Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 903 - 919)

WEDNESDAY 17 MAY 2000

GENERAL SIR RUPERT SMITH

Chairman

  903. Thank you, General. Looking at your CV I realise this Committee has been stalking you for the last 15 years.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) On and off, yes.

  904. Every post you have had we have turned up and harried you, but this is the first time we have dragged you over here to talk to us. You have been very helpful in talking to us earlier and so we hope to be able to bring out some things in the public domain which you were saying to us when we met you last. However, if there is anything you would like to say out of the public domain, then we would have time at the end of the meeting so to do. Perhaps you could give us some kind of indication. I would like to ask a very general question. What did you do in the war, General? What was your exact role during the Kosovo campaign? Were you, as SACEUR's deputy, making operational decisions on his behalf during his absences from the headquarters? Were you a member of his inner sanctum and privy to all or most of his decisions?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) I will try and describe it, what I did, and hope that will answer all of those questions, in aggregate at least. I should perhaps say when I arrived, because it is quite difficult to know when this affair starts, I arrived in December of 1998; and, I suppose, actually to start to operate as DSACEUR very early in the new year, once I had found my feet and done my initial meetings. I am his deputy. On no occasion do I recall actually acting formally as such, in the sense that he was absent and I took a decision. He was present on the bridge all the time, certainly during the period of the actual bombing campaign itself, March to June. To expand a little, I was there pretty well all the time that he was there during that period. I travelled on his behalf, particularly into theatre, visiting KFOR, (although it was not called that then), the extraction force, the AFOR, as it was deployed, and also conducted what one might call a form of diplomacy in visiting those states which surrounded Serbia: Yugoslavia but specifically Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, Rumania and Hungary. I also tended to collect those things that he could not attend to, so I kept an eye on Bosnia because he was focused on this. There was the specific activity that I conducted and conduct, which is the whole business of force generation, so as these plans actually came to be executed, I was the one who was looking for the forces and resources from the nations and, if you like, collecting all the bids together and providing for the force as a whole. Then, lastly, as a confidante you are there to be discussed with. This has two values, none of which gets written down, but myself and the Chief of Staff, who was a German, were very much part of the debate on a day-to-day basis. We had access and were with him on most of the occasions he took decisions of consequence. This has two values. It shows to the Alliance that this is not an American-only affair; that there are other nations represented, specifically Germany and the United Kingdom. But it also produces another set of perspectives or viewpoints into the debate.

  905. Having a powerful American a few doors away, the Ministry of Defence trying to nobble you, the rest of the SHAPE organisation, NATO allies, was it a frustrating experience? You have been through some pretty appalling bureaucratic structures in your time. Was this really frustrating?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) I had never worked in NATO. I had been a brigade or divisional commander.

  906. The MoD must have been a good preparation for the fighting in NATO.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) We are supposed to be all in the same nation in the MoD. It is grossly overstated but gives you a character of it. If you are not careful you can have 19 different conspiracy theories running at any one time because there are 19 different nations. You have a whole series of procedures and processes for making decisions, which are very difficult to short-circuit because they are there to give confidence to the members that they have all been consulted, that everybody has seen what is there to be seen, and so on. For me, and probably borne on the experiences you allude to, I think these are givens. You can lubricate the system. You can sandpaper the sharp edges. But if you are going to have an Alliance, then you must accept that there has to be some mechanisms to give trust. This is because the loyalties to the Alliance are not those that glue a nation's institutions together.

  907. How often did you have meetings with General Clarke? The reason why I ask this question: did he have an inner sanctum of trusted advisers away from the rest of the outfit? Were you part of that?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) I was privileged and, as I said, I was there, such as there was an inner sanctum, which was called the Command Group, and I am a member of it. I was only not there on questions of duty or some other job to be done, but I was there on all the American-only video television conferences that were being conducted, when he was wearing his hat as the C-in-C of EUCOM, which is his American title. Both the German Chief of Staff and I, and one or two other NATO officers, were there, as though we were Americans. So there really was not a closed bit, in any formal way, at all.

  908. Was that because you were Deputy SACEUR or a Brit?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) No, it was because I was Deputy SACEUR, although it helps that I am a Brit, because of our own relationship with the Americans. As I say, there were Germans there for a lot of the time. A Dutch man was there.

  909. The Americans, in many ways, are incredibly tolerant. They are the biggest force at all levels and it must be quite difficult for them to have to adjust to much lesser powers offering their advice. A delicate question. (I am not very good at asking delicate questions.) How dominant was this decision making process vis a" vis the United States and the rest? Was there a much closer relationship between General Clarke and his United States chain of command? How was it possible to reconcile that dominance in terms of positions in the power structure and force contributions with an alliance of other nations, some of whom were contributing significantly but others who were there just for the ride, and avoiding the ride if they possibly could.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) What you allude to, what you are asking a question about, is inherent within the structure of any alliance. The power of the major contributor to the actual venture, as opposed to the Alliance as a whole, is something you can recognise. They are the ones that are carrying the risk. They tend to be the ones who are making the decision. It does not have to be the Americans. It is quite an interesting thing. It is highlighted by the well publicised argument over Pristina Airfield. The root cause of that can be seen to lie, amongst other causes, in a changing equity of the venture. Up until that point, something in the order of 80 to 85% of the equity lay with the United States because of their capability, particularly in the air and in intelligence. But as people started to move into Kosovo, their equity dropped to something in the order of 15%. Suddenly other nations started to have a stronger say, as shareholders, if I can use a commercial example. This goes on daily. That is the stuff of life within NATO. To be more specific, and as a personal statement, I think that General Clarke handled the difficulties inherent extremely well. The very business of bringing people like me into American-only council. The whole consideration of not risking people was as much to do with holding the Alliance together and making sure that everyone felt that their equity was being treated in the same degree as the Americans was something that was a constant concern of his.

  910. I cannot wait to read his autobiography when finally he retires. He ought to be judged really positively for having held an almost impossible organisation fighting its first war, dealing with the political minefields. I think it is an almost impossible task. I must say I really perceived him even more positively after the war ended than I was able to even before.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) If I could add, we should not only measure the equity of the nation in its outlets in a case such as this. It could not have been done without Italy providing all those air bases. We could not have followed through if Greece had not given us Thessaloniki. The political situation in Greece was not one which would give this place any comfort at all if you were running foreign armies through one of your ports.

  911. Was the SHAPE planning process adequately transparent to the other nations, who did contribute perhaps more than others. Were they feeling irritated by not having the same intelligence or not being party to decision making in a way they would have wished?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) If I can draw a distinction between the planning process as opposed to the execution process. At the risk of telling you another question, the planning process, I am absolutely content, is transparent. It is done by allied officers, in front of other allied officers. Not every ally necessarily has a man at the desk but there is sufficient to make it an Alliance effort. It goes through more than one headquarters, so it gets looked at by the Military Committee. In the terms of creating, writing a plan, that is quite clear. Where there is a difference is in terms of execution of a plan, and then you do start to get into the world of what people are able to know because of the intelligence flow. Certainly one of the things we have learnt is that we need to improve that.

Mr Gapes

  912. May I ask you about your relationship as a NATO commander with the United Kingdom command chain. In that position, were you always clear where the United Kingdom was coming from in terms of the political military objectives and the extent to which the United Kingdom was prepared to commit its forces?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) First of all, I consider myself to be a NATO officer that happens to carry a British passport and be a general in the British army, rather than Britain's man, if I can put it that way. I am not deputy (I do not know what to call it) to BAOR, as it used to be called. I have one job and it is a NATO job. My loyalties lie to the Alliance in that regard.

Mr Cann

  913. That must be very difficult.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) It may be but that is what I consider correct. But I do know what Britain is interested in. It would be foolish to suppose otherwise. I make it my business to know and during this affair I am talking to the Chief of Defence Staff perhaps daily. Certainly, if we averaged it out over the period, every second or third day. I am in contact with other members of the MoD. I read British telegrams and so on. I know what Britain is about.

Mr Gapes

  914. In retrospect, how important a role do you think you played by virtue of the fact that you did know what Britain was about and, although you are a NATO commander, clearly you are getting information from the United Kingdom, which you may not have from other countries. So, in that sense, how important do you feel is the role that you played on behalf of the United Kingdom during the campaign?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) The whole of that question can only be answered by someone in MoD or certainly Whitehall. By virtue of having a British general in that position, you are able to know and influence what is happening right at the top within the scope of that command. I hope I played my full part. As I say, you must ask others.

  915. Do you think the United Kingdom was clear what it wanted out of this campaign?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) Yes, I do. I would go so far as to say that amongst all the nations it was amongst the clearest.

  916. Do you think it would have made much difference to the course of events, from the United Kingdom perspective, if your post had been filled not by a United Kingdom citizen but by a German, for example, as it will be?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) No, we should be able to manage that because there are three four-stars there at the top of SHAPE: SACEUR, Deputy SACEUR, and Chief of Staff. In respect of that, that I discharged to the United Kingdom, you could have discharged that from the Chief of Staff's chair as well.

  917. So Chief of Staff's position, in terms of the information and influence, is as important as Deputy SACEUR?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) In terms of sitting in an inner council, able to talk directly to SACEUR, the Chief of Staff sits as close as I do as the deputy.

  Mr Gapes: Thank you.

Mr Hancock

  918. How reliant are you, as a senior NATO commander, on the intelligence provided by individual nations; and is this the best basis for an organisation like NATO to have, either to go to war or contemplate going to war?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) You are entirely reliant upon the information that individual nations supply. We have intelligence people who can assess it and parcel it up and pass it round but we do not collect it. We will state our requirements as NATO but we cannot answer them ourselves. So the reliance, as a senior NATO commander, is entire.

  919. In an earlier answer you said that one of the lessons would be to see about how that could be changed. Could you explain to us how you, as the Deputy Supreme Commander, would like to see those changes come about. What sort of organisation would be needed within NATO to make NATO's intelligence itself more self-sufficient, more reliable?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) If I can make a more general point, which might cover other answers I have given, (and I hope answers I am about to give), one has to be careful to differentiate in trying to draw deductions (let alone lessons) from this experience between those difficulties that are inherent to a major international, multinational venture, and those that are to do with process and procedure organisation and so forth. The reason why I am saying this is that the handling of intelligence, secret classified information, outside the narrow world it is collected in and handled in, is very much a matter of trust. A trust of communications in the physical, technical sense as well as in the people that you are handling. One has to be extremely careful before I answer my question to you in the perfect world that I could design for you, that you ask me something that is just not going to be achievable. Because something much more fundamental and human to do with people is something we have to live with in this type of major multinational organisation. That general answer given, we need nevertheless to improve this degree and I would like to see—and indeed we have recorded it, in essence -under an improved ability by the nations over and above just the United States, so that we get it on a wider scale of collection of information. This is such platforms as UAVs and so on. Also, our capacity to handle what is called human intelligence, be it the interviewing of refugees as they flood over a border, so you are able to interview and parcel the information up. It is there for the taking. They can tell you what roads are open and what roads are shut. How they moved. Whether a tractor can get down there. That requires groups of people with the languages, the capacity to ask the questions, understand the answers, parcel it up, fuse it all together. So we have two extremes: the technical and the human to improve on. That is part of what we need to do to further improve our forces. Then there needs to be a better way of fusing this together, where the trust business comes into the sharing of it; some of it is technical, computer programmes and so on. Then, finally, there is the business of disseminating it. Who needs it. Who can be trusted to use it. This is, to some extent, technical. Your wide area networks and so on. But some of it takes me back to the first point that you may not be prepared to share that information. Of course, the whole of that then affects not so much the planning but the execution of the plan. There you match that in the Alliance by measuring your major contributors, who tend to be the people who need the information because they are carrying the greatest risks. So it tends to run down those national links.


 
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