Select Committee on Defence Fourteenth Report


The Defence Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



1 On the night of 24/25 March 1999, NATO launched its first major[8] offensive military action as an Alliance, beginning air strikes against Serbian forces deployed in Kosovo. This happened only a month before the Washington Summit planned to mark the fiftieth anniversary of NATO's foundation, and within days of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland becoming members of the Alliance. NATO was conceived of as a defensive organisation, and it is unlikely that any of its founding fathers could have predicted the circumstances of the Alliance's first full-scale involvement in a major European conflict.

2 The air and missile strikes conducted by NATO lasted for 78 days before the Serbian government and military agreed to withdraw their forces from Kosovo, the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons were able to begin returning to their homes, and the NATO-led peace implementation force KFOR was allowed to enter the province. During that campaign our own forces and those of our Allies repeatedly risked their lives.

3 Despite that eventual military success, the decision of the North Atlantic Council (NATO's governing political body) to order the commencement of Operation Allied Force[9] was the consequence of a failure—the failure by the international community to persuade by diplomatic means Slobodan Milosevic, the then President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to stop his campaign of oppression against the Kosovo Albanian population. The decision to put the lives of servicemen and women at risk, and to inflict the inevitable suffering that any war brings in its train, was for the Alliance an act of last resort. Many have examined the events leading up to the decision of the Alliance to launch a military operation and have considered the moral and political justifications for its actions. We do not intend to pronounce on whether the war was legitimate or justified. The task we have set ourselves is to look at the military lessons of the conflict. However, that examination would be incomplete without some consideration of the extent to which the international community, in its efforts to secure a peaceful resolution of the crisis in the months before March 1999, effectively supported the diplomatic process with appropriate, convincing and timely use of the threat of military force.

4 Our predecessors examined both the previous major conflicts in which the UK has been involved since the Committee was established in 1979—the Falklands Conflict of 1982[10] and the Gulf War of 1991.[11] By comparison, Operation Allied Force was from the spectator's viewpoint, as our witnesses from the news media suggested, a rather undramatic, uneventful and relatively small scale operation, deploying (with some exceptions) only airpower operating at considerable height against a limited range of targets. The vast bulk of that airpower was provided by the USA. The conflict does not, therefore, have a great deal to teach us about the performance of weapons and their platforms in the most taxing circumstances or about joint and combined operations involving air, land and sea forces. Nonetheless, we do discuss some of the equipment lessons to be learned in this report, although this is not, by and large, disputed territory.

5 But Operation Allied Force does, we believe, demand close and careful examination for the lessons it has to teach us about the rôle of NATO in maintaining security and stability in Europe, and about the types of operation in which it may in the future be involved. NATO's involvement in Kosovo has aroused extensive and sometimes passionate debate, and been the subject of intense scrutiny in Parliament, the media and elsewhere. In the case of Operation Allied Force, no act of direct aggression had taken place which demanded that the Allies come to the defence of one of their number's territorial integrity. However overwhelming the humanitarian imperatives that lay behind their decision to take military action, it was a conflict which politicians could have chosen to avoid, though not perhaps without risking the integrity of the Alliance and certainly not without risking great and prolonged human suffering in Kosovo. Kosovo was the most dramatic and direct evidence we have seen of the implications of NATO's new peacekeeping mission which has developed since the end of the Cold War. The Alliance formally adopted a new Strategic Concept at the Washington Summit, a month after the start of Operation Allied Force,[12] reaffirming its commitment to those new missions.[13] In doing so, it committed itself to potential engagement in more crises like Kosovo.

6 Despite the imbalance in military potency between the Alliance and Milosevic's forces, Operation Allied Force proved to be a more risky venture than many anticipated. More than anything, the factor which gave rise to these risks was the constraints under which 19 democracies, not acting in self-defence, operated in prosecuting military action against a régime largely free of such inhibitions. We hope, in this report, to help politicians in this country and other democracies in NATO and elsewhere, should they ever face a similar choice again, to understand the risks involved and the constraints imposed, and how to minimise them if they again decide they are compelled to order the deployment of armed force in pursuit of humanitarian goals.

7 We have confined our inquiry to the period of the build up to military action and the conflict itself. Although we have visited the region since the end of the conflict, and continue to take a close interest in the work of KFOR, we do not in this report examine in any detail the period after KFOR deployed into Kosovo in June 1999. That phase of operations raises rather different questions from those raised by Operation Allied Force itself, in particular questions of reconstruction and the restoration of civil society in Kosovo.[14] Nor do we consider more recent events. What we do examine are the political objectives of the campaign, what the military strategy was to achieve those objectives, why that strategy was chosen and whether it tallied with those objectives, and what means were used to give it effect.

8 We began this inquiry on the very day, 24 March 1999, of the start of Operation Allied Force with evidence from the then Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson (now Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and Secretary General of NATO).[15] We took further oral evidence from him after the conclusion of the bombing campaign, on 24 June 1999.[16] Lord Robertson published his own account of the crisis shortly before leaving the Ministry of Defence in October 1999.[17] After allowing an interval during which the lessons could begin to be digested, we resumed our inquiry on 15 March this year. We took evidence from:

  • The Chief of the Defence Staff (General Sir Charles Guthrie) and the Permanent Secretary of the MoD (Mr Kevin Tebbit), the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Commitments) (Air Marshal Sir John Day) and the Director General of Operational Policy (Mr Simon Webb);[18]

  • The Chief of Joint Operations (Vice-Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) who commands the Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ), and a team of officers directly involved in the air campaign (Air Commodore Vaughan Morris, Commander Tom Herman, Commander Richard Hawkins and Air Commodore Glenn Torpy);[19]

  • The Chief of Defence Intelligence (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) and the MoD Policy Director (Mr Richard Hatfield);[20]

  • The Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability) (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham), the Capability Manager (Strike) (Air Vice Marshal Steve Nicholl), the Director of Capability Resources and Scrutiny (Mr Carl Mantell), the Director of Equipment Capability (Direct Battlefield Engagement) (Brigadier Andrew Figgures) and the Director of the Defence Physical Supply Chain (Brigadier Ian Rees);[21]

  • The officers who commanded NATO forces deployed to Macedonia and Albania (Lieutenant-General Sir Mike Jackson and Major-General John Reith);[22]

  • A panel of journalists who were involved in reporting the conflict (Mr Peter Almond, Mr Mark Laity, Mr Jonathan Marcus, Mr John Simpson and Mr Mark Urban) and the past and present civil servants at the MoD in charge of media operations (Ms Oona Muirhead and Mr John Pitt-Brooke);[23]

  • The UK's Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Council (Sir John Goulden) and the UK's representative to NATO's Military Committee (Vice-Admiral Paul Haddacks);[24]

  • NATO's Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (General Sir Rupert Smith);[25]

  • The former Chairman of NATO's Military Committee (General Klaus Naumann);[26] and

  • The former Minister of State at the MoD, Lord Gilbert, who was closely involved in the campaign.[27]

We are grateful to all our witnesses for their assistance. We also asked the MoD 107 supplementary written questions, the answers to which are published with this report.[28]

9 In October 1999 we travelled to Washington, where we discussed with a wide range of military and political interlocutors the lessons the USA was learning from the conflict. In November 1999 we visited UK forces deployed with KFOR in Kosovo. In February of this year we visited NATO HQ in Brussels and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) at Mons. In June we visited the NATO AFSOUTH HQ in Naples (from where Operation Allied Force was commanded).

10 We deliberately delayed taking our final evidence from the present Secretary of State until after the MoD had published its own report on the lessons learned from the conflict.[29] That report identifies a number of areas on which there is general agreement about the lessons to be learned from Operation Allied Force, particularly on equipment capability. We have also drawn upon the reports of the National Audit Office (NAO),[30]the US Department of Defense,[31] the French Ministry of Defence,[32] and the Foreign Affairs Committee.[33] We have sought to do justice to this extensive range of material, rather than rush into print.

11 We are grateful to our Specialist Advisers who assisted us in this inquiry: Professor Michael Clarke of the Centre for Defence Studies and Dr Andrew Rathmell of the International Centre for Security Analysis, both from King's College, London; Rear Admiral Richard Cobbold (Director) and Dr Jonathan Eyal (Director of Studies) of the Royal United Services Institute; Professor Colin McInnes of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth; Air Marshal Sir John Walker, former Chief of Defence Intelligence; and Lieutenant-General Sir Christopher Wallace, former Chief of Joint Operations.

12 We begin our report by looking at the parallel military and political developments which took place in the run-up to March 1999. We then analyse the development of NATO's military strategy before and during the campaign. We then examine the campaign itself, looking at how the strategy was employed, the political control of the implementation of that strategy, the equipment and other means used to implement the strategy, the options (particularly for the use of ground forces) which were considered but not implemented, and the possible factors which ultimately led to Milosevic conceding. In our conclusion, we draw out some of the larger lessons, as we see them, which need to be acted upon before NATO faces a similar crisis in the future.

8  The first offensive air strikes conducted by NATO forces were Operation Deliberate Force over Bosnia in 1995-these were however conducted on behalf of the United Nations rather than as an autonomous action of the Alliance Back

9  The formal name of the Alliance's campaign between March and June 1999 Back

10  Fourth Report, Session 1986-87, Implementing the Lessons of the Falklands Campaign, HC 345-I Back

11  Tenth Report, Session 1990-91, Preliminary Lessons of Operation Granby, HC 287-I; Fifth Report, Session 1993-94, Implementation of Lessons Learned from Operation Granby, HC 43 Back

12  See Third Report, Session 1998-99, The Future of NATO: The Washington Summit, HC 39, pp 142-152 Back

13  See government response to above, HC (1998-99), 459 Back

14  Fourth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 1999-2000, Kosovo, HC 28-I, paras 167 to 248 Back

15  See Third Report, Session 1998-99, The Future of NATO: The Washington Summit, HC 39, pp 142-152 Back

16  HC (1998-99) 593-i Back

17  Kosovo: An Account of the Crisis by Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, Ministry of Defence, October 1999 Back

18  QQ 1-104 Back

19  QQ 105-289 Back

20  QQ 290-432 Back

21  QQ 433-582 Back

22  QQ 583-744 Back

23  QQ 745-835 Back

24  QQ 836-902 Back

25  QQ 903-975 Back

26  QQ 976-1032 Back

27  QQ 1032-1092 Back

28  Ev p 238-267 Back

29  Kosovo: Lessons from the Crisis, Cm 4724 (hereafter Cm 4724) Back

30  Kosovo, The Financial Management of Military Operations, HC (1999-2000) 530, 5 June 2000 (hereafter 'NAO') Back

31  Department of Defense, Report to Congress, Kosovo/Operation Allied Force After-Action Report, Washington, 31 January 200 (hereafter 'DoD') Back

32  Lessons from Kosovo, Analyses and References, Ministére de la Défense, Paris, November 1999 Back

33  Fourth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 1999-2000, Kosovo, HC 28-I Back

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