Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340 - 357)



Sir John Stanley

  340. Foreign Secretary, you rightly pointed out that Milosevic has had a very long track record of ethnic cleansing and that what he did to the Kosovo Albanians came really as no surprise. Could you tell us why, after Milosevic had had ten years to throw out the Kosovo Albanians in the way he did, you think it was that this happened on 22/23 March this year when he gave the order for that operation to take place?
  (Mr Cook) It does not, with respect, begin with March 1999. Milosevic's pogrom in Kosovo dates more accurately from the spring of 1998 and there were two massive offences across Kosovo in the course of 1998. Do not forget that, in the course of 1998, 400,000 people were displaced from their homes; 2,000 were killed; cattle and crops were destroyed in the fields. He had twice already done this in 1998. That is the nature of Milosevic. Every time the succeeding crashing wave was more fearsome and brutal than the preceding one. What happened in March of this year did not fall from the sky without any precursors.

  341. I understand that but I think you would also acknowledge that what began on 22/23 March, from your evidence on the timing, was of a different order from anything that had preceded it.
  (Mr Cook) In Kosovo?

  342. In Kosovo. There had been very, very serious massacres, pogroms, but this was something quite different. This was the order to remove the Kosovo Albanian population out of Kosovo as quickly as possible. Why do you think Milosevic gave the order to do that when he did?
  (Mr Cook) The objective was irrational and the method with which it was imposed was a brutality beyond human comprehension. It therefore is extremely difficult to try to answer your question in a way which would imply a reasonable case for doing what was a totally unreasonable activity. With respect, I think I shall decline to do so. I can think of no justification for what he did. Once you get to the point of starting to produce reasons for what he did, you are coming uncomfortably close to providing a justification.

  343. I do not think anybody is in the business of providing justification in this Committee room, but the reasoning, such as it was, evil as it may have been and certainly was in my view, the evil and the appalling calculation that he made is one, I think, that needs to be explored. You do not believe, for example, that there was any issue? Perhaps you do. Do you believe there was any issue of retaliation against the impending air strikes from NATO; that Milosevic was calculating if he was going to be hit from the air then he was going to retaliate on the ground?
  (Mr Cook) No. I really do not think that is a sustainable argument. First of all, his objective, which was the same objective he pursued first against parts of Croatia and subsequently against large parts of Bosnia, was to cleanse the population of non-Serbs. That is what he was seeking to do. The objective was a major demographic change in Kosovo. The planning for that goes back long before the air strikes took place and during a period when he himself was sceptical whether the air strikes might happen. It would be utterly false to blame NATO for the brutal ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. That was made, coordinated, planned and conceived within Belgrade, not in Brussels.

  344. There is no issue of blaming NATO. Everybody knows that Milosevic is wholly responsible for the appalling things that he did, but the issue—and I think it does seem to me to be an important issue, given that you had two million people's lives and livelihoods at stake—is to try to understand, when NATO is wholly in the business of deterrents, as to why deterrence failed and broke down at the point that they did.
  (Mr Cook) You are rewriting what NATO means by "deterrence". For us, deterrence has always been—and this was true under your government as well as under ours—deterrence of attack upon our Member States and upon our territory. In that NATO has remained successful. I think its credibility would have been undermined if we had failed to act in this case, particularly since it is now on the borders of NATO as a result of the admission of Hungary. I am not aware of any previous government or this government at any stage saying that NATO's deterrence is about deterring humanitarian breaches of the law of the kind that we witnessed in Kosovo. We gave a commitment in October to guarantee the ceasefire that was negotiated by Holbrooke. It was that ceasefire that was smashed when Milosevic's forces went into Kosovo. Our credibility was on the line but that was not a matter of deterrence.

  345. When the Prime Minister said, 24 hours before the bombing began, that the objective of the bombing was to avert a humanitarian disaster, what was the government's expectation at that particular point as to the relationship between the bombing and the averting of the humanitarian disaster which was threatening and, on your evidence, the order which had already been given two or three days beforehand?
  (Mr Cook) I think everybody who took part in that decision understood that if you embark on military action and military conflict there is a very real risk, unavoidable in the nature of military action, that the situation will get worse before it gets better. Equally, we had come to the view that if we took no action the situation in Kosovo would not only become insupportable in terms of any humanitarian decency but would also result in a permanent shift in the population which would then be impossible to reverse. Had we not acted, you would probably now be still looking at hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanians seeking refuge outside Kosovo with no prospect of being restored to Kosovo or the kind of international administration with Kosovo we have at present.

  346. Did you expect at that point, as it was said you were seeking so rightly to avert humanitarian disaster, that the impact of a few days of bombing on Milosevic would be sufficient for Milosevic to have conceded and, as the ethnic cleansing would have lasted only for a few days, he would have conceded in sufficient time to have saved many, many lives of Kosovo Albanians and hopefully keep many more people in their homes?
  (Mr Cook) No. I do not know of any European Foreign Minister who did believe that it would be all over in a few days, although infuriatingly I keep seeing it being written by people who have never asked our opinion. It was always the possibility that, when Milosevic recognised that we were serious and that we had embarked on military action, he would then seek to escape but none of us in Europe got into this on the basis that it would be over in a few days. It would have been extremely foolish not to have entered into this without the recognition that we were taking on what, despite the size of Serbia, remains one of the largest standing armies in Europe and that, if we were to commence this, we must be prepared to sit it out longer than them.

  347. Both the American government and the British government have been, in my view, commendably forthright in making it clear that there should be no economic aid to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia whilst Milosevic stays in power. Could you clarify for us, Foreign Secretary, whether that represents also the policy of each and every NATO Member State and each and every EU Member State and whether it also represents the policy of the IMF and the World Bank? I understand of course it does not represent the policy of the United Nations because it is not in the 1244 resolution but could you clarify what the position is in relation to the other four bodies I have mentioned?
  (Mr Cook) It is a very long list containing a very large number of countries so I really would hesitate off the cuff to give you the categorical assertion that you request, but broadly speaking the position that we hold is widely shared across the international community. In terms of sanctions, the important body is not NATO but the European Union, which has adopted a range of sanctions and is the body of course which would relax those sanctions. I do not anticipate a substantial shift in the European Union position when we meet next week at our regular monthly meeting of Foreign Ministers. I think the position we have taken of caution in relaxing sanctions until we are clearer about a proper, political perspective for Serbia is one that is widely shared and we are all agreed on the need for change.

  348. Can you answer on the World Bank and IMF?
  (Mr Cook) As far as the World Bank and IMF go, there ain't any way that they are going to be putting money into Belgrade anyway, irrespective of the war crimes issue, simply because they would regard the economic policies of Milosevic as being a wasted effort. He has presided over a spectacular economic collapse and even if one removed, which would be a tough one, the outer cage which prevents access to the IFIs and has been there for almost a decade now, I doubt if IMF and the World Bank would be inclined to change their standard position simply because they do not regard it as meeting the conditionality attached on economic grounds.

Mr Heath

  349. What are the political consequences of the exercise of the conflict on NATO? What lessons have been learned as far as the structure of NATO is concerned in the way it carries out its business?
  (Mr Cook) Early days yet to come to any firm conclusion but a number of assessments have been set in hand by NATO. We would probably expect those to feed through come the autumn. Broadly speaking, one should not lose sight of the fact that, on the whole for NATO, what happened was a success. NATO displayed a degree of unity and resolve which frankly few commentators credited it with at the start of the conflict. Whilst I think that certainly we should assess our decision making; we should make sure that lessons are learned, we should review what are the consequences of the decisions that we took, I do not think we should be too depressed about the need for dramatic change. For myself, I think we were possibly a bit slow in getting acceptance that the military campaign has to be devolved to the military managers. I would hope next time round more partners would share our perception that the function of the political leadership of the Alliance and the strategic direction is not actually to fight the war.

  350. How will NATO resist the next call for it to intervene in a similar conflict? We heard this in the Caucasus on our recent trips; quite serious suggestions from government officials that Nagorno Karabakh might be the next venture for NATO.
  (Mr Cook) Did they say on which side we were coming in?

  Mr Heath: If you work out where I was, you will know which side it is.

Dr Starkey

  351. The other side actually said the same thing!
  (Mr Cook) It would be very interesting to manage that particular conflict. I do not think there is going to be a great difficulty within NATO managing such a request because we have been through a testing time, a challenging time, with success, but it is the first "hot" war that NATO has actually ever conducted in its entire history, which is in many ways a tribute to the success of NATO. But there is no immense appetite for repeating this experience either now or in the foreseeable future. One obvious external constraint, if we were ever so minded, is that we would of course need a legal base on which to undertake such an operation. We are clear we had a legal base on this occasion. I do not think that it would be easy to find a similar legal base in places which are both in different environments and further away. Broadly speaking, we would wish to see the security of the world handled primarily through the United Nations and there may be occasions when the United Nations—

Mr Mackinlay

  352. Our legal basis was the humanitarian one; overriding. That is not limited by geography, is it?
  (Mr Cook) No, it is not limited by geography but you would have to have that test met. I am not actually saying that even if a legal base existed we would necessarily feel compelled to act upon it. At that point one also has to have regard to how it would impact on your own security. In the case of Kosovo, we had both a clear legal base on humanitarian grounds, and we also had what was quite clearly a threat to our own stability and security in that this was occurring immediately over our borders, and we had given a guarantee last October to the ceasefire there and that guarantee was being called into question by Belgrade. So it was that concatenation of the different circumstances, which I hope we will not see repeated in the foreseeable future. If they were repeated we would rise to the occasion, but if they are not repeated in that particular richness of challenge to us I do not think NATO itself is likely to take action.

Mr Heath

  353. One small budgetary question: is there any move to reimburse NATO's central budget? Clearly there are moves to reimburse the military forces which were engaged but the actual command structure has been working on a diminishing budget and has had to deal with a major contingency which it could not possibly have planned for.
  (Mr Cook) As a broad principle, Britain is in the forefront of demanding very tight budgetary discipline for international organisations, including the overheads of NATO. I am not familiar with any estimate of the cost to NATO of the conflict and other resources. Can anybody help me? We can happily look into that.

  354. I would be most grateful. With the greatest respect, it was a question I also put to the Secretary of State for Defence some months ago and he said he would write to me and I have never had a letter.
  (Mr Cook) I will try to make sure we will both write to you.

Sir David Madel

  355. Foreign Secretary, during hostilities, did you regard British media reporting from within Serbia as satisfactory?
  (Mr Cook) It would be impertinent for me to express a view.

  356. Helpful to the British cause?
  (Mr Cook) I frequently read things in the press which I regard as unhelpful, but it is not for me to prevent them appearing. I can give you a long list from the last 48 hours if it is helpful!


  357. Foreign Secretary, I have a number of duties. One, to remind my colleagues that there is a meeting of the quadripartite committee at six o'clock and, most important, to thank you and your two colleagues very much for coming to see us. What I do hope, Foreign Secretary, is this, that even during the recess you could continue to keep the Committee briefed with any developments, as you have been doing, because it will prepare us then for the inquiry which we hope to accelerate in late November.
  (Mr Cook) I would be very happy to give an undertaking to work with the Committee through its interesting investigation of this and its report. There are one or two questions to be asked and lessons to be learned, which we can approach without necessarily doing so in any partisan way. I am sure it is in both our interests to work together on that. Can I just share with the Committee, before we finish, that just before coming to the Committee I received a message from our senior crime team which is working in Kosovo. One of the ways in which British distinctively is helping is by the provision of the forensic team which is examining some of the massacre sites. They have now moved on to their third site and Superintendent Gent, who is now the head of the team, rang us before I came across to say that they have found 21 corpses at the site in Celine. I think the appalling thing, and I am sure the Committee will share my sense of horror at this, is that the bodies are overwhelmingly children. There are seven girls aged 2, 10, 11, 14, 16; four boys aged 5, 7, 8 and 10; eight women aged between 19 and 58; only two adult men among all the 21 corpses. I do find that kind of evidence of the atrocities which took place in Kosovo compelling evidence of why we had to do what we did, and also a compelling explanation of why the Kosovar Albanians express such relief and joy at the liberation.

  Chairman: We are very obliged. Thank you, Foreign Secretary.

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