Examination of witnesses (Questions 1120
WEDNESDAY 21 JUNE 2000
MOORE and MR
1120. Do you think we were in danger in future
of the Americans doing the clean, relatively casualty-free air-power
side while the allies grub around on the ground?
(Mr Hoon) No, I do not, and that is why I emphasised,
in response to your earlier question that this was very much a
joint operation. Essentially, what happens in this kind of operation
is that each country contributes its strengths, and one of the
key equipment lessons we have to learn is that we were insufficiently
strong in a number of key capabilities that are required in this
kind of air campaign. That is something that we are, obviously,
seeking to address. However, there is no doubt that the Americans
are strong in this kind of capability, and they delivered that
capability in the context of the campaign. They did so very effectively.
1121. Are you confident that the SDR when implemented
will enable us to, on a small scale, undertake the same range
of activities that the Americans were able to do?
(Mr Hoon) The same range? I have certainly commented,
I think, even before this Committee, on the fact that the US budget
this year is in the order of $291 billion, and certainly we could
do far more if we had that sort of financial muscle at our disposal.
What is important about the SDR is that it has set out from first
principles what it was that a country like the United Kingdom
could do in planning terms. It is not a precise blueprint, it
is a series of planning assumptions that I am confident both provide
an appropriate capability for the United Kingdom in national terms
but, significantly, do allow us to contribute very substantially
to the kind of multi-national operation that we judged thenand
the Committee agreedwere likely to be a characteristic
of future military operations around the world. It would be difficult
to say that we could do the full range that the Americans could
do because that would be approaching the ideal, but I have to
say that even in conversations with the US they recognise that
there are areas where they do not have as much capability as they
might like. Even they are faced with budgetary restrictions on
what they can do. I think our job is to ensure that we have sufficient
capability to protect the United Kingdom's own immediate national
interest, whilst, at the same time, make substantial contributions
in the context of multi-national operations. I think, most recently,
events in Sierra Leone demonstrate that many of our planning assumptions
in the SDR can be achieved already, and certainly there is no
reason why we should not deliver all of those assumptions in time.
1122. We have all got to give credit, of course,
for what air power did in Kosovo, at the end of the day, and we
can quibble about whether it was too short, too long or indifferentwhatever.
Do you think we handled the PR side of the air campaign very well
in NATO? The impression given to me, on the first night, when
we saw them going in was "Yes. Get in there lads and sort
them out." As somebody said earlier "It will all be
over by Easter" sort of thing. But it was not. Do you think
that, perhaps, NATO press people were guilty of actually bringing
forward expectations that could not realistically be met?
(Mr Hoon) I do not think they were guilty of anything
but I do think it is clear early on that insufficient attention
had been paid to the importance of the media in this kind of modern
operation, and that more effort had to be put into both explaining
what we were doing and why we were doing it more effectively than
we did in the early part of the operation. Certainly that was
remedied and a much greater commitment was made. I think it is
fair to say that as far as NATO is concerned, that is one of the
lessons that we will have to ensure we implement in the future;
that these kinds of modern operations do depend on explaining
much more widely than has ever happened before what it is that
we are doing and why it is that we are doing it.
(Mr Webb) Can I make the point that in an air campaign,
obviously, where the damage occurs is on the ground, a dictator
with a controlled mediawhich we are talking about here
and in some other theatres we have taken evidence on recentlyhas
a bit of an advantage because they can always get the first story
out alleging that something has happened. With the best will in
the world, it may take a while before the military authorities
can actually go and check the allegation, particularly if you
have got a lot of operations under way, and sayas I hope
we now would doeither "Yes, something did go wrong"
or "Absolutely not, you are being had". One of the other
dictators announced things happened on days when we have not got
air operations, which is quite easy to deal with, but they have
got an inherent advantage. We are conscious of this and we are
trying to improve. I would just like to leave you with the thought
that we all need to be very careful in these situations about
publishing the first report that comes out, because there is a
potential propaganda advantage, if they have a controlled press.
That is the problem.
1123. One further question, Chairman, if I may.
Whatever anybody says, we were very reluctant, certainly early
in the campaign, to put in ground forces. Essentially, was that
a political decision? In other words, it would not have been politically
very sensible to do it, or was it strategic, or was it the fact
that you could not rely on the Americans to put in ground forces?
(Mr Hoon) When you say "reluctant", what
happens in this kind of operationand it happened in this
one, in particularis that having signed up to a series
of objectives military advice is then provided as to how to achieve
those objectives. Undoubtedly, the most obvious way of achieving
those objectiveswhich ultimately proved successful in this
campaignwas an air campaign. The benefit of that is clear.
If you have an air campaign the risk to your armed forces is less.
However, I have to say, having seen some of the film of our pilots
flying bombing missions over Belgrade, they were at considerable
risk and displayed very considerable skill and bravery in what
they did. Nevertheless, it is obviously less threatening to your
armed forces than putting them on the ground to face a well-armed
and well-organised opponent. Those are decisions that are taken
in order, clearly, to achieve your objectives whilst minimising
the risk to armed forces. That is precisely what happened in this
campaign. There were options for the use of ground force, they
were considered very carefully, they were available and we would,
ultimately, have resorted to that should it have been necessary.
Fortunately, it was not necessary. However, the benefit, as I
said earlier, is that we now know that we were able to achieve
our objectives successfully without loss of life.
1124. May I just follow that up, Chairman, very
quickly? We spent the first half of the air campaign, at leastmaybe
two-thirdstrying to fight tanks that were very carefully
hidden. Why did we not go straight for Belgrade, in the first
place, and the economic targets?
(Mr Hoon) Because there were clear constraints in
international law, as far as the way in which we were able to
select targets. Whilst there may be, today, with the benefit of
hindsight, some reservations about the number of targets actually
destroyed, the reality was that whilst those targets were not
actually destroyed they were, in effect, put out of action, because
they were so well hidden that they could not be usedwhich,
I suspect, to the military mind, is just as successful, and I
am certainly not going to quibble over that. If the armed forces
of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia were not prepared to bring
their tanks out of pretty deep bunkers, that was a success, on
any view; they could not be used against our forces, and that
is all that is necessary in a military campaign. So I am not unduly
concerned about that. The reality was that we were able to achieve
what we did very successfully, and I think that is sufficient.
1125. If the United States provided, as you
said, Secretary of State, the overwhelming majority of aircraft
and an enormous amount of fire-power, is it true to say it was
a NATO strategy? It appeared to me, when we went to AFSOUTH last
week, it was an American air strategy, not a NATO strategy. If
you only bring a certain number of aircraft to the party there
is a relationshipa correlationbetween the aircraft
brought and the power and influence you are able to exert over
the overall strategy. Was it a NATO strategy or was it called
a NATO strategy but, in reality, reflecting American strategy?
(Mr Hoon) I do not think there is a neat distinction
to be drawn. You make a sound observation when you say that if
you bring large amounts of equipment and personnel to the party
you undoubtedly have a very considerable degree of influence as
to how that equipment and those personnel are used. If I were
sitting here having made that kind of contribution and put the
lives of British service personnel at risk in that way, you would
expect me to have had a very considerable say in how they were
used and deployed. Nevertheless, there was an absolute determination
on the part of the United States to operate as part of an alliance
and that, undoubtedly, was the case. There are tensions in that
kind of process, and I do not think anyone living and working
in a democracy should be in any doubt about that.
(Rear Admiral Moore) The strategy and the planning
was being worked through in a NATO headquarters, which was American
commanded but not American dominated. Indeed, there were UK officers
as well as those of the other allies who were working in those
headquarters and who did have an important role to play in planning.
1126. Just going back to ground forces for second,
a couple of nitty-gritty questions, and then I want to come back
to the big picture. Your own report comments very briefly on the
reserves. That almost a third of the ground forces, had we gone
in, 12,000 or 14,000 out of 50,000 would have been the reserves.
This is no surprise because it has been known in the media for
some time. The final sentence says: "Our experience in the
Kosovo campaign has underlined the importance of reserve forces
and supported our decisions to enhance their flexibility and responsiveness."
Leaving aside the fact that two of the four main categories we
have been talking about, they were the areas that took the largest
chunk of the task, the Infantry and the Sappers, you refer to
"decisions to enhance flexibility and responsiveness".
Given that almost all reserve units now have less training days,
less permanent staff, and many of them are now operating in a
structure which prevents all infantry units from training together,
which means we are producing officers who do not have such a broad
experience now, how would having the SDR improve what is left
of the reserve forces for that scenario?
(Mr Hoon) I simply do not recognise your description
of the reserves. I spent Friday evening with a TA unit who were
just setting off for a weekend of training; something that they
do every three weeks, together with longer periods of training
during holiday periods. Frankly, I doubt whether anything you
have said would be recognised by any of them. I spoke to each
person who was going off on Friday night, and each of them said
how much they were getting out of the enhanced training they had
lately received, and how pleased they were to participate. So
I suspect you and I disagree over the interpretation of the modern
TA and role of the reserves.
1127. Just on three points of fact. You will
confirm that there are now less permanent staff in the Signals,
which was one of the four key categories you mentioned. A lot
less permanent staff. There is now no longer any proper headquarters
in Infantry battalions. The overall level of man training days
is now less than it was three years ago. Those are all matters
of fact. Could you write to us on each of those.
(Mr Hoon) Yes, but those are decisions which have
been taken as part of the reorganisation. What we are interested
in is operational capability. What I am saying to you is that
in those changes we have made, we have improved their operational
capability. There are always thoseand I accept that you
have been consistent in this argumentwho do not like to
1128. The whole Committee, not just Julian Brazier.
(Mr Hoon) Is your constituency Canterbury?
(Mr Hoon) The honourable Member for Canterbury has
consistently raised this with me and has articulated a view of
the TA, which I respect. I simply do not believe that it reflects
the reality. That in terms of judging the operational capability
of the reservesthat simply because there are alterations,
for example, in the headquarters structuredoes not, in
any way, affect their ability to be deployed. Indeed, other changes
we are making enhances their ability to deploy. Should we need
to rely upon them, their skill and training will be better now
than it has ever been.
1130. Well, we will have to agree to disagree.
I want to bring you back to this issue of the mismatch between
political ends and military means, which dominated two of the
earlier exchanges, and discuss how we can avoid painting ourselves
into a similar corner in the future without abandoning the ambition
to be a "force for good". The debate this morning has
followed exactly the same format on perhaps five or six hearings
of the Committee. We have had the same factors introduced. On
the one hand, the acceptance that the military advice was not
followed in the early weeks because of the political reality that
it would have been impossible to keep the NATO Alliance together,
if it had been allowed to go in, with the best military option
earlier. That has been recognised as factual on both sides. The
issue really seems to me that there is a disagreement across the
floor in just how close the call was. It has been acknowledged
that we were two or three weeks from a point where had Milosevic
held out just another two or three weeks, you would have had a
straightforward choice of a ground option, which you have acknowledged
earlier this morning would have been deeply unattractive, or accepted
the absolute humiliation of having to back off and having to see
the winter take place with Milosevic still on top in Kosovo. So
my question is this: should we not next time, before we embark
on an operation, ask ourselves: do we have the political consensus
to go in, in the manner in which the military advises is the best
manner? Or would it not be wise to think again?
(Mr Hoon) Let me make it clear. I did not use the
phrase "deeply unattractive". I pointed out that inevitably,
it is hardly surprising that the use of ground force against a
well armed and well organised opponent carries with it a much
greater risk of larger numbers of casualties. That any responsible
military and political leader must take that into account before
taking any such decision. That is not to say that we were not
resolved to use that option should it have been necessary. Fortunately
it was not necessary. I suspect that if we had worked out every
precise detail of every aspect of the operation before we set
off on, for example, coercing Milosevic, then I would have faced
still further criticisms for delay. The reality is that what we
were seeking to do was, in the first place, to negotiate with
a man who, as events proved, whose word could not be relied on.
Then to threaten in the hope that he would react in a sensible
way, having regard to his own people. Most of us would have assumed
that that would have been the case. Sadly, it was not. Finally,
to resort to force. That force, in most military campaigns that
I can think of, is graduated. There are different degrees of force
that can be used in different stages of a campaign. In each stage
of this campaign we still hoped that Milosevic would recognise
the reality of what was happening and back off. Eventually he
1131. Yes, but with only two or three weeks.
The final point is this. With only two or three weeks to goand
that is widely accepted timing because we obviously needed room
to get in before the winterhe backed off after the critical
visit from Mr Chernomyrdin. Now, however one weighs up the various
factors, that was the key part of the scales. Had this visit not
occurred; had he held out for another three weeks; we would have
had an option of either absolute humiliation or struggling to
put a coalition together. So the final question is: are you really
confident that NATO would have had that coalition? That even if
we could have produced our 50,000, we would have had the 150,000.
Are you confident that would have happened?
(Mr Hoon) That planning assumption was there and could
have been delivered had it been necessary, yes.
1132. Which countries do you think would have
(Mr Hoon) I do not think it is necessary to go into
these details at this stage. The reality was that there was an
agreement to deal with that option, should it have proved necessary.
1133. Just on that then, would it not then have
enhanced NATO's position if such an agreement could have been
reached much earlier, so that it would not have been necessary
to say, at the outset, that there was no question of ground forces
(Mr Hoon) All options were kept open as far as the
military activities was concerned but, as I indicated a moment
ago, in this particular campaignnot dissimilar to many
others that I can think ofthere was a graduation. There
was a process that allowed Milosevic at various stages of intensity
(if I can put it that way) to back down. We did not know, at the
outset, what level of pain for his people he was prepared to sustain.
1134. Yes, but we helped him by saying at the
outset, "Don't worry, old chap. We are not going to send
in ground forces."
(Mr Hoon) That is simply not true. That was not said.
1135. I could quote you the press conferences
at which it was made abundantly clear, and they have been quoted
in these hearings. In no circumstances were we going to send in
our troops to an opposed environment. A great mistake.
(Mr Hoon) The reality was that that option was kept
open. It was made clear to Milosevic on more than one occasion
that we were willing to use ground forces, should it prove necessary.
1136. When was it made clear to him?
(Mr Hoon) It was made clear in the announcements that
the Alliance made.
1137. I had the distinct impression, looking
at the literature from the United States, that the United States
was not only not at all enthused by the ground option, but that
it had been removed. It seems to me it just depends on what speech
you look at. One speech keeps it open. The other speeches forecloses
that option. Maybe we should trade quotations with each other,
Secretary of State.
(Mr Hoon) I do not think it should be at all surprising,
again in modern democracies, that there are debates about these
matters. I do not think you can assume that we operate in quite
the militaristic way that your questioning implies. The reality
is, as I have said over and again today, that there is an ultimate
political control in these decisions; and that different countries
will put a different emphasis, at different stages in the process,
on what is necessary. It should not come as any great surprise.
1138. Are you satisfied that on 1 June 1999
NATO had a workable, deliverable plan for a ground attack on Kosovo?
(Mr Hoon) I certainly cannot give you the date. I
can have that checked, if necessary. I cannot answer your question
as far as the date specifically is concerned. But I am confident
that there was a viable option to put ground forces into an opposed
environment, should it have been necessary.
1139. An agreed option?
(Mr Hoon) Yes.
3 Cm 4724, p 47. Back