Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 940 - 959)

WEDNESDAY 17 MAY 2000

GENERAL SIR RUPERT SMITH

  940. Where was the decision taken to extend the bombing campaign beyond Kosovo into Serbia?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) That decision was made, as I recall it, at the North Atlantic Council.

  941. Which did senior commanders consider to be the more important in shaping the campaign plan: attacking the Serbian para-military police or the Serbian military?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) We did not differentiate at SHAPE between the two. They were working side by side and in cahoots.

Laura Moffatt

  942. Sir Rupert, we have been trying to focus, in our evidence sessions, on the issue of ground forces considered at the beginning or not. It appears from evidence from other committees, the Foreign Affairs Committee interviewing Sir John Goulden, that it may have been possible for the politicians to say that it would have been wise at that stage in order to keep the Alliance together. But, on the other hand, from other evidence, particularly from General Guthrie, it may not have been necessary and there was no enthusiasm from the military side of the operation to commit ourselves to ground forces. Do you agree with that assessment?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) No, not really. From the point of view of SHAPE we were urging the development of a ground option once the bombing was on from really very early in that period, March to June. I am trying to remember, I would have said in early April, if not earlier, SACEUR and I were talking about the need to develop a plan. The next major escalatory step was to go and take this place, how were we going to do it and so on and so forth.

  943. It was being considered?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) Yes, but let me be quite clear about the difference between what two generals were thinking and starting to talk about and what was formally tasked. We were thinking, certainly, about it in April and my memory is early in April. We were talking about it and suggesting that we should be getting on and thinking about it, and making a plan and so on and so forth. We were not formally tasked to do that in a formal sense.

  944. Hence the political influence there.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) Yes.

  945. I understand that.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) Certainly we were talking about it to our capitals and I would have said by mid April, certainly late April, I had a pretty clear idea in my own head how one would go about it if we had to do it and so on and so forth.

  946. Right. What I am driving at is the time span that was available to you as this became more of an option. We have heard about politicians saying nothing had been ruled out and the time span that was offered to you. You have told us that you were the person who had to think about where all the bits of kit and the people were going to come from.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) Yes.

  947. What did that do to your planning process? We have heard from people that there were two months to do the job.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) Let us draw a distinction just for a moment between taking the decision to do this as opposed to taking the decision to make the plan. The more parallel and informal activity you have taking place the quicker you can reach that point of making a decision in a hurry. Part of our thinking was to get comfortable, that there was time to do something. You have played it back to me, presumably you have had it from somebody, some witness or other, that we only had a month to go or words to that effect. That was a month, as I recall, a month for a decision to be made so we could start moving the forces to get there, so we could have time to do the job if we won and then get the refugees back before winter. That became the stop line. Let us say winter is the beginning of November, therefore you have to have a month to do that in, therefore you have to ... etc., etc.. So part of the thinking of all that through was to make sure we had an understanding of what the time limits were, but also to have an understanding of what would be required and that sort of thing. Now, so far as I am concerned, as the force generator, it poses me with a problem because I cannot formally go around asking nations for this thing if we have not had a formal plan and so on and so forth. The next thing I have to make a judgment about, and it is a straight forward, professional judgment—I say it is straight forward, it does not make it easy—is as to what level of—these are my words for it—fight are we going to have. Broadly, that dictates the size of your national grouping. Generally we all agreed that if we were going to have to occupy Kosovo, and have a bit of a fight to make that happen, and enforce some form of agreement, then the level of national grouping needed to be a brigade group, and that was what you saw us generating for Mike Jackson's force in the actual event. If we were going to go in and actually fight for Kosovo then we were looking at national divisions. I do not say it would have been like the Gulf in the sense of the quantities or those sorts of forces but it would have been like the Gulf in that the national components which actually went to do battle were at divisional level because that was the size of the fight. I would have started to look for divisions and, indeed, started to say to people in various capitals "If we are going to do this, this is what we are going to need to buy".

  948. Right.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) Now, to that extent, that may have put all sorts of people off but it was better in my view that they knew the size of the cheque before they wheeled me in.

  949. You had determined the level of force presumably at this 150,000 mark?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) No, national components I am talking about, the size of that block.

  950. Right, yes.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) Now, when you add it up in other words as to how one might do this, you are coming in at about a corps which in round figures, with its national support elements and all the rest of it, you are looking at about 150,000.

  951. Okay. We promised 50,000 so you would have had to look for another 100,000 elsewhere.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) United Kingdom had.

  952. You put that to various nations, "100,000 between you, you have got to come up with"?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) No, it was not "100,000 between you" but "I want this in fighting blocks of one nation".

  953. Right.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) "I want a division from you and a division from you".

  954. Okay.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) We were beginning to hawk that around, informally, at purely professional levels at the end of April.

  955. That took you how long to just warn people, warn nations?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) I suppose about a fortnight. This was in every day discourse, if you like.

  956. I think, Sir Rupert, most people would say—and I am amongst them—that as the campaign went it was as well executed as it could possibly be but the reality was that we were quite lucky to get away with it. Do you agree with that? Do you think that is a fair statement or would you like to add to it?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) I do not think it is a fair statement, no. Where was the luck? What did we get away with? We—NATO, 19 nations—said we would go and do this and we did it. We did not fall apart. We did not lose anybody. We lost three aeroplanes, I think I am right in saying. We achieved those stated objectives of getting the VJ and the MUP out and putting the refugees back, etc. Whether that was worth doing, whether that was what we should have done within a greater diplomatic hold, I leave to others to argue but in the use of NATO I do not see where the luck played.

Chairman

  957. Was not the luck that we did not have to fight a ground war? You knew all about the Gulf and we had months to build up our forces, we had wonderful air fields.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) If that was what you meant by "getting away with it", that we did not have to escalate, we would have had another load of mountains to climb but I am quite convinced we could have done that ground attack.

Mr Brazier

  958. Who else would have produced a division, General? Who else do you think would have divvied up one of these divisions?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) If it had come to that, I think you would have seen American, British, French and German forces deployed. I am not saying there would not have been other nations there.

Mr Hancock

  959. General, in the fighting of the air battle, do you think we were equipped from the start to do the job that NATO wanted done? Part of the reason was that the right assets were not in the right place and maybe we shot our bolt a bit too early and that was why it took so long.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) There was an imbalance in the equipment, that was for sure. There was far too much good stuff with America. I do not want it to be taken away from the Americans but it is not healthy for an Alliance, as an Alliance, to have quite such an imbalance of that high quality stuff. Also, we were using NATO and its equipment for a purpose that was not what that construct had been designed for. We were applying it in a very new situation to achieve an objective that was a coercive objective, a deterrent objective, and actually to change someone's intention when the whole machine was designed to destroy an attacking force and thereby deter. We were now using it for really quite a different thing and using the equipments that had been procured and the procedures and all the rest of it, using those for that other objective, for a different objective. A lot of the comment I suggest—a lot of the comment—about what we did, specifically about SACEUR, can be understood, I suggest, because he was the person who found himself having to employ these equipments and procedures for an objective that was not what they had been intended for in the first place.


 
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