Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 1220 - 1229)



  1220. I supported the use of force so there is no need to lecture me on that. Are you telling me that the failure rate is no different from 30,000 feet to under 15,000 feet? Is that what you are telling me? You have admitted that the MoD have done no tests on that, that you relied on the manufacturer's own assessment of the failure rate. Why did you do no tests on that? Why did you use it without doing any tests on it?
  (Mr Hoon) The failure rate of the cluster bomb concerns the bomblets that are released at the time.

  1221. Absolutely.
  (Mr Hoon) I am not a technical expert on munitions but my understanding is that the failure rate would still be the same whatever height the bomb was dropped. It does not make any difference whether you drop it from 20,000 feet or from 200 feet.

  1222. Is it likely to land on the target, for example, at a higher level? What is the likelihood of it differing from its target?
  (Mr Hoon) That has not actually been the difficulty as far as cluster bombs are concerned. The criticism has been that some of the bomblets—5 per cent—have not exploded. Now they have been left on the ground and I recognise that there have been civilian casualties as a result. I am not saying to you that those decisions were taken lightly; they were not. This is an extremely effective weapon and had we not used that extremely effective weapon we would have put our forces at greater risk.

  1223. Did not the US military, or at least NATO itself, alter its policy in the war and not use these at as a high a level as we did? Did we not use them at a higher level than anybody else? Is that not the case?
  (Mr Webb) The US stopped using them for a period.

  1224. Why?
  (Mr Webb) And then resumed after they had cleared the point.

  1225. Can we have an explanation what the points were that the US were concerned with?
  (Mr Webb) "The type of cluster bomb ..."—it is in this report[7]—"..... used by the US was discovered to have a fault and was temporarily withdrawn from service, being returned to service shortly thereafter for use until the end of the conflict. The UK uses a different type, which continued to function normally, and there was thus no reason for it to be withdrawn".


  1226. I will let Mr Cohen ask you if or the Americans intended to bomb the Chinese Embassy and then we will draw stumps.
  (Mr Hoon) Of course they did not intend to bomb the Chinese Embassy.

Mr Cohen

  1227. I hear what you are saying. Why was the Chinese Embassy hit by US aircraft, a B2 Stealth bomber operating from the US requiring air to air refuelling rather than a more locally based aircraft? Was the attack on the Embassy unusual? How many other targets were hit by US based aircraft? Why were all the targets not decided on a multinational basis? Does not a unilateral targeting policy detract from the efforts to build a multinational coalition? Does this not impact the fact that there was a parallel war going on, something incidentally that NATO officials told us privately, that there was a different set of decisions made not necessarily at NATO headquarters? What information have you got that there was a parallel war going on?
  (Mr Hoon) Let me make it quite clear that the bombing of the Chinese Embassy was a targeting mistake. No-one has ever said anything else.

  Mr Hancock: No, that is not true.


  1228. Excuse me, Harry asked ten questions and the Secretary of State will try to answer in a few minutes a couple of them.
  (Mr Hoon) I indicated to the Committee earlier when we looked at this aspect of the bombing campaign that there are always tensions between those nations which commit their forces into particular circumstances and clearly a wish to ensure that their own forces are not put at unnecessary or unreasonable risk in the course of the decisions that are taken as far as, for example, bombings are concerned. There are discussions that take place between Allies in this kind of multinational operation as to the appropriate use of each country's assets. As I said to the Committee earlier, you would expect me, on behalf of the United Kingdom, to have a very clear control over UK personnel and equipment deployed on this kind of international operation. That was the same as far as the United States were concerned.

  Mr Cohen: Yes, there was a parallel war going on. They had whole operational control, they chose the targets they wanted to hit, including the Chinese Embassy, which may or may not have been a mistake, but it certainly was not under NATO control.

  Chairman: Come, Mr Cohen, we asked this question on whether it was US strategy or NATO strategy at about 11.30. You can read the transcript.

  Mr Cohen: I was here.

  Chairman: You can read the transcript. We are not taking any more questions.

  Mr Hancock: The Secretary of State said something which is in complete contradiction of what we have been told. Deputy SACEUR told us that that building was a target, and it was a target—


  1229. We are not going to argue. We have had enough now. We have had 2.5 hours. I am not ending in acrimony. We can read what Rupert Smith said in the transcript.
  (Mr Hoon) I do not want anyone to be in any doubt about this, Chairman. I apologise for carrying on with this, but there is no doubt that the particular building was targeted. What no one was aware of, as far as the chain of command responsible for taking the decisions is concerned, was that that particular building was the Chinese Embassy. Therefore, if you will forgive me, there was a mistake, which is what I said, and I do not think that that can be contradicted.

  Mr Hancock: But it cannot be right, can it, if that was a legitimate target? The targets were looked at specifically and in great detail, because sometimes they were not hit straightaway, they were looked at time and time again. What was it you thought you were hitting there? No one has told us that

  Mr Cann: The CIA was using an old map which had a different use at one time.

  Mr Hancock: But they had to have a use for that.

  Chairman: We are now concluding. Secretary of State, an exciting ending. Thank you to you and your team for coming along. We shall be producing our report in due course. Thank you very much.

7  Note by witness: paragraph 7.47 of "Kosovo: Lessons from the Crisis" (Cm 4724). Back

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