Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340
TUESDAY 13 JULY 1999
COOK, MP, DR
PARRY, CMG AND
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
(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
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 issueand I think it does seem to me
to be an important issue, given that you had two million people's
lives and livelihoods at stakeis 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 beenand this was true under
your government as well as under oursdeterrence 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
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.
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
(Mr Cook) Did they say on which side we were coming
Mr Heath: If you work out where I was, you will
know which side it is.
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
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.
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
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
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