HL Deb 25 March 1999 vol 598 cc1476-513

6.7 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert) rose to move, That this House takes note of the situation in Kosovo.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I thought that the best way in which I could be helpful to noble Lords this afternoon was to give as detailed as possible a review of the military position as is available to us in the Ministry of Defence at this time. I am well aware of the many discussions that have taken place about how we got to the position in which we regrettably all find ourselves. I do not think it profitable for me as a defence Minister to tread that ground again, although I shall be happy to try to respond to any points made by your Lordships in that respect.

As noble Lords may have observed, I normally find it less than congenial to read from a text, but on this occasion I shall crave your Lordships' indulgence in that a good deal of what I am going to say will be written out in a brief which is in front of me. However, I assure the House that it comes with very considerable authority because the overwhelming proportion of it relates to remarks that were made earlier today by the Chief of the Defence Staff at a press conference which he and my boss the Secretary of State for Defence held this morning. I have only edited the text very slightly to make it sound sensible in your Lordships' House.

As your Lordships will be well aware, in NATO we have a formidable array of military capability at our disposal to achieve the objectives that we have set ourselves. I mentioned these more than once yesterday when answering questions on the Statement that had been delivered in another place. Noble Lords will probably be aware that 13 NATO allies are directly involved in the provision of military assets and that other allies are making contributions in other ways. With all the force at my command I should like to emphasise that this is not an Anglo/American affair; indeed, the whole of NATO is engaged.

The action that we have found ourselves forced to take has the solid political backing of all the Allies. We have more than 300 NATO aircraft ready for operations, of which more than 200 are attack aircraft, and among this number are eight Royal Air Force GR-7 Harriers. NATO can also count on British and American Naval assets equipped with cruise missiles, including our submarine "HMS Splendid", the first of Her Majesty's submarines to be equipped with cruise missiles, and the first one, incidentally, to have fired them.

Last night these forces began military operations against a number of targets in Yugoslavia, as your Lordships will be aware. The offensive action, which involved sea and air-launched cruise missiles, as well as manned aircraft from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and Spain, was supported by a number of other Allied air forces flying essential fighter cover, air refuelling and defence suppression missions. No fewer than 13 NATO air forces were involved. I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships that whatever rumours you may have heard, all NATO aircraft returned safely after their missions had been completed.

The first targets, which were mainly facilities associated with the Yugoslav air defence system, were hit just after seven p.m. Zulu. Assets used included air-launched cruise missiles, fired by United States B-52 aircraft, which had taken off from Royal Air Force Fairford in Gloucestershire earlier in the day, and Tomahawk land attack missiles fired by US Navy ships and, for the first time, by "HMS Splendid". Follow-on attacks were conducted by manned tactical aircraft, including Royal Air Force Harrier GR-7s, based in southern Italy using Paveway 2 laser guided bombs. Other targets included facilities associated with military units which were directly involved in the violence within Kosovo.

"HMS Splendid" fired its Tomahawk missiles against a key military radar facility located near Pristina airfield in Kosovo. This facility, comprising two highly capable air defence radars and an associated control building, was capable of providing extensive data to Yugoslav air defence forces, to their fighter aircraft, surface-to-air missile units and their anti-aircraft artillery. The control centre was also capable of correlating data from a number of subordinate radars and distributing this throughout the national air defence network for use by other units and to help build up the national air picture. Clearly, such a capability posed a serious threat to NATO manned aircraft and it was vital, therefore, that it was put out of action.

Just over an hour after the first cruise missiles impacted on their targets, six Royal Air Force Harriers were tasked to attack an ammunition storage facility just a few miles to the east of the Tomahawk target. Four of the aircraft were armed with two Paveway 2, 10001b laser guided bombs—the type used extensively and with considerable success during Operation Desert Fox— while the other two Harriers acted as escort. The bombers were tasked against explosive and ammunition storage buildings within a Yugoslav military ammunition storage facility which was known to support the Ministry of the Interior Police, who have been at the forefront of repressive actions against the Kosovar Albanian population. As I am sure your Lordships will appreciate, this type of facility contributes significantly to the repressive capability of the Serbian security forces.

It is still too soon to speak with any confidence of the results of the attacks by the British aircraft. I can tell the House, however, that "HMS Splendid" successfully launched its Tomahawk land attack missiles. We do not yet have any detailed imagery of the targets, and it will probably take some time for NATO to conduct a full battle damage assessment exercise. The Harriers formed the third wave of a very concentrated attack on that target. Because of explosions, fire and smoke caused by the first two waves, our Harriers had difficulty seeing and maintaining lock on their targets. Bombs from our first aircraft lost lock once they were in flight and fell short of the target on open ground. As a result, the following three Harriers aborted their attack and returned to base with their weapons. This restraint and discipline underlines our determination to avoid collateral damage and civilian casualties. I am sure your Lordships will agree that this speaks well of the training and espirit de corps of our air crews.

I understand that the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) is satisfied overall with the results achieved so far although he recognises there is still much to be done. We are, of course, very relieved that all NATO aircraft have returned safely. In addition to the ground attack operations that I have just described there were some air encounters between NATO and Yugoslav aircraft last night. Some reports that are still unconfirmed suggest that up to four Yugoslav military aircraft were shot down. As I say, the reports are still not confirmed, but they indicate that three were modern MiG 29s and one was a MiG 21. Last night's action was, of course, only the opening salvo, the first step towards NATO achieving its military objectives. Our forces are likely to be in action again, alongside our allies, and we are ready to continue these efforts for some time to come.

I wish to say a few words about force protection. We have, as your Lordships know, some 4, 500 British troops in Macedonia. Some were sent there originally to be ready to extract our peace monitors in an emergency. The majority, however, were sent there to be ready to take part in a NATO led implementation force should the Rambouillet peace accords be signed by both sides. All of these forces, and those of other allies, are now under the operational control of General Sir Mike Jackson, the British commander of NATO's Rapid Reaction Corps. Under SACEUR, General Jackson has put in place contingency plans to respond to any attack upon NATO forces in Macedonia. He has confirmed this morning that his planning is complete. Similar contingency arrangements have been made for NATO forces elsewhere in the region. Any attack on our forces would meet with a swift and severe response. There should be no misunderstanding about that in Belgrade nor in the minds of any junior Serb commanders.

Before I came to your Lordships' House this afternoon I asked for a detailed update on activities by Serb forces on the ground today. I regret to have to tell your Lordships that so far I have no definitive information available to give to your Lordships. There are various unconfirmed reports that Serb activity has slackened. However, there are other reports that their attacks are still continuing on certain villages. I shall no doubt report again to your Lordships' House as to the progress of military activities in Kosovo and over Serbia in the next few days, but I hope that I shall not have to come to your Lordships' House too often. I am sure your Lordships will agree with me that we must all hope that it will not be necessary for defence Ministers to stand at this Dispatch Box, or that in another place, too frequently, and that peace is rapidly restored to this unhappy part of the world. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the situation in Kosovo. —(Lord Gilbert.)

6.20 p.m.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, I am deeply grateful to the Minister for his comprehensive speech, a view which I am sure is shared throughout your Lordships' House. I hope that the Minister will accept that, while my noble friend Lord Burnham will respond to matters relating to defence policy, my objective this evening is to focus on the critical political, foreign policy and diplomatic issues under consideration.

Yesterday, on one of the gravest and most sombre days faced by NATO in its history, the hour came for the alliance to carry out its much-threatened air strikes against Serbia. Provided they are part of a coherent strategy with clearly defined and achievable goals from these Benches we have always offered our full support for NATO air strikes against Serbia should all channels of diplomacy be exhausted, should talks prove fruitless and should force prove to be the only language of negotiation that President Milosevic is prepared to understand. It has long been our position that once diplomacy has been backed by the threat of the use of force, that threat must be a credible one. We fully appreciate the onerous and difficult decision which the Government made in authorising military action last night. In the light of the repeated threats and ultimata of the past months, we firmly believe that, having put NATO's credibility on the line, there was no alternative.

However, today is not the time for criticism of past dithering, disunity and indecision. I wish to place on record once again our support for the Government on the action they have taken. We may have had disagreements on the road which the Government have taken up until now; we may have questions about the Government's future strategy; but no government takes lightly the decision to risk me lives of our young servicemen and servicewomen. The Opposition associate themselves with the words of the Minister, as does the whole House, in paying tribute to the courage and professionalism of the British and allied forces which took part in the co-ordinated NATO air strike yesterday; namely, the crews of HMS "Splendid", the four RAF Harrier jets and the two aircraft which flew supporting missions. There is no doubt in your Lordships' House that they will continue to serve Britain with equal distinction during this operation. Our thoughts are also with the families of those servicemen and servicewomen and the combination of pride and anxiety that they will surely feel throughout this operation.

The action carried out by NATO last night was unprecedented. Never before in NATO's history have attacks such as these been carried out against a sovereign country. This was the biggest aerial bombardment in Europe since the Second World War. As a result, there are doubts and concerns in this House and in another place which, given the magnitude of the occasion, deserve to be listened to with respect. From these Benches I have often said in your Lordships' House that I believe that the alternative to this action—namely, to ignore the human cost of the crisis in Kosovo; a crisis which has worsened month by month, week by week, and now day by day—would not be justified. We have a moral imperative to respond to suffering, repression, massacre and misery on the very back doorstep of Europe.

Since fighting broke out in Kosovo last year more than 2, 000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have left their homes, fleeing the forces of ethnic violence, aggression and atrocity. Our television screens have shown the desperation of those trying to leave Kosovo—by bus and on foot—families fleeing for their lives while their homes, their villages and their lives are in flames. Relief agencies, which have carried out their work tirelessly under impossible conditions, estimate that at least 25, 000 ethnic Albanians have fled since Saturday alone. The United Nations Food Agency says that it needs emergency supplies for more than 10, 000 refugees in Macedonia. That is why NATO acted, and, consistent with the requirements of a just war, that action must ensure that the suffering which is an inevitable consequence of the use of force is less than the suffering which such military action prevents.

I do not doubt that the Government have clear, unequivocal answers to the questions I intend to raise. I should be grateful if this evening the Minister could clarify some of the issues which have been raised in recent days, both in this House and in the media—although I wish to emphasise to the Minister at this stage that I am not expecting, nor would it be appropriate, for me or this House to receive detailed answers to all the questions I pose.

Given that the Secretary of State for Defence has said that air strikes will continue until President Milosevic ceases his savage repression in Kosovo, can the Minister give an assurance that NATO has clear criteria by which it would judge the success of its action, without identifying those criteria? Will the Minister also give an assurance that when this action is over the House will receive a report on those criteria and the extent to which they have been met?

The Deputy Prime Minister has said that NATO will, continue to hit hard until its military objectives are achieved". —[Official Report, Commons, 24/3/99; col. 484.] Can the Minister state clearly for the record what are the objectives—both political and military—of the NATO action? Are they to degrade President Milosevic's military capability so that he is no longer able to continue his brutal policy of waging war against his own people in Kosovo? Are they to compel compliance with the will of the international community and to secure a peace settlement, given that President Milosevic was threatened with such air strikes in the event of his refusal to sign the Rambouillet peace agreement? It has been clear to observers that in recent days the principal objective has moved from the latter—that is, compelling compliance with the will of the international community—to the former; namely, degrading President Milosevic's military capability.

In the event that NATO action is forced to continue until Serbia is no longer able to repress the Kosovo Albanians, what strategy do NATO and the Government have to persuade President Milosevic to return to the negotiating table?

To what extent do the Government believe that air strikes alone will be able to achieve sufficient damage to Serbia's military capability? To take the most recent parallel to this crisis, does the Minister accept that, while damaging Iraq's military capability, air strikes in Iraq have failed to degrade it in its entirety? Does the Minister further accept that, given the formidable Yugoslav air defence system, this objective in Serbia presents considerably more of a challenge than in the case of Iraq?

The whole House has listened carefully to General Sir Michael Rose, who commanded the UN protection force in Bosnia, who cautioned that it may also take the deployment of ground troops to stop President Milosevic's assault. Do the Government accept that if President Milosevic is confident that no ground troops will be deployed that will significantly affect his position and could, at worst, strengthen the view that he may attempt to sit out the horrors of the air strikes? On that critical point, can the Minister clarify the role of the troops currently stationed in Macedonia? Does he agree that it would be a very different proposition from that which was originally intended for those forces to fight their way into Kosovo to impose a peace that has not been made and to enforce a ceasefire which has not been agreed? There is a world of difference between keeping the peace in a permissive environment and making the peace in a non-permissive environment. In the light of Sir Michael Rose's assessment, can the Minister confirm that ground troops will not enter Kosovo until there is a political settlement?

Given that the Secretary of State for Defence has said that any attack on the NATO peacekeeping forces would result in an "immediate and considerable response", is the Minister satisfied that there is sufficient protection in place to deter Serbian reprisals against the NATO peacekeeping force in Macedonia.

The mood in Pristina last night was reported as one of panic, fear, tension and menace. I believe the House will benefit from reports of today's events on the ground in Kosovo and the actions of the Serb forces there. Today the Yugoslav news agency, Tanjug, stated that Belgrade has declared a "state of war" against NATO. In the light of this defiant act, can the Minister confirm that NATO has a coherent strategy for action in the event of continued non-compliance by Serbia following NATO air strikes? There is a suggestion that the Serbs may use the military tactic of "hugging" the enemy by positioning tanks in Albanian villages. Without giving any details, will the Minister confirm that NATO has a strategy to address this eventuality?

It is right for Parliament to make an assessment of the widely reported fears of the Kosovars that, far from securing both an end to the Serbs' brutal repression and an agreement to a peaceful settlement, a vindictive Serbia will seek to exact revenge from the Albanian population and worsen the plight of those still in Kosovo.

In the light of President Milosevic's address to the Serbian people yesterday, in which he said the freedom of Serbia was at stake and pledged to defend the country in the event of attack, what assessment have the Government made of fears that, by appealing to ultra-nationalist tendencies long prevalent in Serbia, the present NATO campaign may serve to strengthen President Milosevic rather than to weaken him; and that, far from defusing the powder keg in Kosovo, it will serve not only to inflame it but also to ignite a conflagration across the Balkans, in Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia? I am sure that the Government have strong views capable of contradicting that theory. I look forward to hearing them.

It cannot be denied that there is dispute within the international community and the UN in particular over the legal authority for NATO's action. I am sure the Minister will agree that it would be of great assistance to the House if the Government could explain with the utmost clarity why they believe that NATO's action is lawful. Will the Minister therefore assist the House by setting out the legal basis for NATO's action?

Is it the Government's view that the relevant resolutions of the Security Council, Resolutions 1198, 1199 and 1205, provide sufficient legal basis for the NATO action? Or is it the case that there: exists in international law the general right to intervene to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, in line with Article VII of the UN Charter? Or does the Minister believe that this action creates an entirely new precedent in international law?

While there is rightly an obligation incumbent on us to intervene to prevent humanitarian disasters, that is something which to date has been honoured more in the breach than in the observance.

In the Security Council, China has joined Russia in condemning what both call "an illegal military action", and both countries have expressed concern that as a result of the air strikes the region will be plunged into greater turmoil. I assume that an assessment has been made both of short-term and the longer-term consequences of these deep divisions on our relations with China and Russia.

Given the evidence of Russia's anger at the bombing—for example, the cancellation of Prime Minister Primakov's visit to the United States, the recall of Russia's chief military representative at NATO and the ending of all co-operation with the alliance—can the Minister say on what basis the Leader of the House told this House just two days ago that, we should not be too alarmed by the Russian reaction … At this stage, we should be optimistic about their collaboration, If not their welcome, in relation to what may need to happen next". —[Official Report, 23/3/99; col. 1177.] According to this morning's reports, Russia's most recent welcome of what has in fact happened next is a "series of extreme measures" prepared in response to NATO's military action, but which have yet to be implemented. Does the Minister now accept the importance of Russia's role in the peace process? Indeed, many noble Lords would like to have seen its greater involvement in the peacekeeping force on the ground. I look forward to learning the effects that such action could have, both in terms of positive Russian assistance to the Serbs, and in terms of damaging NATO-Russian relations.

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House also referred to the important role played by the Russians in the Rambouillet negotiations. Will the Minister say whether there were any indications during those negotiations that the Serbs would look more favourably on an OSCE-led, rather than a NATO-led, implementation force to alleviate the appalling humanitarian disaster?

In conclusion, the provisions of the Rambouillet agreement were an important step on the road to securing a just and lasting settlement in Kosovo. We applaud the Kosovo Albanians for their willingness to compromise and to accept the agreement on the table in the interests of securing peace for their people.

The hope is shared throughout this House that President Milosevic will see sense, will end the suffering and the slaughter of his people by his people, and will return to the negotiating table. In the circumstances prevailing after Rambouillet, the Government had no choice but to agree to the use of force in an attempt to achieve that outcome. From these Benches, Her Majesty's Opposition support the Government in that decision and we fervently hope that it succeeds.

6.34 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, there has probably been no graver moment in the past 20 years in terms of the possible repercussions of the actions now taken. I very much appreciate the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, that no government would put at risk its own servicemen and women unless they believed the cause to be a substantial and important one. But what is presently happening in Serbia may have repercussions that we cannot imagine—on NATO, on Europe, on our relations with Russia and China, on the United Nations, and far beyond. It is therefore necessary for us to hear the counsel of the wisest among us. In that context, I know that many noble Lords will feel as I do that we shall gravely miss the wisdom of Lord Gillmore of Thamesfield and the controversial but often exciting and imaginative contributions of Lord Beloff. We all look forward to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. The noble Lord has had more to do with many aspects of the frightening development associated with the break-up of the former republic of Yugoslavia than any of the rest of us.

For me, and I am sure for many other noble Lords, the moral issues involved in this particular set of decisions are acutely painful and difficult. We on these Benches have made clear that we support the Government in what they have done. But we do so with considerable concern about what may be the wider repercussions, and we have expressed our concern about the lack of a clear political goal.

We could not have stood aside. The systematic massacre of civilians—telephone taps indicate that some orders for massacres, including that at Racak, can be directly traced back to the administration in Belgrade— the systematic destruction of villages, the fleeing of thousands upon thousands of refugees, and the gradual destruction of the whole of the countryside of Kosovo are events that we saw previously in Bosnia. Many of us were profoundly ashamed that we did not intervene until so late in the day in that part of the former Yugoslavia. I do not believe that we could have stood aside again and watched this situation unfold before our eyes.

That, of course, is the case for what the Government have done. All of us recognise, too, that there is a paradox in the Government's action in that delays—I acquit Her Majesty's Government of responsibility for those delays—have already allowed the government of Belgrade to destroy a substantial part of the morale and strength of the Kosovar Albanians. Very great humanitarian tragedies are taking place in that province. They are happening even before the bombing has been concluded.

There is of course an argument—this question was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan—about the legal basis for what is happening. We can point to United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1199 and 1203. We can point to the Geneva Convention, which is clearly being broken by the government in Belgrade. But many of us feel troubled by the fact that the action does not have United Nations support and agreement behind it. It is very important, indeed incumbent on the Government, as soon as possible to try to achieve the support of the United Nations for the actions we take. Most of us strongly believe that the United Nations continues to be indispensable to the gradual creation of a world of international and moral law.

That said, I nonetheless believe that what we are seeing unfold before our eyes is a gradual attempt to establish a minimal level of human rights, of moral behaviour and of recognition that civilians need to be protected, which is gradually extending beyond the areas of the United States, the European Union and various other states that are members of the Council of Europe. The tragedy of the former republic of Yugoslavia is that it has always been outside the civilised circle. It is vital to bring that country back into the mainstream of European life as soon as we possibly can.

However, I believe that one of the dangers of our present debates—and I do not need to point to the arguments being conducted in the media—is that Kosovo is being treated as an isolated situation. I take noble Lords' minds back to 1991, to the occasion when the same kind of events unfolded in Croatia, when the city of Dubrovnik was shelled by the Yugoslav navy, with no intervention until it was virtually destroyed. A month later the city of Vukovar was burnt to the ground and no one intervened. Then the Belgrade government argued that the cease-fire had been breached and had its allies walk out of the negotiations.

That was Croatia. Not so long afterwards the same pattern was seen in Bosnia and Herzegovina: arousing nationalist sentiment, arguing that there had to be some military action and then the presentation of President Milosevic as the mediator, the outside force that would create a peaceful settlement. Kosovo looks like a re-run of exactly the same story. Again and again, Mr Milosevic is at the centre of the scene, the person offering himself for international solutions to the problems which he himself has created.

Today, we hear the extraordinarily courageous commitment of the prime minister of Montenegro, a part of the former republic of Yugoslavia, denouncing Milosevic's provocation of the intervention. It is an act of extraordinary courage which tells us that we must not talk about Yugoslavia and Serbia as if we were talking about a united country bent upon the destruction of Kosovo. Indeed, we are talking about a country deeply divided, a brave and courageous country, many of whose fellow citizens are putting their own lives at risk by arguing against and opposing the actions of Mr Milosevic. I believe that were we not to stand up in Kosovo, we would see the same story unfold in Montenegro, where the prime minister has already been denounced as a separatist by Mr Seselj, the leader of the smaller party in the Yugoslav coalition, in Vojvodina, where the leader Mr Nenad Canak, has been similarly denounced, and even in Sandzak, where we hear pleas by the Moslem population that they are constantly being hounded and harassed by the forces of the government of Belgrade.

It is crucial to put that on the line because I believe we are dealing with a far more complex situation than our media suggest when they present simply the goodies and the baddies and do not give us the depth that we need to understand the situation in all its subtleties.

I therefore wish to ask the Minister three questions. The first is: what steps are Her Majesty's Government taking to bring home to those parts of the former republic of Yugoslavia that are themselves deeply uneasy with Mr Milosevic's rule that we in the United Kingdom and the whole contact group recognise and appreciate the position in which they find themselves? We wish them nothing but good. I believe that we have neglected the propaganda side of the whole exercise and should be trying to reach at least some of the people and politicians of the former republic of Yugoslavia.

Secondly, I ask what steps Her Majesty's Government and the contact group intend to take with regard to the terrifying vulnerability of what are now estimated, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, mentioned and more recently the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees confirmed, to be some 250, 000 refugees. Sixty thousand in the past week alone, according to the most recent figure, are now desperately vulnerable because they are not being permitted to enter Macedonia and they would take their lives in their hands if they tried to enter Albania. They are sitting there, simply waiting for the possibility of the Serb army revenging itself upon them.

What steps are Her Majesty's Government taking to ensure that those refugees are protected, so far as we are able to protect them, possibly by opening the borders and providing some support for them until such time as they may return? Otherwise, they will have to flee out of their country and dissipate themselves across the whole continent of Europe.

I apologise to the noble Lord for my last question, because I have reiterated it on many occasions in this House. We cannot hope to bring about a peaceful settlement in Kosovo unless we are prepared to be at least even-handed. That means we must take, or be willing to take, some action—should there be a peaceful settlement—to deal with the situation at the Albanian border which has become the source of a huge trade in drugs, arms and people. That, I believe, is an offer we need to make in order to persuade the Yugoslav Government of our own good intentions.

Finally, I have not a question but a point. There is one last chance of bringing about a reasonably rapid resolution of this difficult situation. That immediate chance, in my view, rests with Mr Primakov, the prime minister of Russia. Russia has been extremely cautious in what it has said, despite the perhaps more emotional outbursts of President Yeltsin. Mr Primakov has shown an extraordinary degree of sense and moderation. He is a historic ally of Yugoslavia. It is time to recognise his request that the contact group meet again. In that event it should seriously consider inviting Mr Primakov to carry a mission to Belgrade to see whether he at least can bring Mr Milosevic round to common sense and to realise the extreme damage he will do to his own country if he pursues his present course.

6.46 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his detailed statement about last night's military action. Like other noble Lords, I am conscious of the awesome responsibility of the Government at this time in initiating the most serious military action in Europe since the Second World War.

I do not think it is the role of a churchman to pronounce, from the safety of this country, about the Tightness or wrongness of a particular war, but I hope that your Lordships will not think it out of place if I draw on the long tradition of Christian thinking on the subject, in order to ask the Minister some questions. Those of us who had to watch the suffering of the Kosovar people over the past year have asked time and time again what can be done about it. We can have no doubt at all that we have a just cause here; namely, the protection of innocent people from further terror. Furthermore, it seems quite clear that everything that could have been done in the way of resolving this dispute by peaceful means was tried and tried again and eventually was found to have no further mileage.

In addition to those two questions, the long tradition of Christian thinking on the subject asks questions about legitimate authority. It is one of the hopeful developments since the Second World War that we now take it for granted, we assume, that any military action in the world today which is justified in some sense needs United Nations authorisation. As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, have already said, it is important to hear from the Minister under what resolution of the United Nations he believes this military action is legitimated.

There are, of course, further questions when we come to the next criterion of this long tradition of just war thinking. It is the difficult question of weighing evils and trying to make a judgment that more evil will not be unleashed by military action than would ensue if the situation remained as it is. The corollary of that, integrally bound up with it, is the criterion that there must be a reasonable chance of success.

What counts as success at the moment? I have no doubt at all that due to the courage, skill and training of our forces the military objectives will be achieved. But what is the relationship between those military objectives and that political goal which we all know is so desirable? There are very, very great worries which have already been so eloquently expressed that the risks of this military action are high. If noble Lords do not mind my being personal, as one who supported recent military action in the Gulf and the bombing of Iraq and argued for three years that military intervention in Bosnia was required before we intervened, I believe that the risks of the present military endeavour are higher than any of those other actions that we have undertaken. It is important to have a greater understanding of the relationship between that military objective which I am sure will be achieved and the political goal that is absolutely essential. We know that there has been a series of very sombre military analyses in the newspapers in recent days.

I return to the point with which I began: the awesome responsibility of the Government at this time and their courageous decision to protect the innocent people in Kosovo. It is the Government alone who know all the facts. They have had to weigh the risks very carefully, and it is their responsibility. The prayers of all people of good will are with our forces and with our political leaders that there will be a just and speedy outcome of this conflict.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for introducing this debate and for his review of the current position. We can be thankful that last night's operations have gone as well as they have. It is a great credit to all those involved—the commanders, planners, logisticians, groundcrew and, above all, aircrew—who have collectively demonstrated once again what a major air operation is about and how professionally it can be executed. It has been executed not only by the tight co-ordination of several hundred aircraft sorties, with 100 or more cruise missiles, but in a way that ensures that there is a low level of risk from enemy forces.

We should not underestimate this achievement. The Serb air defences are not to be dismissed lightly. They have a strong potential to inflict severe damage on NATO's attacking forces. That they did not do so last night is probably due to the enormously effective technologies now available to modern air forces to suppress enemy air defences. It has coined its own mnemonic: SEAD (suppression of enemy air defences). No offensive air operation against well-found air defences can expect to succeed without strong SEAD support. I am sure that in last night's operation we can thank the US-co-ordinated SEAD capability mightily for the survival of all the NATO aircraft that took part. What we do not yet know is whether the Serbs were trying their damnedest and signally failed to achieve any success or whether they were husbanding their forces for subsequent nights when the weight of attack, especially from cruise missiles, might not be as great.

It is fashionable, and in some ways dismissive of the value of airpower, to hear repeated so often the mantra that one cannot impose one's will on the enemy without the use of forces on the ground. Certainly, if the military objective is to occupy and defeat the enemy's forces and to take hold of his territory there can be no argument about the requirement for in-place effective ground force. However, as I have indicated, there is more to it than that. The military objective must be considered.

In Serbia and Kosovo the military objective is not (or so far has not been stated to be) to occupy territory or to defeat the enemy forces in the large; it is to degrade their capability to continue to inflict major suffering on civilians in Kosovo. Whether that will be achieved, or how long it will take to achieve it from the air alone, is the 64, 000-dollar question. But I do not believe that it is right to imply that the use of air power will somehow be ineffective almost as a sideshow; far from it. More and more it is proving to be an essential tool in the Government's hands and one which so far has allowed them to proceed with little or no loss of life. Let us thank Lady Luck for that.

But the use of air power must be related to the military and strategic objective. That was why I asked the noble Baroness the Leader of the House when noble Lords were questioning the Statement on Kosovo on Tuesday whether Her Majesty's Government could give the House some assurance of their confidence that the operation on which we are now embarked would achieve the stated objective. Although the noble Baroness was not able to say more than that it was the intention of HMG that the, objectives should be attempted to be achieved in the way we have described in the Statement as being theoretically possible", — [Official Report, 23/3/99; col. 1181] I am sure that the House will accept that it would be immoral to commit our forces and those of our NATO allies to an operation in which lives are in grave danger unless there is a strong expectation of success. We can only wait to see whether that careful judgment is borne out by events. I for one feel that it is incumbent on all of us now to express confidence in that judgment so that those we ask to undertake operations and to put their lives at risk know that we are behind the judgment that has been made.

When the shooting dies down, then will be the time to reconsider the whole sequence of events that has led to this very serious and worrying event. I take comfort from the fact that there is such a strong unanimity of view throughout NATO countries. That is a strong bolster to our forces' morale and feelings—and those of their families—about the rightness and justice of what is taking place. I say that without in any way detracting from a feeling of sadness that the bulwark of NATO, which has been such a strong and dominant player in the defence of our freedoms as a defensive alliance, has on its 50th anniversary had to resort to what I fear legally may be termed aggression against a sovereign state, no matter how morally overriding is the suffering in Kosovo or, in the words of the right reverend Prelate, however just the cause. I hope that the Government can reassure us that there is no possibility of any of our servicemen being at risk from being brought before an international court on a charge of having been involved in a crime under international law.

While on the subject of legality, perhaps the Minister can clarify the following points. Has war been declared? Are we at war with Serbia? Are our servicemen and women, especially those who have been taking part in the operations over Serbia, deemed to be on active service? What is the position if, regrettably, one or more of our aircrew is shot down and taken prisoner? Will he be treated as a prisoner of war? Does the Geneva Convention apply? Is the Red Cross standing by to carry out its responsibilities in the event of any of our service personnel being captured? Anything that the Minister can tell us now, or later if that is necessary, about these matters would be helpful. Whatever be the position, can he reassure us that those who are taking part have been made aware of the situation as it might affect them?

Finally, I think that this latest operation and, indeed, a number of previous operations embarked on by Her Majesty's Government in recent months and years, have demonstrated the immense value and importance of having an effective and modern air arm in our mix of forces. The requirement to upgrade our air superiority capability with the Eurofighter, and to enhance the performance of existing aircraft will not diminish in the years ahead.

The Government's fullhearted commitment to those programmes is self-evidently important. But there is another key point. There must be sufficient well trained, motivated and committed personnel to service, support and operate this equipment. Without them there is no air power to use in our modern diplomacy and foreign policy. We are still losing too many well trained and valuable people. It is beholden on the Government to recognise that.

The treatment of our personnel, their pay, their conditions of service and their accommodation are, if possible, even more important today to the success of our national policies and our position in the world and in the Security Council than ever in the past 50 years. Let the Government reflect on that in the moments of quietness between these crises, and not neglect anything that needs to be done. We need to retain as well as to recruit the best to support our Government's policies.

7.1 p.m.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, for the statement, and in saying that we knew well that British forces would behave as they did last night, and will continue to do so.

After numerous threats, all unheeded, all ignored, over a period of time it would have been difficult for NATO to do nothing after the break up of the Rambouillet talks. It would have been a derided organisation. I accept that. But I have to say that I do not know where or how it will end, or what the Government will do if bombing does not achieve their aim. I have the gravest misgivings about the course on which we are set.

I believe that the policy which has led to us being where we are now is both mistaken and ill-conceived. I say at once that President Milosevic is in the first instance to blame for what has happened. He decided to revoke the autonomy that the Kosovars had enjoyed under Tito. He also refused, even more foolishly, to negotiate with Mr. Rugova, who was then the leader of the Kosovar Albanians—a very moderate man, and a man who would have been quite prepared at that time to settle for a return to autonomy. Now of course he has been pushed into an infinitely more extreme position.

What worries me is that I do not think that we have learned the lessons of the two wars: the Serbo-Croat war, and the Bosnian war. Those two wars showed what a mistake it is to intervene, in particular militarily, to keep a peace which does not exist and in a situation where we do not wholeheartedly support one side or the other; that is, supporting with all the means at our disposal which means not just aircraft but troops on the ground, with a full attack on their positions. If we do as we did in Bosnia, the likelihood is that we shall increase the timescale of the immense suffering of the civilian population. Intervention can even make things worse.

The final solution which will happen in Bosnia will not be dissimilar from that which would have occurred anyway if we had not been concerned with it. In the meantime, tens of thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands of people have been ethnically cleansed. Unless we are prepared to settle things once and for all with all the force at our disposal, and to take sides about who is right or wrong, then we shall fail. Here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, although I do not think that the position is quite as clear cut as she makes out in the Balkan Wars. I do not think President Milosevic was the only person to blame. President Tudjman and President Izetbegovic have a great deal to do with what happened.

If we intervene, we must decide on whose side we are. But in this particular case both sides had a case. The Serbs believe, and rightly, that Kosovo is part of Serbia, and has been for generations. Moreover, it is the birthplace of Serb nationalism. It would be very foolish to underestimate the resolution which the Serbs will show to maintain their possession of Kosovo. Equally, the Kosovar Albanians have a case. Not only have they seen their autonomy removed, but they have lost a great many of their civic and human rights. Due to the intransigence of the Serbs, they have been pushed into an armed revolt.

In addition, we all know that an independent Kosovo is not acceptable to the international community. Consequently we are faced with the problem: who do we support? Quite rightly, we sought to broker an agreement between the two sides. All credit is due to those who tried to achieve an agreement. Quite rightly, we sent as much humanitarian aid as we could.

So far so good, my Lords. But where I believe it went wrong was to threaten Serbia with bombs and cruise missiles if they did not agree. The Serbs were threatened with that long before the Kosovar Albanians agreed to the proposals. No one ever suggested bombing the Kosovar Albanians. The objective, I suppose, is to bring Milosevic back to the negotiating table and to impose the kind of settlement that was agreed at Rambouillet. But the Serbs have wholeheartedly already rejected that, and it clearly does not satisfy the Albanians who want their independence.

We also know that if bombing does not succeed, no NATO country, least of all the Americans, will be prepared to put ground forces in to fight against the Serbs in an all-out war. President Milosevic knows that perfectly well. Do we then go on bombing and bombing? If not, what do we do after that? No one has told us; certainly the Government have not told us.

As other noble Lords have asked, are we really on good legal grounds for what we are doing? Are we not setting a rather dangerous precedent? It is also true to say that if we argue that we are doing it for humanitarian reasons, the removal of the monitor force has caused more immediate suffering to the Kosovar Albanians than anything else in the past few months.

I believe too that international opposition—not just from the Russians and the Chinese—will grow against what NATO has done and I fear that opinion in the NATO countries, if civilian casualties grow, will be increasingly hostile to what we have done. I am sorry to be so pessimistic but I think it right to say these things.

The die is cast. We are now on this course. I do not know where it will end, and I have a horrible feeling that the Government do not know either.

7.10 p.m.

Lord Eames

My Lords, it is indeed a daunting experience to find one's name on a list of speakers following someone of the stature of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on a subject such as this. None of us in the House this evening can possibly underestimate the gravity of the situation as has been vividly illustrated by previous speakers, a situation which not only confronts NATO and the people of the Balkans but—dare I suggest?—contains the ingredients for the most grave consequences for the whole of Europe. If we listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, Baroness Williams and others, we would have no doubt about that point.

What has been said already this evening in this House clearly indicates the gravity of this moment. The arguments for and against the military action undertaken by NATO will continue for a long time and, as the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Oxford, has reminded us, there is a sense in this country, and I think among most of our allies that what we have attempted to do, rightly or wrongly, has been motivated by that sense of the just war. Tragically, the real judgment on what has happened will be made by history and that judgment, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has just reminded us, will have the benefit of hindsight to which you and I are not privy at this moment.

Justification for what NATO has done in the last 48 hours or so is couched in the name of international humanitarian intervention. That is a very interesting phrase. My chief concern this evening in your Lordships' House is to suggest that there is another factor in this situation which requires international humanitarian intervention. It is factor which we can all so easily forget, given the tensions of this grave moment for our country.

Above all else, above all the military considerations and behind the smoke-screen of the bombs and missiles that we have been seeing on our television screens, this is a human tragedy. A recent estimate, as we have been reminded, speaks of one quarter of a million civilians who have been displaced, and 65, 000 within the last month. Even as we debate at this moment in this House that figure is rising: people burned from their homes, people shot, TV pictures of little children crying on tractors and trailers, and elderly people dying in the attempt to escape.

What we are seeing is the greatest mass movement of refugees in the Balkans since the last war. Do I need to remind your Lordships' House of the historical significance of conflicts which, over the years and generations, have in fact begun in the Balkans? Anyone who knows that region and knows it intimately will agree with me that the picture of the misery of ordinary people caught up is nothing less than a cauldron of fear.

We all pray for an end to this tragedy and I have to say that I share some of the misgivings expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when he spoke so movingly just now and attempted to answer the question: where is it leading? I believe that we would be failing not only the people of this nation but our colleagues in NATO if we did not recognise first of all the desperate need for a solution to this tragedy. Whether it comes from the results of the last 48 hours or not remains to be seen. At this moment—and I choose my words carefully—far away from the conference table and far away from the corridors of NATO, the United Nations in New York, European power bases, and even far away from your Lordships' House, there is a mass movement of human misery taking place. That misery will remain long after any solution emerges. The longer the conflict lasts, the greater will be the need to solve that problem. The longer a solution is delayed, the greater those figures will magnify.

We cannot and we must not forget the human side of this issue. I have seen at first hand in my life what refugees and displaced persons have to contend with. I will not bore your Lordships' House with a description of it save to say that it has to be experienced to be understood. It is for that reason that I speak in this debate from a deep personal conviction that we must not lose sight of the human element.

I appeal to the House and in particular to Her Majesty's Government, while paying tribute to the Minister for his very clear statement which has benefited us all this evening, that allied now to any decisions over the military aspect, instead of waiting for an end to what we can only refer to as "the war", every effort is made now to address the massive refugee problem. I recognise the difficulties involved and those who deal with problems of this nature will immediately say that it is bland to raise it at this moment. It is not bland. It is a moral, clear duty.

I urge Her Majesty's Government to take the lead among the European nations and among the partners of NATO in supporting, indeed (dare I suggest) initiating, humanitarian relief on a massive scale. I do not believe it is overstating the situation at this moment to say that whatever the moral questions raised by the current bombing, unless we address and are seen to address the moral issues of the human misery of the refugees and of the war, we will stand condemned not just by the world but by history. I humbly submit this evening that it is not just on military action that we will be judged by future generations.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, what a lot of good and important speeches we are having. I want to begin by inviting the House to go back to 1648 which was the end of the Thirty Years War in Germany. I believe that it was the worst war Europe has ever known, in terms of the proportion of the population at risk which was killed in the war and as a direct result of it.

In that year, by the Treaty of Westphalia, the Germans invented the principle of cuius regio eius religio: that is to say that each of the little principalities of which Germany was then made up should choose its own religion, Protestant or Catholic, and that at their own speed, unharassed and in peace, people should be allowed to move house if they wished to the nearest region which had the religion that they believed in. It is in point of fact the greatest invention towards civilisation that the German people ever made.

In the Yugoslav war (we are in a war: they have declared war on us, incidentally; the Federation of Yugoslavia has declared war on NATO collectively though we have not declared war on them) we have to recognise that among other things there is an element of religion. The internecine Yugoslav War is a religious war. It has had three movements: first, the Serbo-Croat War between Catholic and Orthodox; secondly, the Bosnian War between Orthodox and Moslem; and now, the war we are talking about, between Orthodox and Moslem again.

At the end of the day, we are all thrashing around looking for a political aim. At the end of the day, I offer as a political aim the establishment of the principle cuius regio eius religio in Yugoslavia. It will take some exposition to get it home to people and to governments around the world, but it might be worth a shot. The Balkans have been politically held apart from that possibility, which has been exploited to the general peace and good will by all the other countries of Europe, first because of the Turkish dominion, then because of the Austrian dominion and most recently because of the communist dominion. Each of these has prevented the natural development and movement of peoples. It has prevented change. They are in a condition anterior to that of religious and political liberty which the rest of us enjoy. Naturally, steam blows out around the edges.

If we look around the world and see how things lie, all NATO countries, even Denmark, are included in this force. That is a remarkable achievement of military diplomacy. Outside, we see Russia, the absence of which is deeply troubling and can teach us a lot. It is a European country if ever there were one. We also see China, which in general terms has expressed a position against force and against interference in the internal affairs of another sovereign state. It accuses us of circumventing the United Nations. That is the Chinese position, as one would expect. It is easy for the Chinese to say that because they are a long way away, but it is still the position of international law.

I wish to turn to a few detailed questions. They may be a little too detailed on the diplomatic side. If my noble friend Lord Gilbert feels that he has enough to put up with on the military side, they can remain on the record until later. What did Mrs. Allbright promise to the Kosovars when she got them to sign when the Serbs would not? We know that she promised something. She spoke separately with the Kosovars in Rambouillet and never spoke with the Serbs at all. I understand that they were proximity negotiations where little was done around the table; the teams were in separate rooms. Did she promise the amalgamation of the Kosovo Liberation Army into the political and military life of Kosovo after the end of the war, with direct military funding from the US and with a State Department official working full time to organise all that? At any rate, so said the armed forces minister of Albania yesterday. The Kosovo Liberation Army has also received a State Department invitation to visit political and military circles in the United States—and that in the middle of the war.

Moreover—I am filling in some gaps because not everyone knows—it is alleged by the Bavarian interior minister that £40, 000-worth of illegal drugs money was raised at one meeting in Bavaria, a meeting of Kosovar exiles and others, and sent to the Kosovo Liberation Army. It was said that the total amount of illegal drugs money that has gone to them is between £300, 000 and £400, 000.

Returning to negotiations, President Milutinovic of Serbia has said that the only option open to his country was to accept foreign troops or be bombed. Is that right? He was told that he could have 28, 000 soldiers governing Kosovo, and if he would not have them he would be bombed. So what difference did that utterance from the United States make to the Serbian reaction to the Rambouillet proposals?

They saw the proposals from Rambouillet, taken along with that choice, as violating their sovereignty and constitution. Moreover, it was not the Contact Group which made it, because by the time it was made the Russians were not there.

I wish to conclude by quoting the words of Secretary General Solana of NATO in the Spring 1999 issue of the NATO Review. He wrote: Our view is that Russia's constructive engagement with NATO is fundamental to the new security order … The year ahead promises even greater consultation and co-operation activity. The Kosovo crisis has proven the value of this new relationship". How much trouble was it to the NATO governments to turn round that judgment and stand it on its head, to make war in spite of it and, for the first time in 10 years, to drive Russia into outright opposition to NATO and all it stands for?

I ask the question which all noble Lords who have spoken have asked. What is our objective? Politically, we should remember the great possibility to which all human freedom in Europe has been due, and in the Americas, too; the possibility for people to move to a place where a government they can stand is in occupation, without interference. On the military side, I do not know—what is our military aim? Is it bombing, bombing, bombing as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, asked? Obviously not, so what is it?

7.28 p.m.

Lord Sandberg

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, for initiating this necessary debate. I wish that I could say that I had a solution which no one else had thought of and that this is how we should be proceeding, but I am in the same position as most other noble Lords; that is, I am unhappy about what is happening, but not clear about the alternatives.

We are worried about casualties, as we should be. They will come in due course and we should be under no illusion about that. We wonder whether we can send many aircraft thousands of feet above a country and bomb it into submission. It is unlikely. We did not do so in Iraq, which has gone off the front page, but we continue to bomb Iraq every day. We have not seen much of a solution. Of course, Iraq is a different kettle of fish from Serbia, but one must consider the similarities.

The problem is that we see no alternative. Nobody would disagree that more talks would be good, but as yet talks have brought no progress.

As my noble friend Lady Williams said, we have to hark back and remember what happened in Bosnia—where we did nothing—and in Croatia. There comes a time when one has to take note of human misery and try, to the best of one's ability—perhaps not very good ability—to do something about it. I believe that we really could not just stand there and do nothing.

I return to the subject of the bombing alone because the thought of putting troops on the land, and the appalling casualties that would undoubtedly occur, is more than we can bear. Only last week I was in Washington. The talk of body bags, a rather emotive phrase, was paramount in the American newspapers. Who can blame people for that?

We have to press on as far as we can but we must also answer the question, "What on earth do we do when we have pressed on and nothing much has happened?" I do not agree with all newspaper reports; if one does, one is very naïve. However, it was uncomfortable to read an article in the Washington Post yesterday. Somebody asked President Clinton, "What happens if the bombing does not succeed?" The report goes on to say that the president looked rather puzzled and turned to one of his aides for an answer. The answer came back, "You go on bombing".

Obviously, that is not something with which we can live forever. We do not know the solution, but I believe that all of us would like to hear from the Minister what the long-term thoughts are. Of course, the bombing campaign has only just started. We have not yet given it a chance to succeed. Perhaps it will—we all hope that it will—and that it will bring Milosevic back to the negotiating table. I am sure that we have a long-term strategy. I believe we are all anxious to hear what it is.

We are in an unhappy position. The Serbs are a proud people. We cannot forget what Yugoslavia went through during the war when they fought long and hard against the Nazis and tied down many divisions of German troops which would have been used against us on the Western front. I do not believe, therefore, that we can expect a quick and dramatic surrender by the Serbs. I wish I was wrong.

That brings us back, full circle, to where we started, with the question, "What is the long-term solution?" There must be further talks. We must ensure that further talks with Milosevic—if we can bring him back to the table—must not just be with Mr. Holbrooke; there must be a raft of people who should talk to him. Obviously, we must bring the Russians in, whether Mr. Primakov or his chosen man. They are close to the Serbs and are likely to have much more influence on them than we are likely to have.

This is probably a difficult situation for Mr. Primakov. He makes remarks and his boss, President Yeltsin, makes unhelpful ones. We must try to bring them in. I hope that the Government are making approaches to the Russians in this regard. I do not expect answers at this time but I hope that such approaches are being made. I believe that they will be the people who can help us to resolve this most unfortunate situation.

7.33 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, this has been a serious and sober debate to which there have been many wise contributions, none wiser than that of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. He put the whole question into a very reasonable perspective. We must bear in mind that he did so from his wide, detailed and close experience of the whole problem of Yugoslavia. I hope that the Government will heed his wise words.

The Kosovo operation is a momentous departure in policy. Our Armed Forces are not defending the realm, nor any specific British interest, nor any sovereign state which has made a request for assistance. In the Gulf War, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were under attack from an outside body. They requested assistance and received it. The fact that we have not yet ended that war should be borne in mind. So, there has been no request for any military assistance from anywhere.

Furthermore, as we have already heard, the armed intervention in Yugoslavia does not have the backing of the United Nations. I believe it was entirely wrong that we should have embarked upon that operation without even apparently consulting the Secretary General of the United Nations. That was a snub which I believe is unforgivable. I think that he felt that very hard. As has been pointed out, the repercussions could be dire. They were adequately pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams.

This evening, I speak to dissociate myself from what happened last night and from what, unfortunately I believe is to come. I never thought I would see the day when a Labour Government—albeit a "New" Labour Government—took part in unleashing a massive bombardment on a small country of 10 million people who, as we have just heard, have endured centuries of oppression and who helped to defeat the Nazis in the last war.

It is particularly odious that the Luftwaffe took part in the bombing given that it last blitzkrieged Belgrade over 50 years ago. Far from undermining President Milosevic's position, I believe that that will strengthen it. It is most unfortunate that we allowed the German Luftwaffe to be involved. It is sad to see the mightiest armed force in history, representing over 600 million people, unleashing such a bombardment on a small country of 10 million people. We are told that it is to protect the Kosovar people. Quite frankly, I do not see how it will protect them. It may put them in more danger.

However, there are two sides to this issue. Kosovo has been recognised as part of Yugoslavia. The KLA, by Western parlance, is a terrorist organisation. Its members, too, have committed atrocities; but, that seems to have been forgotten. They have been attempting to undermine the status quo in Yugoslavia, which has existed over a long period of time. They have been trying to do so by armed struggle. The Serbs, quite naturally, have reacted accordingly—unfortunately, viciously on occasions. Everybody regrets that. Diplomacy, intentionally or otherwise, has encouraged the KLA to believe that NATO would eventually come in on its side. The bombing will be seen as confirmation of that. Again, I believe that that is most unfortunate. It really is difficult to see what the end game is. Is NATO prepared to pulverise Serbia to dust to get it to submit to what it sees as unjustifiable demands? How many casualties is NATO prepared to countenance?

What of the Kosovars? If the Serb army entrenches itself in built-up areas of Kosovo, what then? What are we to do to clear it out? We cannot do it by bombing; otherwise we hurt the very people we want to defend and to help. Suppose the Serbs continue to defy NATO; how long will it be before ground troops are sent in—and at what cost in terms of our servicemen's lives? There are rumours flying around that ground troops will be sent in sooner rather than later. I should like my noble friend to comment on that and to say whether those rumours have any substance. How long will the troops remain if they are sent in? Will it be for one year, five years, 10 years, or 20 years? Have we thought about this? How many casualties are we prepared to sustain and what is the cost of this operation to British taxpayers?

Again, one has to ask: why Serbia or Yugoslavia? There was no armed intervention in Chechnya, Tibet, Somalia, Rwanda or in other areas, including Turkey, which oppresses the Kurds, and which is, of course, a member of NATO. Why is Serbia or Yugoslavia being treated in this way?

Just exactly what is the objective of western policy? Is it simply to get more autonomy for Kosovo, to get independence for Kosovo and eventually incorporation into Albania, or is it part of a game plan to incorporate Yugoslavia as a whole into the western European bloc? We do not know. I should like to know. I should like to be told, but I fear that I shall not be told this evening.

It must be a great anxiety that Britain has been drawn into this deadly venture from which it seems; that there is no quick or easy exit, as the United States found in Vietnam and as the Soviets found in Afghanistan, after the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.

Finally, there is not the near-unanimity of consent of purpose in this country for this armed assault on a small nation which is entitled to defend its territorial integrity, just like any other nation. We should immediately get back to the negotiating table, but this time on the basis of a real discussion, on equal ground, and not based on the threat of massive air bombardment if one side does not give in and allow an army of occupation on its soil. That is what we need. Let us not forget Churchill's dictum, jaw-jaw is always better than … war-war".

7.42 p.m.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, I was greatly heartened to hear the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, expressing his disgust—I think that that is the word—for the use of Luftwaffe pilots and crews in this so-called "Allied" attack on a sovereign state which stood by us during World War II and suffered greatly on our behalf.

I was also much heartened to hear the warning from my noble friend Lord Carrington, who speaks with unrivalled experience as a former Foreign Secretary, of the dangers of the course on which we are now embarked. I tried to make some notes as he spoke, but I cannot read my own writing at any time and my notes probably would not add much anyway. He was perfectly right in saying that a clear objective is lacking in this operation unless it is somehow to show that we are the bullies who can get away with murder.

I find myself at this moment almost as embarrassed and unhappy about the policy that the Government are pursuing, and to which our Opposition's leadership is consenting, as I was when British forces left the Suez Canal zone in the mid-1950s, the consequence of which has been our utter impotence to influence Middle Eastern affairs.

I was greatly more encouraged by the attitude of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, who showed considerable understanding of the internal politics of Yugoslavia and in particular of the significance of Montenegro in the whole picture.

We have heard the term "moral imperative" used. Indeed, I heard my noble friend Lord Moynihan use it from our Front Bench this afternoon. The term "moral imperative" is absolute rubbish here because the confusion of sentimentality with morality is probably one of the greatest errors of the age in which we live. Sentimentality is odd basis for deciding major international actions.

I have a special reason for participating in this debate. For many years, I was the Balkans correspondent of The Times and I used to visit South Serbia, as it was then called, quite frequently. I have been in and out of that country for 60 years. I am probably the only noble Lord who can understand Serbian, although I do not speak it very well. In fact, I speak it badly.

The background to this situation is seldom understood. Most of the so-called "Albanians" in Kosovo are not indigenous. They have infiltrated more or less as illegal immigrants over the past generation, having been encouraged to do so by the Tito regime in an attempt to spread Communism among the Serbs, whose individualism was totally resistant to it.

In that sense, perhaps I may ask your Lordships how we would feel if, over a generation, we found that Dutch, Belgians or French were gradually taking charge of events in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire, buying up farms and shops and gradually establishing themselves there. We would not welcome that—and the Serbs do not welcome it in their country either, but that is what they have seen in Kosovo over the past generation. We are not talking about indigenous Yugoslav citizens who are being bullied by their fellows but about illicit infiltrators who have finally forced their hosts to run out of patience.

I do not have any special love for the Albanians, but I do know that when the Albanian Crown Prince Leka was in London a few years ago, he was openly proclaiming the ambition to lead his country to a greater Albania, incorporating Kosovo.

We are told that the Kosovars have been offered autonomy, but that is not acceptable to the Serbs—and I shall tell your Lordships why. We have discovered in our own country that the Scottish Parliament has unleashed talk about Scottish separatism which was unheard of five years ago. In the eyes of the Serbs, "autonomy" spells eventual separation. That is one reason why the autonomy which their constitution awarded Kosovo some years ago was withdrawn. There was a fear that separatism was afoot.

I speak with the greatest reluctance. I say again that I have the same sense of nausea about the confusion of sentimentality with morality that we have heard tonight as I felt at the time of the British withdrawal from Suez in the mid-1950s, some 40 years ago. At that time I refused my party Whip and became an open Suez rebel. I am not proposing to become a Kosovo rebel now, but I am seeking as well as I can in my dotage to warn the Government, and our own Front Bench, to be cautious about all this. It is not as easy as it looks; we have heard from an expert on aerial warfare that it is by no means clear that bombs can do the job. We have been warned by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that we have embarked on an enterprise which has no obvious end. We do not know where it is going to lead. I am very sad indeed. If there was any way of toning down or altering the Motion before us tonight I would try to do so, but I have not had time to find out, whether, procedurally, that could be done.

"Taking note" is a timid, mild and half-hearted way of responding to an international crisis of great severity and difficulty affecting an area which is of historic importance to the Serbs. Perhaps I may say something which neither of the Bishops mentioned. When I spoke about the French, Dutch and Belgians occupying perhaps Kent, Sussex and Hampshire, I meant including Canterbury. I remind your Lordships that Pec in the Kosovo area of south Serbia is their Canterbury. To lose that is to lose their national shrine.

Noble Lords who do not know that part of the world as I do and who have had the exposure to it that I have had, cannot begin to understand the sentiment that has been aroused. It does not surprise me at all that the Serbs, who are not great negotiators in the familiar Mediterranean sense, would rather stand their ground. They would rather be killed than give way. They are unlikely to be moved by sentimentality, let alone talk about morality. They have their history, their values, their ancient monuments and traditions. They will fight and die for them, and I say God bless them.

7.52 p.m.

Lord McNair

My Lords, I also thank the Minister for the way in which he introduced this debate. I recognise the heavy responsibility that lies on him and the Government. I shall not detain the House for long. There is one element of this conflict to which I believe attention should be given.

We have seen and read about the intense brutality which has been a part of this conflict for the past 10 years. We have been appalled by the ferocity and unbelievable cruelty which has characterised it. It is true that prior to this decade different cultural, religious and ethnic communities had been living in peaceful proximity for many years. It is also true, in contrast, that previous episodes of inter-community fighting have been bitter and very violent.

I am raising this issue following a discussion I had with the noble Baroness the Leader of the House after the Statement on Kosovo made the day before yesterday. I hope I am not taking her name in vain, but she expressed an interest in what I said then and what I am saying now. I believe that she invited me to mention this when we next discussed the situation.

I believe that we should focus at least some of our attention on the psychological warfare elements to which my noble friend Lady Williams has already referred. There are two main phases to this. First, there was the spreading of hateful propaganda to incite a population to want to make war by making them regard other communities as inferior, a threat or probably both.

Secondly, in conjunction with a continuation of the first phase, there are measures to strengthen the resolve of the fighting troops. It will be some time before we have details of these measures in respect of the fighting in Kosovo, but we do know that in Bosnia, exhortation which, presumably accompanies every briefing to soldiers in a combat zone, was strengthened by supplying the Serbian soldiers with psychoactive drugs to increase their ferocity and determination. I suggest that the intense brutality and unbelievable cruelty to which I referred earlier was heightened by the use of these drugs.

The decision whether to involve ground troops in the conflict will be a political as well as a military one. I suggest that in preparing themselves for such a decision, or in preparing NATO ground troops for such an eventuality, the Government should review available literature.

I have no idea what psychoactive chemicals were used in Bosnia by the Serb military leaders, but it is common knowledge that some psychoactive drugs can give people who have taken them immense, almost superhuman, strength and an inability to feel pain. In that respect at least the Serbian soldiers were also the unwitting victims of a horrible experiment, as reports I have with me make clear. In addition to white pills, liquid drugs and injection equipment were found on dead and captured Serbian soldiers.

In returning to the first phase of this psychological warfare, the hate propaganda, we should remember how Radovan Karadzic, the successor to Jovan Raskovic, as leader of the nationalist Serbs in Bosnia—and, like Raskovic, a psychiatrist—used the mass media to generate fear and hatred among the Serbian people. Raskovic wrote a book to this end called This Mad Country which was a mixture of Mein Kampf and Freudian nonsense. It chillingly propagandised the supposed inferiority of the Moslem population. I hope that besides all the other considerations that the Government have in this matter, they will take account of these two psychological warfare aspects of the Balkan conflict.

7.56 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, one of the ironies of the war in Kosovo is that there had been some dramatic improvements in the conditions of the Albanian people there in the past few years. That was due in part to the presence of international humanitarian agencies. I shall quote only one example. Infant mortality was the highest in Europe five years ago. It has been halved thanks to an immunisation campaign. There have been many other successes in health and education. UNICEF and the other agencies involved fear that all these gains may now be thrown away.

There are about 16 non-governmental organisations active in Kosovo including some names which are well known to us, such as Oxfam, Save the Children, UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Red Crescent. Some have provided welfare such as supplementary foods and material aid and others like Oxfam are focusing on long-term priorities such as clean water and sanitation, often in very dangerous and difficult terrain. It is a formidable task. The noble Lord, Lord Eames, described the extent of the human need. I have seen a figure of 180, 000 internally displaced persons. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, rightly says that the figure has increased to 250, 000 of whom two-thirds are children and most of the rest women.

The courage of aid workers needs little explanation because in a sense they are the counterparts of any humanitarian crisis. They have to be there because, however much we endorse the actions of NATO, it is simultaneously our policy to serve the victims on the ground, the ordinary people and the refugees.

Some NGOs have already suffered direct hits themselves. For instance, the ICRC medical team struck a landmine last September and lost a doctor. Earlier last year three ethnic Albanian workers of the Mother Teresa Association died at the hands of the Serbian police.

My purpose in the debate is to ask some questions of the Minister. In a war which, as a matter of policy, does not involve ground forces—in other words, a war of punitive air strikes—are we not exposing our aid workers considerably more than would be the case in other emergencies and conflicts around the world? What consultations, if any, are taking place between NATO and the non-governmental organisations on the position of these personnel? Is there any contingency plan to protect NGOs, perhaps via the ground forces in Macedonia? We all saw on television last night the worried looks of the NGO staff in Pristina as they contemplated the prospect of joining the refugees they had gone to help.

I hope that the Government do not regard the situation of the NGOs as an optional extra in a modern war of this kind. Their contribution continues to be of vital importance during a crisis of this magnitude.

8 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I, too, begin by thanking my noble friend for his introduction to today's debate. To make my position clear at the outset, I believe it is right for the Government to feel that they cannot stand aside. It is right also that NATO should demonstrate that it is serious about the principles and values on which it is based.

Today's debate is really a convolution of three debates which have been running now for many months. The first concerns the action and capabilities of British troops and how they are performing. That is very much the way in which my noble friend presented his speech when he was talking about last night's action. Perhaps he could say a few more words about the position of British troops, both in Bosnia and Macedonia, and how they may be protecting themselves.

The second debate that has been running over the past few months concerns the institutional relationships, to which a number of noble Lords referred, between NATO, the UN and the OSCE. The Washington Summit is to take place shortly where we will be looking at European defence. Institutions will be built on the experiences through which we are going at the moment. I hope that those experiences will lead us to the conclusion that we need to strengthen Europe's capabilities for acting on small-scale types of task—so called "Petersberg" tasks—to prevent us from getting into these extreme situations in the future. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to the huge efforts made by NGOs over the past months and how it is ironic that they averted the crisis over the winter period only to arrive at where we are today.

The third convolution of the three debates is the moral argument; the rightness of this cause as opposed to other causes; the necessity to take sides and at the same time to try to maintain a balance. It would be useful if the Minister could say something about the Government's support for the President of Montenegro in some of the brave things he has been saying over the past day or two. I welcome also the fairly subtle change in wording as regards the Government's view on the status of Kosovo in the future. They are not repeating the same mantra that Kosovo will never receive independence. I welcome that change.

I wish to make just one point and to develop the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. It concerns the importance of the Russian Prime Minister Primakov. It is easy to be negative about Russia; I have done it myself and have sat through many debates where the point was made that the only thing that unites Russian politicians is their opposition to the expansion of NATO. It is easy to talk about how its economy is in tatters and it is easy to say that it is weak and being ignored. At best Russia is seen as a dangerous ally.

But it is extremely important to be far more positive than that. I hope that we will soon be in contact with the Russian Government and when we are, we will need to be positive about what is happening in Russia. I would point out that we are seeing the very beginning of a recovery in the Russian economy. There was a terrible crash on 17th August, but I believe I am right in saying that in the first three months of this year the Russian stock exchange performed better than any other stock exchange in the world. So that indicates a very small start towards recovery there.

It is also right to point out that the Russian people are becoming more influential in the world than ever before as they join western companies and work in all parts of the world. While the Russian Government may be losing influence, in my view the Russian people are not. My third point is that Russia remains a hugely dominant regional force and must be used as such.

The one message that I really want to give the Front Bench tonight is that if and when our Prime Minister talks to Prime Minister Primakov, he must be positive about Russia's contribution; about its overwhelmingly important role in trying to move this desperately difficult situation forward. In doing that he must point to its successes over the past few years.

8.5 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, this has been a short and sober debate. No doubt we shall have others. The Minister correctly said that at this stage we must limit ourselves primarily to the military operations and to their immediate implications, though it is also correct that we always have to ask what are the long-term objectives and where do we think we may be going? Can the Government assure us that there are sufficiently clear objectives?

There have been a number of calls in this debate for us to make our objectives entirely clear. I say with some sympathy for the Minister and Her Majesty's Government that at this stage, in these extremely complicated circumstances, it is not possible to have entirely clear objectives. There are a number of things we do not know. We know that Mr. Milosevic is in a shaky position in Serbia. He has been forced to dismiss his director of intelligence and deputy-commander of his army within the past 10 days. We know that there is considerable resistance within Yugoslavia to the call-up, and we are thus facing a conscript army unwillingly going to war.

A number of people questioned the possibility of fighting the Serbs in Yugoslavia, unless we have overwhelming military force. I remind your Lordships that we faced in the Falklands an unwillingly conscripted Argentinian force and the difference between unwillingly conscripted people fighting for something about which they are not entirely convinced, and those who are fighting for clear objectives and who are well trained, is not something that can be ignored in calculating the level of force needed on both sides.

Clearly air power has to be proportionately applied for proportionate purposes; air power in itself is not enough. I welcomed the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, emphasising that this is part of what is being done, but it cannot in itself do everything. From these Benches we have said throughout the Yugoslav crisis, since 1991, that forces on the ground have to be part of the package. There were those within my own party who said that we ought to have put forces into Bosnia at an earlier stage, when it was clear that Yugoslavia itself was breaking up, because a proportionate use of force then would have prevented worse now.

I remind Members of the House that there are already 1 million refugees from the former Yugoslavia now scattered throughout the European Union. We have seen an extra 250, 000 created within Macedonia and it is estimated that 100, 000 more lost their homes within the past month, before the bombing started. That seems to justify the action that Her Majesty's Government have just taken, which was the essence of the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, with which I entirely agree.

If air power is not enough, then clearly we have to think about the long-term implications. Again, people from my party have said throughout that this is likely to be the beginnings of a long-term commitment; that we are likely to have to put forces in on the ground at one stage, we hope by agreement, raising major questions about military overstretch, about whether or not the SDR's cutting down of reserves was sustainable, about how we may manage with our allies to sustain a military presence in Bosnia and in Kosovo, and perhaps also, as my noble friend Lady Williams said, in northern Albania over an extended period.

Perhaps I may remind those who have spoken in favour of hesitation in this debate that the alternatives are not particularly easy either. What we have seen is clearly the beginning of ethnic cleansing within Kosovo. There are those who suggest that what Mr. Milosevic has really been attempting to do is perhaps to divide Kosovo into north and south, as Bosnia was divided, so as to hang on to a northern Kosovo in which Serbs would become the dominant party and from which Kosovars would be driven, leaving them with the remnants of an already destroyed southern Kosovo.

I have students from the region. I was talking to two Serbian students last week before they went back to Belgrade. I have to say that both of them are women. I was also talking to a Bulgarian student of mine. It was a deeply depressing experience with two Serbs and a Bulgarian sitting round a House of Lords' tea table discussing the future of the region. There is a great deal of opposition within Serbia to the current position of the government. As my noble friend Lord McNair said, we are aware that the Serbian Government have been attempting to use propaganda to inflame ethnic hatreds.

I reinforce what my noble friend Lady Williams said about the importance of maintaining as actively as we can our efforts to inform and influence opinion within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. There has to be an alternative to Mr. Milosevic and, when there is an alternative to him, we will do our best to help. As I spend some of my time advising Serbians on what they should do until Mr. Milosevic goes, perhaps I may add that part of what the European Union needs to do is to help prepare those who will have to reconstruct Yugoslavia after a change of regime.

We have heard a certain amount about dreams of a greater Albania from the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, who seems to support dreams of a greater Serbia and not of the various alternatives. Those of us who know a little about the history of south-eastern Europe can recall that there were dreams of a greater Bulgaria, dreams of a greater Romania, dreams of a greater Greece, of a greater Serbia and, indeed, of a greater Albania all to be built out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire that led to the three Balkan Wars of the first 10 years of this century, with their ethnic cleansing and massacres on all sides. The governments currently attempting to cope with what is happening in south-eastern Europe are conscious that that is only two generations away and that the potential for a return to that kind of ethnic cleansing is there, way beyond the boundaries of former Yugoslavia. That is why we have to take this responsibility on board.

I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, that I do not believe that there is an alternative in the long run other than to extend across this region of Europe the peace, prosperity and order which we have established inside the European Union over the past 50 years and which we are in the process of extending across the states which are currently applicants for the European Union. That is one of the many reasons why I support the EU. I regret the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, with, I have to say, their anti-German undertones. I find it odd to argue that it was right to go into Suez, but it is wrong to go in to suppress Serbian air defences now.

In looking at a long-term commitment, we have to recognise that there may well be casualties, both British and others. I was in Germany for three days last week. I heard Oschka Fischer talking about the situation. I did not meet great German imperialism; indeed, we all met deep unease among members of all parties at a conference that I was attending about the commitment of German troops. As part of building a more peaceful European region, it is now time, 50 years after the war, for the Germans to take their share of the common defence. After all, that is what Her Majesty's Government are calling for in the initiative which they have taken with my party's active support. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

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

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

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

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

8.17 p.m.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, I am to some extent an amateur historian—a bad amateur historian. I shall not, like the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, go back to the Thirty Years' War. I would draw your Lordships' attention to the words of the short story writer Saki who, writing at the time of the Balkan War in about 1912, said: The Balkans create more history than they can consume locally". In that respect, the events of July 1914 are very much in mind at this time. I remind your Lordships that the murder of the Austrian Crown Prince in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914 was followed by ultimata to the Serbians from Austria. They, in their turn, were followed by the expression of Russian support for Serbia, of German backing for Austria/Hungary and, in due course, the involvement of France and Britain in the whole panoply of horror of the Great War.

At this time we should not forget the disasters of 85 years ago. We go into the current conflict in the knowledge that there is a real danger that it may escalate now as it did then. President Yeltsin has already indicated his support for Serbia and opposition to the NATO action. In the light of the history of the relationship between Russia and Serbia, this is scarcely surprising: the bear does not change his spots. Nor should we forget the moral support that the British and the French gave at that time to "gallant little Serbia" and the appreciation of the strength and determination of its opposition to the might of the dual alliance. Again, during the Second World War we looked with admiration on the struggles of the Yugoslav peoples, even if all of them did not fight on the same side.

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

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

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

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

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

Last night the noble Lord also pointed out that we were not talking in terms solely of a British force, not that I needed reminding of that. But even with our allies, experience has shown time and time again that air power is not enough and that we shall have to go in on the ground. It is fair to suggest that bearing in mind the nature of the country it is not unreasonable that the Serbs will be able to resist an army many times greater than anything NATO can put into the field. During the war the Germans had six divisions in Yugoslavia, including one SS, as well as a considerable number of Italians. If ground troops are now to be sent in, I do not think the numbers we can produce will have the success we determine, not even with the Germans, although they have experience of the country.

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

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

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

We have made the decision, and we on these Benches give the Government our entire support. Nevertheless we may express concern with regard to the consequences of that decision. Whether Milosevic gives way or not, what do we do next? If he does not give way, how do we stop our attacks and where do we stop them? The Prime Minister has ruled out the use of ground troops, but for all the reasons which have been given this would not seem to be realistic. If the bombing does not work—and there is a strong possibility that it will not—what will we do? Escalate? Or merely walk away? And when we have walked away, what happens then? How can the whole matter be sorted out without putting our troops on the ground? Sadly, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find a qualified commentator saying that the matter can be concluded without the use of land forces.

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

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

8.30 p.m.

Lord Gilbert

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

I have been struck by the number of times noble Lords have asked questions about the legal basis for our operation in Kosovo and in Serbia. I can do no better than to quote what I said to the House only yesterday evening: We are perfectly confident that we have a good legal basis for our action". —[Official Report, 24/3/99; col. 1396.] The relevant Security Council resolutions are 1199 and 1203. We are confident—this is the view not only of Her Majesty's Government but is one that is shared by all the other 18 members of NATO—and we are justified because of the accepted principle that force may be used in extreme circumstances to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

I was asked whether the Security Council had been kept informed and there was a suggestion that Mr. Kofi Annan had been snubbed. That is not the case. The Security Council has been kept fully informed throughout and, as your Lordships will know, there was overwhelming support in the Security Council debate on 24th March, though Russia, China and Namibia did not agree with the propositions that the rest of the Security Council were supporting. Mr. Kofi Annan said that, diplomacy having failed, there are times when the use of force is legitimate in pursuit of peace.

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

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

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

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

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

The noble Lord made one point with which I feel I have to take issue. He said: The removal of the observers"— I hope I am quoting him correctly— has caused more damage than anything else in recent months to the poor people of Kosovo". But the observers have been gone for only 24 hours. I do not see how the noble Lord can come to that conclusion. It is unfortunate that we do not have observers on the ground at the moment—

Lord Carrington

My Lords, as a result of the observers going, the Serbian army moved in.

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord is reading the same newspapers and the same reports. The Serbian army has been there for some time. The Serbian security police have been there for some time. Their tanks have been destroying Serbian villages for weeks. That is why we are there. The noble Lord may say that the fact that there will be no observers there in future may diminish our ability to restrain the Serbs. That is a perfectly tenable point of view. But to say, as he did, that their removal has caused more damage than anything else in recent months is an argument that defeats me.

My noble friend Lord Kennet asked me what Mrs. Albright promised the Kosovars. I have no idea what was said. My noble friend asked what was our objective. I stated it yesterday, I have stated it again today, and I shall repeat it time after time. Our military objective is to disrupt what is presently going on in Kosovo and to curb President Milosevic's capabilities to continue with that kind of activity in the future.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandberg, said that casualties will come. The noble Lord may be right. I very much hope that he is not. It is magnificent that we have had none so far. The noble Lord pointed out that the aerial activity has only just begun. The main objective of air attacks in the immediate future is to degrade the air defence capabilities of the Serbian government so that in future our forces may fly more safely over their territory.

It is a very precise and guided set of targets that I see every morning down in the bowels of the Ministry of Defence. I take issue with those who talk in the terms used by my noble friend Lord Stoddart, who referred to "pulverising Serbia to dust". We are not pulverising Serbia to dust. The talk about bombing Serbia, as though we were trying to produce another Dresden in Belgrade or another Coventry in another town, is absolute fiction. We are addressing a very small number of precise military targets, in exactly the same way as we were doing in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein has been unable to provide any demonstration of mass casualties as a result of the Desert Fox campaign and subsequent activities. My noble friend spoke of our "unleashing a massive bombardment on a small country". He uses such evocative language that I must take issue with him. It is simply not the case. Had my noble friend been listening to my introductory remarks he would realise that we sent out four Harriers last night. Three of them returned with their bomb loads intact because they were not sure that they could hit their targets. That is not "pulverising Serbia".

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. Perhaps he can clear up one matter. We understand that among the targets attacked last night were the defences and the town of Novi Sad. I hear that the town of Novi Sad itself was damaged. Does the Minister know whether or not that is the case?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, as I have already said, it is impossible for me to give a detailed bomb damage assessment so I am afraid that I cannot answer the noble Earl's question. If I find that there is any information when I return to the Ministry of Defence I shall be happy to write to the noble Earl on that point.

We are dealing with a brutal dictator who, as the noble Lord, Lord McNair, said, has engaged in unacceptable ferocity and cruelty. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said, we must play our part and accept our duty and responsibility for being part of Europe, even though it may appear to some noble Lords that there is no direct British connection.

I am grateful for many of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Burnham. However, the noble Lord said that we must go into Kosovo. We have no intention of fighting our way into Kosovo. I shall repeat that as many times as necessary. Neither we nor any of our NATO allies have the intention of fighting our way in on the ground. We are sending our troops in only by agreement when the circumstances arise.

The noble Lord asked whether we could defend our troops in Macedonia. Perhaps I did not have the noble Lord's full attention when I addressed the House earlier today. I said that General Jackson had told us that he had plans in place which he was satisfied would meet the case if necessary, were his troops to be attacked by ground troops under the control of the Serbian authorities in Kosovo. Of course there will be a strain on our troops on the ground. Of course there will be logistical problems. But I give the noble Lord the reassurance that the Chiefs of Staff, and particularly the Chief of the Defence Staff, believe that we have the situation under control.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. Perhaps I may remind him that we sent troops into Northern Ireland to defend the Catholic population and within months they were shooting our troops in the back.

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, that is one of the reasons why we are not sending troops into Kosovo.

As I said, our objectives are clear. Our objective is not to occupy, not to subjugate. We do not know what is going to happen. We do not know how Mr. Milosevic will behave. And we shall be judged by whether or not we succeed in disrupting his activities and curbing his abilities. We may fail. I do not believe that we shall. I have the greatest confidence in the skill and capabilities and the assets at the disposal of our forces and those of our allies who are engaged in these very dangerous activities. I do not propose to contemplate the possibility of failure. I am sure that everyone in this House joins me in saying God speed to those of our forces who are engaged in these extremely dangerous operations. I hope for their sake, and for the sake of the people of Kosovo and Serbia that they are successful.

On Question, Motion agreed to.