HL Deb 10 June 1999 vol 601 cc1550-61

3.38 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert)

My Lords, with permission I shall repeat a Statement made at 10 o'clock last night in another place. The Statement is as follows:

"I come to the House with some important and welcome news about the situation in Kosovo. At the end of many long and hard hours of discussion and negotiation, General Sir Michael Jackson has announced that he has signed the military technical agreement on behalf of NATO, setting out the detailed conditions for peace in the light of the draft United Nations Security Council resolution.

"The agreement sets out in detail how all the Serb forces should conduct a phased, verifiable and orderly withdrawal from Kosovo. It provides, as General Jackson has made clear, an agreed basis for the deployment of an international security force, known as KFOR, to establish a secure environment in Kosovo.

"The House will appreciate that this agreement is a major political and military vindication of NATO's policy, of its resolve and of its determination to end the horrific ethnic cleansing conducted by Milosevic and his troops and regime. It will pave the way for the eventual return of the refugees.

"We expect that the United Nations Security Council resolution will be passed shortly and that the necessary measures will all be in place for the rapid deployment of KFOR, but I must warn the House that we have been misled by Milosevic before. We have learned not to trust his words and we will need to see his troops on the way out of Kosovo. We will want to see verifiable compliance with the terms of the agreement before allowing NATO to suspend the bombing campaign.

"That is up to Milosevic. For our part, we look forward to being able to move to the next and very demanding stage and to the enormous challenges that lie ahead. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear, there is now a huge job to be done as the Serb forces go out, the international force goes in and we get the refugees home. We are ready for that task and British forces will be among the first to cross the border into Kosovo. All the House will, I am sure, be proud of that effort and join me in wishing them and their NATO allies every success in the difficult weeks and months ahead."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement, but I thought that it might be helpful to your Lordships if before taking questions I updated one or two of the passages in it. I can tell your Lordships that an orderly withdrawal of Serb forces from north Kosovo has begun and has been verified. Accordingly, about two hours ago, the Secretary-General of NATO ordered suspension of the bombing campaign. The military and technical agreement to which I referred is now in force.

3.41 p.m.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, the House will be most grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend last night. As he said in his closing words, a great deal has happened since then. The Minister was kind enough to ring me early this morning, when I was casting my vote, and to offer this Statement. I am sure your Lordships would agree that we were right to accept it because of what the Minister will be able to tell the House after the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and myself have spoken. I read the Statement in Hansard of another place and everyone will be glad to have heard it today.

I, and I am sure the whole House, wish to express appreciation for the work of General Mike Jackson and everyone involved in bringing the matter to its current state. It will be no surprise to hear another Statement tomorrow—there will be one early next week—because the House will wish to hear how events are progressing, and authoritatively from the Minister rather than from the newspapers.

In the past the Minister has accused me of asking impossible questions. I shall probably do so again today. However, in asking questions, I am only too well aware that many of them cannot be answered either for reasons of security or because events are happening so fast that the Minister does not know the answer.

When will the first troops go in? We see the suggestion in today's Evening Standard that the Parachute Battalion will go in tomorrow and that they will go up the road to Pristina from Skopje. The newspapers always mention the Paras in the way that at the time of Aden they always mentioned Colonel Mitchell. His battalion was the only one the newspapers could get near and therefore he received all the publicity. But there are many troops around Kosovo and we must not concentrate too much on the Paras, however well they operate.

Secondly, I hope that the Minister can assure the House that NATO will not repeat the serious mistake which happened immediately after the war, when Germany was partitioned. Within years we experienced the closing of the Iron Curtain, which prevented other nationalities from going into another part of Germany. That would be a most serious position and I hope that the United Nations Security Council and NATO itself will concentrate on that issue.

Thirdly, has the Minister anything to add on the role of the Russians? That question relates to my previous remark, but it is vital to achieving peace in Kosovo.

The right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State said last night that we could not trust Milosevic. I hope that that is his view and that the Minister will be able to confirm that plans are in hand to reverse the cessation of the bombardment and everything else that goes with it should things go wrong. Let us hope that that is not necessary, but it might be.

It is now time for rebuilding, but who will pay for it? In particular, speaking from the domestic stance, who will pay for the British share? Will the military costs come from the defence budget or will they come from the FCO fund which can be used for such disastrous occasions? If the cost is to come from the defence budget, we shall be in a very serious position.

I hope that when the Minister speaks after the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and myself he will be able to give encouragement that what we have now is a genuine and lasting peace.

Many other issues come to mind, but I believe that your Lordships will wish to concentrate on those that I have raised and other fundamental points. I repeat that I am most grateful to the Minister, to the Secretary of State, to all British and other armed forces and to others working around Kosovo.

3.47 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made last night in another place and for updating us on it. I congratulate the British negotiators, in particular General Jackson, on the determination with which they have carried this through so far. We all recognise that the crisis is by no means over yet. We must ensure the reconciliation of the different factions in Kosovo, the removal of the main Serbian forces, and see that the presence of working troops in north-east Kosovo does not lead to division. I understand that they will be associated with Italian forces but not fully under NATO command. There will he some 3,000 Italian troops in north east Kosovo and up to 10,000 Russian troops. Clearly, there is a great deal more to be done.

I wish to look forward and to remind the Government that in the course of this long crisis a number of long-term commitments have been made to the region, some by the British Prime Minister himself, and they must not be forgotten now that the fighting has stopped. Europe as a whole has committed itself to sustaining not only Kosovo and Bosnia, but also Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Romania, which have suffered the economic costs of the war for a considerable period. We also have a job to do in helping to rebuild Serbia. The Serbian Government have clearly been appalling throughout, but all Serbs do not share that responsibility. If in the long run we are to return Serbia to civilised Europe, there is much that Britain and other countries can do together to revive democracy in that painfully damaged country.

As the Minister will be aware, my party has throughout strongly supported the Government's action. We believed that it was correct and right for Britain and our allies to do so. I noted with puzzlement occasional wobbles among the Right-wing press. I am hound to say that I considered some of John Keegan's articles to be the oddest, particularly that in which he suggested that support in Britain from the right quarters would be stronger if only the NATO spokesman spoke "proper" rather than speaking with an East London accent.

The St. Malo initiative has been half hidden by this crisis. However, I think it is relevant—and perhaps the Minister might like to add to this—that while the Kosovo crisis has been going on the British and French Governments have been pushing forward with an initiative to strengthen European defence, and it is quite clear that the two are interrelated.

A n American spokesman in Brussels last Friday said that we all need to understand that Kosovo is America's last European war: that if there is one region in the world which the Americans now feel they can leave to those in the region to look after it will in future be Europe; and that therefore the move towards greater European autonomy within NATO is a matter that we clearly have to take further forward. The projected move of the Secretary-General of NATO to become the Secretary-General of the European Council is clearly highly symbolic and I hope will also be effective in that regard.

Finally, as we hope to have resolved the crisis in Kosovo, I ask the Minister to say a little about whether the Government and their partners will be considering how other potential crises around Europe's borders might in future be met, and what implications they will have for our military planning and that of our allies. We have the unresolved problem of Cyprus; we have a number of problems in the Caucuses; and, above all, we have the Arab/Israeli crisis. We hope that they will not deteriorate into fighting which will involve British forces. I understand that there are British forces present as observers in Abkhazia and there are British forces in Cyprus. Europe and it surrounding regions are not yet entirely secure.

3.51 p.m.

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I begin by thanking both noble Lords for their generous remarks about General Jackson. I am sure that they meant to include a reference to the efforts so far made by the British Armed Forces, air, land and sea.

The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, asked when the first troops will be going in. I cannot answer that question. I can, however, tell him that it would he possible for British troops to go in tomorrow. The event that would bring that about would be the passing by the Security Council of a resolution, which I understand is already in blue form and which will no doubt be debated later today. It would then be up to the North Atlantic Council to approve an ACTORD. At his discretion, General Jackson would then be in a position to move his first troops forward tomorrow.

The noble Lord asked about partition. I can assure him that NATO's planning takes full account of the dangers of partition. We are determined that the outcome of these unhappy events of the past many weeks will not result in a partitioned Kosovo. To that end, there will be a unified control for all allied troops and also for non-NATO troops in Kosovo.

The noble Lord asked me about the role of the Russians. I cannot answer that question. These matters are still being discussed at the moment. They are being discussed in Moscow. I hope that the matter will become clear fairly soon. All sorts of figures have been bandied around as to a Russian contribution—anything of the order of approximately 1,200–10,000 men. I believe that it is a little improbable that we shall see the higher figure. As your Lordships will know, the Russians also have troops in Bosnia and they have local difficulties of their own. They are determined to contribute and they have worked in a very responsible and constructive way to reach the solution that we have so far achieved. NATO would certainly very much welcome their participation in KFOR as soon as they feel able to do so.

The noble Lord also asked me whether or not there are plans to reverse the cessation of the bombing if things go wrong. The answer is an unambiguous yes. The noble Lord asked me who will pay for the rebuilding. That, of course, will be a matter for negotiation with our partners in the EU and NATO. However, I can assure him that no costs will fall to the Ministry of Defence budget. They will be taken care of in other ways, with the well known generosity of Her Majesty's Treasury leading the way!

The noble Lord asked me his final impossible question: whether or not we can guarantee a lasting peace. Of course we cannot guarantee a lasting peace. That is in the hands of others. I believe that it will be a very long time before anybody else starts clown the course that Mr Milosevic has taken in that part of Europe.

The greatest hope that we all have for the future is the introduction of the stability pact, in which our Prime Minister has taken the lead—and I am sure that he will be followed by our EU and NATO partners—to make sure that that part of the world is not forgotten, in particular all the front line states which have suffered very serious economic damage as a result of the necessary activities of the past 11 weeks.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, began by stating that things are by no means over. He is, of course, absolutely right. I believe that I said at this Dispatch Box not very long ago that the fact that troops were entering an unopposed environment did not mean to say that it was a safe environment. I have to warn your Lordships that it is very possible that we shall yet see some British and allied casualties. All sorts of risks will face our forces going into Kosovo. Of course, we pray that that will not happen, particularly in the light of the fact that in this brilliant air campaign, which has lasted 11 weeks, not a single allied pilot has suffered from enemy action from start to finish.

The noble Lord suggested that the Russians will go in with the Italians. He may be right, but he is possibly being a little premature in that regard. As I said a moment ago, I do not believe that the disposition of any Russian troops that show up has yet been decided.

He asked about long-term commitments to the region. I believe I have already covered that matter.

The noble Lord said that Serbia had to be rebuilt and asked who would rebuild it. Of course Serbia has to be rebuilt. However, I can tell your Lordships that certain parts of Serbia will not be rebuilt. Those are the military barracks, the military petroleum depots, the ammunition dumps, and all the other ingredients of Milosevic's military dictatorship. Their rebuilding will be down to the Serbian government, if they wish to spend their money on such activities in the future, which I very much doubt.

The noble Lord referred to Mr John Keegan's articles. Let me say one thing in defence of Mr Keegan. I am a great admirer of Mr Keegan. I admire him even more for his article in the Daily Telegraph in which he had the courage to admit that he had been wrong. I salute him for that, particularly as I have personally stuck my neck out, saying that I was convinced that air power could win this conflict; and it has been shown unambiguously that it did win this conflict. Many commentators thought that it could not be done simply because it had never been done before. He is the first person quite unambiguously to recognise that things have changed and that his original assessment was mistaken.

The noble Lord rightly suggested that one of the good factors to emerge from the recent conflict is the initiative of the British and French Governments to stimulate a European defence consciousness, which has been hugely advanced as a result of the military campaign of the past 11 weeks. The noble Lord referred to somebody quoting this as "America's last European war". I hope that it will be the last European war for all of us. I must say that I cannot see the events of the past few weeks being repeated as far ahead as any of us can see.

The noble Lord asked, finally, how crises would be met in the future, and the implications of recent events for the planning of this country and the countries of our allies. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I give the British Ministry of Defence a pat on the back at this stage. I believe that what has been demonstrated is the good sense of the underlying principles of our Strategic Defence Review. I am glad to say that more and more of our European allies are seeing the good sense of restructuring their forces to deal with crises outside their own territories, a course in which I believe we have led the way in Europe.

Finally, I am able to tell your Lordships that NATO has approved the release of the military technical agreement. I shall be placing copies of it and the relevant map in the Library as soon as possible.

4.3 p.m.

Lord Shore of Stepney

My Lords, it is very good news indeed that the Serb forces are now withdrawing and that the bombing has been suspended and, it is to be hoped, ended. Not least among the good news is—and I freely acknowledge it—the demonstration of the strength and cohesion of NATO in pursuing goals which all of us wished to see achieved. But we are dealing with a tragedy. If we can now say that Act II has come to an end, Act III, as I am sure my noble friend would acknowledge, in which the expelled Kosovars are now to return to their shattered homes, burnt out villages and smashed communities, will be a dangerous, difficult and far more prolonged experience than what we have gone through so far. Looking beyond that, to what might be called Act IV of the tragedy, the securing of peace and prosperity in the whole of that region will be an even longer and more difficult process to achieve.

I conclude by putting a question to my noble friend. Does he not agree that, while we have reason to be soberly pleased with what has been accomplished so far, we would be very wise to think hard about the lessons of this whole experience and, above all, to reflect on whether in the very long term we have yet found the right way to proceed when one country, within its own frontiers, behaves barbarously to a part of its population?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his remarks. He is right to say that this is a terrible tragedy. The real tragedy is that the terms that the Serb government have just settled for were available to them before any bombing took place. It is the Serb people who have paid a terrible price for Mr Milosevic's intransigence. My noble friend asked whether this was the best way of dealing with the situation. I cannot really answer that question. All I will say to him is that I think it absolutely inconceivable that we shall see scenes of this kind again in Europe. I think that he is possibly a little too pessimistic when he says that the worst is yet to come. In my remarks I was referring to the dangers facing our troops. As far as concerns the Kosovar refugees, particularly the displaced people still hiding inside Kosovo, there is an end to the repression, the brutality and the violence and they can return to their homes.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm for the record that the proposed United Nations resolution covers the disbandment and disarmament of the Kosovo Liberation Army?

Lord Gilbert

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Annan

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that historians on the whole do not make very good military commanders when they are in retirement? That is why I have not spoken until now on the Kosovo problem. But there is one thing which I think historians are entitled to do and that is to draw attention to the problems which have existed over centuries in this area. The problem I am thinking of is of the Serb holy places. Have all our British commanders been briefed on the historical background to this problem and the necessity of ensuring that the centres of Orthodox Christianity in Pec, in Pristina and in that north western part of Kosovo are taken into account and that those places will be guarded by NATO troops? I raise this point not out of any sympathy for the barbaric President Milosevic and his accomplices in the Serbian army and his murderers in the Serbian paramilitary forces but because I think that this is a matter which deserves consideration.

There is something to be said for ethnic cleansing. We carried out ethnic cleansing in 1945 when the whole of the Silesian German population and the whole of the Sudeten German population were expelled. In one sense that was sensible and inevitable. But I hope that when NATO troops go into Kosovo it will be understood that there are areas which are specifically holy to the Serbs and other places which are the homeland of the Moslem population.

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I am sure that the House would not expect me to follow the noble Lord in his advocacy of ethnic cleansing, however accomplished. But I will say to him, with regard to the first part of his question, that General Jackson and his officers are fully seized of the importance of the religious monuments in Kosovo and the need for them to be protected. I do not doubt that the officers of the other NATO contingents will be similarly briefed. It may well be the case—I am not sure whether final arrangements have been made—that there will be some Serb presence to protect those monuments in the future.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, as far as concerns the Security Council, is my noble friend able to advance any additional information about the position of the Chinese Government? Secondly, with regard to the position in Kosovo, we have rightly given considerable protection to the innocent Albanian community. Is my noble friend prepared to ensure that we give equal consideration to the innocent Serbian community in Kosovo?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I am not sure whether the Chinese have announced their position on the resolution, which is in blue form. I understand that they have no intention of vetoing it, though they may abstain. With regard to my noble friend's second point, NATO forces are going in to make sure that there is no more mayhem or violence in Kosovo against any element of the population there. We can only hope that we are successful in bringing that into effect.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, does the Minister welcome, as I do, the agreement reported this morning between various Kosovar interests; namely, the KLA arid Mr Rugova? The noble Lord said earlier that there w:11 be a unified military command. Will that also extend to the civilian component of administration and to economic matters?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I was not aware of the developments with respect to the KLA to which the noble Lord referred. But anything that brings more unity into that strife-torn country is greatly to be welcomed. One of the difficulties we feared was the vociferous nature of the various elements in the KLA in the weeks ahead. What was the noble Lord's second point?

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I asked about M r Rugova, who was shadow prime minister.

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I was saying that I hope very much that there will be unity among the KLA element. I thought that there was another part to the noble Lord's question.

Lord Biffen

My Lords, if the evacuation of Kosovo leads to conflict between the Albanians and the Serbs who are still in that province, what arrangements exist for the enforcement of peace on the part of NATO, the Russians and the rest, or will the matter be left to be resolved by the warring bands?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I thought that I had already answered the last part of that question. In the early days the responsibility for day-to-day policing will necessarily fall to the military forces as they move into Kosovo. Subsequently—as soon as possible, we hope—that responsibility will pass to the civil administration that will be set up under the United Nations. I believe that that answers the second part of the question from the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, kindly reminded me that it was whether or not we propose to have a unified civilian command. The answer is to start with, yes, under the auspices of the United Nations.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, will the Minister, first, inform the House what rules of engagement have been issued to our ground forces? Is he satisfied with them? Secondly, is arresting and, therefore, turning over to justice those who have committed the dreadful atrocities and who still remain in Kosovo a priority?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, on the noble Earl's first question, I am sure that your Lordships realise that I will never discuss rules of engagement across the Floor of the House. As regards attempts to capture those responsible for some of the atrocities, I believe that the noble Lord will be aware of the brilliant efforts of British forces in Bosnia in that direction. I am sure that our troops will be diligent in that respect in Kosovo—if any war criminals stay in Kosovo and allow themselves to be caught.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, will my noble friend accept that the House and the country owe a debt of gratitude to General Jackson and those who took part in the demanding negotiations? Does not the situation provide vindication of the military and political leadership involved as well as demonstrate the modern relevance of air power? Does my noble friend also accept that the United Kingdom has provided the lion's share of the action taken by Europe, as it did in the Gulf War. Does he feel it appropriate that those eagerly pursuing the question of a foreign security policy in Europe should recognise that Britain cannot always, and should not always, provide that lion's share?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I must point out that NATO already has something like 17,000 troops in Macedonia and this contingent comprises representatives from no fewer than 14 NATO countries. No fewer than 14 NATO air forces took part in the recent campaign and no fewer than eight of those air forces mounted strike missions.

The plan for the immediate future is to build up KFOR to something of the order of 50,000 personnel. Our contribution is intended to be of the order of 13,000. However, it may briefly go as high as 19,000. We expect at least 7,000 troops from the French, a similar number from the Germans and possibly 5,000 or more from the United States. It must be remembered that the United States has contributed of the order of 85 per cent of the air campaign. The French had more fast jets in the air than the United Kingdom, although we had responsibilities elsewhere, of course.

It is a little unhelpful—if I may say so to my noble friend—to try to compare contributions of various NATO allies. The important matter is the solidarity that has been demonstrated by the leaders of all the countries and, in most cases, by the parliaments and by public opinion across NATO. I believe that that has been a truly remarkable aspect of the last three months. As my noble friend pointed out, the United Kingdom has made a major contribution. That is one of the prices that you pay for supplying the headquarters and the leadership in a campaign like this. This country cheerfully makes that contribution.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, I want to follow the question from the noble Lord, Lord Hardy. Does the Minister agree that as there have been huge military costs, and there will be major reconstruction costs, it is fair that those costs should be shared among the NATO countries? That could best be done according to the GDP of each country. Currently, the United States has 48 per cent of NATO GDP; Germany, 13 per cent; France, 9 per cent; the United Kingdom, 8 per cent; Italy, 7 per cent; Canada, 4 per cent and Spain, 3 per cent. That comes to 92 per cent. Is it not sensible for us to consider whether all those costs should be put into a pot and allocated according to each country's GDP and not necessarily according to the efforts put in by each country?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I am sure that a sensible way will be found to allocate the costs among EU countries, NATO countries and other countries in Europe. We realise that we have to make sensible contributions. While the noble Lord was on his feet, I wondered why he did not take the opportunity to withdraw a couple of remarks he made the last time he intervened when he said that Mr. Milosevic was winning the campaign, that we were losing it and that air power would never win.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, from my point of view, the Prime Minister must be congratulated on showing considerable moral courage. He has shown a leadership to which most other parts of NATO have failed to respond. Having said that, will he please give an undertaking never again to say, "I will never use ground forces" because that has prolonged the campaign? I do not say that we should use ground forces, but I am suggesting that he should never again say that he will not use them. Mr. Wilson made that mistake over Cyprus and Rhodesia and Mr. Hague followed in the House of Commons. The criticism is fairly blanket. Will he, please, never do that again?

Can the Minister say how long he believes that this venture will last? Will it be a long imperial adventure lasting forever? On a minor piece of information, is he aware that the 50,000 troops he foresees going into Kosovo are equivalent to the number of British troops who managed to hold the British Empire in the Far East from Hong Kong to Aden in 1935?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I shall he happy to convey to the Prime Minister the encomium that the noble Earl delivered in his initial remarks. I was not sure whether he was asking me or the Prime Minister to give all sorts of assurances. He says that the Prime Minister should never have said that we would not use land forces. What on earth makes the noble Lord think that Mr. Milosevic necessarily believed the Prime Minister or anybody else who said that? We happen to know that the Yugoslav forces were deployed in various directions because they thought that a land invasion might come from places from where it did not come. That reduced the number of their forces available in Kosovo. I can assure the noble Earl of the force of what I am saying.

The noble Earl and myself have discussed this privately. Air power did win the campaign. Some people believe that Mr. Milosevic settled when he did because he was afraid of a land campaign. To those who believe that, I say that the prospect of a land campaign was a remote and uncertain one. Mr. Milosevic was really turned around by the prospect of a certain continuation of the bombing for another three months.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, it will be no surprise to the Minister to hear that I welcome the

Government's confidence in the delivery of success in this campaign by the use of air power alone. Never the less, would it not have been helpful if the use of ground forces could have been considered more firmly and earlier? I believe that that could well have shortened the length of the air campaign.

I add my congratulations to General Jackson and his learn on the achievement of a significant agreement. In that agreement, are there any arrangements to renegotiate if hitches occur in the process of moving the Yugoslav forces out, for example, if a bridge that is thought to be safe is found not to be or if there are other matters which mean that the planned move will not occur? It would be helpful to know what arrangements have been made for that. Finally, can the Minister say anything further about the arrangements which may be made to incorporate the command of Russian forces within the overall force structure of KFOR?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble and gallant Lord for his remarks in relation to the professionalism of our air forces and their success. I did not say that the use of land forces was never considered; I merely said that the idea had been rejected. Of course it was considered very early on and was rejected very early on. In point of fact the air campaign could have been a lot shorter had we not had such bad weather; and had we not been quite so fastidious in our choice of targets, weapons and rules of engagement. But that is history and it is not helpful to carp about details of what was a brilliantly successful, professionally waged campaign in which we should all take pride.

I am afraid I have nothing more to add to what I said a few moments ago in relation to the arrangements for Russian troops. Those matters are being discussed at this time.