Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fourth Report


71.  The Foreign Secretary has argued: first, that Milosevic was planning a large-scale offensive in Kosovo;[150] second, that this offensive would have provoked a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo;[151] third, that air strikes would reduce Milosevic's capacity to engage in ethnic cleansing;[152] and fourth, that, before the event, it was not possible to predict the scale and direction of Milosevic's response to NATO's bombing campaign.[153] Opponents of this line criticise the humanitarian consequences of NATO's action, both because of the direct impact of air strikes on Serb civilians, and also because in their view air strikes provoked a humanitarian catastrophe rather than preventing one. An additional criticism advanced is that NATO action has provoked a reverse ethnic cleansing by establishing Kosovo Albanian supremacy in Kosovo, with Serbs fleeing Kosovo, just as Albanians did before NATO action.[154] Others believe that NATO should have launched a ground assault as well as action from the air. There have also been criticisms of NATO's expectation that Milosevic would back down, either as soon as air strikes were launched, or after a few days of strikes. We examine each of these criticisms in turn.

NATO's motives for launching the campaign

72.  Professor Adam Roberts identifies four motives for NATO's decision to launch air strikes in March 1999:

73.  On this last point, Carl Bildt is reported as having been told by White House staff ten days before the bombing started that NATO needed to launch air strikes in order to save its credibility.[159] On 23 March the Prime Minister told the House that NATO was ready to take military action "primarily to avert what would otherwise be a humanitarian disaster in Kosovo." He also said that "to walk away now would...destroy NATO's credibility."[160] On 25 March 1999 the Foreign Secretary emphasised this last point in the House:

    "Our confidence in our peace and security depends upon the credibility of NATO. Last October, NATO guaranteed the cease-fire that President Milosevic signed. He has comprehensively shattered that cease-fire. What possible credibility would NATO have next time that our security was challenged if we did not honour that guarantee? The consequences of NATO inaction would be far worse than the result of NATO action."[161]

This justification for NATO's action was not emphasised subsequently by the Foreign Secretary or Prime Minister, except, in the case of the former, when pressed by us on this point on 16 March 2000.[162] The reason for this is clear. NATO's credibility was indeed at stake by March 1999. However, reference to NATO's credibility begs the question of why NATO had got itself into the position of being forced to bomb Yugoslavia to defend its credibility. As we discuss below, the legal justification which the Government advanced depended upon the humanitarian objectives: the Foreign Secretary told the House on 1 February 1999 that "we are clear that we have legal authority for action to prevent humanitarian catastrophe."[163] It is difficult to imagine a legal justification based upon the need to support any organisation's credibility.[164] And as we now examine, NATO's objectives during the campaign moved well beyond that of averting a humanitarian catastrophe.

NATO's objectives during the campaign

74.  Dr Woodward argues that "there was not a clear political goal stated at each point that discussion of military power was at issue..."[165] and that the policy goal "was so weak that it changed over the period of time that we were bombing. We kept changing goals and you can follow the rhetoric of leaders to see that."[166] It does appear to be the case that there was some widening of NATO's stated objectives during the campaign. As we discuss above, in October 1998, NATO threatened military action against Yugoslavia with the aim of supporting "diplomatic efforts to end the crisis."[167] Once the campaign had been launched—presumably under pressure from military leaders who prefer clear and achievable objectives for military action—the Foreign Secretary told us that:

    "the objective of a military campaign is a military objective—namely so to weaken the Yugoslav army and increase the cost to the Yugoslav army that it cannot maintain its present operations in Kosovo. If that has the consequence of bringing home to Belgrade that it will have to negotiate a settlement to a crisis it cannot resolve by military force, then that is, of course, welcome."[168]

Sir John Goulden amplified this: "we did not set ourselves the object of bringing Milosevic to the table. You cannot bomb somebody to the table and, of course, he is not at the table now."[169]

75.  However, a much more ambitious statement of NATO's objectives during the campaign was made at the Extraordinary Meeting of the North Atlantic Council held at NATO on 12 April 1999, and reaffirmed by Heads of State and Government in Washington on 23 April 1999:

"President Milosevic must:

    —  Ensure a verifiable stop to all military action and the immediate ending of violence and repression in Kosovo;

    —  Withdraw from Kosovo his military, police and para-military forces;

    —  Agree to the stationing in Kosovo of an international military presence;

    —  Agree to the unconditional and safe return of all refugees and displaced persons, and unhindered access to them by humanitarian aid organisations; and

    —  Provide credible assurance of his willingness to work for the establishment of a political framework agreement based on the Rambouillet accords."[170]

It is difficult to see how Milosevic could meet the objective of providing "credible assurance of his willingness to work for the establishment of a political framework" without being back "at the table": yet Sir John Goulden told us that this was not something that bombing could be expected to achieve.

76.  The NATO objectives also go beyond the legal basis for the campaign, which was to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe—it is entirely possible to imagine an improvement in the humanitarian situation which does not lead to a "political framework agreement based on the Rambouillet accords". As Professor Ian Brownlie informed us: "the official NATO position was...that the purpose of the bombing was to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. It is impossible to reconcile this assertion with the other war aims as defined in official statements."[171] Combined with the question as to whether NATO was acting primarily to preserve its credibility, or primarily to avert a humanitarian catastrophe, this rather confused message did not help to explain NATO's action to the public, and rather suggests that NATO was not itself clear about what it was trying to do. NATO had been on the verge of launching the campaign for five months before it actually did so—there had been time for NATO to think through what it was trying to acheive. It seems reasonable to assume that NATO was not clear about its objectives, and that these objectives changed during the campaign because, as we discuss below,[172] many NATO leaders believed that Milosevic would back down before air strikes were launched, or that the campaign would be a short one. However, as we discuss elsewhere, co-ordinating the activities and statements of international organisations with diverse memberships is a formidable challenge.

Could the military threat have been made more credible?

77.  The Commander of the Yugoslav Army in Kosovo during NATO's military campaign, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, has said of the period before air strikes were launched: "As far as NATO's threats were concerned, we didn't have any valid reason to believe them. They had no reason to protect the terrorists; they had no reason to get involved in the internal politics of another country."[173] As the FCO informed us, Kosovo "was a complex issue for the international community. It proved difficult to secure a shared analysis of the problem, let alone consensus on how to tackle it."[174] The FCO told us that the USA took a strong line against Milosevic. However, Dr Woodward informed us that "from about the middle of 1997 until March, when the bombing campaign began in 1999, there was [more] disagreement within policy circles, including on the Hill in Washington, about what to do towards Kosovo than there had been previously for example, with Bosnia-Herzegovina."[175] As well as divisions within the USA, the Organisation of Islamic Countries "saw Kosovo as another emerging example of a Muslim community being persecuted in Europe."[176] Moreover, "the Russian Government strongly supported Belgrade's insistence that Kosovo was the FRY's 'internal affair', in part given its own concern—shared by China[177]—not to allow a precedent for international intervention within sovereign states."[178]

78.  These differing perspectives led to varying degrees of willingness to use force against Yugoslavia. While there was agreement within the EU that "all available diplomatic efforts"[179] should be made, there were different national traditions with regard to the use of force against other countries, as well as domestic political considerations, provoking a greater reluctance in, for example, Germany and Italy than in the United Kingdom. For different reasons, Greece had its doubts. As Mrs Roberts told us "It was pretty obvious to everybody that Greece, for example, and Italy to some extent did not share perhaps [the] totally wholehearted commitment"[180] that the United Kingdom had. Despite these doubts, all members of the North Atlantic Council signed up to the use of force both in October 1998, and in March 1999. However, the divisions in the alliance, as well as divisions within the US Administration, must have contributed to the impression in Belgrade that a campaign was unlikely to be launched, or that, if it were launched, the will to sustain it was weak. As we discuss below,[181] some NATO leaders appear to have believed that it would not be necessary actually to launch a campaign, and even if it were, that the air campaign would be brief. It is not therefore surprising that, as Dame Pauline Neville-Jones told us, "there were always...voices in Belgrade telling [Milosevic] about splits inside the alliance and that everybody was worried, the Europeans did not agree, the Greeks would fall off the log, and I am sure he wanted to believe quite a lot of that."[182]

79.  In addition to the divisions within the alliance over the use of force, there were particular divisions over the possibility of a ground assault. We discuss below[183] the question of whether there should have been a ground assault during the NATO campaign itself: here we discuss whether the credibility of NATO's military threat was reduced by NATO's leaders ruling out the use of ground troops before the campaign began.

80.  Two months before the start of the NATO air campaign, the Prime Minister told the House that "First, we must act in concert with others and with our allies. Secondly, we must have clear political objectives in any action that we take...If [both conditions are met] we would certainly not rule out the possibility of participation in the use of ground forces."[184] Just before air strikes started, the Prime Minister emphasised to the House the "difficulty with committing ground troops in order to fight our way in [to Kosovo]: no one should underestimate the sheer scale of what is involved in that action."[185] He then said that "I do not accept that land troops are necessary to curb repression in Kosovo"[186] and that "we are not going to send in 100,000 or 200,000 ground forces without the consent of other countries, for no such consent exists."[187] Presumably the shift in the Prime Minister's view from January to March 1999 occurred because it became apparent that there was no consensus amongst the allies for a ground assault, and no agreement from neighbouring states. The difficulties of the terrain would have made a ground assault difficult and expensive in terms of likely casualties. This meant that those countries which were reluctant to countenance the use of force at all had particular problems with the possibility of a ground assault. Most importantly, the US, scalded by memories of Vietnam and Somalia, made it apparent that a ground assault would not be acceptable. In an address to the US people on 24 March, President Clinton said "If NATO is invited to do so, our troops should take part in [a] mission to keep the peace. But I do not intend to put our troops in Kosovo to fight a war."[188] While this statement might have made sense in terms of US politics, it must have boosted morale in Milosevic's circle, both because a ground war would apparently be avoided, and because it demonstrated an unwillingness to take casualties which called into question the US commitment to the military campaign. The fact that it was evident that a ground war would not be started removed a strong deterrent for NATO. We conclude, it was regrettable that, for understandable domestic political reasons in some Member States, the Alliance publicly removed the potential deterrent of a ground option before the start of the air campaign.

81.  Clearly, the British Government is not responsible for the attitudes or actions of other governments, and, in the end, there is not much that can be done if the alliance is divided, except attempt to advance the United Kingdom's position by steady argument and lobbying (unless it is to be argued that the United Kingdom should have taken military action unilaterally—very few people, if any, have supported this). The FCO informed us that "the UK played a leading role in focussing international attention on Kosovo and determining the shape of the international community's response to the crisis"[189] as well as playing "a key role in shaping events in NATO."[190] No evidence we have received has been contrary to this statement, and some has supported it. Dr James Gow informed us that from the summer of 1997 onwards "the UK took a strong role in seeking to mobilise international diplomatic action and was in the forefront of exploring possible military options."[191] In the light of this, it is difficult to see what more the United Kingdom could have done. Democratic governments are naturally reluctant to risk their soldiers' lives, particularly when the justification for a military campaign does not centre on an immediate and obvious threat to national security. This was particularly so in the case of Kosovo, which was part of an internationally recognised state: the possibility of intervention therefore provoked legal controversy as well as concern for soldiers' lives.

Did the military campaign provoke a humanitarian catastrophe?

82.  There were warnings before the campaign was launched that it would provoke an escalation in Serb attacks upon the Kosovo Albanians. Jane Sharp told us that a senior Serb general had warned in October 1998 that "if there were bombing there would be retaliation against the Kosovars."[192] Some of the people involved in planning and directing the bombing campaign believed that it might exacerbate the situation in Kosovo. On 28 March The Sunday Times quoted General Hugh Shelton, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, as warning on 15 March—ten days before air strikes were launched—that:

    "There was a danger...that far from helping to contain the savagery of the Serbs in Kosovo—a moral imperative cited by the President—air strikes might provoke Serb soldiers into greater acts of butchery."[193]

Conflict in Glogovac

83.  Support for the KLA was strong in Glogovac, and the municipality suffered heavily from the conflict between the KLA and the Serb authorities. In 1998, 2,832 out of 8,537 houses in the area were burnt or bombed, and 182 people were killed.[194] According to the OSCE, "a series of police operations resulting in armed confrontation and the mass killing of civilians in February and March 1998...[in the municipality] represented a defining episode in the escalation of armed conflict in Kosovo."[195] The Serb offensive of 1998 entailed the "systematic destruction of many villages by police, forcing thousands to late September...[with] three separate mass killings by police reportedly taking place in the space of one day, and numerous other human rights violations."[196] While we were in Kosovo we heard of one episode where a village headman took a whole village of 1,000 people into the hills for the winter to escape the Serbs.

84.  The OSCE records that "After the NATO air strikes...began on 24 March, armed forces began to terrorize the Kosovo Albanian residents in Glogovac. Some interviewees said that acts of violence, house destruction, and arson had begun immediately after the OSCE-KVM withdrawal."[197] Many of these atrocities were carried out by paramilitaries. One interviewee said that "treatment was worse following the bombing."[198] Deportations of the Kosovo Albanians in Glogovac municipality began on 3 May, when the deputy chief of police said that he could no longer guarantee the safety of the Kosovo Albanians, and organised buses for them to leave.[199]

85.  We visited the village of Staro Cikatova, near Glogovac. Systematic rape formed part of the Serbs' assault on the Kosovo Albanians, and one interviewee reported that the schoolhouse in Staro Cikatovo was used as a centre for raping sixty Albanian women.[200]

86.  It is clear that, as some predicted, there was an escalation in the violence against the Kosovo Albanians after the bombing began. The OSCE monitors in Kosovo reported that "the level of incidence of summary and arbitrary killing escalated dramatically immediately after the OSCE-KVM withdrew on 20 March." They go on to report that "summary and arbitrary killing became a generalised phenomenon throughout Kosovo with the beginning of the NATO air campaign against the FRY on the night of 24/25 March."[201] The FCO itself has said that "around 10,000 Kosovo Albanians, many of them civilians, were killed by Yugoslav forces between June 1998 and June 1999. Most of these deaths occurred in the period between March and June 1999."[202] However, on the question of the causal connection between NATO action and the escalation in violence, the Foreign Secretary told us:

    "certainly there has been a humanitarian crisis within Kosovo and the surrounding areas...but if you are suggesting that this is as a result of NATO bombing I would vigorously rebut it...we know the spring offensive was planned before the NATO bombing began. Indeed, one of the reasons why we were motivated to suspend the peace talks is we could see that, whilst the Serbs talked peace in Paris, they were massing their tanks and heavy artillery in and around Kosovo..."[203]

On another occasion the Foreign Secretary told us that "there is no evidence that what happened subsequently was not going to happen anyway."[204]

87.  We cannot know exactly what would have happened if NATO had not launched its campaign when it did: it is possible that Milosevic would have started the full-scale ethnic cleansing of Kosovo regardless of NATO's actions, and it is doubtless the case that the planned offensive would have been "brutal" as the Foreign Secretary told us, "both because of how [Serb forces] conducted themselves in the previous year in Kosovo, in which 400,000 people had been made homeless and because of the way in which they conducted the war in Bosnia and Croatia."[205] According to the Government, "before the air strikes began there were over 210,000 people internally displaced within Kosovo and 70,000 refugees outside Kosovo."[206] But it is likely that the NATO bombing did cause a change in the character of the assault upon the Kosovo Albanians. What had been an anti-insurgency campaign—albeit a brutal and counter-productive one, involving atrocities such as that at Racak in January 1999—became a mass, organised campaign to kill Kosovo Albanians or drive them from the country. This was partly because of the Serbs' reaction to the bombing, and partly because the launch of the campaign required that the OSCE monitors be withdrawn, thereby removing one of the obstacles to action against the Kosovo Albanians.

88.  The Foreign Secretary appears to have construed us as arguing—as Milosevic argued during the campaign—that the bombing directly provoked the exodus, telling us that "those early weeks of the bombing did not produce the displacement and were not on civilian sites."[207] Of course, we are not arguing this, and we do not in any way endorse Milosevic's implausible argument that the Kosovo Albanians were fleeing NATO's bombs rather than his paramilitaries, police and soldiers. We are arguing that the withdrawal of the OSCE monitors combined with the Serbs' inability to inflict casualties upon NATO during the bombing campaign led to an intensification of the assault on the Kosovo Albanians.

89.  We are not alone in this position. General Klaus Naumann, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee in 1999 has said, referring to the humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo: "It may have been accelerated by NATO, and definitely some of the atrocities which happened were caused by NATO bombs, since [these provoked] this vendetta feeling."[208] While Milosevic himself may not have been motivated by revenge—we cannot know this—there are numerous accounts recorded by the OSCE of Serbs on the ground in Kosovo expelling Kosovo Albanians from the country and telling them, for example, to "go to Clinton".[209] Asked whether he saw a connection between on the one hand the escalation in violence within Kosovo and on the other the withdrawal of OSCE monitors and the start of NATO bombing, Professor Roberts told us "there is no doubt at all in my mind that there was a connection."[210] As Professor Roberts has written, "all major cases of genocide and ethnic cleansing in the twentieth century have occurred during or immediately after major wars: the chaos and hatred unleashed in war, and the secrecy that wartime conditions engender, can provide the necessary conditions for such mass cruelty."[211] Had the air campaign prevented or reduced the ethnic cleansing once it was under way, this would have mitigated the air campaign's initial impact of encouraging the Serbs to intensify their assault on the Kosovo Albanians. The air campaign prevented the Serbs using their heavy weapons, but as the figures below show,[212] the refugee flow increased as the campaign continued. However, it is not necessary to use heavy weapons to conduct ethnic cleansing. We conclude that, although Milosevic's forces were already poised to move against the Albanian population of Kosovo, the withdrawal of OSCE monitors and the start of NATO air strikes encouraged an intensification of repressive action by Milosevic against the Kosovo Albanians, including their expulsion from Kosovo, as opposed to their internal displacement.

150   QB106. Back

151   QB107. Back

152   QB123. Back

153   QC390. Back

154   We address this point below in paras 185-187. Back

155   Cited in Richard Caplan, International diplomacy and the crisis in Kosovo, International Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 4 October 1998, p. 745. From here on "Caplan." Back

156   HC Deb 23 March 1999 col 161. Back

157   HC Deb 23 March 1999 col 161. Back

158   Survival, vol 41, no.3, Autumn 1999, p. 108. Back

159   Quoted in Glenny, p. 657. Back

160   HC Deb 23 March 1999, col 161. Back

161   HC Deb 25 March 1999, col 539. Back

162   QC403. Back

163   HC Deb 1 February 1999, col 605. Back

164   See para 124 ff. Back

165   QC269. Back

166   QC269. Back

167   Ev. p. 6; see para 40. Back

168   QB125. Back

169   QC39. Back

170­062e.htm. Back

171   Ev. p. 236. Back

172   See para 106. Back

173   Channel 4, War in Europe. Back

174   Ev. p. 3. Back

175   QC238. Back

176   Ev. p. 3. Back

177   Tim Judah told us that "the Chinese word for Kosovo is Tibet." QC151. Back

178   QC151. Back

179   Ev. p. 3. Back

180   QC246. Back

181   See para 106. Back

182   QC258. Back

183   See para 112-115. Back

184   HC Deb, 20 January 1999, col 904. Back

185   HC Deb, 23 March 1999, col 166. Back

186   HC Deb, 23 March 1999, col 173. Back

187   HC Deb, 23 March 1999, col 174. Back

188   Weller, p. 498. Back

189   Ev. p. 13. Back

190   Ev. p. 13. Back

191   Ev. p. 366-367. Back

192   QC158. Back

193   www.sunday­­bin/BackIssue?999. Back

194   Information provided by the former Municipal Administrator of Glogovac, Ian Sumnall.  Back

195   OSCE Report, p. 190. Back

196   OSCE Report, p. 190. Back

197   OSCE Report, pp. 190-191. Back

198   OSCE Report, p. 192. Back

199   OSCE Report, p. 192. Back

200   OSCE Report, p. 194. Back

201 Back

202   HC Deb, 21 February 2000, col 838w. Back

203   QB106. Back

204   QC385. Back

205   QC418. Back

206   HC Deb, 23 March 2000, col 657W. See also Ev. p. 9, which records that there were up to 250,000 internally displaced persons. Back

207   QC391. Back

208   Channel 4, War in Europe. Back

209   E.g. OSCE Report p. 101. Back

210   QC162. Back

211   Adam Roberts, NATO's 'Humanitarian War' over Kosovo, Survival, vol 41, No3, Autumn 1999, pp. 114. From here on "Roberts." Back

212   See paras 94-95. Back

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