Select Committee on Defence Fourteenth Report


291 The MoD's report on the lessons of Kosovo comments—

    Ensuring that the lessons we have learned are the right ones, and weighing them against our other priorities can take time. As important as learning the lessons is ensuring that we do not learn the wrong lessons—lessons which may be peculiar to a particular operation. This is particularly important as the Defence budget is finite, and difficult judgements are constantly required in order to decide how best to spend our resources.[682]

We too have taken time to consider carefully the lessons of Operation Allied Force, and by doing so have been able to benefit from the conclusions of others. These have identified many areas in which there is broad agreement on what those lessons are and on what action needs to be taken. However, we have found too much reliance being placed on the fact that, in the end, Milosevic gave in. The MoD has not always been ready to expose, explain, defend or promise to amend, the weaknesses that were exposed. Similarly, although NATO is undertaking many studies of the lessons of this crisis, the real test will be its success in applying them.

292 NATO prevailed, and Operation Allied Force can fairly be counted a success, however qualified some may believe it to be. Its failure would have been catastrophic for many different reasons. It may well be argued, and with some justification, that NATO's campaign helped create the conditions in Serbia which led to Milosevic's downfall in early October 2000. But that welcome outcome, even if it eventually brings Serbia into the wider community of European nations and opens the prospects for stability in the region, does not release us from the need to examine NATO's campaign critically. If our overall tone appears at times downbeat, it is because we feel it necessary to challenge any tendency to complacency arising from success. At the outset of this inquiry, we set ourselves a number of questions to answer.[683] These are our conclusions.


293 We asked whether the military strategy adopted by NATO to coerce the Serbian government into compliance with UN resolutions was soundly based and well chosen. We conclude that it was flawed in a number of ways.

294 Although ultimately successful in bringing Milosevic to the negotiating table, with hindsight the strategy does not appear to have worked as swiftly or effectively as might have been hoped and as the public expected. Clearly, the most significant factor in this was Milosevic's obduracy. But the Alliance, too, in making its calculations failed at times to hit on the right mixture of threat and force, and then to deploy force to maximum coercive effect.

295 By the turn of 1997-98 there was an increasing prospect that, to avoid a full-scale regional crisis, some form of coercive military intervention might need to be threatened, or even activated, if diplomatic efforts to resolve the situation in Kosovo did not succeed. NATO increasingly took responsibility for supporting international diplomacy with the threat of military action. But the multiplicity of channels through which this diplomacy was being conducted meant that NATO's role in the process remained unclear. The diplomatic and military elements of the international efforts did not always march in step.

296 During the first half of 1998, NATO was slow off the mark in initiating full scale military contingency planning. Whilst the political reality which lay behind these delays can be readily understood, it cannot excuse the failure both before and during the campaign, whilst continuing to hope for the best, to plan for the worst. The political inhibitions on such planning, arising from concern that it might compromise diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis, or that it might have the effect of escalating the crisis, or that it might embarrass governments whose electorates were hesitant about or opposed to military action, was on this occasion counter-productive. It resulted in NATO's seriousness of purpose being doubted by precisely those who were meant to have their minds changed by the possibility of the Alliance's intervention. The politicians' instinct is to delay military contingency planning until the last safe moment. Judging that moment, however, is difficult, and the result can be that subsequent planning is too little, too late. Such was the case with Kosovo.

297 In the case of Kosovo, no-one can demonstrate conclusively that earlier evidence of such planning would have had the effect of deterring Milosevic, or that those witnesses who felt that military contingency planning was initiated early enough were, for that reason, wrong. But in June 1998, NATO was beginning to threaten the use of force before it had planned for it. In this case, NATO's military contingency planning was behind the political/diplomatic curve. That was a mistake.

298 As the situation moved towards crisis, the failure of the Alliance collectively to make manifest its political determination and provide a convincing show of military capability to undertake a forced ground entry into Kosovo, significantly weakened the credibility of the its efforts to coerce Milosevic into compliance with its demands. Too few land forces were deployed too late to maximise their effect, while early public pronouncements by the Alliance's political leaders ruling out the possibility of a forced ground entry removed a critical element of threat and uncertainty from Milosevic's calculations. These failures had the effect of narrowing the range of options open to the Alliance, and pushing the process towards conflict.

299 There was a mismatch between the Alliance's stated aims at the outset of the air campaign and the strategy adopted. The declared aim was humanitarian whilst the strategy was coercive. The result was that resources were devoted to a campaign against Serbian fielded forces which was ultimately of only marginal effect. Whilst the strategy did in the end result in Milosevic withdrawing his forces from Kosovo, it did not achieve its aim of averting a humanitarian disaster. This quickly gave rise to the impression that the strategy was not working. This problem was in part one of public presentation. Alliance leaders should have been frank about the coercive nature of the strategy as a means to achieve a humanitarian end rather than to avert a humanitarian disaster. It was unwise for politicians within the Alliance to either have thought, or ever suggested, that a humanitarian disaster on the ground, which by 24 March 1999 was already underway, could be averted from the air. On the contrary, all the evidence suggests that plans to initiate the air campaign hastened the onset of the disaster.

300 The failure to predict, anticipate and prepare for Milosevic's manipulation of the refugees as an instrument of aggression was a serious failure of imagination and planning on the part of the Alliance. It highlights the importance of developing a greater understanding of potential asymmetric responses from an adversary. In designing a strategy for this campaign, greater emphasis should have been placed on psychological and behavioural analysis of the adversary, and 'war-gaming' his range of potential responses to NATO's actions.

301 The over-riding need to maintain Alliance unity resulted in strong political control being exerted over the conduct of the campaign, both in NATO and amongst the individual nations, including sometimes over target selection. In a campaign of this nature, close political scrutiny is both inevitable and correct. But politicians and the military need to find ways to mitigate its negative effects. Political uncertainty may have been the cause of an absence of clarity and coherence of purpose that was sometimes apparent in NATO's choice of targets. Despite the involvement of politicians, the selection of some strategic targets was politically ill-considered.

302 Overall, both before and after 24 March 1999, the Alliance did less well in achieving a synthesis between the diplomatic and military aspects of its strategy, and in deploying the air, land and sea elements of its military forces to maximum effect, than it should have done.

The UK's Contribution

303 We asked how important and successful was the UK's military contribution to the Kosovo operation. In purely military terms, the answer is mixed.

304 The UK's contribution at all levels to the land elements of the operation was second to none, although it also exposed some significant capability gaps. Both UK military and civilian personnel served with distinction and courage as part of the Kosovo Verification Mission. UK land forces deployed earlier and, we believe, more effectively to the peace implementation force than any other nation. The UK would undoubtedly have been a major contributor to any invasion force—although such a contribution would have stretched its forces to the limit. It has continued to be a major contributor to KFOR.

305 The UK's contribution to the air campaign was more questionable. UK pilots and other aircrew and support staff discharged their mission with distinction. But aside from its tanker fleet, UK aircraft were (even compared to other European Allies) relatively few in number, delivered few munitions relative even to their small numbers, and were not well-equipped for the task they faced. The lack of an all-weather capability to deliver precision guided weapons from the air severely compromised the RAF's and the Royal Navy's effectiveness. Because of the failure fully to suppress Serbian air defences, combined with the overwhelming political requirement to minimise the risk of casualties, UK pilots were unable to exercise their highly-prized low-flying skills. Our major contribution to the bombing campaign was in the form of unguided cluster bombs—a contribution of limited military value and questionable legitimacy.

306 The newly-acquired submarine-launched Tomahawk missile demonstrated the military value of such long-range land-attack cruise missiles. The MoD is already committed to fitting these US missiles to the whole of the Royal Navy's attack submarine flotilla. However, there are some unanswered questions about whether the current procurement programme is going to obtain the most flexible and cost-effective capability for the UK. The MoD must ensure that it maintains the effectiveness and supportability of TLAM as the US develops the system's capabilities further. This submarine-launched land-attack capability is also due to be complemented by the RAF's acquisition of the Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missile. The MoD needs therefore to take a wider view of its overall mix of air-launched and sea-launched cruise missiles, taking into account the lessons of Kosovo and the relative cost and performance of all the variant standards of the TLAM and the Storm Shadow missile.

307 At a political level, the UK was acknowledged to be a driving force in maintaining the determination of the Alliance to see the job it had started through to a conclusion. But even here the UK is not blameless. By ruling out publicly, for the sake of Alliance unity, the possibility of an opposed ground entry in the early stages of the campaign, the UK itself sacrificed its convictions and its duty of leadership to political necessity, and of contributed to an impression of irresoluteness in NATO. However, in the subsequent war of perceptions, the UK effort played a leading part.

308 We also asked what the implications of Kosovo were for the concurrency criteria established in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, in other words for the UK's ability to sustain a number of operations simultaneously. The evidence of the UK's contribution to the air campaign suggests that its air forces here were significantly stretched. And while it is plausible that the UK might have contributed 50,000 troops to a ground attack force, this would have almost exhausted its resources, and such a force could not have been replaced or reinforced. Engaging in Kosovo risked bringing the UK to the very limits of, and quite possibly exceeding, the concurrency criteria set out in the Strategic Defence Review. This serves to remind us that the Territorial Army is more than a public relations exercise—without it, making a significant UK contribution to an invasion force could not have even been contemplated.

309 We also asked what the costs of the campaign were to the UK. The MoD's contribution to the Kosovo campaign, and its continuing military involvement there, involves it in £866 million of additional expenditure over the five years to 2002-03. Over a quarter of this is needed to meet so-called Urgent Operational Requirements, many of which might have been foreseen and implemented had the MoD's budget not been drawn so tightly. Although the recent Spending Review added some funds to the MoD's current budget to help address the main equipment lessons learned from the Kosovo campaign, a comprehensive reassessment needs to be made of the resources needed by the Department in the light of Kosovo, to ensure that it is properly prepared to meet any similar crisis. The government must then be able to demonstrate convincingly that it has matched the demands it places upon the UK's Armed Forces with the resources they need to meet them. We are not convinced that it has.

UK and European Capabilities

310 We asked whether the conflict had revealed any deficiencies in the UK's or its European Allies' ability to respond to future crises of this sort. It did.

311 These particularly include: a serious deficit in UK and European capabilities for the suppression of enemy air defences (which will be very difficult and expensive to remedy, but without which the European Allies will remain dependent on the US in any future action); a continuing deficit in UK and European strategic lift capabilities (though some measures are now in hand to address these); a lack of all-weather precision bombing capability (noted above); limited capability in submarine-launched land attack missiles, confined at present only to UK and US forces; insecure and obsolete UK tactical communications, worse on land than in the air; incompatible information systems across NATO (currently being addressed but needing more urgent action);and uncertainty about whether the UK's weapons stockpile policy would enable it to sustain a longer conflict.

312 As in other past conflicts, the MoD found itself lacking certain capabilities and stocks, and had to introduce urgent operational requirements. In the Kosovo campaign, however, the UK's contribution was also hobbled by unacceptable delays in introducing some critical equipment programmes—such as Brimstone and the updated Tornado GR4— which meant that less capable and older technologies had to be used. An opposed ground operation would also have uncomfortably highlighted the unacceptable consequences of the failure of the Bowman communication programme, and may have revealed the shortcomings of the SA80 light support weapon.

313 Overall, Operation Allied Force demonstrated just how far the European NATO nations are from having a capability to act without massive US support. This deficit is recognised and acknowledged by the European Allies, and some measures are in hand to address the major shortfalls under NATO's Defence Capabilities Initiative. Kosovo reminded us just how critical it is that this programme is backed by political will and adequate financial resources. Its successful implementation will also demand a high level of European political co-operation.


314 We asked whether the UK had the right intelligence support to enable well-founded military advice to be given to the government on the risks of such interventions. It is not evident that it has.

315 There was a failure effectively to analyse Milosevic's range of options in responding to the campaign to pressure him diplomatically and militarily. It cannot be determined with accuracy how the blame for these failures should be shared between intelligence staff, whose advice may have been wanting in accuracy or persuasiveness, and those they were advising, who may not have asked the right questions or acted on the advice they were given. It is not good enough to fall back on the argument that Milosevic is essentially unpredictable. Intelligence staff and military planners should pay more attention to forecasting opponents' possible future options and likely responses, even those considered from their perspective to be irrational, in order to reduce the possibility of strategic surprise.

316 After military action began, there were serious gaps revealed in the ability of the UK, and more particularly the Alliance, to calculate the optimum way of prosecuting a coercive strategy against Milosevic. Within the Alliance this problem was compounded by NATO's lack of an effective, jointly-owned, analytic capability and by a reluctance on the part of some Allies to share information. On a practical level, this deficit made giving coherent strategic direction to the bombing campaign more difficult.

317 The deficiencies in reconnaissance, intelligence, surveillance and target acquisition capabilities at battlefield level, revealed by the controversy over NATO's battle damage assessments, indicated an area in which the capability to fine tune a coercive strategy is simply not there. These deficiencies have been recognised, both by our predecessors and by the MoD, since the Falklands Conflict at least. It is time they were more convincingly addressed.

318 This was pre-eminently a conflict fought in the psychological battlespace, as well as on land, at sea and in the air. The various intelligence agencies need to pay much more attention to providing data and analysis to support planning for, and the conduct of, information operations, co-ordinated across government.

Information Operations

319 We asked to what extent the information campaign was effectively integrated into the overall strategy.

320 This conflict was a conflict of perceptions. At the heart of the campaign were efforts to mobilise and to sustain domestic and international support and to demonstrate resolve to Belgrade. The critical deficiency for the UK, and even more so for NATO, was the lack of an integrated political-military information operations strategy, doctrine and set of capabilities. This deficiency reduced the UK and the Alliance's ability to intervene effectively before the situation became a crisis, weakened the overall campaign plan and led to a less than effective use of the range of information operations tools.

321 Due to a poor match between political aims and military strategy, and the lack of information operations planning capabilities, insufficient focus was put upon influencing the perceptions of the Serbian regime by affecting its psychological centres of gravity.

322 The illusion that in a conflict of this kind it can be guaranteed that offensive operations can be conducted with surgical precision, and wars can be fought without casualties, needs to be dispelled. By failing to get this message across, the MoD contributed to raising false expectations and thus provoked a disproportionate backlash when things went wrong.

323 The information campaign was not effectively integrated into overall NATO or UK strategy since NATO and the UK lacked practice with the concept and lacked many of the tools to implement such a campaign. This was not just a result of a deficit in political/military guidance and integration—a lack of certain assets and skills was also revealed. These can, and should, be remedied. However, portions of the UK information campaign—notably media operations—did help to support overall Alliance strategy.

324 The UK and the MoD played crucial roles in placing the crisis on the international agenda and in mobilising support for the campaign. If anything, the UK's contribution to the war of perceptions was of more significance than its strictly military contribution. Although the UK's efforts to shape perceptions were less efficient than they could have been, the UK was rightly seen as the most proficient member of a generally underperforming Alliance in this sphere. This finding raises profound implications concerning the role of information power in UK foreign and defence policy. If a central focus of the UK's security policy after the Strategic Defence Review is to project power, particularly in peace support operations, then the fundamental importance of shaping the psychological battlespace needs to be recognised. The UK has significant national potential in this area, but the whole of government needs to be involved in developing the integrated capabilities needed for this task. Current efforts are insufficient to meet the challenges and opportunities the UK and NATO found in Kosovo and are likely to face again.


325 We asked whether military doctrine needed to be adjusted to take account of the coercive use of force, especially in pursuit of humanitarian aims. The greatest deficits were in: understanding what the levers of coercion are; integrating information operations into the overall strategy; understanding and preparing for opponents' possible use of asymmetric tactics as part of counter-coercive strategies; the co-ordination of all the actors in humanitarian operations; and tackling the problems of multinational operations.

326 The experience of Kosovo leads us to question the validity of a military doctrine, espoused by the US, which places emphasis upon the overwhelming and decisive use of force. It is not applicable in circumstances demanding more subtle approaches. Its application in Kosovo would have rightly opened the Alliance to accusations of using indiscriminate and disproportionate force, and of unnecessarily increasing the likelihood of civilian casualties and collateral damage. But at the same time, pursuit of a military doctrine based upon the use of minimum force, as practised by the UK in peace support operations, may not be the most appropriate in coercive scenarios such as Kosovo. Existing military doctrine should be re-examined to reconcile these conflicting approaches. A better balance has to be struck between them in applying force in similar situations in future.

327 NATO's doctrine needs to be revised so that it transparently reflects compliance with international law—to this end, the questionable and mistaken decisions on strategic targets need to be opened to proper examination.

328 Military doctrine needs to place more emphasis on shaping the information battlespace rather than the purely physical battlespace. Much more focus needs to be put upon identifying levers with which to affect the perceptions of potential opponents. Doctrine needs to shift away from a focus on physical destruction as the primary tool of coercion to a more integrated view incorporating a range of tools chosen according to the desired outcome.

329 Much more thought needs to be given to the consequences of mixing military operations and humanitarian support operations, where the successful management of the latter is critical to the success of the former. We must anticipate the manipulation of humanitarian crises as part of the strategy of future adversaries, and measures to forestall or ameliorate these effects should be a central part of military doctrine and strategic planning. There is still much room for improvement in the co-ordination and integration of the military with other agencies involved in humanitarian operations. This cannot be left until the crisis is upon us.

330 The Strategic Defence Review recognised that most of the operations in which the UK would become involved in the future would be multinational, and Kosovo fulfilled this prediction. It also demonstrated a number of key challenges, the resolution of which will be crucial to success in such operations. These include the formation of an effective command and control system, an intelligence system which can draw on and share a number of multinational and national sources, and a logistics system which acknowledges the need for national support but also caters for multinational needs. Multinational command may lead to slower response times than purely national command arrangements and the speed and quality of decision-making may become adversely affected. Such detrimental effects can be counteracted through the adoption of common doctrine and procedures combined with realistic and regular training.

331 Operation Allied Force demonstrated many areas of imperfection and inadequacy in coping with the multinational context which will require considerable further effort and determination to resolve. In particular, the UK needs to continue to focus on procuring equipment compatible with our Allies and improving collaboration in procurement, whilst NATO needs to develop doctrine and command and staff procedures which enhance the tempo of operations and the coherence with which its forces are able to act. Neither politicians nor the general public should underestimate the complexities of conducting multinational operations.


332 We asked whether NATO's political decision-making, planning, command and control structures are appropriate to undertaking similar missions in the future.

333 The conflict in Kosovo revealed that these had still not been sufficiently reformed to convert NATO from a Cold War defensive alliance to an organisation ready to undertake politically sensitive crisis management operations of this nature. Greater use should have been made of properly constituted NATO Combined Joint Task Forces. This concept has made little progress towards realisation in the six years since its formulation. The further development of the NATO Combined Joint Task Forces Concept, and the identification and staffing of appropriate multinational, multi-service headquarters, needs to be pursued with greater vigour.

334 Military contingency planning within the Alliance needs as far as possible to be conducted in circumstances which offer political decision-makers maximum freedom of choice. The choice may still be to do nothing. But it should be an informed choice, based on due consideration of all the factors, including the predictable risks and benefits of taking military action. Such activity need neither be presented nor construed as indicative of a commitment to military action (though it may sometimes suit diplomatic purposes for it to be so). But however it is presented, it should be prudent precautionary planning without commitment. Politicians in NATO must be more ready in future to sanction worst case military contingency planning at an early stage in a looming crisis. Military planners need to have greater freedom to examine future potential risks.

335 In the Cold War, there was, in a sense, only one obvious decision that the North Atlantic Council faced—whether or not the Alliance had come under attack. Once the decision to defend it had been taken, operational command would be passed to the Supreme Command, and the military would implement its defensive strategy. Crisis management, of its nature, has much less clear-cut decision points. And the more discretionary the nature of the action contemplated, the more intense will be the political debate, and the closer the political scrutiny of the military commanders—even after action has been initiated. These inescapable political realities profoundly influenced the conduct of Operation Allied Force—not always with benign effects. Both the political and military parts of the Alliance have to face up to these realities. The experience of the Kosovo conflict suggests that the two sides of NATO need to be far more closely integrated, and have a clearer understanding of each other's aims and the constraints under which each operates.

336 At a practical level, this lack of integration was most clearly felt by those who had operational responsibility for implementing the politically determined targetting policy of the bombing campaign. There is no doubt that some in NATO's military structure started the campaign with a sense that they had an insufficient pool of approved targets from which to select, insufficient guidance on the longer-term strategy of coercion, and insufficient aircraft and munitions to demonstrate that the escalation could be significant and rapid. During the campaign, national interference at a political level in target selection appears sometimes to have created tensions and hampered the effective deployment of resources. Before the next crisis strikes, NATO must have overcome these obstacles to the conversion of political aims to military tasks.

337 At a strategic level, political hesitancy prevented the most effective deployment of air, land and sea forces. The lessons of this failure must also be learned and applied before the next crisis. NATO was being deployed in Kosovo for a type of warfighting for which it was not designed. Efforts have been made to streamline its command and control structures, but they still proved cumbersome, too slow to react to or anticipate the responses of an adversary in a highly-politicised and fast-changing environment. Much effort is being devoted to increasing the manoeuvrability of NATO forces, for example by reducing the 'sensor-to-shooter' timescale for precision guided weapons and by developing a 'real-time' knowledge of an adversary's operations. These changes will be of little value if the politician-to-commander timescale for decision making is not also improved.

The Future

338 Finally, we asked how decision makers, particularly in the MoD, could best assess the military risks and benefits of any future intervention of choice that might be contemplated, before committing the UK to military action.

339 The world's most powerful military Alliance found that the task of persuading Milosevic to desist from his abuses of human rights was far more difficult than was anticipated before it committed itself to the chain of decisions that ultimately led to the military action in Kosovo last year.

340 Kosovo has, fortunately, dispelled the illusion that NATO is an instrument that can readily be used in a precise and discriminating way to support diplomacy. Military conflict, it reminded us, is messy, dangerous and not wholly predictable. Politicians will, we hope, face up to some of its less palatable lessons, as well as breathing a sigh of relief over achieving a measure of military success without paying too great a political price. Those lessons should include a realisation that the use of military means to manage crises cannot always be approached wearing velvet gloves—either they must be determined and prepared to do a job properly or be able to decide not to do it at all.

341 The conflict also reminded us that in conducting such operations against an unprincipled adversary, an organisation like NATO has some inherent weaknesses— some arising from its multinational nature, some from the legitimate expectations of democratic accountability. These are also, of course, its strengths. It is particularly vulnerable to asymmetric responses, and needs to understand and prepare for them.

342 Kosovo should have also dispelled the illusion that the Alliance's success is guaranteed when it is used for such purposes. It seems to us fortunate that Milosevic conceded when he did. The problems of mounting a forced ground entry would have been immense in both political and practical terms. At that point in June 1999, NATO was on the eve of facing some very unpalatable choices. The shortcomings in the Alliance's preparedness were therefore not wholly exposed.

343 NATO was originally configured as a defensive organisation to protect its members against all-out attack. Deployed for coercive purposes, its multinational nature—its very raison d'être—proved to be its weakest point. The hesitant and cumbersome approach of NATO when acting as a crisis management organisation precludes much decisive action. The risks of failure are so immense that the necessary boldness of action is very difficult to achieve. This must lead us to ask whether NATO is really going to be able to overcome those impediments to effective operation we have identified above—unless it can, it will not be guaranteed success in future crises. If it cannot, then there is a question about whether it should be deployed for these purposes, or whether it would not be better to rely on coalitions of the willing within the Alliance who share a political analysis of a crisis and have a shared determination to address it. The problems of achieving unity of purpose in the future can only be exacerbated if NATO enlarges further.

344 We have examined the causes of some of the difficulties encountered in prosecuting this campaign. We shall not attempt to predict whether NATO's actions have reduced the probability of another such crisis erupting in the near future. But we must be prepared for the worst. The clearest lesson of Kosovo is that military might and technological superiority are not sufficient to guarantee that the Alliance will prevail in addressing any future crisis. In the search for consensus, it is all too easy to forego clarity in order to maintain unity. But without unity of purpose and clarity of political aims from the outset, and the moral courage to see things through, the Alliance's ability to act effectively will be at risk.

682  Cm 4724, para 4.4 Back

683  Defence Committee Press Notice 8 of Session 1999-2000, 2 March 2000 Back

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