Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 1040 - 1059)



Mr Gapes

  1040. Akis Tsohatzopoulos.
  (Lord Gilbert) Mr Gapes, I knew I could I rely on you.

  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 years ago.


  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.

Laura Moffatt

  1045. We need to hear it.
  (Lord Gilbert) ***.


  1046.  ***.
  (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.

Laura Moffatt

  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 Alliance..."
  (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 worse position?
  (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, has he?

  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?[1]
  (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.

Mr Hancock

  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.

Mr Gapes

  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 end?
  (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

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