Examination of witness (Questions 1040
TUESDAY 20 JUNE 2000
1040. Akis Tsohatzopoulos.
(Lord Gilbert) Mr Gapes, I knew I could I rely on
Dr Lewis: Which student conference did
you meet him at?
Mr Gapes: He used to be Papandreou's
sidekick at all the socialist international meetings about ten
1041. I shall not tell you what John Gilbert
said to Mr Papandreou when he was Prime Minister.
(Lord Gilbert) That is another story. After hours
I am happy to have a chat with you about that, Chairman. The Greek
Government was faced with consistent opinion polls showing 90%
opposition. There were problems in getting stuff through Thessaloniki,
the port; the trade unions were very unhappy about it. As I am
sure everybody in this room knows, the Greeks felt very sympathetic
towards people they regarded as their co-religionists and they
took an extremely dim view of Kosovars generally. The particular
significance of this for the Greek Defence Minister was that Salonica
was his constituency and he went down there on more than one occasion
to try to calm things down to allow NATO to get its stuff up into
Macedonia for KFOR. The other government that I think showed remarkable
steadfastness was the Government of Macedonia because they were
faced with the position that their country might easily split
in two; it is not entirely homogenous in that in the west were
Kosovar Albanian type people and the east were of the other persuasion.
Had there been serious land fighting I hate to think of the consequences
for the integrity of the Macedonian State. All of those governments
showed enormous courage, which is more than I can say about some
of the governments in Western Europe and North America, Chairman.
1042. Of course you would not want to go any
further than that.
(Lord Gilbert) I am happy to go further than that
if you like, any time, I would be delighted to and I have done
so in public.
Dr Lewis: Go for it.
1043. John, we are on public record now. We
are on record but you can delete what you want to delete.
(Lord Gilbert) That is understood, is it not?
1044. You can tell us privately.
(Lord Gilbert) As long as the Committee is relaxed
about the fact that I shall probably have to strike out huge chunks
of it. If you really want me to talk to you about it.
1045. We need to hear it.
(Lord Gilbert) ***.
(Lord Gilbert) For your record that is fine by me,
they can go on taking notes, Chairman, I am happy about that.
You only have to read some of the things that General Clark and
that marvellous American General Short have had to say since the
conflict is over. For my money, General Short had it right time
and time again. If I may, I will quote one or two things from
him which may not have been part of your evidence up to now. It
was after it was over that President Chirac said publicly that
it was him, that M. Chirac had vetoed the destruction of any bridges
across the rivers in Belgrade. I thought that was one of the most
extraordinary remarks for a Western statesman ever to have made.
I did say that I congratulated him on his statesmanship for having
the courage to take responsibility for the fact that the hostilities
went on far longer than they need have done, that the poor people
in Kosovo suffered consequently far more than they need have done,
and that his own pilots were put at risk far more than was necessary.
By President Chirac's own admission, that was down to his influence
on the targeting. The whole story of the targeting, and I am happy
to discuss this with your Committee if you like, is one of political
timidity, of choosing targets in staged increments, which was
a nonsense in my view, a military nonsense, from the very beginning.
Wes Clark has said very much that himself in public. I would like,
if I may, to quote from General Short: "As an airman I would
have done this differently. It would not be an incremental air
campaign or slow build-up but we would go downtown from the first
night so that on the first morning the influential citizens of
Belgrade gathered around Milosevic would have awakened to significant
destruction and a clear signal from NATO that we were taking the
gloves off. If you wake up in the morning and you have no power
to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take
to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20
years I think you begin to ask `hey, Slobbo, what's all this about?'"
Those are General Short's sentiments and, Chairman, they are mine
too. I argued forcibly within the Ministry of Defence for a different
menu of targets right from the beginning. It is quite true that
the campaign was a success and anyone who tries to pretend that
it was not a military success does not know what they are talking
about. It was down to air power alone and I personally was always
clear that air power alone could achieve those objectives, those
very limited objectives, as you know, Yugoslav troops out, NATO
troops in and the refugees back - nothing about dealing with Milosevic.
It was brilliantly successful in that respect. It is also my view
that the campaign would have been completed in a fraction of the
time that it took. We had a waste of treasure, 30 billion or so,
which was far in excess of what was needed. You have to remember
that we were dealing with a country of ten million people, an
air force that only managed to stagger off the ground a couple
of times, there were 14 NATO air forces involved in this. The
gross domestic product of the countries who were attacking this
run-down, clapped-out Communist dictatorship was certainly more
than 50% of gross domestic product of the entire planet and it
took us 11 weeks to do it. It was not just that we were forced
to fly at 15,000 feet for most of our missions, not all of our
missions, there have been some misconceptions there, some missions
were flown a lot lower than 15,000 feet.
1047. In terms of the arguments that you will
have heard a thousand times, the Alliance would not have held
together had we gone for the big bang straight off.
(Lord Gilbert) Who knows?
1048. So you think with the benefit of hindsight
1049. I think the effect would have been that
you had Milosevic crumble much more quickly.
1050. I hear what you are saying from the point
of view of those in Belgrade and I think there are a few of us
who would argue that there would have been that effect, but even
speaking to us just now, Lord Gilbert, you said "I was really
worried about some wobbly folk in North America, in the European
(Lord Gilbert) That is right.
1051. Had you pursued your strategy, does that
mean that would have fallen apart and we would have been in a
(Lord Gilbert) All I am saying is I think the weakness
was in the politicians, not the military men. The desirable strategy
was absolutely right. That was the problem, you got unity, but
at an enormous price. The price was paid by the poor wretches
living in Kosovo. I think it would have been extremely difficult.
What I am saying is that there should have been far more realism,
far more courage, on the part of the Western leaders who were
edging into this campaign.
1052. The policy changed later on. Do you think
it was rather too late?
(Lord Gilbert) We ended up taking out their power
stations. After a time we bombed bridges, we bombed television
stations and so on, which to my mind were absolutely proper targets.
General Rose, I do not know if he has given evidence to this Committee,
1053. Not in this inquiry.
(Lord Gilbert) Under an admirable publication by an
organisation called the Royal United Services Institute
1054. What is that called again?
(Lord Gilbert) First of all on page 47
General Rose said "George Robertson is still maintaining
that the decisions by the 19 governments of NATO solely to use
air power proved right, arguing that air power in the end made
it impossible for Milosevic to sustain further damage, keep going
until winter", then, says General Rose, "the facts have
proved him wrong". I have met some barmy Generals when they
got out of service but that one just about takes the cake, absolutely
takes the cake.
1055. Hear! Hear! How stupid.
(Lord Gilbert) Later on, on page 50 of this document
from which I am quoting, he says he thinks that what we were doing
was illegal: "NATO's targets included road and rail systems,
bridges, power stations, tv stations, petrol stations. Attacking
these sorts of targets almost certainly represent a violation
of the law of war." What other targets have you got left?
The man is barking. I will say it to his face.
1056. Can I take you back on this air power
thing. We have had a lot of evidence from people who have said
that the air campaign was not the only reason for the success,
that unless there had been a combination of a threat of ground
forces and diplomacy it would not have ended when it did and you
just said it was air power alone. Would you like to qualify that
and accept that there were diplomacy measures at the end and without
the Ahtisaari Chernomyrdin initiative and without the threat of
ground forces behind it, without Russia saying to Serbia "you
are all alone", then in fact it would not have come to an
(Lord Gilbert) I am happy to address those points,
Mr Gapes. With respect to the second one, I do not believe for
one moment that Mr Milosevic was frightened of a ground invasion.
He knew the numbers being talked about. We had varying reports
on morale in Belgrade, which I can come to also later in evidence,
Chairman, if that is agreeable. He must have known what would
have been involved in trying to get together 150,000 men with
their weapons, to get them to his borders and then to involve
them in military operations. I do not think that was a starter,
I never thought that for one moment and I do not think Mr Milsoevic
did either. I have seen reports also in this admirable document
from a gentleman called Dr Eyal who is a very distinguished member
of the Institute that produced this document, and he said "Slobodan
Milosevic ultimately gave way not only because his country was
being destroyed...", a huge hyperbole, there were certain
factories being destroyed, but Belgrade did not look like Dresden
or Coventry or the East End of London, sheer rubbish "his
country being destroyed", ". . . but principally because
the Russians abandoned him and the momentum for a ground offensive
was building up."
1057. That was the point I was making.
(Lord Gilbert) That was the point Mr Gapes was making.
The Russians had abandoned him, what had they done for him up
until then? All that I know that they had done for him up until
then, and we are not absolutely certain of this, was to help him
get some oil but nothing else in military terms. As for the momentum
for a land invasion building up, ***.
1058. You are familiar with the geography of
the area. Had there been a land attack what direction, or directions,
would it have been likely to have come from?
(Lord Gilbert) Chairman, I am very glad you asked
me that question as they say. I have been looking at the London
Times of 25 March of this year, a piece written by Michael
Evans. He said that the Ministry of Defence had very advanced
plans and had even worked out how many artillery shells they would
want. It turns out, according to this, that it would have taken
the entire war reserve of 155 mm artillery shells. I have no idea
whether that is true or not, that is not part of what I am here
to talk to you about. He says "A small team of mostly American
officers formulated five options. One, advancing from Macedonia
to Serbia to the east of Kosovo." That would have meant invading
Serbia which would have been extremely difficult politically and
the consequences of that in Macedonia itself and in Greece would
have been extremely hard to predict, I think they would have been
very, very serious. That is the only road which you could reasonably
use to get a serious amount of military equipment into a position
to invade Kosovo. The second option was driving through the mountain
paths from Macedonia. There is only one road up from Salonica
to Skopje and then on into Pristina and that was what they are
talking about. That road went through tunnels and very narrow
gorges; it must have been mined; they must have had all the co-ordinates
available for their artillery. The idea that that could have been
done very quickly seems to me pure moonshine. The third one was
Albania, advancing from Albania into Kosovo along a route constructed
by American engineers. When I left the Ministry of Defence the
Americans ***. They did what they could to improve Tirana Airport
and it was still a Mickey Mouse operation there right at the end,
as I am sure you know. Then the northern one, assembling an army
in Hungary to advance into Serbia from the north. If you were
going to assemble an army in Hungary, Chairman, you would have
to take it through non-NATO territory to get it into Hungary.
I do not know who was going to volunteer for that to happen. The
Hungarians were very concerned about the fate of their compatriots
in the northern Yugoslav province of Vojvodina. I do not think
that was a realistic option. Certainly you could not have done
any of these things quietly or privately without Mr Milosevic
knowing exactly what you were going to be doing. The last one
is sending thousands of troops by helicopter and transport aircraft
over the border into the heart of Kosovo.
1059. With what?
(Lord Gilbert) I do not know how many air fields there
were for people to land on. They could have used gliders, I suppose,
with paratroops. The last time British paratroops were actually
in action as paratroopers was 43 years before this.
1 World Defence Systems 2000, A Royal United Services
Institute for Defence Studies Publication, 2000, ISBN 0953412970. Back