Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence



Examination of witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)

WEDNESDAY 15 MARCH 2000

MR KEVIN TEBBIT, GENERAL SIR CHARLES GUTHRIE, AIR MARSHAL SIR JOHN DAY and MR SIMON WEBB

  60. Therefore, unable to defend themselves if they ever came under any pressure?
  (Air Marshal Sir John Day) Yes. They had to be unarmed because that was the term of the agreement. Once you get into arming, are you going to give them a side pistol so they can protect themselves and they do not look very clever in front of a tank that is about to fire at them and where do you stop in escalation before you give them a tank? So it was a very difficult question but that was all that was available.
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) We placed an extraction force remember, NATO, under a French General in Macedonia who, if it had been necessary, would have had to extract them from great difficulty. The other thing I would say is that people have suggested "Well, why did we not have many more of them on the ground", but I do not think it would have made any difference having more on the ground because I think once Milosevic had been determined to go down the path he was and was tightening the screw, it would not have made any difference. One other thing which happened at the same time was NATO were flying overhead doing air verification.

  61. Okay.
  (Mr Tebbit) Remember, before that period there had already been 250,000 internally displaced people and 70,000 refugees across the border. This gave the breathing space to get those people back into their homes for the winter, which was an important point. So the breathing space mattered.

  62. Can I take you up exactly on that point. 250,000 internally displaced and 70,000 across?
  (Mr Tebbit) I think those are the figures.[2]

  63. That was by January, was it?
  (Mr Tebbit) No, this was what was happening earlier in 1998.

  64. In October?
  (Mr Tebbit) That is right. Leading to the Holbrook Mission, leading to this deal.

  65. Your memorandum says that by 19 March you had evidence from the Verification Mission that there was an inevitable humanitarian disaster as a result of what was happening. At that point there had not been the expulsion of people in larger numbers from Kosovo. You refer to 70,000.
  (Mr Tebbit) No, I was talking about what had happened earlier in 1998, much of those had come back again.

  66. It is true to say that there was a significant increase in the scale and the pace of the movement of people, including then movement out of Kosovo?
  (Mr Tebbit) After the bombing, do you mean?

  67. After the intervention, yes?
  (Mr Tebbit) Yes.

  68. In retrospect, did that military intervention actually accelerate the humanitarian disaster rather than prevent it? Could we have actually taken some different action rather than what we did do to deal with the problem?
  (Mr Tebbit) Accelerate or not it was Milosevic who decided what he was going to do, not us. He decided to take that action, not NATO. I was surprised personally and shocked, I think the whole world was shocked, at the savagery of the mass expulsions that Milosevic engaged in after the bombing had started. I do not think we were prepared for the scale of the displacement of people that we saw at that point. We knew that previously he was about to plan. We expected this to begin again, he had done it the previous year and we knew that he was building for a campaign in the spring and it was partly out of concern of that that we acted. It was more a question of, if you recall, a village a day keeps NATO away. We were watching it going bit by bit by bit and that was one of the reasons why the intervention took place. We were negotiating in good faith at Rambouillet and subsequently in Paris. Meanwhile, Milosevic was carrying on and intensifying and building up his forces and his actions. I think we were surprised by the scale and ferocity of the ethnic cleansing that took place after NATO's action began but there was a plan, an intention, to be doing those sorts of things anyway. It was just that we did not expect it to accelerate so quickly.
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) His form that he had behaved so badly in Bosnia, evicting people and driving them out already, the year before he had done it on a more limited scale and failed to evict them from the country. So we were not surprised, in fact we expected him to carry on but, as the Permanent Secretary said, I do not think anyone foresaw the barbarity of the man.

  69. You referred to 250,000 and 70,000.
  (Mr Tebbit) In the previous year.

  70. Yes, what was the actual position when the Verification Mission was there in January? Do we have any figures as to how many people were driven out prior to that point and then in March when he recognised a humanitarian disaster? The other question is there were lots of figures thrown around during the conflict about the number of people killed.
  (Mr Tebbit) Yes.

  71. I would be grateful if you would tell us, was it 100,000 like some people suggested? Was it 10,000 like I have seen also? Can you give us an idea?
  (Mr Tebbit) I know what you mean and figures were used which subsequently proved to be exaggerated, you are quite right.

  72. Very exaggerated.
  (Mr Tebbit) Let me explain. I know what you mean. The figure of killed that we use at the moment is 10,000, okay? During the campaign at the early stages we feared there were very, very high losses and the reason we feared that was because of the way in which people were going around the camps counting people in the camps. They had expected to find as part of the usual breakdown of population 35% to be males but they could only find 10% of males in the camps and this led to the estimate—which was the best anybody could do at the time, done in good faith—that there were a lot of young males missing. That was why the figures seemed so high. We were not saying they had been killed, we were saying they were missing, we did not know what happened to 100,000.

  73. They were with the KLA?
  (Mr Tebbit) They were hiding in the hills. Most of them were hiding in the forest actually and came down afterwards. Some of them had obviously joined the KLA. Radicalise the people and they join the freedom forces.

  74. You would accept that figures were used which were completely inaccurate?
  (Mr Tebbit) They were used in good faith. They were used in good faith at the time. But I have actually bothered to give you the basis on which the calculations were made to try to explain that this was a genuine concern. We were horrified, the whole world was horrified, this was not manufactured. Fortunately, as it were, when it was all over, people who were feared dead came out of the forest and the figures were not so large as they seemed at the time. The displacement of people, the ethnic cleansing, remains absolutely vast. The figures there, nobody has ever given precise ones but I think 850,000.

Chairman

  75. We expect superior thinking and decision making in defence ministries.
  (Mr Tebbit) Of course.

  76. Despite the evidence to the contrary. Did you ever have some guy who sat in a chair and was told "You are Milosevic. This is what we can do, options A, B, C, D and E. Now you tell us what are the range of options you would have considered"? Again, with the benefit of hindsight, you would have said "Well, look I have really messed things up. Whilst they are thinking of war, possibly I will send a lot of refugees charging along a limited number of roads". Surely, as he had relatively few cards to play because his armed forces could not confront our's in a conventional way, he had to use asymmetric warfare, he knew the concept because they had been working on this for 50 years? Was not escalating the ethnic cleansing an option, and if you do escalate the ethnic cleansing then an increase in the number of refugees seems to me fairly obviously is going to be a consequence of that? So to throw your hands in the air and say "We did not anticipate this was what he was going to do" indicates that your war gaming was grossly deficient.
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) I think it is extremely difficult to get into Milosevic's mind. We did have people who sat down and said "I am thinking like Milosevic" and we did have psychologists in NATO who actually studied the man's record. It was extremely difficult. Thank heavens he is not like us.

  77. I think you ought to get a new set if they did not tell you that was an option.
  (Mr Tebbit) We did not expect the barbarity or the savagery. We did not reckon on the readiness to do quite what they did. You are right in one sense, I think it was quite difficult to get into the mind of not just Milosevic but his very close entourage, they were extremely good at maintaining, as it were, their own operational security. I think we had probably, not under-estimated, but always felt beforehand that the way Yugoslavia had developed over the past 30 years in defining its position between the Warsaw Pact and NATO had given it tremendous resilience in terms of communications redundancy, in terms of operational security. They were a very tough nut to crack.

Mr Hood

  78. One of the things which surprises myself and some others is you said a moment ago that you were surprised by the barbarity. I was not surprised by the barbarity. Anybody who has been watching what has been going on in Bosnia would not have been surprised by the barbarity. Why were you surprised by the barbarity?
  (Mr Tebbit) Because we did not think he was a war criminal before then. He had behaved in a reasonably responsible way in trying to get the settlement in Bosnia actually. His track record was not so bad as it has become. I think anybody who really thought that he was like that and was going to be like that would have had a duty to have acted much earlier and we did not think he was so bad as he proved to be.

Mr Brazier

  79. One very quick point in fact, could you just confirm that there are now today a much larger number of Kosovan refugees outside Kosovo than there were at the onset of the NATO campaign?
  (Mr Tebbit) I honestly do not know the answer to that. I would not be surprised if a lot of people had decided that having moved outside they will not go back; but that is a different thing.


2  Note by witness: see Written Answer, 10 March 2000, to Q41 of the Committee's request for information (4 Feb 2000). Back

 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 18 May 2000