent statement about the success of the aerial campaign is the collapse of Milosevic comprehensively, without reservation, and his surrender in all our objectives which leaves me slightly perplexed by the idea that the aerial campaign was a failure, which I have seen argued in some papers. On the second point about DTI assessment, in fairness one should say here that the DTI were assessing it for impact on the civilian infrastructure rather than on the military hardware or the capacity to sustain a military operation. I frankly think it is a good outcome that there is less damage to the civilian infrastructure than they might have feared. If anything, it underlines the extent to which we were broadly successful in our targeting policy of hitting military rather than civilian targets. On the third point on the question of the estimates of damage to military hardware, I think it plainly is the case that if you are flying high and if you are flying fast you can honestly and sincerely log what you believe is the damage that you have hit, but it may turn out on subsequent exploration at leisure not necessarily to have been correct. We always used those figures which we believed reflected the cumulative reporting by the pilots taking part. If anything, I think our estimates were slightly below those of NATO. There is now an assessment team within Kosovo on behalf of NATO carrying out an assessment of the damage. To be honest, until they conclude their findings, I think we should all suspend judgment.

  337. Do not get me wrong. I never mentioned the word "failure". I do not believe the action was a failure.
  (Mr Cook) Some newspapers or some commentators got themselves into a lather to the point at which they seemed to be suggesting the aerial campaign was actually a failure.

  338. Yes. I saw press reports which said, had we gone to a ground force, ground troops would have had serious damage inflicted upon them because we had under-estimated the damage we had done but I fully supported the air strike. Following on from that, I, in my own constituency, am now receiving requests from Kosovan refugees who wish to return immediately to their former homes, despite the fact that they have been completely destroyed. My next question is, for the future of Kosovo, what will be the timescale of the reconstruction? Have any estimates been made as to how long the reconstruction will take? What is the future for the refugees? Will they be kept in camps or whatever in the surrounding territories?
  (Mr Cook) Most refugees have already returned and indeed have done so without any international organisation for that. They simply got up and walked back. In many ways, that is a positive contribution to reconstruction because most of them will be going back and getting on with rebuilding their own homes, rebuilding their farms, taking in the harvest, and that is positive. We are trying to make as rapid progress as we can and I would not want to get too strongly into setting deadlines or a timetable. At the present time, we are in a race against winter to make sure that we have shelter for the winter and that we have sufficient food gathered in from the harvest if possible to help many of those who are there. For the next spring, there will be a more ambitious programme of reconstruction. We are fighting very hard to keep the utilities working and to improve upon the utilities so that they are more serviceable. It is very challenging, partly because of course, if you recall what I said about the Kosovo Albanians being dismissed in 1989 and Serbs coming in to take over their place, many of those Serbs have left since the end of the conflict and that has left a vacuum in the management of the major utilities. I would hope we can get some of that bedded down by the turn of the year or thereabouts.

  339. Do you anticipate the Serbs returning as well at some future date?
  (Mr Cook) Some of them have and the rate of departure has slowed from the worryingly high levels of the early days. KFOR has tried very hard to provide protection to them. It would be foolish to be facile or glib about this. An awful lot of tragic things were done inside Kosovo during the period of the conflict and tempers run high on both sides. Our commitment is to provide protection to all residents of Kosovo irrespective of identity. We are seeking a reconstruction programme that will offer a better future for both. As I myself said in Pristina, if we want to create a future for the children of the Kosovo Albanians which is free from violence, then we have to refrain from violence at this particular moment against non-Albanians.

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