§ [Relevant documents: Third Report from the International Development Committee, Session 1998–99, on Kosovo: The Humanitarian Crisis (HC 422) and Minutes of Evidence taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee on 28 April 1999 (HC 188–iii).]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Jane Kennedy.]
§ Madam Speaker
We now come to the Adjournment motion on Kosovo. I have to inform the House that I have imposed a 10-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)
I begin with a personal reflection on the evil that we are fighting in Kosovo.
Hon. Members who were present at the close of Question Time will recall the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) referring to the death of Mr. Agani. I knew Mr. Agani well and I had met him on many occasions during the Rambouillet peace talks and before. I had a private dinner with him in Skopje in the spring, when he praised the steps that we were taking to force the Serbs to negotiations.
From the start of the Serb offensive in Kosovo, Fehmi Agani knew that the Serbs were looking for him. He spent the time since then in hiding, moving—always in disguise—from house to house. About two weeks ago he heard that the Serbs were clearing his neighbourhood of Pristina as part of the new wave of expulsions to Macedonia. He thought that that would provide his opportunity to escape from the country. He boarded the train in disguise in the thick of the crowd of deportees.
Unfortunately, perhaps because of a tip-off, the train was halted 20 miles south of Pristina and turned back. It was searched, and Fehmi Agani was found and forcibly removed. When his wife came to the police station in Pristina to ask after her husband, she was beaten by the police. Two days later, she was asked to come back to the police station to collect his corpse. The right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea is correct at least in that the Serb police told Fehmi Agani's wife that he had been shot by the KLA, presumably while in police custody. A more plausible explanation is that he was shot 48 hours after his arrest by the Serbs—just long enough to get the instructions from Belgrade and act on them.
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. As the record will show, it was Mr. Berisha, a highly respected senior Albanian politician, who attributed the murder of Mr. Agani to the KLA.
§ Mr. Cook
Yes, and Mr. Berisha was echoing what has been put out by the Serb propaganda machine. Mr. Agani was an entirely different politician and an entirely different quality of man from Mr. Berisha. He was a gentle, elderly man. He was not a threat to anyone. Throughout his political life, he had urged the path of non-violent protest. His death has a much bigger impact on those of us who knew him, but his murder carries a 883 message to all of us in the Chamber. It demonstrates the brutality of the regime that we are fighting, and the butchery that it practises on those who cannot resist it.
When we enter Kosovo, we will take with us the investigators of the International War Crimes Tribunal as a vital element of the international presence. There cannot be security and peace for those who have survived the terror, unless there is justice for those who have been killed in it. Already, Britain is doing more than any other single nation to help the International War Crimes Tribunal. We are sharing with it all our information on war crimes, including reports from intelligence sources, and our defence personnel in Macedonia are helping to record the evidence from refugees.
We are also ready to help the International War Crimes Tribunal on the ground in Kosovo when the time comes. There will be an immense job to be done in examining the many sites of suspected massacres.
I can announce to the House today that the Foreign Office and the Home Office have agreed that we will provide from the British police force a scene of crime team to work alongside the tribunal. They will be forensic experts with experience and expertise in exhuming bodies, gathering evidence about cause of death and looking for evidence of sexual assault before death. We will put their forensic skills and technology to the service of the war crimes tribunal in preparing the evidence to bring the perpetrators to justice.
§ Mr. Leigh
Will all that happen? The Foreign Secretary said, "when we enter Kosovo," but will bombing alone do the trick? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with what the German Chancellor said in Bari today:
Germany believes that sending in ground troops is unthinkable. This is our position and it won't change in the future.
Does he agree with that point of view?
§ Mr. Cook
Just before I came into the Chamber, I heard that such remarks had been attributed to Chancellor Schröder, but I am bound to say that I know by now not to respond to something that has been reported in the press without checking what was said in the original. Many of the remarks that have been attributed to me over the past few days confirm me in that view. Yes, I am confident that our air campaign is making a serious impact on the forces in Kosovo. If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, he will hear exactly what I have to say on that point.
Whatever view hon. Members take of the current conflict, I am confident that they will all, including the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), want to see war criminals brought to justice, and we will secure the entry of the tribunal and the return of the refugees under our protection only if we maintain and intensify the military pressure on President Milosevic.
For a year before the present military campaign, we tried every approach short of military force to persuade Milosevic to stop the repression in Kosovo. Indeed, the 884 frequent complaint of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) until we commenced military action was that we had not done it sooner.
I have read some recent articles complaining that the Rambouillet peace accords were too harsh on Belgrade and that it was unreasonable to expect the Serbs to agree to them. Looking back on Rambouillet in the light of the bloodshed that the Serb forces have visited on Kosovo, I am amazed at the moderation of the Rambouillet proposals, and that we were ever able to persuade the Kosovo Albanians to sign up to a package that required them to give up their demand for immediate independence and accept the continuing presence of a large Serb force.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the situation at Rambouillet immediately before the 10-day adjournment was such that the Serbs were all but signed up to the proposals—apart from the nature of the military force for monitoring the agreement—and that their whole attitude had changed when they returned? Is that correct or not?
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct to say that the Serb side indicated broad consent to the political accords at Rambouillet. The Serbs returned to Paris with a long list of changes that they wanted made to those very same peace accords. I also have to report to the House that the leader of Serb delegation said to me that it wanted a break in the negotiations in order to sell the agreement to its people. It used the interval not to do that, but to denounce the agreement and take a more hardline position than it had at Rambouillet. There is no doubt that the Serb side refused to make peace through negotiation, and even the Russian negotiator was blunt in putting the blame on the Serb side.
§ Mr. Blunt
There was a story—emanating from Germany, I believe—that the military annexe to the Rambouillet agreement contained clauses that would have allowed NATO forces to go all over Serbia and to do virtually anything that they desired to do. Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether those reports are correct?
§ Mr. Cook
I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that the reports are wrong. All that was included in that text was the standard status of forces agreement, which used identical language to the status of forces agreement that the previous Government, with his advice, agreed for the forces in Bosnia. I tell the House that not a single complaint was raised by the Serb side at Rambouillet about that annexe. Complaints have been raised only since then.
§ Mr. Cook
I must progress with my speech, if I may.
We still make every effort to find a diplomatic solution, and explore every possible opening. We have made good progress in building an international consensus on the
885 diplomatic track. Since the start of the crisis, we have maintained regular dialogue with Russia and kept open the door to Russia. Two weeks ago, we achieved a breakthrough when we secured Russia's agreement to a G8 text that is consistent with the objectives that we and our allies have set.
Yesterday, I met the Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, who confirmed that the new Government of Russia remain equally committed to the principles that we approved in the G8. The great advantage of the breakthrough with Russia is that it can unblock the road to a resolution in the Security Council, the great majority of whose members support our approach.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the British Government are making a solemn pledge to the refugees that they will return to Kosovo? Given that pledge—which is a serious thing—can my right hon. Friend explain what, if the bombing fails and the American, German, Greek and Italian Governments refuse to send ground troops, will be the strategy for securing the objective that he has announced?
§ Mr. Cook
I am not entirely sure whether my right hon. Friend is now arguing in favour of ground troops as well as an air campaign. That would be a substantial shift in his position.
My right hon. Friend reeled off a list of other nations. Every one of those nations shares the pledge to which he referred. Germany, Greece, and Italy unanimously supported the Washington summit communiqué, which commits us to our key objective—that the refugees will return under our protection—and adds for good measure that there will be no compromise. I assure the House that one of those who spoke most forcefully in support of the pledge to the refugees was the Prime Minister of Italy.
We are also active in our diplomatic efforts with the neighbours of Serbia. Today and yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is visiting Bulgaria and Albania; two weeks ago, he visited Macedonia and Romania.
§ Mr. Cook
I do not honestly think that the House can ask for a report on diplomatic initiatives, and then complain when the Prime Minister goes abroad on such a diplomatic initiative. My right hon. Friend is there to demonstrate Britain's commitment to a new start for the region.
Yesterday, I presented to the Foreign Ministers of the European Union our plans to put real substance into the proposed stability pact with the region. We want a Balkan regeneration plan that will enable the countries of the region to share fully in our standards of democracy and freedom, and an open trading area that will guarantee those countries access to the wealthy markets of the European Union, and an opportunity to share in our prosperity.
We are determined that the Kosovo crisis must be a turning point for the region, but there will be no stability and no fresh start for the Balkans if we do not first defeat the ethnic cleansing of Milosevic, which belongs to the fascism of yesterday and not to the Europe of today.
886 We want a political settlement; we are working for a diplomatic solution; but we do not want a settlement at any price. We have repeatedly stressed that there can be no compromise on our objectives. Those objectives have not changed, and are clear. There must be an immediate and verifiable end to violence and repression in Kosovo. Serb military, police and paramilitary forces must withdraw from Kosovo. All refugees must be guaranteed a safe return under the protection of an international military presence with NATO at its core. There must be progress towards a political framework for Kosovo, based on the Rambouillet peace accords.
Last week, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe demanded clarity on NATO's objectives. I have restated those objectives for the umpteenth time. They are clear, precise and unchanging. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman, when he addresses the House, to confirm that he understands those objectives, and supports the agreed objectives of the whole alliance.
§ Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)
Members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs are not always popular with the right hon. Gentleman's Department, but, last week, two of them were in two ex-communist countries: Armenia and Georgia. It was interesting that the presidents of both those countries were absolutely definite that we were correct to continue with air strikes until we could bring about a solution to the problem, which they thought was immense and had to be solved. We would not normally have expected those countries to take that view. The President of Georgia, Mr. Shevardnadze, an ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs in Russia, supported our action.
§ Mr. Cook
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. When we met the partners of NATO and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in Washington, it was striking that the countries of the former Soviet Union were often the most forthright in their criticism both of Belgrade and of Russia, for its tacit support of Belgrade. One of the reasons why we are now making progress in diplomacy with Russia is that it has recognised its isolation even within its own region.
Our objectives are, of course, in flat conflict with the objective of Belgrade to clear Kosovo of its population and to seize it for Serb occupation. Some have argued that Yugoslavia is a sovereign state and that it can do what it likes with its citizens. I totally reject that view. I would not care to explain to the Kosovo Albanians the theory that aggression against them by a neighbouring country would be unacceptable, but that the aggression that they are experiencing is acceptable because it is being carried out by their own Government. I share the view that was forcefully expressed by Kofi Annan that the international revulsion
"against the violent repression of minorities will and must take precedence over concerns of State sovereignty."
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
All that my right hon. Friend has said—I agree with him— 887 on the question of the refugees from Kosovo is exactly paralleled by the position of Serb refugees from Krajina, of whom there were 280,000, according to an answer, to me from the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), and who were purged from Krajina in the sovereign state of Croatia, which is recognised by this country. What is the difference between them and the refugees from Kosovo? If there is to be a Balkan conference, should it not cover the Krajina refugees, or are we going to turn around and bomb Zagreb?
§ Mr. Cook
As my hon. Friend will recall, that was condemned by me and by others in the House at the time. It is totally false for anyone in Belgrade to claim that the expulsion of the Krajina Serbs in some way justifies what the Serbs are doing to the Albanians in Kosovo, but I agree that the future for the Balkans must lie in accepting the principles of the modern Europe: not only respect for national boundaries, but ensuring that national borders do not become barriers between people in terms of trade and mobility. We will not establish those values in the Balkans unless we first end the ethnic cleansing that Milosevic has practised—my hon. Friend is right to remind us—not just in Kosovo, but, for 10 years, throughout former Yugoslavia.
§ Mr. Prentice
Are there any circumstances in which the removal of President Milosevic from power would become a policy objective alongside the five that the Foreign Secretary has already enunciated?
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend asks a question that has been put to us on a number of occasions. I have stated the objectives of our campaign. As I have said, they are unchanging. They do not include the withdrawal of President Milosevic from office; nor do we intend to make that a campaign objective. Our objective is to ensure that the Kosovo Albanians are returned under our protection, that Milosevic's policy is reversed and seen by his people to have been reversed. That will carry with it a firm message to those in Belgrade.
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. Gentleman may well be brief, but I will be in danger of making a long speech if I continue to give way on every occasion.
We are not going to halt President Milosevic or secure the objective of reversing ethnic cleansing if we simply, by dialogue, point out to him the error of his ways. He will abandon his plans to pocket Kosovo for the Serbs only if he knows that we are determined to maintain the military campaign until we prevail.
888 I say to all my colleagues who want a diplomatic solution that we will get one that they would accept only if we keep up the military pressure. Ending the bombing now would not give an opportunity for diplomacy, but would knock away the best lever of diplomacy. It would enable Milosevic to regroup, rebuild and re-equip his forces—and that would prolong, not end conflict on the ground.
Meanwhile, while we continue with the air campaign, we also develop our preparations for the military force that will be necessary to maintain security and to enforce a ceasefire when the Serb forces withdraw from Kosovo. At the weekend, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced that another 2,300 troops from the Parachute and Gurkha regiments are being placed on standby to move to Kosovo. At Rambouillet, we envisaged a NATO presence of 28,000 troops. After two months of conflict, it will require a larger force to undertake the task of reconstruction. That is why Javier Solana has been tasked with reviewing how many more troops will be required, and we expect his report to NATO this week.
Meanwhile, our air campaign is making its mark. We have now destroyed in Kosovo more than the equivalent of the weapons and equipment of an entire brigade. In the past week, we have had our highest tally yet of strikes against the military assets that are doing the killing in Kosovo. We are certain that we have now destroyed 160 tanks and armoured personnel carriers, more than 60 artillery units and more than 130 trucks and other military vehicles. We believe that the real running total could be even higher.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Presumably, the tanks are being destroyed by depleted uranium shells. The depleted uranium health hazards in Iraq are well known. What is the assessment, in the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office, of the long-term health effects on the population of using depleted uranium weapons?
§ Mr. Cook
No depleted uranium is in use with British forces—[Horn. MEMBERS: "NATO".] With respect, I am speaking in the British House of Commons of the British Parliament, and I am assuring the House that there is no depleted uranium in use with our forces. As for studies of health in Iraq, the Ministry of Defence has had a considerable look at what may have happened there, and we are confident that depleted uranium poses a very small risk to health. Regardless, however, none are being dropped by RAF airplanes.
§ Mr. Cook
No. If I may, I shall continue with my speech.
889 As I said, our air campaign has had a real impact in Kosovo. That impact is known throughout Serbia, not only in Kosovo. Yesterday, in Krusevac, 3,000 protesters stoned the town hall and booed local officials, demanding the return of reservists from Kosovo. They did so under the slogan, "We want sons, not coffins."
On Friday, I spoke by satellite telephone to Hashem Thaqi, the political spokesman for the KLA. He confirmed that the effect of our air campaign had been to keep the Serb forces divided, to prevent them from regrouping or concentrating their forces. They have to spend more and more of their time digging in and hiding, rather than carrying out offensive action.
Hashem Thaqi was unequivocal in his conclusion. He said:
"without the NATO bombing the situation in Kosovo would be even worse. If the bombing stops, we would simply be back at Square One."
That is the voice of someone who knows the realities of war at first hand.
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)
Does the Foreign Secretary accept that, while no one disputes that the air campaign is beginning to take a toll—and so it should after more than 50 days of bombing—troops on the ground will be required to secure Kosovo for the refugees to return? What would happen in the unlikely event of Mr. Milosevic buckling in the next few days? There are not enough troops on the ground to secure Kosovo because of the disastrous decision taken before the mission started that no troops would be used on the ground. What is the Foreign Secretary doing to secure the number of troops required for the operation?
§ Mr. Cook
The decision was taken before the conflict began that we would require troops for the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman outlines. We need to put a NATO presence into Kosovo to secure the peace. That is why Britain has already deployed 4,000 troops in Macedonia as part of the 20,000 who are now in Macedonia and Albania. As I said at Question Time, we have provided another 2,300. We are by far in the lead in the NATO forces for Kosovo. I assume that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that we should do it all and that only British troops should go in. We shall require a contribution from other alliance members. We shall discuss that this week in Brussels when Javier Solana reports on his proposals for the enhanced KFOR.
I was referring to my conversation with Hashem Thaqi. I had that conversation with the leader of the Kosovo Albanians on the ground the day after the NATO attack on the command post at Korisa, in which Kosovo Albanians were killed. I deeply regret any loss of life among the Kosovo Albanians as a result of our campaign. The UK takes great care to minimise the risk of any attack resulting in civilian casualties, but, as I have told the House before, we cannot guarantee that there will not be any civilian casualties if NATO is to wage a campaign of the intensity and strength necessary to win.
I reject with contempt the crocodile tears with which Milosevic has sought to manipulate the death of the refugees at Korisa, particularly given the track record of his army in using civilians as human shields. International 890 monitors have documented separate reports from refugees of 80 occasions on which they or their neighbours have been used as human shields. At Klina, 500 men were forced to lie in front of Serb artillery as it attacked the Kosovo Liberation Army. At Orahovac, 700 men were forced to stand with their hands tied for two days in front of Serb tanks.
In village after village across Kosovo, Serb forces have massacred civilians at point-blank range. They may now have killed 20,000 to 30,000 men, women and children. None of those was killed by tragic accident. All of them were killed deliberately and callously.
The bald statistics cannot convey the terror of those who have been evicted at the point of a gun; or the anguish of those who have been separated from their husbands and children and are left with the fear, but not the certainty, that they are now dead; or the pain of the refugees hiding without food on the hillsides throughout Kosovo and then injured without surgery by the shelling of Milosevic's guns. The tales of individual victims speak more eloquently than the statistics.
Some of those individuals are now in Britain as a result of the air bridge that we have built between Britain and the camps in Macedonia. Leeds was one of the first towns to embrace refugees from the camps. I visited them on Friday, after the funeral of Derek Fatchett. When I left, one of the workers there reminded me that it was easy to be misled by the smiling faces and happy children I had seen—to understand their suffering I should also hear the sobs that continued through the night.
The endurance that many of them showed in escaping from Kosovo is a measure of the depths of the terror from which they fled. One woman now in Leeds fled from her home towards the end of a pregnancy. She walked for days through the mountains carrying one of her other children. She gave birth to her son on the road, then got up and moved on again until she reached safety.
Another young woman told me how she had left her husband fighting with the KLA and had fled on foot with her two young children. In one village in which they stopped on the way, all the young men were rounded up and taken by the police to an ammunition factory. Throughout the following night, the woman heard gunfire from the factory. She removed herself the next day, but she heard later that, on the next night, the Serbs came back and raped the young women there. It is difficult for us to grasp what must have been endured by those women who, on the first night, lost the men of their village, and, on the second night, were humiliated by their murderers.
I want every hon. Member to understand the evil that we are fighting, and the brutality to which we would abandon Kosovo if we were now to give up. Today, I am placing in the Library a chronology of over 100 atrocities of which we have reports from refugees and other sources within Kosovo. All those atrocities are crimes born of ethnic hatred and fostered by the daily propaganda of the regime in Belgrade.
In the middle of this century, we believed that we had finished with fascism. At the end of the century, we cannot tolerate the revival in Europe of the doctrine of ethnic superiority, or the practice of mass deportation of a whole people.
That is one reason that strengthens our resolve to press home our military campaign, but there are other reasons too. First, we must succeed because NATO guaranteed 891 the ceasefire of last October, and because NATO has committed itself to enforcing a ceasefire in Kosovo. The security of our country depends on the credibility of NATO, and that credibility depends on securing our objectives in Kosovo.
Secondly, we must succeed because our promises to the countries of the region can be fulfilled only if Milosevic is forced to reverse his policy of ethnic cleansing. There will be no turning point for the region, and no stability in the Balkans, if Milosevic gets away with his aggression in Kosovo.
Most of all, we must succeed because we cannot abandon the bombing without abandoning the refugees themselves. On Friday, I stood before the refugees in Leeds, and I assured them that Britain would not abandon them and that we would not slacken the pace of our diplomatic effort. I told them that we would not weaken the resolve of our military campaign until they could go home under our protection. This Government will stand by that commitment.
§ Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)
It is now two months since the Prime Minister first came to the House to tell us that military action was being taken by NATO in response to the atrocities committed by the Milosevic regime. For the whole of the period since then, the Opposition have supported the Government on the fundamental issues at stake. We have supported the original NATO objectives, and we have supported the decision to take military action to achieve those objectives. We continue to support the Government in those crucial respects, and we shall continue to support them. Those inside and outside the House who have suggested that we intend to withdraw that support are mistaken.
We support also, as we always have done, our dedicated service men and women, some of whom I was privileged to meet when, in the company of the Secretary of State for Defence, I visited Gioia del Colle, HMS Invincible and Albania. The work that they are carrying out on the ground, in the air and at sea is second to none, and we are entitled to be proud of them.
I condemn, of course—and without reservation—as we always have done, the Milosevic regime in Yugoslavia and the atrocities for which it is responsible. For my part, I am perfectly prepared to accept that those atrocities include the tragic killing of Mr. Agani. With each day that passes, those atrocities worsen. I welcome what the Foreign Secretary said about the decision to use British police officers to help assemble evidence of war crimes. I share the Foreign Secretary's disgust at the events that he has described.
All those things are important, and they need to be said. However, accounts of atrocities are no substitute for an explanation of the strategy. When all those important things have been said, the essential task of an Opposition in a parliamentary democracy remains: it remains our duty to scrutinise, to question and, where justified, to criticise. That responsibility is more, rather than less, important at a time of armed conflict. It is to the Prime Minister's credit that he recognised that when, last Wednesday in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), he expressly dissociated himself from the criticisms that had been made earlier in the week 892 by his official spokesman. I trust that others, including those sitting beside and behind the Prime Minister on the Government Benches, will follow his example.
It is against that background that I wish to put questions to the Government today. Some of them are questions that I put to the Foreign Secretary last Monday. He did not answer them then, but I hope that he will answer them today. First, I have questions about NATO's objectives. I listened carefully to what the Foreign Secretary said about NATO's objectives today; I hope that he will do me the honour of listening carefully to what I have to say about them this afternoon.
My basic question is whether the Foreign Secretary is still of the view that the peacekeeping force in Kosovo should be led and commanded by NATO and that NATO-led troops remain a fundamental condition for a settlement. Will he acknowledge that the language has changed since Rambouillet and that Ministers now prefer to speak, as indeed he did this afternoon, not of NATO-led forces but of forces with NATO involvement or with NATO at their core?
We have to press those questions because the statement agreed by the G8 Foreign Ministers on 6 May did not mention NATO. It is reported that the draft text of the proposed United Nations Security Council resolution will make no mention of NATO either. Those are not minor points of terminology. Communiqués and United Nations resolutions are the product of careful and prolonged negotiation and their wording is significant. They are expressed in a particular way for a reason, and mention of NATO is a fundamental question. It was, after all, one of the key obstacles to an agreement being reached at Rambouillet. Is the Foreign Secretary now prepared to accept an agreement under which the forces that eventually go into Kosovo are not NATO led? If he is not, why do not the resolutions and the communiqués make that clear?
§ Mr. Frank Cook
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that, 10 weeks ago, his strongest criticism was that threats had been made back in September but not carried out?
§ Mr. Howard
No. I made the criticism for the whole year that preceded the decision to take action. I said repeatedly that there might be a case for not making threats and doing nothing, or for making threats and following them through, but there was no case for doing what the Foreign Secretary did for a year—making threat after threat and giving Milosevic final warning after final warning, but then doing absolutely nothing about it. That gave the wrong signals to Milosevic and his evil regime. If action had been taken much earlier, it might have saved many lives.
§ Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)
I am listening carefully to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Does he agree that there are two real risks of de facto partition—either by a zonal deployment of the international force or by a partial withdrawal by Serbia?
893 Does he agree that either of those actions would be disastrous for the future of Kosovo, and will he reject them?
§ Mr. Howard
I entirely agree that that would not be an acceptable outcome, and the Prime Minister has said so unequivocally. He has made it clear that no partition of Kosovo would be acceptable.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that Milosevic was given too much time. He attacks the Government from one side while others, including some Conservative Members, attack them from the other, saying that no military action should have been taken in the first place. Whatever the Government did at whatever time—I believe that they acted for the most excellent reasons—they would be attacked for one reason or another.
§ Mr. Howard
Of course it is true that different views have been expressed by hon. Members of all parties, and I have repeatedly said that all those views need to be listened to with respect. I was openly giving my opinion in response to the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook).
There are some vital questions about the means of achieving NATO's objectives. That is the crux of the matter, because, with the best will in the world, it is no use repeating the objectives and accounts of the atrocities time after time if we are not making sufficient progress in achieving those objectives. It gives me no pleasure to say that. I dearly wish that the objectives had been achieved long ago, but it is no use pretending, in the eighth week of the action, that they have been achieved or that we are close to achieving them when, alas and alack—I hope that the impression is a false one—all the indications are that that is not the case.
I repeat to the Foreign Secretary a question that is entirely relevant to the conduct of the conflict: what is the current position, eight weeks after bombing started, on the oil embargo? Has such an embargo been implemented, and if not, when will it be? Why was it not until five weeks into the conflict—five weeks during which there was repeated bombing of oil depots in Yugoslavia—that NATO's political leaders asked for advice on whether such an embargo would be legal?
Is it the case, as the newspapers say, that any such embargo would consist of a visit and search regime and would depend on the consent of the countries in which the ships were registered, and that a NATO source was reported to have said that, if that did not work, we would have to think again? I hope that we can have clear answers to those questions today.
Somewhat similar questions arise concerning the announcement by the French Government on Friday night—amid a flurry of mutual self-congratulation between the French and British Governments—that 12 British Tornados were to be moved to Corsica, enabling them to reach Yugoslavia without refuelling in flight. I am delighted that it will be possible for the Tornados to operate more effectively but, if that is the purpose of the move, why on earth has it been decided on only now and why are the Tornados not to arrive in Corsica until 1 June, nearly two weeks from now?
894 There has been a steady change in the Government's position on ground troops, and it does them no credit to pretend, as the Foreign Secretary did yesterday, that there has not been any change. At the beginning, the Government's position was clear: bombing would do the job; there was no need for ground troops to fight their way in; and any ground troops that went in would be there to keep the peace after an agreement had been reached, and not to fight the Serbs.
Bit by bit, there was a change in that position. First, ground troops would go in if there was a permissive environment—a term that was never defined. Then the formula was changed to a semi-permissive environment, which was equally undefined. On Tuesday 20 April, the Foreign Secretary told the House that troops would go in on the ground only when they would no longer face organised resistance. The very next day, 21 April, the Prime Minister changed the language again and said that troops would not go in until the Serb forces had been sufficiently degraded, and he refused three times to explain or expand on that formula. Those phrases are not plucked at random out of the air. They clearly signify changes in the Government's position. There is nothing necessarily wrong with those changes—they may well be justified—but, if confidence is to be inspired in them, it is essential that they should be explained, not denied.
§ Mr. Benn
I am listening carefully to the right hon. and learned Gentleman as it is right that the Opposition should put questions to the Government. Will he clarify his own position and that of the Opposition on ground troops? Is it their view that, if it is not possible to find a permissive environment for entry, and if the Americans refuse to supply ground troops, Britain—alone or with other NATO countries—should be prepared to enter Kosovo by force to realise our objective?
§ Mr. Howard
The right hon. Gentleman asks me to consider a hypothesis that has not been advanced by the Government, who have not said that that is the basis of their military assessment. They have not—in private or in public—told us the nature of their military intelligence or that they believe that they can achieve their objective in the way postulated by the right hon. Gentleman. We have no access to intelligence or assessments. We have no basis on which to suppose that an action of the kind mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman would succeed, and it would be the height of folly to take any action that did not succeed.
Our position is perfectly justified, is the only position that a responsible Opposition can take and has been repeatedly raised with the Government. It is that the Government should tell us why they have changed their position and tell us the justification for that change. If we find the explanations convincing and compelling, the likelihood is that we will support the Government. We have supported their objectives and their decision to take action, but we are not in a position to support their various changes of position because they have never been properly or convincingly explained. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will make a convincing case when he winds up this debate.
§ Mr. Hogg
My right hon. and learned Friend has sketched the Government's change in position over deployment of land forces, which seems more probable 895 than once it was. Does he share my concern that there is no ample provision of ground forces in the area? If we are told that we are winning the conflict and that Mr. Milosevic may buckle in the nearish future, I can foresee that we shall have an opportunity to go in without the resources to do so. Is not that the situation in which the maximum disaster is likely to occur?
§ Mr. Howard
My right hon. and learned Friend may well be right, but I can give him no categorical answer because I have not seen the intelligence that would tell us the latest state of the Serb forces in Kosovo. I am in no position to judge how many men would be needed to go in. From what I have read and heard, my right hon. and learned Friend may well be right, but, alas, further than that I cannot go.
§ Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)
All of us have a responsibility to explain our views clearly and to explain any change in them. At the beginning of this conflict, the Leader of the Opposition made it absolutely clear that the Conservative party was opposed to the introduction of ground troops; yet, at Prime Minister's Question Time last Wednesday, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) implicitly supported the use of ground troops. Can the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) explain what has changed to alter the stance of the Conservative party?
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman frequently intervenes on these subjects. I suggest that he does some homework. If he does, he will find—I have the quotation here, if he is interested—that, when the action started, the Chief of the Defence Staff said in public, in a signed article in a newspaper, that the course on which the Government were embarked offered the best prospect of achieving the Government's objectives. If he says that, who on earth is the Leader of the Opposition to gainsay the Government in those circumstances?
I will show how the Chief of the Defence Staff has changed his position. Unfortunately, the position now is that there is confusion at the heart of Government policy. Let me explain. Last Wednesday, the Prime Minister told my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that he thought that the current bombing campaign would achieve NATO's objections in full—
§ Mr. Howard
I am sorry, objectives. The day before, General Sir Charles Guthrie, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said that it would be very difficult even to stop the current killing in Kosovo—far less achieve the other objectives—with the current campaign. Both those statements cannot be right.
I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will give us an unequivocal answer when he replies to the debate. I hope that he will also be able to give the House an assurance that the Prime Minister did not give last Wednesday, when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked him to assure the House that General Guthrie and his fellow officers in NATO have the men, equipment and freedom of action to pursue a strategy that they believe will succeed.
896 That was a critical question. It is a question that any British Prime Minister at a time of armed conflict should be able to answer unequivocally and in the affirmative. It is a question to which the only acceptable answer is yes. However, the Prime Minister did not answer it. All that he would say was that the Government have throughout
"worked extremely closely with our armed forces."—[Official Report, 12 May 1999; Vol. 331, c. 311.]
I would rather hope that that went without saying. The prospect of a conflict in which the British Government do not work extremely closely with our armed forces does not bear contemplation, nor does the prospect of a conflict in which our forces do not have the men, equipment and freedom of action to pursue a strategy that they believe will succeed. That is the assurance that we seek. It is the assurance that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition sought last week. It is the assurance that we must have.
One further point must be made about the Government's conduct of this conflict. We appear to be seeing the application to this conflict, in which lives are at stake and are being lost and in which the most dreadful suffering is taking place, of the worst of the Government's addiction to spin-doctoring. It is entirely unacceptable that we should read reports in our newspapers that are said to come from senior figures in the Ministry of Defence, which state that the Government's media campaign is being allowed to take precedence over military considerations.
We read of moves that are seen by media strategists as "symbolically important", but that the services feel are militarily unnecessary and impose too much strain on the personnel concerned. We are told of a perception that
"commanders are not being allowed to make decisions. It is all being run by the press people. They are the real War Cabinet."
We have all grown familiar with the situation in which the Government are run by the press people—we have been told about it often enough—but we do not want a war to be run by the press people. If that is happening—there is a shrewd suspicion that it is—it must stop immediately.
Nowhere is the influence of those shadowy spokesmen more evident than in the current confusion over ground troops. While the Prime Minister tells us that he believes that the bombing campaign will achieve NATO's objectives in full, we read account after account denying that in our newspapers. The accounts are attributed to "unnamed Ministers", "Government sources", "a source in Downing Street", and "senior Government sources". That is no way to wage a war and that, too, must stop.
We are reaching a critical time in the conduct of the conflict. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked last Wednesday whether, if we wished to assemble and deploy troops to allow the refugees to return home before the winter, NATO needed to take any decisions on ground troops in the very near future. The Prime Minister agreed. The Foreign Secretary was, to put it politely, not very forthcoming, on the point this afternoon. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will tell us more.
There are also questions about the care of refugees. The Foreign Secretary talked about a regeneration plan. That is welcome, but can the Secretary of State for Defence confirm that it was not until last week that the European Union finally approved the release of £168 million of aid
897 for refugees and the Governments of Albania and Macedonia that had been agreed as long as ago as the beginning of April? Can Ministers confirm that that money has still not been released? Can they tell us when it will be?
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition tabled a written question asking for the appointment of an inquiry by Privy Counsellors into the circumstances that led up to the conflict. It is precisely the kind of inquiry that was requested and granted at the time of the Falklands conflict. Of course, we do not expect the inquiry to commence its work until after the conflict is over, but the establishment of an inquiry was agreed before the Falklands conflict was over. The inquiry into the Kosovo conflict should also be agreed now. I hope that we will hear a response on that from the Secretary of State for Defence.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I gave evidence to the Franks committee for 85 minutes, so will the right hon. and learned Gentleman take it from me that there are certain deficiencies in that form of inquiry, such as having to consider matters retrospectively? If there is to be a serious inquiry, should not a High Court judge be appointed now to avoid all the difficulties that Lord Franks and his colleagues faced in examining things that were blurred in the past?
§ Mr. Howard
There may be much merit in the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.
There are many serious questions to be answered, a large proportion of which can be answered now. I hope that we get answers when the Secretary of State for Defence replies.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
I am delighted that the consensus has been maintained across the Floor, although anyone who had left to have a cup of tea three minutes after the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) began would, on returning, not have shared my view. If one criticises almost every element of the Government's policies, it is difficult to maintain the fiction that what is upheld by those policies is worth supporting.
I know that some hon. Members on both sides of the House totally oppose what the Government are doing. I understand the frustration of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe at mistakes and the slowness with which the Government and NATO have done things. It is the same frustration that I felt at the prevarication of the previous Government in getting our forces to Bosnia. When they got there, they were put in blue helmets and were almost innocent bystanders as Bosnians were slaughtered by hundreds and thousands. I understand the frustration that was expressed about our perhaps not having the forces that we would like to go in with. It is the same frustration that the Defence Committee felt while the previous Government were cutting defence expenditure from more than 5 per cent. of gross domestic product to 2.5 per cent. If the Government in exile had fought this campaign as brilliantly as they fought their election campaign, we would now be having our 898 Franks-type inquiry, following a catastrophic defeat. Yes, of course there have been mistakes, but have wars ever been fought in which endless mistakes have not been made—even by the victorious?
I welcome this further debate. The House of Commons does not decide policy, but we can influence it. We are reflecting enormous public support for what the Government and NATO are doing. I believe that I was right when I supported this campaign on day 1; I was prepared to support it on day 55 and, if it goes on until day 100 or day 155, I shall support the policy. Wars do not proceed according to paths laid down by analysts, progressing swiftly towards the ultimate objective. There have been mistakes—political, strategic, tactical and intelligence mistakes—and hon. Members on both sides of the House will elaborate on them.
Perhaps we were wrong to misjudge Milosevic's ability to hang on to, and to exploit, weaknesses, but he misjudged our resolve. He has been most successful in exploiting an adversary consisting of 19 nation states that were clearly not exactly calibrated. However, when the leader of the Greens in Germany, Herr Fisher, made his courageous speech and stood there splattered with paint and blood, I realised that I had misjudged him. I wish that more people in the alliance were prepared—publicly, enthusiastically and at some personal risk—to stand up for what the alliance is doing.
Clausewitz offered the advice that, if one fights a war, one should fight it seriously and fight to win. Perhaps few alliances ever fought a war keeping in mind what is almost a paranoia about putting their own forces at risk. Even fewer wars have been fought in which adversaries have been so careful to avoid killing non-combatants and even the other adversaries. We have retained alliance cohesion, but perhaps that cohesion has been achieved by fighting the war less enthusiastically, robustly and efficiently than is desirable to achieve our military objective. Even though the air war is being stepped up, the rate of bombings and the number of sorties are less than such deployments during the Gulf war.
I very much hope that the present strategy of using air power alone will succeed. However, it is possible that it will not do so. If it does not succeed, let us think the unthinkable: Milosevic will survive and be emboldened; and he will start to unpick other agreements and interfere in developments made after he lost other wars—not least in Bosnia. The Kosovans will be dispersed for decades—if they can even return then. Milosevic will certainly begin to cause even more problems in the Balkans. What will happen to the credibility of NATO, of the European Union and of the Labour Government? What will happen in future conflicts? Will others be emboldened by NATO's failure to defeat a tinpot dictator? Merely pondering those possibilities will surely encourage people to the view that we must be successful.
Will the insertion of ground forces be required, as some have argued—many of us inconsistently? It may well be that they are. If we are prepared to use ground forces, and if they are dispatched, that might have an influence that would make deployment superfluous; however, it is not possible to beam over to the region and instantaneously deploy 50,000 troops. I remember how long it took to deploy adequate forces in the Gulf, and Opposition Members will also remember that protracted period.
899 We have to maintain diplomatic initiatives and try to get some agreement with the Russians and the Chinese. We have apologised to the Chinese, so perhaps they should now apologise for pinching all of NATO's secrets. If they are as contrite as we have been, some success will have been achieved. It is important that we try to sustain, as far as is possible, a consensus in this country, even though there are those who want to remain outside that consensus.
With the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, I visited Kukes and saw the refugee camps. I read the report of the Select Committee on International Development and saw its criticisms of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Kukes might not have been a Butlin's holiday camp, but it was an example of what could be achieved fairly swiftly and I compliment those involved, including the Italian Government, who have done what they can to house fleeing refugees.
I was also gratified to see what NATO is doing, for NATO is not only a military force, but a co-ordinating force for voluntary activities. I was impressed by what is being done at Tirana airport and the work to develop infrastructure and port facilities to enable humanitarian equipment to be brought in. I agree profoundly with Medecins sans Frontieres—an organisation which I admire deeply—that combatants should keep a distance between fighting and humanitarian assistance.
There is a sense of frustration and a belief that things have not gone well. It is right that the Opposition point out the failures that have occurred, but I should like them to give more enthusiastic support for the action so far. On both sides of the House, some hon. Members have been given wholehearted support, others have prevaricated, some have remained silent and yet others have expressed clear opposition. We know that the stakes are high: the price of failure for the Kosovans, for the region and for the alliance would be incalculable, so it is of primary importance that NATO gets its act together. Once NATO has decided on what the end game is to be—it may be the military defeat of the Serbs—we have to act with such commitment that that end is achieved.
§ 5.3 pm
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)
We have had a few sombre moments in the past 12 months and I suspect that we shall have a few more, but today is certainly one of the most sombre, for we now stand at the crossroads between success and failure. If we had a moral obligation to intervene in Kosovo, we now have an even more compelling responsibility to bring that intervention to a satisfactory military and political conclusion. Anything short of autonomy for Kosovo, the unfettered return of the dispossessed and the unequivocal recognition of their right to live in peace will be a failure.
If that failure arises out of an unwillingness to subject ourselves and, more particularly, our forces to some of the risks that we have imposed on the Kosovar Albanians, we shall have no right to claim any moral credit. NATO's air campaign is being conducted at heights which are safe for air crew and aircraft, but which put the people whom we want to help into the front line. Whether they are there by accident or by the sinister fiat of a regime that is using them as human shields, the risks are equivalent and the results as horrifying. NATO's intervention was soundly based on the acceptance of moral responsibility. However, 900 that soundness of principle may be readily undermined if it is not matched by equal moral integrity in implementing a burden that we took up freely.
§ Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman clarify for the benefit of the House whether he is advancing the war aims to a greater degree than are the Government? He referred in his opening remarks to "securing the autonomy" of Kosovo. Is that the Liberal Democrats' objective?
§ Mr. Campbell
The autonomy of Kosovo was the principal political proposal of Rambouillet and of Paris, and I have always understood it to lie at the very heart of the international community's efforts to seek a political settlement. I also understand that it lies at the heart of the G8 settlement, to which reference has already been made during the debate. In that respect—although I differ from the Government in other areas to which I shall come later—my position and that of my party is exactly the same as the position of those on the Treasury Bench.
When you embark on a course of action based on ethical values, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have a duty to reflect those values in the diligence with which you pursue that course of action. If one wills a moral end, one must show moral commitment in providing the means of achieving it. I believe that NATO is on the cusp. I disagree with the Treasury Bench in this respect: it is clear beyond doubt that an air campaign of the kind being prosecuted will not on its own achieve NATO's five principles for settlement. Those who always opposed the air campaign will argue that it should now cease. However, let us consider for a moment some of their alternative solutions.
Economic sanctions, Security Council resolutions and Russian diplomatic initiatives have been tried against the Milosevic regime without the compulsion of military action and with a consistent and depressing lack of success. What evidence is there to suggest that, if military operations were to cease unilaterally, those measures, either singly or in combination, would achieve now what they have so signally failed to achieve in the past? Why do we think that the displaced citizens of Kosovo set no store by those solutions and are willing instead to suffer the loss of life and limb, the cynical brutality of paramilitary thugs and the violation of their wives and daughters—sometimes before their very eyes?
Why do the Kosovar refugees say, even after devastating civilian casualties among their number, that NATO should not cease its military operation? They say that not out of some sense of masochistic guilt, but because they know their enemy. They know of what he is capable and what price he will exact if he is not checked. Those of us with any recollection of the Bosnian conflict should know our enemy as well. Srebrenica should not have faded from our memories. We should be haunted every day by the ruthless extermination of 7,000 men while United Nations forces with an ambiguous mandate and inadequate resources stood by, appalled but powerless. When, as it will, the searchlight of scrutiny falls upon Kosovo, I suspect that we shall see the results of a brutality that is far beyond anything that the disjointed accounts of traumatised refugees have been able to describe.
In our last Kosovo debate, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)—I gave her advance notice that I might refer to the comments that she
901 made then—expressed entirely justified reticence about urging the sending of other people's sons, and increasingly their daughters, to war. She was correct: it is too easy for us, at risk of only political embarrassment, to ask others to risk their lives for our political judgment. However, while paying due regard to the hon. Lady's reservations, we must acknowledge that ours are professional forces: there are now no pressed men or women. That does not entitle us to be profligate with their lives, but it means that, when considering whether to send them into action, we are dealing with those who have accepted voluntarily the risks of service.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his courtesy in telling me that he intended to refer to my speech. He has set out what he says are alternatives, but I find some of them frightening. If he is saying that we should now commit a professional army—a British Army—to Kosovo, I will ask him several questions. Is he convinced that this is what the British people want? Are they prepared to accept the considerable casualties and the damage that the action would do to them? Above all, is he convinced that it would produce any result? To send a British Army into hostile territory without proper preparation, certainly without proper back-up and with extremely muddled control by a number of nations at the top, would be to murder many British men and women. I would find it wholly unacceptable if the House of Commons supported that.
§ Mr. Campbell
The hon. Lady raises three points. My response to the first is yes. On the third point, I think that it would be right to send in British troops, subject to proper preparation. I shall deal with the second point during my speech because it is right that those who, like me, urge this course of action, accept the consequences. It is right also that those who write editorials in newspapers urging that course of action should understand what would be its consequences.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
§ Mr. Campbell
No, I want to make progress.
It is imperative that military pressure on Milosevic be maintained. Without such a continuing sanction, diplomatic efforts are likely to flounder in deception and ambiguity. We had a ceasefire less than 12 months ago, but no sooner had Richard Holbrooke got back to Washington than the Milosevic regime began breaching the spirit and every letter of that ceasefire.
If our continuing military effort is to be effective, it must include the mobilisation of sufficient ground troops, properly configured and able to impose NATO's will, to effect a forced entry into Kosovo and to operate in a hostile environment. The very act of assembling a force of such credibility which could make a forced entry would be disconcerting for the Milosevic regime.
§ Mr. Campbell
No, I shall make progress.
902 If NATO does not have the will to assemble such a force and, if necessary, to use it, I fear for the future of NATO itself. What do we make—more importantly, what does the Milosevic regime make—of a NATO that sends Apache helicopters, which are the most sophisticated attack helicopters in the world, to the region, but then is unwilling to use them for fear of the impact on domestic public opinion in the United States if they or their crews are lost other than in training?
There is too much of a belief that modern warfare can be sanitised and that we can fight war rapidly and win without casualties. Our experience in the Gulf misled us about what modern warfare consists of, and what its consequences may be. Those who argue so blithely in the editorial columns of national newspapers for ground forces able to make forcible entry into Kosovo should understand that there would be a price to pay, which would test the Government's resolve much more than even the substantial embarrassment and political damage occasioned by the bombing of refugees or foreign embassies. Every life should be worth the same, but when the bodies are those of our countrymen and women, there is no doubt that they make even greater demands on our resolve.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
Yes, there would be a price to pay for forced entry. If I understood the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), she was asking what would be the continuing price year after year, for how many years those forces would remain and what would be the ultimate outcome. It was, after all, a great Labour Prime Minister who decided in 1948 to withdraw from Palestine because, after three years of our troops being shot at from both sides, we realised that we could no longer sustain 100,000 men there.
§ Mr. Campbell
If the hon. Gentleman is asking me to say that we are in for a long haul and that the commitment will be lengthy, I gladly say that, because I have said it several times before, including in the House. We have a continuing commitment to Bosnia, which the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported were, in my judgment, entirely right to bring about. We have a continuing commitment to Cyprus, which has lasted for nearly 30 years. We are talking about long-term commitment to Kosovo, and we should understand that. When we quote public opinion as being supportive, we should always enter the qualification that the public are rarely asked how long they think that commitment should be.
Even the threat of ground forces would aid the air operations, for the forces on the ground in Kosovo would have to come out of hiding and be so concentrated as to meet a potential attack by land. In that form, they would be much more susceptible to attack from the air.
Such air attack is said to be pressed home at levels determined by military considerations only. I wonder whether that is the case. Surely the military advisers have given a range of options. Surely it is time to consider whether, in the light of some of the events of the past fortnight, and in the interests of seeking to prevent civilian casualties, air attack should be pressed home at lower levels. There would be an increase in risk. Let us be in no doubt about that. It would increase in direct proportion, 903 but there ought to be a diminishing risk to civilians. Should that not be the correct formula for such operations?
§ Mr. Campbell
No. I shall make progress.
There is now a rash of diplomatic initiatives. They require to be pursued with the same intensity as the military operations. The involvement of Russia is essential. Because of the inexcusable error that led to the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, it will be possible to buy the engagement of China only at a diplomatic and economic price. We shall have to pay for that error. We shall have to use up some of our political and financial credit.
Let me say a word about the role of the official Opposition and of the United States. I do not subscribe to the view that Opposition parties must preserve an unquestioning acquiescence. Twice in this century, parliamentary opposition has brought a change of Prime Minister because of energetic challenging in the House of the way in which war was being waged. Asquith and Chamberlain were both removed from office for their failures.
However, in asserting the right to question and challenge, there is an obligation incumbent on me and others on this side of the House. We have a responsibility to do so with judgment and without partisanship. I regret to say, and I do not say this lightly, that I do not believe that the Conservative party has always done so, since we began the exchange of statements and debates with which we have been concerned this year
§ Mr. Campbell
I shall give way in a moment.
There is a deep division of view among those on the Conservative Benches. It is a long—
§ Mr. Alan Clark
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Like most hon. Members, I understood that there was a 10-minute limit on speeches. Under what circumstances are you extending that limit? The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been speaking for 14 minutes, but he is using the extra time to attack the Conservative party.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
I can clarify the situation immediately for the right hon. Gentleman. The Standing Orders are quite clear. One spokesman from the minority Opposition party is exempt from the 10-minute rule or any other limit.
§ Mr. Campbell
There is a deep division of view among those on the Conservative Benches. It is a long way from Bridgwater to Kensington and Chelsea but, occasionally, there seems to be a temptation to provide a rallying point 904 for all shades of opinion round vociferous challenge of the Government. It is not so much what is said as the form and style in which it is expressed. Being supportive, but differing from the Government where that is necessary or appropriate, seems to me to be entirely possible. That serves both national and party interest, and the Leader of the Opposition himself appeared to recognise those matters last week at Prime Minister's questions when the tone that he used was in sharp distinction from that which we have previously heard from the Conservatives on occasions. He was wise to do so. [Interruption.] Let me make some progress. He would be wise to continue to do so.
The Leader of the Opposition appears, of course, to have changed his view about the role of ground troops. There is considerable difference in emphasis between what he said on 23 March in the House and what he said last week, on 12 May. That is to be welcomed, but some indication of whether the Opposition have an alternative strategy would also be welcomed. As I understand it, the only proposal that they have made so far—apart from questioning the proposals made by the Government, which I have supported in the past—is that there should be a committee of inquiry.
As I understand it, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) relied on something said by the Chief of the Defence Staff in a written article. That sits slightly uneasily with the fact that a Conservative member of the Defence Committee called for the resignation of the Chief of the Defence Staff. Had such a call been made by any other Member of any other party during the Falklands war or the Gulf war, I wonder whether people would have regarded it as being something other than unusual.
§ Mr. Keith Simpson
The right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly said that, for all Members of Parliament, it is not easy to criticise Government policy when British troops are deployed in action. I asked him, from a sedentary position, to give examples, but he was unable to do so, apart from talking about tone. Does he not agree, in retrospect, that he is making a highly partisan point? I ask him to bear in mind the fact that, on a number of occasions, he was unable to make his mind up, as the spokesman for the Liberal party, whether he should be sitting on the Treasury Bench, vis-a-vis a Cabinet Sub-Committee, or whether he was speaking as a member of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Campbell
One at a time, if I may make so bold, although I suppose that I could take two at once.
I am speaking on behalf of my party. I believe that I have said nothing today that I have not said on the two previous occasions on which we debated this matter. Nothing I have said today is inconsistent with my response to the eight statements that have been made from the Treasury Bench. If the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson), for whom I have great personal regard, examines Hansard, he will find that my speech contains many points of difference between myself and those on the Treasury Bench.
905 If the hon. Gentleman reflects further, he will consider that my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who has been particularly prominent in the debate in general, has been extremely critical of the Government on occasions. I believe that it is my obligation and responsibility to do that, and that is what I am trying to do at the moment.
§ Mr. Campbell
I agreed to give way to the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt). I shall then give way to the shadow Foreign Secretary.
§ Mr. Blunt
When the right hon. and learned Gentleman reflects on the tone of his speech, he will wish to withdraw his ascription of my remarks—which were made as a Back-Bench Conservative Member of Parliament who has the right to express his views freely and fearlessly—as the official Conservative position and the official Opposition's attitude to the Government. I hope that he will now do so.
§ Mr. Campbell
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that I have mistreated him in the way that he describes, I withdraw any suggestion that, in writing in the way that he did to The Times, he was writing on behalf of his party's Front Benchers, but he is a member of the Defence Committee of the House of Commons. I know of no occasion on which any member of that Committee who disagreed with Government policy suggested that the Chief of the Defence Staff should resign.
§ Mr. Howard
I take it that the right hon. and learned Gentleman now accepts that the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) were not my views, and have never been expressed by me.
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman be good enough to say which of the questions that I put to the Government earlier he regards as improper?
§ Mr. Campbell
If the hon. Gentleman continues to call me a creep, I may have cause to revise the view that I expressed earlier.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has provided an unfortunate amplification of something that I did not hear. Let me say to the House that I think that a grave subject of this kind is best discussed in terms of issues rather than personalities.
§ Mr. Campbell
I apologise if I gave an unfortunate amplification, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I apologise for responding to provocation.
906 The Foreign Secretary is to visit Washington this week. I hope that he will say frankly to those whom he meets, both in the Administration and in Congress, that, among friends of the United States, there is some concern, bordering on dismay, about apparently contradictory views being expressed.
The United States is the leading member of NATO. Its political leadership of NATO is unchallenged and, until Europe has achieved a much higher degree of defence cohesion and a more effective use of its resources, its military leadership will be essential in operations of any substance, and certainly in operations such as those being carried out, or proposed, in Kosovo.
Colin Powell, who is not notorious for risking American troops, recently challenged the assumptions behind the White House's insistence that an air campaign will be sufficient. For the reasons that I have given, that is part of the area of disagreement between Ministers and myself. Patently, an air campaign is not sufficient. For the Administration to continue to ignore the military realities not only imperils the mission, but puts intolerable strain on NATO itself.
During the Bosnia conflict, NATO's very survival became an issue, to the extent that the United States Defence Secretary William Perry, addressing the Defence Committee of the House of Commons in Washington, said, "NATO is more important than Bosnia." The fact that it was necessary to say something of that kind-showed the extent to which NATO was at risk.
NATO needs clear political objectives, adequate military resources and courageous leadership. The people of Kosovo need NATO to have those qualities; otherwise, their fate will be not political embarrassment, but participation in a diaspora that no one would have expected to find in Europe at the end of the 20th century. The Foreign Secretary should employ the frankness to which a close ally is entitled, and tell the President, Congress and the American people what we and the people of Kosovo expect.
§ Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who was doing very well until he was distracted by that little spat a moment ago. I am happy to be associated with just about everything he said, including some of what he said during the spat.
I welcome the robust terms in which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary restated our objectives. I accept that he and my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister are doing all in their power to inject some backbone into our allies, and I entirely understand why they are not able to be as frank as we might like about that in public.
For the avoidance of doubt, may I say that I have supported intervention from the outset? We cannot allow ethnic cleansing in Europe when we have the means to prevent it, as we do. The only point at issue is whether we have the will, but we certainly have the means. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said the other day, this is a defining moment for our generation—are we able to stand up to what is happening in Kosovo?
I supported the intervention in Bosnia; I thought that it should have come a lot earlier than it did. The main lesson of Bosnia was that, had it come a lot earlier, the lives of many innocent people would have been saved.
907 I have not supported many interventions by the United States, but I did support the one in Somalia, which is perceived in the United States as a failure because some American lives were lost. However, it is often forgotten that, when the United States went in, the people of Somalia were dying of starvation at the rate of 1,000 a day. When it came out, whatever else had gone wrong, it had ended that situation. In the balance of history, that intervention should be regarded as a success, not a failure. It should not be quoted as a reason for doing nothing in relation to ground troops in the case of Kosovo.
There should have been—to our great shame, there was not—effective United Nations intervention in Rwanda. That is one of the most shameful episodes in recent years—perhaps in my short political life. It was clearly a case where a modest outside intervention by countries with the relevant—
§ Mr. Mullin
Yes, under the UN. In that case, it might have been possible to get agreement in the UN. That was clearly a case where UN intervention might have been possible but, personally, I did not care where the intervention came from, providing the job that needed to be done was done. It could and should have been done in Rwanda. That is another lesson from the past that comes back to haunt us.
It has never been my view—indeed, it has never even occurred to me—that bombing alone will do the job. I am firmly of the view that bombing alone will not work. The Americans have always been big on bombing because they have never been bombed themselves. They do not always appreciate the effect that it has on civilians and, indeed, on the resolve of the people who are bombed. They have always been surprised.
The Americans flattened North Vietnam, without having any noticeable effect on the will of its people to resist. I was there some of the time and I saw what happened. The Americans are always surprised that bombing does not produce the results that they hope for. I hope that we will not get ourselves in the same position as the Americans; indeed, I know that we have not.
The Americans have always had a rather casual attitude to any casualties but their own. It is perhaps forgotten that the Chinese embassy in Belgrade is not the first foreign embassy that they have bombed. They killed the French consul general in Hanoi in 1972 and bombed the Swedish embassy. I was in Cambodia in August 1973 when a B52 carpet bombed the town of Neak Luong, which was on their side, killing more than 150 people. It was the biggest accident of the war.
I remember that, first, the Americans lied about it. Then they were rumbled by an American journalist, Sydney Schanberg. Those who have seen the film "The Killing Fields" may remember that it starts with that incident. They lied again about what had happened. Then, eventually, they put it down to a computer error in Honolulu. After many months, they docked the pilot's pay by ․240, and they gave ․50 dollars in compensation to each of the families who had lost a relative. At that time, ․50 dollars was a new high for a Cambodian life.
Although I do not want to make too much of it, occasionally, when accidents have occurred in Kosovo or in Yugoslavia and I have heard spokesmen twisting and 908 turning to avoid having to face up to what has happened—we all accept that accidents of this nature happen in war—I have been reminded of the attitude that I heard American spokesmen expressing at the time of Neak Luong, in Cambodia. When we make mistakes—we have made some very bad ones—they should be faced up to squarely. If we do not do so, we risk rapidly losing the moral high ground.
We have to have grounds troops in Kosovo. If we cannot persuade the Americans or the rest of our allies to come in with us, we must prepare either for an unpalatable compromise or for prolonged stalemate.
§ Mr. Mullin
Forgive me; I have only 10 minutes, and I have already had most of it.
We cannot continue bombing indefinitely. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife said that we were at a crossroads. We are at a crossroads. We have to persuade our allies to come with us on ground troops. We now have absolute air supremacy, and we have cut off supplies of food and fuel. Now, we must start assembling a ground force and be prepared to use it.
I should like to hear from Ministers some clear estimate of what the Government consider to be the appropriate number of ground troops effectively to take Kosovo. Currently, a figure of 50,000 is quoted but, only a few weeks ago, I heard some of our spokesmen talking about 150,000 or even 200,000. I should like to hear a clear assessment of the situation.
The only point that I want to make is that, if we cannot bring ourselves to raise a credible ground force and, if necessary, to use it—it might not be necessary to use it; perhaps the pressure we shall apply merely by assembling it will be sufficient to lead to some type of diplomatic solution—we have to face the fact that we shall be locked into either an unpalatable compromise or a long stalemate. What we cannot and should not continue to do—as we have done in Iraq—is to bomb indefinitely, drawing up ever more irresponsible lists of targets, creating ever more civilian casualties.
This is the crunch point. I hope that we shall rise to the occasion. If we fail, the consequences are very terrible, most of all for those who are the victims of this great catastrophe. Whatever happens, we must not walk away from them. We have a debt of honour to those people, and to the Governments of the surrounding countries, who risk being destabilised by events.
In the long term, if we fail here—the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife touched on the issue—we shall have to reconsider completely our defence relationship with the United States—
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
If I agree with some of the points made in the debate and—particularly after the speech of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin)—sound repetitive, my intention is simply to try to establish greater consensus on 909 the issue. Nevertheless, I respect the views of those who disagree with Government policy and some of the views expressed by my hon. Friends.
I should like to make some specific criticisms, and to consider NATO's future if we get out of this mess. First, I want to make it clear that I fully support the action taken by the Government. I understand the problems and I do not intend to snipe at them about some of the difficulties that they face. I recognise that the United States is part of the equation that leads to the problems that we face.
The public—those who can remember that far back—well understand that the Rambouillet talks unquestionably went on long enough, with three adjournments, in a vain attempt to achieve a temporary settlement that could pave the way to a more peaceful arrangement in the Balkans, particularly over Kosovo. There is plenty of evidence to support the view that the behaviour of the Serbs towards the refugees and the use that was made of them started long before our bombing attacks.
The resumption of talks would lead to no more than a shabby deal. People of my generation remember digging trenches when we were at school and then, only a few years later, digging them in a more serious mission. The calls for a resumption of talks revive memories of Mr. Neville Chamberlain's Munich agreement, when he referred to the situation in Czechoslovakia as a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.
Those who say that we have got in a bit of a mess—and we have—should say how we can get out of it, and should define the end game. I do not think that it is possible to answer that. The same question could be put to those who opposed military action and insisted that dialogue should be continued. We have tried that. It has failed and I have seen nothing since that would lead me to believe one word from Mr. Milosevic or any of his henchmen. Following that course of action would be a failure to stand up for human rights and our democratic traditions. So much for that.
There are lessons to be learned. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly discussed the issue at a special meeting in Brussels only a week or so ago. The Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary—all recent members of NATO attending their first meeting—played a vigorous part in drafting the resolution. They had no doubt that we had to stick with the resolution that we have bound ourselves to and see the matter through to the end. They have learned the lesson of history—that appeasement to dictators never gets us anywhere, even though the situation may be dreadful and we may be unsure of our moral position.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
I am sorry, but I cannot give way. I did not even note the time when I started, so I am not sure when I have to finish.
I have some military criticisms. I think that we all agree that ruling out the use of ground troops as a matter of principle was a bad decision. It was also wrong not to call up some troops and give the impression that they were there to do some business. Advance parties could have 910 been sent on special exercises to show Milosevic that we are ready to back up the rhetoric and that we are serious about destroying his army.
Unfortunately, bombing infrastructure from such great height, with all the collateral damage, has lessened the difference between our military activities against the Serbs and their activities against the Kosovars. That has led to some loss of the moral high ground. We should press on with all the speed that we can muster to threaten the Serbs not just with bombing, but with ground attacks.
The terrain offers great difficulties, although the troops are not likely to face the difficulties that the German Nazi battalions found in the second world war. In our campaign of bombing from 15,000 ft, we have been slow to pick up some of the new technology. We should have shown a greater sense of urgency and placed orders for new all-weather precision munition. The Secretary of State for Defence knows that Boeing has some kit that could be fixed to our laser-guided munitions so that they do not miss their targets and so that the planes do not have to return to base because they cannot bomb through cloud without damaging the effectiveness of the attack.
Incidentally, what is the point of having Apaches if we do not use them? That is where we must put pressure on the United States. We know perfectly well that they could be used with the help of specially positioned troops or fighter control teams, which could go into so-called "enemy territory" and help steer the Apaches on to the target. I have been in Apaches, and I know what they can do. They pop up, lock on to a target and disappear in a few seconds, before coming back up again, but they need help from those on the ground. However, the risk of loss of life there would be frequent.
Those matters lead me to conclude that NATO as a whole has not lived up to its reputation. It has not shown urgency in the measures that I have described, which would not cost much but would increase the efficiency of our forces.
It is all very well blaming the United States. However, we must recognise—I say this as delicately as I possibly can—that it is not led by a man with the highest of reputations. He may think that, by saving American lives, he will increase his own reputation and leave his office in better repute. That may be one reason. However, there is more to it than that.
At the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, one of the Americans whom I have got to know well—a distinguished Congressman—made it clear that many in the United States are not keen on getting involved. There are those, keen or not, who think that the Europeans do damn all—that is how they put it.
We can argue until the cows come home, but the fact is that we do not pull our weight. We are not efficient at getting together as allies in NATO. There are two countries alone that could deploy efficient troops—France and ourselves. Germany spends next to nothing on its defence and, in any case, has a conscript army. I could go through a whole list. If I were an American, I would say, "This is a European problem. Of course, we can help, but if you want NATO to remain as an efficient alliance, you must do more yourselves." I accept that.
We must face the challenge, and the new NATO faces a great opportunity—that of creating a new, democratic security and political structure from the Atlantic to the Urals. If we fail in the Balkans, I fear not that we shall 911 write the RIP for NATO, but that it will destroy our ability to create the new structures that are necessary if we are to prevent, for the third time in a matter of two generations, a severe threat to the security of European civilisation.
That point means establishing also on a sustainable basis a better relationship with Russia. I have been to NATO headquarters and, as a result of the NATO-Russia Founding Act, there are Russian generals, service men and civilians working with NATO people. That is where we can begin to solve the problems that affect the structures of security and the democratic institutions of Europe.
I believe that we can do that if we recognise, first, that we must overcome the problem in the Balkans, and then range further in the peace to establish stability. If we can do that, I feel that we can hold our heads high about the future of NATO and of European civilisation.
§ Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)
I begin with what has become, unhappily, a necessary incantation. My opposition to the war—which is profound, and has been as consistent as the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) throughout its 60 or so days of duration—is not based on any sense of pacifism. I am a pacifist neither by conviction nor by inclination. Nor is my opposition based on any approval or approbation for the ghastly tyranny in Belgrade, as I know my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would accept. If my right hon. Friend were here, he would know that we—certainly I—require no lectures or lessons on the scale of this humanitarian catastrophe, or on the tidal wave of human misery, pain and death that it has unleashed.
I know also that my right hon. Friend will accept that I defer to no one when it comes to a loathing of authoritarian government in any of its manifestations, be it foul tyranny on the one hand or the manipulation of the democratic process on the other. I have few hopes so fervent as to see Slobodan Milosevic and Ratko Mladic brought before the book of judgment in this world, as Senator Pinochet will be, rather than waiting for the vagaries of the next.
I also agree with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary when he says that we have reached—or should have reached, because such a state is long overdue at the end of this millennium—a time when we require to live in a new legal international framework, which means that we will no longer have to stand idly by wringing our hands and listening to the screams in our neighbour's house, unable to intervene because of the rules of sovereignty. My opposition to the war is based on the fact that the unilateral action taken by NATO is more likely than anything else to defer the growth of such a world order and will, in all probability, put back its inception for decades.
The first thing to understand is that this is an illegal conflict. Whether that matters is another issue, and I shall come to that in a moment. However, there is no point in continuing to pretend that this conflict has some form of legality. United Nations Security Council resolution 1199, which was once prayed in aid, gives no power to the United States or NATO to intervene militarily in Yugoslavia. There is no fiat from the Security Council, and article 7 of NATO's own treaty precludes it from acting outside the aegis of the Security Council.
912 More to the point is the question whether it matters that the conflict, based as it undoubtedly is on humanitarian motives and principles, is illegal. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South, for whom I have boundless respect and admiration, said that he did not care where the intervention came from. 1 cannot think of any statement more calculated to cause international chaos.
How far does NATO's writ run? I hope that that question will be answered in the response to the debate. Does it run only to Europe? Does it run to the Urals? Does it run into Russia or into north Africa? Does NATO's writ run into the centre of Africa? I remember a comment recently made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), for whom I also have boundless admiration and respect, when she said that the time had come when we would see no more Rwandas. Is NATO's writ to run to Rwanda? If so, who is to decide in the counsels of NATO which conflict we will pick in which to intervene?
What about south-east Asia? Who polices south-east Asia if NATO polices Europe and north Africa? There is only one candidate. What happens if China, in the not-so-distant future, moves into Cambodia, Vietnam or Ladakh to stop—or so it claims—civil war or ethnic cleansing in those areas? When we protest against it, what will we say when China points out that we took the unilateral step of intervening in Kosovo without the international mandate of the Security Council? The road on which we have embarked is one of desperate danger.
Who is Jamie Shea? Who elected him? To whom is he accountable? When Jamie Shea tells less than the truth—and he has, on one or two occasions, told much less than the truth—who is responsible? On the question of the bombing of convoys—I accept that convoys will be bombed in a war, because catastrophes happen—Jamie Shea said that the Serbs did it. It was the same with the Chinese embassy. The first thing we were told was that a Serb double agent had deliberately misled the Americans. It was only later that we discovered the truth about the seven-year-old map. To whom does Jamie Shea answer? With our spin doctors we can get at their puppet-masters, but we cannot get at anybody who controls Jamie Shea.
The way in which we are waging this war is part of its illegality. I am no militarist. There are plenty of Biggleses on the Back Benches, but I am not one of them. I am no expert on the efficacy of weapons, but I do know that common sense says that, if bombing is carried out from long range or high in the air, it will transfer the risk from combatants to innocents on the ground. That is a deliberate policy.
Why are we embarked on an air war rather than on an invasion? I suggest that nation states are naturally inhibited from invading other nation states because they know that it is an act of wanton illegality. That is the box in which we are caught. Does legality matter? Of course it does, because acting legally gives one's actions coherence. Legality is not merely a question of the right to intervene: it is also the duty to intervene. If there is a legal duty to intervene, there is no debate about whether to commit ground troops because one's duty is to intervene to the maximum extent.
913 The radicalisation of support for Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade has occurred because, although he tells his people many lies, he can tell them with complete candour and truth that the action taken against them by NATO is illegal. They will believe him.
§ Mr. Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)
My hon. and learned Friend has spent a long time convincing us that he is a highly paid lawyer, and I am sure that he is good at his game, but will he spend the rest of his time telling us what he would do to protect the Kosovars from genocide?
§ Mr. Marshall-Andrews
In debates such as this, I dislike personal invective. I have not indulged in it and I hope that other hon. Members will not do so. What would I do? I would take not 1,000 refugees a week but 10,000 refugees a week. I would welcome them to this country as the victims of a civil war, with all the inherent generosity for which this country is justly famed.
I suggest two precepts for a new international order. First, we have a duty to take refugees. The second duty attendant upon intervention is that it should be carried out only by nation states ruled by a democratic process—
§ Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)
I shall address the bulk of my remarks, as most right hon. and hon. Members have so far done, to where we go from the situation in which we find ourselves. However, it is right to cast our minds back and ask whether we should have got into this situation. That question can be answered only when the conflict is over, and it will require a full and lengthy examination of the entire foreign policy and diplomatic process for at least a year before the start of the conflict in March this year.
Admittedly, with the benefit of hindsight, it can now be seen with stark clarity that the foreign policy that was pursued over the 12 months to this March rested on one enormous gamble: that it was possible to replay the Dayton formula that had produced peace in Bosnia to resolve the situation in Kosovo. The idea was that it would be possible for the western powers, from outside, to devise their own solution to the problems of the Balkans and force the Serbs to accept it under the threat of bombing.
That idea took little account of the profound difference between Bosnia and Kosovo in the minds of Milosevic and of the nationalist Serbs. There was always a hugely greater likelihood of failure in applying the formula to Kosovo and there was never any doubt that those most exposed by that failure would be the 2 million Kosovo Albanians. They have been the real victims of the failure so far. Deeply serious questions need to be asked about why more account was not taken of their vulnerability and the risks that they faced.
Why was not more done to try to deter Milosevic from applying a Hitlerian final solution to the Kosovo problem? Why was he given a partial green light by declaring in advance that there would be no use of ground forces? Those are serious questions that require an answer.
914 The central issue is what we should do from here. I find this moment extremely sobering and distressing, and I am sure that that feeling is shared by hon. Members of all parties. At the start of the conflict, three objectives—humanitarian, diplomatic and military—were set. The verdict today must be that we are miles and miles from achieving success in any of them.
The Prime Minister clearly stated the humanitarian objective at the very outset. He said that the action wasto avert … a humanitarian disaster".—[Official Report, 23 March 1999; Vol. 328, c. 161.]There has been no averting, and the humanitarian disaster has been catastrophic—way beyond anything that anyone expected would happen two months ago. On the humanitarian question, we have produced a total failure.
The diplomatic objective was that the start of bombing would make Milosevic climb down and accept the terms from which he had run away at Rambouillet. There again, two months on, we have total failure. We are nowhere near achieving the diplomatic objective with which we started. We hope that that will change, but that is the position today.
On the military objective, the Foreign Secretary has once again reeled off the list of destruction of Serbian armour in Kosovo, but the real test is what is coming out of the mouths of the refugees crossing the Macedonian and Albanian borders day after day. They report daily that the ethnic cleansing is continuing, with murder and rape and any number of people being taken away, perhaps to be sent to slave labour or rape camps, suffering every type of defilement and possibly mass murder: we shall find out only when we eventually get into Kosovo. Unhappily, the military action has not stopped the ethnic cleansing.
The House has widely divergent views on where we should go from here. My view is that, militarily, there is now an absolutely overwhelming case for the deployment—I stress deployment—of ground forces. Deployment is different from commitment. A commitment to use ground forces could be taken only at the time and on the basis of the military advice.
We are in a time-critical position, not only because of the weather factor, which is certainly important, but because of what is going on inside Kosovo. Apparently, there are still 600,000 ethnic Albanians inside Kosovo. What is their fate? Almost certainly, many more people are being murdered or driven out of their homes. The longer we delay, the more people are likely to end up as corpses in Kosovo.
The case for deployment now is not merely to try to give ourselves a military option as soon as a suitable force can be assembled, if we decide that that is the ultimate need, but to reinforce our diplomatic efforts. If Milosevic knows that troops are gathering on the borders of Kosovo, he will know that we are serious and that he risks a ground force invasion by the NATO countries. Surely that will add to the diplomatic pressure on him.
We must ask ourselves what more we can do to maximise the pressure on Milosevic to persuade him that he will be better off settling now than waiting for an uncertain future. What is the future of Kosovo itself? The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) referred to the Rambouillet process leaving Kosovo autonomous. I think that he blurred the issue somewhat: under the Rambouillet process Kosovo was to enjoy a degree of autonomy, but within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
915 Surely we should now make it clear to Milosevic that, if NATO is forced ultimately to use ground troops, there can be no question of Kosovo remaining within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. He will lose it and it will become independent. Surely we would all agree that if we went to the financial and human cost of a ground forces invasion of Kosovo, it would be unthinkable for Kosovo to remain part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
I urge the Government to take steps now to increase the pressure on Milosevic. Stalemate is a victory for him. We cannot stop. We will be in serious danger of falling apart as an alliance if we do not maintain the momentum. There is a strong case for taking a decision to deploy military forces—that is separate from a subsequent decision to commit those forces—and making it clear to Milosevic that, if he wants Kosovo to remain part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, he must settle now. If we are forced to—
§ 6.9 pm
§ Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)
I do not want to follow the line taken the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley), although I agree with virtually every word that he said. The great value of these debates is that we can point out where we fear that errors may be made and hope that, by so doing, we can prevent those errors from occurring and causing the loss of lives.
Having visited Macedonia and Albania, I am extremely concerned that neither the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees nor NATO is doing the planning or taking the action necessary to house refugees over the winter, which, in the Balkans, starts in mid-October. I understand why the Government and NATO should not want to appear to plan for refugees still to be there in the medium term. It may be argued that that would encourage Milosevic, but I think that it would show our determination to see this through. It would be extremely foolish not to plan for there to be substantial numbers in Macedonia and Albania over the coming years. That would bring us in line with the realism that we should have learned from the history of refugee camps throughout the world.
The primary reason for urgency is that it would be intolerable to have hundreds of thousands of people housed in tents in a Balkan winter. There would be deaths, and appalling cruelty. The blame would fall on the international community—on us, not on Milosevic. The deaths, the carnage and the suffering would have occurred under our care, and people would have forgotten why the refugees had arrived at the camps.
If the refugees are to return, whether in winter or earlier, there must be diplomatic agreement, but there is little sign of that. Agreement must include an international force to escort people into the wasteland. I do not believe that we could make life tolerable for people in Kosovo in the full knowledge that Milosevic has sought to make their villages uninhabitable. I welcome discussions between the development ministries of the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany and Italy to plan a return to Kosovo, but the idea that it will happen by October requires a huge leap of faith.
916 According to the Department for International Development, nearly 750,000 Kosovar Albanians have been expelled to neighbouring states, but another 700,000 have been displaced internally. Surely a successful outcome is likely to leave us fully stretched in meeting the medical and housing needs of people whose conditions are likely to be appalling after their treatment by Milosevic. Considerable humanitarian activity will be needed and considerable preliminary work will have to be done to prepare for returning refugees.
An enormous amount has been done by ordinary families in Albania and Macedonia who will need more rather than less support in the coming months—putting up 20 people in a small flat can be tolerated for only so long. Extra support is needed. Albanian families in both Albania and Macedonia have been unbelievably receptive.
The main challenge will come in the camps, which house hundreds of thousands of people. They were built in a huge hurry. We often failed to stay ahead of Milosevic's purges. Survival came about only through miraculous work by NATO to erect canvas townships. The Cegrami camp, for example, was built by German NATO, and its population went from 2,000 to 30,000 in a week. The camps are for the short term. They are often in the wrong places, being placed where people crossed the border rather than where they can be adequately catered for. They were a remarkable effort by NATO and by non-governmental organisations, but will NATO be able to construct winter dwellings, or will troops be needed for the central task of freeing Kosovo of Milosevic?
Unfortunately, winter means beginning all over again on housing the biggest refugee movement in Europe since the second world war. It may be possible in a few limited cases to harden the tents sufficiently to provide more protection. However, the camps are often three to five times more crowded than they should be. They are totally inadequate. They were erected in a great hurry, often in the wrong place, and some are running out of space for latrines.
The extra population is putting a huge strain on the existing infrastructure—roads, water and sanitation—of the host population. Oxfam has had to supply enough water purification chemicals to safeguard all of Macedonia's water supply for the next three months. Oxfam has had to purify the water for a whole country. The short-term camps have inadequate provision for health, education or anything else. People are herded together in large numbers, and all the normal problems—disease, prostitution, violence and public order problems—will break out. In addition, the Kosovo Liberation Army is likely to use camps as recruiting grounds.
We cannot take a laissez-faire approach, hoping that the problem will be tackled by success in the war. I have seen no sign that nation states or UN organisations adequately realise the scale of the rebuilding that must be done now if we are to get the refugees through the winter. I hope that the Government can reassure me that serious planning is taking place to avoid what will be another humanitarian disaster unless we act now.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey)
I do not wish to repeat what has already been said but, as we are returning to a matter of the utmost seriousness so that we may update ourselves on current events and look towards the future, I should recap on recent events.
917 The western powers, particularly the United States of America, seriously believed that they could undertake this war without anyone but the enemy getting hurt. That idea has shown through press reports of United States policy, and we cannot agree with it.
It is all very well standing up in the House of Commons to sound off about a war; it is another matter to go to see what is happening. I thank the Minister for the Armed Forces for taking me to Macedonia last week to see what was happening on the ground. It changed my attitude to the war.
We visited our air, sea and land forces, and refugees. For the air forces, we began at Vicenza—COMAIR South—and heard from the American air force general in charge about the air strikes. The general has overall control of implementation of NATO decisions. I was surprised and shocked to hear that it takes 72 hours to achieve agreement within NATO on what strikes are to take place. The main problem lies in the White House. Suggestions from the military go there for approval, and it takes a long time to persuade the American President to agree to what is to be struck. Once decisions are made by the White House, matters move more swiftly; but 72 hours is too long a wait in this sort of war.
The American general made a further point that all of us would support with the benefit of hindsight. Having decided to launch air strikes against Serbia, we should have hit Belgrade far harder earlier in the campaign. The piecemeal air strikes that have taken place, dotted around the country, have not been effective. Had we been far more aggressive and concentrated more on Belgrade at an earlier stage of the war, it would have had a more profound effect, not only on Milosevic but on the civil population.
Another matter that has remained clear is that, although we have air supremacy in this war, the danger of surface-to-air missiles means that many of our aircraft have to fly at high altitudes—flying at 15,000 ft is not what Harrier pilots are trained for or would want to do. The Harrier is a ground-strike bomber and it is preferable to operate it at lower altitudes.
Even though we may have air supremacy, the point is that we have lost the initiative in the war. I say that we have lost it, but I do not think that we ever had it. From day 1 until now, the initiative has been in the hands of Mr. Milosevic. Only by re-establishing the initiative will we have any chance of success.
We then moved to Ancona and talked to our Harrier pilots. Morale is good, notwithstanding some of the difficulties with the airborne warning and communication system at the moment. We ended up at Isole del Colle in the south, where we talked to some of the American pilots and the people responsible for reporting on the weather. In general, morale within our air forces is very good indeed. They believe that they are doing a good and effective job.
As for sea forces, we visited HMS Invincible and HMS Newcastle. I was surprised to find that 10 per cent. of the crew of Invincible is now female. As the then Minister of State for the Armed Forces, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton), said when announcing that women would serve at sea, 918 the senior service really has risen to the occasion. The crews were performing magnificently and there is no doubt that women make a very effective contribution to crews in the Royal Navy at sea.
Both HMS Invincible and HMS Newcastle were happy ships, although the crews are getting slightly bored with steaming in circles. They know precisely what they are there to do and they are doing it effectively.
§ Mr. Colvin
It is true to say that Italy is an unsinkable aircraft carrier, while Invincible is most definitely sinkable. None the less, Invincible is mobile and it is there to provide support. The Harrier aircraft on board are in a position to give ground support to our troops when ground troops are deployed in this operation.
We then visited our land forces in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, where about 4,000 British troops are deployed. We spoke to the commander of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, General Sir Michael Jackson. We heard today that 2,300 more troops are on standby to join them. That is still nothing like enough to fulfil the role that they will be required to perform if they have to enforce or implement a peace agreement.
Interestingly, the briefing that we received frequently used the words "enforcement" and "implementation". We did not hear them used much earlier. Let us suppose that Milosevic ran up the white flag and said, "Yes. Fine. I'll agree to everything that has been suggested. The Rambouillet proposal is OK. In you come." About 45,000 troops would be required on the ground, which is almost double what is there. Therefore, we must be in a position to deploy troops rapidly to make up the number of forces that would be required for that purposes.
That raises a serious question, which no one has answered, although we have heard a number of suggestions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) said that the end game will be the partition of Serbia and an independent Kosovo because that is what people have been fighting for. My visit to Macedonia confirmed to me that that is not the end game. That would be an absolute disaster. The point is that 90 per cent. of Kosovo is Albanian. If we partitioned Serbia and gave Kosovo its independence, it would merely lead to moves by Albania to create a greater Albania. The Albanians would immediately look towards Montenegro and say that part of that country is Albanian so they should have that too. In turn, they would say that 25 per cent. of Macedonia is Albanian and that that should come into a greater Albania.
I do not think that we quite realise what hostile people the Albanians can be. They have nothing to lose by going on the offensive if we partition Serbia. That would also leave the problem of the Serbian holy places in Kosovo. I am afraid that this wretched Battlefield of the Blackbirds, or whatever it is called, is a problem with which we must be prepared to live.
As far as I can see, a partition of Serbia is out, which means that it will have to be a protectorate. Therein lies a serious difficulty. If our troops go in to implement a 919 peace agreement, the protection force will have to be strong. The force will not be fighting Serb soldiers, although they are dug in across the only route in from Macedonia at present. We will be fighting the KLA. Instead of shooting at the Serbs as the KLA is at present, it will be shooting at British and NATO soldiers who are there to deny it the independence for which it has been fighting for so long. I am afraid that the western powers must sort that problem out. The Government's view of the final solution for Kosovo is not yet clear to me.
In our discussions with the Macedonian Defence Minister, he simply said, "This is not Macedonia's war." Macedonia is terrified that it will be drawn into the war. At the moment, its economy is in turmoil and it has lost all its markets, which are to the north in Serbia. That has a knock-on effect on the Greeks, who cannot sell their goods and produce into Europe—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's time is up. I call the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone).
§ Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)
My apologies for missing the opening speeches, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I was on a train that was delayed for more than an hour outside Brighton.
In the past few weeks, the emphasis has been on accidents. I have listened to the accounts and shared the horror that we all feel when a bomb hits the wrong target. However, I think that the British people have a more realistic assessment of the nature of war than many of the critics of those actions in the United States of America, who sometimes seem to think that one can have a war in which there are no casualties, in particular no American casualties.
I was born in 1945 and I grew up listening to the stories of my parents and my friends' parents. They had all been through the war and experienced accidents. The accidents that are happening now are not new or unique. Everyone who went through world war two had horror stories to tell of mistakes and so forth, which often, tragically, cost lives. Nothing is new.
One hears the constant refrain that the bombing will not work. I remind the House that many hon. Members, including me, took the view that bombing would not be decisive in Iraq. We were wildly wrong. The bombing broke the will of the Iraqi republican guard. All the talk of the mother of all battles and of hundreds of thousands of allied forces dead turned out to be completely untrue.
Therefore, while I have no way of knowing whether the bombing will or will not work, I caution those who automatically dismiss it as impossible that they may turn out to be as wrong this time as many of us were when we were discussing Iraq.
§ Mr. Livingstone
I am afraid that I have only 10 minutes and I wish to make several points, so I will not give way.
Undoubtedly, there is a wide consensus in Britain that we should push America to ensure that planes fly lower and that we should prepare for ground troops. I have not 920 the slightest doubt that we should listen first and foremost to the refugees who have been driven out. Workers who are meeting, receiving and trying to treat the problems that the Kosovans have brought with them are unanimous—no Kosovan refugee from among the tens of thousands who have arrived in the west is saying, "Stop the bombing." In fact for many, their disagreement with us is that they say that we should be preparing for ground troops.
I wish that people would listen more to the refugees who have suffered rather than to many of the columnists who dominate so much of the British media. I have read some wonderfully witty, sarcastic, scathing pieces about depleted uranium shells and everything else. Did those columnists condemn Milosevic year after year? They demand peace in the Balkans now but it was not present through the past decade in Kosovo, when the ethnic Albanian community could not work or educate its children because it lived under a fascistic regime. That was not peace. Did they condemn Milosevic in their columns when he suspended the Kosovan regional Parliament? Why is it that they leap into action only when other nations say enough is enough and start to talk about stopping Milosevic? While they all carry the ritual disclaimer that they deplore Mr. Milosevic, their columns only support his position and undermine the resolve of others to stop what he is doing. I would like a better balance.
I do not condemn all columnists; some have taken strong positions in support. In reading those often witty columns, the one thing that is always absent is an answer to the question, "What would you do to stop what Milosevic is doing to the Kosovans?" In all the debates, very few answers come up. Some say that we should have a United Nations peace conference. I do not disagree with what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) said about the action lacking the force of international law. It does not have United Nations sanction, but I never believed that we could have an international legal structure in which five states had a veto. Either laws are applied across the board or they are not. We cannot operate an international legal framework that works only when the five permanent members of the Security Council agree with it.
What chance do we have of getting China to agree to stop what Milosevic is doing in the province of Kosovo when we see what it is doing to the people of Tibet? Regimes such as China's do not want us to establish an international system of pressures, constraints and action to stop tyrannical regimes doing abominable things to the people captive under their control.
We are told that it is facile to compare Milosevic with Hitler. It is true that Milosevic has not murdered millions in death camps like Hitler, but he has made a good start. It was the broadcasting of the news of his concentration camps when he organised his appalling regime in Bosnia that finally made America begin to move.
My comparison is not with Hitler's endgame but with how he rose to power. He divided his people. He did not unite disparate groups but sought scapegoats. Milosevic has used Muslims and Catholics to unite the Serb community behind him just as Hitler used the Jews. Just as Hitler demanded all Germans within a greater Germany, so Milosevic demands all Serbs within a greater Serbia. He is driving out every minority that does not conform to his view of an ethnically pure Serbia. 921 He might not yet be fully comparable with Hitler but he is well down the road. Milosevic has started four wars in a decade. He invaded Slovenia. He invaded Croatia and Bosnia using surrogates, and now he uses troops in Kosovo. Will he really stop at four if we give up now or will he see it as a sign of weakness and develop a wider agenda for his domination in the Balkans?
We are not in an easy position. We are slowly putting into place a new world order in the aftermath of the cold war. It may take a generation to give it real form, but the deportation of Pinochet for his crimes and the action against Milosevic are both sides of one coin. We are beginning to say that, with the cold war gone, we will no longer support some ghastly little despot simply because he is on our side. Increasingly, we will try to put in place a series of checks, balances and interventions to prevent things like this from happening. The fact that we cannot intervene in Tibet is no reason for not intervening where we can. We must build and extend, and perhaps eventually the people of China will find a way of creating a Chinese regime that is not so abhorrent to those under its control.
We must consider seriously how better to co-ordinate Europe's foreign policy and defence structure so that we are not always so dependent on the United States of America. We will clearly not always be able to rely on the Americans to step in.
I have heard complaints that Britain stands alone, but it would not be the first time. We stood alone in 1940. I am saying that it is a simple comparison, but we stood because we believed that it was right to stand against fascism. It divided all parties in the House but the overwhelming majority stood firm. Even if we were the only nation arguing for the use of ground troops—I do not believe for one minute that we are—I would be proud that we were doing what was right rather than joining the chorus of the more weak spirited.
I have no doubt that the Government's stand is right. The fact that they are denounced as hawks does not mean that they are wrong but that, bit by bit, we are trying to work to a different sort of world, where lunatic mass murderers like Milosevic cannot continue generation after generation.
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea)
The Chamber is pretty full this afternoon, which I find reassuring and creditable. It is plain from all the contributions that there is widespread anxiety in the House touching many aspects of the war. I believe that it also attaches to what is being done in our name and in the name of this country. Probably it is seated in the paradox of Government policy.
The first paradox is the notion that the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people can in some way be redeemed or offset by the putting to death of an equivalent number of non-combatants in the same country.
§ Mr. Clark
I advise hon. Members who dissent from that to consider how often this frightful equation of casualty lists, this bogus equilibrium of people who have been killed, is put to the House and in the media.
922 The second paradox is more bizarre. Yugoslavia has been bombed to pieces and had its infrastructure almost destroyed. The River Danube has been polluted and hundreds of acres of pasture have been covered with depleted uranium. In spite of all that, much damage has been self-inflicted by NATO, both to its credibility and to its reputation for operational effectiveness. That was highlighted by some of the asides in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley). He invited the House to consider what humanitarian progress has been made since the operation started. He left unsaid the conclusion that it is virtually nil. Where does the reputation of NATO stand now? Many people are due to be killed to save it.
I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to consider, when we think of NATO, one aspect of what is happening. The Prime Minister has said that the war is being fought for "a new internationalism". There were echoes of that in the speech of the hon. Member for Brent, East
(Mr. Livingstone). Javier Solana, the NATO Secretary-General, has said that its purpose is to establish a precedent for the "new strategic concept" of NATO—that it should be able to intervene in the internal affairs of a sovereign state for humanitarian reasons. By definition, NATO never had that role when it was set up as a defensive alliance, protecting the sovereign territory of its members.
I repeat my caution to my hon. Friends on this matter. What is so insidious about that argument and that doctrine is that, in place of the old system of national legal systems, creating free markets and national liberties, it is envisaged that there should be a new world order of universal human rights with the inherent problem that a bogus notion of human rights can never provide a basis for the rule of either law or morality. Universal human rights are detached from any rootedness in time or place; their application inevitably flails around capriciously, according to the latest whim of outrage or the latest fad for victimhood.
Human rights are, by definition, antithetical to the concept of national sovereignty. The concept that there can be universal human rights implies that there can be a single, global system of civil law with NATO playing the role of world government, or of world government policeman. That brings one to a point made most effectively by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell): if NATO is to be the world policeman and if it is to deserve the respect of the majority of law-abiding people in or out of international politics—the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) referred to the necessity of intervening if one heard screams in the next-door house—we expect from the police accountable, orderly and responsible conduct of their responsibilities.
§ Mr. Clark
It must also be proportionate, as my right hon. and learned Friend says. If NATO continues to behave in its present reckless, indiscriminate and brutal manner—devoid, it seems, of any comprehensible, tactical plan—which is greatly separated from the original concepts under which the organisation was set up and from the deference that it originally owed, and should owe, to the Security Council of the United Nations and 923 the resolutions thereof, the alliance will have been gravely damaged. The outcome of its activities will be uncertain and will probably give rise to disappointment, disillusion and much human suffering.
The House should be aware of those matters and of their undercurrents. I know from my own mailbag that the anxiety that is felt in the Chamber is an echo of the anxiety that is felt throughout the country as to what is being done in our name and in the name of our country.
I wholly reject any suggestion that to say those things is unpatriotic in some way. Is it unpatriotic to remind the House of Commons that members of our armed services enlist to defend British people and British interests—not to kill non-combatants? Is it unpatriotic to point out—as I have been reproached for doing in this Chamber—that, where non-combatants have been killed, it is not, and never has been, the fault or the responsibility of our armed forces? It is the responsibility of those with whom they are currently associated.
Those distinctions—that relating to global conduct and the concept of NATO and that relating to the proper, function and role of our armed forces and the debt that we all owe them, and which I gladly pay—are matters that, at all times during this hideous and hateful experience, the House of Commons must have at the forefront of its mind.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
The debate says much about democracy in this country in that, 60 days into the bombardment, there has been no substantive vote in the British Parliament on the authority of the Government to proceed with the bombardment of Yugoslavia. There has been no vote on whether there is to be a declaration of war, nor on the appropriation of vast amounts of money for this programme and there will not be a substantive vote either today, or, I suspect, on any other day. It ill behoves us to lecture the rest of the world on the rule of law and democracy when we have the archaic system of the royal prerogative handled by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to decide whether this country is at war.
Under the cloak of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, there has been a vast expansion of the work of that organisation. NATO knows no democratic control whatever; at any one time, 90 per cent. of British troops are under the control of NATO generals, answerable only to the President of the United States. Legislation under the Visiting Forces Acts removed many powers that we held; the expansion of NATO has done so entirely. Those people who hoped that the end of the cold war would bring about a more rational system of peacekeeping and security in Europe and, indeed, a more rational world order, and who now support the bombing of Yugoslavia, should think very carefully.
At the end of the cold war, the Warsaw pact collapsed; NATO should have been collapsed too. Instead of promoting NATO and the massive armaments that that involves and instead of joining up other countries, we should have been promoting the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe as a way of maintaining peace and a sense of security in Europe. Now, we are undergoing a massive armaments campaign.
Likewise, there has been a systematic denigration of the peacekeeping powers of the United Nations and of its ability to promote peace throughout the world. It is 924 ludicrous that a system has pertained since the end of the second world war in which the five victor powers of that war hold the power of veto over the United Nations. It is time that the veto system was ended and the United Nations was treated with the respect that it deserves, so that it becomes the centre point of world government and world peacekeeping. The actions of NATO, the expansion of NATO and the way in which the British and American Governments, in particular, have systematically undermined the work of the UN Secretary-General during this conflict bode ill for a good future for the United Nations.
I am fed up with Prime Ministers and Presidents of extremely powerful countries who go to the UN, praising UNICEF—the United Nations Children's Fund—UNESCO, the environment summit and all other things to do with the UN, but who completely ignore the UN on the crucial issues of war and peace and send in NATO instead. It is time to do something different in that respect.
The idea that the agreement on offer in Rambouillet would ever bring about peace is laughable. No country would ever have signed up to anything under the Rambouillet agreement. Despite the Foreign Secretary's earlier remarks, it is clear, from information that was published after Rambouillet, that there was never any intention of achieving an agreement; it was always to be an ultimatum to Yugoslavia and the start of the process by which the bombardment would take place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) referred to the rule of law in the future. He conceded the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) that there is no legal basis whatever for the bombardment of Yugoslavia that is taking place. If there was a legal basis, presumably Britain and the United States would have returned to the Security Council to try to obtain it. They knew that they could not do that, so they bypassed the matter. That is not the way to show respect for the rule of law. What is going on is illegal. Indeed, the International Court of Justice in The Hague—I visited that city last week to attend a peace conference—is currently hearing an application from the Yugoslav Government in respect of the bombardment. If that court finds against Britain, America and NATO, what will happen to the whole fiction and to the fig leaf of legality that surrounds the arguments that have been made?
As a parallel, some hon. Members have referred to the question of General Pinochet. I spent 25 years campaigning for peace, democracy and freedom in Chile. A great deal of progress has been made, but at no stage did the Chilean opposition ask people to bomb Santiago or to invade. No; at great personal risk and danger, they campaigned to get rid of Pinochet. They have campaigned ever since to have him brought to trial. To me, that, rather than the NATO bombardment, is the way forward.
We have to recognise the way in which Yugoslavia, which stood out as part of the non-aligned movement and stood out against the cold war in the 1950s and 1960s, was not supported. It was allowed to get into enormous debt and to develop huge economic problems, on the back of which petty nationalists such as Tudjman and Milosevic rose to power. The ghastly process of ethnic cleansing commenced and has continued ever since. We hold some responsibility for the way in which those people rose to power, just as we are responsible for the 925 way in which the treaty of Versailles resulted in fascists rising to power in Europe. We should think carefully about how we treat other countries' economies.
After 60 days of bombardment, we have to ask: what has been achieved? A ghastly situation in Kosovo has been made worse: hundreds of thousands of people have been forced out of Kosovo and into refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia, with regrettably few being offered places of safety in other parts of western Europe. We were told that the bombardment of Yugoslavia would be over in a short time and that only military targets would be bombed. Since when was a television station a military target? Since when was an oil refinery a military target? Since when was a bridge a military target? Since when were all those civilian casualties who have suffered as a result of the bombardment of Yugoslavia military targets?
Our actions have resulted in a brutalisation of the people of Yugoslavia that will unite them behind Milosevic—a people who, two years ago and less, demonstrated in their hundreds of thousands to remove the Milosevic regime. We have created a polarised society in that state, with which we shall have to deal. Then, we have the problems created by the bombardment itself. I mentioned the bombing of oil refineries and other targets, but the depleted uranium used in the bombs being dropped by NATO will pollute the whole region and kill people in every country in the region. The fall-out from depleted uranium does not respect national boundaries, any more than it respects the colour of a soldier's uniform.
I spent last week at an international peace conference in The Hague—the centenary of the 1899 attempt at peace. The British media reported not one word about it, despite the fact that 5,000 people attended and Kofi Annan, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others spoke, overwhelmingly in condemnation of NATO's action. They did not in any sense support the actions of Milosevic and his regime, but demanded a search for a peaceful solution. Everyone must recognise that we cannot go on bombing for ever: at some point, there has to be a ceasefire; at some point, there have to be talks; at some point, there has to be agreement; at some point, there has to be respect for human rights and the right to live in the region.
I hope that a message can go out that many people in this country are horrified when they see the refugees, but equally horrified when they see the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia. Instead of continuing the bombing and threatening to use ground troops, why do we not bring in Kofi Annan, who is the one person who might be able to negotiate a satisfactory ceasefire and a settlement? We must support the principles of the United Nations, rather than NATO's military intentions, behind which lie economic interests, as demonstrated by the demands made of Yugoslavia at Rambouillet.
We in this House have the opportunity to declare ourselves for peace, not war. Although my colleagues and I are a minority in this place, I do not believe that we are a small minority in the population as a whole.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)
It is customary to refer to earlier speeches, and I shall do so in a couple of cases.
926 The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) summarised some of the confusion to be found among those on the Government Benches. I agreed with much of the thrust of his argument, but I believe that I heard him say towards the end of his speech that, even if we were the only nation that was proposing to use ground forces, we should nevertheless do so. The problem with that is that we are not proposing to use ground forces. We are hearing a dual message from the Government: on the one hand, we are given literal statements that it is not intended that ground forces should be used, but, on the other hand, we hear inspired leaks that suggest that the Prime Minister is out there in Washington, bravely campaigning to get a reluctant Bill Clinton to put his money where his mouth his and send his troops into battle. Those messages cannot both be true: if one is true, the other is not, but both cannot be true simultaneously.
The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) rightly deplored one Member's use of personal invective against another, but, sadly, that did not prevent him from employing a great deal of personal invective against Jamie Shea. He asked to whom Jamie Shea is responsible—
§ Dr. Lewis
My right hon. Friend is quite right—Jamie Shea is not a Member of Parliament. My point is that the hon. and learned Member for Medway is applying a double standard, in that those who are Members of Parliament may not be criticised, whereas those who are not may be.
I can tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that Jamie Shea is responsible to someone who is easily identifiable—the Secretary-General of NATO. Since taking his doctorate in relevant studies, he has spent his entire adult career working for the safety of the west. I remember him working as NATO's youth officer 15 or more years ago, when many right hon. and hon. Members on the Labour Benches were trying to dismantle NATO's nuclear defences in the face of the Soviet threat. A man such as Dr. James Shea need not fear criticism from some hon. Members present in the Chamber today.
It has been said that we should leave everything to the United Nations, but the UN was deliberately designed not to be able to resolve conflicts in which major powers were involved. It exists as a structure to enable major powers to get together if they want to resolve crises between themselves, and to enable major powers to resolve crises between minor powers, but the veto was established for a good reason—in recognition that conflicts cannot be wished away by a simple vote if the powers involved are large enough to impose their will no matter how many hands are raised in the air. Democracies cannot, and should not, depend on the UN for all initiatives to go to war.
Hitler attacked Poland in 1939—he did not attack Britain in 1939, because he did not want to be at war with Britain in 1939. Nevertheless, we went to war with Hitler on behalf of Poland, even though we knew that we could not do anything practical to prevent the Poles being overrun. We went to war, albeit belatedly, for a principle. I believe that the Government are right in their action and in their motives, because they are going to war—they do not call it a war, but they should be more open about such 927 matters—for the same principle. If a structure such as the United Nations had existed in 1939, it would not have been technically permissible for us to declare war on Hitler in the way that we did.
For a democracy to go to war, three things are necessary: the motives must be justifiable, the aims must be realistic and, above all, the methods must be effective. I was one of only three Conservative Members who, from an early stage and throughout 1998, consistently called for military action to be taken against Milosevic if necessary. I draw some comfort from the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin), the last Conservative Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, was one of the other two.
I was also one of a somewhat larger group who consistently said that to rule out the use of ground forces at the outset was a naive and counter-productive act—an act that was aimed, not at our potential enemy, on whom such acts should be targeted, but at our own democratic electorate. Taking that step did our domestic electorate an injustice. It enabled Milosevic to disperse and hide many of his forces, which he would otherwise have kept concentrated and thus vulnerable to air strikes. That is the view not just of an armchair ex-academic strategist like me but of Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon—the most recent ex-Chief of the Air Staff. His view was published on 9 May in The Sunday Telegraph, and it is absolutely correct.
We have four basic options. In dealing with Milosevic, we could aim, first, to remove him and to put him on trial. Secondly, we could try to contain him in Serbia but drive him completely out of Kosovo. Thirdly, we could try to compromise with Milosevic, either by returning Kosovo entirely to his rule with agreed conditions or by returning part of Kosovo to him. That would mean partition of the province. Finally, we could close down the NATO operation completely after a decent interval. Interestingly, on 31 March, the Russian newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta gave an assessment of the strategy suggested by Primakov when he and his team visited Milosevic. That rather influential Russian newspaper suggested that the Russians had called for the partitioning of Kosovo into a Serb region and an independent region.
Depending on which option we choose, we will have to use one of the following methods. If we decide to remove to try Milosevic, air power and a full-scale invasion of Serbia will be required. If we are not prepared to do that, we should stop talking about putting Milosevic on trial and bringing his regime to justice because it ain't going to happen. If we opt for containment within Serbia, it will require air power and a full-scale invasion not of Serbia but of Kosovo. If we opt for compromise, it will require air power and the genuine threat of at least a limited invasion of Kosovo—if not by NATO forces, then by other local forces, as occurred in Bosnia. Finally, if we opt for an exit and decide to close down the NATO operation after a decent interval, that is a form of gesture politics involving limited risk and effor—which may indeed be achieved by air power alone.
The Government must decide whether they are engaged in a limited or a total war. They keep using the rhetoric of a total war while employing the methods of a 928 limited war. Professor Sir Michael Howard, the eminent strategic historian, has defined the two approaches in the following way. He said:
A limited war is one fought for a limited objective and ends with a freely negotiated peace with an adversary with whom one can then renew normal relations.
That is what occurred with Argentina over the Falklands. Sir Michael continued:A total war is one fought to overthrow the adversary, render him powerless, and dictate peace to him on one's own terms.That is the approach that characterised world war two. This conflict started as the first type of war, but it seems set to end as the second if the Serb forces refuse to withdraw. As a member of NATO, Britain is advancing aims that sound limited but, in reality, is demanding concessions that can be achieved only through a total war.
The Prime Minister must make up his mind: he must recognise either that Milosevic will stay in power—in which case he must do a deal—or that this is not a limited but a total conflict and that he will have to go all out for the overthrow of Milosevic.
§ 7.4 pm
§ Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
I begin by paying tribute to the United Kingdom armed forces, which have once again demonstrated their excellence both in military operations and in their humanitarian efforts. I pay tribute also to their families who, more than anyone, would have hoped for a peaceful solution by now. Their support and their courage is a lesson to us all.
I shall try not to cover the same old ground in highlighting some issues and responding to some of the points raised by other hon. Members. My first point concerns collateral damage and civilian casualties. Like other hon. Members, I deeply regret the loss of innocent life. However, we must recognise that no war or military engagement has not incurred civilian casualties. Mistakes have occurred and they always will. Those who argue for the immediate dispatch of ground troops to the region must recognise that civilians are still likely to be killed in that conflict. If troops who are under attack see an unexpected movement, they will not wait to inquire politely who it is. I also have no doubt that Milosevic and the Serbian forces will use civilians as human shields.
That brings me to my second point. While not urging NATO to dodge its responsibility for civilian casualties—it is not blameless in that regard—I believe that some of the responsibility lies with Milosevic and the Serb forces. For example, the most recent tragedy could have been caused by Serb forces deliberately grouping together large numbers of civilians in an area that they knew was likely to be bombed. I am certain that, if and when ground troops are sent in, the Serb forces will place civilians in the direct line of fire. The Serbian military apparatus became adept at utilising deception and concealment to great effect during the long years of Tito's reign. When troops are finally sent to Kosovo and begin to find the bodies, I have no doubt that Milosevic will claim that those people either died fighting or were killed by NATO bombs because it is in his interests to do so.
My third point is addressed to those who say that the civilian casualties are a good reason to stop the bombing. I do not think so. We all supported the dispatch of OSCE troops to Kosovo in an attempt to monitor a peaceful settlement. However, that mission did not prove effective 929 as the slaughter continued even as the peace talks proceeded. I do not think that the present slaughter will stop until we defeat the Serb forces and secure their withdrawal.
The 200 or so civilians killed so far by NATO action are 200 unwanted deaths. That contrasts starkly with the cold, calculating and deliberate murder of 250,000 people in Bosnia. According to reports, more than 100,000 men of fighting age may have disappeared in Kosovo in the past few weeks, and almost 5,000 of them are almost certainly dead. We have also heard reports of serial rapes and other savagery perpetrated by the Serb forces.
To those who urge NATO to stop the bombing and start talking now, I would reply that we tried and failed to reach a satisfactory end to ethnic cleansing through dialogue. No one can accuse us of not having travelled that route. I believe that Milosevic has no interest in humanitarian causes or a humanitarian settlement. Anyone who watched the recent repeat of the BBC television programme "The Death of Yugoslavia" will have seen clearly and forcefully Milosevic's determination to pursue his power through a deliberate policy of territorial acquisition and ethnic cleansing. His involvement in peace talks was a pretence, just as his offer of partial withdrawal is a pretence. If NATO had done nothing but talk, even when talking was achieving nothing, it would certainly have looked cynical and irrelevant to Europe's security and stability. There is no possibility of security and stability in Kosovo and the Balkans until we make sure that we have defeated Milosevic's policies of ethnic cleansing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) talked about respect for human rights, including the right to live. What respect for those rights has Milosevic ever demonstrated, and how can we reach a peace agreement by talking to somebody who has no regard for, and in no way shares, those values?
The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) said that there were mixed messages involved in using ground troops, and I would not pretend that that is not the case. Like other hon. Members, I certainly support openness and accountability, but I am also aware that, in dealing with situations such as that in Kosovo, full openness is not always in the best interests of our armed forces or those of NATO.
I make the same point to those who constantly push for a full debate in the House and a vote on a substantive motion before we agree to any military action by our troops. I wonder how our troops would feel if they had to sit on the front line for 24 hours while we engaged in a full debate about whether they should move into Kosovo.
§ Ms Squire
No, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not, because time is very short and I want to make a number of other points.
There are those who argue that sending in ground troops would be a quick solution. I do not have a military background, but I do not think that we should assume that such a solution would be quick, easy or bloodless. What I have heard about the terrain in Kosovo suggests that it has been given much consideration by our military 930 personnel. I suspect that Serbian military forces are already dispersing in small units in forested and mountainous areas to engage in the kind of guerrilla campaign that they would be so well placed to conduct. I strongly feel that the ultimate decision on the use of ground troops has to be referred to the military.
Russia has a key role to play—I hope that, in spite of all its instability, it will accept it—not only in solving the problems in Kosovo, but in helping us to build a stable, secure Europe for the future. I welcome the involvement of the President of Finland. The fact that Finland will shortly take over the presidency of EU is useful and welcome because that country is uniquely placed to deal with Russia.
I hope that one of the results of the situation in Kosovo will be a reformed, stronger United Nations with an effective peacekeeping force that can deal with the likes of Milosevic and enforce agreements. I hope also that, in celebrating NATO's 50 years, we shall all recognise its contribution to our entering the new century with a peaceful, stable and secure Balkans.
§ Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)
I oppose the bombing, first, because sadly it has not achieved, and will not achieve, the objective of safeguarding the Albanians resident in Kosovo. I predicted that it would not do so. Indeed, I calculate that Milosevic has succeeded in his ethnic cleansing of the 1.6 million Albanians who were in Kosovo at the beginning of the action.
There are 900,000 Kosovan refugees in Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro, as well as those who have been flown out to friendly countries including our own, Germany, France and Australia. Before the war began, there were 200,000 displaced persons—we cannot call them refugees if they are inside Kosovo—and probably double that number of people are now wandering around in the mountains and forests, fearing for their lives because of Serbian soldiers. That adds up to many more than 1 million refugees whom we shall have to look after. We must look after them because that was one of the original objectives of the war.
On 23 March, the Prime Minister said:We must act to save thousands of innocent men, women and children from humanitarian catastrophe—from death, barbarism and ethnic cleansing by a brutal dictatorship—and to save the stability of the Balkan region, where we know chaos can engulf the whole of the European Union."—[Official Report, 23 March 1999; Vol. 328, c. 162.]Sadly, at least one of those objectives—the humanitarian objective—has not been achieved; in fact, we have spectacularly failed to achieve it. That places a heavy responsibility on this House and all those engaged in the intervention in Kosovo.
The NATO bombing led to another humanitarian disaster because it meant that all the humanitarian agencies, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which are usually present in wartime to look after the civilian population who have been displaced by bombing or the movement of military forces in their country, had to withdraw because they were in fear of their lives. The Kosovans who were still in Kosovo were left bereft of any assistance as a direct result of our decision to bomb.
931 I want to describe the humanitarian situation endured by the refugees for whom we went to war, for whom we began bombing and for whom we shall, we say, introduce ground troops. Incidentally, the Prime Minister said that we would never do that. That statement was not believable, and I pointed that out to the House. If we are gung-ho and send in ground troops, which I believe we must do to secure Kosovo, where will they enter Kosovo? They cannot enter from Albania or Macedonia, which are the obvious ways to go in, because the Greeks and Macedonians will not permit it. The only alternative, therefore, will be to enter through Serbia, which would mean taking on a huge responsibility and creating an extra dimension to the war.
§ Mr. Wells
No, I am sorry, I will not.
Confronting and fighting the Serbians would, if we were to be successful, involve not only the NATO forces that are presently envisaged, but a vastly increased army.
The present camps are a disgrace. In Macedonia and Albania, they are four to five times overcrowded. Those camps should have been properly placed by negotiation through the UNHCR, who had been warned of the problems that would result. The World Food Programme took action, but the UNHCR did not, as we learned when the Select Committee on International Development went to Macedonia and Albania only two weeks ago. We have issued a report that is tagged to the debate.
The present camps are very unsatisfactorily overcrowded. They are muddy. In Macedonia, they are surrounded by barbed wire, with Macedonian soldiers pointing their guns towards the refugees to make certain that they do not come out and mingle with the Macedonians in the towns and villages—to prevent a political crisis overtaking Macedonia, which the Serb element in Macedonia would probably take as a coup. Those are the conditions under which the people whom we went to war to look after are living.
In Albania, we visited a camp that was totally wrongly placed between a garbage dump and a chemical factory, on flat land that is impervious. That means that when it rains, it floods. It also means that sanitation—drainage from septic tanks or other means of disposal of sewage—cannot seep away into the ground. The camp is along a very rough 12-mile track, which means that, as there is no drinkable water supply, all water, as well as fuel, has to be trucked in over that difficult track. The camp is entirely unsatisfactorily and will have to be closed, otherwise it will undoubtedly be overtaken in the summer months by water-borne diseases such as cholera. It is also unsatisfactory because it cannot see the people through the winter.
Let us consider the winter. The refugees were driven from their homes before they could plant their crops and their homes have been destroyed. They will not get back to Kosovo in time to rebuild their homes before winter and connect them up to the infrastructure that we are busily destroying by bombing—the roads, the bridges, the water supply, the fuel supply and so on. Therefore, we must accommodate them through the winter in Macedonia, Albania or a neighbouring country—or in Kosovo itself.
932 How is that to be done? No planning is taking place. We learned from the Evening Standard tonight that consideration is being given to a proposal to put the refugees into disused buildings in Albania, most of which were destroyed in the civil war of 1997 and are in a decrepit state. The NATO general in Albania has suggested that the refugees should be put in prefabricated buildings which, when the time comes, can be moved from Albania to Kosovo and re-erected in the villages and towns, providing accommodation that can overwinter them safely.
The House must realise that winter in Kosovo is extreme. Temperatures fall to minus 20 deg, and babies, children and old people die in those circumstances unless they have adequate protection, which they do not have at present. Even reinforced "winterised" tents will not provide adequate accommodation.
Some kind of planning must be done, and the UNHCR is the only agency that can do it. I beg the Government, if they are serious about their humanitarian objectives, to send the Secretary of State for International Development to the UNHCR with a team to boost the management and to do the work that is necessary to provide co-ordination, security, management and forward planning in the camps, so that we can fulfil at least one of the objectives that we set out to achieve, and save the lives and the future of the people of Kosovo.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
The question raised by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) must be addressed. There is a proposal to put ground troops into Kosovo. How? Through Greece? The mayor of Athens has said that not a finger will be lifted by dock workers in the port of Piraeus. The Greek railway workers say that they will make it impossible to go through Thessaloniki.
Through Macedonia? Those of us who have talked to the Macedonians know that they say that they have to live with the Serbs, and in no way will their country be used as a springboard for an attack on Kosovo or on Serbia.
Through Hungary? There are 350,000 ethnic Hungarians in the northern Yugoslav plain.
Through Albania? The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford has been there. Do not the roads peter out, and are there not mountains 6,000 ft high? Sending in ground troops will entail either an assault on Serbia, presumably through Montenegro, which would mean massive forces and ferocious opposition—
§ Mr. Dalyell
No; sorry; time limit.
The other possibility that has been suggested is an airborne landing. That would be Arnhem mark II, so it is totally unrealistic.
Let me ask some specific questions. One concerns the use of cluster bombs. I am glad that the Minister of State for Defence happens to be on the Front Bench. I quote from William Rees-Mogg—not exactly one of the awkward squad—who wrote:Mr Mandela has long been the hero of British progressives. They should listen to his judgment now. The Nato defence of the steadily increasing number of civilian casualties caused by the bombing is 933 that Milosevic intends to kill his victims but Nato only kills people by accident. However, as these accidents are now occurring regularly, Nato can scarcely claim that they are anything but the foreseeable consequences of the bombing. Anyone who drops cluster bombs on imperfectly identified objects from 15,000 feet must reasonably expect innocent civilians to be killed. In the last stage of their drop, the cluster bombs are in free fall by parachute, liable to be carried by the wind to unintended targets.
What is the position regarding the use of cluster bombs? It is impossible to use such a land-mine type weapon in a war that is said to be fought on humanitarian grounds. The two do not go together. What is the policy?
What is the policy in relation to depleted uranium—a matter on which I interrupted the Foreign Secretary? I understand from Alex Kirby, the environment correspondent, that as the debate intensifies over the use of depleted uranium weapons in the Balkan conflict, a former Pentagon adviser has come out against them. He is Dr. Doug Rokke, who says that he now has symptoms of radiation cancer. He is a US health physicist who led the depleted uranium clean-up in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq immediately after the Gulf war.
In 1994, Dr. Rokke, an army reserve captain, was appointed director of the Pentagon's depleted uranium project, a job that he left in 1997. He helped to develop an education and training programme and conducted tests on DU explosives in the Nevada desert.
The Pentagon has confirmed that A-10 aircraft are using DU rounds in the war with Serbia. They are extremely heavy, and are used for their armour-piercing capability. Veterans from the 1991 conflict believe that depleted uranium, which is both radioactive and toxic, may help to explain the existence of Gulf war syndrome.
With regard to levels of radioactivity, reports from southern Iraq point to much higher levels of stillbirths, birth defects, leukaemia and other child cancers. God Almighty, having seen with my own eyes the results of such child cancers in Baghdad and Um Kasr, I cannot begin to convey the horror.
I do not know—nor does anyone else—what is likely to be happening in the attack on the tanks in Kosovo. It is all very well for those on the Front Bench to say that the British are not doing it. If it is claimed that NATO has knocked out a large number of tanks, it is a legitimate guess that that could have been done only with depleted uranium armament. I can imagine a headline in the tabloid press saying, "British squaddies face cancer risk". The question is, who cleans up afterwards? Are they at risk?
§ Mr. Dalyell
No, I am sorry—time limit.
Dr. Rokke makes it clear that 18 of his team of 100 have already died and many are ill. NATO says that depleted uranium is no more dangerous than any other heavy metal. Its spokesman, Major Dan Baggio, says that a DU round contains about as much uranium as would go intoa glow-in-the-dark type of watchand the Rand Corporation says that its study of depleted uraniumfound little documented evidence of adverse effectsfrom either radiation or toxicity, but Dr. Rokke told BBC News that it had been misled by Major Baggio and that Pentagon officials have made a political decision and are 934 totally unwilling to recognise that there are health consequences of the use of depleted uranium. He says that force of impact converts much of a depleted uranium round into a spray of burning uranium dust:Consequently, we have DU dust which is a radioactive, heavy metal poison on or within the equipment",and it is scattered up to 25 m or 50 m away. Anyone who inhaled or ingested that dust, or let it enter a wound, would need immediate medical attention. Either that is without foundation or, as I suspect, it has considerable foundation.
I broaden my question: what assessment have the Government made of the environmental effects, if the bombing is to be intensified or if it is to go on for the 155 days mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence? What will be the results in terms of ammonia, benzine, chlorine, mercury, phosgene and all the other chemicals that will inevitably get into the atmosphere? Chemicals of that kind know no frontiers. The question has to be addressed: what environmental assessment has been made of going on and on with the bombing?
Finally, I am very concerned about Rambouillet and the assertion, which has been made throughout the debate, that everything possible was done to bring Milosevic to his so-called senses. The accord contains provisions that would have subjected the whole of Yugoslavia to NATO occupation. The official presentation, repeatedly stated, is that it was a matter of autonomy for Kosovo, which would be secured by the stationing of a peace force in Kosovo. However, appendix B of the Rambouillet accord, which is entitled "Status of Multi-National Military Implementation Force", grants NATO freedom of movement "throughout all Yugoslavia"—Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo.
The text of article 8 of the appendix reads:NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia including associated airspace and territorial waters. This shall include, but not be limited to, the right of bivouac, manoeuvre, billet and utilisation of any areas or facilities as required for support, training and operations.
Article 6 guarantees the occupying forces absolute immunity, stating:NATO personnel, under all circumstances and at all times, shall be immune from the Parties' jurisdiction in respect of any civil, administrative, criminal, or disciplinary offences which may be committed by them in the Federal Yugoslav Republic.How could any Government, Yugoslav or otherwise, accept that?
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)
I begin by endorsing the comments made by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) at the start of the debate. The hon. Gentleman remarked that, although it is welcome that we are debating this matter, it is regrettable that we are not doing so on a substantive motion. I entirely agree. That point has been made by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) as well. If a Government decide to go to war in pursuit of stated objectives, surely it must be right that they come to this place for express authority. That, they have not done, and that, they have not received.
935 I also endorse the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) about the duty of Members of Parliament to speak their mind. I entirely reject the notion that it is unpatriotic or otherwise improper for hon. Members to speak their mind. We have a duty to the House and to the country to give our views honestly and clearly and to give this country the best counsel that we can. In parenthesis, that is what happened at the time of the Norway debate—Chamberlain was forced subsequently to resign and was replaced by Churchill—and when Asquith left office in 1916. It is regrettable that the Prime Minister has not been in his place, for at least part of the debate, to hear what the House feels.
I am one of those who believes that there are substantial criticisms to be made, about the fact of war and about the conduct of this war. I recognise at once that Milosevic has pursued brutal and evil policies, and they lie at the heart of the problem, but that is not of itself sufficient reason for war. During the past 10 years or so, brutal and evil policies have been pursued in many parts of the world. One need only cite Sudan, Sierra Leone, Nagorno Karabakh, Lebanon—
§ Mr. Hogg
Rwanda, as my hon. Friend says. A number of examples can be identified. No vital western interests are engaged in this matter—or at least they were not, although they now are, because the credit of NATO has been so heavily pledged. I do not believe that there was good or sufficient cause for launching a war.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) is not alone in making the point that the objectives on which we embarked have not been fulfilled, nor could they be. The Prime Minister declared, from time to time and in various ways, that our objective was to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, but that catastrophe has occurred and was always going to be a fact unless we were prepared to use much more force than in reality we were.
I regret to say that it is my belief that Mr. Milosevic used the air campaign as cover and an excuse for policies that he might not otherwise have pursued.
§ Mr. Hogg
No, it is not nonsense. Withdrawing the monitors and embarking on an air campaign gave Mr. Milosevic cover to commit crimes that I am by no means persuaded he would otherwise have committed.
I share the view of many hon. Members that this war has been badly managed. I am no military man, but I was in the Foreign Office for five years and I have a certain experience of what happened in Bosnia. We did not have enough air assets in place when the war started. We renounced the ground option so that Mr. Milosevic knew full well that he had only to weather the air campaign to survive. By faulty targeting, we have killed many hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of non-combatants—civilians in Serbia and in Kosovo.
It is also wholly plain that we failed either to predict, or fully to provide for, the mass emigration of refugees that has been the appalling consequence of the action in Kosovo. We should have foreseen and guarded against that. 936 Moreover, our strategic interests are now being gravely impaired and we face serious challenges to our long-term interests. In respect of our strategic interests, we have greatly damaged our relations with the Russians and the Chinese. For the Chinese, the bombing of the embassy was a deplorable act of incompetence; for the Russians, once again, as we have done far too often, we have been unduly insensitive to their views and their requirements.
I say this, too; we are placing a very great strain on Anglo-American relations. The posturing of the Prime Minister is damaging to those relations. He goes to Washington, and elsewhere; he gives briefings through No. 10. The broad message is this: the British want to deploy ground forces, but the faint-hearts in Washington will not permit it. We must not be surprised if people in Washington deplore that message, and remark on the mismatch between the extravagant rhetoric of the Prime Minister and the much more substantial contribution that, in reality, the Americans are making.
I am bound to say that I think the prognosis is bleak. We are told that we can win if we intensify the campaign—so we will intensify the campaign, and as a result many civilians will be killed and the infrastructure of Kosovo and Serbia will be laid waste. I am bound to say that I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews): this raises serious questions of morality and proportionality on which I do not think that we have focused sufficiently so far.
If the air campaign does succeed, and if Milosevic yields, we shall face pretty onerous consequences. No one really disputes the fact that we will have to deploy tens of thousands of troops in the region for many years, and to spend billions of dollars putting right what we have done. If the air campaign does not succeed—if it does not cause Mr. Milosevic to yield—we will face the unpalatable choice outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis): either we enter into an undesirable compromise and agreement, or we deploy ground forces. Those are the only two realistic options, and they are urgent.
Let us be clear about one thing: the consequences were always predictable. They stem from two fatal mistakes—the decision to go to war in the first place, which I believe to have been wrong, and the failure of the strategy. If force is to be used, that force must be overwhelming in impact and nature. We should have done what we did in the Gulf: we should have mustered tens of thousands of ground troops before we embarked on an air campaign. That would have enabled us, had we so determined, to take and hold territory. We failed to do that; we embarked on a war unthinking, and now we are where we are.
We must now make an urgent decision. We have only one choice. We can make a deal that will achieve less than our stated objectives, or we can seek to achieve the entirety of those stated objectives, in which case we shall need tens of thousands of ground troops, and we shall need them now. Personally I favour an agreement, knowing that it will fall short of our full and declared intentions, but I would understand the reasons for the alternative decision. One thing is certain: the choice must be made very soon.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
I am delegated by the House to serve on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I am Vice-President of the Assembly, and Vice-Chairman of its Defence and Security Committee.
937 I could take issue with two thirds of what has been said by two thirds of speakers today but, given that I have only 10 minutes, I want to make some more sensible points.
We are in a mess, and one that will not be solved by the shadow Foreign Secretary's getting his lines mixed up as he has over the past few months. He confirmed today that he had criticised the Government for not carrying out the threats that were made last year; in fact, he took great glee in confirming it. He did not, of course, remind the House that those threats were not exactly withdrawn, but were left in abeyance because of United Nations Security Council resolution 1199, which required Milosevic to desist immediately and withdraw his troops—a resolution to which Milosevic agreed. Had we not withdrawn the threat, and gone to war in any event, we would have been damned anyway. That is typical of the opposition that is being launched here by some Conservative elements; yet, in his opening speech, the same shadow Foreign Secretary protested that he fully supported the policy. If that is the kind of support that he gives, I do not want to find myself in a lifeboat with him.
A mess like this is hardly helped by the remarks of armchair soldiers, a phrase that has been used in earlier debates on this subject. I remind the House that we all sit here as armchair soldiers—that is why we are paid, why we must consider these matters and why we must express our opinions candidly and forthrightly, as I hope that I am doing now. Nor is the mess helped by the fact that we have rapid reaction forces. Today's display certainly demonstrates that we do not have rapid reaction politicians: so many rationales have been advanced in favour of no action that I feel ashamed of the standard of some of the debate.
Questions of legality have been raised by, for instance, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). In terms of morality, I am convinced that we are doing the right thing; as for legality, I merely ask my hon. and learned Friend to consider the genocide convention. The United Nations charter was endorsed in 1948, and the genocide convention was adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly in 1951. Does the fact that the convention is not part of the charter mean that the UN can ignore it? Does the convention not become part of its remit? Anyone who tries to convince me that what Mr. Milosevic is trying to achieve in Kosovo bears no relation to genocide will have a serious argument on his hands.
The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) referred to proportionality.
§ Mr. Cook
I have already referred to morality myself.
The Yugoslavian Government claim that 1,200 lives have been lost through NATO air strikes. I think we can safely assume that they would not underestimate the figure. That is 1,200 lives lost in 12,000 sorties. Some of my colleagues have accused NATO of bombing civilians deliberately. I must say that if NATO can kill only 1,200 people in 12,000 sorties, that does not say much for its strike capability if it is acting deliberately. The suggestion is farcical.
938 The House should also compare the loss of 1,200 lives—assuming that 1,200 people were killed—with the many tens of thousands who have been displaced, the many tens of thousands who have been raped and the many tens of thousands who have been assassinated, not by accident but, as it were, by deliberate accident. People have been sought out, hounded, pursued, persecuted and eventually killed; so do not give me any arguments about proportionality—those arguments are absolutely false.
Let me briefly tell the House about a Greek diplomat whom I met at the NATO summit. We met at a function. He followed me around like a gun dog, nagging me about the wrongness of NATO's action. He pursued me for 20 minutes, finally commenting that what was wrong was that Albright and Holbrooke—it sounded like a firm of solicitors—had run out of ideas. Because they had no ideas left, they had embarked on the bombing. I said, "Oh, is that what you think?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Excellency, you may be right; but if ideas are so plentiful, give me one." You would have thought that I had kicked him in the most tender part of his anatomy. He said, "What?" I said, "Give me one. If they are so plentiful, give me an alternative." He could not, but I said, "There was an alternative, Excellency." "What was that?" he asked. I said, "The alternative was to allow Milosevic to go on doing what he had been doing for the previous 18 months, and indeed for the previous 10 years." I have visited Bosnia six times, and I have seen the results of Milosevic's action—along with the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who is nodding now.
My son received a commendation for his conduct in Gorazde, from where, using a satellite telephone, he called me on my car telephone as I was driving into the House. Of course, I was overjoyed and surprised. I said, "What is it like son?" He said, "Pop, it's a real shit hole. We are here as a peace force, but everyone is shooting at us and we are not permitted to return fire." Is that the sort of role that we are going to give our ground forces if we send them in? Not in my book.
We have talked about putting troops in. I should like to put forward an alternative. We have an agreement in Bosnia: it is called the Dayton agreement. It has several elements: a military element, a civilian element and a restitution element. The military element was concluded on time—which was very good—thanks to the fact that the Americans finally came in. Before that, it was a hotch-potch of nations, principally ourselves, the French and the Spanish, with a lot of others, including Maoris. The Americans came in, we had Dayton, and we got the military element. We are finally near to achieving the civilian element. The thing that we have not done is reinstate the refugees in their places of origin.
At a conference in Washington that I addressed and that was run by the Institute of Foreign Policy Analysis, I discussed that matter with Richard Perle. If we insist now that we return the refugees from Bosnia to their places of residence in Bosnia-Herzegovina, it emphasises the fact that we believe in applying the agreements that have been reached. It says to Mr. Milosevic, "You were a signatory to the agreement. Get it done brother."
We have 27,000 troops there, who are heavily armed, well trained and now fully knowledgeable about the terrain. It is a high-risk strategy, but it is an alternative to allowing Milosevic to determine the agenda, as he has for the past 10 years. The strategy may or may not work, 939 but it puts pressure on Milosevic and it changes the emphasis of the public relations game, at which he is so good.
The Chamber has been very good. We have been able to debate and to express our opposition as, democratically, we should be able to. I guarantee that the content of the debate that is reported in Belgrade tomorrow will have nothing to do with the sort of contribution that I have made tonight.
§ Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)
It is just over four weeks since we had the previous debate on Kosovo in the House. Since then, we have witnessed further death and persecution of ethnic Albanians as a result of the bloody actions of the Serb so-called police and the Yugoslav army; further deaths of Yugoslav civilians, both Serbs and Albanians, as a result of NATO's actions; and further deaths among the Serb police and Yugoslav troops. One could say that they have reaped the harvest that they have sown, except that we have heard from one hon. Member that many in the Yugoslav army are reluctant conscripts.
We have witnessed the deaths of third parties, especially in the bombing of the Chinese embassy, which has not exactly enhanced the prospects of a diplomatic solution. We have witnessed the deaths of NATO personnel due to accidents, so there has been much death and misery since the previous debate, but we can be certain of one thing: by any criteria, there has been little progress towards a resolution. We in the Chamber can only guess at the true magnitude of the suffering that is being endured by the displaced and terrified refugees. Evidence of the appalling atrocities magnifies and increases as each day passes.
I am sure that the House welcomes the actions and statements of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, former President of the Republic of Ireland, whose office sent human rights monitors to gather and document evidence of human rights violations and war crimes in Serbia, and who has directly challenged the Serb Foreign Minister with evidence of his Government's policy of ethnic cleansing. But if hon. Members are impressed by Mrs. Robinson's determined opposition to Serbia's policies of brutality and aggression, and if we support her beginning to bring the perpetrators of those deeds to justice, should we not be equally impressed by her comments on the scale and direction of NATO's on-going bombing campaign?
The real debate that is going on in the House, in the country and throughout the world has to rise above some of the sanitised soundbites that sometimes seem to serve as sufficient justification for the policy that we are pursuing in the Balkans. Our Government are in danger of being regarded as the so-called hawks in the affair, becoming more hawkish as the evidence mounts that the strategy has had serious flaws from the beginning.
I do not believe that the Government embarked on the bombing campaign lightly, but they have made a serious miscalculation of the consequences. I hope that they will go no further in trying to escalate the conflict but, instead, give some of the peace efforts that are slowly beginning a chance.
Too much of the Government's time is spent trying to drum up support for the current course of action, while it is others who tour the capitals trying to find a way to 940 negotiate a solution. There have been peace feelers from the Finns, which have already been alluded to, the Germans, Italians, Greeks and so on. Perhaps we should join them more convincingly.
In recent days, the debate has been joined by General Colin Powell, who has correctly questioned the long-term strategy behind, and the tactical approach to, the campaign. The growing consensus emerging from NATO briefings, Pentagon sources and alliance Governments is that a bombing campaign on its own cannot work, and there is almost a consensus in the House as to that fact. The Government would have done well to recognise that some weeks ago. Instead, they have become mired even further in a bombing-only campaign, which, in recent weeks, has drawn an increasingly heavy price—a price paid by civilians and others who are not directly involved in the conflict.
At successive stages over the past few weeks, NATO has said to itself, "What we are doing is not working." Its conclusion is not that the strategy is wrong, but that it is not being implemented vigorously or sufficiently enough, so the campaign has been ratcheted up again and again. However, it has still not achieved its objectives.
It is simply not sufficient for us to have the endless repetition of the mantra, "Milosevic is a terrible person. We must do something. We cannot sit back and do nothing." That is no substitute for the development of a credible policy that will work.
As an aside, we have heard some references in the Chamber to NATO's credibility. We should not determine our policy on the basis of whether it will damage NATO's credibility. The Foreign Secretary suggested that we should; it was one of the three points that he made in summing up. NATO's credibility, one way or the other, should be entirely subordinate to other factors. Whatever other reasons the Government have to put forward to justify their actions in Kosovo, surely NATO's credibility should not be near the top of the list.
I have spoken already of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson. The House may wish to hear some of her comments, particularly those on the bombing campaign. In the Irish Times yesterday, she was quoted as saying:The dropping of cluster bombs knowing they will drift into civilian areas does not serve a human rights cause".She was also reported as saying that she had seen children playing near unexploded cluster bombs. She said:There was no visible sign of a military target.The report continued:Mrs. Robinson said that human rights defenders in Yugoslavia felt undermined by the bombing. 'They told me, we don't see the rule of law in the bombing campaign'".
This afternoon's reports on CNN have talked of Yugoslav Foreign Ministry briefings indicating some movement on the Serb side, and of the Finnish President and the Russian peace envoy both playing a key role in those events. We have every right to be very cynical about the posturing of President Milosevic, and to treat with extreme reservation any proposals emanating from Belgrade. We all know that he is a past master at deceit and procrastination. However, NATO's actions in past months have diminished rather than enhanced the prospects of our dealing with anyone else in charge of Yugoslavia at the end of the campaign.
941 We have to wish every success to those who are searching for a solution. I hope that we shall find a course of action in this conflict that, for the first time, not only takes into consideration the Kosovo refugees but delivers a solution for them.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)
I was in the House of Commons, on 4 May 1982, when news came through from the south Atlantic that an Exocet missile, which had been launched by a Super Etandard aeroplane, had hit HMS Sheffield. I should like to quote what was said about the incident in a book, "Battle for the Falklands", because I think that the description bears great similarities to what is happening now. It states:As news filtered through to the Commons, MPs poured into the chamber to hear Nott announce the loss, a stunned Mrs. Thatcher by his side. Only the far left seemed to take any grim pleasure from the news. The bragging and self-confidence of the campaign so far evaporated. Suddenly there was doubt on every side: so much so that Mrs. Thatcher uncharacteristically ordered Lewin to go on television to allay public fear. Newspapers whose enthusiasm for the war had known no bounds now discovered its price. The Daily Mail brought out a black border round its front page. In Downing Street, the Prime Minister surprised her staff by the emotion with which she received the news. She had always told them the one thing she dreaded was to hear of the loss of a ship. Now it had happened, and she was visibly upset. At such moments throughout the war, she would retreat to her upstairs room and handwrite letters of condolence to the parents of servicemen lost in action.
I read that because I think that something very similar to it happened the other day, when those missiles hit the Chinese embassy, and also when the incident occurred in which 80 or 100 people died because of a major accident. The problem with wars is that we know that those things will happen. What we have to do, however, is to maintain our resolve.
Almost 18 years ago, because we maintained our resolve, even after the incident with HMS Sheffield in the south Atlantic, we went on to win the war and to remove fascism from Argentina. That was the product of the campaign in the Falkland islands. We terminated fascism in Argentina, and, over the years since, have probably saved tens of thousands of lives. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) opposed that war, but he might well reflect on the fact that tens of thousands of lives have consequently been saved. The war brought down a dictatorship in south America, and may even have influenced the existence of similar dictatorships.
In my 20 years in the House, I have found that the same people oppose every war, and that they oppose each of them on the same basis. They opposed the war in the south Atlantic, which removed fascism from parts of South America. They opposed the war in Kuwait, which was about removing fascists from Kuwait. As a consequence of removing fascists from Kuwait, hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved in the middle east.
All along the line, we find that the same people use even the same environmental arguments to oppose war. I remember debates on the Falklands war, in the early 1980s, in which speeches were made about the war's environmental effects in the south Atlantic. I remember debates on the Kuwaiti war in which they were talking about the oil fields and the war's effect on bird life in the Gulf. The same arguments are being used all the time.
942 When the public come to measure the issues of this war, I think that they should have in mind the fact that some hon. Members are simply opposed to war in all conditions, even if that war is about removing fascism. That is why the opponents of this war are, once again, just plain wrong. We have an obligation—in this country more than any other—to stand up and remove fascism wherever it is.
My argument with the Government is essentially a very simple one. I have raised it in the parliamentary Labour party, and I intend to raise it again now. It is about targeting. I am concerned about a policy that is essentially about attacking only military bases. I am also aware of the provisions of the Geneva convention, which partly restricts our latitude in the selection of targets. However, we are taking a very narrow interpretation of the convention's provisions.
Article 52(2) of the convention states:Attacks shall be limited strictly to military objectives. In so far as objects are concerned, military objectives are limited to those objectives which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage".In other words, we are talking about objects that, by their use, make an effective contribution to military action and whose neutralisation offers a definite military advantage.
Ethnic cleansing is part of military action. Ethnic cleansing is carried out by military personnel. Ethnic cleansing is challenging the lives of individual people. It is therefore something that we should have in mind when considering military action and the provisions enshrined in the article of the Geneva convention to which I referred.
Which objects or facilities, might it be argued, are of use in the military campaign of ethnic cleansing? In my view, any facility that aids the process of ethnic cleansing is potentially a target.
Ethnic cleansing is aided by centres where data are held, leading to the identification of individuals or properties. Therefore, those centres must potentially be a target. In recent weeks, the Serbs have been able repeatedly simply to drive up to convoys and pull out certain people, whom they were able to identify because of the existence of recording systems. I say that that process in itself should be subject to military action, and that that action would be permissible under the Geneva convention.
Which targets would I myself add to the list? I should add targets that hold data and facilitate the process of ethnic cleansing—which is part of a military campaign. I shall list them.
The first one is vehicle registration departments, as vehicle registration is a way of identifying people. The information held by the departments has been used to identify people. When the Serbs threw people out of Kosovo and over the border into Macedonia, which documents did they take away from them? They took their property records, their vehicle registration records, their passports and their individual national identity documentation. The Serbs knew the value of that documentation. I am therefore saying that vehicle registration departments should be included in targeting.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I am very sorry, but I do not have the time.
943 I should include as targets motor vehicle spare parts depots and major computer data recording departments. Both record data about individuals. I should include Yugoslavia's national identity registration system, which holds data that are now being used by the authorities in the process of the ethnic cleansing. It provides a permissible target according to the convention article to which I referred.
I should add as targets the inland revenue and national insurance departments; the military pensions departments; and the national police records departments. Let it be absolutely clear that I am not asking for the bombing of civilians; I am arguing for the bombing of data centres. If warning is given that the centres will be targeted, we shall not be responsible for any civilian losses. I am arguing for attacks not on civilians, just on the depots where data are held.
What would the collateral advantage be? By attacking the centres of data collection, we would undermine the relationship between the Serbian citizen and the state. The war must be partly about undermining morale. If we interfere with the relationship between the individual and the state in a country that is under pressure, it is inevitable—
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I make no complaint about what my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has said, but it should be pointed out that, of the three Members of Parliament whom he was obviously referring to, two were in the Royal Air Force and I was in the Army as a national service man.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
That is not a point of order for the Chair and it is taking time out of the debate
§ Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)
I do not think that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) was in the Chamber to hear the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). I commend to him my hon. Friend's analysis of Professor Sir Michael Howard's thoughts on the nature of a limited war and the linkage between such a war and the limited objectives and strategy that support it. The hon. Gentleman proposes going far beyond the objectives of a limited war. I also caution him about advocating the destruction of data centres in Yugoslavia, because the data that are being taken off the refugees as they leave Kosovo will be needed to ensure that they have some claim on their proper citizenship of Kosovo when the situation is restored.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) mentioned depleted uranium. I assure him that it is highly unlikely to have been used in Serbia and Kosovo so far, because it is used with kinetic energy rounds, which cannot be used from a height of 15,000 ft. They are used by tanks engaging other tanks or by close support aircraft near the ground.
This is a profoundly depressing occasion. Events outside the House in the past few days have shown that the only credible military strategy seems a very remote possibility. The German Chancellor has described the deployment of ground troops without an agreement as unthinkable. The American ambassador to NATO has said 944 that American forces would be deployed only if there were an agreement with Serbia. The French have been briefing that the British position is dangerous. The Italians, the Greeks and other NATO members also have well known reservations.
I particularly agree with the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary about this being a war of spin doctors. HMS Invincible has been deployed in the Adriatic to no apparent military purpose. There are better aircraft with better runways in Italy and in Corsica that are better able to carry out NATO's role. There is no benefit in having one of our aircraft carriers steaming up and down the Adriatic. The Americans have indulged in the same tendency by deploying Apaches. No one has yet been prepared to send Apaches forward with no ground support. We wait to see whether they will send such highly expensive military equipment forward on to the Kosovo battlefield without the support of other forces.
I was also depressed by the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the Chairman of the Defence Committee. For the majority of his speech, he seemed to have suspended the critical analysis that has marked his 20 years on the Defence Committee. Only right at the end of his speech, when he talked in coded terms about identifying the endgame and using all necessary means to achieve it, did he speak with the authority that has marked his analysis of defence affairs over the past two decades.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) told us that the air campaign would not succeed and that he and his party were prepared for the use of ground troops. He failed to point out that most military analysts arrived at that conclusion before the bombing began.
§ Mr. Blunt
Then why have the Liberal Democrats not pointed out that glaring, shocking, disgraceful lacuna in the Government's strategy? Instead, the right hon. and learned Gentleman indulged in a foolish attack on Her Majesty's Opposition. He tried to ascribe my views on the Chief of the Defence Staff to the Opposition Front Bench. I am just a Back-Bench member of the Defence Committee. I believe that my judgment has proved correct. Our strategy has failed, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) pointed out graphically.
In unprecedented newspaper articles, the Chief of the Defence Staff defended the Government's strategy as the best option available, repeating the immortal wordsto govern is to choose".Permanent under-secretaries do not write newspaper articles in support of their Ministers' policies. Ministers write articles to defend Government policy. The Chief of the Defence Staff made a foolish, unfortunate decision to write those articles, probably prompted by pressure from the No. 10 press office.
In the early stages of the conflict, the politicians hid behind the military. The Secretary of State for Defence did so in the Chamber. Pretty quickly, the military started to distance itself from its political leaders. On day 2 of the campaign, General Wesley Clark made it clear that it was impossible for the use of air power alone to prevent the humanitarian catastrophe and the eviction of Kosovar 945 people from their homes by the Serbian military forces. General Naumann made the same point when he retired as chairman of the military committee. Now General Colin Powell is making clear the dissatisfaction of the American military establishment with the conduct of the war, as has General Shelton, the American Chief of Staff, in front of the Senate committee.
The central failure of the Chief of the Defence Staff was his inability to persuade the Prime Minister that the military strategy had precious little chance of success and was a disgraceful gamble that should not have been made. The central failure of the United Kingdom was in not persuading President Clinton of that glaring truth, which we are now all too familiar with.
Two months later, as the ground option evaporates, we urgently need an exit. It is too late for the Prime Minister to wake up to the military truths. Force should never have been used except in the pursuit of clear and achievable objectives. It is a modern military maxim to get inside the enemy's decision-making cycle. Without ground troops, it is no good the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary coming to the House to tell us that they have destroyed a brigade worth of artillery or tanks. The destruction of that equipment is not related to the decision on when to abandon Kosovo. That decision will be taken by President Milosevic and our strategy will not force him to take it.
We do not have an objective that we know that we will achieve. We are committed to a strategy of endless bombing and Serbia is committed to a strategy of the endless absorption of punishment. What a policy to pursue against a country with a myth of heroic sacrifice at the core of its national identity. We are stuck with a strategy as creditable as that pursued at Passchendaele, but this time it is not the generals leading a reluctant Prime Minister, but the reverse.
It is clear that our allies want a way out. That is likely to lead to a deal in which the edges are blurred—blurred on the future status of Kosovo; blurred on whether the Kosovars will be able to return to their homes in safety; blurred on the future of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Do we expect the Kosovo Liberation Army to disarm if it is to be returned to the sovereignty of Yugoslavia?
We have fundamentally misread the nature of the conflict.
The Kosovars have resorted to what is, in effect, a war of liberation, following the failure of decades of democratic aspirations towards their route of self-determination. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin), who seems to believe that Kosovo is irrevocably a part of Serbia. Kosovo was invaded by Serbia in 1912, and was established as part of Serbia at an international conference in 1913. However, there has not been a majority of Serbs in Kosovo in the modern era—not for hundreds of years. Yugoslavia's status was established by the treaty of Versailles in 1919. The status of Kosovo within Serbia and Yugoslavia was the product of probably a few minutes' consideration at the end of the second world war by the Communist party of Yugoslavia.
The events of 1974 and 1979 have made sure that there is de facto and de jure a case for Kosovo that it should be allowed to fulfil its routs of self-determination. We have 946 to choose between two principles. Having broken international law in attacking Yugoslavia, let us now stand up for the principle of self-determination.
§ Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan)
A number of hon. Members have referred to the recent civilian casualties as a result of the NATO bombing, and to the need for dialogue and diplomacy. They are right to stress the need for diplomacy, and I agree that dialogue must always be tried before force is used. However, in this case, all diplomatic and peaceful avenues have been exhausted. NATO has been forced by the intransigence of the Serbs into taking this action.
It must not be forgotten that the Serbs were given every opportunity to resolve the issue peacefully, but repeatedly failed to take those opportunities. In fact, President Milosevic and his troops continued to commit atrocities against innocent men, women and children. Milosevic and his forces have deliberately and brutally ethnically cleansed tens of thousands of Kosovar Albanians from their homes in Kosovo. That is the latest event in a campaign of Serb nationalism and ethnic cleansing that Milosevic's regime has waged during the past 10 years in various parts of the Balkans—in Croatia, in Bosnia and now in Kosovo.
The ethnic cleansing in all those countries, including Kosovo, occurred long before NATO started the air campaign. It must be remembered that Milosevic had created thousands of refugees in Kosovo long before the NATO bombing. The 10,000 Kosovar Albanian refugees in the UK bear that out. Ethnic cleansing was happening at a much slower pace before, so it was not as apparent as it is today—particularly to outsiders.
Milosevic signed up to the October package negotiated by Richard Holbrooke, only to violate each of its main elements. The Rambouillet negotiations would have led to a democratic self-governing Kosovo, which would have remained within Yugoslavia and in which the Serbs would have been allowed to station troops. The Kosovar Albanians showed the foresight and moral courage to put their names to the Rambouillet accords, but the Serbs refused to do so, and instead embarked on yet another wave of ethnic cleansing.
Even then, the allies tried, through the person of Richard Holbrooke, to make last-ditch efforts to persuade Milosevic to agree to a peaceful solution to the crisis, but to no avail.
Milosevic has been given every opportunity to resolve the Kosovo crisis peacefully, but has refused to take any of them. If one looks at the past 10 years of Milosevic's rule in Serbia, one notices the manner in which he has manipulated ethnic differences in the Balkans to fuel conflict and to remain in power. Only by keeping Serbia and the surrounding countries in a state of perpetual crisis is he able to remain in power. There is the method in his madness.
When hon. Members say that dialogue rather than force should have been used, I say to them that, when faced with such intransigence and such wilful disregard for international opinion, the NATO countries had no choice but to use force against the Serbs. It is for that reason that, despite a number of setbacks, the reasons for military action remain as strong as ever. Tragic mistakes and 947 events must not be allowed to diminish the justice of NATO's cause or weaken the alliance's will and determination to see the crisis through to its end.
From conversations with my constituents during the crisis, I have noticed that public support for the NATO action, rather than wavering, seems to have increased as the campaign has gone on. As pictures of the victims of ethnic cleansing have appeared on our television screens, so the public has come to understand the true nature and scale of the evil being perpetrated in Kosovo and the need for military action.
The Government have the full support of the people in my constituency for military action in Kosovo. From conversations with constituents, I have noticed that not only has support for NATO action increased, but so has the awareness of the limitations of bombing alone to resolve the crisis. Support in this country for a ground invasion has increased. The air campaign has been instrumental in weakening and destroying Serbia's air defence and military capability and destroying the military and logistical infrastructure that has allowed the Serb forces to perpetrate atrocities against the Kosovar Albanians.
I am not sure that air strikes will be enough to make Milosevic back down. The air campaign so far has not forced President Milosevic to end the atrocities in Kosovo and meet NATO's demands. We have an obligation to give serious consideration to a military presence on the ground to end the humanitarian and refugee disaster that Milosevic has created. After the atrocities that the Kosovar Albanians have been experiencing, such a military presence would give the refugees the confidence to return to Kosovo.
Failure to see the crisis through to its end would give a clear signal to evil dictators all over the world that they can commit atrocities like those being committed in Kosovo and get away with it. We must not allow that to happen. We must not be distracted from trying to resolve the crisis. We must continue our military action until Milosevic agrees to the Rambouillet accords. We must see this through to the end.
§ Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton)
I promise to give the shortest speech of the evening, and I hope that I may be listened to for three minutes or so. It is clear to those of us who have argued from the start for the all-or-nothing strategy that the present strategy is not working. Not only is it not achieving its objectives, but the reverse is being achieved. We intended to help the Albanians of Kosovo. Unfortunately, their plight has been worsened as a result of the NATO intervention. We hoped to weaken Milosevic. My feeling is that, as far as his domestic political situation is concerned, Milosevic has been strengthened. The only others to have benefited are our military academies, which now have a textbook case of how not to wage a campaign.
The targeting of civilians worries many people, myself included. A campaign waged from 15,000 ft has to be indiscriminate, whatever its intentions. I am especially alarmed that, every Friday, with almost metronomic regularity, we appear to hand the Serbs a gift-wrapped propaganda advantage. In one case—the targeting of the television station—we attacked a civilian installation that had to have civilians in it. Civilians were bound to be 948 killed and civilians were killed. In my view, that was in breach of the Geneva conventions. Yes, the television station was telling lies, but the answer to lies is not missiles: the answer to lies is truths.
If ground troops go in, a permissive environment or semi-permissive environment is proposed. Just as there is no recorded example in history of air fire alone achieving a decisive result, so there is no precedent in the long history of the British at war of a permissive environment. Henry V did not seek a permissive environment at Agincourt, neither did Wellington at Waterloo. The beaches of Normandy were not a permissive environment, and neither was Goose Green or Port Stanley.
I have argued from the start that we either stay all the way out and work with diplomacy, or we go all the way in with an all-arms offensive. It may be too late. All I would add is that, if we wage half a war, we shall not achieve half a victory—we are more likely to achieve three quarters of a defeat.
§ Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)
I hate war. I am devoted to the cause of peace, but I could never be a pacifist—although I respect pacifists. I was reminded of the reason why last summer when I visited the holocaust museum in Washington. The evil of armed conflict is a lesser evil than the triumph of tyranny and genocide.
We must make progress towards a new international order in which we start to resolve conflicts without resort to war, but we must do so in a world in which we have weapons of mass destruction in order to survive. Until that new order exists, we must, on occasions, be prepared to fight against crimes against humanity. It is proper, in that interest, to intervene, sometimes between nations and sometimes within nations. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) correctly said that we should have intervened in Rwanda and that we are right to intervene in Kosovo.
The right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) suggested that we should intervene only where we have a national interest. We must increasingly see our national interest as included in the international interest in upholding human rights. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I do not believe that human rights are a fad. I find it extraordinary that someone can care about animals but not about human beings.
I understand the feelings of those who say that it would have been better if the action had been taken by the United Nations. I would have preferred that, but the fact that it is not reflects one of the weaknesses in the United Nations. I understand the concerns of people about NATO taking action. Some people feel that the USA drives NATO too much, but, in this case, unanimous action was taken, not in the American interest, but in a humanitarian interest.
I ask critics of the action what the alternatives were. More negotiation is suggested, but we had been negotiating for nearly a decade and, as the right hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) cogently 949 pointed out, the killing has gone on. Economic sanctions have been suggested, but do we seriously think that they would have stopped Milosevic? After all, the bombing has caused economic damage, but Milosevic continues. He must be stopped.
I say to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) that the problem is not only Kosovo. If Milosevic is not stopped, he will go on to more countries in former Yugoslavia and perhaps beyond. That point was cogently made by my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) and for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). I say to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) that it is totally false to suggest that, if the international monitors had stayed and the bombing had not begun, everybody would have been safe. Does he forget what happened in Bosnia, where people were slaughtered while the monitors had to stand by?
Those who attack President Clinton should note the malign influence of those on the extreme right of the Republican party in Congress, who seem sometimes to make their patriotism conditional on whether their party is in power, whether on impeachment or the conflict in Kosovo.
What of our own loyal Opposition? They have a right to debate issues and to make constructive criticism. However, I concur with some of the views expressed by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). There have been times when certain hon. Members have made cheap party political points and used intemperate language. The shadow Foreign Secretary said that there should have been earlier action, but some of us might feel that, if there had been earlier or more decisive action when his party was in government, some of the tragedies might not have occurred.
We must be careful not to say anything that could help Milosevic. We must be careful not to ask for advance strategic plans. I found it extraordinary that, in the previous debate, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir P. Tapsell), having quoted his great military maxim that one shouldGive no advance indication of one's intentions"—[official Report, 19 April 1999; Vol. 329, c. 601.]devoted much of the rest of his speech to asking the Government to do precisely that. We should show some common sense.
We must be prepared to allow flexibility in response to the contingencies of the conflict and the unpredictability of Milosevic. In the previous debate, many criticised the Government for not having said that we would commit ground forces, forgetting that the Leader of the Opposition had made that his overriding condition when he started. I do not say that to make a cheap point, because I am pleased that he has been prepared to change his position; but I find it strange that the shadow Foreign Secretary should criticise the Government precisely for that, because one has to change position as the situation develops.
In the previous debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) implied that, if we offered Milosevic an amnesty from war crimes charges, it would make it easier for him to negotiate with us. Think what giving such carte blanche at this stage would encourage. 950 My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) suggested that we should be careful not to insult Milosevic. I am sorry, but if I thought that being polite to him would make him reasonable, I would gladly do it; but when I look at what he has done in the whole Balkan region, all I can say is that his personal tragedy is that both his parents committed suicide—after his birth rather than before.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) raised the question of whether these debates should be conducted on a motion for the Adjournment of the House, as did the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). My right hon. Friend said that an Adjournment debate reduces us to the status of a press conference and denies us any say.
Precedent—to which we pay regard in the House when we find it convenient—shows that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, debates on conflicts have been held on a motion for the Adjournment. That has been the case with the Balkans and the Falklands. Nearly all the debates on the Gulf war were on the Adjournment, but one was on a substantive motion, precisely to show the unity of the House.
Equally, although the majority of debates on Suez and Korea were on the Adjournment, there were substantive debates to show the division of the House. In the second world war, most debates were on the Adjournment, but there were some secret sittings, some of which were leaked, and some substantive motions. Those were referred to earlier by the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle. He suggested that they were some of the great debates.
Almost the only thing on which I would agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham is that the great debate was the debate of 7 and 8 May 1940. It was a debate on the Adjournment of the House. At a late stage, it was decided to call a vote, as a result of which the Chamberlain Government fell. It is not the type of debate that matters, but the vote that we have here. We have had an attempt to force a vote on the Adjournment of the House: it got 11 votes. That showed clearly that the overwhelming feeling of the House is in support of the Government, despite the fact that some may criticise details and that there have been some tragic accidents.
If it is decided that ground forces should be committed before a full settlement, I am sure that the House would support that regardless of whether we have a debate on principle first. Let us be under no illusions: the commitment of ground forces will be difficult strategically, geographically and politically. There will be a heavy cost. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) said, it would not cut out those horrible euphemisms, "friendly fire" and "collateral damage". Accidents happen. It can be difficult to tell whether a lorry contains paramilitaries or refugees.
I have concentrated on issues that divide hon. Members. I shall finish on matters on which we are united. We all applaud the humanitarian work being done by our forces, and we believe that, when the conflict is over, we must work to reconstruct a tragic country and to try to bind all the Balkans into the life and structures of Europe.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)
We have had a candid, sometimes passionate debate, and I hope that neither Ministers nor the public will mistake criticism of some aspects of the conduct of the campaign for lack of patriotism among those who make the criticism.
There is a widespread feeling that we have not achieved our object—averting a humanitarian disaster. There is no point in going over old ground but, if we are to find our way out of the problems, it is incumbent on us to recognise that we have failed so far to secure the objective set by the Prime Minister.
We are faced night after night with an incessant stream of harrowing images on our television screens as people are driven out of their homelands and subjected to the most appalling treatment. No one can fail to be moved by those scenes; we are all horrified by them. However, those of our constituents who are urging us on to greater action should recognise that anger alone is not sufficient. As decision makers, we must try to reach balanced judgments, sometimes drawing conclusions that we would prefer not to reach.
My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) referred to advice from Air Chief Marshall Sir Michael Graydon, the former Chief of the Air Staff. We should inform our debate with what Sir Michael said—that it was a grave error to rule out the use of ground forces at the outset. I do not single out the Prime Minister or my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for criticism, but there is an object lesson in what happened, and it should inform our discussions on how we make progress. That was a mistake.
The situation in the Gulf was very different. For months, we prepared a massive land force, making it clear to our enemy that we were doing so. We never needed to use the ground forces, but the fact that we were prepared to deploy them sent a clear message. Our message to Milosevic was that we would rule out the use of ground forces, and that was a mistake.
The hon. Members for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) referred to the difficult terrain in the Balkans. Some hon. Members have visited the region. I confess that I have not, but I have looked at the map, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), and I have seen the nature of the difficulty. It is clearly inhospitable territory in which to move large formations of troops across the ground. Alternative options must be considered.
I have the privilege of representing Aldershot, the home of 5 Airborne brigade, which is comprised of the Parachute Regiment and other units. Its members are trained for precisely this type of operation. The idea that they would expect to be deployed by parachute is a myth constantly promoted by those in the service who do not like the regiment or who are jealous of it. They are dropped by helicopter—by Chinook—from a low level or on the ground. I have done it myself.
That is a possible way out and I will leave it at that, save to say that I know from talking to my constituents that they are prepared and ready to go. I talked with a member of the Parachute Regiment the other day and asked him, "What about Kosovo?" He said, "I'm not very keen, sir." I asked him why and he said, "I'm not keen on this humanitarian and peacekeeping stuff, sir. If it's a question of going to war, that's different and I'll be ready 952 to go." That attitude prevails among our service men. They have trained for war. They have seen the images on the television and we make a mistake if we do not recognise their resolve to do what the Government may call upon them to do.
Also, the House must face the reality that the United Kingdom cannot do this alone. I think that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) referred to the fact that the Germans and French had declared themselves hostile to the idea of deploying ground forces. The United States is extremely reluctant to do so. Our bombing campaign is largely determined by the fact that the Americans do not want to go in at low level. The Royal Air Force trains all the time to go in at low level—that is what our pilots do day in and day out.
I do not want to be partisan, but it is fair to say that the Prime Minister has been going ahead of American public opinion. Unless the Americans are on side, there is no prospect of our being able to deploy ground forces. The right hon. Gentleman can be as hawkish as he likes, but he has to understand that, without the support of the United States, he is extremely limited in what he can do.
We embarked on this conflict out of a genuine and rightful affront at the inhumanity of President Milosevic. Those powerful images on the television are fuelling the desire of the people of this country for action. However, I fear that there has not been a coherent strategy from the outset to determine how the conflict was likely to develop. Of course, no one could have foreseen at the outset exactly the pattern that it was likely to take. Nevertheless, one could have foreseen the difficulties that might arise if bombing alone failed.
Although an airman himself, Air Chief Marshall Sir Michael Graydon pointed out that he believed in the deployment of balanced forces, and I entirely agree. Therefore, as I think that the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) said, what is plan B? The apparent lack of a clear plan B is worrying some of us.
The Government and the House must now face a number of brutal truths. First, this is not a Falklands or a Kuwait campaign. In those campaigns, we were seeking to eject an aggressor from someone else's territory—in the Falklands, it was ours and in Kuwait, it was that of a sovereign state—which is an entirely different matter. In Kosovo, we are seeking to remove, if that is the ultimate objective, people from land that is in part their own and to which they are deeply committed. We must recognise the reality of what we face if we pursue a deeper military commitment there.
The other brutal truth is that we and the United States have to be prepared to commit large numbers of troops. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham said, it is a question not of putting in a token force, but of committing huge numbers of troops. Again, there is no way that the United Kingdom can do that on its own. We require the support of the United States.
Also, we must be clear that we are prepared to take casualties—perhaps, in large numbers. There might be hand-to-hand fighting and, while at the moment we see images on television of people who have been raped, dispossessed of their homes and so forth, if we commit ground troops and there are casualties, overnight the
953 television images will switch—it will be our lads and what are they dying for? The House and the British people must be prepared to accept that brutal truth.
Finally, we must be prepared to accept that, as in Bosnia, this will not be a short-run operation. We are going to be tied down there for years holding the ring—and the peace—that Tito held for decades and that is now threatened.
Some nasty, difficult, brutal realities must be faced. If we are going to face them, and if we are going to commit ground troops—it may be that the British people will support that—we must act now.
§ Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)
I rise in support of the Government's position and their prosecution of the war. I am no military expert. It is important for us to remember when members of the public ask us whether we should use ground forces that, sometimes, the honest answer is that we do not know. I realise that other hon. Members have a military background that I do not share. However, I have faith in the British military and its professionalism. We must support it with what whatever it takes to ensure success. My message for Ministers is that, having started this, we must see it through to a successful conclusion.
I want to outline my experiences from a humanitarian perspective, following my two visits to the area with UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund. In December, I visited Kosovo and Montenegro and in April, Macedonia. I want to describe what I saw in Kosovo in December, when a ceasefire—the so-called diplomatic breathing space under the Holbrooke agreement—had been negotiated and to share with the House some of the horror and terror that existed in Kosovo. The ethnic cleansing that we have seen since the start of the bombing campaign is not new, but has been going on for a significant period. I want to consider the humanitarian case for the war and for our action.
In Kosovo, I saw villages that had been bombed. I saw deserted villages, schools that had been shelled, and health centres and hospitals that had been attacked by tanks. Children would point out where they had been on the hillside. Houses had been destroyed and families talked of the terror that they suffered from the Serb army and police.
We did not take action then. The present action is not precipitate. Some may say that we should have acted then, but the Government tried to negotiate our way out of the difficulties. At the Rambouillet talks, we tried to avert war. After the failure of the Rambouillet talks came the launch of the Serbian offensive in the spring. That offensive and the failure of all the negotiations led the Government finally to decide to commit our Air Force, in co-operation with NATO.
This question has often been asked, but if we are not prepared to act after all that time, and with all the examples of people being treated in that way, what do we do? Do we just walk away? Do we ignore the ethnic cleansing, people being forced from their homes and the schools and hospitals that have been bombed, or do we take action? If we had done nothing, we would be debating not the Government's action, but why we had a 954 Government who were not prepared to stand up for basic human values and decency to bring about the Europe that we all want. That is what hon. Members on both sides of the House would be saying to the Government. It gives me no pride and no great feeling of macho achievement to say that I think that this is a just war. Many of us feel a great sense of sadness at arriving at that conclusion.
It is important to remember that the ethnic cleansing had already started; it has continued and, since the bombing campaign began, we have seen some of the consequences—especially in Macedonia which I have visited. We have seen the squalor in the camps and the terror and abuse of children. Men are missing and whole families have disappeared; there have been war crimes. All that has gone on. When we talk to children who have been forced on to buses by hooded police, we wonder how our own children, grandchildren or children whom we know would react in such circumstances, and imagine their terror, horror and fear. I am making the humanitarian case for action. I am no military expert; I do not know the best way to prosecute the war in terms of military action. All I am saying is that we need to support our Government, our troops and our military in the action that needs to be taken.
Finally, I pay tribute to the humanitarian work of non-governmental organisations such as UNICEF and to the work of the Army in the camps. I pay tribute to the British people for the way in which they have responded to the crisis in Kosovo—I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will make reference to that. People have raised money in my own constituency of Gedling, in Nottingham and in the east midlands generally. I am sure that, in all our constituencies throughout the country, people have responded in that way. That makes us think that, sometimes, out of the worst that people can do to each other comes some of the best that people can do. Not only are individuals collecting money, but Governments are prepared to stand up for what is right and decent in the modern world.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
It has been a privilege to listen to so many admirable speeches—not least that of the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker). He made a speech of great honesty and courage, as did the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), who, typically, spoke in soldier style. The contribution of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) also springs to mind. He referred to the Falklands war. I was John Nott's Parliamentary Private Secretary during the conflict and the names Sheffield, Coventry, Ardent, Sir Galahad and Atlantic Conveyor are etched on my heart.
I know that success in war needs firmness of purpose. Maintenance of the aim is the first principle of war. It is sad that the aim appears to be somewhat confused but, as I said in a previous debate:Once our country is engaged upon war, there is only one acceptable outcome, and that is victory.All our faculties of heart and mind must be directed to that objective now, even more than they were a month ago.
It was good to hear the wise contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith). He is one of the few Members of this place who can wear the 1939–1945 star and the defence medal on 955 his tunic. He brings to our debates an understanding of coalition warfare and of what it takes to co-operate effectively with our United States and NATO allies. In Royal Air Force parlance, success will require maximum effort. We may have all-volunteer armed forces, but we shall need to mobilise our fullest resources of political will, military determination, diplomacy, industrial production and national stamina. Success will require giving our NATO commanders the fullest authority to fulfil their mission according to their professional military judgment.
I deplore the criticisms of the chairborne aces who are so critical of the actions of NATO's air and ground crews—the service men who day and night for the past 55 days have risked their lives in prosecuting operations against the foul regime of Slobodan Milosevic. They are taking the war to the enemy and they deserve our support, not our denigration, for they are the ones who will make the ultimate military victory possible. As I reminded the House on 19 April:The air offensive is crucial at every stage of the conflict … The key will be the will to sustain those operations and maintain the offensive."—[Official Report, 19 April 1999; Vol. 329, c. 635.]There are now siren voices, but the alliance must be deaf to calls to cease the bombing before the Serb forces are entirely withdrawn from Kosovo.
I understand that the withdrawal of Milosevic's forces from Kosovo will require the effective use of the Kosovo Liberation Army. As I said on 19 April:It needs to be trained, supplied and given intelligence support and all the backing that we can provide."—[Official Report, 19 April 1999; Vol. 329, c. 636.]I now add, most insistently, that that assistance must include air support. We should establish forthwith a military mission to the KLA. It reminds me of the task of building up Yugoslav resistance to German occupation in world war two. The comments of the late Julian Amery in his autobiography are relevant:it seemed to me to be unrealistic to pretend that Tito did not exist. He was plainly a major factor on the Yugoslav scene and his partisans seemed readier than the Chetniks to carry out the kind of sabotage and terrorist operations which SOE was designed to promote.We must not ignore the fighting potential of the KLA, which wants to regain their homeland for its people.
I urge our Government to pursue one clear political objective: self-determination for the people of Kosovo. It is an objective that will require an allied military presence on the ground, for without it there will be no way for free and fair elections to take place. However, this goal accords with the democratic traditions of the NATO states and it legitimises the military reversal of the brutal expulsion of the Kosovars by Milosevic.
If we were to lose, what would follow? Perhaps Krajina would be subject to attack. What would happen to the settlement in Bosnia-Herzogovina? Would Macedonia be destabilised by Milosevic? Would anybody in future have confidence in the democratic alliance of peaceful nations that is NATO? No. I say that aggressors and tyrants everywhere would be emboldened and our security thereby greatly weakened.
§ 9.4 pm
§ Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)
I come to the debate as one who has, throughout my political life, argued in favour of, and believed in, the cause of peace, yet I have never been a pacifist, for I have always believed that there are certain circumstances in which the taking of military action is justified to combat a greater evil. In that context, I have no hesitation in saying that I support the NATO strategy and the NATO bombing of Serbia. It is no exaggeration to say that, in the Serb regime's actions in Kosovo, we have witnessed the worst crime against humanity committed on our continent since the second world war. As the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees said in evidence to the United Nations Security Council on 5 May:Kosovo is being emptied—brutally and methodically—of its ethnic Albanian population.That is as close to a definition of fascism as anything I know. I have opposed and abhorred fascism all my political life, and my political party and this country have a proud record of opposition to fascism. That is why the NATO action is justified.
The aims of the NATO action are very specific and very clear: a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Serbian troops, the return home of the refugees, and the dispatch of a peacekeeping force, with NATO at its core, to police the settlement. Media commentators, some Opposition politicians and foreign Governments claim that we should produce a fudge or a compromise, but I believe passionately that nothing less than the achievement of those objectives will be acceptable.
I also argue that the NATO action is the only way to deal with the situation, especially in the context of the ending of the cold war. I never want us to return to a cold war situation but, whatever criticisms we might have made of the two super-powers—many could be levelled at both sides—broadly speaking, they policed their spheres of hegemony. There was no widespread outbreak during the cold war of atrocities such as those that we are witnessing in Kosovo. In a sense, the cold war brought a kind of security. The danger for us all, post cold war is that, when atrocities occur throughout the world, there is no supranational mechanism for dealing with them.
I make that point in reply to those who assert—I heard my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) make this comment—that the NATO action should not have been taken because it was not specifically authorised by the United Nations. They ignore the fact that a United Nations resolution specifically opposing the NATO action was defeated comprehensively. That point must be made. I ask people who hold that view to follow the logic of their argument to its conclusion: they are saying that, whatever the outrage, the carnage or the abuse of human rights, if one permanent member of the Security Council objects to action being taken—even if that objection is made for reasons of trade or historical association—no action can be taken. That is a counsel for impotence and despair and one that we rightly reject. That is another reason why I believe the NATO action is justified.
I shall deal with some of the criticisms of the NATO strategy that have arisen both in this debate and elsewhere throughout the country. The first criticism is that mistakes in the bombing campaign fatally undermine our cause. I think the mistakes are appalling: every supporter of the NATO strategy was filled with horror when the 957 Chinese embassy and the refugee convoys were bombed. The NATO alliance must do everything in its power to review its procedures and minimise the chances of mistakes occurring. When mistakes are made, we must admit and explain them honestly and openly.
However, anybody who seriously suggests that we can engage in a military conflict without causing accidental deaths is both naive and ignoring the lessons of history. Mistakes have occurred on the battlefield since warfare began. Some 23 per cent. of American casualties in the Gulf war in the early 1990s were caused by the Americans' own fire power. I do not remember those who have been very vocal in criticising mistakes making that point during the Gulf war, when they had responsibility in government. Mistakes will occur; they are tragic and we must seek to avoid them, but to pretend that they can be completely eliminated is naive and undermines our arguments.
Secondly, critics ask, "Why is Britain taking military action in Kosovo when it has not acted to deal with other humanitarian atrocities, such as those in Rwanda?" There are several answers to that. First, the practical response is that we cannot be the world's policeman. Even if we wanted to carry out that role, we do not have the resources to do so. Secondly—I make this point carefully because it can be misinterpreted—we have a greater responsibility to act on our continent, where we have a degree of collective responsibility, than elsewhere. I also passionately believe that to say that we shall never act anywhere because we cannot act everywhere is a counsel that says that we shall never in any circumstances take action, and that I wholly reject.
Another criticism is what I would describe as the neo-nationalist, isolationist position taken by the far right of the Republican party in America and the far right of the Conservative party in Britain. In the British context, the argument—which has been put forward by Conservative Members—is that military action is never justified unless British lives, British security or British financial interests are at stake.
§ Mr. Rammell
I hear the right hon. Gentleman's support for that argument. I wholly reject that stance because it is amoral and it is based on a view that respect for human rights, decency and civilised values is felt only within national boundaries. That argument was put forward in the 1930s by those opposed to military action against Hitler; it was wrong then and it is wrong now.
A specific criticism of NATO action is that the Government have been wrong not to argue for the use of ground troops before now. Let me make my position on that clear. I believe that ground troops will be necessary to police a settlement and that they will probably need to go in while we are still faced with resistance from Milosevic's regime. We should be having an honest and open debate, in the Chamber and the country, about the stage at which we ought to send troops in and what degree of resistance we, are prepared to face. I am pleased that the Prime Minister has recently made it clear that NATO is reviewing all contingencies and that Milosevic has no veto on our actions. The briefings issued today make it clear that ground troops are still an option.
958 I ask those people who vehemently criticise the Government for not committing themselves to sending in ground troops to face the reality of the situation and ask themselves why the Government have not, thus far, made that commitment. The reason for that is that we are part of an international alliance in which we are bound by the reservations of others. That is true of any alliance and especially so in an international alliance. To have argued publicly for ground troops from the outset, as Conservative Members now claim that they have—although they did not argue that at the time—when others in the alliance would not have supported that course, would simply have highlighted disagreements within NATO, undermined our resolve and given sustenance to Milosevic.
We are part of an alliance that is heavily dependent on the United States of America for hardware and money. An element of the debate is that the Americans have—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I call the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing). May I ask for his co-operation? I want him to finish within five minutes.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I heard the remark made by the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman), to the effect that I always do this to him. If he is complaining about who was called and who was not called, the hon. Gentleman should remember that hon. Members are called at the discretion of the Chair. Everyone is equal and everyone is treated fairly.
§ Mr. Wareing
On 2 May 1993 I was in the town of Bosanski Brod in the north of Bosnia. There I saw bodies being exhumed from a mass grave. When I arrived, 36 bodies had already been exhumed in various stages of decomposition. I will never forget the stench, the flies and the heat. Before I left, the body toll had increased to 44.
Among the people with me that day were the present Secretary of State for Scotland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid) and the noble Lord Russell, as well as a number of Conservative Members. We notified the media of what we had seen. The British media were not interested. My right hon. Friend was asked who the people were, and he replied that they were Serbs who had been murdered by Croats. He was told that the media could not print that, as it would only confuse people.
It is hypocrisy to attack the Serbs for ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, while ignoring the fact that 280,000 Serbs were brutally driven out of the Krajina. An old person, a child, a young woman—it does not matter whether they are Serb or Croat. They are all human beings. When I asked the Secretary of State earlier today about the matter, he replied that the Government deplore all that. However, there is no question of any action being taken against Croatia.
959 In another answer that I received from a Foreign Office Minister, I am informed that Croatia is allowing NATO to use its airspace for attacks on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and is co-operating in cutting the flow of oil from Croatia into Yugoslavia. Croatia is undoubtedly an ethnically pure state, as there is hardly a single Serb or anyone of any ethnic origin other than Croat living in that state.
We are told that we have exhausted the possibility of negotiations, and that Rambouillet was turned down by the Serbs. Let me read from some of the annexes to the treaty. I have only a little time—although I am thankful for what I have, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The text of article 8 of the appendix to the Rambouillet treaty should be on record. It states:NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FYR (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) including associated airspace and territorial waters. This shall include, but not be limited to, the right of bivouac, manoeuvre, billet and utilisation of any areas of facilities as required for support, training and operations.
Article 6 states:NATO personnel, under all circumstances and at all times, shall be immune from the Parties' jurisdiction in respect of any civil, administrative, criminal, or disciplinary offenses which may be committed by them in the Federal Yugoslav Republic.Article 10 refers to NATO having cost-free use of all Yugoslav streets, airports and ports—not just Kosovo, but all of Yugoslavia.
Those people who think that we can control an armed operation against the Yugoslav army and restrict it simply to Kosovo should try to imagine an invasion of Cornwall. Would the fighting stop as soon as an enemy had occupied Cornwall? Of course not. The Yugoslavs see the present campaign as their battle of Britain and they will fight on. The only solution is to get back to the conference table, and not to issue ultimatums that no sovereign state would ever accept. We certainly would not. We have to bring the Russians and the Croatians to the conference table. If we want those who have been ethnically cleansed to be returned to their territory, we must return not only those from Kosovo, but those from Krajina. Anything else would by hypocrisy.
§ Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)
Earlier this month, I visited Albania with the Secretary of State, as his guest, and with other colleagues in the House. We saw for ourselves some of the refugees at Kukes and spoke to them about why they had left and what they had left behind. Those ordinary, decent people, who had been expelled from their homes by violence and fear, were destitute in refugee camps. We also saw in Kukes, and on HMS Invincible and at Gioia del Colle, what a wonderful job our forces are doing. They have our admiration, our thanks and our prayers.
What is happening in Kosovo surely amounts to one of the great European crimes of the past 50 years. We are all horrified and diminished by such violence, and we all want to do something about it. We share and support the Government's objectives and the use of military force to achieve them, but emotion cannot run our foreign policy. Our objectives must be attainable by the means that we are prepared to use. Objectives must be clear 960 and achievable, and adequate military commitment to achieve them is essential. The Prime Minister has been high on rhetoric and anger, and if words could kill Milosevic would be long dead, but he is not dead. He seems too often to hold the initiative. The time has come to examine our policy and to ask ourselves some hard questions.
As usual, we have had an excellent debate, and strongly held views have been expressed from both sides of the House. Conservative Members have been overwhelmingly critical. My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) made strong speeches against Government policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) made a similarly critical speech and talked a great deal about the refugees. We are all grateful for the report of his Select Committee.
My right hon. Friends the Members for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) and for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) and my hon. Friends the Members for Romsey (Mr. Colvin), for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) and for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) all made valuable contributions which I hope the Secretary of State will make some effort to answer.
My hon. Friends the Members for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) were supportive of the Government's position. I hope that Labour Members will forgive me for not referring to all their speeches and for singling out the contribution of the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), who made as good and as passionate a statement of the Government's case as could have been made.
Today is the 56th day of the bombing campaign. In the statement made before the Easter recess, the Secretary of State for Defence said:Milosevic is clearly rattled … huddled in his bunker, calculating how he can possibly extricate himself from his predicament."—[Official Report, 31 March 1999; Vol. 328, c. 1205-1206.]Seven weeks later, he is still there.
We have undoubtedly destroyed much of Serbia's military capability, though we have apparently not yet achieved a permissive environment; but the strategy of air strikes alone is not supported by anyone with real experience of those matters outside the Government, and probably not by many inside the Government either.
The belief that air power alone can achieve objectives on the ground has too often proved to be wrong. The exact opposite is taught in our own staff colleges. According to Newsweekthe United States joint chiefs of staff wrote to the Secretary of State for Defence several weeks ago, saying that only ground troops would guarantee fulfilment of the Administration's political objectives. I suspect that similar advice has been given to Ministers here.
The Washington Times recently printed the words of an American pilot in theatre who said:This has been a farce from the start … we have violated every principle of campaign air power that I can think of.An army officer in the Pentagon is quoted in the same article as saying:
I don't know of anyone in the Pentagon who is optimistic that things will work out.
961 In a recent interview, General Colin Powell said thatthe political rhetoric is not matched by the political objective and the political objective is not matched by the means that are being applied. We should have clear objectives and apply decisive military means.I will not embarrass the Secretary of State by quoting from the stream of articles in our own press by former senior officers making similar points.
No informed commentator believes in our strategy. The Government may be right and everyone else may be wrong, but it would be unwise to proceed on that assumption. There is another danger in bombing—
§ Mr. Maples
Today, I am afraid, France, Germany and Italy have put considerable distance between themselves and the strategy that the Prime Minister is pursuing, and the Greeks are demonstrating in Thessalonika against what is going on, so the number is not 19.
Another danger is involved in bombing from 15,000 ft. What worries me is that, if there are more accidents causing civilian casualties, or accidents like the bombing of the Chinese embassy, NATO will lose the moral high ground from which it started the campaign.
If we had set ourselves the more limited objective of negotiating a peace deal with Milosevic, bombing might well have achieved that. The original objective was to get him to sign up to the Rambouillet peace terms, and the bombing campaign had been designed to achieve precisely that; but events on the ground moved too fast. The objective rapidly changed to restoring the refugees to the whole of Kosovo, but we did not at the same time change the military strategy.
The confusion over war aims was heightened when the Prime Minister set as an objective—or seemed to set as an objective—putting Milosevic on trial for war crimes. Without clear political objectives, it has been impossible to develop a clear military strategy. I believe that the phased air campaign was a mistake, and that the build-up was too slow. We should have hit Milosevic really hard on day 1, as I think our own service chiefs have now acknowledged. We were totally unprepared for the flood of refugees that now threatens the stability of the region, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford.
Within NATO, there is a widespread feeling that politicians are tying the hands of the military. War is a nasty, violent business—people are killed and injured. We have legitimate national interests in the stability of the Balkans and in preventing a humanitarian disaster, but the Government do not appear to have thought through what was involved in fighting for those interests. If those interests were not sufficiently serious to warrant the risking of casualties, perhaps we should never have started; if they were sufficiently serious to warrant such military means, perhaps we should have been prepared to use those means from the start. Can the Secretary of State 962 confirm specifically that our service chiefs believe they have the men, the equipment and the freedom of action to pursue a strategy that they believe will succeed?
§ Mr. Worthington
I am interested by the way in which the hon. Gentleman puts things. He has offered us two "perhapses": perhaps we should not have started, or perhaps we should go in harder. What is he advocating?
§ Mr. Maples
I am responding to the Government's policy. As we keep saying, the Government are in possession of all sorts of military intelligence and advice not available to us. It is open to us to make suggestions, and for eight weeks we have given the Government the benefit of the doubt in relation to everything that is proposed. I am now asking what I believe are some hard questions, because I do not think that the strategy is working.
§ Mr. Maples
On ground troops, once again, confusion reigns, and the Government are sending out contradictory signals. First we would use ground troops only pursuant to a peace agreement; then we might use them in a permissive environment. Just before the Washington summit, the Prime Minister said that we would use ground troops when Serb forces had been sufficiently degraded. That was widely understood to mean attacking on the ground much earlier than had previously been envisaged. Journalists who were on the Prime Minister's plane to Washington were left in no doubt that that was what he had intended to say, and his speeches in Washington bore that out; however, he failed to secure the agreement of our allies, and the Washington communiqué on Kosovo did not even mention the subject.
In this weekend's press we saw the spinning again, although the Prime Minister and his Foreign Secretary assure us that there is no difference between us and the Americans on this issue. I hope that they will not exploit any differences that there are; as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham said, that would really damage the relationship between us and the United States. Today, there is more briefing in the papers to the effect that Europe should take the lead.
Let me say in all seriousness to the Secretary of State that the Government must stop spreading confusion. It is damaging the American alliance; and I ask the Secretary of State to imagine the effect that this inconsistency has on our troops in theatre who may soon be asked to risk their lives. Does the Prime Minister still honestly believe that our objectives can be achieved by air power alone, or does he now believe that an early use of ground troops is necessary? We do not know what he thinks, as a result of the confusion.
We need to be clear about what is meant by using ground troops. That can mean anything from driving down the road into Kosovo pursuant to a peace agreement, to a full-scale air-land battle with entrenched Serb forces. "Permissive environment" can mean anything in between. Any commander would have to assume that he would meet resistance. Whatever the situation, we would have 963 to enter Kosovo as a fighting force. Short of entering as a peacekeeping force, we would have to plan for war fighting.
The obstacles to an invasion are significant. They have been recognised by NATO and by the Government, which is why there is the doubt and delay, although, apparently, those obstacles are not recognised by the many who have glibly advocated a land battle from the start.
I am advised that the only truly practical route into Kosovo for armour is through Macedonia, although I imagine that there would be other attacks across other borders. Going through Macedonia involves the use of Greek and Macedonian territory—both countries have said that they will not allow that.
There will be huge interoperability problems, which could be resolved only by limiting the attacking force to the United States, the United Kingdom and France. I do not know what consideration the Government have given to that question but, if we are to enter in war-fighting mode, the allies with whom we do so will necessarily be restricted: their number will be far fewer than the number with whom we are happy to mount a peacekeeping operation.
At Rambouillet, it was agreed and envisaged there would be a peacekeeping force of 28,000. It is gradually being assembled but, several months later, only about half that number are in place in Macedonia. General Jackson has been saying in a veiled way that the number should be built up rather faster, but invasion or entering in a permissive environment—at whatever end of the scale—where the commander assumes that he will meet resistance will require a far higher number than the 28,000 thought necessary for peacekeeping. Those troops will have to go through a roulement. I do not know how soon that will have to take place, but I believe that it will be difficult to maintain those numbers in theatre for long.
If military operations are to be successful before the winter, any decision to invade will require troops to be put in place very soon. That, in turn, means that a decision to deploy will have to be taken in the next few days; General Jackson has said as much himself.
Time and indecision are cancelling out that option. If the Prime Minister believes that the early use of ground troops is necessary, he should tell us. If NATO cannot agree to that, we have only two alternatives: we either downgrade our objectives and seek a negotiated peace—something that the Prime Minister has said would be a failure, or we continue attrition bombing in the hope that it will work, with the danger that we lose the moral advantage very quickly. If the Prime Minister does believe that early use of ground troops is the way to proceed and we do not do so, he is, by definition, committing us to a second-best strategy in which he does not really believe.
Inevitably, the question will then arise why we started military operations without clear agreement on the use of ground troops, particularly if the military advice was that the battle could not be won by air power alone, as it clearly was in the United States. Presumably, the British Government knew that that was the advice that the United States Government had received.
Before leaving the subject of ground troops, I shall say a word about an idea that is being put about today, probably by the spinners again, that Europe should take the lead in the campaign. It is ironic that that initiative should be launched on the very day that France, Germany 964 and Italy have publicly made it clear that they will not support the use of ground troops except under a peace agreement. It must be clear to all who have been following the conflict that NATO is having great difficulty doing it at all, let alone doing it without the United States. It gives the lie to the idea that Europe is capable of mounting such operations on its own.
I hope that, if and when ground troops are used, the Government will be clear how we will handle the collateral problems that may then arise in Macedonia, Montenegro and Sanjak, in all of which Serbia is equally capable of stirring up trouble. It is unlikely that any such ground force would have to deal only with the Serbs in Kosovo.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood mentioned the Kosovo Liberation Army. We seem to behave as though the KLA did not exist—we cannot make up our minds how to treat it. We are, I think quite rightly, cautious about arming KLA members, but they are the only people who are fighting the Serbs on the ground in Kosovo. They will be part of any settlement, whether we like it or not. They will probably form the largest part of the future Kosovo administration. They certainly formed a large part of the Kosovo delegation at Rambouillet. We shall require their co-operation and good will. I do not pretend to offer the Government advice on how that should be achieved, but I hope that we have a policy and are implementing it, and that we are not simply pretending that they do not exist. There is a danger that, ultimately, we shall get in there, but discover that they, as well as the Serbs, are an enemy. It is vital that that does not happen.
The problems of a ground war are very difficult. When NATO forces do enter Kosovo, it may be the end of act I, but it will be only the beginning of act II.
Kosovo cannot be seen in isolation. However, we seem to have no overall or long-term plan for a settlement for the Balkans. We have to be working towards an overall peace settlement. I am not pretending that achieving such an agreement will be easy—one has eluded the western powers for 10 years—but, if we are to get involved militarily in what the Government describe as a permissive environment, which I take to mean some degree of fighting, we have to have that long-term objective; otherwise, we are in danger of becoming badly unstuck and getting our armed forces enmeshed in Kosovo for a very long time, but without being able to achieve a long-term objective.
Macedonia and Montenegro seem to be less stable than they were before 24 March. A flood of refugees and our action have, in the short term at least, made the problem worse.
I am seriously worried about the stability of Macedonia, and do not believe that the Government are taking the matter seriously enough. I have written to the Secretary of State about it, and he has replied. However, I really do believe that the volume of refugees in Macedonia is in danger of destabilising the very delicate ethnic balance in that country, and that we should be doing more to alleviate it.
I hope that we have in place plans to deal with the Milosevic-inspired coup in Montenegro, which is certainly something that might happen very soon.
Albania and Macedonia have behaved magnificently in this crisis—the Secretary of State saw it for himself in Albania—but the financial and organisational aid to both of them has been too slow, and, in some cases, it still is.
965 We believe that it is vital that NATO succeeds in Kosovo. The Government's objectives, which we share, are principled and correct. The Government have put at stake the credibility of our armed forces and of the NATO alliance. That credibility must be redeemed. The Prime Minister says that it would be a failure not to achieve our objectives, but it would also be a failure not to achieve them before the Balkan winter sets in. If the refugees cannot return home before the winter, many of them never will, and the stability of Macedonia and Albania will be further, and perhaps terminally, threatened.
There has been too much confusion about objectives, and too little hard thinking about strategy. We have consistently supported the Government in their objectives and in the use of military force to achieve them. For eight weeks, we have given them the benefit of the doubt. Today, I make no apology for asking some very hard questions, but my criticism is—as I hope it is seen to be—constructive.
We want the Government to succeed. We want the refugees to return to their homes in Kosovo—all of them, to all parts of Kosovo—and we want to ensure that the criminals, such as Milosevic, do not prosper and are not allowed to do so. However, we do not believe that those objectives can be achieved if we go on as we have done for the past eight weeks. The Government must develop a strategy that is credible to our troops, to the British public and to our enemies. If they do that, they will deserve and they will receive our continued support.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson)
This has been the third full-day debate since NATO began its military action against President Milosevic. There have also been five statements to the House in that six-week period. Since the last debate, I have visited a number of service establishments associated with the military action. I went to RAF Brüggen, in Germany—which is the home of the Tornado forces who nightly make the five-hour round trip from Germany down to Kosovo—and met the pilots and the navigators and ground crew who support them.
As the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) said, I went with him, the shadow Foreign Secretary, the Liberal Democrat spokesman and my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence to Gioia del Colle, where our RAF Harriers and the air and ground crew are based. We also went to the headquarters of the NATO Albania force, led by the British Lieutenant-General John Reith. On HMS Invincible, we met the crew and the officers, as well as some of the crew of HMS Newcastle. I salute them and all the others who are engaged in the air, on the ground and in the sea in this exercise. I thank them for their public service, their determination, their commitment and, above all, their awe-inspiring courage at all times. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire), I also warmly thank their families. They wait and watch patiently and often painfully, giving crucial support without which our great armed forces would not function so well.
Like my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, I start with a slightly personal comment. Last month, I addressed a meeting at the Glasgow South Side synagogue with my 966 hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) and the new Member of the Scottish Parliament for the constituency. I gave the packed audience my explanation of what was happening in Kosovo—what the situation was about, why it mattered and why Milosevic and his savage ethnic cleansing had to be defeated.
During the question session that followed my speech, a small old man rose at the back of the hall to put a point to me. In the silence of the meeting, he told me that he had been in Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi Germany in his youth. That small old man told me and the people at the meeting that, as a holocaust survivor, he could recognise genocide when he saw it and that he was seeing it again today in Kosovo. Mr. Michael Sanki reminded us that, after the second world war, we all said "Never again." He pleaded with me to make good that pledge. We are involved in a just cause—one worth fighting and even dying for. For my generation and so many others in this country—who are very lucky to be alive in a democracy today—this is our moment to say and to mean "Never again."
§ Mr. Robertson
I have the greatest respect and some affection for the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who was a Minister at the Foreign Office, although he had moved to agriculture by the time of the conflict in Rwanda. He and I have been pairs in Parliament for a long time. My predecessor, Michael Fortino, sent troops to the Great Lakes area of Africa. British troops were being prepared for a humanitarian exercise in Rwanda.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is accusing the British Government of turning back at a certain point—I do not blame them for doing so; I think that they took the right decision—he is accusing not me, but the previous Administration. This is not the first challenge for this new Administration; it is the second. We rise to the challenge when it comes. I hope that I have the same support from the right hon. and learned Gentleman now that I gave him when I was an Opposition spokesman and he was taking difficult decisions on Bosnia that he often found hard to defend.
That apart, the debate has exposed a number of powerfully expressed views, dividing parties and even caucuses within this House. However, that is part of the richness and liberty that is allowed and encouraged in a democratic assembly.
The Opposition have become slightly more aggressive this evening. The loyal Opposition are entitled to question, to expose and to remind the Government on all occasions, but they should be constructive also. As the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, they must have balance and judgment about what they say. The right tone must be struck, lest the enemies of this nation or of the alliance outside use their words out of context against us.
The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) makes strong speeches—but I warn him. From my long experience of 18 years on the Opposition Front Bench, I can tell him that, when one's only strength is in being negative, one does not convince the country. However, we wish him well in his retirement from the Opposition Front Bench.
967 There have been a lot of good speeches, and some powerful ones. I have not heard all of them in the Chamber, but—while doing the work of a Department in the middle of a conflict—I have listened to the vast majority of the debate on the live feed. The debate has been a credit to the House of Commons—even those speeches with which I deeply disagree.
I want to address those who have criticised what the Government have been doing—as part of a 19-country alliance, let it be said. No decisions are made in this Chamber or by this Government unilaterally. They are made as part of that great alliance. I wish to address those who say that NATO is doing too much, and that we should not be attacking the Yugoslav military machine at all-those voices have been raised—and those who demand an instant, full invasion of, and forced entry to, Kosovo, and who say that we are doing too little. I ask both of those groups—what were the alternatives before us earlier this year?
§ Mr. Corbyn
In talking about the bombing campaign by NATO, will the Secretary of State explain why so much targeting has been done of oil refineries, chemical works and industrial installations? Will he explain also the use of depleted uranium in the attacks, which will have unmentionable consequences and may cause an environmental disaster within the region and which will know no boundaries and will affect everybody, whichever side of the conflict they are on?
§ Mr. Robertson
This country is not using any munitions involving depleted uranium. If it is not strikingly obvious to my hon. Friend why we are attacking oil refineries—and, therefore, the means by which the Serb military gets around—I do not think that I am likely to be able to teach him anything. I had thought that, throughout his parliamentary career, my hon. Friend had campaigned for human rights and for human decency. I do not know why, on this occasion, he seems willing to stand back and watch while human rights and human life are violated on our continent.
What were the alternatives before us earlier this year? What choices were available? What choices were available to NATO after the Holbrooke agreement had been betrayed by the dictator in Belgrade? The House should remember that Milosevic backed down last October in the face of NATO's threats of air strikes at that time. Something like a quarter of a million Kosovar people who had been stranded in forests on the edge of winter and were facing death from starvation or freezing were able to return safely to their homes, with the verification force on the ground, watching what the Serb forces were doing.
§ Mr. Robertson
My hon. Friend must wait. First, there could have been more diplomacy; that is what my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)—who is trying to attract my attention just now—said to me in an acrimonious exchange that we had this morning outside a Sky television studio. I tell him and, others that we exhausted every possible diplomatic avenue, and, all the time, Milosevic was starting the ethnic killing and cleansing. The second option available to us was tighter economic sanctions. Again, those were tried but failed to produce the result that we and the world required.
968 The third alternative—it has been suggested again today—was that we should have involved the United Nations and specifically the Russians and the Chinese. In fact, Russia was intimately involved in the contact group that led to the negotiations at Rambouillet. It was the Chinese veto on the UN monitoring force in Macedonia that showed precisely what would have happened had we gone to the UN Security Council.
§ Mrs. Mahon
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Chinese vetoed UNPREDEP, not the monitors.
§ Mr. Robertson
I did not hear the point, so it is not a matter for me either. There is a strain of thinking—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have invited the Secretary of State for Defence to speak, not the hon. Lady.
§ Mrs. Mahon
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Chinese vetoed the retention of UNPREDEP, not—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Lady has been around long enough to know that that is not a point of order.
§ Mr. Robertson
The fourth alternative—some people have had the audacity to suggest it—was to stand back and just let the killing, the torturing, the maiming, the bombarding and the evicting go as Milosevic wanted it to go—to a Serb-dominated corner of the old Yugoslavia. Perhaps he wanted an exclusively Serb corner of Yugoslavia.
We could have said, as some still do, that it was a civil war and an untouchable geographic no-go zone, and we could have watched without action a genocide of vast proportions in this, the last year of the 20th century. I say no, I say never and I say never, ever again. That is what the majority of this House, this Parliament and the majority of the British people say—and keep on saying to us. We should listen.
Finally, there are those who say that we should not have excluded a forced ground invasion of Kosovo—or even Yugoslavia. They say that we should somehow have assembled, before any air attack, the required troops—anything between 150,000 to 250,000 of them—before we threatened Milosevic. They somehow assume that Milosevic would have ignored the three month's preparation time—which would not yet have been up—for the troop build-up, the equipment mobilisation, the 969 logistic chains and all the rest. They seem to think that he would have allowed us all that time without reacting against the Kosovars—and probably the Montenegrins and the people of Vojvodena, too. After all, if Milosevic gets away with Kosovo, he will also take other areas—mark my words.
A phased air campaign was ordered by all 19 Governments of NATO. We should always remember that the threat of air strikes worked on Milosevic last October. The reality of six weeks of ever-accelerating and intensifying air strikes has been severely to diminish the whole Yugoslavian war machine. I shall tell the House what has been achieved in that six weeks. Some 20 per cent. of Yugoslav combat and other military aircraft have been destroyed. Some 24 per cent. of their strategic-level surface-to-air missile radar systems have been destroyed.
Nine of the 17 militarily significant airfields have been damaged, some severely. Almost 40 road and rail bridges have been damaged or destroyed, including the two rail lines into Kosovo. The two oil refineries at Novi Sad and Pancevo have been functionally destroyed. Yugoslav army and police barracks and ammunition storage sites are increasingly sustaining severe damage. More than 160 tanks and armoured personnel carriers, 62 artillery pieces and 136 soft-skinned vehicles have almost certainly been destroyed.
The relentless assault has already had its effect, militarily and politically, in Kosovo and in the wider Yugoslavia.
§ Mr. Howard
The Secretary of State is giving us an important and interesting narrative but he has not answered the questions posed to him. Will he deal specifically with one crucial question? Will he give the House the assurance that the Prime Minister failed to give on Wednesday, that General Guthrie and his fellow NATO officers have the men, equipment and freedom of action to pursue a strategy that they believe will succeed?
§ Mr. Robertson
Day after day, Serbia's military machine is being weakened, and if Milosevic's stubbornness continues to outweigh Serbia's self-interest, it will be destroyed, never again to be rebuilt.
970 Politically, too, the cracks are beginning to show. Vuk Draskovic, once the leader of Serbia's opposition, joined Milosevic's Government. He was dismissed a month ago for daring to speak out in opposition to Milosevic's views. Mr. Djindjic, in 1997 the mayor of Belgrade and another leader of the opposition to Milosevic, recently spoke out about the success of the NATO air strikes and the need to sue for peace.
Mr. Vuk Obranavic, once a senior VJ general—one of the youngest in the Yugoslav army—and now the leader of the Social Democratic party, told John Simpson of the BBC that Milosevic's strategy is going wrong. Today, in an Italian newspaper, the Catholic archbishop of Belgrade, Archbishop Perko, was reported as saying that, if NATO suspended bombing, Milosevic would declare victory.
The report said:The appeals of some western countries to stop the bombing were inducing Milosevic to resist…These unilateral calls for peace are, in reality, prolonging the war. If NATO stops bombing now, the Yugoslav army will remain in Kosovo and the guerrilla war with the UCK could go on for decades.The archbishop was reported as saying:only NATO can disarm the UCK and protect the Albanians. And only NATO members have the means to reconstruct houses and temporary camps for those who return.The fissures are beginning to show in the Yugoslav nation and army. NATO's campaign was right. It is being effective and working.
I have been asked whether an air campaign alone can complete the job. I went last Wednesday to Berlin for a ceremony to mark the exact day of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Berlin airlift. It was a moving ceremony. The airlift, involving American, British and French airmen, two years after the second world war, saved that city from Stalin's icy clamp.
People said when the airlift was proposed that air power alone could not do the job. They said at the beginning of the campaign that nobody could logistically supply by air all the supplies for that democratic city in the ocean of communism, but we did it. Determination, will power, perseverance and unity of purpose defeated Stalin in 1948. We will assuredly defeat Milosevic.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.