Examination of Witness (Questions 903
WEDNESDAY 17 MAY 2000
903. Thank you, General. Looking at your CV
I realise this Committee has been stalking you for the last 15
(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
(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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 seeand 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.