Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



  20. But surely the planners are not just concerned with planning for what might be absolutely inevitable but what might be feasible?
  (Air Marshal Sir John Day) It was at least six months before public concerns about Kosovo and generally people like yourself became concerned about Kosovo that we became very worried. I do not think there was a vacuum. We were watching the entire Balkans region and it was well up on our list.
  (Mr Tebbit) Towards the end of 1997, the emphasis within the contact group after Tony Lloyd's visit and NATO was on urging Rugova and the Serbs to meet for a peaceful resolution of their differences. We were probably ahead of NATO planning during 1998 in trying to encourage, through the contact group, people to consider whether we should be bringing pressure to bear on Milosevic to negotiate seriously. There is a big difference here between a conflict between nations and what was still, formally speaking at that stage, a matter within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Remember, when we intervened, it was to avert a humanitarian disaster. It was not to impose a settlement on people who were part of the same structure. There is a difference there between conflict between nations and, as you know, conflict within a federation of Yugoslavia where autonomy had been taken away from one group and they were seeking its restoration. There is a difference between a straightforward international crisis where we might think we should take military action and a crisis where the solution needed to be and had to be from the start a peaceful, political solution. It was the failure of the two sides to get together and secure that solution that led to the intervention that we have seen because of the humanitarian crisis that arose, not because of a classic war intervention scenario. That sounds rather Mottramesque, Chairman, but I think there is a distinction there that is quite important.

Mr Hood

  21. When planning was commenced for a campaign of coercion against Serbia, were the objectives clear? In other words, did the military planners in the PJHQ and in SHAPE understand what the politicians were looking for?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) We wanted to give the politicians as many options as we could, because we were not quite sure, so we had to have a number of contingency plans. As I mentioned, we did look at a very large span. In the first category, we had Partnerships for Peace exercises, which meant we actually sent people to Albania and Macedonia, three exercises. Sometimes the air had the emphasis and sometimes the people on the ground. Then we had another category. For instance, one option at one end of the spectrum was selective support to the OSCE, supporting arms embargoes, going up to the other end of the spectrum, which was deploying people in Albania and Macedonia, to support the monitoring which was going on. We then had two air options which we looked at. Then we looked at the ground deployments, where we had four options. One was to implement a ceasefire or a peace settlement with full consent of all the parties. Then we had forced entry to Kosovo and then we had a very worst case. We had a wide number of plans which we presented to people.

  22. Did they believe they could deliver what the politicians were looking for? How did the military planners assess the risks of engaging in a quick coercive campaign against Milosevic as opposed to dealing with him in other ways?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) When it came to it, we did deliver for the politicians. The campaign was a success. We managed to achieve what we wanted to with an air campaign and we were able to insert a ground force as a result of that.

  23. When we were in SHAPE last month, we found out that there was war gaming with an American facility in Germany. There has been criticism that NATO did not conduct any political war gaming in the run-up to the air campaign. Were NATO's international staff involved sufficiently early in drafting the military options and providing political/military guidance?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) NATO can give you a better answer, quite honestly, than I can about that because I am not quite sure when they did get involved. We had no war gaming of the air campaign in this country but we did make very thorough assessments at the Permanent Joint Headquarters of things like casualties and we used past studies and operational experience. We did model collateral damage to see what effect a bombing campaign would have. Some war gaming did take place in Land Command during the operation and really the intention of that was to estimate the force size required and the benefits of different courses of action—again, casualties and ammunition requirements.

  24. Was it the view of your advisers, or was it your view, that Milosevic would cave in quickly?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) I always hoped he would cave in quickly, but I made it absolutely clear from the word go that we had to brace ourselves for a long haul.

  25. Do you think these views were passed on to the NATO allies?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) I certainly found that my views were mirrored by most of my fellow Chiefs of Defence in NATO. I also believe that none of the major players in the political world in this country was under any illusion.
  (Mr Tebbit) I was in Pakistan at the time, trying to restart our relationship up after a small nuclear difficulty. When it started, I telephoned home naturally and said, "Does the Secretary of State want me to come back right now and not carry on with the visit?" This was literally when the bombing started, although we had a few hours' notice. George Robertson said, "No, you had better come back fresh from the Indian sub-continent; this could go on for quite a long time. I think we might need some fresh minds after a bit". I just give you that little, personal anecdote in good faith. We were not under any illusions. Although we hoped it would be over quickly, we needed to plan for it to be longer.

  26. Was it not agreed because the view was that there was a lot to consider, the use of ground troops, that the air strikes were good enough? If that was the assumption, surely it was not the planners' view that these air strikes could go on and on?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) Some people in the alliance felt that the bombing could go on and on. We, as I think it is well known, believed that a ground option should be planned for. I would like to have seen a ground option planned before the first bomb was dropped. I believe it was important to do that because you need to face Milosevic with different options. You want to worry him. If he was worried about a ground campaign, which he was in the end, because you will remember in my opening remarks I said I thought this had a lot to do with him caving in at the end, but I would like to have planned and hoped we would never have had to do it.

  27. Was that the advice you gave to the Prime Minister?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) What I told the Prime Minister it is probably best for the Prime Minister to tell you, rather than me.

  Mr Hood: Now we know your view, we can guess.

Dr Lewis

  28. I am interested that you now say that you wish that the option of planning for ground invasion had been available right from the start, because I have the text here of a press conference in which you participated on 12 April 1999 and you said, "The question of NATO using ground forces continues to be raised and I wish to make it clear, absolutely clear, once again what our position is of today. Neither NATO nor the United Kingdom have any plans for a proposed invasion of Kosovo by force." You went on to say, "This does not mean to say that over many months we have not been considering making contingency plans for the use of ground troops. It would have been irresponsible not to do so." Do you not feel that you were sending the opposite signal to Milosevic by stating that, at the very time when he ought to have been being kept worried that there was a possibility of ground troops?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) I said "of today" and that was the position at that time. That was what NATO's position was. We obviously had to go along with what the market could bear. Other countries at that time were less keen on it. I was just saying what NATO's position was. I said "of today". As time passed, the likelihood of having to turn to a ground option became ever stronger because winter was approaching. The alliance was thinking, changing its attitude and I believe it was one of the reasons why it was not taken off the table at the Washington Summit. President Clinton said, "All the options are on the table", I think. Before this, Javier Solana said, before the Washington Summit, "We must plan for everything".

  29. You were in an extremely difficult position because only the day before, at another conference, the Foreign Secretary had said categorically—11 April—"We are not preparing for a ground invasion. These troops are not preparing for a ground invasion but we have more assets than he [Milosevic] has and we can keep going longer than he can. The sooner he recognises that, the better for his army". The problem I am getting at is this: you have said to us very frankly that you would like to have seen Milosevic kept worried right from before the first bomb was dropped—that was your expression—that there might be a ground invasion; but you felt that you had to say, if only because your political masters were saying it, that there will be no ground invasion because of the very revealing phrase you just used, it was what the market would bear.
  (Mr Tebbit) There is another dimension here. I am not just trying to put words into the CDS's mouth because he can do it for himself. There was no secret that we were planning military options. In 1998, we were planning military options, but this was a matter of NATO cohesion and solidarity. The most important thing of all was that the alliance should be absolutely resolute and clear and that, when it said anything, it said it with absolute unanimity. It was not possible for the alliance as a whole to have said that and the Chief of Defence Staff was not playing to his United Kingdom political masters; this was a necessity in terms of alliance cohesion and solidarity. That is one of the reasons we won in the end, because we remained united.

  30. I do not want to anticipate later questions but I want to get this quite clear. The militarily desirable option would have been for Milosevic, before the first bomb was dropped, to have been in fear that there might be ground forces used, but you felt that you could not say that, even when we were into the conflict in mid-April, because you were afraid that the unity of the alliance might not bear it or, as you say, the market might not bear it.
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) I was just one Chief of Defence Staff. There is a council for political leaders and my view was that I would have, but it is not just me.

  31. Do you not feel, in a way, that you as a professional, military adviser should not have to have considered these political aspects about alliance unity and were put in something of a false position to have to go up and take what was an overall political line on this question when, in fact, militarily you would have wanted to be able to threaten that ground forces would be used?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) I see what you are getting at but my view is that what I said on that day, as you quoted, was "as of today". That was the position. As of today it was not on. That does not mean to say that I would not have liked something else. It was not just a political decision; this was in our country and we were one of 19.

  Chairman: Thankfully, we have established political control over the military. The military, thank God, do not make policy. It is bad enough having politicians making policy.

Mr Viggers

  32. I am grateful for the explanation of that statement because I remember when I heard it I felt that this simply was not credible. This Committee heard a lot in Brussels and Mons last month about the lack of a clear mission when the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps deployed to Macedonia. Was the build-up of forces in Macedonia, following the deployment of the ARRC, well managed? Did they know what they were there to do and could they have done it?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) When they were building up in Macedonia and before the technical agreement with the Serbs was signed, there was some uncertainty about where they would go and the nations who would be involved in it, but when the technical agreement was signed, if you remember, General Jackson did that with the Serbs, and it was quite clear how he would move into Kosovo and where people would go. There had been discussions obviously of contingency plans because we all knew that sooner or later we were going to have to move into Kosovo hopefully to implement a ceasefire which had been agreed by all parties, which we did; or go in another way. He was clear what he had to do but it could have changed at some stage up until the time of the actual signing of the agreement.

  33. Clearly, if Milosevic had been threatened, even privately, with a ground invasion, this would have had an impact on him. Why was he not threatened, overtly or covertly, with a ground invasion?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) I think it really is linked with the abilities in question. The alliance were coming from different places. The alliance held together and I think the resolution of the alliance actually strengthened rather than weakened. Again, that was one of the main reasons why Milosevic gave up because he hoped to divide the alliance. If we had gone too far too fast, it might have been difficult for some countries.
  (Mr Tebbit) You also have to bear in mind how long it would have taken to have amassed forces necessary to achieve a successful, opposed entry into Kosovo. Mike Jackson and his force were configured for peace implementation; they were not configured for an opposed offensive. You recall George Robertson saying regularly, shortly afterwards when he was making his speeches about the event, that it would have been the middle of September before we were in a position to have inserted a force for war fighting, had that been politically desirable. That was about 150,000 people. We finished the thing a lot earlier than that through political resolve and essentially an air campaign.
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) 150,000 to bring into that area is a very demanding operation. We could have done it and I think there was no secret that we, being British, were prepared to find some 50,000, both regular and reserve.

  34. How near were you to mobilising reserves?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) We were getting quite close to it. I would say within a month.

  35. How many reserves were you contemplating mobilising?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) I cannot give you a really accurate answer to that question because it depends on what other nations were going to produce on the line of communications. I was thinking of 12,000 or 14,000, something like that.

  36. What was the trigger that caused the North Atlantic Council reluctantly to reopen the question of a ground invasion towards the end of the campaign?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) I think there was a feeling that it was necessary, if we were to get the Kosovars back into their houses—remember, we had some 850,000 who had been driven from their houses—we needed to do it sooner at that stage rather than later. If we had run into the winter, getting them back in the most terrible weather would have caused us great problems.

  37. If you were within a month of mobilising reserves, did you learn during the preliminary stage of the premobilisation any lessons about the availability of reserves? Have you any cause for concern, particularly in the recent case, for instance, where an individual reservist—
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) I am absolutely sure we would have had large numbers of the Territorial Army and the reserves volunteering to come. I have no doubt that they would have played a very, very important part. I remind you that we have 800 in the Balkans today, and they are an extremely important part of the Army. We had not done a trial on calling out sub-units or units. We are having a study on that at the moment. We will be reporting before the end of the year. That will make them more usable. We would have had volunteers.

  38. Whilst no-one knows for certain what caused the change of heart of Milosevic—we all suspect that it was pressure from Russia—the fact is that, to use the word you used yourself, Sir Charles, we were lucky and we got away with it, but is that the way to plan?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) I used it in a slightly different way, I was talking about aircraft really that we were lucky enough to have. It is very difficult to predict exactly what is going to happen. There is always an element of risk. We all felt that what we were doing was well worth the risk and we would come out on top and be successful, which is exactly what we did.
  (Mr Tebbit) I must say I did not feel that it was just the Russians making it clear to Milosevic that they were not prepared to help him that was decisive in the end, I think there were at least four different factors. One of them was the fact that the alliance held absolutely firm, despite every attempt by Milosevic to divide and his expectation that he would be able to do that. The second one was that all options were on the table and whatever he could do, he could not, as it were, defeat the KLA while NATO was keeping his own forces pinned down. It was not that we were fighting for the KLA, it was just that the Serbs could not move. The third reason, which I did not think of at the time but I must say with the benefit of subsequent events was quite important, was the indictment by the War Crimes Tribunal. That appears to have had quite an effect on the Serbs, not necessarily on Milosevic but on the leadership around him. These were as well as the Russian element. I mention them because I think it is quite an important point as to why he gave in.
  (Air Marshal Sir John Day) Can I pick that up. You suggested that we were planning on luck, we were not planning on luck. There was tremendous resolution at the start both in this country and at NATO and certainly in this Ministry of Defence. We made contingency plans which included a ground operation, a NATO ground operation, and the key question was when that ground operation had to be called, in other words for the forces to be mobilised. We did not quite reach that point. We were not planning on luck, we had a comprehensive plan to ensure victory.
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) Just one thing about the solidarity of the alliance. I think it is very interesting when you think of their experience in these things, Germany and the Bundestag, 98% voted for what we were doing, Italy who were alleged to have real problems about what we were doing were host to nearly a thousand NATO aircraft but Greece, who had opinion polls which were overwhelmingly against the action, were very solid when it came to the final days.

Mr Cann

  39. Just to follow on Dr Lewis's question, to paraphrase what you said, Sir Charles, basically I think what you said was you had to sacrifice your military judgment because we belonged to a consensus organisation?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) I am subject to political control and I live in a real world. No-one can do always exactly what they want to do. This was the right thing for the alliance to do and I was happy to go along with that and make my point. I think it was well understood what I did. I did not feel uncomfortable about it.

  Mr Cann: Nevertheless, we have a very large NATO already, do you think if we make it even larger it will make a difference?

  Chairman: That is another inquiry. Only I can ask stupid questions.

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