Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



Mr Rowlands

  20. I took some quotes down. You had "to go through a process". You said "we might be criticised for the extra mile but we had to do all that in order to get a consensus before military action could take place." Does that mean that you as a participant in the Rambouillet talks the FCO and the British Foreign Secretary believed that there was a political solution and it was one that Mr Milosevic might sign up to and would actually implement or were you already before that thinking this was a forlorn cause but going through the motions in order to get other allies on board?
  (Mr Jones Parry) I think the answer to that, Mr Rowlands, is I hope that we were neither naive on the one hand nor excessively optimistic on the other. We did not go through it just for its own sake. We went through it because in the history of the Balkans a negotiated political settlement would have served everyone far better. One of the harshest indictments of Milosevic is that he rejected that. Can I set a little bit of context of how we in London were trying to react to this. It covers a little bit of what Sir Peter said. We were trying to take at all stages an overview of the situation against objectives to try and get some stability, to try and get a settlement. Our inputs to that are crucially what is happening in NATO, what is happening in the European Union, our discussions with allies, the information we get from all sorts of sources. What we expect from the Ambassador and what we got from the Ambassador were detailed reports of what was happening on the ground. His assessment as far as he was able—and that is a heavy qualification because, with no disrespect to Mr Donnelly, his access to Mr Milosevic was limited—our ideas of what the inner sanctum—

Sir Peter Emery

  21. But better than yours.
  (Mr Jones Parry) I do not dispute that. That was part of the input. We took a series of inputs, we took the reports from the KVM who by this stage were on the ground and out of all that we tried to make judgments but our judgment was that the deal which was on offer (which was a deal which Milosevic and his representatives purported to say at Rambouillet was one they were prepared to work towards) should be tried and we tried it.

Mr Rowlands

  22. Was it your judgment or the judgment of the Foreign Office that you could do a deal with Milosevic and he would implement that deal?
  (Mr Jones Parry) I do not think there is a certain answer to that. I am a mathematician and let me just tell you that in terms of probability I cannot give you an absolute one way or the other.

  23. Degrees of probability, what on the richter scale would it be?
  (Mr Jones Parry) The richter is nought to one, but let me just say that with all the pressures we were bringing to bear, and they were considerable, and this is where diplomacy backed by force has a role, we were actually setting ground rules which if you were a born loser, and if you had lost everything up to this stage, and if it was your best bet for hanging on to Kosovo, you might have thought logically that you were prepared to have a go.


  24. You think he would have reacted logically?
  (Mr Jones Parry) There are moments of logic in Mr Milosevic's approach.

Mr Rowlands

  25. Could I ask Sir John were all the key allies all in step, generally speaking, in these assessments or at various times did either some get out of step and some decide to go faster towards a military solution or others never want a military solution? If this process was to get a consensus somewhere along the line there might have been people wanting to go faster and others going slower.
  (Sir John Goulden) NATO, as you know, is very experienced in building up consensus but it does not come easily on an issue as fundamental and difficult as this. The key allies, particularly those who were involved in the Contact Group, on the political side, were remarkably close in their view of the problem and in their objectives—really right throughout. When they were united, the other allies tended to follow their lead very happily. There were two moments when NATO had to stand up and be counted, apart from the moments when we were doing planning and having exercises and things like that. They were first in October, the time of the Holbrooke Negotiations. At that moment we threatened that, if they did not produce an agreement, we would use force. It was a clear statement that we would have started air campaigns in October if there had not been an agreement. The second moment was in March where Rambouillet and Kleber both finally were rejected by Milosevic—a new humanitarian crisis emerging, 250,000 displaced persons in Kosovo, the graph clearly going up and up very quickly. At that time too, although it was not an easy decision for the 19 allies, they were all ready for it; because we had been through this intensive consultation and sharing of information and the political process in parallel. If there had not been the political process, the extra mile, the attempt particularly at Rambouillet, I think it would have been more difficult for allies to have taken that difficult decision. If Holbrooke had not come back with a deal which was not just dependent on the goodwill of Milosevic but dependent on verifiers on the ground for the first time, verifiers in the air over Kosovo for the first time, and a limit on his troop numbers and his police numbers, I think our allies would have been very difficult to convince. Both of those two moments were moments when the allies did come together and recognise the overwhelming humanitarian imperative to act if necessary.

  26. One final question on this part, Mr Jones Parry. Mr Donnelly used the words Mr Milosevic was part of the problem which means that there are other parts of the problem. Is it that, in fact, Milosevic does represent possibly majority Serb nationalist feeling? Are these problems dealing with the democratic opposition? Do we have any reason to believe that in a democratic opposition Serbia today could carry an election victory based on reconciliation with Kosovo and reconciliation with the Albanians?
  (Mr Donnelly) As you know, Milosevic engineered a referendum in April of last year which on the basis of a 95 per cent turn out produced 75 per cent against any international involvement in solving the Kosovo problem which they regarded as an internal problem. Although I think it is probably reasonable to say that the referendum was engineered to produce a result, I think the result was also probably not far from an accurate reflection of what people thought. The background you have to remember is that you are operating in Serbia in an authoritarian state where all of the principal sources of information are controlled by Milosevic and where there is no opportunity for most people to hear a full or complete story of what may or may not be on offer. I think the fundamental difference with the democratic opposition—and I would agree with you that many of them would also have a degree of nationalism about their approach to Kosovo which would be quite different from our's—is that at least there would have been a genuine debate about the issues. There would have been an opportunity for the full terms of the settlements that were offered to be put to the people and for people to be able to make a reasonable choice as to whether, as we repeatedly said to Milosevic, they could have a choice, that Serbia could be part of the growing movement towards European integration with prosperity and security or they were going down a road to international isolation. I do not think that picture was ever put fairly or fully to the Serb people and I would still believe that if that could be done, and if one could have genuinely free and independent media, then attitudes would change. I am not saying there would be an overnight conversion of Serbs to believe that it is right that Kosovo should become independent, that would not happen, I think there is still too strong a residual feeling for that but I think you would at least have the basis for what we would regard as proper debate and proper discussion and a proper negotiation.

  27. If Milosevic is a part of the problem, what are the other parts?
  (Mr Donnelly) One of the other parts of the problem that we faced throughout the period was, of course, that the aspirations of the Kosovar Albanians were for independence, when, as Emyr has mentioned, we recognised Yugoslavia, we have and remain committed to its territorial integrity and sovereignty. So if one had a problem the other side of the negotiating team, if you like, the negotiating pair had objectives which we did not support either. So it was not simply a question of solving the Milosevic side of the problem, there were also aspects of the Kosovar problem, the negotiating position, which had to be dealt with as well.

Sir David Madel

  28. Mr Donnelly, could I ask when you first heard about Operation Horseshoe?
  (Mr Donnelly) I do not think I can go into details about specific pieces of intelligence material. What I can say—as I have indicated already—is that it was clear to me from what we were seeing on the ground in the weeks leading up to the beginning of the conflict that Serb forces were accumulating around the borders of Kosovo, Serb forces were coming out of barracks within Kosovo. They were bringing new weapons into the province and it was clear that they were thinking about some form of major operation. The precise nature of that operation, there were many stories around about what they may do and may not do. What I did not know from where I sat was which plans they would carry out, how they would carry them out. I was looking essentially at evidence on the ground of what Serb forces were likely to do.

  29. Would it be correct to say that Operation Horseshoe was entirely drawn up by Milosevic and his wife together or was there an agreement at the top of the hierarchy to do it?
  (Mr Donnelly) I really cannot answer that.

  30. You cannot tell me.
  (Mr Donnelly) What I can say is that the decision making circle in Yugoslavia is a fairly small one. Milosevic operates by and large through a small group of people who repeatedly appear with him and who he consults. Equally there is a military structure which goes back to the Tito-ist army, the former socialist Republic of Yugoslavia army, so there is an army structure which carries out the normal military functions of planning and preparing. I would imagine, indeed expect, that military plans would originate in a systematic fashion.

  31. Did Belgrade make it clear that if bombing started they would step up Operation Horseshoe, in other words you would have Operation Horseshoe plus?
  (Mr Donnelly) I have no recollection that Belgrade made any statement about what they would do in terms of increasing or changing their military plans if bombing started. Part of their argument was that they would not give way to threats but I do not think they were any more specific than that.
  (Mr Jones Parry) If I may add, Sir David, I think it is fair to say the way that question was put implied we had knowledge from Belgrade of this. We had none from Belgrade itself. Belgrade was not giving any indication of what it would do. It is fair to say that Holbrooke, who went to Belgrade just before the launch of the military action, spelt out the consequences of rejection of the Rambouillet accords. What he got was a passive reaction and a shrugging of the shoulders, he got no counter-threats.

  32. But the body language might have indicated to him that when bombing began Operation Horseshoe would begin very quickly indeed or Operation Horseshoe Plus.
  (Mr Jones Parry) Operation Horseshoe as a concept has come out after the event rather than at the time. What we had at the time, and Brian can describe to you graphically what it was like to follow in the path of where the Serbs went in Kosovo, razed crops, destroyed animals, people driven out of towns. We saw that together in July and that proliferated throughout this period. Our expectations were pretty high, one, that that was happening as we were in March, and that it was likely to increase, but what we expected, to be honest with you, was more of the same, people being driven out of their homes and on to the hill tops. We had no grounds for believing in making a judgment that we could have expected the sorts of events that then took place over Easter or subsequently became known as Operation Horseshoe.


  33. Subsequently?
  (Mr Jones Parry) It subsequently became known as that. There is no document which predated the bombing which set out the terms of this cleansing operation by the Serbs. What I can tell you—and I do not want to go into too much detail on the sort of sources of information that we had—is that we had throughout and this is in part the answer I tried to give to Sir Peter earlier—various bits of information. There was one bit of information that alluded to this sort of activity. There was no collaboration for it and we had masses of conflicting information which conformed more to what we had seen and what we reasonably expected. If we are open to criticism in dealing with Milosevic it is in part an answer to your question did we assume he was logical? Perhaps we are open to the charge that we addressed this through a view which said that that sort of activity was not something that in the late 1990s we could have expected. I am afraid we were wrong on that. It is also the case if you make a judgment on this in trying to read into how Milosevic approached this, one of the great things that held the alliance together apart from the enormous effort we made to do that was what we saw happening on the ground and in terms of an operation of this sort what we confronted on that Easter Saturday with all these people coming across the border if anything gelled the coalition and said that is the enormity of what we confront, that is the evil, that is why we are doing this. If you work backwards, imagine would somebody do that? Would you give such an obvious advantage to the people who are confronting you militarily? That is what he did and I am afraid perhaps we approached it with too much of a rational argument. I do not know.

Sir David Madel

  34. Within Serbia is it your view that rather like the late President Nasser, the more Milosevic was defeated (just as the late President Nasser was defeated in various campaigns) the more popular he became?
  (Mr Jones Parry) There is an element of that. It is also the case that he clothed himself in this nationalism. It is one of the most pernicious examples of extreme nationalism and one of the challenges of the opposition is to permit them to be pro-Serb, that is their privilege, but pro-Serb, as Brian said, which looks to a European destination and looks to the norms of European behaviour that the rest of us espouse and takes its rightful place in the community of European nations. That is not happening at the moment and I do not know whether successive failures build him up; I doubt it. It is arguably that he needed to go through a period of having to put up a fight and be seen to have lost in order to eventually come to an agreement on Kosovo but again I cannot read too much into the psychology.

  35. On an historical parallel not a million miles from Serbia for years in the 1950s the attitude of Greece was that there had to be a union with Cyprus but eventually the Greek Government changed and agreed the 1960 agreement where Cyprus became independent. Can we look in due course to Serbia doing the same and eventually to an independent Kosovo rather than the type thing that we have got now?
  (Mr Jones Parry) I do not know. That is one of the very difficult questions we confront. When you go to Kosovo you will see that while things have stabilised and there are many things we can be very happy about there are some immense challenges. One of the questions that remains is whether you keep Kosovo within the FRY on the one hand or whether you give it independence? If it is to have independence how is that managed in such a way that all the regional ramifications and the downsides that Macedonia fears and Albania is not happy about, are handled? I do not find an easy answer to that. What we are working on at the moment is to try and get the arrangements we have under the UN administration to work and work for long enough that we have stability, that we have democracy established in Kosovo, that we develop the economy of Kosovo, that we give it hope and we see that with the Stability Pact and everything else that there is a way of bringing all this together. If we can get western European type reconciliation post war into the Balkans there is hope. It seems to me the only way in which one can envisage an independent Kosovo is in some form of relationship among those countries which breaks down the barriers which tries to recreate something of what is done in western Europe so that people actually believe there is a prospect of stability and norms that we could subscribe to.

  Chairman: Dr Starkey has one or two questions before we move on to the legal justification.

Dr Starkey

  36. I want to ask one question on this bit before reserving my right to come in later and that is really to Sir John. You were talking about the need to find consensus within Nato and obviously that is well understood. I want to probe what was the United Kingdom Government's position within that consensus. Essentially were we trying to drive this forward more quickly and more decisively or were we hanging back on the appeasement line?
  (Sir John Goulden) I do not think at any stage we were on the appeasement line. We were on the sceptical end of the spectrum of Nato about the Holbrooke Agreement. We wanted to give it a good try and make the most of the extra things that were added in, like the verifiers and the aerial verification and the numerical limits we put on FRY forces. We wanted to try and make that work because that was the best alternative that was available. When it became clear that that was not working in February/March, at the same time the Rambouillet Agreement was being tried and failing to achieve, I think we were among the governments which concluded that we needed a different approach. We had thought even, from the autumn, that probably it would be better to have a foreign international military force on the ground to supervise the Holbrooke Agreement to make it work. But that was not negotiable at the time so that was not on offer. By February/March it was more obvious to us that anything we agreed with Milosevic, given all that we knew about his track record, would have to be backed up by an international force which by then was becoming part of NATO's concept. It was one of the things we put at Rambouillet and later at Kleber and one of the things we later had to insist on as one of the conditions for ending the conflict. I think it is fair to say that, if you asked my colleagues, they would say the British Government was one of the leading forces in many of the things that led to success. We were clearly in the lead at Rambouillet. We were clearly one of the leading countries in stabilising the area during the time when it was most unstable in the conflict itself. We were in the lead in building up the force in Macedonia that was going to go in and implement the agreement when we got it. That force started building up in February, before we even started the conflict, and was very much a British-led force. About half of the troops were British and of course we led the forces that went in in June. In those respects and in explaining through the media and the daily press conferences and that sort of thing my colleagues would probably concede to the British Government a very leading role in all those very important areas.

  37. If it had been possible to persuade others, would we have preferred there to be ground forces as well as an air attack?
  (Sir John Goulden) At the beginning, no. At the beginning that was not a necessary part of the plan, nor were the military proposing it. The plan that came to the Alliance at that stage was an air campaign, a phased, graduated, escalating air campaign. The preferred route for all of us, including the British Government, was to make a success of that air campaign, which was what we did. In the end, of course, it did succeed, we escalated, we did what was necessary to make that succeed. At the early stage nobody was asking for it and certainly the military were not proposing it. But we had, of course, done a lot of planning on a "what if" basis. The military had told us from the beginning, and we had known from the beginning, that once you start making threats and acting on them, you have to be willing to go right through to the end, if necessary, to succeed. So we did know that if the air campaign had not succeeded we would have had to consider ground options. Towards the end of the campaign those options were increasingly being considered between the main allied governments.

  38. Was the military advice tempered by their knowledge of political realities?
  (Sir John Goulden) Almost certainly.

Mr Rowlands

  39. You said escalating bombing, does that mean that the thought was if you bombed a little bit it would bring Milosevic back to the table? Is that the escalation you are talking about?
  (Sir John Goulden) 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.

  Ms Abbott: We thought that was what you were doing.

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