Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 976 - 999)




  976. Thank you so very much for coming. It is literally a flying visit for you. We will let you go at 11.30 when you wish to depart. We last met you when you visited NATO, when you had come back that day having negotiated with Milosevic. We were most impressed by your frankness and what you, in fact, had said to us. We have read the statement you made to the United States Congress. If I might ask a question based on your evidence. You said in your statement to the Senate Armed Forces Committee: "Nobody knows when [Milosevic] took his decision but I have reason to believe that it was in November 1998 and it was most probably the decision to not only annihilate the KLA but also to expel the bulk of the Kosovars in order to restore an ethnic superiority of the Serbs." My question is why and when did you have reason to believe that Milosevic took a decision to begin his campaign of ethnic cleansing in November 1998? It was, by your quote, most probably a decision not only to annihilate the KLA but also to expel the Kosovars in order to restore an ethnic superiority in the Serbs.

  (General Naumann) The reason why I came, unfortunately with hindsight, to that conclusion, is that since it was hindsight, I did not come to it in November 1998. General Clarke and myself saw Milosevic in January 1999. As you know, we were sent a second time—without any success by the way. He said to us, and General Clarke has stated this in public, "I will solve the Kosovo problem once and for all in spring 1999." That was Milosevic.

  977. That is what he said?
  (General Naumann) Yes.

  978. Did you feel that was a threatening statement?
  (General Naumann) It went on a little bit. We asked him, "How will you do it, Mr President?" "We will do to them what we did to the Albanians in Drenica in 1945." So we said to him, "Mr President, we do not know what you did to the Albanians in 1945. Would you be so kind as to elaborate." "It is quite simple. We got them together and we shot them." That was his answer. I would call it a little bit of a warning. The intentions were not too peaceful at all. When he said this—and I am not now revealing something which has never been said in public—I repeat, General Clarke has stated it in public, and it was reported at least in the American papers and in your country one recollection came back to my mind when we negotiated the retreat of the Serb forces in October 1998. We arrived at a certain moment at an impasse and we got the impression that the Serbs were playing for time. We had not achieved anything after five hours or so but to solve the problem around the pocket of Milosevic. Then General Perisic, the then Chief of Defence, took us into his office. He was accompanied by a Police General. He manoeuvred to get this Police General out. Then he suddenly changed his tone. Before that he had spoken the usual official Serb language. Then he told us, "Listen, you have to talk to Milosevic. We all cannot do anything. You have to go back to him now in order to find some flexibility on his side. He is the only man in Serbia who can solve this problem." Then he went on to say, "I am saying this to you since I want to save the Serbian Army. I know that you can destroy the Serbian Army and I also know that you will do it, but I do not want the Serbian Army to be destroyed. The Serbian Army is the only democratic institution in Serbia." So far, Perisic's words. I take the conclusion from that that Perisic was aware that there were orders to involve the Serb Armed Forces in the Kosovo theatre, which so far had only been by the MUP and the Police. He did not want to do this, which I understand. No Chief of Defence of a conscript force would ever wish to see a conscript force involved in something like an internal conflict. He apparently had mounted some opposition against Milosevic's plans. This conversation came back to my mind by the fact that Perisic had been ousted a couple of days after our conversation had taken place. Milosevic had apparently removed the man who did not want to do what he wanted him to do, and had replaced him by someone who was known as an obedient follower, a man who, as far as we know, was not absolutely free of the suspicion that he had committed some crimes of war during his time as commandant of the Pristina Corps. If you put all these pieces of the puzzle together, it is not unfair to say that he had presumably the intention back in November, and the justification for the time is linked to the ousting of Perisic. That was the explanation for my statement.

  979. You transmitted that back to the NAC? Do you think that the less subsequent actions were followed on the advice that you gave that, "This guy is really messing us around, he is not really serious, he is playing for time, he has an evil intent"? Was that a general message that you passed back?
  (General Naumann) We reported faithfully the conversations, which we had had in Belgrade, to the Council. The NATO Council, at this point in time, was not yet prepared to take military action, since they wanted to exploit another diplomatic avenue. This led later on to the Paris and Rambouillet talks. The history of that is known to you.

  980. When we met you, you were in a rather angry mood. You were tired. You had just come back from Belgrade. The general image you had was, I presume, one of pessimism. That it would be very difficult to achieve a diplomatic solution with a man as threatening as Milosevic.
  (General Naumann) We had been sent against our advice to Belgrade. We had asked not to be sent since we knew that the task we were given was not a military task. I should say the instruments that the Council had kindly provided us with to persuade Mr Milosevic were not really a stick but what I would call a rubber baton. Of course, Milosevic, who is a shrewd man, knew that. So we talked for seven hours against the wall. It is also perhaps interesting for you, and also perhaps later for history, that during these talks the only man who spoke was Milosevic. No-one else ever had to say anything, whether we talked about the diplomatic status of Ambassador Walker or the admission of Judge Arbour, the then head of the ICTY. All these nitty-gritties, which normally in every civilised country are dealt with best by a Foreign Minister, were dealt with by the President of Yugoslavia. So no-one could say that he did not have the personal responsibility.

  Chairman: That is interesting. Thank you. Laura Moffatt.

Laura Moffatt

  981. General Naumann, your responses to our questions are really very much helping us to come to some conclusion about the events, and we know how difficult it certainly must have been at the time. It is difficult enough for us to piece together the sequence of events, to try and understand if we could have conducted this business better. As the Chairman has already said, we were very fortunate. I believe it was a privilege to see you so quickly after you returned from seeing President Milosevic, to be able to debrief us in that way. However, there are some things I would like to explore with you. This is because it seems to me, and just this moment I said I felt as if I was wasting my time, I should not have been there, it was a politician's job. I have to tell you that some members of this Committee share that view. I was sent to do a job which was not really for me. You did your best but you were just sat there and a soldier was spoken at for hours and hours. I was going to say do you believe that we were threatening what we were not going to deliver as NATO, but clearly your answer to that would be yes, I suppose now, would it?
  (General Naumann) I think I have said, before the conflict started and, as a matter of fact, here in London in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute a couple of days before the conflict started, that we, NATO, should never threaten the use of force if we are not prepared to act the very next day. We were not prepared to act when we started to threaten the use of force and the reasons for that are well known to all of you. When we started to threaten the use of force, we were 16 nations. Those 16 nations were not united at the point in time when they agreed to the threat that action should be taken the next day. In many cases, I believe, including your own, the legal conditions to use force against another country in a conflict like Kosovo were not yet there. I know for sure in my country the legal basis was not yet there. In the absence of a mandate of the United Nations Security Council, we need a clear vote of the German Parliament. This did not exist at this point in time. The next ingredient which you need in an alliance: we did not have the consensus in the alliance when we started to threaten the use of force. My conclusion from that is my lesson learned for crisis management. I am saying this openly and frankly since I am certain the next crisis will come. I am not saying it in order to be seen as one who has raised the finger, but as one who wants to learn from history so that we know in the future what we have to get right next time. We have to understand how an alliance is seen from the outside world, from a man who knows us. That is the other point which you all have to see with Milosevic. He has lived in New York for a couple of years, so he knows our western societies; he knows our system. He can read between the lines and he can make a difference, whether it is The Sun or The Times which is reporting on something. He understands us and as soon as he sees that there is no cohesion in the alliance he will take the obvious step and try to drive a wedge into the alliance in order to weaken our determination, and that he did.

  982. You painted the picture of that visit that it was a complete waste of time but there was some pulling back, was there not, by Milosevic, after that visit? I know that was subsequently followed by some activity by the UCK. How did that influence Milosevic saying, "There you are. That is what happens when I comply"?
  (General Naumann) That was perhaps one of the few windows of opportunity where there might have been a chance to avoid what happened in 1999. I think it is fair to say that Milosevic honoured the commitment which he had made to General Clark and myself on 25 October 1998. He withdrew the forces and he withdrew the police. There may have been some difference as to whether there were 200 or 400 policemen more or less but that really does not matter. More or less he honoured the commitment. Then the UJK or KLA filled the void the withdrawn Serb forces had left and they escalated. I have stated this in the Nato Council in October and November repeatedly. In most cases, the escalation came from the Kosovar side, not from the Serb side. What the Serbs got wrong was that they reacted in an indiscriminate way. They used force more or less in the same way our Russian partners are doing now. If you have someone sitting in a building, it is apparently their way to move forward a company and to destroy the entire village. Then you are sure that the house in which the sniper was is destroyed as well. That is what we call indiscriminate use of force, which is not allowed for us, but through this stupid way of answering an illegitimate act of the Kosovars he escalated and then the conflict went out of control.

  983. You have explained—and this was an angle I had not considered—that Milosevic actually knows quite well our psychology, the way in which the western world will respond to anything that he does. You say he knew about us. Did we know enough about what was going on with him? When did we start gathering intelligence in NATO to give you the tools to understand how best to talk to him?
  (General Naumann) NATO intelligence is the collection of NATO nations' intelligence. Not all NATO nations provide intelligence to NATO. They all benefit from it but there are only a few which really provide intelligence. Your nation is among them; mine also. I think we got the first disquieting reports late in 1997. Then it continued and, as of the beginning of 1998, the NATO military authorities were invited to provide the NATO Council on a weekly basis with an update on the Kosovar situation. That we did, based on what nations were kind enough to give to us. For the sake of clarity, NATO has no own intelligence gathering machinery.

  984. What you are saying to us is there was a very small window of opportunity where a peaceful settlement may have been achieved. It was not. At what stage did Milosevic know that we were serious then?
  (General Naumann) That is the $100,000 question. I simply do not know exactly. I have reason to assume that he possibly did not believe that we were serious when we started to bomb. The reasons for that are again found in our statements of the west. Allow me to say in all frankness that if you start an operation like Kosovo but rule out by public statements that you are willing to see it through, a ruler like Milosevic who does not feel much responsibility to his people and his country, who has just one interest, namely to stay in power, may come to the conclusion, "I could try to sit it out since they will not go down the road", an issue which my British predecessor, as chairman of the Military Committee, and I have stated I do not know how often in the NATO Council. It is always the same two points. You have to tell us what is the political objective and if you tell us to use force please be prepared to see it through. This preparedness to see it through is not there if you rule out in public statements the use of ground forces and that was the element which removed uncertainty from Milosevic's mind.

Mr Gapes

  985. You said in your statement to the United States Senate Armed Services Committee that crisis management by definition was a failure before March 1999 in the sense that it did not prevent the use of force. Do you believe that there were any moves that could have been made or moves that were made but perhaps at different times that could have made a difference?
  (General Naumann) I am really not sure. It again means to read the mind of our opponent. We all know Kosovo was nothing which came overnight to us. Kosovo was a crisis which more or less was looming since 1989 when the autonomy was lifted. Then it became quite obvious that it was a serious point when Milosevic refused to negotiate the Kosovo issue at Dayton. From that moment on, we knew that we had a problem on our hands. There were attempts, as you know, to find a resolution of the problem but I remember very well one attempt which was made at one of these Bosnia peace implementation conferences, the one which was hosted by Germany. The then German Foreign Minister raised the issue of Kosovo and the reaction of the Serb delegation was to walk out. We knew that there was a different quality in that and we also knew that we could never compare Bosnia to Kosovo. When it had been possible to find a solution for Bosnia, not one of us should have believed we would find in the same way a solution for Kosovo.

  986. Was one of the problems also that there was no real clarity about who was taking the lead in trying to solve this question? Was it NATO? Was it individual countries, particularly the United States? Was it the OSCE? Was it the contact group? You referred to the Bosnia implementation discussions. Was one of the real difficulties that there were so many cooks and there was not any clear structure?
  (General Naumann) I believe that was one of our mistakes. In the German language we have two proverbs which apply perfectly to this situation. I do not know the proper translation into English but one is if you have too many cooks they will ruin the menu.

  987. Yes; too many cooks spoil the broth.
  (General Naumann) The second is never change horses midstream. We violated both. Spoken from an alliance point of view, the worst situation was when two European governments proposed that the contact group should be brought into the game. The contact group had a composition of France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, the United States and Russia. This was an ingredient which helped us in the internal debates in the NATO Council to weaken the cohesion which we had achieved when we had agreed in October on the activation order, since suddenly ambassadors of non-contact group nations, who were normally behaving like ambassadors should, like a group of peaceful sheep, became what I would call ferocious wolves.

  988. Can I take you on to how the NATO side of this worked? Were the North Atlantic Council and the Military Committee involved and engaged in this sufficiently early and sufficiently effectively to manage the crisis prior to the actual start of the air campaign?
  (General Naumann) I would not complain that we were not involved sufficiently. From the Luxembourg ministerials in spring 1998 onwards, Kosovo was the number one issue on our agenda. They kept us really busy, at least us, the military, with developing one contingency plan after the other. At the end of September, I think we had a list of some 15 or so contingency plans sitting on our shelves. We were involved early enough. Whether the quality of our advice was sufficient I have to leave to the judgment of others. The NATO Council, from my perspective—and I participated in every single meeting of the Council except the ambassadors' luncheons on Tuesday which the chairman of the Military Committee is not allowed to participate in—was fully involved. We saw one weakening of NATO's involvement and that was the phase of the Rambouillet and Paris talks where NATO was not admitted to be present. We were not allowed to offer any advice at all. That led to some problems of cohesion within the Council since they all knew that five of the Council members had some national information but, as always in international negotiations, the degree of sharing was never 100 per cent. It may have been close to 100 per cent but it was never 100 per cent.

  989. Are you suggesting that if NATO had been involved in Rambouillet the results of Rambouillet would have been different and perhaps we could have avoided the conflict?
  (General Naumann) No, I would not dare to say that. The only thing which I can clearly state—and that was something which General Clark and I had tried to achieve in vain—is we had been of the opinion, based on our experience with Dayton, that the military annex to this Rambouillet Treaty should have been negotiated first and not as the last thing. I said this in the Council I think in very drastic language. I said, "You have to treat the Serb delegation like the French treat their geese when they try to produce this wonderful liver. You have to stuff it down the throat and then start to talk about the other things." Forgive the frank language, but that is the way it was done in Dayton and it worked. Later on, we saw the same point which led to a failure. It was at the end the military annex which the Russians pretended not to have known, which the Serbs regarded as a violation of their sovereignty. As all of us know, no paper which is put on the table is eventually signed in exactly the same language in which the first draft is put on the table. This is not an excuse but I believe we had not been absolutely off the mark when we advised the Council to take the most difficult thing first and then, after you have solved that, go to the things which apparently are easier.

Mr Viggers

  990. My starting point is one of the conclusions that you drew in your statement when you appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on 3 November 1999. Your second conclusion in your paper is: "There is a need to think through how crisis management can be improved. Simulation techniques may be a helpful tool to be considered." You have just pointed out to us that NATO intelligence is the intelligence of each country and of course there is the further point that I understand the international staff of NATO has no right to raise issues independently and is only allowed to react to tasking coming from the North Atlantic Council. Following through your conclusion, did you have the power to involve simulation techniques?
  (General Naumann) I believe one could do it. I have stated in the Council repeatedly that to do military planning which involves the nations I need a Council authorisation, but to start thinking I do not need a Council authorisation. This indicates a little bit the leeway within which you can manoeuvre. I did not have any problems at all to tell my staff, the international military staff, a very small group of people, "Think this problem through; think this problem through and come back to me." I also told these national officers, "Please consider you are international officers as I am. I am not a German. I am a NATO officer. You, the French colonel and you, the American colonel, forget that you are French and American. Please do not run and say, `This German has told me to think about this and this'. Be assured that I will tell your superior but the point in time at which I will tell him is my decision."


  991. General, were you successful in convincing the Frenchman that he was not French?
  (General Naumann) I had an extraordinary French Air Force colonel in my staff. I could not have thought of a better officer.

Mr Viggers

  992. You say that simulation techniques may be a useful tool to be considered. Were they considered and were they used?
  (General Naumann) What I was dreaming of was that we had something like what the Americans call a war gaming capability within NATO and also within the Military Committee and the NATO Council. The technology is there to have it but unfortunately my generation—this is a generation of generals and ambassadors—is not very good at clicking the mouse. We hate this and we do not exploit the possibilities of modern technology in a sufficient way. It starts with chamber rooms like yours and the Military Committee looks very similar. You do not have the need but the Military Committee, for instance, really should have the technology to have screens instead of microphones in front of them, where we can display what it would mean if we bring in 50,000 people and what would be the difference if we brought in 100,000. We can do this on simulation and then we come to better advice and a better founded conclusion. That is not yet exploited. We have to go in that direction. Nations, by the way, do it. My nation does it. The United Kingdom does it. The Americans are very well advanced in that respect.

  993. You see this as a supranational NATO facility as opposed to a national facility?
  (General Naumann) I would love to have something like this as a supranational facility since otherwise you will always depend on the judgment of nations. NATO is not one nation; NATO is many nations.

  994. It is technological equipment you are looking for, rather than a change in the structure of the manner in which NAC gives its instructions to staff?
  (General Naumann) I am not arguing in favour of overruling the vote of the nation. Do not misunderstand me in that respect. I am a strong believer in the consensus machinery which we have in NATO. It is difficult to achieve a consensus, but it is one of the strengths of NATO that we respect the smallest nation as if it were the United States of America.

  995. To take a specific example on war gaming, did Milosevic's option of holding back with much of his air defence capability get to be analysed?
  (General Naumann) I have no precise information. That is the level which was dealt with below the Military Committee, as presumably has been done with SHAPE or with those who did the targeting business. I am absolutely confident that they analysed all options of reaction of the Serb air defence forces. I doubt that this option would have led to a different approach with regard to the attack on the air defence forces. We did not do too badly with regard to the air defence system. We were not able to neutralise it completely but we degraded it to a remarkable degree.

  996. Some war gaming requires sophisticated equipment but other parts of it involve effectively human brain storming. Would more of that have been helpful in trying to lead to conclusions on what Milosevic would do in different circumstances?
  (General Naumann) Yes, perhaps, but on the other hand the key to this question you are raising is not so much the amount or the degree of war gaming but the authorisation of the degree of force you are allowed to use. We were not allowed initially to use overwhelming force. It was a very modest attack which was authorised for the first phase of the campaign. During this first phase of the campaign, the political objective without any doubt was to bring him back to the negotiation table to find a peaceful solution. That we did not achieve and for that reason we had to escalate. We did it quickly, as you know.

  997. There was a period when, because you had not the authorisation from the North Atlantic Council, it was a route barree for proceeding down the line of thinking of the further use of force.
  (General Naumann) I was not involved in the military assessment which led to the selection of targets. That is not the task of the Military Committee. I refused also to do that for good reasons. On one occasion, I had a little bit of an exchange with one nation which had insisted that the targets should be discussed in the Military Committee in detail before SACEUR was authorised to strike a target. I refused to do that. I told them, "Do not forget you are no longer air force colonels or air force majors. You are now three star generals, so behave like them and think on the level of a three star general who does not care about the individual target, who has to care about whether the authorised set of targets is hit or not." For that reason, I told them, "I will never accept any debate on individual targets in the Military Committee." There was some mumbling and bumbling, but they accepted it.

Mr Hancock

  998. I was very interested in what you said to my colleague, Laura Moffatt. You said that Milosevic knew us. Did we know enough about Milosevic's state of mind and what made him tick?
  (General Naumann) Milosevic is a well known personality to many of us. In particular, those who were in Dayton know this man pretty well. They know his way of thinking. They know more or less the pattern in which he has acted so far. We have had sufficient information about the man. What we did not know precisely was how much he was willing to absorb and how much he was willing to impose on his country. We were pretty well aware of the fact that any air campaign against Yugoslavia contained the risk that the people would rally behind Milosevic. That is not only a question of the Serb attitude of doing it despite the entire world being against them; it is also a phenomenon which we have seen all over again in history. I was too young to see it myself but I sensed it, more or less. I was told by my mother later on. The same happened in Germany when the firestorm tactics were applied to German cities. This did not weaken Hitler's position in Germany. Much more to the contrary. Something similar happened in Yugoslavia.

  999. Have you seen this document produced by our Ministry of Defence?
  (General Naumann) That was presumably published after I was retired?

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