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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, when I made the remarks about the Luftwaffe, what I said was in no way anti-German. I said that psychologically it was a bad move because it would strengthen the hand of Mr. Milosevic. Therefore, my remarks were not anti-German; nor, for that matter, were they anti-anyone else.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I accept the noble Lord's explanation. Indeed, I accept his comment in that light. I believe that we must put this into a different context, while recognising that there are many historical echoes in what everyone does in the region. However, we must also recognise what the alternatives are if we do not act. The potential destabilisation of the European Union due to another 2 million or 3 million refugees is not something which we should contemplate with entire ease. So our political goal must be to extend peace and prosperity across the region and to recognise that that is a shared enterprise in which Britain must do its duty.

We have been concerned as a country with the Balkans ever since the Ottoman Empire began to crumble. An early leader of my party, William Gladstone, was himself much concerned with the emergence, first, of Greece and then of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire. On one occasion he said, "We are part of the community of Europe and we must do our duty as such". I believe that that is what we have to do.

8.17 p.m.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I am to some extent an amateur historian--a bad amateur historian. I shall not, like the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, go back to the Thirty Years' War. I would draw your Lordships' attention to the words of the short story writer Saki who, writing at the time of the Balkan War in about 1912, said:

In that respect, the events of July 1914 are very much in mind at this time. I remind your Lordships that the murder of the Austrian Crown Prince in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914 was followed by ultimata to the Serbians from Austria. They, in their turn, were followed by the expression of Russian support for Serbia, of German backing for Austria/Hungary and, in due course, the involvement of France and Britain in the whole panoply of horror of the Great War.

At this time we should not forget the disasters of 85 years ago. We go into the current conflict in the knowledge that there is a real danger that it may escalate now as it did then. President Yeltsin has already indicated his support for Serbia and opposition to the NATO action. In the light of the history of the relationship between Russia and Serbia, this is scarcely surprising: the bear does not change his spots. Nor should we forget the moral support that the British and the French gave at that time to "gallant little Serbia" and

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the appreciation of the strength and determination of its opposition to the might of the dual alliance. Again, during the Second World War we looked with admiration on the struggles of the Yugoslav peoples, even if all of them did not fight on the same side.

Today we must remember and appreciate that what NATO has entered upon will not be easy, possibly in the sense that the Gulf War against Iraq was easy. We are facing a warlike and determined people, who to a large extent have an absolute loyalty to their leader, Mr. Milosevic.

I apologise to the House for the absence of my noble friend Lord Moynihan who had an unbreakable engagement and has had to leave, having spoken at the beginning of the debate. As the debate was laid on at short notice I hope that the Minister will ignore the convention that he cannot be expected to reply to anyone who has left the House. I hope that these are special circumstances. In a way his absence is symbolic because the situation in Kosovo divides nicely into two sections: the diplomatic and the military. My noble friend spoke on the diplomatic side; I shall concentrate on the military side.

In another place the Government spokesmen were the Foreign Secretary at the beginning of the discussion and the Secretary of State for Defence at the end. I am sure the House joins me in being immensely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, for the detailed explanation of what happened last night and the way in which the air strike was conducted. I am only sorry that he does not have a Foreign Office hat that he can wear to give some explanation of what led up to these military events which he described so well.

I apologise to the noble Lord for the fact that last night I described him--as I thought--as being somewhat gung ho. He quite rightly objected to that. I am surprised today to find that the people who are gung ho seem to be the Liberal Front Bench. There is an air of sadness and sorrow among your Lordships. There is general support for the actions of the Government, but there is sadness and sorrow at the situation in which we find ourselves. In the circumstances I found it most interesting to listen to my noble friend Lord Lauderdale who, with his Serbian connections, gave very much the other side of the story, which is not something we hear often.

In the debate on the Statement last night the Minister--here I do take issue with him--intimated that the Serbians have a conscript army whose morale may not hold up under heavy bombardment, and that Mr. Milosevic is unaware of the depth of air power he faces. I am unable to accept either of those suggestions. As I have made clear, the Serbians have always been a determined people and Milosevic must surely know what he is facing. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, mentioned the anti-aircraft defences which the Serbians have.

Last night the noble Lord also pointed out that we were not talking in terms solely of a British force, not that I needed reminding of that. But even with our allies, experience has shown time and time again that air power

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is not enough and that we shall have to go in on the ground. It is fair to suggest that bearing in mind the nature of the country it is not unreasonable that the Serbs will be able to resist an army many times greater than anything NATO can put into the field. During the war the Germans had six divisions in Yugoslavia, including one SS, as well as a considerable number of Italians. If ground troops are now to be sent in, I do not think the numbers we can produce will have the success we determine, not even with the Germans, although they have experience of the country.

The British history of overcoming primitive peoples--if we may so describe the Serbians--on their own terrain is not good. The most obvious example is the lack of success of the British Army from India in the Afghan wars. Those operations were carried out in circumstances where the British forces did not have the limitations in numbers that we see today. The SDR was clear that only a limited number of operations could be carried out at one time. Even critics of the SDR did not expect the statement would come home to roost so soon. Are the Government confident that they can maintain and supply operations in Kosovo and Bosnia for the years that it may well take? Are there aircraft and anti-aircraft weapons to defend troops on the ground in Macedonia currently out of the range of aircraft flying from the supply fields in Italy? Do we have the numbers to sustain operations for a lengthy period of time without placing an intolerable strain on troops on the ground? The logistics of sustaining operations in all these fields at the same time would seem to be beyond the capabilities of all the NATO forces, let alone those of Britain as an isolated force. We certainly do not have, between us, the 150,000 troops which would seem to be necessary.

None of this would be happening without US involvement. It is not only the air power but communications and intelligence which are so important. Without the United States, Europe does not have the means to act, and not all Europe has the will. It will take years and billions of pounds to build the capability, and that cannot start without a radical change of policy, which we cannot see as being imminent. I hope that the Government have thought all of this through. I have been reminded--this was mentioned, in other terms, by my noble friend Lord Carrington--of the three rules governing involvement in a civil war, as generated by the historian Michael Howard: first, don't do it; secondly, choose which side you are on; thirdly, see that that side wins. I am not certain that we have done all three.

This morning on the wireless I heard mentioned--it was mentioned too by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford--that the action has many of the attributes of a Christian, just war. He may well be right; namely, that the Government have done their job by coming to a decision to interfere as they have. However, that is by no means as certain as some people make out.

We have made the decision, and we on these Benches give the Government our entire support. Nevertheless we may express concern with regard to the consequences of that decision. Whether Milosevic gives way or not, what do we do next? If he does not give

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way, how do we stop our attacks and where do we stop them? The Prime Minister has ruled out the use of ground troops, but for all the reasons which have been given this would not seem to be realistic. If the bombing does not work--and there is a strong possibility that it will not--what will we do? Escalate? Or merely walk away? And when we have walked away, what happens then? How can the whole matter be sorted out without putting our troops on the ground? Sadly, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find a qualified commentator saying that the matter can be concluded without the use of land forces.

We need therefore to call on the Government for assurances that any troops in or near Kosovo will be adequately equipped and protected and also that, having embarked on military action--wisely or unwisely, as events will show--they are prepared to carry through with it as far as necessary. We also need reassurances that this is a reasoned and considered course of action in which the Government are supported by all their professional advisers, the chiefs of staff. I believe I heard the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, give those assurances, but I would be grateful for repetition of them, as I am sure would your Lordships.

On these assumptions the Government have the considered support of the Official Opposition in this unwelcome but apparently inevitable course of action. All sides of the House and of the country have the fullest confidence in the expertise, the courage and the determination of our Armed Forces. We must hope that they are not too hardly pressed.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, this has been another sombre debate. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in it. I think it would be helpful if I were to start on at least one encouraging note. With regard to the position of refugees in Kosovo, I understand that the border with Macedonia has been reopened and that the refugees who seek to escape in that direction are now able to do so. That is one of the few cheerful things I have to say to the House tonight.

I have been struck by the number of times noble Lords have asked questions about the legal basis for our operation in Kosovo and in Serbia. I can do no better than to quote what I said to the House only yesterday evening:

    "We are perfectly confident that we have a good legal basis for our action".--[Official Report, 24/3/99; col. 1396.]
The relevant Security Council resolutions are 1199 and 1203. We are confident--this is the view not only of Her Majesty's Government but is one that is shared by all the other 18 members of NATO--and we are justified because of the accepted principle that force may be used in extreme circumstances to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

I was asked whether the Security Council had been kept informed and there was a suggestion that Mr. Kofi Annan had been snubbed. That is not the case. The Security Council has been kept fully informed throughout and, as your Lordships will know, there was overwhelming support in the Security Council debate on

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24th March, though Russia, China and Namibia did not agree with the propositions that the rest of the Security Council were supporting. Mr. Kofi Annan said that, diplomacy having failed, there are times when the use of force is legitimate in pursuit of peace.

Many noble Lords have raised the question of the involvement of Her Majesty's Government and our NATO allies with the Russian authorities. I can tell your Lordships that we have been in close contact with both Prime Minister Primakov and Foreign Minister Ivanov. We know that the Russians are as exasperated with President Milosevic as we are. We understand the Russian objection to the air strikes but my understanding is that the Russian authorities are totally appalled by Mr. Milosevic's actions in Kosovo. The Russian negotiator, Mr. Mayorsky, played an important part in negotiating the Rambouillet accords. We hope that Russia will play a positive role in persuading Milosevic to desist from the pattern of atrocities that his forces are currently undertaking.

I was asked a specific question by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, about the position of our forces if they were taken prisoner and whether or not the provisions of the Geneva Convention would apply. The position is that it does not need a declaration of war, though Mr. Milosevic says he has declared war, whatever that may mean, on NATO, as distinct from any individual country. It is necessary only that hostilities exist for the Geneva Convention to apply and any members of the Armed Forces of either side can and should expect the full protection of the Geneva Convention in the circumstances that exist at the moment in Kosovo and Serbia. I am quite sure that the Red Cross will be present and doing what it can. It is fully entitled under the terms of the Geneva Convention to be present in Serbia and Kosovo at this time if it thinks it fit to be there.

I turn to another point made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. I happen to be a strong believer in the force of air power. It is of course for the noble and gallant Lord to speak for himself but I thought I heard several of your Lordships misquote the noble and gallant Lord. I understood him to say that there have been enormous advances in the quality of air power in recent years. That has certainly been my experience. It is of a totally different degree from the nature of air power when I was last at the Ministry of Defence. The growth in the technological capability of air power to suppress enemy air defences, the growth in the precision of the weapons that our aircraft carry and the range of those weapons is remarkable. That we can fire cruise missiles from a submarine at periscope depth in the Adriatic to hit with a degree of accuracy which is unbelievable, guided by a GPS system, without any of our sailors being put at risk is a demonstration of air power of a kind that was not available only a very few years ago.

Many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, referred to the need for us to intervene with land forces. It is not in any way a part of the objectives of this Government to occupy Kosovo, to occupy Serbia or to subjugate the Serbs. That point was made to me last night. The objectives are absolutely clear. They are to disrupt the present Serbian activities with respect to

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what the Serbs are doing in Kosovo and to curb for the future President Milosevic's capability to engage in such activity.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to whose expertise I of course bow, asked many questions: when will it end; how will it end? I cannot answer those questions. I am sure the noble Lord realises that. No one can answer those questions for the simple reason that we do not know how Mr. Milosevic will behave. I suspect that in two weeks' time Mr. Milosevic may behave in a very different way from the way he is behaving now or may behave in two days' time. Unfortunately, we must continue to engage in the air activities in which we are engaged in order to achieve our objectives.

The noble Lord made one point with which I feel I have to take issue. He said:

    "The removal of the observers"--
I hope I am quoting him correctly--

    "has caused more damage than anything else in recent months to the poor people of Kosovo".
But the observers have been gone for only 24 hours. I do not see how the noble Lord can come to that conclusion. It is unfortunate that we do not have observers on the ground at the moment--

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