Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 836 - 839)




  836. Sir John and Admiral Haddacks, thank you for coming. We are two-thirds of the way through our inquiry into the lessons of Kosovo. We have asked you to give public evidence mainly because we want to get on the record some things that you kindly said to us when we visited NATO in February. If you want to say anything to us in confidence, we can go into private session later. We have a lot of questions to ask you so I am instructed by the Clerk that there will not be much time for supplementary questions. Would you like to make some kind of short opening statement?

  (Sir John Goulden) Yes, if the Committee does not mind, I would like to say an opening word about how NATO functions. That is the key to understanding how this operation worked and how future operations are likely, in practice, to be handled. The culture is, of course, one of consensus. In NATO we can do things only if 19 countries agree. That involves compromise and that compromise has to seek the best results, not just on the military axis, but also on the political and unity axes. In fact, one is basically looking for the best decision of NATO on a three-dimensional graph: political, military and unity. Compromise is not normally at the lowest level. There are various ways in which we ensure that the compromise is usually at a fairly high level. That is partly because of the habits of integration and co-operation over 50 years; it is partly because we have a strong sense that once we start on an operation we have to see it through to success; and it is partly because of the intense investment that we make in consultation among the allies, not just formally in the North Atlantic Council—during the crisis it met 81 times—but also informal meetings of the Council and intense informal consultations with smaller groups and between capitals. That is NATO's great strength. That explains the most difficult decision that we took, to make the threat and to use force in spite of the fact that we did not have a Security Council resolution. It explains the speed with which we were able to escalate once we took these decisions. As soon as various political milestones were passed elsewhere, NATO was able to follow up with remarkable speed. It also explains the solidarity that governments—some of which were in great difficulties domestically—were able to show in taking painful political decisions in order to stay with the NATO pack. I stress that point. I know it is well known to the Committee, but it is important that it should be understood because I suspect that most peace support operations in the future will be by a coalition of some kind. The factors that inhibited NATO, but which were also its great strengths, will apply whether the European Union is in the lead or NATO or whether there is a coalition.

  837. When we visited you, you told us that the lessons learned were being studied. Have there been any developments in the two or three months since we saw you? If one is learning lessons how does one go about that other than to study them?
  (Sir John Goulden) That is being done at several different levels in NATO: with the military at SHAPE, the military in Brussels, and the various political committees. Most of that is now at a fairly advanced stage, although not all of it has gone to the Council yet. The key lesson that we have learned from previous operations is that the important thing is not just to learn lessons, but to implement them. That is one of George Robertson's major themes since he arrived at NATO. He is determined that this time we shall not just learn lessons, but that we shall implement them. He is setting up an implementation machinery to that effect. I think that will make a very important difference. It is crucial that we draw the right lessons. That is the value of reports like the one you will be doing.

  838. At what level will that implementation take place? If it is not done at a pretty high level and if there is a lot of bureaucracy, everything will disappear and initiatives will be gobbled up.
  (Sir John Goulden) I think it will have to be done under the authority of the Council and under the authority of the Secretary-General. If he puts his weight behind it, that will make all the difference.

  839. The attempt to manage the Kosovo crisis was, by definition, in some ways a failure as we had to resort to military force. Do you believe that ways may have been found, or moves made earlier, that could have avoided the bombing of Serbia and Kosovo?
  (Sir John Goulden) That is a very big issue. In as far as military operations are always a result of a political failure, I would point the finger first, obviously, at Milosevic. I do not need to go into the details of the number of opportunities that he lost and the mistakes that he made that led us to that crisis. The second area would be the institutions and the non-governmental organisations that specialise in conflict prevention, which is not NATO's forte, although given Milosevic's line, those organisations were probably doomed to fail at that stage. My sense is that if there had been a Security Council resolution in October 1998 or in January, February or March 1999, we might have been able to avoid a conflict. Milosevic might have been overwhelmed if there had been a Security Council resolution that included military force. But that was vetoed by Russia and China. Milosevic was then left with a feeling that we would probably use force, but that we would be inhibited and that the international community would split and that if he held his ground it would go on splitting. We had to go to that stage of the air campaign. In retrospect, the air campaign was a precondition of success. Without it we would never have achieved the result—the five conditions—that we insisted upon.

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